Europe creates an immigration moat
More attention is being paid to assimilation in the wake of al-Qa'ida bombings, reports Natasha Bita in Florence (The Australian)
June 03, 2006
A FILM showing a woman strolling topless along a beach and gay men kissing in a park is part of a contentious new entry test for would-be settlers in The Netherlands. The Dutch decision to make some migration applicants watch the DVD as a supposed barometer of tolerance is one of the more extreme examples of Europe's backlash against outsiders and Muslims in particular.
Australians are exempt from the test, as are citizens from the European Union, the US, New Zealand, Canada, Japan and Switzerland, and asylum-seekers and skilled workers on high incomes.
Clearly, the film is aimed at low-skilled immigrants from poorer countries with more conservative societies, such as Turkey, Morocco and many Asian and Middle Eastern nations. Precise assertions of tolerance of the activities in the video are not required, as opposed to broader knowledge of Dutch society, but the hope is that applicants who find the film offensive will be put off applying to live in The Netherlands, renowned for liberalism.
“We want to give a realistic impression of Dutch society,” an immigration spokesman tells Inquirer. “We want to inform people how the mentality here is. After watching the video, people will be asked what kind of country it is, about the education system, our constitution and our history. They are not asked about the men kissing or the women topless.”
Fewer than 500 would-be settlers have sat the test, including the video, since its introduction in mid-March, and the Dutch Immigration Office has not yet released statistics on how many have failed.
But the DVD had to be censored in some countries after the Immigration Office belatedly discovered that watching a film of a topless woman could be a criminal offence in Islamic countries such as Morocco, Iran, Afghanistan and Malaysia.
Dutch hospitality towards foreigners has cooled remarkably since the murder of film-maker Theo van Gogh, shot and stabbed to death by a Moroccan-born immigrant in 2004 after making a film critical of Islamic attitudes towards women.
Across Europe, suspicion and outright xenophobia have flourished in the wake of the al-Qa'ida bombings in London and Madrid.
Interior ministers from Britain, France, Italy, Spain, Germany and Poland want to make would-be migrants sign a so-called “integration contract” vowing to respect the values of free speech, democracy and respect for all faiths.
Whether or not that happens, Britain and France plan to steer the immigration intake balance towards needed skilled migrants, with an Australian-inspired points test rating education and high-priority occupations for entry.
The French parliament voted last month to scrap a law allowing citizenship to foreigners who have simply lived in France for longer than 10 years. Settlers from outside the EU will have to sign a contract promising to learn French.
Immigrants are easy scapegoats for the concerns of Europeans about high unemployment and crime. During Italy's election campaign in April, a right-wing MP demanded that male immigrants bring their wives with them or else take tablets to control their sex drive.
“If so many sexual crimes are carried out by foreigners, it is because they arrive at an age in which their hormones are running high, without women and [faced with] prostitutes who refuse them,” Northern League MP Roberto Calderoli said.
The EU is absorbing new immigrants at a rate of a million a year. Without new settlers, its population will shrink. Even so, non-European immigrants still make up only 3.3 per cent of the EU's population. And despite its new-found obsession with skilled migrants, Europe also needs unskilled workers who are happy to do the dirty work the locals spurn.
In Italy, immigrants from The Philippines, the Caribbean and eastern Europe are favoured as domestic workers, often moving into Italian households to help cook, clean and care for young children or feeble elderly relatives.
The number of legally registered domestic workers has tripled in a year to nearly 500,000 – 10 times more than a decade ago – although many more work illegally for cash in the black economy.
New Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, in his maiden speech in May, promised to modernise Italy's existing hotch-potch of immigration laws, which he described as “inefficient, based on prejudice and favouring clandestine entry”.
“Our scheme will be based on welcoming migrants, living together and guaranteeing their rights and responsibilities,” he said. “We must introduce quotas for a quality, high-level immigration.”
The EU is trying to draw up a common policy on immigration and asylum, but with 25 countries jealously guarding their borders and their right to choose who settles, the task is nigh impossible.
The European Commission official in charge of drawing up the plan, Sandra Pratt, says a common strategy is far off.
“There is no unanimity,” she told the Monash University Immigration Futures forum in the Italian town of Prato last month.
“We will have 25 countries to convince and different countries have different agendas. But we need to manage migration better.”
Pratt believes European countries have not done enough to integrate existing migrants, many of whom arrived as guest workers decades ago and never went home.
“People can stay for 25 years and not know the language,” she tells Inquirer.
“Even though global numbers of immigrants in the EU are low, they are congregated in the big cities in certain countries and that really creates difficulties for social cohesion.”