European Migration and Refugee Policy: New Developments
by Chris Whitwell
International Seminar for Experts organised in the series Great Debates by
the Cicero Foundation,
PARIS, 15-16 February, 2001
The Conference attracted 44 delegates from 17 Countries. Delegates from the
U.K. included Felicity Clarkson, the Director of Asylum and Appeals Policy at
the Home Office, Richard Williams, the International Protection Policy Officer
at the Refugee Council and Jenny Boothe, European Policy Officer at the Greater
London Authority. The Conference was chaired by Marcel Van Herpen, Director
of the Cicero Foundation, who opened the Conference by reminding delegates of
the current debates in Europe, both about refugee policy and immigration policy.
He said that there had been five new developments in the last 25 years that
were relevant to the debates:
- The scale of persecution in many parts of the globe has increased
- There has been an implosion of many national governments, leading to the creation of refugees
- The information revolution has enabled people from poorer countries to see what life is like in the richer countries
- Transport is both quicker and cheaper
- The growth of a new type of crime - that of human trafficking
This situation has led to an explosion of the numbers of asylum seekers, particularly in the U.K., Germany and the Netherlands. Whilst these countries receive the highest numbers in terms of gross figures, the U.K. comes out only 10th in terms of number per head of population, whilst Germany comes out 12th. The U.K. Home Secretary, Jack Straw, now wants to change the terms of the Geneva Convention. He wants a strict application of the terms of the Dublin Convention which require the application for asylum to be made in the first country of asylum and he wants to increase the punishments levied on carriers of 'illegal immigrants.' Mr. Van Herpen then went on to talk about the ageing population profile of Europe. The fertility rate in Europe is 1.2%. To have a stable population Germany for example needs 487,000 immigrants per year, and to sustain Europe's economy the EU needs some 13.5 million immigrants per year. Europe needs people, but it also needs to integrate people. Europe needs to consider what kind of people it wants and what kind of workers it wants to allow to immigrate. As well as the economic arguments there are also the humanitarian arguments, the question of the basic values that Europe espouses.
The Proposals of the European Commission
The first speaker was Joaquim Nunes de Almeida, Member of Cabinet of European
Commissioner Antonio Vitorino, DG Justice and Home Affairs. His talk was entitled
"Towards a European and Migration Policy? The Proposals of the Commission".
He said that the talk would concentrate on a broad description of the policy
aims and the political messages. The Commission is moving towards a community
Asylum and Immigration Policy for which there are two foundations:
- A policy which is based on a broad definition of rights of asylum and of family reunification
- A political policy giving Europe the freedom to decide which are the people that it wishes to invite in
He reminded delegates that asylum has been the main legal path for immigration since the 1970s and that the asylum system has been used as a means of achieving immigration.The rate of asylum acceptances is very low, which proves (he said) that there are a lot of economic migrants who are seeking to immigrate using the asylum system. (But all it really shows is that the nation states are refusing a higher percentage of applications ).He said that the Tampere Agreement asked the Commission to act in two steps:
- To develop first generation legislation on asylum
- To consider the 'architecture' of a European asylum system for the long term
This second step is expected to take three to four years and at the moment it is a question of concentrating on the first step - the harmonisation of procedures for asylum status to enable member states to recognise which asylum seekers are "genuine" and the introduction of a fast track procedure for cases which are, prima facie, inadmissable. Harmonisation of procedures will include conditions of reception, accommodation, health care and the right to work. The work on the first generation of asylum procedures is expected to be completed this summer. He raised, without answering it, the question of whether non-state persecution should be considered a sufficient ground for granting refugee status, and said that the proposal for a Directive on family reunification, which had come forward in 1999, is still under discussion. The questions that needed to be addressed were:
- What is it that should give the right for somebody to bring in his or her family?
- Which family members should qualify as 'family' for this purpose?
At the moment the 15 member states all have different legislation on this issue.The EU has admitted that the policies in place during the last twenty years have not worked, and that a zero immigration policy has not been successful. Immigration may be forbidden by law but the reality has been that countries have ended up letting many people in on a sort of 'pardon' basis. The number of people who actually get returned to the sending country is very low and the current process is inhumane. What is needed is to open up a legal channel for immigration to meet labour market shortages.The Commission will come forward with proposals for the harmonisation of immigration of third country nationals but will not be setting any targets or quotas on numbers. Instead the policy will be based on benchmarking and on peer pressure. There should be transparency and shared objectives.He reminded delegates that in the Schengen countries all national immigration policies impact on the neighbouring countries. However it is counter-productive to employ so many resources to stop illegal migration when there is a recognised need for immigration into Europe. There is no link between immigration and unemployment. The Commission is therefore keen on an admission policy coupled with a strong integration policy. We should be better prepared to accept cultural diversity and stronger leadership is needed from politicians to foster this aim, although we should ask the immigrant population to adhere to our core values. What is needed is a large debate at the European level, and such a debate will be taking place later this year.
But when it comes to fighting illegal immigration we still need to beef up the controls. Therefore the Commission supports the lead taken by the French Presidency to criminalise the trafficking of humans and it will be bringing forward a paper addressing this issue. It also supports a stronger returns policy and is seeking bi-lateral agreements with a number of countries including Russia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Turkey.
Questions from Delegates
Q. Does the Commission intend to come forward with a coherent returns policy?
A. Yes, there is a need for strong enforcement.
Q. Why not revisit the fundamental question of who is a refugee?
A. The bedrock of the asylum policy will be the Geneva Convention. Sometimes it is possible to achieve your goal more quickly, if you start with the peripheral things, where it is possible to achieve consensus rather than tackling the fundamental and more controversial issues head on. One delegate also made the point that it would be better to consider asylum cases on their merits rather than having lists of 'safe' countries of origin and 'safe' countries of asylum.
The Regularisation of Illegal Immigrants in Belgium
The next speaker was Mathieu Fischer, Adviser to the Minister of the Interior,
Brussels. His talk was "The Regularisation of Illegal Immigrants in Belgium:
Its Specific Character in a European Context". He started his talk by saying
that the Belgian experience doesn't really fit into a European context at all,
although he went on to make several important points in his presentation which
had lessons for other countries. Before the recent regularisation operation
Belgium did not do any mass regularisation. The last one was in 1974 when Belgium
stopped immigration. At that time there was regularisation of about 7000 immigrants.
The basis of the regularisation was Article 9 (3) of the Aliens Regulations
and this became the basis for all regularisations in Belgium. However, there
was very little known about the basis for regularisation decisions. Another
Directive, related to the case of aliens who were living with Belgians. These
were granted residents permits.The criticism of this approach towards regularisation
grows, with pressure coming mainly from NGOs. The Minister of the Interior at
the time was opposed to regularisation and took the view that, just because
people had not left the territory, did not mean that they had a good reason
for staying. In 1998 a new regularisation process was initiated with the setting
up of a Commission of some 30 people and the Commission has regularised about
2000 people in its first year, although in many instances there has been a substantial
delay in dealing with cases. Something that had a profound effect on public
opinion in Belgium was the case in 1998 of a Nigerian woman who died after repeated
attempts to repatriate her. The case got a lot of publicity and the then Minister
of the Interior resigned. There is a Judicial Inquiry still taking place to
determine where the responsibility for the woman's death lay. However, public
opinion in Belgium was sharply divided. There were those who demanded an immediate
end to constrained removal (which was seen as a de facto opening of the borders),
whilst others were against opening the doors to 'economic migrants.' There was
a political need for the Government to react and at least to make transparent
the methods used for constrained removal. In order to achieve this all constrained
removal was stopped for one month. It was in the climate of this political atmosphere
that it was decided to create an independent Commission to consider the regularisation
of aliens. There are four categories of aliens who are liable to qualify for
regularisation and who can get a long term residents permit, the criteria being
laid down by law:
- Those whose illness prevents them returning without risk to their lives
- Those who could not return home because their home no longer exists (e.g. where their home has been destroyed in a war)
- Those who did not get an asylum decision within three or four years (depending on whether single or married)
- Those who have been in Belgium for at least six to seven years and have developed a new life there
This is an approach that other states could well consider following. The procedure shows some originality - applications are considered by an independent body, the Regularisation Commission. The Minister is requested to accept positive recommendations for regularization, although can deviate from negative ones. Although he is not legally required to follow recommendations, this is the way that the system works in practice. The Commission is made up of eight chambers, each of three people, one of whom is a solicitor, one a magistrate and one an NGO representative. The criteria for the Commission were laid down by law. There was agreement between the French and Dutch speaking areas of Belgium in order to achieve consistency of approach. The system is not without its faults and it has not received huge popular acclaim. There is a paradox in the hostility that is shown towards foreigners en masse and the kindness and generosity afforded to individuals within communities. However extremes of racism have not manifested themselves - there have not been racist demonstrations or marches for example. Regularisation has been coupled with an effective regime for the removal of 'illegal' immigrants who do not qualify for regularisation. There were great political risks in setting up an independent Commission. The danger existed for example, and perhaps still does, of it becoming a permanent body (it is only intended to be a temporary arrangement). Another potential difficulty was the possibility of collusion or even corruption within the Commission. All over Europe 'regularisation' seems to be viewed as the granting of some special favour by the State - but de facto regularisation has already happened and occurs elsewhere in Europe, simply due to the difficulties of achieving removal. To some it may seem to be a stopgap approach but it is a pragmatic one. However it is difficult to achieve public acceptance of the system.
Questions from Delegates
Q. Who applies for regularisation?
A. The individual seeking it.
Q. What happens when an individual is refused regularisation?
A. S/he is expelled.
Q. What is the acceptance rate?
A. About 70%. Belgium does not give financial support to asylum seekers, only support in kind.It also uses a LIFO ( last in first out ) system for dealing with asylum seekers. People who are regularised get permits and are entitled to family reunification.Mr Fischer was very sceptical about the possibility of achieving the harmonisation of asylum procedures in Europe.
The Impact of the New Law on Nationality on Integration of Refugees in Germany
The next speaker was Harald Greib from the Ministry of the Interior, Berlin. His talk was entitled "What is the impact of the New Law on Nationality on the Integration of Immigrants and Refugees in Germany?" Mr. Greib said that the basis of German nationality law dates from 1913. There has always been a criterion to differentiate between German and non-German citizens. The main reason that it has taken such a long time to change the nationality laws has been the fear of Turkish immigrants becoming citizens. Despite the numbers of immigrants and 'Gastarbeiter', Germany did not regard itself as a country of immigration. However, the previous nationality law was manifestly absurd. It would not accept as a German citizen, for example, a Turk who had lived in Germany for 20 years, but it would accept somebody of German descent who had never lived in Germany. Therefore reform of the law was undertaken in 1998 by the incoming Government. The Government introduced the concept of Ius Solis and also allowed the naturalisation of people who had lived for a long time in Germany. There has been opposition from right wing extremists in some parts of Germany, using spurious arguments. The new nationality law is based on an options model. When somebody is born in Germany he/she has the German nationality and the nationality of his/her parents. At the age of 23 one has to decide which nationality one wishes to have - one cannot opt for both. This puts Iranians in a difficult position, since they are not allowed to renounce their nationality. People who do not opt for German nationality lose it. Of course some people will forget to opt for German nationality when they reach 23 and so will lose it anyway by default. In the first year of the new law 150,000 applied for naturalisation and in the second 180,0000.The only increase in rights afforded by naturalisation is in terms of voting rights. The practical impact of the new law is therefore rather minimal. One theoretical advantage is that people with German nationality can go to work in other EU countries - however, Mr. Greib does not envisage people wanting to rush to become German nationals in order to do this. In any case, he concluded, if the working rights of third world nationals are sorted out in the EU this won't any longer be an issue.
Workshop on European Immigration Policy
The afternoon workshop threw some light on how difficult it is likely to be to achieve a common EU immigration policy, with a wide range of views coming from the countries represented around the table. There seemed to be agreement that it would be a good thing to have a common approach and the importance of the Schengen countries being consistent, but it didn't really seem to get a lot further than that. As an aside the Swedish representative said that Sweden operates a quota system for refugees, who are collected from refugee camps and taken to Sweden. One interesting question, that was posed in the workshop, was whether there should be a transition period for the free movement of labour for the candidate countries after the first wave of EU enlargement. The representative from Germany was against such a transition period in that it would create 'second class' members. The Polish representative was encouraged by that - he did not feel in any event that there was much incentive for Polish people to migrate to other parts of Europe. Firstly there was the language barrier and also life in Poland was currently quite good. Nor did he think that people would want to migrate to Poland - there have been thousands of job opportunities for foreign workers in Poland, but there are still many vacancies.The German representative thought that it would be appropriate to have 'indicative targets' for immigration of migrant workers rather than quotas, which he did not think would be workable. On the whole the workshop felt like a small microcosm of the way that the EU probably works with almost as many different opinions and agendas as there are nationalities.
How to Safeguard Refugee Protection in the Process of European Integration?
The next presentation was by Veronique Planès-Boissac, of the Forum Refugiés,
France, and member of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE). Her
talk was entitled "How to Safeguard Refugee Protection in the Process of European
Harmonisation?" Mme. Planes-Boissac outlined the purpose of ECRE which comprises
70 NGOs and which works towards establishing higher standards for the protection
of refugees. She said that we should not under-estimate the effect that current
legislation is having and pointed out that the eastern and central applicant
countries are already adopting EU legislation. She pointed out that agreements
and 'soft law' adopted before the Maastricht Treaty, which were often developed
in a very ad-hoc way, are now forming the basis of the regulatory framework
for the EU. She is concerned that standards will be jettisoned in order to achieve
harmonisation. ECRE therefore urges member states to let NGOs fulfill their
consultative roles before final decisions are made. There is a need to monitor
the development of the various legal instruments. She outlined the main Tampere
- A strong re-affirmation of the right to seek asylum
- The need to apply the principles of the 1951 Convention fairly and comprehensively
- A move towards the harmonisation of procedures for dealing with refugees.
There needs to be protection for an asylum seeker at four levels:
- Access to the territory
- Access to determination procedures
- Access to protection
- Access to rights
Access to the Territory
There is no point in creating a model set of procedures in Europe, for example if refugees cannot access the territory. States should be committed to upholding rights. However, immigration measures have made it difficult for people to apply for asylum. The result is trafficking. The people who are being trafficked are, on the whole, people who are recognised as being refugees. She reminded delegates about Article 31 of the Convention - the fact that somebody has entered a country illegally does not have any bearing on their right or otherwise to asylum.A recent concern is that border controls are now being 'exported' with immigration officers being sent to other countries. ECRE's view is that the potential of the High Level Working Group, that has been set up to address harmonisation issues, will not be realised if the focus of the Group is control based rather than rights based. Turning the spotlight onto the countries of origin is deflecting the rich host countries away from proper consideration of their responsibilities. Admittedly, we need to tackle the root causes of migration, but it is a long term issue. The strategy also has to address the question of human rights violations in other countries.
Access to Determination Procedures
The Commission has already issued a staff working paper. The points that need to be addressed in anything that replaces the Dublin Convention are:
- Family re-unification
- The needs of people awaiting asylum decisions
- The right of appeal against determination by another state
- The removal of 'safe third country' rules
ECRE considers that the application should be heard in the country in which it is lodged.The Commission has issued a proposal for a Directive for minimum standards, a quick system where refugee status is granted or withheld. This is a good idea provided that there are proper safeguards. There are concerns, however, about so called 'manifestly unfounded claims' and also about the safe third country procedures. It is not a question of whether the third country is safe per se but whether it is safe to that particular asylum seeker. There is a need to ensure that asylum seekers have access to legal assistance. 'Safe country' lists should not be used. Applications should be dealt with on their merits. The concept of 'manifestly unfounded' claims and fast-track removal is extremely dangerous. There should be special safeguards for unaccompanied minors. Where there are doubts about the person's age the benefit of the doubt should be given to the minor.
Access to Protection
This relates to temporary protection and to reception facilities. Some member states adopt a very narrow view of the Geneva Convention. In the view of ECRE it is not the role of the EU to decide on who ought to qualify for protection; this ought to be determined by the UNHCR. She also considered that any new legislation should recognise that a person should qualify as a refugee if they are persecuted by a non-state agent. She referred to a Protocol to the Treaty of Amsterdam, which says that member states should be regarded as safe countries of origin in relation to each other. She said that this was contrary to the Geneva Convention. As the EU enlarges, the available asylum space will be squeezed down. She said that Jack Straw's proposals for categorising countries was contrary to the principles of the Geneva Convention and is also not workable. A current trend was for complementary forms of protection being offered in preference to recognition under the terms of the 1951 Convention. Where this occurs there should be parity of civil and social rights as between refugees and people offered complementary forms of protection. This is also separate from the issue of the need for temporary protection. She said that there is no definitive agreement between member states on the issue of temporary protection. On the question of so-called 'burden sharing' ECRE believes that financial solidarity schemes are preferable to the notion of quotas and moving people around. The EU should have a 'Refugee Fund' for this purpose.
Access to Rights: The Reception of Asylum Seekers
There is a proposal for a community instrument in the Spring. At present the various nation states limit access to benefits, movement etc. and these shortcomings ought to be remedied. Asylum seekers should not be detained. If they have to be detained they should be provided with interpretation facilities and given every other assistance. ECRE is opposed to the voucher system. ECRE believes that asylum seekers should be able to access the labour market within six months of making their asylum claim.The principles of good protection should also apply to people who have been given refugee status. The rights of refugees to travel, live and work in the host country should be properly recognised. They should also be entitled immediately to family re-unification once their refugee status has been granted.
How Can Asylum Procedures in Europe Be Improved?
Day two of the Conference started with a presentation from Mr. Jean-Marie Delarue,
Director of Public Freedoms and Juridical Affairs, Ministry of the Interior,
Paris. His talk was entitled "Economic Migrants or Refugees: How Can Asylum
Procedures in Europe Be Improved?" M.Delarue said that a common policy needs
to be built within the EU, but it is facing some 'strong difficulties'. There
is no clarity on the question of whether or not it will be possible to improve
procedures. He said that his presentation would cover three areas:
- What kind of situation do we face?
- What kind of solution do we want to achieve?
- Some personal reflections on the situation
What Kind of Situation do we Face?
He said that in France the day before yesterday (14 February 2001) 35 people without any papers were arrested near the Italian border. On the same day 200 people were arrested near the Belgian border. If this were repeated every day it would represent some 70,000 arrests per annum.There could be something of the order of 150,000 to 200,000 people travelling without documents in France. Most of these are 'economic migrants' from the Balkans, from the Middle East and from the far East. The situation is not very different in other countries of Europe.Two years ago there were 22,000 asylum claims in France, last year the figure was 38,000. In terms of people claiming asylum at the border, four years ago the figure was about 600 a year. Last year there were 7,400 claimants. There has been a big growth in the number of economic migrants/asylum seekers. He referred to the countries of origin and pointed out some basic facts:
- Today many countries are devastated by civil wars or inter-state wars.
- There is the issue of climate change which is likely to result in many refugees in the future
- Many people flee but stay within the same general area e.g. the 2 million Afghans in Pakistan, so that the countries of the south bear the main burden of refugees. Sierra Leone and Liberia are further examples of this.
- There is however more and more easy transport available and countries are facing a big increase in organised crime from human trafficking, which now represents about one third of the size of business involved in drug trafficking.There is a clear distinction (he said) between economic migrants and refugees and a clear legal framework for making the distinction. He gave three examples where the issues did not seem so clear-cut:
- An Afghan refugee fleeing from climate change in Pakistan
- A Kosovan staying in France because his home had been destroyed (apparently half of the Kosovans stayed on this basis). Can somebody leave their country as a refugee but then become an economic migrant? Many young girls from Sierra Leone, or claiming to come from Sierra Leone, arrive at the French border, destined to enter the sex industry in France. Are they economic migrants or refugees? There is, therefore, a complex mixture of motives for migration and this needs to be recognised in developing policies that respond to this diversity. There is a link between the different kinds of migrant flows. There are three 'doors' through which a person can enter Europe:
- Through labour migration
- Through family re-unification - Through asylum
The first door is now closed but the other two are wide open. It is self evident that if you close one of the doors, there will be long queues at the other two.
Consideration of the Solutions and Proposals that have been put forward
In order to get a positive outcome it is necessary to achieve solidarity between the member states. The first component is to achieve financial solidarity. Last year, following negotiations, a European Fund for Refugees was established, but it is not enough to deal with the problem. There also needs to be physical solidarity. Some countries e.g. Germany, Austria and Switzerland, have a system that involves distributing refugees between different parts of their territory, and these countries would like a system whereby each EU country undertook to deal with a certain number of refugees. There has to be a common procedure for asylum claims. We need to counteract 'asylum shopping', if this actually happens, although it is questionable whether people do seek to choose their destination by shopping around in this way. However there is a need to harmonise the asylum tests and currently discussions are taking place in Brussels on this aspect. Do we have to change the Geneva Convention? It is possible to offer other forms of protection as opposed to protection under the Geneva Convention. There is 'temporary protection' and 'subsidiary protection', both of which are weaker and of shorter duration than protection under the terms of the Convention. The intention in these cases would be to return the 'refugees' to the country of origin at some stage. But does this actually add to the Geneva Convention or merely weaken it? It would lead to four possible types of protection in France, the fourth being some type of state protection peculiar to France. The German Minister of Interior has said that the Geneva Convention is no longer adapted to current Human Rights philosophy. Jack Straw has argued that we should apply the Geneva Convention in a different way and seek to categorise according to the country of origin. Thus, for people coming from peaceful or 'safe' countries, there would be an assumption of no protection being required. For people coming from countries subject to conflict there would be an assumption that protection is required. Grey area countries (i.e. not fitting neatly into either category) would be cases considered on their own merits. This would not require a formal change of text of the Convention but would simply be another way of interpreting it.
Mr. Delarue does not believe that the solutions are to be found in asylum policy only. There needs to be improved co-operation between countries and a strong and efficient intervention against human trafficking. There needs to be better co-operation between destination countries and origin and transit countries. He believes that there is good scope for preventing migration through co-operation with the countries of origin. We should help the economies of those countries and seek to ensure that migrant flows contribute to the development of those countries e.g. through remittances and professional training of migrants, followed by the eventual return of those people to their home countries. Migrant flows could thus be used to assist development in the home country, to provide 'anchorage' for migrants' own interests and benefits. There is a need to set up 'global policies' to tackle these issues. Claims should be considered at the border, since once asylum seekers have entered the country it is difficult to send them back. In France, if a claim at the border is evidently unfounded, then the person is not allowed to enter France. Under this process some 10,000 people per year are refused entry. Once people have entered France, they should be dealt with in a humane way, but this stops short of allowing them to enter the labour market (!). Once they have started working it is difficult to send them back. We have to examine cases fairly and firmly, but on their individual merits. Mr. Delarue does not agree with Jack Straw's approach to categorisation by country. Claims should be examined within one year, including the process of appeal. We should help the refugees to return - which may not be easy when they have no travel documents. In response to a question M.Delarue said that 80% of border claimants are allowed to enter France. (Presumably if 10,000 per annum are not allowed in. This means that 40,000 are - perhaps a figure to be treated with some caution). Finally he said that the High Level Working Group is making very slow progress. There is also difficulty in working with countries of origin in that they do not want Europe to impose dictates on them.
What Are the Opportunities and the Limits of the Amsterdam Treaty?
The next speaker was Wouter Van de Rijt from the General Secretariat of the
Council of the European Union, Brussels (Directorate General H). His talk was
entitled "Towards a Common European Migration and Refugee Policy: What are the
Opportunities and what are the Limits of the Amsterdam Treaty?" Mr. Van de Rijt
started his talk by saying that issues relating to migration are some of the
most sensitive of European policy. He spoke of the recent discussions between
the British and French Prime Ministers and meetings between Justice and Home
Affairs Ministers. On 25 March 2001 the Schengen Agreement will be extended
to cover the Scandinavian countries - Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway and Iceland.
He said that the work of progressing a common migration and refugee policy is
seriously complicated by the heavy structures, within which framework we have
to operate. These include UNHCR, the Council of Europe, the EC, the EU, Interpol
etc., all overlaid by Schengen and the fact that different countries are participating
to different levels. When the EU is enlarged to 27 states it is going to be
even more complicated. New countries will have to take over the existing structures,
which will pose problems. He said that he was recently in Iceland, which has
the oldest parliament in the world. It has a motto which is 'A state should
be built on the rule of law' and we need to give confidence to all countries
of the EU that this philosophy exists over the whole of the Union. The EU has
said that it needs a comprehensive approach covering human rights and development
in countries of transit and countries of origin. EU countries are seeking to
build some coherence of their internal and external asylum system. The EU has
expressed its commitment to the principles of asylum. Since the Amsterdam Treaty
there have been several proposals:
- Proposals for a refugee centre
- Proposals for fingerprinting asylum seekers
- Proposals on family re-unification
- Proposals covering re-admission agreements with third countries
The Commission has issued a communication, pointing up the need for immigration in order to ensure economic growth. This month there will be proposals coming forward, setting out minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers. There will be a Directive covering admission and stay for third country nationals for the purposes of study, and another covering admission and stay for paid employment. Later this year there will be one covering unpaid employment. The system must be based on the fair treatment of third country nationals in the EU. We need anti-discrimination policies and action against racism and xenophobia. There has to be an approximation of measures between countries - the rules have to be harmonised. We need to take into account cultural links which may be built on historical or colonial ties. Where people come to a country where there are no obvious historical or cultural ties there is a strong likelihood that there is trafficking occurring. For example why else are people from Afghanistan or Sri Lanka coming to the Netherlands where there are no traditional ties? (This seems to be making quite an intellectual leap and perhaps there is a need for proper research before arriving at such a sweeping conclusion). He said that we need to manage migration flows at all stages. There is a need for development within the countries of origin and of transit. There is a need for a common policy on visas and documentation. There should be co-operation between consuls and a common visa list. There should be severe sanctions against serious crime and trafficking. He posed the question of 'What is illegal immigration?' and said that it is not an easy one to answer. The case of organised crime is quite clear-cut but what about individual smuggling or work carried out by bona-fide humanitarian organisations? He touched on the question of sanctions against carriers. Clearly exploitation exists, but he quoted a Swedish minister who asked the question 'Should we punish an airline that has one passenger without documents?' It is not unknown for passengers to destroy their documents on the plane. There are differences of opinion between countries about how heavy punishments for this type of offence should be and differing views will need to be reconciled. There is a need for exchange of information and technology between countries. Some countries have better outer border protection than others and this issue needs to be addressed. As the Schengen border moves eastward it will be necessary to ensure that there is sufficient control over the border to ensure the confidence of all the participating countries. Thus candidates for enlargement must accept the full Schengen technical management requirements.The European Council wants development within countries of origin to lessen the propensity to migrate and also wants to see trafficking tackled at source, but how in practice is the EU to make a deal with the regimes in Afghanistan or in Somalia?
The Work of the High Level Working Group
The High Level Working Group was set up in 1998 and its brief was to prepare cross-pillar action plans for partnership, working with sending countries e.g. Afghanistan, Albania, Morocco, Sri Lanka, Iraq and Somalia. It involves issues of foreign policy development and the provision of economic assistance. It also is looking at co-operation with UNHCR and Human Rights organisations, the recognition of refugee rights and getting a common approach to organised crime. He cited the example of the Morocco Action Plan, prepared by the Working Group. This has now reached the stage where it has been presented to the Government in Morocco. However the Moroccan authorities felt that the plan lacked balance and that the approach adopted by the EU was too dominated by control. The socio-economic factors were considered not to have been given enough weight. As a result a further structure has been set up in order to enhance the Action Plan. Certain measures of the Action Plan have been developed further and the Commission has started a MEDA 2 project with a budget of 3 million Euros.He felt that such programmes initiated by the EU are true partnerships, which can be brought to realisation through international funding.
He felt that the work of the High Level Working Group is difficult, but important. It should take account of the root causes of migration in the countries of origin. It is necessary to impose concrete measures and this involves a dialogue with the sending countries. We should reinforce human rights, promote the rule of law, and support conflict resolution where we can. There should be the effective implementation of existing re-admission procedures. But unilateral implementation of measures is not possible and we have to work closely with the other states.
Questions from Delegates
Q. What were the points that the Moroccan Government raised?
A. That there was a need to keep and open mind on the question of economic development. The Moroccan Government wanted it to be seen as an issue of economic development, rather than one of controlling migration. One delegate suggested that it must be virtually impossible to reach any real dialogue with countries such as Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq. The Polish representative said, on behalf of the candidate countries, that they ought to be able to participate in the Working Group, even if only as observers and also be able to feed their views into Brussels. The question was raised about enlargement and the extent to which applicant countries should be expected to strengthen external borders, which could very soon become internal borders as further countries join in the Schengen area. The specific case quoted was that of Romania and Bulgaria.
Europe's Growing Need for Skilled and Unskilled Labour
The next speaker, was Manolo Abella, Chief International Migration Branch,
International Labour Organisation, Geneva. His presentation was entitled "What
measures should Europe take to Satisfy its Growing Need for Skilled and Unskilled
Labour?" Mr. Abella said that his talk would not be focusing on migration as
a problem but as a solution. Several countries have a problem of unemployment,
particularly France and Germany, and in all there are some 15 million people
out of work in the EU. The labour market is also desperately short of certain
skills. For example in the field of ICT there were 9 million workers required
in 1998 and there will be 12.3 million needed in 2002. Where will these 3.3
million extra people come from? The workforce of Europe is in decline and there
has been a rapid decline in fertility rates in Europe. The average fertility
rate is currently about 1.5 whereas in order to maintain a stable population
a fertility rate of 2.1 is needed. The lowest rates are in the southern European
countries. Demographic projections show that it would take 50 years to get back
to a fertility rate of 1.9.Predictions are that the population will peak at
376.5 million by 2005 but will decline by 14% over the next 50 years. Without
immigration the 376 million will decline to 311 million during that period.
If there was immigration of 300,000 per year during the period the population
will reach 330 million. Without immigration Spain will lose 9.4 million people,
Italy will lose 16 million and the Russian Federation will lose 25 million people.
These are the gross figures but if one were to consider the number of older
people within these gross populations: the number of 65+s in Germany will go
from 17% to 28% by 2050. The number of 65+s in Spain will rise to 37% by 2050.
The number of 65+s in Poland will go from 12% to 26% by 2050. The number of
65+s in Greece will go from 18% to 34% by 2050. Altogether in the EU there will
be 96 million people over the age of 65 by 2050. The implications for public
finance are extremely serious. How can the quality of life in Europe be maintained
with so few people of working age supporting so many older people? Today there
are 4.36 people in France supporting every one older person. In 2050 it will
be 2.2, supporting every one older person.There are 4 people in Italy supporting
every one older person. In 2050 there will only be 1.5 people supporting every
one older person. The working age population of Europe in 2050 will be 188 million,
representing a drop of 30%. Mr. Abella said that there is a paradox. The average
duration of working life has dropped by five years, yet life expectancy has
increased. Also the active participation of post-retirement age people in the
employment market has dropped over the last thirty years from 80% to 30%. In
addition, there has been a tradition of contracting the amount of employment
offered to people in an attempt to reduce unemployment. There are also early
exit policies such as pre-retirement programmes and job release programmes.
However, such measures are now being re-evaluated because of the need to keep
people working for longer. Early retirement means the premature loss of highly
skilled people. There is a big debate on this issue in Europe and in the United
States. It is also a problem in Japan. More effort is now being made to look
at part-time pension schemes that enable people to continue working part-time
whilst taking part of their pension. In Germany, Finland, Belgium, Italy and
Austria, more than 30% of the labour force are 50+. The EU jobs strategy needs
to be based on employability, adaptability, entrepreneurship and equal opportunities.
The new elements to be considered are:
- A shift away from labour force reduction in favour of labour force enlargement
- A shift away from youth centred policies
- The revision of early exit policies
- Combatting age barriers to employment
- Adapting the approaches towards professional training
- Adapting working conditions to enable more people to access the job market
This brought him on to the issue of immigration, which he said was essentially a political decision. He said that it was not possible to stop migration however - the number of people looking for work is immense whereas the number of people migrating is tiny. In order to keep the EU population constant it would need 47.4 million immigrants over a 50-year period or 949,000 immigrants per year. To keep the working age population constant over this period would require 79.6 million immigrants or 1.4 million per year. In 50 years time on this basis migrants would represent 25% of the population. The figure required for the U.K. over the 50-year period is 2 million. He outlined some of the key factors in ensuring that the best use is made of the immigrant work force. Host countries should recognise immigrants' professional and technical skills and qualifications. At the moment people's skills are not being used. Proper allowances should be made to ensure labour market mobility. Integration policies are central to the process. Education is very important. The U.S. has the greatest number of foreign students and they are allowed to stay on after they have completed their education, thus adding to the skills base of the host country. The UK also follows this practice, but not other European countries (there is however an issue about brain drain here). Immigrant communities need housing, family re-unification and access to the job market. The unemployment rates among settled immigrants are usually higher than that of the indigenous population. There are issues of social exclusion that come into play here, such as the right to participate in elections and concepts of citizenship.
In conclusion he said that immigration, whilst not necessarily the whole solution, should be seen as part of the solution to the problem and that countries which have open immigration policies are more economically successful.
The Final Workshop
The final workshop, which was conducted in plenary session, was entitled "The Implementation of the Treaty of Amsterdam - An Assessment". This workshop posed a number of statements with which participants were invited to agree or disagree, as, for instance:
*Do I agree with the definition that a refugee is only someone who is (directly
or indirectly) persecuted by a state agency?
There was no consensus on this. The question here is that if the definition of a refugee were to be changed away from the Geneva Convention definition, would states be seeking to see the definition expanded (e.g. to include people persecuted by a non-state agency and environmental refugees) or contracted.
*Asylum seekers should have the possibility to stay in a country until the end of the asylum procedure.
There was general agreement with this proposition with nobody speaking against it.
*I agree with the Treaty of Amsterdam, that EU citizens do not have the right to seek asylum in another EU member state. In EU member states human rights are per definition guaranteed.
It was pointed out that the Treaty does not totally exclude EU citizens seeking asylum in another member state. Richard Williams (British Refugee Council) said that the Refugee Council saw this as a very dangerous precedent and against the spirit of the Geneva Convention. Suppose, he said, that all the countries of Asia were to band together and declare themselves to be safe countries….The only equitable burden-sharing consists of a quota system, in which the refugees are evenly spread over the different EU countries. There was no support for this approach. Felicity Clarkson from the Home Office said that it assumed that people have no free will of their own. Generally it was felt that quotas are counterproductive to integration and that it would be better to allocate the money than the people. Richard Williams from the Refugee Council said that this was the position taken by ECRE
*What do you think would be a good common European definition of a 'refugee'?
One of the Swedish delegates considered that the definition ought to be expanded to take into account the particular experiences of women who are often the first victims of civil unrest and of war crimes such as rape. It also appears that Sweden offers temporary protection to environmental refugees, which seems to be a good practice not shared by other European countries.
*How can unequivocally the EU member state be determined that is responsible for the examination of an asylum claim?
The Swiss representative thought that in the case of asylum seekers travelling by plane, the claim should be made in the country where the flight first arrives. A delegate from Finland felt that there should only be one request for asylum. Unfortunately the interpretations placed by different countries are very varied so that it becomes a lottery for the asylum seeker with the determination of the claim being quite dependent on where they apply.
*Multiculturalism leads to disintegration and chaos. Immigrants should adapt themselves to their new environment.
It was reported that in Holland every refugee has to learn Dutch and to learn something about Dutch history. There is strong pressure for refugees and migrants to integrate into Dutch society. Richard Williams from the Refugee Council said that integration ought to start from day one. There is a need to be more conscious about the effect of the stigmatisation of asylum seekers and the fact that such stigmatisation fuels racism in society.
The Context of the Wider, Global Refugee Movements
The final speaker was Manuel Jordão, Deputy Representative UNHCR, France, Paris. His talk was entitled "The European Migration and Refugee Policy in the Context of the Wider, Global Refugee Movements". Mr. Jordão opened by saying that refugee movements are an indicator of a world in crisis. He gave a brief history of UNHCR and its predecessor organisations and described the initial work of the UNHCR when it was set up in 1951. This was the aftermath of World War II and a time when refugees fleeing from Eastern Europe were welcomed by Western democracies. By the early 1960s the refugee movements had changed in nature and this decade saw the substantive de-colonisation of Africa. UNHCR was able to arrange international assistance to refugees created by these upheavals. During the following two decades the refugee situation worsened with displacement occurring on an unprecedented scale. By 1991 the refugee population had reached 17 million. Countless internal conflicts caused huge population movements - the decolonisation of African countries, the displacement of Kurds in Iraq and the break-up of the former Yugoslavia being among the gravest. He feels that there is a need to prepare for several years of continuing instability. There is a huge number of conflicts (approximately 200) occurring every year mainly in sub-Saharan Africa and in Asia. There are 250 million people living in 12 countries where there are oppressive regimes. Currently there are 23 million refugees world-wide and if one were to add the number of internally displaced persons, the figure would approach 50 million. Globalisation has a negative impact on the most vulnerable members of society. The free circulation of goods and capital has de-stabilised a number of countries and has resulted in political crises. There has been exclusion of minorities and marginal groups and this has further fuelled nationalistic tendencies. Globalisation can give rise to a sense of insecurity as borders become less relevant to the mobility of foreign capital. Foreign workers, immigrants, people in flight all tend to be excluded from the economic benefits of wider globalisation. Population movement has become more complex. Non-refugee migration has grown and economic migration blurs the picture, detracting from the ability to protect 'genuine' refugees. There is a need to deal with these growing migration pressures. There were 190 million migrants in 1990. Many of today's problems cannot be solved by a piecemeal approach at the national level. To a large extent these problems are symptomatic of the north-south divide with the rich countries of the north building barriers to keep people out. The need for a common asylum and immigration policy is high on the European agenda but any future system must be rooted in the absolute right to asylum. Asylum has to be recognised as a basic human right. UNHCR supports the efforts being made to centralise asylum claims into a central system. Any procedure should be based on the presumption that the claimant is entitled to asylum. UNHCR believes that a common asylum system requires a common understanding of the definition of a refugee. This also applies to the development of a common temporary protection system. These common approaches cannot be developed in isolation from measures regarding 'illegal' migration and trafficking. A priority must be to address the root causes of migration and to improve living conditions in the countries of origin. UNHCR understands the difficulties inherent in the implementation of such proposals and plans, but hopes that they will nevertheless be pursued. UNHCR would also like the EU to form a channel for legal immigration. This would help to combat trafficking and illegal migration. On the question of re-settlement there needs to be a common programme of burden sharing. This should address those people who may have easy access to labour markets and those people who are vulnerable and may not have such access. There should be a global burden sharing scheme. Finally, he said that refugees have always been a dominant feature of the European landscape. The issue of asylum needs to be disentangled from that of immigration and we must seek to address the root causes of large-scale involuntary movement. The issue is not just about numbers but also about the societies in which we choose to live.
My Conclusions from the Conference
In many respects it was difficult to draw general conclusions from the discussions
at the Conference. The delegates were a mixture of people from a diverse range
of Government organisations and NGOs who were representing their own views,
rather than the official position of their country. However, a number of useful
points emerged which, as well as giving a general indication of the direction
that European immigration and asylum policy is taking, contained some useful
examples of good practices from other European countries. Whilst there is a
general willingness to espouse the principle of asylum as a basic human right,
there is also considerable leeway for nation states to interpret the Geneva
Convention in a way that suits their own political agenda. The difficulty of
disentangling the issue of asylum from that of immigration is all too apparent,
even though delegates and speakers were theorising the importance of drawing
such a distinction. It also seems clear that, however much the EU wishes to
secure a common approach to issues of asylum, the only way that this is likely
to be politically realistic is by reducing the procedures to the lowest common
denominator, thus having the effect of lessening the protection that is afforded
to refugees. It would be encouraging to think that countries might adopt the
good practices described by the Swedish delegates, such as giving temporary
protection to environmental refugees, without the issue of temporary protection
being used as a mechanism for eroding the full rights that should be afforded
to refugees under the terms of the Geneva Convention, though one cannot be optimistic
that this would be so. Delegates from the applicant countries seemed rather
unsettled by the lengths that they were being asked to go to in order to obtain
membership. The investment required by those countries in order to achieve Schengen
standards and redefine the geographical boundaries of fortress Europe seems
to be quite a daunting prospect for countries such as Poland, who do not anticipate
large numbers of immigrants to, or emigrants from, their country. The theory
behind the requirement to fortify the eastern borders is, presumably, to prevent
'economic migrants' from entering Poland illegally and using it as a transit
to other, possibly more attractive European countries.The most compelling arguments,
for me, came from the speaker from the I.L.O. Although I have heard the economic
case for immigration articulated before, I have never heard the evidence set
out in such convincing terms. Whilst attending the Conference I was also reading
Teresa Hayter's book 'The Case for Open Borders' which makes a strong economic
and humanitarian case for allowing immigration. The following morning, after
the close of the Conference, French Television carried the news that a ship
carrying 908 Kurds had come aground off St Raphael. Within three days Tony Blair,
the British Prime Minister was reported as saying that any of them finding their
way to England would be immediately deported………….
Chris Whitwell, 24 February 2001