News 09 Jul 14

Jump in Asylum Requests From Serbia in 2013

Marked rise in number seeking asylum in EU does not imperil visa-free regime with EU, official says.

BIRN, Tanjug, Beta

Serbian media sources reported on Wednesday that 22,500 Serbian citizens applied for asylum in EU countries in 2013 a 17-per-cent increase on the figure for 2012.

Ivan Gerginov, Serbia’s assistant commissioner for refugees and migration, said the hike would not affect Serbia’s visa-free regime with the EU Schengen area.

Implemented in December 2009, the system allows citizens of Serbia, Macedonia, and Montenegro to travel into the EU’s passport-free without visas.

“The regime is not threatened at this time and the government has established a commission for the preservation of the visa-free regime, to monitor it,” Gerginov said.

Most of the asylum seekers in question were ethnic minority Albanians and Roma, Gerginov noted.

According to him, the most common reasons for those seeking asylum were poor financial conditions in Serbia and better welfare benefits available in EU countries.

Despite the relatively high the number of applications in recent years, few have been accepted and approved.

Between 2009 and 2011, Germany, Sweden, and Luxembourg received 19,650 asylum claims from Serbian citizens. But they granted only 15 of them.

This is not the first time that a wave of asylum seekers fro Serbia has received attention. According to a UNHCR report, in 2010, Serbia was the top country of origin for asylum seekers, beating war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan.

According to a report cited by B92, the number of requests for asylum in the EU last year from Western Balkan countries exceeded the number from Syria.

In 2012, more Serbian nationals applied for asylum in Germany than did Syrians, Afghans, or Somalis.

"The main motivation for seeking asylum in Germany was social benefits, which are about 1,000 euro a month,” Gerginov said.

Gerginov pointed to a reduction in asylum applications in Germany as a positive indicator. After Germany added Serbia to a list of safe countries, it “drastically reduced the number of asylum applications filed in that country,” he noted.

The overall number of asylum applications from western Balkans countries decreased by 44 per cent between 2011 and 2012.

Serbia saw the greatest reduction, down 61 per cent—although that number has since grown.

In December 2013, EU interior ministers adopted a “suspension clause,” which allows the EU to suspend visa-free travel with a non-EU member state through an expedited procedure in the event of a spike in asylum applications.

Despite the adoption of the mechanism, Gerginov assured the media that “abolition of the visa-free regime has not been requested by anyone”.

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