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18 Nov 10

Albania Travel Agencies Warned Over Asylum-Seekers

Tour operators told not to tempt people to go West on false promises, following the EU decision to lift the requirement for short-term Schengen visas from Albanians.

Besar Likmeta Tirana

Albania's Interior Minister, Lulzim Basha, told travel agents that the government expected them to act responsibly with the public, following the relaxation of the visa rules with the European Union.

"We consider you, and you should consider us, as partners in the initial phase of informing the public about the rules on freedom of movement," Basha told tour operators on Wednesday.

Albanians had "dreamed for a long time" about obtaining the right to free travel within Europe, he said, “and we are prepared to defend it [that right] at any cost".

The minister that said "strict monitoring of the process" was required in order "to avert what happened in Macedonia and Serbia".

Travel agencies in Macedonia and South Serbia are suspected of having lured people to travel to Belgium, Sweden and Switzerland on false promises of easy asylum.

Thousands of poor citizens from the two Balkan countries, mostly ethnic Albanians and Roma, duly headed off on buses into the European Union and sought asylum there.

Sweden's National Migration Board registered 5,300 asylum applications from Serbia alone in 2010, officials told Balkan Insight.

In the wake of the rising number of asylum-seekers, the Council of EU Interior Ministers has tasked the European Commission with publishing reports on the success of the visa liberalisation scheme every six months.

If the influx continues, the Commission may propose suspending the visa liberalisation regime in accordance with the terms of the Lisbon treaty.

Stricter rules will be applied for Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albania, whose citizens will be able to travel inside the EU without visas from December 15.

Basha said the police would provide phone numbers on which people could find out more information concerning the visa regime.

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