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close this bookThe Courier N 185 - March - April 2001 - Dossier: Cinema - Country Reports: Angola (EC Courier, 2001, 76 p.)
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View the documentHas Europe become a magnet for migrants?
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Has Europe become a magnet for migrants?

by Vale Michaux

In June of last year, customs officials in Dover discovered the bodies of 58 Chinese nationals who had suffocated in the back of a truck as they attempted to infiltrate “Fortress Europe”. “Dying to gain entry to Europe” is just as much of a reality in the Straits of Gibraltar, where every day African exiles lose their lives in their desperate attempts to reach the shores of Spain. Amid all this, illegal immigration networks are growing all the time, revealing a veritable trafficking in human beings. It’s a lucrative business and one that looks set to thrive. We talked to Jean-Louis De Brouwer, Head of Immigration and Asylum in the European Commission Justice and Home Affairs Directorate-General.

We are in an impossible situation. As long as Europe needs migrants for its more thankless tasks, and as long as unemployment figures continue to fall and workforces continue to decline, potential exiles in ever growing numbers will continue to do everything they can to gain entry, illegally if necessary. The UN has published a report advocating immigration as a means of combating the problem of “declining and ageing populations”. According to this report, Europe will have to admit somewhere in the region of 80 million people by the year 2050 if it is to bring its workforce back up to acceptable levels. For the time being, immigration remains the responsibility of the individual European States. Given the increasing numbers of immigrants, however, Europe’s 15 Member States are looking to coordinate their immigration policies...

Europe seems to be moving towards harmonisation of its immigration policies, what kind of framework are we looking at?

From now on, the European Union will be in a position to decide collectively on immigration issues. We are in the process of drawing up a much more coordinated and transparent approach leading to more streamlined control within the individual countries. We’re talking here about jurisdiction at national level, but the Member States will work together to agree a number of shared key objectives and to establish common central policies that will not have to be sanctioned by Brussels. As things stand at the moment, European policy can be defined in terms of four key objectives: relations with third countries and countries of transit, protection of those in legitimate need (ie respect for the right to asylum), integration and fair treatment of migrants who have acquired legal status within the European Union, and efficient management of migration flows, which in fact concerns the fight against illegal immigration. This humanitarian dimension was introduced in 1999 at the Tampere summit in Finland, largely as a result of the crises that followed the break-up of former Yugoslavia, which caused a mass influx of refugees into Europe. What you might call the European asylum system - although in reality no such thing exists - ground to a complete halt. Indeed, the majority of European countries have had to address the issue of asylum at some time or other, either theoretically in political debate or practically in response to a real crisis. The Tampere summit therefore recognised the need to develop a specific approach to the asylum issue.

“Co-development” is one of the four key objectives, which implies a link between emigration and development aid. How does this work?

Co-development is just one small aspect of the much larger issue of relations with third countries of origin and transit. I think it would be in the interests of all concerned if they just handled everything to do with relations with third countries of origin and transit together under the single heading “co-development”. The French Presidency sees “co-development” as a form of relations with the country of origin whereby the migrant plays an active role in the development process while taking advantage of his time in the host country to acquire formal training or capital, which he can then transfer to his own country. Conversely, “co-development” sees the migrant as a vehicle for importing goods, services, and cultural signs or symbols in the anthropological sense of the term. We are looking at a highly specific form of managing relations with the country of origin, using the emigrant as an active player. It’s an interesting approach and certainly worth pursuing. The problem lies in its actual implementation. Although the idea works well on paper, it is not likely to be something that will transpose easily from one Member State to another.

Do you think that pouring more aid into development is likely to stem the flow of immigrants?

In the long run, structural economic development measures, together with measures geared towards political stability, will help to alleviate migratory pressures. However, the issue is far from clear-cut. A meeting of ministers to finalise the Cotonou Agreement triggered a lengthy and heated debate on the subject. A great many politicians, international organisations and NGOs have categorically contested such an argument, viewing it as a form of exploitation of development aid. The way I see it, a common immigration policy can only succeed if it is implemented on a global basis and incorporates the issue of relations with third countries of origin and transit. If you talk about migration without considering the conditions of development and wealth of the countries in question, that is intellectual fraud. On the other hand, I think that saying “let’s give a bit of money to Morocco and Tunisia and there won’t be a single Tunisian or Moroccan migrant left” is also a form of intellectual fraud. The people most likely to emigrate are generally subject to political or safety constraints; they might be fleeing poverty, torture or civil unrest, and no amount of development aid will stop them fleeing. I am sure that in the long run, as the situation is slowly redressed, it will be possible to eliminate some of the push factors, but it will take time. Meanwhile we’re faced with intellectual fraud in the form of a supposedly humanist argument that leaves public opinion under the impression that promoting development aid will put a stop to all those Guinean children freezing to death in the undercarriages of planes flying to Brussels. That just isn’t the case!

50 illegal immigrants take refuge in the Saint Ignatius chapel in Antwerp

Would it be true to say that the European union has adopted a rather ‘schizophrenic’ attitude in all of this, welcoming highly qualified - immigrants but also turning its back on those without the necessary qualifications?

This takes us back to the United Nations report on demographic balance. Population studies have brought to light a number of failings, but estimates of how far they extend vary widely. Personally, I feel we would be better advised to choose alternative political instruments to “replacement migration”. Having said this, it is true that gaps in the population, and their associated damaging effects can be “offset” by a greater intake of immigrants, at least as a temporary measure, but expert opinion is divided on the matter. The way I see it, as far as migration for work purposes is concerned, we have to think logically and recognise that it is in our own interest. The reason we let in seasonal workers to pick early crops in Spain, or experts in new technology or nurses, as in the case of the Netherlands, is simply down to labour shortages. And it’s no good letting the whole “brain drain” notion worry us. On the other hand, there is a class of migrants over whom we still have no control. Dubbed “the Uninvited” by a British journalist, they neither seek protection nor have they been invited on account of their professional skills or areas of expertise, nor are they here to join their families. They are simply here because they’ve heard conditions are better than in their own countries! Currently, the most problematic area for us is asylum, and this is precisely where you find people in the “Uninvited” category. The challenge facing us today is that of reducing this category by introducing immigration policies geared towards unskilled workers, who make up the majority of “the Uninvited”. The only solution is to ensure that these people have no desire to leave their countries...

Is the EU not contradicting itself by announcing its intention to help the countries of origin become stabilised and develop, but then depriving them of the most highly trained and skilled members of their workforce?

I’ve always believed that migration policies are unnecessary in the case of people with a high level of skill, regardless of the area of their expertise. These people are going to travel how and when they want, anyway. Geographical mobility increases with culture. The more educated people are, the greater their cultural experience and the greater their aptitude for mobility. If a surgeon who is highly trained and very skilled at his job has no desire to return to his country of origin, there will always be a place for him on the European job market! It’s no good having qualms because of this brain drain theory! It is the less qualified people that pose the greatest threat; they are less mobile and take the asylum route, believing it to be their only means of getting into a Member State.

Have you set up any partnership agreements with countries to discourage their people from exile?

One of the strategies subscribed to by a good many Member States and international organisations - such as the IOM (International Organisation for Migration) - is the introduction of information campaigns in the countries of origin. These may take the form of dissuasion campaigns of the type “don’t come”, an approach adopted by the Australian authorities, who introduced terrifying dissuasion campaigns. In my view, there are more subtle methods of persuading populations that traffickers will take them to hell and not heaven. Or they may take the form of a message informing people of the conditions they have to meet in order to gain entry to an EU Member State. It’s a path we need to examine more closely because the people behind these campaigns are convinced they’re successful.

Several Central European countries are in the process of applying for EU membership. Won’t this make the EU a new Eldorado for migrants from these countries?

It is vital that we play down the whole “enlargement and migration” debate. Numerous studies show that the impact will not be as great as people seem to think. The problem will be most pressing during the transition period, as was the case with Spain and Portugal. It will take several years to reduce the economic differential to an extent where the desire to emigrate will disappear. What we should be worried about, however, is migration between the potential members and their neighbouring countries that will remain outside Europe. According to the IOM, the majority of countries that look set to be part of the enlargement process are experiencing exactly the same problems of declining populations as the current EU Member States. Given the fact that the standard of living in these countries will increase when they join the EU, they in turn run the risk of becoming extremely attractive targets for the flows of immigrants from immediately adjacent regions, such as the Ukraine, Moldavia, Byelorussia, and even countries in central Asia such as Chechnya and Kyrgyzstan. This would transform the issue of migration into a completely new issue of border control!