ANALYSIS EUROPE & MIGRATION: A Tide of Tough Rhetoric, but No Sign of a Joined-Up Policy on Immigration ; as the Crisis Grows, EU Ministers Meet Today to Forge Agreement on Asylum

By Andrew Grice and Stephen Castle | The Independent (London, England), April 25, 2002 | Go to article overview
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ANALYSIS EUROPE & MIGRATION: A Tide of Tough Rhetoric, but No Sign of a Joined-Up Policy on Immigration ; as the Crisis Grows, EU Ministers Meet Today to Forge Agreement on Asylum


Andrew Grice and Stephen Castle, The Independent (London, England)


WHEN DAVID BLUNKETT published a White Paper on immigration and citizenship in February, he expressed the hope that his plans would prevent once and for all asylum being used "as a political football and as a weapon in the armoury of the National Front and British National Party".

By yesterday, the Home Secretary's hopes had receded to a very distant horizon. He was in the middle of a political storm after speaking of the danger of the children of asylum-seekers "swamping" British schools.

The s-word has unfortunate echoes of Margaret Thatcher, who in 1978 said people were "afraid that this country might be rather swamped by people with a different culture".

The advance of Jean-Marie Le Pen in France has returned immigration to the forefront of political debate in Britain. Labour and Conservative officials fear that events in France will boost the prospects of the British National Party (BNP) in the local elections in England a week today. The BNP is receiving much more publicity for its campaigns in Burnley and Oldham, the scene of race riots last year, than it would otherwise have managed.

The National Front's success in France has also thrown into focus a Europe-wide crisis over immigration. The writing has been on the wall for some time, but politicians across Europe may finally have to read it and take notice.

Two years ago, traffic jams stretched back miles from Belgium's borders with Germany, France, the Netherlands and Luxembourg - a farcical illustration of one of the most bizarre aspects of Europe's failed immigration policy. With large numbers of sans papiers - immigrants without papers - working in Belgium illegally, the government there announced plans to "regularise" a number of them. Anxious to prevent a flood of new immigrants taking advantage of this, the government moved quickly to beef up frontier controls. So Belgian border guards were put on special duty to deter one set of illegal immigrants while their colleagues handed out papers to another.

The problem is not confined to Belgium. An estimated 1.8 million people have gained legal status in the EU via amnesties since the 1970s, according to one academic publication in Brussels. But the example is typical of the disarray in Europe's immigration procedures, which has been exploited ruthlessly by politicians of the far right.

The contrast with the United States is stark. Between 1988 and 1997, America admitted almost twice as many immigrants as the EU - about 9 million, compared with 5 million - and the hard-working new arrivals are credited with helping to foster their new country's economic miracle.

Across Europe, politicians from the far-right to the centre-left have long stressed their determination to crack down on bogus asylum- seekers, to punish those involved in human trafficking, while keeping legal immigration to a minimum. For 30 years their thinking has been dominated by the concept of "zero immigration" and the idea that Europe can be a "fortress".

In most countries, there is only one guaranteed route to earning work papers: through having a relative already there and qualifying for "family reunion" schemes.

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ANALYSIS EUROPE & MIGRATION: A Tide of Tough Rhetoric, but No Sign of a Joined-Up Policy on Immigration ; as the Crisis Grows, EU Ministers Meet Today to Forge Agreement on Asylum
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