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EU faces 'alarming' rise in Serbia, Macedonia asylum seekers

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(BRUSSELS) - The European Commission warned Serbia and Macedonia on Wednesday they could lose visa-free travel privileges if they fail to stop a wave of citizens from their countries seeking asylum in the EU.

European home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem wrote a letter to the interior ministers of Serbia and Macedonia, which aspire to join the European Union, telling them to take steps to address the situation "without delay."

"Some (EU) member states are once again experiencing an alarming increase of persons coming from your country and seeking asylum," Malmstroem wrote to Serbia's Ivica Dacic and Macedonia's Gordana Jankuloska.

"This trend is extremely worrying and it might seriously jeopardize the entire process of visa liberalisation in the Western Balkans," she wrote, warning that the EU could take "appropriate action if difficulties persist."

In December 2009, the EU granted citizens of the former Yugoslav republics of Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro the right to travel without a visa to the 25 European countries that are part of the visa-free Schengen travel zone.

Negotiations are under way to extend the privilege to citizens of Albania and Bosnia.

The commission and the Belgian presidency of the EU are considering a mission to Serbia and Macedonia later this month to verify that steps have been taken by the countries to fix the situation.

Nearly 390 Serbs, 210 Macedonians and 736 Kosovans asked for asylum in Belgium alone between July and August, and another 500 requests from the region are expected this month, Belgian officials said.

Sweden and Norway have also struggled with an influx of people from the Balkans, forcing the countries to expel asylum seekers whose applications were rejected.

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