European People's Party members of the European parliament, including MEP Karlo Ressler of Croatia, said on Tuesday in a debate that Serbian authorities were responsible for the increase in illegal migrants traveling the so-called Western Balkan route towards Western Europe, due to Serbia's lax visa policy.
During a plenary debate on the impact of the Russian aggression on Ukraine on illegal migration towards the EU, Ressler said that there was a “dramatic increase” in the number of illegal migrants on that route. He said the situation was “bad” and risked to become “extremely malignant”, attributing these developments to Serbia’s actions, “to a large extent.”
From January to September this year, more than 106,000 illegal migrants have been recorded traveling the Western Balkan route, or 170 percent up from the same period in 2021, according to data collected by Frontex, the EU’s border agency. It is currently the most active migratory route, consisting mostly of nationals of Syria, Aghanistan, and Turkey.
Serbia has a no-visa regime with Belarus, Burundi, China, Cuba, India, Russia, Tunisia, and Turkey.
By “unscrupulously misusing” the visa regime, Ressler said, Serbia is offering visa-free regime to countries which do not recognize the independence of Kosovo, which “allowed for migrants from Burundi, India, and Cuba to appear on European borders for the very first time.”
This year, there have been 259 illegal migrants from Burundi, while last year there were none. There have been 339 from Cuba, up from 36 last year, 4,469 from India, up from 557 in 2021, and 6,777 from Tunisia, up from 842 last year.
“The creation of migration pressure on national and European borders raises the question of Serbia’s civilizational orientation,” Ressler opined, and added that “if this continues, the highest price of such a dishonest and anti-European policy will be paid by Serbia’s citizens.”
According to Ressler, the EU must not “cut any slack” for any form of government role in “creating migration pressure,” notably to a regime “which even today finds a model in Russia, and prefers (maintaining) political and energy relations with Moscow.”
Portuguese MEP Paulo Rangel also said that Serbia was contributing to the migration crisis because its visa regime with third countries enabled illegal migrants to reach European borders.
“Serbian authorities are creating pressure on European borders,” he said, adding that Serbia is “facilitating the arrival of refugees from Cuba, Burundi and India,” which he said the EU must not allow. “We see a new migration flow in border countries such as Hungary, Croatia, Greece, Bulgaria and Romania,” Rangel said, adding that the EU “must not accept Serbia’s actions but condemn them without reservation.”
Dutch MEP Jeroen Lenaers, speaking on behalf of the EPP, said the reason for the increase in illegal migration in the Balkans was Serbia’s “scandalous” visa policy and that he hoped the European Commission would address this “without delay.”
Last week, Home Affairs Commissioner, Ylva Johansson, said she expected Serbia to align its visa policy with the EU and said that even revoking the no-visa regime with Serbia was being considered.
Speaking to the Croatian state news agency Hina, Ressler said that the non-alignment of Serbia’s visa regime with the EU was “one of the key causes of the significantly increased migration flow over the first nine months of this year.”
He said the European Parliament had to discuss Serbia again because in the past eight months it became clear that Serbia’s European “as well as civilizational orientation, not just regarding the war in Ukraine, was in question.”
Hina did not ask Ressler to clarify what does “civilizational orientation” mean.
Ressler said the European Union was trying to talk with Belgrade in an attempt to stop “such unacceptable behavior” because of the pressure on its neighboring Croatian as well as the whole external European border.
“We don’t need that in a situation in which Europe is dealing with a number of other challenges, in which the security architecture in Europe is undermined,” Ressler added, without clarifying.
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