22nd Oct 2016

Governments demand action on Balkan asylum claims

  • Member states are protesting the rise in bogus asylum claims (Photo: wfbakker2)

Take control of asylum applications or risk losing the right for citizens to visit the EU without a visa EU justice and home affairs ministers warned Balkan countries on Thursday (25 October).

But despite tough talk from member states and the commission in advance of the meeting, ministers did not make a snap decision on visa-free travel.

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They said the issue would be discussed at the next ministerial forum between ministers from the EU and the Western Balkans on 5-6 November in the Albanian capital Tirana.

The move comes as member states negotiate with MEPs on proposed revisions to the rules on visa-free travel, which allow people to stay in an EU country for up to three months without a visa.

The proposal includes a set of safeguard clauses which allow visa requirements to be re-imposed if there is a 50 percent spike in asylum applicants over a six-month period.

Countries want to tighten the rules further. Despite being tabled nearly eighteen months ago, negotiations between ministers and MEPs only began in January, with the parliament taking a more lenient stance than most governments.

Last week, the European Commission said that there had been a sharp rise in unfounded asylum claims from Serbia and Macedonia, both of which are candidates countries for EU membership.

Germany and France are leading a group of six EU countries demanding the immediate reintroduction of visa requirements to travel.

Speaking after the meeting with ministers, EU justice commissioner, Cecilia Malmstrom called on the Balkan region countries to maintain the integrity of their borders.

Pointing to data released last week by the commission showing a near 75 percent increase in the number of claims for asylum seeker status, Malmstrom said that it was "time for the Balkan states to address this."

"There are very serious concerns," she added.

In an attempt to defuse the situation, Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic last week pledged that he would compensate member states for the costs of treating bogus asylum claims.

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