Global Agenda

Serbia becomes a transfer station for migrants heading to the EU

Matúš Bučko

In recent weeks, the number of migrants arriving in the member countries of the European Union has been increasing again. Especially the Balkan migrant route has become more active, one of the reasons being Serbia’s benevolent visa policy towards many Asian and African countries.

A few years ago, thousands of migrants tried to enter the European Union via the Western Balkan route. They came mainly from Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq. These nationals lead the ranking with a huge gap to these days. During this year, almost 60 thousand migrants came from these countries. In recent weeks, air travel has become a trend in migration, which opens the way for other nationalities. Since Serbia enjoys visa-free travel with the EU and at the same time does not require a visa from citizens of Burundi, India, Tunisia or Cuba, also nationals of these countries appear in the reports on the state of migration. The source of concern is not the numbers themselves, which are in the hundreds and lower thousands these days but the large percentage increase in these numbers can be a problem. Last year, 557 Indians entered the EU via the Western Balkan route while this year it is already 4,469.

German Minister of Foreign Affairs Annalena Baerbock warned that Moscow could be behind this trend. According to her, it could be another attempt by the Kremlin to destabilise European countries. Serbian officials refuse that it would be intentional or that Belgrade would help the Russian regime. On the contrary, Serbia installed measures which should prevent abusing visa-free travel with some countries. One such measure is requiring these travellers to show a proof of a purchased return ticket with a fixed return date.

On October 13 and 14, a meeting of the home affairs ministers of the EU member states was being held in Luxembourg. The ministers discussed the protection of the outer Schengen borders or increased pressure on migration capacities mainly in Hungary, Austria, and Czechia. One of the reasons why the capacities are already almost exhausted even without people coming through the Western Balkan is the influx of refugees fleeing from Ukraine after the Russian invasion. Czech Minister of Interior Vít Rakušan emphasised that protecting of the outer Schengen border is the key to addressing illegal migration and other challenges which the EU bloc is facing.

During his visit to the Western Balkan countries, Margaritis Schinas, the Vice-president of the European Commission met with Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić and tried to persuade him to adopt the EU’s visa policy – Belgrade declared that it will do so by the end of this year.

The Czech Republic, which currently chairs the Council of the European Union, has been trying to solve this issue and plans to put pressure on Serbia and Albania through diplomatic channels. The ideal outcome would be the unification of the list of visa-free states with the one used by the EU. Other options are to send Frontex (European Border and Coast Guard Agency) to the Balkans and to put pressure on airlines. However, if this fails, the Czech representatives admit the possibility that visa-free travel from Serbia and Albania could be suspended. This measure would have a significant impact on many Serbs who work in EU countries. That is one of the reasons why Serbian authorities confirmed that they will do everything they can to prevent this scenario.

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