European Union ministers were pushing Thursday to end the right of citizens of western Balkan states to freely enter the EU’s visa-free Schengen bloc, saying unfounded asylum claims from those countries were clogging up the system.
EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said abuse of the asylum system had been “increasing considerably” since Albania, Bosnia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia were granted visa—free travel to the Schengen area.
German State Secretary of the Interior Ole Schroeder said there was “massive asylum abuse from Serbia and Macedonia,” speaking as he arrived for a meeting of interior ministers in Luxembourg.
Many of the asylum—seekers are from the poorly integrated Roma community, and claim repressive treatment at the hands of the authorities in their home countries.
Politicians in the EU have said most migrants are driven by economic motives, not fleeing severe persecution.
“These people are not persecuted in their countries of origin, we have an approval rate [of asylum status] that is close to zero,” Mr. Shroeder said.
“It is not acceptable that we now have twice as many asylum seekers from Serbia compared to people from Afghanistan,” he added, describing the situation as “absurd.” Ten days ago, Germany, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Austria and the Netherlands wrote an open letter pushing for the speedy adoption of legislation allowing visa requirements to be reintroduced in certain situations.
The issue is being debated by the European Commission, the EU’s executive, the European Parliament and member states, and is currently scheduled to take until the end of the year.
“This is about minorities and minority situations in the countries of the western Balkans, and we need to talk about how to improve minority rights in those countries,” said Swedish Migration and Asylum Minister Tobias Billstrom.
“Manifestly unfounded applications are simply squeezing out those who are in real need of shelter,” such as refugees from the bloodshed in Syria, he said.
Other issues to be discussed Thursday include Bulgaria and Romania’s accession to the Schengen bloc and a regional aid programme in response to the crisis in Syria.