Refugees from East Unsettle West Western Countries That Take Fewer Asylum-Seekers Are Said to Restrict Freedom of Movement

By Kate Holder and Rebecca Brown Kate Holder is a research associate and International Studies assistant researcher there. | The Christian Science Monitor, March 28, 1991 | Go to article overview

Refugees from East Unsettle West Western Countries That Take Fewer Asylum-Seekers Are Said to Restrict Freedom of Movement


Kate Holder and Rebecca Brown Kate Holder is a research associate and International Studies assistant researcher there., The Christian Science Monitor


MASS migrations of people from the former East bloc to Western borders are severely testing East-West cooperation in building a new Europe. Within one week earlier this month, at least 20,000 Albanians hijacked ships and sailed to the Italian port of Brindisi, in an attempt to defect to the West. The Italian government initially declared that most would be forced to return, but has now agreed to resettle many in Italy or elsewhere in the West. Italy also offered Albania emergency relief, in part to help stem the flow.

Between 1983 and 1989, the number of asylum-seekers in the West rose fivefold. In 1990, a total of 1.3 million emigres from Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union were settled in the West, but thousands more remain suspended within a political asylum process overwhelmed by numbers of applicants. The social and political pressures prompting mass movements threaten prospects not only for pan-European integration but also for new security arrangements.

European multilateral institutions have only begun to assess the regional implications of mass migration. However, the debate in these forums tends to reflect only partial responses to a problem of overwhelming dimensions. The Council of Europe, for example, sponsored a conference in Vienna earlier this year on East-West migration. East European representatives there criticized recurrent West European emphasis on "solving" mass movements merely by raising barriers to immigration. Yet Eastern states are imposing similar measures, including reinforced border patrols, to curtail movement within their own region. Czechoslovakia and Poland, for example, are restricting entry of travelers from Romania and the Soviet Union.

Although the European Community's Single European Act mandates the free movement of labor, goods, services, and capital, there is no common EC immigration policy. The 1985 Schengen Agreement was signed by six of the 12 EC member states to devise a model for further EC border control coordination. Refugee interest groups have criticized the agreement, however, for promoting common policing mechanisms against terrorists and drug traffickers that could deter legitimate asylum-seekers. In an effort to address growing racism within the European Community, the European Parliament recently proposed that all EC member-states consider granting immigrants the right to vote and run for political office in local elections. Although the Netherlands enfranchised immigrants in 1985, many national parliaments are unlikely to adopt such a proposal. Too many far-right political parties in Western Europe have prospered on anti-immigrant platforms.

The Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) convenes regular meetings on human rights and minority issues to address potential nationalist unrest on the continent. A CSCE Conflict Prevention Center in Vienna will facilitate political-military openness and information exchange as a hedge against conflict.

West-West cooperation remains centered on processing thousands of political asylum-seekers from the East through Vienna and Rome, where they await decisions on their status. The United States still accepts a large proportion of these asylum-seekers, especially Soviet emigres. In October 1989, however, US rules covering refugee expenditures were changed to place more of the financial burden of caring for asylum-seekers on their temporary West European hosts. …

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