European Union (EU) Ambassador, Carl Hartzell, has affirmed that the visa-free travel available to citizens of Georgia has demonstrated its worth by bringing the EU and Georgia closer together. The general feeling, he noted, is that Georgia has demonstrated the laudable commitment to cooperating with the authorities of EU member states in decreasing the pressure of irregular migration.
Yet, more efforts are needed, participants at the event agreed.
Participants at an International Organisation for Migration (IOM) conference, however, learned last week that with its third anniversary approaching, an EU-Georgia visa liberalization agreement has let half a million Georgians access visa-free travel to the Schengen Zone.
The EU-Georgia scheme has been hailed as a resounding success, but it has been accompanied by a sharp increase in the number of asylum claims lodged by citizens of Georgia, from 12,600 in 2017 to over 20,000 a year later.
Projections for 2019 are that the figure will exceed 21,000. The approach has also led, in some European countries, to concerns that there has been an increase in the activities of organized crime groups.
Rather than reverting to the visa-free travel suspension mechanism and reintroducing visa requirements for Georgians, the EU and partners now are looking at ways to support Georgia in stemming the flow of travelers by relying on the stricter application of the Schengen Border Code at points of embarkation.
IOM and the French Embassy this week organized the international conference in Tbilisi, where policymakers and practitioners from the EU and the government of Georgia discussed ways to solidify Georgia’s compliance with the benchmarks of the Visa Liberalization Action Plan.
“The conference reflected the comprehensive and complex nature of migration, and we were glad to be involved as we are committed to cooperation with the Georgian government, the EU and international partners in the field of migration management”, said IOM Chief of Mission Sanja Celebic Lukovac.
The gathering also dealt with the operational challenges surrounding the increasing number of low-budget flights from Kutaisi Airport (Georgia’s second busiest airport).
Co-organiser Diego Colas, France’s ambassador to Georgia, said he felt that “temporary labour migration schemes may very well be a solution to the problem of increased irregular migration from Georgia to the EU, provided such circular migration schemes are well-organized.”
The conference was implemented under the IOM’s project Sustaining Border Management and Migration Governance – SBMMG, funded by the EU.
Watch the interview with IOM’s Sanja Celebic Lukovac and other participants: https://youtu.be/gnoduKkedP8