news 07 Jan 13

EU Urged Not to Reinstate Visas for Balkans

The European Stability Initiative, a think tank, says the EU does not need to reintroduce visas for the Western Balkans in order to reduce the flow of asylum seekers from the region.

Bojana Barlovac

The European Stability Initiative, ESI, a non-profit institution which examines circumstances in the Balkans and EU policy towards the region, has come out against possible suspension of the visa-free regime for the Western Balkans.

"Re-imposing the visa requirement for the Western Balkans, aside from being patently unfair, would undermine the EU’s credibility and undercut visa liberalisation with other states," the ESI said in a document entitled "Saving Visa-Free Travels".

In December 2009, the European Union lifted visa requirements on citizens of Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro, allowing them to travel into the Schengen zone without visas. Albania and Bosnia followed suit the next year.

Eurostat, the European Union statistical office, says that in the first three months of 2012, 3,390 people from Serbia sought asylum within the EU.

Macedonia produced 1,100 asylum-seekers in first quarter of this year. Another 865 came from Albania and 600 from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Kosovo, which still has no visa-free agreement with the EU, produced 1,970 requests.

Since then, Serbia and Macedonia have received complaints about mass arrivals of asylum-seekers, mainly ethnic Albanians and Roma, filing applications in Sweden, Belgium, Germany and other European countries.

The ESI notes that decision-making hubs in the EU are under growing pressure to solve the problem of non-qualifying asylum-seekers in the most direct way - by suspending the deal lifting visas.

The ESI proposes two solutions to sidestep the abolition of the visa-free regime. One would be for individual EU member states to shorten the time they take to decide asylum applications.

The report cites the example of Switzerland, which decides on asylum applications from people from the Western Balkans within 24 hours.

The second proposed remedy is an EU-level solution by which the EU declares all countries that have joined the visa liberalization process safe countries of origin. This would automatically accelerate decision-making in the asylum application procedure.

The ESI document concludes that a combination of both solutions would be the ideal approach.

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