EU lawmakers to vote on new rules for expelling illegal migrants
The Associated Press
Published: June 17, 2008
STRASBOURG, France: European Union lawmakers will vote Wednesday on a new set of common rules for expelling illegal immigrants from the 27-nation bloc a bill that faces opposition from left-leaning parties and human rights groups.
The rules are part of efforts to craft a common EU asylum and immigration policy by 2010. If approved by the EU assembly, countries will have two years to implement them.
The bill says illegal immigrants in the EU can be held in specialized detention centers not jails for no more than 18 months before being expelled.
It also says EU nations should grant immigrants basic rights, including access to free legal advice, food and shelter, and prohibit the expulsion or detention of unaccompanied children.
Once found by authorities, illegal immigrants will first be given the opportunity to leave voluntarily for up to 30 days, according to the proposal.
If there is a risk they will abscond, they can be put in custody for up to six months while their deportation is being processed. There can be a 12-month extension in specific cases, such as when illegal immigrants do not cooperate with authorities.
The agreement on the rules among EU governments took more than two years to design. At present, there is no common policy on expelling illegal immigrants, and detention periods vary from 32 days in France to indefinite custody in Britain, the Netherlands and five other countries. The EU estimates there could be up to 8 million illegal immigrants in the bloc.
A cliffhanger vote was expected in the European Parliament.
Conservative lawmakers and the Liberal Democrats backed the proposed rules, which will not automatically apply in Britain, Ireland, and Denmark, because they have negotiated opt-outs.
Center-left groups and the Greens said Tuesday the proposed detention period was too long.
They also protested a proposed five-year re-entry ban, which can be imposed on expelled immigrants who are deemed a threat.
The bill's opponents also called for more humane treatment of immigrants in detention centers, which can be very grim in some countries.
“The directive is not adequate in terms of protection of fundamental rights. It will not allow for the improvement of detention conditions in the EU,” French Socialist Martine Roure said in a debate, urging the EU to allow for more legal migrants.
Her group called for a maximum three-month detention period, with an extra three months in special cases.
Human rights groups deplored the law.
“We consider that systematic detention of persons who have committed no crime is inhumane and unwarranted,” the European Council on Refugees and Exiles said.
But Interior Minister Dragutin Mate of Slovenia, which holds the rotating EU presidency, backed the draft law, saying it improves the situation of vulnerable people and children.
The European Commission proposed a separate program Wednesday whereby EU nations would accept some asylum seekers from third countries swamped with refugees. It also proposed an EU asylum office.
“There are a lot of Iraqis in Jordan, for example. We should be able to help those refugees and perhaps, one day, enable them to go back to their country,” said Jacques Barrot, the EU commissioner responsible for immigration matters.