Bulgaria: Schengen Condition Fulfilled - Migrants on the Balkan Route have Halved
Migrants crossing illegally via the Balkan route to central and western Europe halved in January compared to December levels. This was announced by the Commissioner for Internal Affairs Ylva Johansson before the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs of the European Parliament.
The high number of illegal crossings is cited by Austria as the reason for its veto on Bulgaria and Romania's Schengen applications.
Johansson pointed out that the downward trend was already noticeable in December, when illegal migrants passing through the Balkans decreased by 30%. She did not specify whether this was due to the changes in the visa regime that Serbia introduced for citizens of Tunisia from November 20 at the insistence of the EU.
The European border agency "Frontex" reported that in December 8,944 illegal entries were detected along the Balkan route.
The European Commissioner pointed out that the reduction in migration pressure is due to "urgent measures" taken by the member states and the European Commission.
"By acting together, it is possible to have an effect on illegal arrivals, but this has nothing to do with the right of Bulgaria and Romania to be part of Schengen," said Johansson.
She responded to a Romanian MEP who asked her if Austria's grounds for the veto were valid.
Johansson told MPs that Bulgaria and Romania have fulfilled all the conditions for membership and there are currently no pending issues that the two need to resolve in order to be accepted into Schengen.
On the occasion of the Netherlands' request for an additional report on compliance with the rule of law in Bulgaria, the European Commissioner stated that "additional criteria cannot be set, because it is not fair if you have fulfilled the conditions".
Asked if this meant a new vote on the nominations could be expected in March, Johansson said it would depend on the Swedish presidency of the EU Council, which had to decide when the issue could return to the agenda of EU interior ministers. , who must reach a unanimous decision.
The Swedish presidency has already said that it is continuing talks between Sofia, Bucharest and the countries that are against their acceptance, but will not put the matter to a vote until there are objections to it.
According to data from the European border agency "Frontex", in 2022 the Balkan route was the most used by traffickers, with 145,600 illegal entries into the EU registered through it, an increase of 136% compared to 2021. Most often, the illegal migrants caught along the route, declare themselves as citizens of Syria, Afghanistan, Turkey and Tunisia.
The border wall
The European Commissioner also commented on Austria's initiative to build a wall along the Bulgarian-Turkish border with European funds to stop migrants. She said the EU has no regulation on whether to put up walls and fences at the Union's external borders, but that European countries have a duty to provide access to border checkpoints for people wishing to apply for asylum.
"It is the job of the member states to decide how to protect the external borders. That is their decision," Ylva Johansson said, adding that the European Commission has "a long-standing position not to finance wire fences with European funds."
The issue of the fence along the Bulgarian-Turkish border is expected to be discussed at the extraordinary EU summit on Thursday and Friday in Brussels. However, the Swedish presidency said the topic would not be central to the debate on illegal migration that the leaders will have, hinting that no decision on its funding is expected.
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