BELGRADE, Oct 10 (Reuters) – Serbia has scrapped visa-free entry for Iranians, little more than year after it introduced it to boost tourism, a government decree published in the Official Gazette on Wednesday said.
“The Government of the Republic of Serbia has decided to end its previous decision to abolish visas … for the citizens of the Islamic Republic Of Iran,” it said.
The two countries had close ties until the early 1990s when former Yugoslavia, of which Serbia was a part, collapsed in war. In August 2017 Belgrade decided to abolish visas for Iranians, to boost tourism, improve growth and reach out to non-European markets.
But authorities say that the number of illegal migrants from Iran who travel to Serbia and then try to cross into the European Union countries rocketed this year and last.
Speaking to parliament on Wednesday, Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic warned that a number of Iranians were “abusing” the visa-free travel.
“The move is a response to the problem that many people (from Iran) enter Serbia and either attempt to travel to the West or to seek asylum,” Djurovic Rados Djurovic, of the Belgrade-based Asylum Protection Centre told Reuters.
So far this year, around 1,100 Iranians have officially sought asylum in Serbia to secure access to refugee centres where they can get shelter and food.
Currently there are around 4,000 registered migrants from Asia and the Middle East and elsewhere in Serbia’s government-operated centres, while hundreds of others are scattered in the capital Belgrade or around borders with Bosnia or Croatia, a European Union member state.
More than 650,000 people, many of them fleeing war and poverty, passed through non-EU Serbia in 2015 on their way to the West. The route was largely shut down in March 2016, but migrants continue to arrive.
(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Richard Balmforth)