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Saturday, 14 September, 2002, 00:35 GMT 01:35 UK
EU backs action on illegal migrants
Boat of asylum seekers arrives in Tarifa, Spain
Ministers want to agree a common policy (AP)
European Union justice and home affairs ministers meeting in Copenhagen have backed a proposal to forcibly expel illegal refugees and immigrants.


If there is only the choice between leaving voluntarily and staying on, we will not have a lot of success

French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy
The ministers from the 15-member EU - who are trying to agree their common immigration policy - asked the European Commission to come up with concrete proposals for financing both voluntary and forced repatriation.

"We prefer voluntary readmission, but we also agree that we must reserve the right to compulsory repatriation," Danish Immigration Minister Bertel Haarder, whose country holds the EU presidency, said.

The ministers also aim to stop "asylum shopping" - the phrase used to describe how would-be refugees move through EU member states in an effort to find the best host country.

The United Nations Convention on Refugees - which defines a refugee as someone with a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion - is 51 years old.

Some governments believe that convention's definition of persecution is too narrow - they want to be able to grant refugee status, for example, to women and children who are fleeing physical abuse.

For those denied refugee status, the question of how they should be returned to their home countries remains.

Rise of the far right

The EU also said the repatriation of Afghan refugees was the top priority of its asylum policy.

The UK Government is an enthusiastic proponent of sending Afghans back home now - huge numbers are already returning.

But the UN High Commissioner for Refugees is warning that safety can not necessarily be assured in Afghanistan.

All this is being discussed against a background of concern that far-right, xenophobic parties are gaining support in Europe.

But the deadlines stretch ahead into the future.

A common definition of a refugee is to be agreed by the middle of next year, a full common asylum and immigration policy by 2004.

The BBC's Tim Franks in Copenhagen says that no-one is predicting consensus soon.


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28 Jul 01 | Europe
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