Serbia needs to change its visa practice if it is to have any hope of joining the EU, Germany has warned. The bloc has recorded a huge increase in illegal entries via the Balkan route this year.
Germany and the European Union on Friday ramped up pressure on Serbia to tighten visa rules for migrants.
European officials have said they detected 106,000 people entering the EU from the Western Balkans without official documentation so far this year.
That represents a hike of 170% as compared to last year, officials said.
The EU's border agency, Frontex, reported that 19,160 migrants entered the EU illegally via the Balkan route in September alone.
Germany's position on Serbia and EU accession
Germany's Interior Minister Nancy Faeser asked Serbia to speed up processes to align its visa policies with those of other EU countries.
"There are criteria for being a member of the EU, and part of that is common visa policy," Faeser said at a meeting of EU interior ministers in Luxembourg.
"Serbia has to adapt its visa practice to the EU if it wants to become an accession candidate," Faeser added.
Serbia said earlier this month that it was working on securing its borders with Hungary and Austria, both countries that have been affected by an influx of migrants.
What is Serbia's visa free arrangement?
Serbia allows people from countries like India, Tunisia, Syria and Burundi to enter without a visa, even though other European countries require visas from nationals of those countries.
Serbia also has a visa-free travel arrangement with the EU, which is why a lot of people who enter Serbia also attempt to enter the EU.
Serbia's visa arrangement with the EU is for short-term stays, but migrants have tried to stay on longer, authorities say.
Serbia was granted EU candidate status in March 2012, but is yet to climb the accession ladder along with other Balkan states.
What did the EU say?
The European Commission said Friday that it wouldn't rule out suspending Serbia's visa arrangements with the EU if it doesn't take efforts to clamp down on irregular migration.
EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said she hoped for better cooperation with Serbia rather than having to take drastic steps.
Johansson said that while nationalities like Syrians and Afghans often have grounds to seek asylum in the EU, many other nationalities "need to be returned to their country of origin."
Johansson added she would meet with representatives from Serbia and other Western Balkan nations next week in Berlin.
rm/rt (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)
First published: October 14, 2022
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