EU musters resources against illegal migration
By Ingrid Melander | June 22, 2006
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – A small flotilla of boats backed by aircraft is about to sally forth from Europe's coasts to the waters off west Africa to stop illegal migrants risking their lives to reach the wealthy bloc.
With thousands of Africans braving the perilous journey to Europe's southern coasts of Spain, Malta and Italy, the European Union's 25 nations want to take a tougher line.
“We are moving toward a militarization of the management of this crisis,” said Daphne Bouteillet-Paquet of human rights group Amnesty International's EU office.
Fortress Europe “is a cliche but it remains true,” she said.
The sea patrol will try to intercept illegal migrants before they leave African waters and head for the Canary Islands, where more than 10,000 landed this year, compared with around 4,700 last year. Hundreds more are believed to have died on the way.
Elizabeth Collett, of the Brussels-based European Policy Center, agreed with the fortress description.
“It is an easy metaphor but also an accurate one to some extent. (EU) member states find it much easier to take steps to fight illegal immigration than to agree on legal migration.”
The month-long EU Canaries mission, coordinated by the newly created EU border agency Frontex, will only involve a few boats, aircraft and immigration experts sent by a dozen states, Gil Arias, Frontex's deputy director, told Reuters.
Spain last month asked other countries for five patrol boats, five helicopters and an airplane for the mission.
Frontex also recently organized the first joint EU flight to expel eight illegal migrants from France, Poland and Austria to Georgia and some of its neighbors, Arias said.
But these first modest missions are more than a symbolic show of solidarity, and more will follow, he said. The European Commission will propose draft legislation in July to make it easier to put together European sea patrols.
“Measures like that have been a lot easier to implement because they do not address the hard questions of do we need migrants in Europe, if so what kind of migrants,” Collett said.
The European Commission – the EU's executive arm – has so far largely failed in its efforts to convince the bloc's member states to adopt common rules on legal migration.
“They all have very different perceptions of their needs and very different migration regimes,” Collett said.
Germany and the Netherlands criticized Spain last year when it granted amnesty to more than 700,000 migrants, fearing those people would continue their way through Europe toward them.
The debate in many EU states is driven by public fears that Europe is being flooded by bogus asylum seekers and that migrant workers are stealing European jobs — despite a sharp fall in asylum claims and curbs on legal migration.
Page 2 of 2 –The bloc has adopted rules on asylum and long-term legal migrants, but with minimal standards and so many loopholes that they change little on the ground, Collett said.
COOPERATE WITH AFRICA
“We should no longer close our eyes that we need the African (immigrants) ourselves. The immigrants contribute to society, and if we do this in a managed way, there is nothing against it,” said the European Commission's immigration spokesman Friso Roscam Abbing.
The bloc's demographic shortages make the case for more migration, he added. Many European countries have aging populations and experts say the EU needs to open its doors wider to legal migration to improve its economy.
Collett and Bouteillet-Paquet said the Canaries crisis had made Europe realize it had to cooperate with Africa.
At a meeting in Senegal this month, experts from both continents agreed that Europe must help Africa tackle the poverty and underdevelopment that cause illegal migration.
The draft plan drawn up at that meeting is to be adopted at a meeting of ministers from Europe and Africa at a summit in Morocco's capital Rabat on July 10-11.
European experts will also meet this month to see how much more EU aid can be used for development projects in Africa, Development Commissioner Louis Michel said.
The EU says it is the world's biggest aid donor, with figures showing its countries provided $43.3 billion in 2004, over half of all international aid.
Member states agreed last year to boost aid spending to 0.56 percent of gross national income by 2010 and 0.7 percent by 2015. They also agreed that half of the increase in aid would go toward Africa.
Bouteillet-Paquet said the focus of the draft EU-African plan drawn up in Dakar was more on repressive measures than aid. Collett feared the EU was trying to shift the burden of dealing with sub-Saharan migrants to North African countries.
When he visited Brussels in June, the Canaries' president, Adan Martin Menis, said what he most needed from the EU was more investment in developing the economies of African neighbors.
There is also the question of how money is used, which raises issues of efficiency on both sides.
“Where did all the funds we sent to Africa go?” French EU lawmaker Patrick Gaubert asked after visiting reception centers for migrants in the Canaries this month.