Serbia Ends Visa-Free Regimes with Tunisia Burundi

After facing pressure from the EU regarding an increase in the number of migrants entering the bloc, Serbia has made the decision to halt its visa-free travel agreements with Tunisia and Burundi

Tunisia and Burundi

This move comes as Serbia seeks to align itself with the EU's visa requirements.To visit Tunisia, you will need to acquire a Tunisian visa. The type of visa you need will vary based on factors like your nationality, the purpose of your trip, and the length of your stay.

Timeline of Events

  • EU Pressure: The European Union had been exerting pressure on Serbia, asserting that the country's visa-free policies were contributing to a surge in migrant arrivals within the EU.
  • Official Announcement: The Tunisian embassy in Belgrade announced that Serbia would be ending visa-free travel for its citizens, with the implementation set to commence on November 20. Serbia's Foreign Minister notified the embassy of this decision on October 21.
  • EU Reaction: On October 20, European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Oliver Varhelyi, welcomed Serbia's decision, stating that it aligned with the EU's list of visa-required third countries.
  • Burundi's Visa-Free Regime: According to Serbia's Official Gazette, the visa-free regime with Burundi, which had been in place since May 2018, was also canceled on October 21.
  • Lack of Comment: Despite attempts to seek a comment from Serbia's Foreign Ministry, no response was received at the time of publication. The Ambassador of Burundi in Rome, who is responsible for Serbia, declined to comment and directed inquiries to the Serbian government.

EU Concerns and Serbia's Visa Policies

The European Union had been expressing concerns about Serbia's visa-free arrangements with several countries in Asia and Africa, accusing Belgrade of facilitating irregular migration into the EU. These visa-free agreements had historical origins dating back to socialist Yugoslavia and, in some cases, were maintained because the countries involved did not recognize Kosovo as an independent state.

The primary countries from which migrants sought entry into Serbia, with the intention of eventually reaching the EU, included Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Burundi, India, and Turkey.

EU's Warning and Migration Statistics

Ylva Johansson, the European Commissioner for Home Affairs, issued a stern warning to Serbia regarding its handling of irregular migration and visa policies. 

The European Commission threatened to suspend Serbia's visa-waiver access to the EU if the country failed to take decisive action to mitigate irregular migration from its territory into the European Union. This warning underlines the seriousness of the situation and the EU's commitment to ensuring the integrity of its borders.

Alarming Migration Statistics

During the preceding nine months, the European border agency Frontex reported a significant and troubling increase in irregular entries into the European Union from the Western Balkans. The statistics revealed the following:

  • Entry Spike: More than 106,000 irregular entries into the EU were documented from the Western Balkans. This marked a staggering 170 percent increase compared to the same period in the previous year. The sudden surge in irregular arrivals has raised concerns about the effectiveness of border controls and migration management in the region.

Changing Migration Dynamics

The shifting migration dynamics in Serbia were also noted by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) actively engaged in addressing migration-related issues:

  • Continued Syrian and Afghan Migration: The majority of migrants and refugees in Serbia still hailed from conflict-ridden countries like Syria and Afghanistan. This reflects the ongoing displacement and insecurity in these nations.
  • Growing Diversity: Notably, there was an increase in the number of migrants from a diverse set of countries, including Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Burundi, India, Turkey, and even Cuba. This diversification suggests that Serbia was becoming a transit point for migrants from various regions, further complicating migration management.

These statistics underscore the urgency of addressing irregular migration and harmonizing visa policies in line with EU standards. The EU's warning to Serbia serves as a reminder of the shared responsibility to manage migration flows effectively while ensuring the security and stability of both Serbia and the European Union.

Concerns About Smuggling and Police Involvement

Several alarming issues surrounding irregular migration were brought to light:

  • Pyramid Scheme: Reports revealed a pyramid scheme targeting desperate Burundians, deceiving them into paying large sums for false guarantees of entry into Serbia and eventual asylum.
  • Links to Authorities: Investigations indicated that some people-smugglers were closely connected to the Serbian police or security agencies.
  • Violence and Corruption: An investigative report detailed a smuggling gang operating in the city of Sombor and the northwest border of Serbia with the EU. This group allegedly used violence against rivals and had individuals associated with Serbian law enforcement agencies, including a person serving as an Arabic translator for the police.
  • Calls for Investigation: Serbian NGOs referred to these findings when demanding an investigation into suspected police ties with people-smugglers.

In conclusion, Serbia's decision to end visa-free travel with Tunisia and Burundi reflects its efforts to address concerns raised by the EU regarding irregular migration. This move is part of a broader effort to align its visa policies with EU standards and combat the issue of illegal migration and smuggling within its borders.