By Klaudija Lutovska
Serbia and Macedonia are intensifying efforts to reduce the number of fake asylum seekers in the EU, following threats from Germany that the Union may revoke the visa regime if asylum applications continue.
“Macedonia has initiated more cases to investigate citizens who had falsely promised asylum in some EU countries. We make every effort to do away [with] such cases,” Gordana Jankulovska, Macedonia’s internal affairs minister, told SETimes.
On October 27th, the Macedonian police arrested a group which organised asylum-seeking trips to the EU, charging up to 350 euro per person.
Nearly 1,400 people from Serbia and 1,040 from Macedonia sought asylum in Germany in September, the majority being Roma and Albanians.
Amet Sadiovski, 40, a Roma from Bitola, said some individuals take advantage of the poorest people who want to survive the winter and come back home in the spring.
“The 360 euros per month that Germany awards asylum seekers is much more than the minimum wage at home,” Sadiovski told SETimes.
Last year, the EU had demanded that the Western Balkan countries exchange information daily with the Union member states, investigate those organising asylum seeking trips and conduct awareness campaigns.
Now the EU wants Macedonia and Serbia to strengthen border controls — including checking for return tickets, health insurance and amount of money carried — and, in some cases, revoke passports or prevent fake asylum seekers from leaving.
“We are engaged now just like in years past to reduce visa-free regime abuses to the minimum and we join in [undertaking] these activities,” Teuita Arifi, deputy prime minister for European affairs, told SETimes.
Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Luxemburg, the Netherlands and Sweden previously sent a letter to the European Commission requesting that it abolish the visa-free regime for the Western Balkans.
But Hans Peter Friedrich, Germany’s internal affairs minister, singled out Serbia and Macedonia and said unjustified asylum claims from these two countries have overloaded the German immigration system.
“One of the options is to decide on these claims via a speedy procedure within 48 hours, following the example of Switzerland. But, for now, Germany has no legal basis to introduce such a rule,” he said.
Germany also requested the EC reinstitute the visa regime for Serbia and Macedonia during the meeting of internal affairs ministers in Luxemburg on October 25th.
Jankulovska said, however, reinstituting the visa regime is a radical and a wrong step.
Many in Serbia and Macedonia view the EU demands as overblown and unfair.
“The number and money the EU spends on the fake asylum cases is so low, it does not even approach 1 percent of the funds the EU has spent to cover wasteful and often criminal spending in its member states,” Renata Nikoloska, 34, a tourist agent from Ohrid, told SETimes.
Serbia’s Prime Minister Ivica Dacic said overall there are less than 10,000 asylum seekers.
“We will pay the cost for their return back because it would be a lot less damaging for Serbia than abolishing the visa-free regime,” Dacic said.
The EU will decide whether to suspend the visa-free regime as early as February. The final decision must be approved by two-thirds of the EU parliament members.
Meanwhile pressure has grown in the European Parliament to adopt a “safeguard clause” which would provide the EU member states the legal basis to temporary suspend the visa-free regime.
“The situation is not impossible to control. We need to do everything in our power so that the visa liberalisation will not be abolished,” Tanja Fajon, member of the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said.