EU Nations Clash Over Immigration

Last Updated: Friday, 22 September 2006, 10:35 GMT 11:35 UK

EU nations clash over immigration

Africans are making treacherous sea journeys to reach Europe
EU ministers have expressed sharp differences over how to deal with an influx of illegal immigrants to Europe.

At talks in Finland, Spain's justice minister called for help to deal with the surge of mainly African migrants arriving in Spain's Canary Islands.

But Germany's interior minister said Madrid should not be calling for other people's money.

And Austria criticised Spain's decision to grant amnesty to some 500,000 undocumented foreigners in 2005.

About 24,000 illegal migrants have made the often perilous sea crossing from West Africa to the Canary Islands in the Atlantic this year.

Up to 3,000 of them are believed to have died during the journey.

'Wrong signal'

At the meeting in the Finnish city of Tampere, Spain made a fresh appeal for help, after repeatedly stating that it was unable to cope with the influx.

“These people coming from the African continent are knocking on the door of the whole of the European Union – we just happen to be closest border country towards the African continent,” Spanish Justice Minister Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar said.

Spain also said it wanted better organisation of Frontex, the hurriedly created EU border patrol force that operates in the Mediterranean, the BBC's Jonny Dymond in Tampere says.

In response, German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schauble said Madrid “must stop asking for the money of others”.

He pointed out that Berlin had carried a similar problem for many years.

Austrian Justice Minister Karin Gastinger said Spain had sent “the wrong signal” by legalising the status of at least 500,000 illegal workers last year.

Ms Gastinger said the decision had given “some kind of pull factor to the people in Africa, as we unfortunately saw in the last months”.

Italy's Interior Minister Interior Minister Giuliano Amato suggested that money would be better spent in Africa – in the countries where the asylum seekers were coming from.

For the moment at least it looks as if Spain's appeals for help are going nowhere, our correspondent says.