Czechia Imposes a Ban on Visa-Free Travel to Western Balkans Due to Irregular Migration

Cuban, Indian, and Turkish citizens who come through Albania and Serbia to seek asylum in the European Union are increasing, thus the issue has prompted talks on the suspension of visa-free travel in the Western Balkans.

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According to the Czech EU presidency, given that Serbia and Albania never fully aligned their overseas visa waiver lists with the EU, even though they enjoy visa-free travel in the bloc, this contributes to the increase in the number of irregular migrants entering the EU through this route, reports.

“Nationals from Turkey, Tunisia, India, Cuba, and Burundi, in particular, enter legally (visa-free) by air in Serbia (and from some of these countries also in Albania) and a very high number moves irregularly further towards EU member states,” it also stated.

The same emphasized that these nationalities are unusual on the road and there is a risk of a growing trend.

However, many citizens of Afghanistan and Syria or a total of 60,000 tried to enter the EU clandestinely in January-August this year, compared to 51,000 for the whole of last year.

Meanwhile, the number of people coming from the Western Balkans from Burundi also increased significantly with 259 so far this year compared to zero last year. At the same time, there was an increasing number of Cubans with 339 against 36 last year, Indians 4,469 this year compared to 557 in 2021, Tunisians 5,777 against 842, and Turks 6,186 against 1,652.

“Indian nationals are arriving irregularly in the EU almost exclusively via the Western Balkan route. The same applies to Cuban nationals. As far as Tunisians and Turks are concerned, the arrivals are increasing significantly on the Western Balkan route while they are stable or decreasing on other routes,” the Czech presidency pointed out.

The same situation due to irregular arrivals in the EU via the Western Balkan route has almost affected and increased pressure on the neighboring states of Europe, Austria, Croatia, and Slovenia, in addition to Hungary, which built an anti-immigrant wall on its border.

However, Croatia and Slovenia, which did not see a single asylum request from Burundi, Cuba, or India last year, received more than 1,700 requests this year.

According to local Czech media, ideas to reduce the numbers include diplomatic pressure on Albania and Serbia to harmonize visa waivers and bring back more irregular migrants and sending EU border guards to Western Balkan states, and pressure on airlines to prevent “abuse”.

Moreover, Prague, which holds the EU presidency until the end of the year, proposed the suspension of visa-free travel from Albania and Serbia.

In 2015, the migrant crisis gripped the Western Balkans, when more than 1 million refugees entered the EU irregularly, most of them via south-eastern Europe.

The figure was then reduced by the fallout from the war in Ukraine, with an estimated 4.31 million Ukrainians granted “temporary protection” in the EU since Russia invaded the country in February.

According to a special memo from the Czech EU presidency, some 744,000 Ukrainians still in the country are likely to leave their homes this winter due to damage to housing and heating infrastructure.