From Tue Jun 27 16:49:43 2000
Date: Tue, 27 Jun 2000 00:41:14 -0500 (CDT)
From: IGC News Desk <>
Subject: MIGRATION-FRANCE: Rights Groups Slam Quota Option
Article: 99380
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Rights Groups Slam Quota Option for Europe's Immigration woes

By Sophie Arie, IPS, 25 June 2000

PARIS, Jun 25 (IPS)—Human rights groups and immigration experts here have slapped down the idea of controlling illegal immigration into Europe through a quota system.

The idea surfaced last week as Europe reeled in shock from the discovery of 58 young Chinese migrants dead in a lorry at the British port of Dover. They were attempting to enter Britain illegally.

It was time to think very openly about ways to manage immigration into Europe, France's Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine told France Culture radio. The quota option, among others, should not be ruled out, he added.

Vedrine, whose country begins its six month presidency of the European Union on Jul. 1, said he was not familiar enough with the mechanisms involved in a quota system, but did not see such a policy as a hindrance to the struggle against illegal immigration.

There is no contradiction between opening up in certain cases to an immigration which is needed—since there will never be zero immigration—and fighting against clandestine immigration with all the troubles it involves, said.

Look how the United States manages its situation. They have had quot as by country and by regional origin, they have had quotas by profession.

In general, the quota idea makes us uncomfortable. It goes against certain rights, but I note that many countries in the world manage their immigration policy—and this has nothing to do with asylum seekers—by using quotas adapted to the needs of their economy and to their ability to integrate people in good legal and political conditions.

Vedrine's comments drew strong condemnation from rights groups and im migration experts in France.

Patrick Moly, a member of France's Information and Support of Immigrant Workers Group (GISTI), told IPS quotas were just another step in Europe's restrictive policy on immigration.

It is the current policy on immigration, which has led to what is of ten called ‘fortress Europe’, that is the cause of tragedies like the one ... at Dover. Quotas just go further along the lines of this policy, he said.

No one knows for sure how many illegal immigrants live in Europe. The Geneva-based International Organisation for Migration estimates the number of Chinese living in Europe at 800,000, with some 250,000 in Britain and 200,000 in France. It is believed that more than 2,500 died last year attempting to slip into Europe by the back door.

Border controls have tightened in Britain since the Shengen agreement brought down borders inside continental Europe.

In Europe, people are free to move around, but not to settle, said Moly and fixing the numbers of immigrants allowed into Europe would just push the problem elsewhere. We'd be opening the doors a little bit and then we'd slam them shut.

The effect, Moly believes, would be an increase in the numbers of illegal immigrants, because quotas would offer new hope to favoured countries of gaining access to Europe, and none to others, who would be more likely to take illegal routes.

What do quotas mean anyway? Moly asked. They mean that we pick our immigrants according to our economic needs and not according to the needs of the countries were repression forces people to leave.

Patrick Baudouin, President of the Paris-based International Federati on of the League of Human Rights (IFHR), echoed Moly's view.

If we want to have humanist politics in Europe, quotas are not the answer, he said. They are extremely dangerous because they lead to racial discrimination.

The IFHR last week appealed to European leaders to respect their obligation, under the 1951 Geneva Convention, to offer asylum to anyone claiming political persecution or human rights abuse. The group also called on the European Union to consider opening up legal channels for immigrants in order to discourage the illegal trade in people.

Quotas would only apply to work visas issued to immigrants, and should not in any way affect Europe's commitment to offering asylum to those in need.

But the idea of counting heads and controlling human circulation in the world is an anomaly and a huge irony in these days of globalisation, said Driss Al Yazami, Director of Generic, a research centre on the history of immi gration based in Paris.

Quotas do not really address the heart of the immigration problem, according to Al Yazami, because they miss the point that most of the millions knoc king on Europe's doors usually have no choice and are not motivated by money.

The idea is that there are rich countries and poor countries and those living in the poor countries want to move to where there is wealth. But it's not that simple, Al Yazami said.

What we need is a policy of conflict prevention rather than immigration quotas, he said.

In France, where thousands of immigrants work illegally after slipping through the rigorous visa system, most rights groups believe freedom of movement across European borders is an imperative.

According to Moly, once the barriers come down, not only would human traffickers be out of business, but the numbers of illegal immigrants might fall.

If we had a policy of free circulation, people would come and have a look round and then leave. It is so hard to get a visa or just to get into a country now that once people have got in they don't leave.