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Forcing Their Way Into Europe's Fortress
European countries divided over policy against illegal immigration
Pierre Joo (pierre_joo)     Print Article 
Published 2006-09-30 06:36 (KST)   
Immigrants demanding residency permits in Paris.
©2006 Pierre Joo

Escaping African poverty and setting foot in the European Promised Land: over the past few years, this obsession has expanded into the minds of so many African people that the Spanish interior minister refers to this year's wave of illegal African immigrants as "a peaceful revolution against African poverty."

Since January 2006, more than 23,000 illegal African immigrants have landed in the Spanish Canary Island, after a hazardous journey that started somewhere in the Senegalese coast. Others are taking their chances off Libyan coasts, to the Italian island of Lampudesa, south of Sicily.

Two itineraries that could be ideal for a summer cruise, but which were deadly for up to 20 percent of illegal immigrants, according to some frightening assessments. In fact, there is no way of knowing exactly how many people have died attempting to reach Europe on a boat from Africa: the bodies of those who did not survive the terrible traveling conditions, under a burning sun, without sufficient food and water, and packed in overcrowded rickety boats, are just thrown into the deep sea, with hardly any hope to find them, unless they drift to an inhabited shore. A tragedy, which death toll may be the size of 9/11, but which will remain invisible to us all.

Still, Europe is worth the risk for an increasing number of Africans. The risk and the money, as candidates to departure have to pay from 1,000 to 3,000 dollars to have their places secured on a boat en route to Europe. Most of these candidates have nothing to lose and high hopes of a job waiting for them in Europe. Maybe an undeclared, underpaid job, but one which will provide enough for them to survive, and for their family who have remained in their home countries, to live decently.

While immigration is the hope of a better life to those seeking to escape from the terrible economic or political conditions of their home countries, it only means trouble to many Europeans, especially the lower income classes, increasingly appealed by extremist views from far-right political parties. To these people, immigrants have become scapegoats for all their troubles, from unemployment to insecurity.

On Sept. 25, 2006, eight leaders of southern European countries including France, Spain and Italy have sent a common letter to the European Union calling for a European solution to the massive flow of illegal immigrants: "The basis for this joint initiative ... is an awareness that the phenomenon requires measures that go well beyond those that are available to single member states, and requires a collective effort on the part of the E.U.," the statement said.

This letter follows a meeting of E.U. interior ministers on immigration, which lead to many disputes and ended with no substantial achievement, as state members could not agree on a common immigration policy. Nicolas Sarkozy, French interior minister even snubbed that meeting, as he was strongly displeased with Spain's and Italy's legalization of some 500,000 illegal immigrants living on their soil. Such an irresponsible decision, Sarkozy believes, will send the wrong message to millions of other potential illegal immigrants.

Anti-Sarkozy poster comparing the French interior minister and presidential hopeful with far-right French leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.
©2006 Pierre Joo
Sarkozy favors a fierce crackdown on illegal immigrants, who should be sent back to their countries of origin, as he claims that only a tight control policy can deter future candidates to illegal immigration. Moreover, Sarkozy, who is also one of the top contenders to next year's presidential election, believes a strong and heavily publicized anti-immigration policy, along with some tough talk will win back the votes of those who were courted by the far right's anti-alien political platform.

His new immigration law, which makes it harder for immigrants to obtain a residency permit, was approved by the French Senate in June 2006. And on Sept. 28, at yet another European meeting on immigration in Madrid, Sarkozy proposed a common European immigration policy, based on his hardline position.

France is not the only European country on the path to tighter immigration control. On Sept. 25, 2006, and much to the regret of the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR, Swiss voters have overwhelmingly approved tougher regulations on asylum seekers as well as new limits on immigration for people from outside the European Union. Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries also seem to have the same approach to the problem of illegal immigration.

Is granting residency permits to 500,000 illegal immigrants an irresponsible act that will cause more illegal immigration? What effect could a tough crackdown on illegal immigrants possibly have on people living in desperate conditions, with nothing to lose, and aware that no borders can be totally monitored, especially those of the EU, whose members cannot agree on a coherent immigration policy?

Most importantly, is implementing a milder version of an anti-immigration policy the far-right had been advocating for decades an efficient way of fighting extremism? Another option could be to point at other solutions to immigration, totally opposite to an increasing number of European hardline policies.

A less immediate, but more efficient solution to the massive flow of illegal immigrants would be for rich countries to help them escape poverty without escaping their country, by providing them with direct aid, or by developing fair trade with them. Yet most European countries are spending far less on aid to development than the 0.7 percent of their GDP set by the United Nation's 2000 Millenium Development Goals, as a target to be reached before 2015.

Moreover, the E.U. is still stubbornly holding onto its overprotected agricultural industry; imposing taxes on imported agricultural goods, and allocating large subsidies to its farmers. The E.U.'s Common Agricultural Policy grants more than $2 of subsidies per day for every European cow, an amount superior to the daily income of more than 2 billion people.

In fact, put into the perspective of the next half a century to come, immigration does not seem a burden but rather a solution for many of the challenges awaiting Europe.

Most research predicts that in 2050, emerging BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India China), will become a much larger force in the world economy than the European Union. Taken individually, major Western European economies may be overtaken by those of countries like Mexico, Turkey, or South Africa. Moreover, countries like France will be confronted by an unsustainable welfare system, with too few workers paying for too many retired or sick people.

It is undeniable that Europe cannot give shelter to all the poor of the globe. It is also true that immigration cannot be of any benefit to either the immigrant or the host country, without an appropriate amount of resources allocated to their integration. Yet, with regard to the tremendous challenges ahead of Europe for the next 50 years, legalizing 500,000 already settled immigrants whose taxes will finance the host country's pensions and social security, while their activity will contribute to its economic growth does not seem irresponsible at all. In fact, irresponsibility seems to be more on the side of shortsighted politicians, whose tough talk is aimed at gaining the votes of far-right leaning electors.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Pierre Joo

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