The Interior Minister of France says requests for asylum may create problems for visa-free travel.
French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner has called illegal migration from Georgia the main challenge in relations between the two countries while on an official state visit.
Castaner says that if this continues, a question as to Georgia’s “free access to Europe” may arise. To avoid this, Georgia is ready to allow French migration officers onto its territory.
The main issue: asylum seekers
As the French Interior Minister said after meeting with his Georgian counterpart, Georgia is a safe country where there is no war, therefore such a number of asylum seekers is unacceptable and “an insult to Georgia.”
“If we don’t work on this, tomorrow Georgia’s free access to Europe may be restricted,” said Christophe Castaner.
Castaner said he did not discuss the issue of the suspension of the visa-free regime since cooperation with Georgia continues, but that the possibility exists.
The increase in the number of asylum seekers from Georgia in France was confirmed by the Minister of Internal Affairs of Georgia Giorgi Gakharia, who said the government has a “concrete plan” to solve this problem.
He also noted that the increase in the number of asylum seekers after Georgia absolutely deservedly received the right to free visa-free travel was a natural and expected process.
“For about two years, Georgia has had visa-free travel, and according to today’s data, more than 400,000 Georgians have visited Europe, most of them did not violate any laws. The absolute majority returned to Georgia and they brought [back] even more of Europe, and also got the opportunity for a greater cultural exchange”, Gakharia said.
He added: “visa-free travel is the main achievement of Georgia over the past few decades. I want to thank our colleagues who understand very well what it means to preserve this achievement for the development of democracy in our country.”
French officers in Georgia?
Giorgi Gaharia noted that in order to solve this issue, an agreement was reached for Georgian migration officers to work in France, and the staff of the corresponding French agency to work in Georgia.
The officers will be stationed where there are direct flights between the two countries.
Gakharia said such measures are needed to prevent risks associated with asylum seekers.
Since April 2019, this practice has already existed with Austria, after a new flight was launched from Kutaisi Airport to Vienna – passengers are checked by border security agency FRONTEX after landing ini Austria.
Statistics on asylum seekers in Europe
In January 2019, the number of asylum seekers in France from Georgia amounted to 920 people. Compared to January 2018, this figure has doubled, and compared to the first month of 2017, when the visa-free regime was not yet operational, it is four times as large.
Today, France is the main destination country for asylum seekers from Georgia to Europe.
Germany is in second place, where, according to data for January 2019, 550 Georgian citizens are seeking asylum. With regard to Germany, a decline is noticeable; in January 2018, 755 Georgian citizens sought refuge there.
According to Eurostat, in 2018, 17,980 citizens from Georgia requested asylum in the European Union, representing 3% of the total number of applicants. This figure is 11 percent less than the figure for 2017.
Among the asylum seekers in the EU, Georgian citizens ranked 10th. In France, Ireland, the Czech Republic, Denmark and Liechtenstein, asylum-seekers in Georgia were in the top three.
According to the European Asylum Bureau (EASO), asylum seekers from Georgia in EU countries increased 35% in 2017 in comparison to 2016.