27 October 2011 – A European coalition of human rights NGOs expressed concerns over the EU’s pressures on the countries of the so-called Western Balkans to cut down the influx of asylum seekers. Reacting to a letter by EU Commissioner Cecilia Malmström to the ministers of interior of the five Balkan countries, which have been recently granted a liberalization of their visa regime with the EU, the NGOs said, that the EU was gambling its credibility on human rights.

According to media reports, Commissioner Malmström, in charge of coordinating the Union’s migration policy, wrote to the governments of the five Balkan states, which have been granted a visa waiver for short-term travels to the Schengen area, asking them to inform the Commission about the measures they have taken in order to tackle the increase of asylum seekers from these countries in the European Union. Otherwise, the Commissioner warned, the visa liberalization would be in danger.

Since last year, the countries of the Western Balkans have come under increasing pressure to prevent potential asylum candidates from leaving in the EU.

In their letter to the European Commission, the NGOs criticize the request to the countries to apply the entry conditions contained in the Schengen Borders Code, whichs set out the criteria a third country national has to fulfill in order to be admitted to the Schengen area, as an exit test. As a result, several thousands of citizens from these countries have been denied the right to leave their country.

The NGOs are particularly concerned by the fact that this and other measures are particularly targeted at persons belonging to ethnic minorities. This was also evidenced by the European Commission’s recent progress report on Macedonia, which mentions “enhanced border checks and profiling” as part of the preventive measures taken in order to prevent Macedonian citizens from seeking asylum in the EU.

The NGOs point out that the freedom of movement is a fundamental human rights and includes the right for everyone to leave any country including its own. They highlight that all the five countries have adopted the principle of freedom of movement into their national constitution, which also guarantee the freedom from discrimination and the principle of equality.

They call it ironic, that the European Union, which has asked the countries of the Western Balkans to adopt international human rights principles as part of the conditions for joining the EU, is now requesting them to breach these very principles in a way to control immigration.

In the absence of any progress in terms of improving the living conditions of Roma, the Commission’s call for “additional measures” to bring down the number of asylum seekers, would only result in additional discrimination, the NGOs say and damage the EU’s credibility as a champion of minority rights.

The NGOs call on the Commission to immediately relinquish its pressures on the countries of the Western Balkan states aiming to force these countries to adopt measures to prevent their citizens from seeking asylum abroad. Instead, the Commission should urge the countries to combat the root causes forcing ethnic minorities, in particular Roma, to move abroad. The NGOs ask for greater transparency in the Union’s migration policy, which should be based on a strict application and respect of human rights.

Chachipe a.s.b.l.