Europe needs one policy on asylum-seekers

“Fortress Europe» is not impregnable and its attempts to control the influx of immigrants and refugees has failed, according to UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers. On the eve of his visit to Greece this Thursday to meet with Prime Minister Costas Simitis, Lubbers talked to Kathimerini about what he sees as the key to a common European policy – harmonization of approaches to immigration and asylum issues, particularly during European Union enlargement and with a new European constitution under debate. Lubbers said the Greek presidency of the EU would have to overcome any national interests to deal with the issue. «Harmonization means that the imbalances in asylum procedures, in benefits, in living conditions, in recognition rates, are ironed out. That will stop people feeling that they should go to Country A rather than Country B because living conditions are better, or they have a better chance of getting refugee status,» he said, adding that a solution like this would halt the large numbers of immigrants trying to reach Greece. Lubbers hopes, «like most sane people,» that there will not be a military attack on Iraq, as the consequences would be catastrophic and could result in waves of refugees fleeing the region. The European Union, he believes, should also pay greater attention to refugees’ country of origin. Greece’s role in the new order will not be negligible, he believes, because of its position in the EU and its experience in the Balkans. With regard to Cyprus, Lubbers said it was time for both sides to make compromises. Serving as the head of an international organization that tries to care for 22 million refugees in every part of the world, 63-year-old Lubbers observed that in the post-September 11 era, the world regards foreigners with mistrust. He urged European governments to help their citizens realize the difference between a person who leaves his country to seek a better future and one who has been forced to leave because of war or persecution. After all, Europeans – and particularly Greeks – knows what it means to be a refugee.