The Commission has confirmed reports that citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina, an EU hopeful for which Brussels lifted visa requirements in November 2010, could again be subjected to the cumbersome procedure, due to the large number of asylum-seekers from this country.
Following reports in the local press that the EU might re-introduce visas for citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Michele Cercone, spokesperson of Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström, confirmed that the EU executive was closely monitoring the increase of asylum-seekers.
The EU countries which have recently experienced increases are Germany, Belgium, Sweden and Luxembourg, he said.
Visa liberalisation is one of the greatest achievements in the process of European integration for the Western Balkans countries and Commissioner Malmström is personally committed to upholding the visa liberalisation process, Cercone said.
Therefore, he said that she was very concerned about the increase in the number of unfounded asylum applications to the EU from nationals of Bosnia and Herzegovina and some other Western Balkan countries.
It should be clear that if some of the countries in the Western Balkans do not meet their commitments and do not properly and quickly address the concerns of EU member countries as regards the increasing number of unfounded asylum applications, the achievements of visa liberalisation might be put at risk, he stressed.
On the 20 September, Commissioner Cecilia Malmström sent a letter to the Ministers of the Interior from Serbia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Macedonia, asking for them to inform the Commission on the practical measures they have put in place to address the increased number of asylum seekers in EU member states.
Commissioner Malmström hopes that the current situation will be addressed adequately and without delay and calls for the full support and engagement from Western Balkan countries in order to avoid that negative developments endanger this otherwise successful process.
The forthcoming Justice and Home Affairs EU-Western Balkans Ministerial Forum in Ohrid (3-4 October) will provide an opportunity to discuss the current situation, Cercone said.
Under the so-called visa liberalisation initiative, on 8 November 2010 EU ministers decided to lift visa requirements for citizens from Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina to the EU's borderless Schengen area.
The EU had decided on 16 July 2009 that citizens of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia should be able to travel to the Schengen area.
In the Western Balkans, only Kosovo is not covered by the Commission's visa liberalisation initiative. The former Serbian province is a 'sui generis' case as it is not recognised by five EU countries (Greece, Spain, Cyprus, Romania and Slovakia).
After the granting of visa liberalisation to the above-mentioned, several EU members were confronted with a considerable influx of persons who travel visa-free to the EU and then abuse asylum procedures.
In order to prevent the misuse of the visa-free regime for purposes other than the intended short-term travel to the EU, an unprecedented monitoring mechanism has been set up which could reintroduce visas for the countries benefiting from visa liberalisation, should difficulties arise.
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