Immigration: Europe's United Front: Citizens of the thirteenth country: EC unanimous on restrictions - Hidden cost of cheap labour - German law less anti-foreign than Britain's - Racist violence

Click to follow
The Independent Online
IMMIGRANTS, asylum seekers, or those under 'temporary protection': they are all citizens of the unlucky thirteenth country of the European Community.

Winston Churchill and Charles Pasqua, the French Interior Minister, do not want them. Neo- Nazis burn down their houses and attack them with baseball bats, guns and knives. The EC itself is busy passing laws that restrict their entry, make sure they do not move around when they arrive and leave swiftly when so ordered. But there are reasons to believe that the fight is not one-sided.

Europe in 1993 is experiencing a sharp increase in immigration. Since the middle of the 1980s, the number of immigrants has risen from about one million a year to more than three million. They are arriving from eastern Europe - in particular, those fleeing the Yugoslav conflict - north Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

As the decade turned, it was no longer the flow of immigrants from former colonies that figured large in policymakers' considerations. Increasingly it was the flow from east of the Community, the other side of Europe's divide. In 1989, 1.2 million left the states of the former Warsaw pact, including 720,000 German settlers.

Historically speaking it is a large movement, but not the biggest. Between 1895 and 1924, 50 million people moved to the West, according to Jonas Widgren writing in the Journal of International Affairs. He estimated in 1991 that in three decades, Western Europe - with a population of about 400 million - had received 20 million immigrants.

Taking account of the years since, and of clandestine immigration, the figure may now be around 25 million. That would make these people members of the sixth biggest country in Europe.

Until the 1970s, Europe mainly exported migrants. Since then, it has become one of the world's largest destinations for immigrants, with the percentage of foreign-born population now exceeding that of the US.

Last week, European Community countries met in Denmark to add to the growing pile of recommendations and decisions on immigration. Every member state and even liberal countries outside, such as Sweden, have cracked down. And toughened rules have forced many immigrants into clandestine immigration - about 2.5 million, by the estimate of the Geneva-based International Labour Organisation.

This is probably an underestimate. Italy, Spain and Greece may have a million illegal residents altogether, according to Mr Widgren; even Switzerland, one of the world's most intensely policed states, reckons it easily has more than 100,000.

This sudden surge, it is argued, has discomfited Europe, which lacks the traditions, the tolerance or the social structures to accommodate foreigners, unlike America. For these new immigrants, becoming a citizen of their adopted state is difficult because of European law, which is inconsistent and often harsh.

All now have the law of blood, which means that citizenship is obtained through parents and not through the place where one is born. But the major discrepancy is the amount of time it takes to become a citizen, says Laurie Fransman, a barrister and author of the leading textbook on the subject. 'In Britain it takes five years, while in other states it can take up to seven or eight, or even 10 years in the case of Greece.' Greece also requires that one 'behaves like a Greek,' says Mr Fransman, 'whatever that means'. Britain's Immigration Law Practitioners Association points out in a study released last week that EC harmonisation has focused on rules relating to expulsion, family reunion, admission of workers and asylum claims, but minimal attention has been given to procedural protections and appeals against decisions.

As ILPA member Ian MacDonald QC says: 'There is a glaring absence of safeguards built into the latest proposals.' But things are being done to help immigrants, using the liberal legal traditions of Europe and the emerging international framework.

Don Flynn of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants dismisses arguments referring to the 'innate' intolerance of European culture. 'European society has evolved in a way that has made it open to prosperity,' he argues, 'and immigrants have fuelled that prosperity. Law, policy and society have always accommodated themselves to that fact.'

If this seems somewhat optimistic, Mr Flynn refers to important recent cases in the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights, and the development of immigrants' rights in EC trade and aid agreements. These established that migrant workers had rights that could be defended.

'On the one hand, people in the Schengen Group (nine of the 12 EC states) are writing policy behind closed doors as if migrant workers had no rights. In reality, the situation is very different.' The legality of many of the new immigration and asylum procedures is in question, he says. 'We think we can cut Schengen-type proposals to ribbons.'

Another prominent refugee adviser says he was told by an EC official that the recent agreement on expulsions was 'mainly for show', and there are doubts about its effectiveness and legality. The Maastricht agreement could help, with its new emphasis on European citizenship.

Mr Fransman points out that, until now, there has been little progress on accommodating and integrating immigrants through the EC structures, precisely because sovereign states have kept a jealous hold on policy. 'But the sovereign states will have to move.' He sees a battle through the use of existing laws, pointing out discrepancies in the apparently monolithic structures erected by European governments.

More difficult to tackle is the lagging response of European society. Though there have been demonstrations in support of the asylum seekers in Germany, and anti-racist movements in France and Britain, the racists find it much easier to organise across borders, a subject the EC has started to tackle. The politicians' insistence on publicly tightening laws only tends to feed anti-immigrant sentiment rather than to prevent it, many officials argue.

But, as Mr MacDonald says: 'Social stability depends upon the rule of law and the availability of legal remedies to those who have a grievance.' All too often, that has not been respected.

Comments