Amnesty cautions over EU immigrant controls

BRUSSELS – Amnesty International appealed to European Union leaders yesterday to ensure that a proposed clampdown on illegal immigration does not erode the human rights of genuine asylum seekers. EU leaders are due to consider strengthening immigration controls at a summit meeting next week in the Spanish city of Seville. The tougher restrictions are widely seen as a response to strong electoral showings for anti-immigration candidates, most recently in France, the Netherlands and Denmark. In a statement, the human rights group Amnesty International said the clampdown risked infringing on the rights of genuine refugees seeking asylum in EU nations. «The unwillingness to balance immigration measures with respect for internationally agreed human rights standards threatens to sacrifice the rights of those who seek and need protection,» said Dick Oosting, director of Amnesty’s EU office. The group said the Seville summit should make an «explicit and unambiguous» commitment to the right of asylum; order an assessment of the human rights impact of any new immigration legislation; focus foreign policy on improving human rights in immigrants’ homelands; and intensify anti-racism campaigns. Spain, which currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency, wants to make immigration controls a top agenda item at the Seville summit. Spanish Interior Minister Mariano Rajoy said Tuesday that immigration would be the most important phenomenon facing the EU for the next 50 years. «It would be a foolish mistake» not to have a common immigration policy, he said. «Either we all control our borders or one of us doesn’t and the whole thing is pointless.» Among proposals under discussion before the Seville meeting are increased cooperation between frontier and immigration authorities of the 15 EU nations; a common EU visa policy; a European border police force; and increased cooperation with immigrants’ home countries to make returning them easier. Justice and home affairs ministers from the 15 EU nations are scheduled to discuss the plans at a pre-summit meeting today in Luxembourg. Governments are also concerned that plans to expand the Union to take in 10 Eastern European and Mediterranean island nations in 2004 will increase the flow of illegal immigrants entering over the borders of new members. Within the EU, border controls have been mostly scrapped. Several EU nations are already introducing tougher immigration controls. The British government has proposed rules so that failed refugee claimants can be quickly deported before being given the chance to appeal; Denmark’s Parliament has voted regulations limiting immigrants’ access to residence permits, social benefits and rights to bring in spouses; the lower chamber of Italy’s Parliament last week approved provisions to fingerprint non-EU nationals and to send some illegal migrants to jail for a year. Amnesty’s Oosting said politicians’ «overblown rhetoric» on immigration was being reflected on the streets with «increased hostility and attacks» against foreigners. The London-based campaign group said the number of asylum seekers in the EU had declined slightly in recent years after increases in the 1990s provoked by wars in the Balkans. It said 384,530 people sought asylum in 2001 and provisional UN figures for this year showed a downward trend. Amnesty listed Yugoslavia, Romania, Turkey, Iraq and Afghanistan as among the main countries of origin over the past 10 years.

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