EU drafts immigration plans

LUXEMBOURG (AP) – European Union justice ministers drafted plans yesterday to crack down on illegal immigration by tightening controls on land and sea borders and linking aid for poor nations to their cooperation in halting the flow of immigrants. The plans, to be presented for approval by EU leaders at a meeting next week in Seville, have raised concerns from human rights campaigners that they will hit refugees fleeing war or persecution. However, the justice ministers insisted EU labor markets would remain open to legal migrants and genuine asylum-seekers would continue to find a safe haven in Europe. «We are not talking about a fortress European Union,» British Home Secretary David Blunkett said. Among the measures broadly agreed to by the 15 EU nations are plans to help countries in the front line of the influx of illegal immigrants, notably Italy, Spain and Greece. «We have to strengthen the principle of solidarity and burden sharing,» said Antonio Vitorino, the EU’s home affairs commissioner. Plans range from sharing the costs of border controls to using naval ships and planes to track and intercept boats carrying clandestine immigrants. The interior ministers also agreed to link aid to immigration by offering incentives to countries that help prevent their citizens from heading for Europe illegally or facilitate the return of deported immigrants. However, the EU nations were split over proposals for aid and trade sanctions against poor countries that fail to cooperate, with France and Sweden leading opposition to tough measures backed by Spain and Italy. Some 500,000 illegal immigrants enter the EU every year, in addition to almost 400,000 asylum-seekers.

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