Visa-free travel and health-driven migration at the centre of discussions at international conference in Tbilisi

On 6 and 7 November, a few days before the release by the European Commission of its assessment of Georgia’s credentials of receiving the status of candidate country, IOM, in close cooperation with the Embassy of France to Georgia and the Prometheus 2 project, organized the conference “Migration from Georgia to Europe and the Schengen Area - Multi-sectoral Cooperation to Counter Irregular Migration, Migration-Related Crime and to Better Regulate Health-Driven Migration”.

75 participants representing various ministries of the Government of Georgia, embassies and immigration agencies from seven European Union (EU) Member States and Switzerland as well as representatives from the United Nations and EU gathered in Tbilisi to take stock of the current situation of visa-free travel from Georgia to the EU and Schengen Area. Since visa-free travel entered into force in March 2017 until, 921,266 citizens of Georgia visited Schengen countries 2,281,305 times. Discussions focused on the generally excellent cooperation between Georgia and EU Member States around law enforcement and immigration management, whereas current migration trends, such as the persistently high number of citizens of Georgia applying for asylum in Europe, were also duly highlighted.

Considerable time was devoted to the specific phenomenon of health-driven migration from Georgia to various European countries. Over the past years, citizens of Georgia have increasingly addressed immigration agencies in the Schengen Area with asylum requests motivated by the desire to receive high-quality care for complicated health issues. In a few countries, such as France, Switzerland and Austria this phenomenon has placed significant burden on medical care facilities, whereas immigration agencies commonly qualify those asylum requests as being unfounded. Discussions focused on possible measures to stem this tide of health-driven migration, while at the same time improving the scope of the Georgian health care system and its ability to meet the demands for complex treatment schemes as well as communications with potential migrants on the availability of services.

In that context, the Chief of Mission of IOM Georgia, Sanja Celebic Lukovac, stated: “IOM looks forward to start implementing the Georgia Cares project, in partnership with the World Health Organisation (WHO),  and with funding by the Swiss  and Austrian Governments. Through a research and broad consultative process, this project will identify concrete actions to address drivers of health-related migration from Georgia. In the long run, this new initiative shall contribute to the Government of Georgia’s efforts to reduce the burden of unfounded asylum applications lodged abroad by citizens of Georgia and to the strengthening of the social protection environment in Georgia.”

This conference was co-funded by the Delegation of the European to Georgia in the framework of IOM’s project BMMAG - Border and Migration Management Action for Georgia, which receives co-funding from the State Migration Secretariat of Switzerland.

SDG 17 - Partnerships for the Goals
SDG 16 - Peace Justice and Strong Institutions
SDG 3 - Good Health and Well Being