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EU Countries Mull Curbing Visa-Free Travel For Balkan, Eastern European States Due To ‘Abuses’

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Alleged abuses perpetrated by some Western Balkan states, as well as Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine, have prompted some European Union members to raise the possibility of canceling the visa-free travel regime to the bloc, according to an internal EU document.
Among the abuses cited are unlawful residency and unfounded asylum claims.

The document, dated September 27, comes as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tours the Western Balkans.

The EU visa regime for Montenegro, Serbia, and North Macedonia was abolished in December 2009, followed by Albania and Bosnia in 2010, Moldova in 2014, and Georgia and Ukraine in 2017.

Visa-free travel for up to 90 days to the EU has been considered an important step ahead in the 27-member bloc’s relations with the Western Balkans and the former Soviet states under its Eastern Partnership policy.

But according to the document, Germany, France, and Italy have recently become more and more frustrated with alleged abuses of visa-free travel. It mentions surges in “unauthorized residence offenses” perpetrated by citizens of Albania, Moldova, Ukraine, and Serbia.

The document also listed a more than 50 percent increase in Georgian asylum claims over the past three months, compared to the same period in the pre-coronavirus pandemic year of 2019.

Under the so-called Visa Suspension Mechanism, a rise of more than 50 percent in illegal stays or asylum applications with low approval rates can lead to visas being reintroduced.

Furthermore, refusal by governments to readmit their nationals can also see the return of visas.

In the document, Germany mentioned Moldova as a particularly serious case, with a 429 percent surge between June to August 2019 and June to August of this year.

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Italy also took issue with Moldova, stating that human-trafficking networks operating through “neighboring countries” were abusing visa-free travel, raising the possibility of stripping Moldova of visa-free travel “in case of insufficient progress.”

France mentioned problems caused by nationals from Albania, Georgia, and Serbia.

Belgium raised the problem posed by the “alarming increase” of asylum applications from Moldova this year, while the Czech Republic also said that unfounded asylum claims from Georgian, Moldovan, and Ukrainian nationals spiked recently.

The Netherlands is the only EU member to have asked for the suspension of the visa-free travel regime with Albania in 2019. But its request was rejected by the European Commission.

Von der Leyen will visit Kosovo, Montenegro, and Serbia on September 29, following her visit to Albania and North Macedonia a day earlier. On September 30, she will conclude her tour by visiting Bosnia-Herzegovina, just days before the EU is set to hold a summit with Western Balkans countries on October 6.

With reporting by the EU Observer

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