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Schengen enlargement to increase illegal migration: Europol

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(SOFIA) - Enlarging Europe's border-free Schengen area to Bulgaria and Romania will increase illegal migration through Turkey and the Black Sea, a Europol expert warned Tuesday.

"The accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the Schengen zone has a potential to raise the pressure on the Turkish-Greek border and lead to increased targeting of the Bulgarian Black Sea coast by illegal immigrants," Jean-Dominique Nollet, head of Europol's Analysis and Information Department, told a Schengen conference here.

Their entry would not "change the face of the earth," he said but stressed the need for analysis and appropriate crime fighting measures to counter the risks.

Bulgaria and neighbouring Romania had sought to join the passport-free travel zone as early as next year.

But their hopes were quashed last week by opposition from key EU members, including the Netherlands, France and Germany, who expressed reservations about their ability to control illegal immigration and crime at the border.

Turkey is "currently the biggest nexus point for migrants" and organised crime groups there will definitely use any opening of the borders to transfer more illegal migrants to the EU, Nollet warned.

The Balkan region already saw the biggest expansion of smuggling and human and drug trafficking in Europe in recent years, he added, citing a recent Europol report.

However, weak border and customs control in crisis-stricken Greece, an EU member, were just as worrying, according to another study by the Sofia-based Centre for the Study of Democracy presented Tuesday.

Cigarette smuggling especially has been a problem for Bulgaria, which cannot perform full controls of Greek cargo as the two countries share an internal EU border, CSD expert Tihomir Bezlov said.

Bulgarian customs seized more than 124 million smuggled cigarettes in the first five months of 2011, 70 percent of them from Greece, the latest customs agency data showed.

And the situation was set to worsen, according to the expert, who warned that Greece would continue to cause "huge problems" for both Bulgaria and Romania, especially at a time when the country did not have any money to spend on strengthening customs and border controls.

A survey by the Open Society institute on Tuesday showed 67 percent of Bulgarians favoured entry into the Schengen zone, which would allow them free travel through most of Europe, with only six percent opposing it.


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