Visas to be re-introduced for Western Balkan countries

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The European Commission said it will propose tomorrow (24 May) to reintroduce visas for Western Balkan countries whose citizens abuse the system.

The measure will punish countries such as Serbia and Macedonia for failing to stop their citizens from taking advantage of visa-free travel rights to request asylum once they reach one of the EU's 27 member states (see 'Background').

Following complaints from waves of asylum seekers, Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström will propose the introduction of a safeguard clause to permit the reintroduction of visa requirements for third countries.

According to AFP, the sanction comes at the request of the "vast majority of EU countries".

The safeguard mechanism was introduced last November, when visa requirements were lifted for citizens of Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina. But the mechanism also applies to Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.

Faced with a surge of asylum seekers from Serbia and Macedonia, mainly ethnic Roma and Albanians, Belgium has sent its migration minister, Melchior Wathelet, to Belgrade to convey his country's concerns.

Malmström's proposal will be submitted to EU interior ministers for approval at their 9-10 June meeting in Luxembourg.

According to various reports, the asylum seekers from the Western Balkans are mainly of Roma and Albanian ethnicity and their asylum requests are based on economic considerations.

Many of the asylum seekers are in fact perfectly aware that they will not be granted asylum but they nevertheless take advantage of the assessment period for their applications, during which they are provided with free accommodation and some pocket money.

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The EU decided on 16 July 2009 that citizens of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia should be able to travel to the Schengen area without visas starting from 19 December 2009.

On 8 November 2010 the EU lifted visa requirements for citizens from Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, an unprecedented monitoring mechanism has been set up which could reintroduce visas for several Western Balkan countries should difficulties arise.

Several EU countries were affected negatively by the visa liberalisation policy. In particular, a wave of asylum seekers from Macedonia and Serbia, mainly Roma of Albanian ethnicity, hit Sweden, Belgium and Germany.

  • 24 May: Commission to make a proposal;
  • 9-10 June: Interior ministers to adopt the decision.

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