EU Urges Balkan Countries to Stop Asylum Wave

The EU has warned Balkan countries that if they don’t lower the number of asylum seekers, visas may have to be re-introduced.Following a meeting of the EU interior ministers on Thursday, officials say that Balkan countries need to curb the number of people seeking asylum in Western Europe, describing the figures as worrying.

Johanna Miki Leitner, Austria’s Interior Minister, said that the Balkan countries need to find a way to curb the number of request, adding that the EU will work on its own measures for prevention. She added that visas may be re-introduced if all other measures fail.

Her Swedish counterpart, Tobias Billstrom, said that the agenda of the meeting was not to re-introduce visas for Balkan countries but to find a solution to prevent the problem.

“This is a problem about the integration of minorities in Balkan countries. These countries need to improve their [minorities’] position and their general inclusion into the society,” he added.

The council of EU ministers will recommend the EU parliament to adopt new measures preventing an influx of asylum seekers from the Balkans.

In December 2009, the European Union lifted visa requirements on Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro, allowing their citizens to travel freely into the EU’s so-called Schengen zone.

Since then, Serbia and Macedonia have received complaints about mass arrivals of asylum-seekers, mainly ethnic Albanians and Roma, filing applications in Sweden, Belgium, Germany and other European countries.

Eurostat, the European Union statistical office, says that in the first three months of 2012, 3,390 people from Serbia alone sought asylum within the EU.

Macedonia produced 1,100 asylum-seekers in the first quarter of this year. Another 865 came from Albania and 600 from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Kosovo, which still has no visa-free agreement with the EU, produced 1,970 requests.

Ole Schroder, Germany’s Deputy Interior Minister, said that owing to the abuse of the system, Germany will put Serbia and Macedonia on a list of “safe” countries.

This will shorten the asylum procedure for their citizens and prevent such asylum seekers from staying in Germany for months at the government’s expense.

Several EU governments have complained that the system is being abused by people who are not legitimate refugees.

After the ministerial meeting, the EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, Cecilia Malmstrom, said the issue will be a subject of debate at an upcoming regional meeting in Tirana, Albania.

“It is time for the Balkan states to address this. There are serious concerns,” she said.

According to Malmstrom, the number of asylum seekers from the Balkans has increased by 75 per cent over the last year. “Very few of them are actually accepted. It’s a microscopic level,” she noted.

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