World Bulletin/News Desk
Germany's interior minister called on Friday for the suspension of visa-free travel for Serbs and Macedonians to the European Union following a surge in asylum applications from citizens of the two Balkan countries.
Serbs and Macedonians accounted for nearly a third of all applications for political asylum in Germany last month, official data showed, though both former Yugoslav republics are candidates to join the European Union and are thus required to uphold its values and freedoms.
Illegal immigration and asylum are likely to prove sensitive issues for German politicians in the countdown to federal elections next autumn.
"The increasing abuse of the asylum system is not acceptable ... The huge inflow of Serbian and Macedonian citizens must be stopped immediately," Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said in a statement.
The top-selling Bild daily quoted Friedrich as saying: "Visa-free travel must not lead to abuse of the asylum rules. This will strain the readiness of Germans to help the truly needy and persecuted."
The number of Serb asylum applicants in Germany rose threefold in September from the previous month while Macedonian requests jumped 70 percent, the data showed.
Visitors from Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro won the right to visa-free travel in the European Union's border-free Schengen zone in 2009. Citizens of Bosnia and Albania followed suit in 2010.
Late last year the European Union agreed new rules to make it easier to restore visa requirements, to counter fears of a sudden influx of migrants from the western Balkans.
But the bloc's Council of Ministers and the European Parliament have still to approve those rules, which envisage a temporary suspension of visa-free arrangements for countries whose citizens are deemed to be abusing the system.
"It may take up to six more months to get a final agreement," an EU official in Brussels told Reuters.
This week, a lawmaker from Germany's main opposition Social Democrats, Michael Hartmann, urged the authorities to reject bogus asylum applications more swiftly and to focus resources on genuine cases from countries such as Syria and Afghanistan.
Germany receives about 144,000 requests for political asylum per year, down from a peak of 500,000 in 1996, Hartmann said. Germany took in large numbers of refugees from the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
Lawsuit says 104,000 diesel-powered vehicles involved
Measures against Austria’s participation in NATO activities to continue as long as Vienna maintains 'anti-Turkey stance'
Istanbul-held forum focused on ways to counter global, humanitarian costs of conflict
The plan, a reported $4.1 trillion for 2018, is certain to undergo major changes on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers rarely approve a president's budget wish list in its original form.
While rolling out a new pricing system in the US, the San Francisco-based, on-demand ride service uncovered the error, which it said could cost tens of millions of dollars to correct.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres made the proposal to the UN General Assembly to address a major shortfall in the $400 million needed to help Haiti recover from the epidemic.
Prosecutor General Adriatik Llalla says investigation will be carried out in accordance with Albanian law
Pro-government forces captured the district after overnight offensive
Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda establish checking points at border posts
Peace talks between the Palestinians and Israel collapsed in 2014
Authorities in New York have stepped up security after a concert blast killed 19 people
Trump caused uproar when he suggested on the campaign trail he would check first if a NATO ally was up to date with its dues before he would consider coming to its aid.
Here is what we know so far about the terror attack, the deadliest in Britain since 2005.
African-American voters traditionally support the Democratic Party, while Republicans have an advantage with whites voters.