With its third anniversary approaching, the EU-Georgia visa liberalisation agreement has allowed half a million Georgians to access visa-free travel to the Schengen zone, participants learned last week at a conference in the countrys capital of Tbilisi.
The event gathered policymakers and practitioners from the EU and the Government of Georgia to discuss ways to solidify Georgias compliance with the benchmarks of the Visa Liberalisation Action Plan.
The gathering also dealt with the operational challenges surrounding the increasing number of low-cost flights from Kutaisi Airport (Georgias second busiest airport).
The conference participants also learned that, while the EU-Georgia scheme has been hailed as a resounding success, it has been accompanied by a sharp increase in the number of asylum claims lodged by Georgian citizens, from 12,600 in 2017 to over 20,000 a year later. It is expected that the figure will exceed 21,000 for 2019. The approach has also led, in some European countries, to concerns that there has been an increase in the activities of organised crime groups.
Rather than reverting to the visa-free travel suspension mechanism and reintroducing visa requirements for Georgians, the EU and partners are now looking at ways to support Georgia to stem the flow of travellers by relying on stricter application of the Schengen Borders Code at points of embarkation.
EU Ambassador to Georgia Carl Hartzell affirmed: 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 laudable commitment to cooperating with the authorities of EU Member States in decreasing the pressure of irregular migration. Yet more efforts are needed, participants agreed at the event.
The conference was implemented by the International Organization for Migration under the EU-funded Sustaining Border Management and Migration Governance in Georgia project.