EU must pull together for an immigration policy that also tackles causes

European Union states must work together to shape a strict but humane European migration policy while also tackling the causes of illegal immigration, Public Order Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis said yesterday at an international conference in the coastal resort of Vouliagmeni – organized by the Foreign Ministry as part of its Athens Migration Policy Initiative – where participants also stressed the importance of integrating legal migrants into Europe’s sluggish economies. European Union member states have to date reached political agreement on the issue of family reunification but are still debating other crucial issues, including the granting of asylum, the control of external borders, cooperation with third countries and lending financial support to countries of transit and origin, Chrysochoidis told some 150 migration experts and policymakers at yesterday’s conference. Greece has implemented a range of measures since 1999 when the conclusions of the European Council of Tampere established the basis for a common migration policy, Chrysochoidis said, citing «the creation of a Border-Guard Authority in 1999, the new Immigration Act in 2001, as well as laws to combat organized crime and human trafficking.» Last year, a total of 54,611 illegal immigrants and 509 smugglers were arrested in Greece thanks to the joint efforts of the Greek Police and the Border-Guard Authority (which has 58 regional divisions and comprises 4,650 border guards and 550 police officers), Chrysochoidis told delegates. Greek citizens are more concerned about illegal immigration than their EU counterparts, the minister noted, referring to a European Commission poll, published in 1996, which revealed anxiety among Europeans over a rise in drug trafficking and organized crime but little interest in migration; the Greek public however diverged from this trend, reckoning that «illegal immigration should be a high priority on the EU’s political agenda.» Stressing the importance of «international police cooperation in the fight against the organized networks of migrants’ smugglers and traffickers,» Chrysochoidis explained the two key areas in which his ministry has made progress since Greece assumed the EU presidency in January: 1) The gradual creation of a European Border Guard to more effectively manage external borders. 2) The development of police cooperation aimed at discouraging migrants before they arrive at their intended destination. (A pilot initiative involves the establishment of «liaison officers» in the Western Balkans and in Turkey.) However, «the establishment of repression mechanisms, cooperation with third countries and the fight against organized criminal rings cannot be the only tools for tackling the illegal migration phenomenon,» Chrysochoidis noted, adding, «The social integration of migrants in EU societies and their employment is essential, as is the development of mutually beneficial partnerships with countries of origin and transit.» The indiscriminate provision of funds to such countries is no solution either, Chrysochoidis maintained: «We must also ask ourselves if our financial assistance to these countries actually reaches the proper recipients. Even today, EU economic assistance to these countries is used by local officers to buy arms for the support of organized crime.» The integration of immigrants into European societies was a point picked up by several speakers at the conference who stressed the positive, even crucial, contribution immigrants can make to Europe’s lethargic economies. «You are hearing that Europe needs high-skilled migrants but Europe also needs low-skilled migrants and it’s going to get both,» Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) representative John Martin told Reuters. Meanwhile, Guido Bolaffi, director at the Italian Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs summed up prevalent attitudes: «The economy needs immigrants but society does not – at least this is how things appear.» The role played by workers from countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Turkey will become even more crucial as societies age and the work force shrinks, experts told delegates.