Magazine article European Social Policy

Visas : Belgium Uneasy over Asylum Requests from Balkans

Magazine article European Social Policy

Visas : Belgium Uneasy over Asylum Requests from Balkans

Article excerpt

Melchior Wathelet, Belgium's state secretary for immigration, has sent a letter to the European Commission expressing his concerns about the increase in asylum applications from Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, whose nationals have been allowed to enter the Schengen area without a tourist visa (three months) since 2009.

"Our position is very clear," said the spokesman for Immigration Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, on 6 May. "We have had a mechanism in place since January to monitor visa liberalisation." In this context, experts from the external border surveillance agency Frontex and from member states regularly visit the Western Balkans. The latest mission to Serbia was in April and a similar operation is planned for the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia soon.

According to Wathelet's spokesman, 188 Serbs and 108 Macedonians applied for asylum in Belgium in March, compared with around 30 each prior to visa liberalisation. Under the process in place, EU countries draw up a report in the event of a problem. They maintain that it should be possible to suspend visa liberalisation in the event of an influx of persons applying for asylum for economic reasons (not recognised by the 1951 Geneva Convention on the status of refugees), the spokesman told Europolitics social. The rate of acceptance of asylum requests submitted by Serbs and Macedonians is very low. Although Belgium is not yet raising the prospect of suspension, "this could be the next step," said the state secretary's spokesman. …

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