12 Nov 10

Bosnia Warned Not to Abuse Free Travel to EU

Brussels officials in Sarajevo on Friday reminded Bosnians that they will have to respect the terms of the deal, or it may be suspended.

Sabina Arslanagic

EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said after meeting top Bosnian officials and university students in Sarajevo that the "fantastic possibility" of visa-free travel could be withdrawn if it is abused.

"It is a possibility to travel, to meet friends, family and to get to know each other better... [but] it does not give any rights to work or to stay longer in the EU," Malmstrom noted.

"If the [European] Commission sees systematic abuse of this… the visa freedom can be withdrawn. We hope we will not reach that stage," she added.

European Union interior ministers on Monday voted to grant visa-free travel to Bosnia and Albania despite fears that it could trigger a rise in economic migrants and bogus asylum claims.

Once the order takes force in mid-December, Bosnians will be able to travel on biometric passports to any of the 28 countries that lie inside Europe’s borderless "Schengen" zone, or which aspire to join it.

"Visa liberalization allows you to come and you are welcome but you cannot abuse visa liberalization," Melchior Wathelet, immigration and asylum secretary for Belgium, which currently holds the rotating EU Presidency, said.

“It doesn't mean you can seek asylum, get money from member states, seek welfare support from the member states, or that you will be allowed to work in the EU," he explained.

Wethelet and Malmstrom said Bosnian officials, including Prime Minister Nikola Spiric and Security Minister Sadik Ahmetovic, had assured them that the country would launch a public information campaign explaining the terms of the visa-free regime.

But the risk remains that the information may not reach some people, especially would-be migrants now living in shanty homes without electricity or access to TV. 

Mirela Imsirevic, a 28-year-old Roma living in a run-down neighbourhood in Sarajevo, said she aimed to take her five children abroad "to finally get a life.

"I would like to live abroad…in any country that would let me do it," she said.

Most other Roma in the same area said they wished only to visit EU countries. "I would only go for a short visit to my relatives in Germany but I don't want to stay there,” said Zarka Ahmetovic, 27. "I collect scrap paper, which earns me enough money, and I like living in Bosnia," she added.

While describing fears of new asylum seekers and immigrants as understandable, political analyst Zekerijah Smajic said a small country like Bosnia, with only 4 million people, did not pose the same risk to the EU as Serbia, which has twice as many people, or Romania, which has 22 million citizens.

But Smajic agreed that Bosnian officials must ensure full respect for the terms of the visa-liberalization decision if they do not want it to be suspended.

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