Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Serbia-Tunisia Visa Waiver: Agreement Grows the Distance Between EU & North Africa

Starting November 20, Tunisian nationals who wish to travel to Serbia will need to submit a comprehensive application that includes justifications for the trip.

Serbia Tunisia Visa
Members of a Moroccan human rights association demonstrate in front of the European Union offices against the restriction of traveling visas, on October 4, 2022 in Rabat. FADEL SENNA / AFP

Ali Noureddine

This article was translated from Arabic.

On October 22, Serbia announced that it would be ending its visa-free entries granted to Tunisians up to that point.

Starting November 20, Tunisian nationals who wish to travel to Serbia will need to submit a comprehensive application that includes justifications for the trip, bank records, and documentation of a hotel reservation and a return flight ticket. Moreover, if visits are for commercial purposes, travelers will also need to present an official invitation.

A treaty from 1965 established the now-defunct visa-exemption system, which permitted nationals of the two nations to make use of it provided their trip does not exceed 90 days.

Serbia is among the last European nations to have enacted a visa-waiver policy. While the country is not an official member of the European Union, it has been a candidate for the last 13 years.

Currently, Tunisians are allowed into 65 other nations visa-free.

European pressure

This decision was made in response to direct pressure from the EU, which has been attempting for some time to limit the treaties Serbia has adopted, despite the fact that the nation has not yet joined the Union.

A week prior to this announcement, Serbia came under fire from the EU interior ministers who saw it as a point of entry for the flow of refugees into the Union. The ministers also demanded a comprehensive examination of Serbia’s allegedly lax visa policies, particularly the visa waiver agreement with Tunisia.

Following the public announcement of this decision, responses in Europe confirmed the role that the EU had in pressuring Serbia to revoke this treaty, which it had maintained with Tunisia for 57 years. Oliver Farrelly, the EU’s commissioner for neighborhood policy and enlargement negotiations, commended Serbia for taking this “critical move to comply with the EU’s list of required third-country visas.”

Farrelly said, “Hopefully, we’ll see more changes soon,” in reference to the visa-waiver agreements Serbia has with other nations that the EU wants to abolish. This suggests that the EU is also looking for other such moves from Serbia.

No correlation

The primary problem with European influence is that Serbia is not a member of the Schengen zone. This means that Tunisians visiting the nation do not have the freedom to travel to other EU countries. As a result, some argue that the European Union’s meddling in Serbia’s relations with Tunisia is unjustified.

Furthermore, it is worth noting that European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen sought to persuade Serbia into canceling the visa-waiver program by implying that unless Serbia bowed to EU pressure, Serbian residents would be barred from entering the Schengen area without visas.

Some critics point out that over 80% of migrants crossing from Serbia to the EU originate from Syria and Afghanistan. In comparison, only 20% come from countries exempt from Serbian visa requirements (i.e. Tunisia, Burundi, India, Cuba and Turkey).

In this respect, there is no correlation between the ease with which Serbians can enter EU nations and the treaties Serbia signed with several countries long before the tide of illegal migration began to rise.

Tunisians detained at Belgrade airport

Although the program’s cancellation does not technically go into effect until after November 20, Serbia has already detained over 60 Tunisians at the airport in Belgrade despite their possession of legitimate entry documents in accordance with the protocols established between the two nations.

According to Tunisian activists, the authorities refused to give the detainees access to human rights organizations. They defended the detention by asserting that they were addressing illegal migration. Along with the discontinuation of the visa waiver program, this illegal action was carried out to limit Tunisian travelers who were lawfully entering the country. It also corresponds with EU regulations.

Tunisian Foreign Minister Mohamed Trabelsi has expressed his reservations regarding Serbia’s decision, noting that Belgrade had taken it unilaterally, without any coordination or prior notification. Like other opponents of the decision, Trabelsi claimed that imposing visas in this manner would not help prevent illegal migration since individuals seeking to enter the country illegally are not subject to programs provided by the visa waiver system.

While Tunisian officials are attempting to persuade Serbia to reconsider its decision, many observers are nevertheless pessimistic about their chances of success given the pressure that the EU has imposed on Serbia.

Other European walls facing North Africa

These developments are an indication of what some consider to be walls that European nations are raising in the face of the peoples of North Africa, under the pretext of dealing with illegal migration.

Since the end of 2021, the French authorities have reduced the number of temporary entry visas granted to Moroccan citizens by nearly 50 per cent, while reducing the number of such visas by 30 per cent for Tunisians. Furthermore, the percentage of visa applications rejected by the French authorities for Moroccans has risen 80 per cent.

Doctors wishing to attend conferences as well as businesses people, artists, students, patients, and former ministers are among those whose applications have been turned down.

The recent developments have sparked outrage among a sizable portion of those impacted. In the past, France had expedited the issuance of visas for bona fide trips and for groups with missions that rendered travel to the nation necessary, especially for North Africans with close familial connections.

The nature of the rejected petitions, which concern legitimate visits and do not pertain to illegal migration, is what stands out to Algerians, Moroccans, and Tunisians currently bewildered by the latest verdicts.

Political reasons for the new French decisions

Such moves unquestionably stem from pressure from right-wing anti-migration organizations, notably those in France. In order to reduce tensions related to the influx of refugees entering Europe, France and other European countries have caved in to criticism and enacted admissions restrictions.

However, these decisions, have had a severe impact on many visa applicants who do not wish to emigrate and whose interests were harmed when they were refused entry into France without a valid basis.

Despite the fact that these individuals do not pose a threat to legal migration, it appears that French President Emmanuel Macron is attempting to impose restrictions in an effort to put pressure on their governments to address illegal migration.

Additionally, Macron is calling on governments to repatriate citizens who are unlawfully present on French territory, as evidenced by comments he made in an interview, saying: “If you do not take back the people who were asked to leave French soil, we will restrict the granting of visas.”

With this strategy, Macron is using legal visa applicants as leverage against the governments of their nations. The French president’s stance in this regard has drawn a considerable amount of criticism. It penalizes communities that are unrelated to France’s political disagreements with their respective governments, not to mention the effects on a familial and social level.

This case, together with EU demands to rescind the Serbia-Tunisia visa waiver agreement, shows that European nations are responding to illegal migration with unwarranted cruelty toward the peoples of North Africa and with measures that will not curb it.

The distance created by these policies between Europe and the people it seeks to influence through such decisions will affect how Europe is viewed and positions itself moving forward.


The opinions expressed in this publication are those of our writers. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Fanack or its Board of Editors.

user placeholder
written by
All Dima articles