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Friday, 28 June, 2002, 12:51 GMT 13:51 UK
Should Europe toughen controls on asylum seekers?
We discussed asylum and immigration in our phone-in programme, Talking Point, broadcast online, on the BBC World Service and on Digital television in the UK. Presenter Robin Lustig was joined by Sandy Buchan, Chief Executive of Refugee Action.
European Union leaders have been meeting in Seville to debate tougher curbs on asylum and immigration. Should the EU block those fleeing persecution and poverty?
The plan adopted in Seville includes proposals to form joint border patrols, and put increased pressure on countries outside the EU to do more to tackle the problem.
But it dropped a British plan to impose economic sanctions on countries which do not co-operate with the EU to slow illegal immigration.
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair says the people of Britain are not intolerant towards asylum seekers but are opposed to the disorder which the current system created.
Do you think that Europe needs to tighten up its borders? Or would that trample on the rights of asylum seekers ?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
We write rules then re-write them when it suits us. At first the British Empire was to be based on liberty and citizenship, then it became simply a means of enriching the mother country. We drew arbitrary boundaries around the world, but allow some to ignore them but not others. We fix the basis of world trade, then complain when it works against us. We worship freedom of movement in goods and capital, but not in people (except for some, of course). Perhaps it's time we gave something back.
The Fast Track Visa system has already caused a lot of damage to the indigenous IT industry within the UK. The world recession has been compounded in this country, by actively encouraging people to travel here and compete with local workers.
When comparing the tax burden and cost of living of a UK resident, to that of somebody from, say, India, who does not even have to pay tax in this country if they work for 6 months, it is obvious that the UK worker will lose out in the current job market, as they will be undercut. Twenty-five thousand Fast Track Visas have been granted over the last 18 months, yet we have an estimated 40,000 UK IT professionals without work. And now we are talking about widening the scheme to include unskilled workers. What effect do you suppose this will have on the salaries of many lower paid UK residents, who already cannot afford to buy their own house?
Brenda, Berkeley USA
In the ultimate analysis, as many as 80% of the human beings on earth are suffering some form of political or economic oppression.
Some say that anyone living in China, for example, has a claim for asylum in the west.
I don't think the long-term answer is in one nation granting asylum to a certain number of refugees from another nation.
The answer is finding the political will to find ways to make the living conditions workable in the nations where
the suffering occurs.
Europe and especially the UK is already overcrowded. Genuine asylum seekers, i.e. those whose lives are at risk from a government with a known human rights abuse problem should be welcome. For everyone else, just refuse to pay any form of social or housing benefit and impose massive fines on anyone caught employing non-EU citizens without the necessary work permits. (Actually, I think that this is very similar to how the USA welcomes illegal immigrants).
It seems in this discussion that many people don't mention the importance of assimilation in immigration. We have a similar problem in the US, but the issue is not the people who come here to work hard and better themselves, it is the fact that increasingly, they want to import and impose their culture on the local culture. Make no mistake, culture and especially language are what defines and binds a society together. Not too many years ago, when a population moved into an area, but insisted on keeping their language and identity intact, that was called an invasion, not immigration.
The amount of times I have heard people complaining of the privileged Royal Family, who happen to be born into wealth, who apparently do not deserve to live so comfortably, just because they were lucky enough to be born where they were. Seems strange that the same people would now claim that the wealth they enjoy is a "right" because they were born here.
Europeans will miss tremendous opportunities if they adopt a fortress Europe policy. Immigrants are a self selected group of over-achievers. Here in Minneapolis we have large groups of immigrants from South East Asia, Latin America and East Africa. Generally they are hard working, clean living, have revitalized formerly depressed inner-city neighbourhoods and have helped to make this a more sophisticated and cosmopolitan city.
Tom, London, UK
Working in the IT industry myself I often read with dismay about the fast-track immigration policy. The only reason why there is a shortage of British people to fulfil these specialist roles is because of companies' reluctance to pay a reasonable salary and invest in training.
Redundancies and job in-security is sweeping the IT Consultancy firms. This is economic short-termism providing cheap labour which makes the fat-cat owners rich. Refugees should be re-located immediately in the nearest safe-country to their home.
Turning Europe into a fortress will not prevent migratory movements - not if Europeans still want to enjoy the free movement of goods, capital and cross border transport. We are, after all, only seeing the beginnings of a gigantic migratory movement - by 2030 just 10% to 15 % of the world's population will reside in the "first world" but with 80% of the world's wealth. Putting up fences will not solve the root of this problem. The answer lies in levelling the chronic economic imbalance between North and South. As long as the "good life" is only to be found in tiny pockets of affluence like Europe, while the developing world languishes under an inequitable debt burden and under-investment, there is going to be an irresistible push and pull for people wanting a better life.
Immigration levels are not just a moral issue. Something instinctive and not accessible to argument has been triggered throughout Europe and Europe is turning right - increasing immigration will only increase this trend and result in destabilisation and turmoil. Blunkett's measures are weak and ineffective and even after the warnings of recent votes EU governments have failed to put in effective measures against either crime or immigration and in effect handed Europe to the far right on a plate.
Why is everyone making such a fuss on immigration? It is as old as human history, so too the prejudice against what is strange or different. The Romans disliked the "barbarians", in the early 20th century, Italians, Greeks, and Spaniards were just as desperately seeking to leave their countries as Africans today. And regarding assimilation, there is no "pure" British/French/Spanish culture. It is the fusion of several cultures over centuries, and is dynamic.
People in the West should stop exploiting others around the globe. The west has created this problem by continuing to enslave the poor. This can be seen in Africa and Asia and also recently countries which should be well off: Argentina, Eastern Europe both of which are bread baskets with excellent agriculture. The west has created a huge ugly industry out of exploitation which includes loans, starvation, mafia, and the porn industry running in conjunction. It is the politicians, who have no morals or backbone, who are failing, the people of the UK by denying the causes of the problem. And if you deny the problem you too are the cause.
While I have every sympathy for the persecuted peoples of foreign countries, I get angry about the points of blame in the direction of Europe and America, just because our peoples are generally better off. Both Europe and America have fought in the worst of wars, if it wasn't for our brave nations standing up to fascists and dictators the world would now be in hell. It is no wonder Europe wishes to defend its boarders, we have a hard won stability, to jeopardise that would surely be a mistake.
George, London, UK
To paraphrase what the late Pim Fortuyn said about his own country, the UK is full. Our education, health, legal and transport systems are groaning under the present strain, we cannot allow this seemingly unlimited flow of people into the country without it having dire consequences.
Those people who talk disparagingly of economic refugees have never seen the depths of hardship and misery that so many people in the world suffer from. Those that have enough to eat are the lucky ones but even in places like Romania most people have no proper healthcare and no means of saving for their old age. We should let these people in. They are used to hard work and would do the jobs that the better educated people in Europe don't want to do.
It's nonsense to say they would swamp our culture. Europe has been a melange of different peoples since the beginning.
Roberto Baccello, Treviso, Italia
Anyone who crosses a continent and hangs on to the underside of a Eurotunnel train to get here is welcome. As long as we allow the free movement of capital from one country to another, we cannot complain if the people from these countries follow.
What can be done to counter terrorism when people arrive every day at every port in Britain without documentation? We have no idea who they are and we give them temporary admission to the address of their choice never to be seen again.
Surely the other side of the coin in this debate concerns the "free movement of capital". If capital can move freely, and exploit people living in poor countries where capital benefits from a lack of labour laws governing pay, conditions, the right to form trade unions, and social security, why shouldn't poor people be able to move to those parts of the world where they are assured of such conditions and protection?
It is very humorous to sit and watch European politicians bicker away about illegal immigration. Maybe they should think back to the past when they were faced with the question of European refugees escaping continental Europe. I ask the people of Europe to remember that we are a world before a nation. Maybe one day we will realise that. Think with compassion, understanding and love. Not with fear, hate and anger.
The EU should accept those fleeing persecution but not poverty because all of us in the West fought hard to achieve the economies which we have. We lived through poor employers, financial crises like the depression and wars. Why should others who don't want to go through the same evolutionary process feel that they have a right to go into someone else's country to cash in on the wealth, made by the hard work of others?
I agree with the comments of Annie from the USA. Europe should tighten its borders. It's the right thing to do in a world where resources are becoming overstretched as it is.
Tougher immigration legislation should in no way violate the UN resolution that protects the rights of every human being regardless of nationality. Many of these countries have earlier been ruled by European nations, who virtually emptied their resources and exploited them to the extent that these people are unable to stand on their own feet. It is important that European nations do some soul searching to find the cause of the human trafficking and mass immigration.
Migration for economic reasons has been a fact of life since the beginning of human history. All UK residents are descended from immigrants, some of recent years, some of the distant past.
The primary reason our dishonest politicians are focussing on the easy target of immigrants is to distract attention from their own failing social and economic policies. Since we do not allow countries outside the EU to trade with us in those goods where they might undercut us, of course their people try to move!
Peter Edgeler, Edinburgh, Scotland
Why do people, especially politicians, think it is fine to target asylum seekers for problems that are not the fault of either asylum seekers or ethnic minorities? Deal with the real issues - creation of jobs, improve the healthcare system, get education sorted out so kids can read and write adequately.
Why do you accept immigration based on political persecution that may lead to death or prison, but won't accept immigrants in danger of dying from poverty?
The people of Europe need immigrants because we do all of the hard work. Europeans are very lazy and the world is survival of the fittest. I have more right to be here then those wanting to keep people out.
What right has European countries to reject asylum seekers when they are responsible for many of the problems that are forcing these people to flee their countries? European policy towards Iraq has caused intolerable suffering and support for the military government in Algeria is causing many people there to flee. What about Afghanistan where Europe is mainly to blame for the instability there? If Europe does not want asylum seekers, it should stop interfering in the affairs of other countries.
I'm 58 and have been unemployed for most of the last ten years because employers won't take on people over 50.
Why is the government bringing in more foreign workers when British people like me continue to suffer a massive handicap in getting work which Labour has not addressed by banning age limits six years after it promised to do so in the House of Commons?
Amoroso Gombe, Cambridge UK
As an African immigrant, I would like to say that the only way to stop illegal immigrants from coming over to your neck of the woods would be to improve the conditions and standards of living in the countries from whence we come.
We need to fix the root of the problem, before resorting to futile tactics of stricter border patrol.
Shut down one means, and illegal immigrants will find another. Remember, there is no-one more determined than a person with nothing to lose.
Europe needs labour from under-developed countries. At the same time under-developed countries are also losing their labour force to Europe. The solution is investment have to come to under-developed countries so everyone will stay in his or her country with dignity. Believe me it is not fun to be immigrant.
We continually hear Europe will need extra immigrants as in the future there'll be so many old people. The elderly are very capable of working and are only too willing to do so. Shouldn't we make use of a very experienced resource, not discard them by filling jobs they could be doing with immigrants.
The people of both the United States and western Europe must declare that foreign governments confront their own national problems of overpopulation, poverty and social justice. People of the world must liberate themselves from the failed ideologies and economic policies of the past. The decades of mass migration to Western countries as a solution to their internal problems must come to an end.
Barbara Baker, Lafayette USA
How else can Europe re-populate itself without immigration? The world knows that Europeans have the lowest birth rates in the world and without immigrants Europe will die out over time.
I think one needs to make a distinction between those who have a legitimate claim to asylum and those who deliberately leave their country solely in order to make a better life for themselves by becoming economic migrants.
It is the sheer numbers of economic migrants that are causing public opinion and government reactions to sway in the way that they are.
The unfortunate part of this whole problem is that, as usual, it is the most vulnerable people in society, the true asylum seekers, who suffer.
My daughter-in-law is Czech and living and working legally in this country. You do not know the amount of forms and consular visits we had to make before she could stay here and marry my son. Why then should other people just "jump the queue" and be allowed here permanently because they had stowed away in some lorry or railway wagon?
Ben Drake, York, UK
Ben Drake is blissfully unaware of the consequences of letting thousands of economic refugees into the country. These people are coming from countries where the average wage is sometimes less than $300 per year. They would enter our society and be very willing to work for minimum wages in ANY job. The result would be that everyone would have to work for the same wages and our own standards of living would drop as a consequence. The social system, which is already under a great deal of strain, would probably collapse too.
It is about one of the most densely crowded and urbanised nations in the world asking whether it can take any more. Do not misportray it as a heartless or xenophobic attack on those less fortunate or of different race - it is not. It's the same as the US (the land of the free and of welcoming open arms to all) operating green card rules and rigorously policing its border with Mexico.
Could asylum applications not be assessed exclusively at Britain's embassies and consulates? These are staffed with personnel who are closer to problem areas and may have a greater understanding of local conditions and so better able to determine the merits of each case.
Has there been consideration of what is meant by so-called "illegal" immigrants? People who are fleeing persecution, murder or torture by their own governments, or their city streets have been turned into battle zones, have to, obviously I think, employ clandestine means in order to escape. How else are these people to flee? If you were trapped in a war-torn country or persecuted by your government would you only leave if there was a so-called legal means, and if not just wait to die? So what is really meant by "illegal" immigrants?
Jo, Manchester, UK
While I agree with Jo, Manchester that we must stop exploiting the Third World and cheap labour - her solution seems strangely similar to that proposed by the BNP, send them all back, albeit dressed up in more PC colours. Nice try Jo but I don't think many people are going to fall for that argument. It's not immigration that is the problem - it is the global system that enables richer nations to maintain their stranglehold on third world economies through organisations like the world bank and IMF. The fact that so often immigrants become used as a source of cheap labour is because capitalism constantly seeks to drive down the cost of labour and always makes use of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged to do so.
Immigration is not the problem. Those who immigrate must be (and can be) assimilated. Assimilation should be a precondition of immigration.
This is not a simple question. On the one hand, the populations of all western European countries are ageing and birth rates are falling. We need millions of new workers in Europe over the next 20-30 years to keep our economies going. On the other hand, it's clearly unacceptable for Europe to be flooded with people who we have not invited, and who for the most part are not fleeing persecution.
Europe as a whole needs to welcome genuine asylum seekers, and process their claims quickly and fairly. Economic immigrants should ideally vetted and given work permits whilst still in their country of origin, so that once they arrive they can quickly be processed. Anyone else should be sent packing.
To John, England, Importing a population just to support aging pensions is just totally wrong encouraging existing populations here to actually be in a position to have a family is the way forward. Treating foreign peoples as an economic resource is sickening.
Jon Cooper, UK
This country has let enough people in over the years and strict quotas should now be applied. This is not what my grandparents and other people's fought the second world war for. It's a disgrace that this people come over here expecting us to pay for them, when there's old people of our own that need that help more. I'm not against the real people who need to be looked after, but how many really need to be?
People make such sweeping statements about asylum seekers. Asylum seekers get £40 a week, £30 of it in vouchers, which when used, no change can be given. So, if a refugee wants a pint of milk, and only has a £10 voucher, he can have no change from it. If people found out facts instead of reading tabloid opinion, they would realise that England is not a "soft touch", nor are we being "swamped". By the way, a refugee invented the pill and Albert Einstein was a refugee.
It should be made easier to relocate to this country, providing you are a skilled professional with services that could benefit the British economy, or have sufficient money to invest in the country. The same goes for all other countries within Europe. We have plenty of needy people of our own, so why not house these first? If individuals want to sponsor asylum seekers to come and stay in their home, paying for them fully, then no problem, but we are wasting far too many resources on these people.
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