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news 12 Jun 12

West Balkans May Face Renewed Schengen Visas

Threat to temporarily suspend visa-free travel to Schengen zone could impact on Serbia, the source of a large number of asylum seekers heading north.

Bojana Barlovac

Western Balkan states faced renewed pressure to cut the number of asylum seekers from their countries heading into the EU after Schengen-zone countries agreed in Luxembourg on Thursday that they may restore border controls temporarily to prevent a mass influx of migrants.

Schengen members will be allowed to restore normal border control for a period of six months with the possibility of extending the measure for another six months.

This would include passport control between the country facing immigrant influx and other EU members states will be put in place with the consent of other EU members states.

The rules proposing the new mechanism will first have to be approved by the European Parliament before it will enter into force.

The border between Greece and Turkey, which saw 55,000 detections last year,  is seen as the primary reason for initiating the mechanism. 

However, the measure may affect Serbia unless the number of asylum-seekers from the country decreases, a Brussels displomat told Balkan Insight.

European Commission data show that some 14,000 asylum requests came from Serbia last year.  

Nenad Banovic, head of Serbian border police, believes that visa regime will not be re-introduced into Serbia.

"I can accept that figure [of 14,000 asylum seekers], but it is still lower than in 2010, when there were 17,700 requests," he said. "Therefore, there is no need to panic."

Banovic said it was clear that action had been taken ahead of the summer holiday season when "many people from Serbia go to Greece or Spain to seek to work illegally, and unemployment is already high in those countries".

The European Union lifted visa requirements on citizens of Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro in December 2009, allowing them to travel to the EU without visas.

Since then, Serbia and Macedonia have received several complaints concerning the number asylum seekers, mainly ethnic Albanians and Roma, filing applications in Sweden, Belgium, Germany and other European countries.

The EU has said that such applicants from the Western Balkans will be systematically rejected, as they do not meet the requirements for asylum status. However, hopeful candidates have continued to head north.

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