Georgian authorities will step up police cooperation with European partners on fighting organized crime, and will carry out a nationwide information campaign to reduce the growing number of Georgian asylum seekers in the Schengen countries, according to Foreign Minister Mikheil Janelidze.
The statement comes few days after the Ministry confirmed earlier reports that a number of European countries, including Germany, Iceland and Sweden, had communicated their concerns over the two matters, triggering doubts that the EU would temporarily suspend the visa-free regime.
Janelidze, who spoke to Imedi TV yesterday, said the number of crimes committed by Georgians and their applications for international protection had been “increasing” in the last few months, but stressed that it was “not the amount which would trigger the suspension mechanism.”
“Although there is no such threat yet [of triggering the visa suspension mechanism], we started taking steps immediately after receiving the first signals from our partners,” Janelidze noted, adding that the Government’s response to these concerns was “prompt” and “coordinated.”
The Foreign Minister specified that the Deputy Interior Minister was dispatched to North Rhine-Westphalia, one of the German lands which has been particularly vocal in its concerns. Janelidze added that the Deputy Interior Minister had met the local authorities and agreed to sign a memorandum of cooperation.
Minister Janelidze also noted that the authorities would carry out an information campaign “to explain to our citizens that seeking asylum without legitimate grounds carries great risk for them.”
“They are spending their already limited [financial} resources to travel to the EU Member States, and are in very dire conditions in [refugee] camps … and as I have already pointed out, seeking asylum [in EU countries] is almost like a lottery – the approval rates are between zero percent and three percent [for Georgian citizens],” Janelidze clarified.
Earlier, the government announced that it would tighten regulations for reducing the number of Georgian asylum seekers. These measures, among others, will involve a set of legislative amendments, which will impose readmission costs on readmitted persons, toughen procedures for changing last names, etc.
Visa Suspension Mechanism
On March 28, Georgia will be marking the one-year anniversary from the launch of the visa-free travel to the European Union, which enables Georgian citizens with biometric passports to travel to the Schengen area for up to 90 days for business, tourist or family purposes.
Under its visa-suspension mechanism, the European Union may put off the visa waiver deal for nine months in one or more of the following cases:
- a substantial increase in the number of nationals of that country are refused entry to or stay irregularly in EU territory,
- a substantial increase in unfounded asylum applications,
- a decrease in cooperation on readmissions (returns of migrants), or
- an increase in risks or imminent threats to public policy or internal security related to nationals of the third country concerned.
As of February 19, more than 220,000 Georgian citizens had enjoyed visa free travel to the Schengen area.
According to the European Asylum Support Office, in December 2017, the EU member states, Norway and Switzerland received 1465 first time applications for international protection from Georgian nationals, an almost triple increase from the same period last year (568 applications).