Showing posts with label immigrant. Show all posts
Showing posts with label immigrant. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

During the Downturn, Regrets About E.U. Enlargement

Europe Moves to Open Its Doors to More Refugees - TIME
Every week, around a thousand people chance the hazardous journey across the Mediterranean hoping to escape violence and persecution at home and start a new life in Europe. Many don't make it — just a fortnight ago, 73 Eritreans perished on a passage from Libya to Italy. And those who do make it are rarely welcome: countries including Malta, Spain and Italy say they cannot cope with the influx of refugees, and sometimes have to send them back.

A Green Light for Europe’s Blue Card

In an effort to help spread the load across Europe, the European Commission unveiled new plans on Wednesday for resettling refugees, arguing that the European Union should "take on a greater share of the burden of meeting resettlement needs worldwide." The scheme could save lives as it aims to discourage people, mainly Africans, from trying to reach Europe illegally, crowded onto rickety boats or hidden in trucks. The Amsterdam-based NGO United Against Racism estimates that, since 1993, over 13,250 hopeful refugees have died while trying to reach Europe. (See pictures of refugees fleeing fighting.)

The proposal is also about helping the E.U. meet its political and moral obligations towards refugees who cannot return to their home countries. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that for 2010 alone, out of about 10 million refugees worldwide, 203,000 need permanent resettlement. Yet last year, only 6.7% of the refugees resettled globally were accepted by the E.U. — a total of just 4,375. By comparison, over 60,000 refugees were resettled to the United States. The Commission says these low numbers harm the E.U.'s international standing and give the impression of a "Fortress Europe" when it comes to refugees.

Only 10 of the E.U.'s 27 member states regularly accept resettled refugees, while some of the others resettle on an ad-hoc basis. The rates for granting refugee status also differ widely across Europe: Sweden has given asylum to 80% of Iraqi refugees who have applied, while the U.K. and Germany have each only accepted about 10% of applicants from Iraq. Greece has stopped taking Iraqi asylum applications altogether. (See pictures of life returning to Iraq's streets.)

Under the Commission's proposal, a Resettlement Expert Group made up of representatives from each member state and other stakeholders, including UNHCR and other NGOs, will prioritize the most deserving cases each year. These could include refugees from war zones, vulnerable single women with children, and people who are traumatized or seriously ill. Target groups could include Iraqis in Syria and Jordan, Somalis from Kenya, or Sudanese from Chad. (See pictures of Darfur descending into chaos.)

E.U. members would annually pledge how many people they would be ready to take. Countries that open their doors will get money from the European Refugee Fund — $5,700 per refugee — and support from the newly created European Asylum Support Office, which would meet regularly to define resettlement priorities. The E.U. would also work closely with transit countries outside Europe, mainly Libya and Turkey, so that asylum seekers can apply for resettlement before attempting any precarious journeys. (Read: "Documents Reveal British Role in Lockerbie Bomber's Release.")

If managed efficiently, the Commission says the resettlement scheme could ease the burden on some of the E.U.'s border states. Last year, more than 30,000 people are believed to have made the boat journey to the Italian island of Lampedusa, just 70 miles (113 km) from Tunisia. Earlier this year, Italy signed a controversial agreement with Libya allowing Italian authorities to automatically send would-be immigrants back to Libya without screening them for asylum claims — a move that arguably breaches the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention.

But refugee activists are skeptical about the resettlement proposal, which is voluntary and still has to be confirmed by E.U. governments. "It's a first step, but it is weak and we don't expect it to have a major impact on the refugee intake," says Bjarte Vandvik, Secretary General of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, an alliance of NGOs. "It's only on a voluntary basis. We expect many countries will only increase their intake by a few dozen." (Read: "Drought and Famine: Ethiopia's Cycle Continues.")

Vandvik says public opinion in Europe is still too hostile towards immigration, making little distinction between a refugee fleeing persecution and an illegal immigrant. "The European debate is too inward-looking, and is focused on how not to take in refugees," he says. "A lot of people in Europe think we are swamped, but in 2007, we reached a 20-year low with asylum seekers. We have actually been building this Fortress Europe, especially after Sept. 11, and the walls have become higher and higher."

The Commission is planning other reforms over the next few weeks, including a relocation policy, whereby refugees who land on the shores of Europe's Mediterranean countries would be transferred to other E.U. member states. In theory, the measures could make the E.U. a secure haven for refugees from the world's trouble spots. But nervous European governments will have to open their doors far wider if they want to staunch the perilous Mediterranean crossings that thousands make every year.

French Crack Down on Migrants

Calais: France Arrests Afghan Immigrants in 'Jungle' - TIME
Unlike most of Europe's illegal immigrants, the men in the makeshift camp known as "the Jungle" near the French port of Calais have hardly kept out of sight of the locals. Surviving under leaky plastic sheeting amid discarded food and dirty clothing, the men — most of whom fled desperate violence and poverty — have spent months, sometimes even years, as the most visible challenges to, and victims of, Europe's tangled immigration laws.
The Jungle lived up to its name on Tuesday as hundreds of French riot police stormed the camp and arrested 278 people — almost all Afghan, and nearly half of them children. The French government says the raid was a much-needed crackdown on human traffickers. But even as police were leading immigrants out of the camp, refugee organizations warned that the action would do little to deter desperate people from making the hazardous journey across Europe, and instead blamed French officials for failing to deal with them. "The French government has effectively washed its hands of the problem and deliberately held back from bringing these people into the French asylum system in the hope that they will make it to Britain," says Dan Hodges, director of Refugee Action, a London-based charity. "This is a grotesque game of human pass-the-parcel." (See pictures of the French crackdown at the Jungle.)

The sight of Afghan men camped in squalid settlements around Calais is hardly new. Over the past decade — and even before the 2001 Afghanistan war began — thousands of Afghans have traveled illegally on epic journeys that last weeks and cross several borders. They all have one goal in mind: to sneak aboard container trucks on ferry boats bound for Britain, where they see their best prospects. With no national identity cards in Britain, illegal immigrants for years have found it easier to escape notice there than in France, where police frequently check immigrants' documents in the streets. (Read "Postcard from Calais: Treading Water.")

But crossing to Britain has become all but impossible over the years, as British immigration officials have increasingly tightened security, using sniffer dogs and carbon-dioxide detectors in the ports. As a result, thousands of immigrants have found themselves stranded along the French coast, living with little sanitation or clean water.

That still beats what many of them escaped. "If I go back to Afghanistan, the Taliban will kill me," said Nasser Khan, 25, who fled last year after his parents and two brothers were killed in a raid on their family home. Stuck in France for nearly eight months, Khan describes feeling increasingly jittery and disoriented. "I have headaches. My family is gone. I cannot sleep at night," he said on Monday, standing in a clearing in the camp. "I close my eyes and see my family."

Sadder still is Najib Akhel Jabar, a rail-thin 12-year-old from the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad, who said his father sold a piece of land to pay smugglers to take him and his cousin, also 12, to Europe, after Taliban fighters had repeatedly tried to press the boys into fighting with them. French Immigration Minister Eric Besson said on Tuesday that the 132 children arrested would be housed in special immigration youth centers until officials determined whether they qualified for asylum. In the camp on Monday Jabar described how he and his cousin hid in container trucks for six weeks across Turkey, Greece, Italy and France, before arriving in Calais in early August. "I am very afraid that the French police will send me back," he said, adding, "I am less afraid of the French police than the Taliban." Dressed in a light raincoat, Jabar was among those who were arrested on Tuesday morning. (Read "Afghan Boxer Wins French Citizenship.")

The dilemma facing France, and Europe more generally, is a difficult one — not least because about 1,800 other illegal immigrants are still hiding under bridges, in abandoned buildings or in the woods elsewhere on the French coast. Under European law, refugees are required to settle in the first E.U. country in which they land. For the thousands fleeing Afghanistan and Iraq, that usually means Greece, where the government grants asylum to only about 1% of refugees. "There are huge, huge differences between countries in the chance of being recognized as a refugee," says Wilbert van Hövell, regional representative in Brussels for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which has urged European governments to be flexible when implementing asylum laws. (Read "Greece's Immigrant Odyssey.")

Last December the European Commission proposed changing the law to allow each country to absorb refugees no matter which European country they arrived at. But that proposal came when most European countries were seeing big job losses from the recession, which has made immigration a hot political issue.

Before the police cleared the Calais camp on Tuesday, Immigration Minister Besson had failed to persuade Britain to take the men as refugees. That is a contrast to 2002, when Britain agreed to take 1,200 of the 1,500 immigrants living in a Red Cross center in Sangatte, a suburb of Calais. Nicolas Sarkozy, who was Interior Minister at the time, shut the center, saying it would stop immigrants from converging in Calais. (See pictures of Nicolas Sarkozy.)

Sarkozy's plan has largely failed, and the immigrant flow continues. Refugee organizations and locals, who for years have witnessed the flow of immigrants, see little hope of success from Tuesday's crackdown. "They can destroy the Jungle, but in a month's time, it will be rebuilt," says Annick Decrinier, a retired teacher in Calais who has volunteered at a lunch program for illegal immigrants since 2001. "I am certain that the way we are dealing with this is not a solution." (Read "Sparks Over Sarkozy's Afghan Plan.")

As rumors of the crackdown spread throughout Calais on Monday, Mohammadullah Safi, an Afghan interpreter for the UNHCR, explained to immigrants how to apply for asylum in France. Safi — himself a refugee who failed to cross into Britain in 2002 — believes that thousands more Afghans will still try to make it to Britain, while thousands more will dodge police as they travel across Europe, hoping to make new lives there. No riot police can stop that, he says. "Change things in Afghanistan, and things will change here," Safi says. Until then, Europe's politicians will continue their bitter arguments over illegal immigrants.