Georgian PM Holds Emergency Meeting on Challenges Facing Schengen Visa Liberalization

The Prime Minister of Georgia, Giorgi Kvirikashvili, has summoned his ministers to an emergency meeting on Friday, February 9. Present in the meeting were Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia, Justice Minister Thea Tsulukiani, Chief Prosecutor Irakli Shotadze, Foreign Minister Mikheil Janelidze and the head of the State Security Service Vakhtang Gomelauri, where they discussed the challenges the government has to face regarding visa liberalization.

The goal of the meeting was to come up with amendments for the prevention of the increase of Georgian asylum seekers in European Union countries, in order to make sure that such an issue will not become a barrier in future relations with the block.

The amendments will be proposed at the next Government meeting. They will consist of steps foreseen to be taken in the near future in order to introduce a range of deterrent measures, including readmission costs to be paid by readmitted persons themselves, toughening procedures for changing last name, and other rules.

Furthermore, a campaign that aims to inform the citizens of Georgia regarding the new amendments and the risks posed by failure to meet the specified standards for visa-free travel in Schengen Area will be conducted throughout the country during the next coming months.

On February 5, a Georgian delegation led by PM Giorgi Kvirikashvili took part in the fourth session of the Association Council between the European Union and Georgia in Brussels, chaired by the High Representative of the EU for Foreign affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini.

During a joint press conference following the meeting, EU High Representative Mogherini assessed the fact that, in the last years, the friendship between the EU and Georgia has brought many good results as the entry into force of the Association Agreement, the beginning of the free trade area, and visa liberalization. Adding that since the last meeting between the EU and Georgia, more Georgian products have been bought and enjoyed by European Union citizens, asserting that the EU is already Georgia’s first trade partner, and in the first nine months of 2017 Georgian exports to the European Union grew by 37%.

However, earlier in January, the correspondent of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty in Strasbourg, Rikard Jozwiak, had written on Twitter that EU member states are worried about the number of asylum seekers from Georgia.

“The EU aren’t happy with #Ukraine’s draft law on establishing an anti-corruption court, but there is no real threat to suspend visa lib. EU member states are actually more worried about asylum seekers from #Georgia. The suspension mechanism will be debated by diplomats on Tue.” he wrote on Twitter

Head of Georgian Mission to the European Union in Brussels, Natalie Sabanadze, reacted immediately to the claims of Jozwiak, saying that the statistics show that the number of asylum seekers from Georgia is really low. The Speaker of the Georgian parliament’s Euro-Integration Committee, Tamar Khulordava, also reacted to the claims, insisting there is no reason to believe that the Schengen visa-free regime with Georgia might be suspended.

Statistics show that since the introduction of a visa-free travel regime to the Schengen zone on March 28, 2017, until December 4, 2017 – 174,596 residents of Georgia visited countries in the Schengen zone.

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