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Did Georgia Get EU Visa Waiver in Exchange for Accepting Refugees?

Alexei Pushkov

Alexei Pushkov

Chairman of the Information Policy Commission of the Russian Federation Council

“The head of the MFA of Austria offered to send refugees from the EU to Georgia – apparently in exchange for the visa-free regime. It would be interesting (to see), would Georgia be capable of refusing the EU?”

…Georgian and European officials deny the claim.

On March 5, the Chairman of the Information Policy Commission of the Russian Federation Council, Alexei Pushkov, tweeted that Georgia “apparently” cut a deal with the European Union. According to his assertion: Georgians can now receive visa free entry into Europe in exchange for Georgia agreeing to house refugees from the Middle East who are in Europe.

“The head of the MFA of Austria offered to send refugees from the EU to Georgia – apparently in exchange for the visa-free regime,” Pushkov said.

“Would Georgia be capable of refusing the EU?” he asked.

A fact check found that the refugee resettlement issue was never discussed or negotiated as a condition of the EU visa liberalization for Georgia, approved by the European Council on February 27, 2017.

In his tweet, Pushkov referred to Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz’s interview with the German newspaper Bild, where Kurz expressed support for easing the EU refugee crises by building camps outside of the economic block.

“We need refugee centers outside the EU which are operated together with the UNHCR,” Kurz told Bild. “It is not that important where exactly they will be. The important thing is that these countries will ensure protection and that people who illegally try to get into Europe be sent back there.”

While not elaborating on details, Kurz said refugee facilities could be built anywhere - for instance, he said, in “Egypt, Georgia, or somewhere in the Western Balkans.”

Kurz, however, never connected the refugee issue with the EU granting Georgians visa free access.

And EU and Georgian officials say there were never any talks or offers regarding refugee camps in connection with the visa-free regime.

The Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement saying “the issue relating to redistribution of illegal immigrants staying in the EU territory has never been raised at any meeting with Georgian officials. Mr. Kurtz has not posed the issue either during his visit to Georgia or elsewhere.”

And resettling refugees from Europe is not being considered by the Georgian government “as the implementation of this project is impossible due to the challenges currently facing the country,” the statement said.

Austria’s ambassador to Georgia, Arad Banko, said in an interview with that “the minister, indeed, mentioned this. However, it is one of many ideas out there. This (building camps in Georgia) was never discussed at the official level.”

The EU did not grant Georgia a visa-free regime as part of any deal, according to EU and Georgian officials.

A spokesperson for EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told VOA’s Georgian Service that Georgia fulfilled the EU criteria for visa-free travel.

“The Commission has been monitoring progress made by the Georgian authorities since the visa liberalization dialogue was launched and concluded in December 2015,” the spokesperson said. “All benchmarks under this action plan were met...and these criteria only is the basis on which the commission proposed to grant visa free travel to Georgian citizens for short stays."

The EU decision to grant Georgians visa liberalization is viewed as a significant geopolitical achievement among Georgian officials and civil society activists who have been strong voices for European integration.

Russia, however, has openly expressed concern over Georgia's EU and NATO aspirations.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters at the Munich Security Conference in February that Russia is reluctant to grant Georgians access to Russia without a visa due to security concerns the Kremlin has concerning Georgia. Russians are allowed to come to Georgia without a visa.