The suppression of ‘Schengen ‘ visas must not be done at the expense of the right of asylum

The lifting of the ‘Schengen’ visa requirement, for stays less than three months for nationals from Bosnia Herzegovina and Albania is an important step for nationals of these two countries. Adopted last 8th November by the Council of the European Union and approved by the European Parliament, this decision will come into effect on 15th December 2010. However, the undersigned organisations wish to express their deep concerns regarding the reserves set out by the Council of the European Union which foresees a regular follow-up of reforms of migration policies by the European Commission and the possibility of re-establishing visa requirements in case of a ‘mass influx’ of nationals from these countries.

During the last months, representatives from the European Commission and Council have urged the authorities of Balkan countries to strengthen controls on migratory flows, by focusing in particular on the ‘reasons’ nationals have for leaving their country. This requirement, in violation of several international instruments, has been caused by an increase in asylum applications by Serbian and Macedonian nationals in several European countries despite the fact that visa requirements were lifted in December 2009. Local authorities have responded to this call and promised to strengthen the control of their borders and to undertake targeted controls aimed at preventing the departure of potential asylum seekers. Failure to do so could lead to the visa exemption being reconsidered.

This new toughening of the European Union’s migration policies is a reminder that the Union had only lifted visas on condition that already put this lift for visas on condition that these countries sign European readmission agreements that came into effect in January 2008. From now on, these agreements are part of the package that is being imposed by the European Union on its partners. By setting accelerated procedures, readmission agreements weaken guarantees that should be granted to asylum seekers such as the principle of non refoulement. Through this procedure, an individual caught while attempting to cross a border illegally will have to be sent back to the country of origin within maximum two months.

This new initiative from the European Union, which could well become a model for future agreements, boils down to requiring the authorities of these countries to prevent nationals who consider themselves as victims of persecution in their own country from leaving that country. That is a violation both of the principles of the Geneva Convention on refugee status and of Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states, in article 13, that ‘everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country’.

Most of the people affected are members of ethnic minorities. Organisations point out the ambivalent position of European institutions: on the one hand they criticize the discrimination these people suffer and on the other hand they refuse to grant them protection. Since the European Union is directly involved in the arrival on its territory of Roma people from Serbia and Macedonia, signatory organisations are concerned by this signal given to the authorities of these countries and a part of their nationals that Roma people are not welcomed. Balkan countries remain deeply affected by the effects of war and inter-ethnic tensions. Almost all the nearly half a million people displaced within the region, mainly in Serbia, are deprived of their basic rights.

Signatory organisations are calling on the European Union to ensure that the rights of these internally displaced persons and of nationals from these countries wishing to apply for asylum in a member state of the EU are upheld.

Paris, 15th December 2010

Signatory organisations : Chachipe a.s.b.l. - Migreurop - Réseau Trans Europe Experts

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