POLICE INVOLVED IN ASYLUM SCANDAL?
Macedonian authorities suspect that police employees have been involved in aiding citizens who attempt to obtain asylum status in Belgium, unnamed government sources were cited as saying to local media on Thursday.
The Ministry of Interior is investigating whether police officers from the northern town of Kumanovo cooperated with tourist agencies that organised the transport and issued passports under the table for a fee of €500 to €1000 per person.
The source told Vreme daily that the investigation is being conducted in close cooperation with the Serbian authorities, as the data so far indicate that the same people were involved in the transport of immigrants from nearby south Serbia and Kosovo as well.
The authorities allegedly began to suspect police involvement after the number of issued passports in Kumanovo and the number of people travelling to Brussels from the city began to rise despite stricter supervision of the tourist agencies operating there, the source says.
Macedonian police launched the inquiry after EU officials this week implied that a failure on the part of Skopje and Belgrade to prevent asylum seekers from heading to Brussels might result in the revision of the newly obtained EU visa liberalisation agreement.
Ever since EU visa liberalisation for Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro came into effect at the start of the year, Belgian authorities have been alarmed by the large numbers of asylum seekers from these countries.
Brussels has registered some 400 asylum applicants from both Macedonia and Serbia since the start of the year. This figure is double the total number of applications filed during all of 2009, the authorities in Belgium have reported.
On the eve of Belgian PM Yves Leterme's visit to Skopje next week, the Macedonian government formed a special committee, which includes several ministers, to address the situation.