Will EU cancel visa-free regime with Georgia?

Will EU cancel visa-free regime with Georgia?

Soon Interior Ministers of the EU member states will meet to discuss, among other topics, illegal migration, including illegal migration from Georgia. They will discuss the report of the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (OFPRA), according to which the number of Georgian citizens asking French authorities for asylum increased by 60% in 2017 compared to 2016, amounting to 1,542 people.

Earlier, Germany reported that the number of Georgian asylum seekers has doubled, and head of the Interior Ministry Thomas de Maizière warned that if Tbilisi doesn't take urgent measures, Berlin will ask other EU members to suspend visa-free regime with Georgia. The agreement on visa-free regime came into force a year ago, and it contains a clause on possible of suspension at the request of at least one state if Georgia doesn't fulfill its obligations.

The OFPRA report cited several arguements Georgian asylum seekers include in their applications: ethnic conflicts, sexual harassment, family violence, fear of persecution, inability of obtaining qualified medical assistance, persecution by tax authorities.

Even if the majority of these claims are fake and serve as a pretext for those who would like to live and work in Europe, France is obliged to use legal mechanism and review each case separately, and that requires significant expenditures.

Tbilisi persuaded Germany to declare Georgia a "safe country" where there are no politically motivated illegal repressions. It made things easier, but it doesn't negate legal procedures. Over the past year, Berlin has rejected all applications for asylum from Georgian citizens without any exceptions, but endless legal procedures with participation of local lawyers create problems. Situation in France is pretty similar.

Now both countries are making it clear to Tbilisi that declaring Georgia a "safe country" is not enough and it's necessary to take drastic measures to stop the flow of those who are trying to abuse visa-free regime to stay in Europe and, at best, find a work, and at worst to join Georgian criminal groups in France, Germany, Spain and Italy.

It's been a year since visa-free regime was introduced, and around 15,000 Georgians didn't return home in three months, as agreement with the EU requires.

What measures does Giorgi Kvirikashvili's government use to "calm down" European states? Firstly, Georgia obliges to pay to return those who are expelled from Europe. Secondly, those people will be fined. Thirdly, the government initiated criminal prosecution of intermediaries, who help people to get to Europe, knowing that they aren't going to return.

There's also a pretty extravagant measure that was taken in response to exotic practice of changing name after expulsion from the EU. Some of those who were deported from Europe change their surnames and once again try to break into European countries. Now it will be almost impossible to change your name. It's not clear whether this will affect people who just want to change their maiden name. Some women try to get into the EU under maiden name, and if they fail, they try to get there second time - under married name. Is it possible to ban such important social institution as free choice of names for children after marriage, which would affect interests of hundreds of thousands of women who don't try to get into Europe?

There's another shameful practice, when Georgian men who have traditional sexual orientation go to Netherlands, declaring themselves victims of homophobia in order to obtain residence permit. What measures and expertises can be used in such cases?

Ex-head of the State Chancellery of Georgia Petre Mamradze said in an interview with Vestnik Kavkaza that all measures taken by Georgian authorities recently won't bear any results: "People don't live in Georgia, they just exist - without work and without prospects. People want to stay in Europe, find a job. No sanctions will scare them or make them stop such attempts."

There's chance that restoration of visa regime for Georgia will be avoided, since European elites likely won't admit that the Eastern Partnership strategy has failed, at when it comes to Georgia, since visa-free regime was presented as a huge success of the program, which took a lot of money from European taxpayers.

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