Should Montenegro be declared as a safe country of origin?

Podgorica

After the adoption of the visa liberalization, the issue of having a large number of false asylum seekers from the Western Balkans countries (Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, FYR Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro) could significantly hinder these countries’ European path as well as their potential integration into the European Union. Moreover, the problem of numerous unfounded political asylum requests from those countries could also substantially jeopardize bilateral relations with Federal Republic of Germany if they are not solved in a right way.

As a response, in 2014 Germany through its two legislative bodies (Bundestag and Bundesrat) supported the law which defines Serbia, FYR Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina and as  safe countries of origin. It means that in these countries there are no political tortures, no political persecutions nor abuse of the political opponents that might endanger human integrity and dignity. More precisely, by supporting this law the German Parliament putted the “veto” for the future false asylum seekers from these three countries. They found themselves in the situation where it is almost impossible to obtain political asylum in Germany. Likewise, due to the increased number of ungrounded applicants for political asylum from the Albania and Kosovo in the present time, the Bundesrat discusses about the possibility to define those countries, together with Montenegro, as safe counties of origin.

The question that arises among the others is whether Montenegro should be declared as a safe country of origin? Providing answers to this question is complex and it requires deep considerations of facts from different angles, together with a comprehensive analysis. For the purpose of this paper it will be presented in a concise manner.

From the foreign policy perspective, Montenegro as a EU candidate country and one of the leaders of the European integration process in the region, as often cited, should be marked as a safe country of origin. So far, Montenegro opened eighteen chapters (two chapters that are provisionally closed and within sixteen chapters negotiations are ongoing). Montenegro`s achievements in the field of the external affairs positions are significant, as it is a reliable European ally who responsibly fulfills its foreign policy and international obligations. Moreover, Montenegrin authorities are insisting on being fully committed to fostering European values and the development of democratic culture, the harmonization of domestic legal regulation with the acquis communitaire, as well as the harmonization of foreign and security policy with the policy of the European Union and NATO, the active involvement in strengthening good neighborly relations, with the special aim on the establishment of a regional initiative “Western Balkans six” and the participation in all international organizations. This, of course, requires the close monitoring of the undertaken commitments but also the support of further steps within the accession process.

However, the status of the safe country of origin could not be obtained just on the basis of the foreign policy achievement and declarative positions of the authorities. More significantly, the assigned status of safe country of origin, in most cases, results from the internal politics of both the country of origin of asylum seekers as well as the country in which they are seeking that status. Due to the problem of numerous ungrounded political asylum seekers from Western Balkan countries, Germany has adopted the concept of the “safe country of origin” in order to prevent additional unjustified political asylum requests. Likewise, through the tightened Asylum Law, the German state has stopped giving significant social benefits to asylum seekers during the long period of consideration of their application. Montenegro is definitely not the country that has been so far amongst those who have significant number of asylum seekers.

According to available data of the Federal German immigration service during the period of the first eight months of 2014, 114 000 applications were submitted in order to obtain political asylum in Germany, and one-sixth of all the applications were submitted by the citizens of Serbia, FYR Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Compared to other Western Balkans countries, the number of Montenegrin applicants for obtaining political asylum is extremely low. This assertion proves as well the European commission report on visa-free travel from the Western Balkans (from 25 February 2015) where is clearly stated that “Serbian citizens remained the largest group of Western Balkan visa-free asylum seekers in the EU and Schengen-associated countries (42% in 2013), followed by the citizens of the FYR Macedonia and Albania (21% each), citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina (14%) and citizens of Montenegro (2%).”

In that respect, it is also obvious that there are no major misuses of this possibility for those citizens who feel endangered regarding their fundamental rights in Montenegro. In addition, internal democratic processes in the country are in certain aspects concerning and there are situations which can lead to danger for the individual, who dares to confront to the authorities, especially when it comes to issues related to the fight against corruption and organized crimes, as well as related issues.

Therefore, it would be unjust to limit this possibility to Montenegrin citizens based on some other regional experiences. In the process of creating and regulating its relations with Montenegro, the EU together with Germany should continue maintaining the bilateral approach instead the multilateral one, or assess each country based on its own merits and characteristics rather than putting them all in the same “package”.

Finally, it is important to emphasize that in field of internal politics, Montenegro still has not reached an adequate level of implementation and respect of the rule of law in order to be considered as a safe country of origin. Although, Montenegro’s process of negotiations with the EU has opened chapter 23 which directly deals with the issues of Judiciary and Fundamental Rights. Still, it is evident that the rule of law is still not dominant principle in Montenegro. Strong political influences on the judiciary are not providing equal chances for all, nor the full respect of human rights, especially when it comes to most vulnerable groups who feel insecure. The Roma population is largely affected by these conditions through marginalization and discrimination. Currently, they are dealing with the lack sufficient education, while their civil and human rights are endangered due to the inability to get employed. Frequent attacks are seen on journalists and media property and the authorities failed to produce a track record in these investigations, and smear campaigns were noted against civil society activists who are critical towards the ruling coalition, which are not properly also handled by the authorities. Last but not least, violations of human rights are evident in the case of the LGBT persons. The Government still does not possess an effective mechanism how to protect their constitutional rights, particularly in the case of freedom of assembly and free movement.

Thus, it is strongly recommended that Germany leaves this “window of opportunity” for those who may find themselves in life-danger in Montenegro and thus provide them with a new chance for a life in which the can feel secure and free.

Author: Vladimir Vučković, programme associate at Centre for Civic Education and doctoral candidate at the Faculty of Social Studies, Masaryk University

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