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Thursday, 13 June, 2002, 16:10 GMT 17:10 UK
EU ministers agree to fortify borders
Afghan refugees in Pakistan
Europe is only one of many destinations for refugees
European Union justice and interior ministers have agreed a draft plan to reduce illegal immigration despite fears from some states that the agenda is being influenced by the far right.


It should not be xenophobes who set the EU's agenda

Swedish Migration and Development Aid Minister, Jan Karlsson
The measures - which must be endorsed by a summit in Spain next week - include a broad agreement on the need for increased surveillance of sea borders and economic incentives for third countries which co-operate to stem the flow of illegal migrants.

The meeting in Luxembourg also brought agreement in principle on a multi-national border guard to plug the holes in the EU's external borders.

However, diplomats said it would be a long time before such a force could come into operation.

British and Spanish plans to withdraw EU aid from developing countries that did not try to curb immigration were endorsed by German Interior Minister Otto Schily, but rejected by a number of countries.

Populist success

Correspondents say the question of illegal immigration has risen to the top of the European agenda partly because of the success in several countries of populist, anti-immigration parties.

Annual asylum applications per 1,000 inhabitants
Sweden: 2.57
Netherlands: 2.27
Belgium: 2.16
Germany: 1.94
Denmark: 1.84
Ireland: 1.07
Britain: 0.97
Spain: 0.21
They say many politicians in mainstream parties now appear to believe that the only way to combat the trend is to come down hard on immigration.

"Strong borders must be a priority for all EU member states," said Britain's Home Secretary David Blunkett. "We need solutions that tackle the problem of illegal immigration at all levels."

Some other ministers warned that the far-right should not be allowed to set the terms of the political debate on immigration and asylum.

"It should not be xenophobes who set the EU's agenda," said Sweden's Migration and Development Aid Minister, Jan Karlsson.

"We should be very cautious."

The human rights organisation, Amnesty International, and the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, have also pointed out that immigration into the EU is actually falling, and appealed for the rights of genuine asylum seekers not to be violated.

"In the current climate of fear and suspicion, the balance seems to be swinging even further away to the point where human rights and in particular the right to asylum may be sacrificed for the sake of the further fortification of Europe," Amnesty said in a statement.

See also:

13 Jun 02 | UK Politics
31 May 02 | Europe
21 May 02 | UK Politics
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