Less than a year after instituting visa liberalisation for Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro, the EU has had to adopt a monitoring mechanism amid a flood of Roma asylum-seekers.
By Marina Stojanovska for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 18/11/10
The EC is taking steps to see that visa liberalisation is not abused. [Tomislav Georgiev/SETimes]
Concerned over an increase in the number of mostly Roma emigrants seeking asylum in the EU, the European Commission (EC) has decided to put a monitoring system in place for Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro. Complaints have been voiced by Belgium -- where nearly 200 Roma from Macedonia sought asylum last month -- as well as Germany and Sweden.
"The follow-up mechanism introduces emergency consultation arrangements so that the EU and its member states can, in co-operation with the authorities of the countries, react in the best possible way to any specific difficulties which might arise," the EU Council explained in a statement.
The EC may propose suspending the visa-free regime if the situation worsens, and will report regularly to the EU Council and the European Parliament on the issue.
According to analyst Mersel Biljalji, Macedonia has not adequately fulfilled the obligations it assumed when visa liberalisation was granted 11 months ago.
"Despite all the warnings ... Macedonian institutions didn't take things seriously to prevent these occurrences. That alarmed the EU authorities, making the travel regime to EU member states more rigorous, and practically making the innocent citizens pay," he said.
Interior Minister Gordana Jankulovska rejects that claim. She says her ministry has used public campaigns from the very beginning of visa liberalisation to educate citizens about obligations and privileges.
"The Ministry and other institutions already processed several claims against tourist agencies which manipulated citizens by promising asylum in certain countries," Jankulovska said.
Belgian Prime Minister Yves Letrem and Emigration State Secretary Melchior Vatele visited Macedonia to explain that no EU country will give economic asylum, and all seeking asylum will be sent back without monetary compensation.
Few of the 200 asylum seekers in the predominantly Roma Shuto Orizari neighbourhood in Skopje wanted to speak to SETimes.
One resident who spoke on condition of anonymity explained that initial preparations for travel went through an "agency here in this municipality, and after it being closed, the channel still functions".
News had spread among the Roma that they could receive monetary compensation from the EU for the time spent awaiting a decision on their asylum cases, he said.
Former Foreign Affairs Minister Slobodan Casule told SETimes the problem lies not in the number of those seeking asylum because it is miniscule, but in certain countries which misuse it.
"There are elements of xenophobia and chauvinism in some European countries and that is why I don't accept the claim Macedonia is not doing enough to educate the Roma. They are not desirable in Europe and are not accepted there -- just look what happened in France."
The issue is used domestically by local media to pressure governments, he said.
"Brussels just decided to grant visa liberalisation to Albania and Bosnia. The Albanians are the perhaps most migratory people in the region and yet they obtained a visa-free regime without a mention in the [Macedonian] media," Casule said.