A common immigration policy?

At the conference on “A Common Immigration Policy, Freedom of movement of EU Citizens within the EU Member States and the plight of the Roma Community” held at the Friends House, London on Friday 3 June 2011, 46 delegates from 11 EU member states supported the European Multicultural Foundation’s letter of 15 February 2011 sent to the 27 prime ministers of the EU member states, and to Cecilia Malmström, European Commissioner for Home Affairs.

The delegates at conference proposed:

“As a long term solution to control legal immigration from outside the European Union a common European Union Immigration Policy should be developed which would include an ‘opt out’ clause for any EU member State that does not wish to implement the policy.”

Tara Mukherjee Chairman of the European Multicultural Foundation said

“We have to date received an encouraging response from the Governments of France, Greece and Portugal.  To ask the British Government to accept a common EU immigration policy is like waving a red rag at John Bull”

His Excellency Peikka Huhtaniemi, Finland’s ambassador to the UK said:

“The proposal for a common European immigration policy is quite compelling.”

Keith Best, Chief Executive of Freedom From Torture stated:

“A common immigration policy is a logical next step for the member states of the EU but will be difficult to achieve in the present climate of the growth of political parties (e.g. in Finland) in European countries opposed to any further integration or harmonisation in the EU and against a worsening anti-migrant sentiment in those countries.

“Exactly two weeks ago in Brussels as Vice Chair of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) I chaired a meeting at which the USA Ambassador to the EU Bill Kennard said how sad he was to see such a negative attitude towards immigration in Europe compared with that in the USA. In response I mentioned how Ellis Island in New York harbour, through which the majority of immigrants to the US passed in the decades after 1900, had been turned into a celebration of immigration with cameo sketches and photographs of the migrants escaping the Russian pogroms and coming from the southern Mediterranean; I mentioned also that same celebration of the new workers who settled in Lower East Side New York now remembered in the Tenement House Museum; I said that I would not be satisfied until I saw similar museums celebrating immigration in the UK and Europe.

“Both the UK and the EU are in danger of ripping themselves apart on issues about migration. Employers and others active in the economy need an active migration policy but the Governments are pulling in the opposite direction in trying to check immigration, influenced by the attitude of the general public and some of the media. What chance is there for a common policy which, among other matters, would allow third country nationals in one EU state to move to another if there is a demand for labour there rather than that country recruiting labour from outside the EU when sufficient capacity exists already within Europe?

“Only last month the Justice and Home Affairs Council of the EU reaffirmed that there will be, as planned, a Common European Asylum Policy but I am not optimistic about what it will look like. The Commission has already withdrawn the recast proposals for strengthening the Reception and the Procedures Directives and Jean Lambert MEP, special rapporteur for the European Parliament on the recast of the Qualification Directive tells me of her frustration that as fast as the Parliament tries to keep in the word “common” in the provisions there are certain member states that want the word taken out, thereby facilitating wide and differing interpretations of the Directive when it is transposed into domestic legislation in the member states.

“Why is it that the EU finds it so difficult to come to terms with its humanitarian obligations towards refugees? It is not a massive problem and one well within the capacity of Europe to deal with. The following statistics put the matter into perspective: in 2009 there were just 285,000 asylum applications lodged in 38 European countries (many more than just the 27 states of the EU) yet there are more than 400,000 border guards in Frontex (more than two guards to every asylum seeker) and in one refugee camp alone in sub-Saharan Africa, Dadaab in the North Eastern Province in Kenya, there are more than 300,000 people.

“The paranoia about asylum seekers coming to Europe, however, led to the obscene proposal made by Home Affairs Commissioner Malmström and the Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy Commissioner Štefan Füle to pay Col Gaddafi EU financial support to strengthen the southern borders of Libya (a country not even a signatory to the Refugee Convention) a total of €50 million over the next 3 years in order to stop refugees coming to Europe. To such an extent have the values of Europe slipped. The measure was halted only because of the Arab uprising in Libya.

“My own concern, as Chief Executive of Freedom from Torture, is that we know that 10-40 per cent of all asylum seekers have been tortured at some stage and these vulnerable and deserving people are the collateral casualty of Europe’s anti-migrant position.

“It is against this background that a common European immigration system must be regarded as far in the future even though it makes sense for Europe to have such a policy. Maybe it is elusive because national EU governments, no longer able to take unilateral sovereign decisions in all the major aspects of political life without reference to what is happening in other countries, whether it is in external affairs, setting interest rates, determining trade negotiations and a raft of other measures, now cling to that last vestige of unilateral sovereignty: the ability to decide whom to admit to the jurisdiction and to a country’s citizenship. Already that is being eroded – if we want fairness and justice in migration throughout Europe we must look to a common policy rather than a hotch-potch of individual national decisions determined by the transitory politics of the countries concerned.”

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