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Thursday, 20 June, 2002, 12:53 GMT 13:53 UK
EU immigration policies condemned
Kurdish asylum seekers arriving in Italy
Numbers seeking asylum in the EU have declined
European Union leaders stand accused of failing to provide strong leadership in the debate over immigration on the eve of a summit aimed at finding a common strategy to crack down on unwanted foreigners.


There is a kind of public mood which unfortunately is not being addressed by political leaders with sufficient leadership

Mary Robinson, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Two UN high commissioners say politicians are not presenting voters with the facts about immigration that would dispel widely-held but unfounded fears.

They both point out that the numbers of asylum seekers have in fact fallen in recent years.

Immigration has moved to the top of the European agenda after the success of several far-right parties, campaigning on an anti-immigrant platform, in a string of elections across Western Europe.

It is the main subject of discussion at the EU's Seville summit on Friday and Saturday.

Challenging misconceptions

Some EU politicians have argued that tougher policies on immigration are called for in order to stem the rise of the far-right.


History shows us that sealing the borders does not work

Ruud Lubbers, UN High Commissioner for Refugees
The Seville summit is due to look at proposals to step up border controls, and possibly to impose sanctions on countries that fail to co-operate with the EU drive to stem the flow of illegal immgrants.

The summit host, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Aznar, has rejected allegations that the EU is seeking to seal its border to anybody from outside the West.

"I have said it clearly and I want to reiterate that debates about a 'Fortress Europe' make no sense," he said.

"Europe is not going to be a fortress, nor do we want it to become one, but it will not either be a chasm where anything can pass through."

But the UN commissioners indicate that they would like to see action taken to dispel public fears about immigration.

"There is a kind of public mood which unfortunately is not being addressed by political leaders with sufficient leadership," said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson.

"The mood does not reflect an actual reality - the number of those seeking to come to Europe for asylum or refugee status is actually on the decline."

Politicians, said the high commissioner, needed to stress "the benefits of the absorption of those refugees, and the fact that those who come for economic reasons are very beneficial".

Sanctions

The High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, has also warned that sealing borders and punishing countries which do not take back their people would not solve the issue in the long term.

"They need to be coupled with legal channels of entry into the Union territory," he said.

"History shows us that sealing the borders does not work."

Correspondents say the issue of sanctions against third countries is likely to prove one of the most divisive of all the topics up for discussion at the two day summit.

France, Sweden and Luxembourg said that they would be counter-productive, arguing that it would further impoverish countries and thereby increase the number of people wanting to leave.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Paul Anderson
"Government leaders will be hoping to agree on a common asylum policy"

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17 Jun 02 | UK Politics
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