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Europes Migrant Crisis

76 illegal immigrants wait in a Red Cross tent after disembarking at the port of Los Cristianos on the Spanish Canary island of Tenerife, early 05 May 2006. The International Organisation for Migration on Friday said that current debates over immigration in rich countries should not demonise migrants, indeed, economic growth and development is being partly fuelled by migration. Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Martin Walker
UPI Editor Emeritus
Hamburg, Germany (UPI) May 19, 2006
President George W. Bush's decision to come out fighting for his controversial immigration policy this week opens one battle of a very much larger crisis that has seen three dramatic developments in Europe this week.

In France, the National Assembly has just passed by 367 votes to 164 a tough new law that broadly allows immigration only on French terms, largely restricted to educated and "desirable" workers, and requires them to learn French, respect the French way of life, and ends the old automatic right to French citizenship after ten years. It also sharply restricts the right of legal immigrants to bring family members to France to join them.

In Britain, Prime Minister Tony Blair was left battered after a confrontation in parliament with his increasingly effective Conservative opponent, David Cameron, who charged that the governmentwas "rattled and paralyzed" after losing control of illegal immigration.

And in Holland, the country's best-known immigrant and an elected member of parliament has been stripped of her citizenship overnight by a minister of her own party, for using only part of her long Somali name on her application for asylum ten years ago.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an outspoken critic of Islamic extremism and Muslim attitudes to women, has repeatedly explained in public that she did not give her married name on her application for fear of reprisals from her husband's family, but "Iron Rita" Verdonk, the former prison wardress who is now the Dutch minister of immigration, decided this was grounds to make her fellow party member a woman without a country.

The issue of immigration has been approaching boiling point in Europe for some years. The anti-immigration extreme right Jean-Marie Le Pen came second in France's Presidential elections four years ago, and looks likely to get a much bigger vote next time. The murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a radical Muslim led to firebomb attacks on mosques. In Belgium, the anti-immigrant Flemish party now dominates the politics of the great port of Antwerp. And in Britain, last year's London bombings by Islamic extremists were followed by this month's surge in votes for the anti-immigrant British National Party.

By American standards, the demographics of European immigration are relatively modest, with some 15 million Muslim and perhaps 10 million black immigrants in a population of close to 500 million. But over the last year, some kind of tipping point in European opinion seems to have been reached, and a major factor in this has been the way that governments appear to be losing control -- as France last November seemed helpless in the face of the month-long riots and car-burnings by immigrant youths that swept over 300 towns and cities.

The problem in Britain became critical this week after a senior immigration official admitted that he did "not have the faintest idea" how many illegal immigrants were in Britain, and that he saw no point in point hunting down individuals who overstayed their tourist visas. Nor did he know how many people had been ordered by the Home Office to leave the country.

Amid a media outcry, the Conservative opposition said the situation "beggared belief," and Labor MPs savaged their own government over this "mockery of the immigration control system." It came after an earlier row last month, when it was found that hundreds of immigrants in prison for serious crimes, including rape and murder, had simply been allowed to go free rather than deported. That led to Home Secretary Charles Clark being sacked from Blair's Cabinet.

And now Blair is proposing to change the law to make the deportation of immigrants convicted of crimes virtually automatic, once they have served their prison sentences.

"In the vast bulk of cases, there will be an automatic presumption now to deport -- and the vast bulk of those people will be deported," Blair told parliament Wednesday. "Those people, in my view, should be deported irrespective of any claim that they have that the country to which they are going back may not be safe."

The problem is that such a draconian step may not be legal under international conventions and under the Human Rights law of the European Union.

And in France, human rights groups have joined the opposition Socialist party in fighting the tough new immigration law, and pledged to challenge the limits on family reunions in the European Court of Human Rights. The Council of Christian Churches has opposed the new law, and Marielou Jampolski of the anti-racism group SOS Racism claims "it tries to kill every liberty and every right of the French immigrants, and I believe it is very dangerous for the nation in general."

Equally, a legal challenge is now likely against the decision of "Iron Rita" to deport Ayaan Hirsi Ali, which has aroused a great storm of protest in Holland, with claims that the government is trampling on the country's humanist traditions. Deputy Prime Minister Gerrit Zalm is standing by the young Somali-born member of parliament and questioning his own government on the decision.

But Hirsi Ali has decided to move on. Despite traditional European jeers at the United States as a racist and illiberal society, she is planning to move across the Atlantic, to take up a post at Washington think-tank the American Enterprise Institute. This is both a pungent comment on the current mood of Europe and a striking testimony to both the attractions of America and the strength of its tradition as a nation of immigrants who are welcomed to make good, and benefit themselves and the new adopted country.

Source: United Press International

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