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Tuesday, 30 January, 2001, 16:03 GMT
Europe under fire over immigrants
Heathrow airport
Immigration is a controversial issue in Europe
By Elizabeth Blunt in Stockholm

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has criticised the attitude of European governments to would-be immigrants and asylum seekers.

He said some countries had reached the point where they are in violation of the UN convention on refugees.

Police officer
EU leaders plan to increase co-operation
Kofi Annan's language was diplomatic, but his conclusions were damning.

He was speaking in Stockholm at an International Forum on Combating Intolerance.

He said he wanted to encourage the European Union to adopt the right approach to refugee policy.

In his keynote speech to the Forum he accused Western Europe - which sees itself as a beacon of tolerant civilization - of having a blind spot over the issue of immigration.

Asylum seekers

He said that, unlike North America, Europe was now saying mostly "no" to new immigration, making it so difficult that some attempted to enter as asylum seekers instead.

This led to ever stricter and more cumbersome procedures to weed out genuine from so-called bogus asylum seekers.

An asylum seeker
Many asylum seekers are unable to work for months
"Let us remember that a bogus asylum seeker is not equivalent to a criminal," Mr Annan warned his audience.

"And an unsuccessful asylum application is not equivalent to a bogus one."

He specifically accused some countries of forcing airline employees to play the role of immigration officials by screening those boarding their planes.

He also criticised the expulsion of asylum seekers without proper examination of their claims, and the long bureaucratic delays which left them unable to work to support themselves for months or even years.

Mr Annan appealed to Sweden to use its presidency of the European Union to reappraise EU asylum policies, bearing in mind both human rights and basic international treaty obligations.

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See also:

23 Jan 01 | Europe
Spain tightens immigration law
07 Nov 00 | Europe
Ilegal immigrants land in Italy
05 Sep 00 | Europe
Balkans main immigrant route
20 Jun 00 | Media reports
The Dover tragedy: Europe reflects
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