Page last updated at 15:41 GMT, Friday, 20 June 2008 16:41 UK

Latin America outraged at EU plan

By Daniel Schweimler
BBC News. Buenos Aires

Migrants await instructions after arriving in Spain, June 18 2008
Half a million illegal immigrants arrive in Europe every year

Leaders across Latin America have reacted angrily to a new EU law that could jail illegal immigrants for up to 18 months before they are deported.

One president called it a hate initiative. Another said it was an attack on people's rights and lives.

Hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans live and work in Europe, many of them without permission.

Many do jobs that Europeans do not want to do, providing a vital source of income for poor families back home.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez led the reaction, threatening to cut oil exports to Europe unless the EU retracted the measure.

Rafael Correa, the Ecuadorean leader, made the statement that Latin American countries should present a united front against what he called a hate initiative.

Bolivian President Evo Morales said Latin America should work with Africa against laws that he said attacked people's rights and lives.

The European Union on Wednesday adopted the measures, which could come into force in 2010.

The law will oblige EU members to choose between issuing residency permits to the estimated half a million illegal immigrants who enter each year, or returning them to their country of origin.

The head of the South American Mercosur trade bloc, Carlos Alvarez, believes the new measure openly violates human rights.

He said the EU should remember that in the past, millions of Europeans came to Latin America as victims of hunger, war, injustice and totalitarian regimes, and were assimilated with no problems.

Peruvian human rights spokesman Wilfredo Ardito said the new law was a hypocritical effort to make it illegal to be poor.


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