State Secretary for Asylum and Migration Theo Francken met in Tbilisi on Tuesday with Georgian officials as part of a campaign to dissuade Georgians from seeking asylum in Belgium. Since March 2017, Georgians have been able to enter the European Union without visas. An increasing number do not return home but request asylum in Belgium, although Georgia is categorized as a “safe country”.
“It’s a safe country. Political opponents or journalists are not thrown in prison,” Francken said. “Asylum is reserved for people who need protection, like Syrians,” he explained.
The dissuasion campaign has been launched on Georgian radio and television and on social networks.
Belgium has already conducted similar media operations in Albania and Guinea, and they have borne fruit, according to Francken. “After such a campaign, the number of applications go down by half,” he said.
Belgium is not the only country to have taken such initiatives. Sweden and Germany have already done so.
The Secretary of State met on Tuesday with the Georgian authorities, who have been collaborating with the campaign, he said. The focus of their discussions also included sending a Georgian liaison officer to Belgium to enhance the exchange of police information.
Belgian prisons host some 60 Georgian nationals, a relatively high number given the small size of the Georgian community in Belgium. Most of the prisoners have been charged with or convicted of theft.