Serbian Police Director Milorad Veljovic said Tuesday bilateral talks with the European Union have resulted in a stepped-up effort to prevent "bogus" asylum-seekers leaving Serbia for Germany and other Western European destinations.
A sharp increase in the numbers of mostly Roma and ethnic Albanian asylum-seekers from Serbia and Macedonia has prompted complaints from Sweden, Belgium, Germany and others, which have been struggling with the influx since 2009 when the EU established a visa-free travel regime with several Western Balkan nations seeking to join the bloc.
Brussels contends the asylum-seekers aren't suffering persecution in their home countries, but are instead economic migrants "abusing" the system. It has warned it could suspend the highly coveted "Schengen zone" visa-free regime if the problem isn't addressed.
Veljovic, meeting with the government commission in charge of monitoring the visa-free regime, said he assured EU officials during bilateral talks that Serbian police would be "persistent" in addressing the situation, making it one of the police directorate's "top priorities."
Indeed, he said, authorities had already taken "a series of measures and actions to combat the appearance of false asylum-seekers," and that the EU delegation in Belgrade had "expressed their satisfaction" with the renewed effort.
At the same time, Serbia needs to "walk a thin line" to make sure it is not violating the human rights of the would-be migrants, which would harm its EU accession hopes, added Tanja Miscevic, head of the country's accession negotiating team.
Some 8,477 people from Serbia sought asylum in Germany in 2012 -- a 50 percent increase from the previous year and the most from any country, with more than 90 percent of them listing their ethnic background as Roma, Balkan Insight reported.
Germany also saw a 300-percent jump in mainly Roma asylum-seekers from Macedonia to 4,546 requests.
"We're talking about people who are in a visa-free regime and come to the EU without a visa from the Balkans," European Commission spokesman Michele Cercone told Deutsche Welle last year. "The problem is that many of them are lodging asylum requests that are clearly unfounded. And these people are now creating a backlog -- and a serious problem -- for the asylum system in the EU countries involved."
The influx of Western Balkan asylum-seekers formed the backdrop in September when the European Parliament adopted amendments to the EU's visa rules allowing the European Commission to temporary suspend the visa waiver mechanism when it is deemed threatened by "irregularities or abuse."
EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said the move wasn't aimed at "any specific third country or region" -- an assertion echoed Tuesday by Serbian Minister for European Integration Branko Ruzic, who said he was assured by the EU delegation Serbia wasn't being singled out by the new law.
Ruzic in September said Serbians needn't be apprehensive about the measure.
"The decision is neither directed against Serbian citizens, nor visas will be introduced for our citizens," he told Tanjug. "The fact is, our partners in the EU and we in Belgrade know that a vast majority of our citizens do not violate that right."