NEWS

EU urges tougher measures against illegal immigration

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – A Pan-European visa database, fingerprints in passports and tighter border controls are among new measures needed to help stem illegal immigration into the European Union, the European Commission said yesterday. The EU executive body also urged member states to do more to help integrate legal migrants to improve their standing in society and meet future demands for labor in the bloc, which has low birthrates and an aging population. The proposals were presented in two new reports on integration and the EU fight against illegal immigration, key areas of the 15-nation bloc’s efforts to forge a common asylum and immigration policy by 2004. «Although we need generous policies on lawful immigration and asylum, we must take determined action in the joint control of our borders and the fight against illegal immigration,» said European Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Antonio Vitorino. EU leaders have pledged to fight illegal migration in the wake of electoral gains by anti-immigration parties and a drop in public support for asylum-seekers out of fears that generous national asylum systems were being abused. But current immigration policies in Europe offer economic migrants few legal ways to enter and have left many thousands seeking a better life in the hands of human traffickers. To boost a fight against illegal immigration, Vitorino said the bloc should set up a database to retain all visa requests, visas granted and refused and to ensure better controls regarding third-country nationals seeking entry into the bloc. The EU should also include so-called «biometric identifiers» – for example fingerprints or iris scanning – in travel documents and residence permits to fight document fraud, a move Germany and France have already called for. Vitorino also called on the EU to take steps to boost controls of the bloc’s sea borders and reiterated the Commission’s call for a future common European border guard. He said efforts to combat illegal immigration had to be underpinned by an effective system to return unwanted migrants to send the signal that only legal immigration was worthwhile. A senior Commission official said the EU executive body needed at least 80 million euros to face the challenges of fighting illegal immigration, but really needed 140 million euros from EU states. Hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants are believed to enter the bloc every year, often risking their lives and paying thousands of dollars to criminal networks that have little regard for the safety of their clients. EU leaders will discuss how to fight illegal immigration at a summit in Greece on June 20-21, where the bloc’s common asylum and immigration policy is on the agenda. But Greece has said it wants the bloc to abandon its obsession with keeping unwanted migrants out and focus on attracting workers.