European Migration Policy

Unqualified Migrants Not Wanted

Until now European states have regarded control of immigration policy as part of their sovereign powers. As a result, they were initially hesitant about EU-wide cooperation, but now there are signs that they are developing a common line. Bernhard Schmid reports

"Desirable immigrants rather than immigrants who are here on sufferance": this slogan was coined by the French interior minister and presidential hopeful, Nicolas Sarkozy, and it sums up the current tendency across Europe

Not all immigrants are undesirable. On the contrary, those with "high levels of potential" are to be regarded as highly attractive and worth attracting. That approach is an explicit part of Sarkozy's new draft aliens law. The law, which will be debated in a few weeks in the French National Assembly, is in some respects substantially tougher than the old. The draft speaks of those who are "especially suited" to contribute "in a significant and sustained way to the development of the French economy, and to the impression France makes in the world."

In the interest of such potential immigrants, a new category of residence permits is to be created: "for the competent and the talented."

Only a few years ago, when Germany in May 1993 and France in August 1993 were in the process of restricting the right of asylum guaranteed in their constitutions, politicians in Europe were warning of a "brain drain." Economically weak countries in the so-called Third World were to be protected from the loss of their educational elites to the more attractive conditions in wealthier countries. It would be in the interests of those poorer countries to deny entry, or at least residence, to their citizens at the borders of the industrialised world.

Deliberate attraction of elites

There's no talk of that any more. Indeed now deliberate efforts are made to attract elites. At the same time, there's an attempt to keep out those who are seen as "superfluous" to the needs of the labour market.

Immigration deterrence has long become an objective – even a firm part of the world view – of official European policy towards many of the developing countries. Especially in the Mediterranean and in northern Africa, the leading EU countries are using their bilateral and multilateral relationships to push forward this policy as a priority, and to get their negotiating partners to commit themselves to it.

In dealing with African states, the aim is to stop uncontrolled immigration right back where it starts – either through economic programmes in areas which are seen as "especially at risk of being sources of immigration" or simply by police and military means.

The issue was dealt with at a meeting of ministers from European and African countries in December 2005 in the Malian capital Bamako. Another conference is expected to be called which will only deal with the topic of migration policy.

Deterrence as an obsession

It was also in Bamako, in late January 2006, that the African part of the World Social Forum took place. This year, this international meeting of activists working "for a different world" took place in three separate locations. Caracas and Bamako have already hosted meetings; Karachi will follow at the end of March. This way the meetings are being split up over three continents.

At this meeting in Bamako too, the migration policy of the wealthy industrialised nations, and above all of the EU, was a major topic. But this time it was the critics who were speaking. One topic on the agenda was "The criminalisation of migration." Lucile Damask of ATTAC in Morocco attacked European policy for its hypocrisy and its double standards.

On the one hand, she said, agreements are reached to lift the barriers protecting the economies of the South and to push through the free trade interests of the world's stronger economies. The treaties often speak of mutual advantage, and the impression is created that they are drawn up solely in the interests of the countries of the South and their "development."

On the other hand, this rhetoric disappears as soon as it's a matter of "protecting" Europe from unwanted immigration. It's replaced by an obsession with deterrence. Countries like Morocco, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt let themselves be co-opted into EU policies, in the interests of deterring and selecting immigrants well before they ever reach the EU.

Take the case of Libya: Italy has had camps for immigrants and refugees in the country for the last two years. In 2004 and the first months of 2005, over 40,000 migrants whose entry into the EU was considered undesirable were airlifted from Italy to Libya.

The Italians and the Germans above all have insisted in the last two years that the EU should set up such "reception camps" for refugees and potential immigrants on the south side of the Mediterranean. Italy has already delivered radar equipment, helicopters, boats and jeeps to Libya, its former colony, to help it control its borders, both in the north on the Mediterranean and in the south in the Sahara.

Buttiglione's Freudian Faux pas

Germany's former interior minister, Otto Schily, followed a similar policy in his last years in office as his Italian counterpart, Giuseppe Pisanu. And the then candidate of the Italian right-wing government for the post of Justice Commissioner in the European Commission, Rocco Buttiglione, made an extraordinary faux pas while he was being questioned by the European parliament. He spoke of "concentration camps" in North Africa, when he meant to refer to "reception camps" for undesirable immigrants.

Initially France and Spain opposed the plans. They wanted to fight migration more efficiently by preventing potential immigrants from even leaving their countries of origin and getting so close to Europe. At a meeting of EU interior ministers in October 2004, the French and Spanish ministers spoke against the plan to set up reception camps in North Africa, which was mainly supported by Germany, Italy and Britain.

The Franco-Spanish line recognises at least verbally the issue of why people want to flee their countries in the first place, and talks about "fighting the causes of migration." On the other hand, these governments are even more restrictive, in that they want to tie potential immigrants even more firmly to their countries of origin and keep them there, even against their assumed will.

Both positions are primarily motivated by the desire to keep as many unwanted people as possible as far away as possible from EU territory. In the meantime, the German-Italian position has won out, and the European Union is already financing pilot projects for reception camps in countries which are even further away – such as Tanzania, which will receive four million euros, and Pakistan. Similar camps will be built on the EU's Eastern borders, in Belarus or Moldavia.

Bernhard Schmid

© Qantara.de 2006

Translated from the German by Michael Lawton

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