Belgian statistics show that the number of migrants from Macedonia fell significantly in June, the country’s migration minister, Melkior Vatle, said.
“The Macedonian government is moving in the right direction,” Vatle said, urging the country now to focus on ensuring better living conditions for ethnic Roma, who make up the bulk of the would-be asylum seekers.
Since the EU lifted visa requirements for the citizens of Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro at the end of 2009, several governments have complained of the number of asylum seekers from these countries, fleeing poverty back home.
Belgium was among the first to raise an alert about the problem along with Switzerland, Austria, and Germany.
Macedonia and Serbia were pressed to fight against this trend. The EU for its part this year introduced so-called monitoring mechanisms for the whole Western Balkans visa liberalization process. The EU has also mulled a temporary suspension of visa liberalization arrangements for certain countries if they fail to stop this trend.
Meanwhile, all the asylum seekers were rejected and many of them were sent back home.
Macedonian police spokesman Ivo Kotevski said increased police vigilance was delivering results.
He said almost 800 people who were suspected of attempting to leave the country to claim asylum in the West were returned home from border posts in the last month alone.
He said the police had also conducted over 120 checkups of companies that organize transport to Western European capitals.
Some local tourist and travel companies were pinpointed as catalysts for the migration wave. Companies have been fined for luring people into falsely believing that getting asylum was easy.
The EU has also urged Macedonian to better inform ts citizens that visa liberalization does not give people a right to permanently stay and work in Western Europe.