4 July 2012 – The visa liberalization with the EU has resulted in arbitrary border controls and travel bans in the countries of the so-called Western Balkans. This is the result of a comparative survey on the measures which have been taken by countries of the region in reaction to EU pressures over an increase in the number of asylum seekers from these countries. Roma, who have been brandmarked as the archetype of bogus asylum seekers, have been the main victims of these measures.
The author of this survey, Chachipe, a Roma rights NGO based in Luxembourg, has analysed the measures which have been put in place by Serbia, Macedonia and other countries of the region, which have been granted a liberalisation of their visa regime with the EU, in order to evade pressures over an eventual reintroduction of visa requirements. They consist in a strengthening of border controls, the revocation or annihilation of travel documents and other forms of punishment.
The NGO found that these measures are most advanced in Macedonia which has recently adopted a law enabling the temporary seizure of the passports of failed asylum seekers. However, similar measures have also been envisaged in Serbia and other countries. Several thousand citizens of these countries, primarily Roma and members, have been arbitrarily deprived of their right to travel on the basis of the mere suspicion that they could be “false asylum seekers”.
In its report, Chachipe highlights the interplay between EU pressures and domestic reactions. The NGO shows how the process of visa liberalisation has already involved considerable changes of legislation including the practice of exit controls, which are today used in order to prevent these countries’ citizens from departing. Pointing out the similarity between the measures taken, the NGO questions the role of the EU, which goes well beyond that of a mere advisor and warner.
Chachipe documents that the multiple vague announcements concerning “negative consequences” and the requests made by several countries including Serbia and Macedonia to EU member states to communicate the names and identity of the asylum seekers has contributed to nurture fears amongst the asylum seekers and the Roma population in general. Moreover, the public information campaigns have also contributed to foment the vision that Roma are responsible for the threats over the visa liberalization.
The report is the outcome of an extensive campaign during which Chachipe together with other NGOs has raised concerns over human rights violations which result from the measures taken in the context of the visa liberalization. In its report, the NGO points out that measures such as arbitrary travel bans and the revocation of passports have already been probed beforehand, in the context of the visa liberalization with Romania.
Taking stock of the so-called Prague airport case, during which Czech Roma were selectively prevented from boarding airplanes to the UK, Chachipe argues that border checks based on ethnic profiling are a blatant infringement of fundamental human rights principles. The NGO calls on the EU not to ask the countries to go against these principles for the sole purpose that the EU does not want to confront the poverty and despair of their Roma population.