Ira­ni­ans use visa-free travel to Ser­bia to flee to EU


Un­til six months ago, the Lovimi fam­ily from Iran had never heard of Ser­bia.

But here they are, cur­rently in Bel­grade, af­ter ar­riv­ing with­out visas last Au­gust, wait­ing to con­tinue on to Ger­many, where they plan to build a new and bet­ter life in the fu­ture.

The fam­ily of four comes from the town of Ah­vaz in the prov­ince of Khuzes­tan in Iran’s south­west, where the ma­jor­ity of the pop­u­la­tion is Ara­bic.

They com­plain that, as Arabs, they have few rights in Iran, their chil­dren are forced to learn Farsi and not Ara­bic in school, and they are treated as sec­ond-class cit­i­zens, with lit­tle hope of find­ing a job.

So, when Bel­grade and Tehran abol­ished re­cip­ro­cal tourist visas last Au­gust, the Lovimis de­cided to take their chance and come to Bel­grade. And from there, they hoped to con­tinue on to the EU and a bet­ter fu­ture.

The Lovimis are not the only ones. Ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial sta­tis­tics, around 7,000 fel­low Ira­ni­ans have ar­rived in Ser­bia since Au­gust, in­tially as tourists, but some of them with no in­ten­tion of re­turn­ing home.

Shahla Lovimi, a 40-year-old house­wife, says she and her fam­ily had orig­i­nally gone to Turkey with the in­ten­tion of car­ry­ing on from there to Ger­many via Italy.

“We have never had the in­ten­tion to go through Bel­grade. We have never heard about Bel­grade. We went to Turkey and the smug­gler took us here,” she said.

She and her car me­chanic hus­band and their two chil­dren, aged 11 and 17, paid the smug­gler €22,000 ($27,000).

For two months, they lived in var­i­ous Bel­grade apart­ments and hos­tels, wait­ing for the smug­gler to pick them up and take them to the EU by car.

But when the smug­gler van­ished four months ago, leav­ing them on their own, the Lovimis turned to Info Park, a lo­cal non-gov­ern­men­tal group help­ing refugees.

Ac­cord­ing to Info Park’s com­mu­ni­ca­tion of­fi­cer Ste­van Tat­alovic, a num­ber of Ira­ni­ans are us­ing the visa lib­er­al­iza­tion agree­ment to come to Europe and stay there il­le­gally as mi­grants.

Their in­ten­tion is not to seek asy­lum in Ser­bia, but to con­tinue on, of­ten to Bri­tain or other EU coun­tries, Tat­alovic said.

Ser­bia ar­gues that visa lib­er­al­iza­tion will help de­velop tourism be­tween the two coun­tries and at­tract busi­ness in­vest­ment in the longer term.

Nev­er­the­less, Ser­bian Trade Min­is­ter Rasim Lja­jic said the two coun­tries are aware of, and will clamp down on any pos­si­ble abuses of the visa-free scheme. How­ever, Info Park’s Tat­alovic said that with di­rect flights be­tween Tehran and Bel­grade re­sum­ing af­ter 27 years, up to 600 Ira­ni­ans could soon be ar­riv­ing in Ser­bia ev­ery week.

Two air­lines are al­ready of­fer­ing flights and a third will fol­low in April and most of the flights are al­ready fully booked un­til the end of sum­mer.

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