Currently, the visa policy of Serbia and the European Union differs for about 20 countries. This means that while citizens of some countries need a visa to enter the Schengen area, they have a visa-free regime with Serbia.
According to the President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, things may soon change in order for Serbia to stop being the country that migrants use to reach Western Europe.
Vučić said yesterday, after a meeting in Budapest devoted to, among other things, migration, that once again there is an increase in arrivals of Syrian, Pakistani and Afghan refugees in Serbia, and added that, so far, some 17,600 arrivals from Russia and Ukraine together have been recorded.
“All this is a big burden for a relatively small country,” Vučić said, stressing that by the end of the year Serbia will significantly harmonise its visa policy with the EU visa policy, so that Serbia “cannot be used as a country of entry for illegal immigration”.
Nemanja Štiplija, editor-in-chief of the Western European Balkans website, believes, however, that the intention behind that announcement is not to stop illegal immigration, but rather to meet the demands of Europe, which is increasingly demanding alignment with its foreign policy, especially after Russia attacked Ukraine.
“Serbia already has a visa regime for most of the countries that are problematic in terms of large numbers of migrants coming from them. I mean Pakistan, Bangladesh, some African countries…On the other hand, there are demands from the EU for alignment of Serbia’s foreign policy, including the introduction of sanctions against Russia. I think that with this move Serbia wants to harmonise with the EU acquis as much as possible,’ says Štiplija.
The European Commission’s latest report states that Serbia’s visa policy is not harmonised with the European one. Citizens of the following countries require a visa to enter the Schengen area but not Serbia: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Belarus, Bolivia, Burundi, China, Cuba, Guinea-Bissau, India, Indonesia, Jamaica, Kyrgyzstan, Kuwait, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Oman, Qatar, Russia, Suriname, Tunisia and Turkey. The Commission recommended the introduction of visas primarily for those countries from which a large number of illegal migrants originate or which may pose a security risk. Speaking yesterday, President Vučić did not specify for which countries visas will have been introduced by the year-end.
Nemanja Štiplija says he does not believe Russia will be on that list. ‘I doubt that visas for Russia will be introduced, at least not at this moment,’ he says. When asked what Serbia’s interest might be in maintaining the visa-free regime with other countries, he mentions economic factors. “On the one hand, our citizens can travel freely to those countries. On the other, there is important economic cooperation with countries such as China, Azerbaijan and Turkey,’ says Štiplija.
The executive director of the Centre for Protection and Assistance to Asylum Seekers, Radoš Đurović, thinks that the announced alignment of the visa regime of Serbia and the EU refers to people who come to Serbia by plane and then try to continue toward Europe. Đurović explains that more and more people are coming to Serbia and that, according to estimates, more than 70,000 people have entered and most probably another large number left the country in September.
According to him, the largest number of refugees arrive in Serbia ‘by land, from Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria, up to 300 people a day, but mostly they want to leave as soon as possible and rarely stay in Serbia’.
As he explained, most of them come from Afghanistan (40 per cent), with Syrians in second place. Đurović went on to say that as of September, 17,900 Ukrainians had registered their residence in Serbia and 95,000 had passed through Serbia, as well as tens of thousands of Russians, perhaps more than 50,000, estimating that this number would continue to grow.
This post is also available in: Italiano