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Georgian President Promises To Preserve Visa-Free Travel


President Giorgi Margvelashvili
President Giorgi Margvelashvili

BRUSSELS -- Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili says that Tbilisi is ready to take more action to preserve the hard-won visa liberalization regime that enables its citizens to travel to the EU's Schengen Area without obtaining a visa.

Margvelashvili made the pledge on March 8 in Brussels, where EU interior ministers met to discuss concerns about possible Georgian abuse of the visa-liberalization system, with both Germany and Sweden reporting several hundreds of asylum applications from Georgia since visa-free travel to the Schengen zone began in March 2017.

"The Georgian government has taken an extremely active and responsible position on every issue that has been brought by our partners [in the EU]," Margvelashvili said after talks with European Council President Donald Tusk.

"We are ready even further to do our best on working together, on having a much more effective and functioning and long-standing cooperation," he added.

Tusk welcomed what he called "the commitment of the Georgian authorities to continue working with EU member states to make sure that [the visa-free regime] will function properly."

'Worrisome' Uptick In Asylum Seekers

Speaking to journalists ahead of the EU Home Affairs Council, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere called the increase in the number of asylum seekers from Georgia "worrisome."

“The Georgian government is taking all necessary steps to ensure that the number [of asylum seekers] will not continue to rise,” de Maiziere continued. "We are also satisfied with the Georgian government's willingness to cooperate when it comes to accepting the return of those whose asylum requests have been rejected."

But he also said that Germany will hold talks with other EU member states "about what consequences there will be if this situation continues."

Swedish Interior Minister Morgan Johansson said Sweden would raise its concerns when Georgian Interior Minister Giorgi Mghebrishvili travels to Stockholm on March 13.

In Sweden, Georgians have constituted the highest group of asylum seekers after Syrians so far this year.

And Johansson said his ministry had identified Georgian citizens in international criminal groups carrying out burglaries in the country.

Although suspension of visa-free travel was not on the table at the March 8 meeting, Georgia will be under pressure to stop the flow of asylum seekers to the EU.

"The question, as I know, has not been raised in any discussion so far, but I don't know if it will come up – maybe," the Swedish interior minister said.

According to EU diplomats, who are familiar with the issue but are not authorized to speak on the record, proposals such as more information campaigns in Georgia, stricter controls over the issuance of Georgian passports, and closer cooperation between Georgian police and those in various EU countries were being raised with Margvelashvili in meetings with EU officials in Brussels.

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    Rikard Jozwiak

    Rikard Jozwiak is the Europe editor for RFE/RL in Prague, focusing on coverage of the European Union and NATO. He previously worked as RFE/RL’s Brussels correspondent, covering numerous international summits, European elections, and international court rulings. He has reported from most European capitals, as well as Central Asia.