Since January 1, 2010, more than 400 FYROMacedonian citizens have applied for asylum in Belgium, which is double the number of total applications filed during all of 2009. Similar numbers are seen for Serbian asylum applications in Belgium.
Government sources say that FYROMacedonians, mainly ethnic Albanians, are manipulated into immigrating to western Europe by various agencies in the country which promise a better life abroad.
The "Macedonian" government has already appealed to its citizens not to fall victim to offers from “agencies or individuals whose main aim is material gain”.
“The "Macedonian" government is concerned about the recent developments concerning the massive emigrations of its citizens, mainly from the town of Kumanovo. According to the information that we have received so far it is obvious that this is the result of manipulation and misinformation of citizens by tourist agencies and some individuals whose main aim is material gain,” Shefik Duraku, a government spokesperson, told ALSAT M TV.
According to "Macedonian" media, those asylum-seekers mainly come from rural areas and are promised a better life abroad. Many of those who emigrate even sell their property to be able to “repay” the services of the agencies who promise that they will get asylum in western European countries.
However, it is nearly impossible for citizens of countries which enjoy visa-free travel to obtain aslyum status.
“The chances that those people can get asylum are minimal, if non nonexistent,” Freddy Roosemont, the general director of the Belgian Office for Foreigners, said.
In addition, Belgian officials explain that it is an error to think that Belgian state would offer shelter and money to persons seeking asylum who come from states which have a visa-free agreement with the country.
“Those people who have applied for asylum will get a negative reply (refusal) within a short period of time and immediately after that, they will be asked to leave the country,” Dirk Van den Bulck from the Commissariat for Refugees and Stateless Persons explained. “In addition, it is evident that those people will not get social or financial help.”
Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro are the three Western Balkans countries which were granted visa-free travel starting December 19, 2009.
Despite that development, many citizens of the three countries have applied for asylum in Western European states without knowing that only individuals coming from countries which still have a visa regime with the European Union can apply for asylum status.
According to official data from Belgium, in February 2010 alone 349 requests for asylum came from Macedonians, a very significant rise from the 201 applications filed in all of 2009, and the 112 submitted in 2008.
A similar trend is seen in the case of Serbian immigrants in Belgium. In February 2010, 287 asylum applications were filed by Serbians. In contrast, the number of applicants in all of 2009 totaled 514.
In both cases, the applicants are mainly ethnic Albanians.
According to the rules of procedure, once the applicants are refused asylum status by the authorities, they are ordered to leave the country.
Belgian officials explain that even though the treatment of applications normally “takes months”, in the case of Macedonian and Serbian citizens, the process is much shorter and within only a few weeks, they receive an official refusal of the asylum request, along with the instruction to leave Belgian territory.
“If they don’t leave the country voluntarily, we have to undertake readmission procedures, which also include a stay in a detention center, before they depart for their respective countries,” Freddy Roosement explained.