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Albanians and Roma from south Serbia are embarking daily on buses and taking advantage of the visa-free regime, trying to reach western European countries, mostly Sweden and Belgium.
“About 5,300 [out of the total of 25,000 asylum seekers in Sweden] come from Serbia,” said Fredrik Bengtsson, information officer at Sweden's National Migration Board. In 2009 the number of Serbian nationals, mostly Roma families, who applied for asylum stood at 570, he added.
Coaches operated by the Presevo-based tourist agency Mimoza 93, which sold tickets to asylum seekers earlier this year, are still driving to Brussels twice a week, said a woman from the agency who refused to be named.
Belgium's junior minister for migration and asylum, Melchior Wathelet, visited the south Serbia municipalities of Presevo and Bujanovac on Wednesday and expressed his serious concern over the growing number of asylum seekers from the region.
He asked the mayors of the two towns to engage more vigorously in resolving the problems of those who apply for asylum.
However, Presovo's mayor, Ragmi Mustafa, told Balkan Insight pointed to Presevo's astronomical unemployment rate, which nears 70 per cent.
"Although we would like to keep them here, we have nothing to offer," he said.
Serbians, Macedonians and Montenegrins were granted visa-free travel to most EU countries in December 2009. While this allows them to cross the border easily, it means they have almost no grounds for claiming asylum in the EU, though thousands have tried since the beginning of the year.
After Belgrade removed a memorial to ethnic Albanian fighters in Presevo, some locals called for political dialogue but others rejected cooperation with the government.
The South Serbia region, predominantly populated by ethnic Albanians, lies some 350 kilometres south of Serbia`s capital, Belgrade. In contemporary political language, the term “South Serbia” is understood to refer to the territory of three municipalities - Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja.
A snapshot of South Serbia's business and industry
Resources and institutions of South Serbia
Facts and figures on the population, ethnic composition and geography of South Serbia
Profiles of main political leaders in South Serbia
Profiles of main political parties in South Serbia
Snapshots of ordinary life in South Serbia show the people of Bujanovac and Presevo, and give a brief look at the symbols of the region.
If you meet someone who has a computer, a good car, a new house but no job, he just might be living in Presevo.