European ministers propose helping Spain cope with migrants
Friday, September 22, 2006, 08:09
European ministers agreed to Spanish and Italian requests that they share some of the burden of illegal immigrants arriving on their shores, even as Spain came under criticism for regularizing many illegal aliens. European Union interior and justice ministers meeting in Tampere, Finland agreed that the EU as a whole should negotiate agreements with African countries where the migrants are from, rather than leave it up to the receiving countries alone. „We need a common approach on our extended borders,” said Finnish interior minister Kari Rajamaki, who hosted the meeting. „Solidarity includes all options.” Among the issues discussed were using the EU's €1 billion a year ($1.3 billion) solidarity fund, which usually covers natural disasters, to help Spain, Italy and Malta cope with arrivals of boatloads of illegal immigrants, and using biometric identification for migrants, who often purposefully arrive without documents. „Looking at the numbers, and the people who have died, this is indeed a catastrophe,” said Franco Frattini, the EU commissioner for Justice and Security. „My open question is why we limit the fund to purely natural catastrophes.” More than 12,000 illegal migrants have arrived by boat from Morocco or West Africa in Spain's Canary Islands since the start of the year, and a similar number have arrived from Tunisia and Libya on the Italian island of Lampedusa. Several boats have sunk, killing an unknown number of migrants.
„Spain will not stop until the whole of the EU provides an answer,” said Spain's Justice Minister Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar. „Spain's most affected because it's the closest, but most of the migrants arriving in Spain are from French speaking Africa and they are headed to France or elsewhere. It's the whole of the EU that's affected.” Under the terms proposed yesterday, the EU would defray some of the costs of processing clandestine immigrants as they arrived, but the receiving country would be responsible for the migrant and would have to accept their return should they illegally make it to another EU country. The amount of money wasn't discussed, the Finnish Interior Ministry said in a statement. German interior minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said the receiving countries must have systems in place to identify migrants before the EU should start paying. Thursday's meeting was a so-called informal meeting, meaning its proposals must be defined and agreed at formal meetings of EU ministers. Interior and justice ministers hold their next formal meeting on October 4-5 in Luxembourg and heads of government meet December 14-15 in Brussels.
Frattini said the EU on Thursday unblocked €3 million of aid to Libya to buy patrol cars for its southern border with Chad and Niger. The EU is negotiating a repatriation accord with Libya where it would agree to accept migrants' boats intercepted by the Italian navy, but Libya wants more aid. „Libya, rightfully, feels that without help it will be squeezed between migrants crossing from the south who then can't get out from the north,” said Giuliano Amato, the Italian interior minister. „More than money for every single migrant we take, money should be used to help the countries of transit and origin to reduce the flow.” Frattini said the EU on Wednesday reached an agreement with Pakistan to automatically accept rejected migrants, in addition to existing pacts with Russia and Albania. He said he expected repatriation agreements shortly with Ukraine and Morocco. Italy has a bilateral agreement with Tunisia. Morocco now accepts the return of migrant boats intercepted by the Spanish coast guard, while Senegal and Mauritania don't.
„We want the EU to get involved in negotiations over countries accepting returned migrants,” said Spanish Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba. „We are much stronger negotiating as 25 countries rather than just Spain.” Most of the EU's 25 members and applicant countries such as Turkey and Croatia sent their ministers responsible for internal security and justice to Tampere. A notable absence was French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy who has said Spain's policy of mass regularization of illegal immigrants is encouraging their arrival. France sent an under-secretary for regional development. Spain, whose population is 40 million, awarded papers to a million illegal immigrants from 2000 through 2004, and 570,000 in the first half of 2005. Italy, with 58 million people, is granting 500,000 this year. France awarded just 7,000 this summer as part of a program to allow some illegal immigrants with children to stay in France. The Netherlands' Minister for Immigration Rita Verdonk said Spain's regularization encouraged illegal immigrants. „Some delegations mentioned the pulling factors and that before taking such steps, Spain should have informed its partners,” Frattini said. „But I consider the issue closed.” Spain defended itself. „There's no link between our programs to regularize immigrants living in Spain and what's happening in the Canaries,” said Perez Rubalcaba. (Bloomberg)