The Belgian embassy in Belgrade has told politicians from South Serbia that it will deny all requests for asylum which have been submitted by Serbian nationals this year.
According to Beta news agency, Riza Halimi, the only ethnic Albanian MP in Serbia’s parliament, said that he was informed on Tuesday by the Belgian Ambassador to Serbia, Denise de Hauwere, that according to the readmissions agreement, all Serbian nationals who ask for asylum in Belgium will be returned home after three months as they do not meet any of the requirements for political asylum status.
“The ambassador announced that she would visit Presevo and Bujanovac next week, together with members of the Belgian government, to meet representatives of local structures and the public and present the Belgian stance on accepting asylum seekers,” the agency quoted Halimi as saying.
Since visa-free travel to the EU came into force for Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro on December 19, 2009, some 400 Serbian nationals have sought asylum in Belgium, along with similar numbers from Macedonia. The Belgian embassy in Serbia announced that 58 people from Serbia reportedly sought asylum in the country in January, and 330 filed applications in February.
Most of the asylum seekers reportedly originate from south Serbia.
Local media investigations of the situation in Macedonia have found that the asylum seekers mainly come from several impoverished areas in the country. They are lured by the prospect of a better life in Belgium promised by some local tourist agencies that organise the transport to the country.
Macedonian Interior Minister Gordala Jankulovska on Tuesday told media that they are probing allegations of the involvement of several tourist agencies in the scheme.
Despite assurances from local governments that they are doing what they can to inform their citizens and address the situation, on Tuesday the European Commission sent a strict warning to Skopje and Belgrade and to residents of the two states not to abuse the rights gained by the recent visa liberalisation.
They urged the authorities to conduct campaigns in order to better inform their citizens about the rights and restrictions of the new visa-free travel agreement.
Serbian MP Halimi noted that the Belgian authorities had identified the three bus carriers transporting mainly asylum seekers, and that they were not from Presevo or Bujanovac.
“There were some cases where people visited their relatives in the EU for two or three weeks and then returned to Serbia, which is normal. However, there are also many cases in which individuals invested a lot of money to take the trip, with the hope of getting asylum status in an EU country, and now they will have to return after three months,” Halimi said.
Halimi said that, according to rough estimates, about 5,000 to 10,000 people from south Serbia have tried to seek asylum in the EU.