Magazine article European Affairs

Europe: Immigration Unwanted

Magazine article European Affairs

Europe: Immigration Unwanted

Article excerpt

Europe has become the destination of many of the world's emigrants and thus the scene of a vast influx of immigrants over the last 20 years. This development, in a relatively short time span, reflects a convergence of events and trends that drew people toward Europe:

* The fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 opened the way to human flows to the West. The numbers were particularly big from three eastern European states with large and growing populations: Poland, Romania and Ukraine. Two million ethnic Germans (Aussiedler) came to Germany from Russia and other places in the former Soviet empire (from the Baltic States to Kazakhstan). Hungarian minorities in Romania moved to Hungary, Turks went home from Bulgaria, Finns from Karelia.

* Groups of displaced populations gravitated toward Europe after being uprooted by political crises in the 1990s including ethnic strife in the Great Lakes region in Africa (including Rwanda and Burundi), in the former Yugoslavia, in Kurdish-populated areas in the Middle East and in trouble spots as varied as Haiti, Algeria, Lebanon, Chechnya, Afghanistan and Iraq.

* European media give people in less developed parts of the world images of a Europe that seems to offer not only freedom and security but also a higher standard of living, including access to consumer goods.

* The black market in human trafficking (generating big profits for getting people across borders illegally) became a bigger, more lucrative business.

* Immigrants often were prepared to take work and low wages spurned by the indigenous labor force.

This situation--with its push-and-pull dynamic--has emerged in particularly acute terms across the Mediterranean because of the gap between the European northern rim and the North African southern rim the imbalance in demographic pressures is reinforced by the contrasts in economic, political, social and cultural levels on opposite sides of the Mediterranean.

As a result, the European Union is now experiencing an unprecedentedly massive intake--roughly two million legal entries a year--that is larger than the flows to traditional immigration magnets such as the United States and Australia. The effect is unsettling in Europe because Europe has never thought of itself as a place for immigration. Traditionally, Europe has been a place of emigration, not immigration. National identities--and indeed the "European" identity--do not include a constituent belief that immigration can contribute to the process of building and redefining these identities. In other words, Europe seems to have become a region of immigration largely in spite of itself.

In trying to cope with this challenge, Europe has tried a range of measures aimed at containing or at least managing the largely unwanted influx.

The first reaction was an attempt to virtually close the borders to new immigration and step up the fight against illegal immigration and trafficking, starting with the 1985 Schengen agreement, which includes all EU member states except Great Britain and Ireland. This agreement (now a convention) was designed to open internal European borders to the free movement of people while reinforcing the EU's external borders with a visa system applying to most non-European countries. (Labor immigration, encouraged on a comparatively limited scale in the post-World War II period, had been shut off a decade earlier, in 1974.) The next step in this policy was an attempt to coordinate asylum policies among EU countries via the Dublin agreements in 1990 (completed by a second agreement in 2003). Finally, a 1997 Amsterdam agreement restructured the EU's decision-making process in this sector to try to ensure that a common "EU approach" was applied to all the member states' policies of entry and asylum. This approach culminated in conferences on illegal migration and treaties designed to institute a regime of "zero immigration." (An exception was left for unavoidable flows arising from asylum, family reunification and humanitarian acceptance, which are safeguarded by international treaties and codes of human rights. …

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