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Thursday, 30 May, 2002, 21:47 GMT 22:47 UK
EU force to tackle illegal immigration
Customs officials
Immigration is a controversial issue in Europe

EU interior ministers have moved towards creating a new European border police force to curb illegal immigration.

At a meeting in Rome on Thursday, they gave the go-ahead to a scheme that could see the first Euro task force in place as early as this summer.

Some countries such as Spain and Germany had reservations about the immediate creation of a border police force.

But the Italians and the French agreed to push ahead with an experimental scheme to share databases and personnel between various national police forces at the main airports and seaports of Europe.

The ministers' recommendations will be considered by heads of government at the forthcoming European summit in Seville.

Initial success

Two main facts emerged from the Rome meeting. One was the success of a pilot scheme involving coordinated border checks at 25 European airports during the past month.

French presidential candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen
Far-right candidates in Europe have focused on immigration issues
This resulted in the detention of nearly 5,000 illegal immigrants, the seizure of nearly 1,000 false travel documents and the arrest of 34 human traffickers.

The other was that most people who enter the EU illegally arrive not by sea, but by air at major European airports, often posing as tourists.

The largest group come from China, followed by Ecuador and Angola, and the main arrival points are Paris, Madrid, Milan, Dublin and London.

The Rome meeting took place against the background of a bitter political battle in the Italian parliament over the proposed fingerprinting of all new arrivals from outside the EU.

A new immigration law is being debated in parliament, giving greater powers to the police to deport those who enter Italy illegally, and stipulating longer prison terms for human traffickers and document forgers.

Italy's interior minister, Claudio Scajola, said he saw no reason for crying scandal in getting people seeking to work in Italy to prove their identity.

Security must follow improvements in technology, he said. A passport photograph is not enough.

See also:

30 May 02 | Europe
30 May 02 | UK Politics
21 May 02 | UK Politics
07 May 02 | Europe
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