24th Sep 2023

Sweden worried by EU visa-free deal with Venezuela

  • Maiquetía airport in Venezuela (Photo: Wilfredorrh)
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Sweden has resumed EU talks on tightening visas for countries with lots of "unfounded" asylum-seekers, mentioning Colombia, Georgia, and Venezuela.

In what it called "serious abuse" of EU visa policy, the Swedish EU presidency warned that numbers of people claiming asylum after arriving to Europe from visa-free countries were on the rise.

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Around 190,000 people did so last year — more than twice the figure in 2021, Sweden noted in an internal memo dated 14 March.

"The most common nationalities were Venezuela (51,000), Colombia (43,000) and Georgia (29,000)", it said.

Asylum-rejection rates from all three countries were well over 90 percent, and "these asylum applications were to a large extent unfounded," Sweden said.

"The visa-free regime can be suspended on the basis of a substantial increase of asylum application," it warned.

But there were "softer" things that could be done first and "as a matter of urgency", it said.

"Mere monitoring and clear communication on the expectations from the EU on the partner country in this regard could constitute a way of exercising soft pressure which in itself can lead to results," Sweden said.

It did not make clear on what basis Venezuela, for example, could a priori deny people permission to travel to Europe so long as there was no visa regime, however.

The EU has visa-free deals in place with 61 countries.

For the rest of the world, Sweden said there should be better "visa profiling" to sort "bona fide travellers" from "persons who may in fact aim not to return to the third country but to apply for asylum".

The profiling could be done by seconded experts in document security at EU consulates overseas and by "regular training of visa and border staff", Sweden added.

And this "could be accompanied by policy measures within the bilateral relations with concerned countries", Sweden said, alluding to diplomatic or economic pressure.

"How can we encourage development of local risk profiles ... in the most affected countries?", Sweden asked EU diplomats to ponder, as talks roll out on the issue once again.

The memo's hard-nosed language comes from a right-wing Swedish government, which struck an accord with a far-right party to take power.

Stockholm also cited previous anxieties over Western Balkan asylum trends, referring back to "the discussion on visa and asylum which has been initiated by previous presidencies".

The Czech EU presidency last year took aim at what it called "unusual nationalities" coming to claim asylum via the Western Balkans.

"Nationals from Turkey, Tunisia, India, Cuba and Burundi, in particular, enter legally (visa-free) by air in Serbia (and from some of these countries also in Albania) and a very high number moves irregularly further towards EU member states," a Czech memo said last October.

"In case diplomatic efforts would fail, the EU needs to also be prepared and consider a list of other measures that could be used, including also in the context of the visa suspension mechanism," the Czechs said, referring to potential freezing of EU visa-free deals with Albania and Serbia.

Kosovars grow weary of EU's privatised visa regime

Most EU countries have outsourced visa-application processing for Kosovars to private companies. The results are long queues, expensive fees, loss of clarity over where personal data ends up — and often not even a visa.

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