News 21 May 13

EU Threat to Visa Regime Worries Macedonia

In a bid to head off moves to reassess the visa-free regime, Macedonia says the number of asylum seekers in the EU from the Balkans is falling.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic

Rejected asylum seekers at Skopje airport

Macedonia's Foreign Ministry says numbers of asylum seekers heading for the EU from the region are falling.

The ministry spoke out following reports of a fresh initiative to reassess the visa-free regime by Germany, Austria, Holland and Britain.

“We are in permanent contact with the countries affected by this problem… [but] joint efforts to reduce the number of asylum seekers have started to bear fruit,” the ministry told Balkan Insight.

In a joint letter on April 25 to the Irish EU presidency, the four EU countries asked Ireland to put the issue on the table at a forthcoming meeting of the EU’s Justice and Internal Affairs Committee in mid-June, Deutsche Welle reported on Monday.

Sources in the Macedonian foreign ministry said questioning the free-visa regime for the Balkans undermined “the principle of openness of Europe and the possibility of Balkan countries one day joining the EU”.

The European Union lifted visa requirements on Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro in December 2009, allowing their citizens to travel freely into the EU's Schengen zone.

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

The EU has warned Balkan countries that if they don’t cut the number of asylum seekers, visas may be re-introduced.

As a result, Macedonia and Serbia last year introduced stricter border controls and boosted education among most concerned groups, urging them not to go.

Last year’s data from the German Foreign Ministry, during the peak of the influx, show that 8,477 of the 64,539 people who requested asylum in Germany in 2012 came from Serbia, ranking the country first in the list of asylum seekers.

The 2012 figure represented an increase of almost 50 per cent compared to 2011, when 4,579 Serbian nationals sought asylum in Germany.

Macedonia came fifth in the table with 4,546 asylum requests, which represented an increase of more than 3,000 people compared to 2011.

Over 80 per cent of the people who applied from both countries listed their ethnic background as Roma.

However, the most recent German data show a significant drop in applications from both countries starting from the end of last year. This currently places Serbia in fifth place and Macedonia in tenth place in the list of asylum seekers in Germany.

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