Iranian “Tourists” Using Serbia to Reach Croatia and Western Europe

Total Croatia News

Serbia’s visa-free regime with Iran turns migrants into “tourists.”

Until six months ago, the Lovimi family from Iran had never heard about Serbia. But they are now in Belgrade where they came without a visa in August last year. However, the ultimate goal of their journey is not the Serbian capital but Germany, the country where they want to start a new life, according to AFP, reports Jutarnji List on March 30, 2018.

The four-member family came from the Khuzestan province, which is mostly populated by Arabs. They say that Arabs have an unfavourable status in Iran and are treated as second-class citizens. When they learned that Serbia and Iran had abolished the visa regime, they decided to take advantage of the opportunity and come to Serbia, hoping to continue their journey to the European Union, where they see a better future for themselves.

The fate of the Lovimi family is shared by thousands of Iranians who have decided to take the same step since last summer. According to official statistics, there are about 7,000 Iranian “tourists” who have arrived in Serbia since August. Many of them do not intend ever to return home.

Stevan Tatalović, a spokesperson for a Serbian NGO which helps refugees, said that Iranians were benefiting from an agreement on visa liberalisation. It is clear that their goal is not to seek asylum in Serbia but to continue their journey to the European Union. On the other hand, Serbia claims that the visa liberalisation will help develop tourism ties between the two countries and attract long-term business investments.

Although they entered Serbia as tourists, many Iranians in Belgrade use their visit to establish links with human smugglers who will help them move to their final destination or find other ways to cross the borders of Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Hungary and Romania.

Although the numbers are not anywhere near the hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees who passed through Serbia and Croatia in 2015 and 2016, EU officials are still worried. Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dačić recently said that the EU and Germany had already questioned Serbia’s decision to abolish the visas for Iranian nationals.

Shahla Lovimi said her family would now try to reach the EU on foot. “The smuggler has disappeared, and we do not have the money to pay another one,” she said. When they tried to enter Croatia earlier this month, the police intercepted them and returned them to Serbia. She said they would try again because a return to Iran is not an option for them. “There is no other way, we have to go through Croatia, all other boundaries are closed,” she concluded.

Translated from Jutarnji List.


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