The Sterling Crisis: Twelve soften stance on refugees: German plea heeded

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The Independent Online
GERMANY'S EC partners yesterday showed the first signs of acknowledging Bonn's repeated calls for help in dealing with the flow of refugees from Yugoslavia.

A joint meeting of justice and interior ministers agreed to step up efforts to co-ordinate policy on asylum-seekers and to find a legal status for those who intend to return home once the war is over and therefore do not properly qualify as refugees.

'A common approach is clearly necessary to avert suspicions in some member states that the burden is being distributed unevenly and unfairly,' said the Home Secretary, Kenneth Clarke, in his capacity as chairman of the meeting.

He acknowledged that Germany was a special case, noting that it was understandable that people chose to flee to those countries nearest home. The three-quarters of a million former Yugoslavs already in Germany acted as a magnet for friends and family escaping from the country, he said.

The German Interior Minister, Rudolf Seiters, said that for the first time he felt there was real sympathy for the German point of view. No one expected the meeting to address the contentious issue of introducing a quota system, though Mr Clarke seemed as ever to reject the idea: 'It is not a case of forcibly sending those who have elected to move to Germany elsewhere,' he said.

The bulk of the meeting was devoted to a Franco-Italian initiative designed to help root out organised crime. It was agreed to set up a working group of police and judicial experts to report back, probably to a ministerial meeting scheduled for November, on ways to break down the organisational structure of the Mafia.

Mr Clarke admitted that the measures might not give the Mafia chiefs sleepless nights, but said that the moves would give them 'serious cause for concern': the only way to combat cross-border crime was through cross-border co-operation, he said.

The ministers agreed to step up pressure to ensure that the Europol drugs unit is up and running by January 1993. The Europol initiative is already more than a year old and EC member states have not even been able to decide where it should be based, nor what its exact role should be.

Mr Clarke warned that the EC's fight against crime would be delayed if the French voted against the Maastricht treaty. 'I think a 'no' vote would be a setback,' he said. 'We would have to go back to the drawing board. But obviously the need for work (against crime) would reassert itself.'

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