By Stefan Nicola UPI Germany Correspondent Published March 23, 2006
BERLIN -- Europe has an immigrant problem and governments
appear clueless how to tackle it.
Mass migration from Africa is straining Spain's borders, France was gripped by immigrant protests last year and Germany wonders how to best integrate its foreign-born population.
Interior ministers from Europe's six largest states met On Thursday in the German Baltic Sea resort of Heiligendamm to discuss the challenges of mass migration and find possible solutions to Europe's integration problem. The summit came just a few days after at least two dozen Africans drowned off the Canary Islands during their attempt to seek asylum in Spain. Apart from plans to cooperate more closely to combat illegal immigration, the six ministers agreed to formulate an integration treaty for immigrants. Such a treaty would formulate the rights and duties of immigrants. The proposal came from Paris; last year youth, mainly with immigrant backgrounds, with a series of weeks-long violent protests threw France into turmoil.
Meanwhile, the German right-left coalition government is in a row over how to best test immigrants applying for a German citizenship.
At the Heiligendamm meeting, Germany's center-right Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble (Christian Democrat Union) re-voiced his plan to introduce a unified citizenship test applying to all German states. So far, each state has its own methods.
Leading conservatives -- including German Chancellor Angela Merkel -- want to introduce the tests to double-check the immigrants' basic ethical convictions, while most Social Democrats oppose such tests.
A top conservative has urged Berlin to adopt the U.S. model.
Edmund Stoiber, the leader of the Bavaria-only Christian Social Union, the sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU, told Thursday's Bild newspaper immigrants who want to become Germans should undergo "an interview followed by a test -- like in the United States or Canada." He added that lawmakers from the Social Democrats, the government coalition partner, should abolish their opposition to such a test, arguing that each applicant must share the basic German values.
"It has to be clear that in our country the monopoly of power belongs to the state and not the Turkish man," he said.
Quizzing citizenship applicants for basic knowledge over the country may prove as an effective measure, but often, politicians use the wrong tune, according to an expert.
"I was the first in Germany to suggest naturalization courses for immigrants during a Bundestag hearing on the new citizenship law in 1999."
"Some of the politicians use these tests as threats or possible stumbling blocks for immigrants trying to become Germans," Friedrich Heckmann, head of the European Forum for Migration Studies, a research institute at the University of Bamberg, on Thursday told United Press International in a telephone interview. "That's the wrong approach. One has to win these people over. One must not threaten them."
He added Europe's integration problems are rooted in two main phenomena: Europe's low economic growth, which prevents many immigrants from getting a job; and the immigrants' low educational level, as they mostly stem from rural regions and lack an extensive school education.
"Europe is increasingly turning into an information society and low-qualification jobs are disappearing," Heckman said, adding that especially the children of immigrants should be supported to become fit to compete with natives. "If we don't do that than we lose a lot of potential and talents."
The starting shot to the debate over citizenship test in Germany was fired in Baden-Wuerttemberg. The southern state, one of the richest in Germany, is in conservative hands. The CDU-led interior ministry there at the start of this year introduced a catalogue of questions for passport applicants.
The questions touch on issues such as homosexuality, forced marriage and gender equality. They range from "Imagine that your adult son comes to you and says he is homosexual and plans to live with another man. How do you react?" and "Your daughter or sister comes home and says she has been sexually abused. What do you do as father/mother/brother/sister?" to "What do you think if a man in Germany is married to two women at the same time?"
Immigration officials document the responses, which the applicant has to certify with a signature. Those who "fail" the test will be refused citizenship. Intentionally fudged answers, the state warns, could lead to German citizenship being revoked even years later.
Muslim organizations at the time reacted furiously, with several groups promising they would file suit against what they call a racist procedure.
The debate was refueled earlier this month when the state of Hesse introduced a catalogue of 100 questions quizzing applicants for trivia on German politics, culture, history and legal principles.
Heckmann said if Berlin introduced a test, it should be one applying to all states.
If executed in a welcoming and friendly atmosphere, the tests may elevate the applicants' identification with their new country, he said.
Heckmann speaks from experience: he oversaw a pilot project in the Bavarian city of Nuremberg that taught immigrants aiming for a German citizenship the basics about Germany.
"It all depends how you communicate such a course. In our case, they loved it."
LONDON, England (CNN) -- Europe could scarcely be in a greater tangle about immigration.
The economics, politics and social welfare policies of the continent are all in a state of flux, and immigration is becoming a crucial factor in them all.
People facing persecution or oppression in their native lands because of their race, political beliefs or religious faith are attracted to Europe's freedoms of speech, association and worship.
Europe is also an earnings magnet for people who face lives of grinding poverty in their home states, or those who suffer from war-torn economies and see European countries as lands of plenty.
Some have tried to blur the distinctions. Some of those seeking political asylum and claiming persecution are really economic migrants seeking better incomes.
Inevitably, with 15 million people unemployed in the European Union alone, the influx of outsiders has been resented in some areas -- whatever the reasons for their arrival.
Some people fear that asylum seekers are too great a burden for their countries' social welfare systems to bear. Others voice alarm that economic migrants may take their jobs. Some resent the dilution of traditional local cultures when immigrants cluster in certain areas.
Social tensions have been evident with increasing numbers of racial assaults.
Right-wing parties like those of Jorg Haider in Austria, Pia Kjaersgaard in Denmark and Filip Dewinter in Belgium have prospered by playing on fears of a loss of national identity and campaigning against immigration.
Meanwhile, criminals have been cashing in on the desperation of political and economic migrants to change their lifestyles.
People-smuggling has become a highly organised and lucrative racket, sometimes resulting in tragedies like the asphyxiation of 58 Chinese would-be immigrants in a container lorry at the English port of Dover in June 2000.
Those who have used the criminals' services in the hope of starting a new life have found themselves exploited in "black economy" sweat shops, spending decades paying back with interest the smugglers' fees. Women and children seeking a new life have been lured into sex slavery and prostitution.
But there is another dimension to immigration. Many European governments face a shortage of skilled workers in areas like information technology, and they have eased entry restrictions to attract qualified immigrants.
"We need immigration," declared German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who announced plans in 2000 to allow 20,000 non-German computer staff to settle.
Barbara Roche, the UK's immigration minister, has made it easier for non-British students to stay. "In the past we have thought purely about immigration control," she said. "Now we need to think about immigration management."
And it is not only high-tech immigration that is wanted. Some countries are short of cheap manual labour too. In Spain, where the indigenous population is declining, a migrant army of North Africans does much of the orange- and grape-picking, while Poles and Romanians are much in evidence on Madrid building sites.
In 2000, 250,000 people took advantage of the Spanish Government's amnesty for "sin papeles", or illegal immigrants.
In most European nations, people are living longer and having fewer children. Many governments have recognised they will not be able to fund their pension systems without large-scale immigration over the next two to three decades.
Jean-Pierre Chevenement, the former French interior minister, said Europe will need 50 million to 75 million immigrants during the next 50 years to fill jobs.
In Italy there were eight workers to every pensioner in the 1950s. There are less than four today and, without immigration, that number will dwindle to 1.5 by 2050.
Likewise, Germany will need 3 million immigrants a year to maintain the current ratio of workers to pensioners.
Little wonder, then, that the European Commission, the executive body of the 15-nation European Union, has said zero-immigration policies are out of step with reality and declared: "Our aim is to open as large a debate as possible on immigration and asylum."
The EU is seeking agreement on a more unified immigration and asylum policy
by the end of 2001. But the politics of the issue are potentially explosive, and
politicians in most European countries have done little to prepare their
citizens for the changes to come.
The politics of immigration
The immigration debate raises strong feelings, a guarantee that politicians will be tempted to enter it and harness it to their causes.
Immigrant communities make convenient political scapegoats, especially where their members have been involved in criminal activities such as drug-smuggling or prostitution. And jingoistic tunes rarely want for an audience.
In an age of economic uncertainties, people tend to cling tribally to nationhood as something certain in a rapidly changing world. As a result, there have been racist attacks on immigrant communities, notably in the more economically deprived areas in Germany.
In Britain, Conservative leader William Hague has called for asylum-seekers to be kept in prison camps. And ultra-nationalist, anti-immigrant platforms have aided advances by far-right parties in several European countries in recent years.
There has been a sense too, among some electorates, that their governments have not squared with them over immigration issues. Some countries have been quietly revising their immigration control mechanisms to permit the entry of qualified IT experts from other countries. The UK, for example, has made it easier for non-national students to stay on after completing their education.
Vlaams Blok in Belgium, the Freedom Party in Austria and the Danish People's Party of Pia Kjaersgaard in Denmark have been among those to profit from tuning into people's fears about crime, exploitation of the welfare system and loss of national identity.
When Europe last embarked on a major drive to recruit immigrants -- during the industrial boom of the 1950s and '60s -- the typical applicant was an unskilled labourer from Southern Europe, Turkey, North Africa or the Asian subcontinent.
Today Europe is casting its net anew in a search for workers to spur economic growth. But those being wooed this time around share little in common with their unschooled predecessors.
This is the dawning of the age of the VIP immigrant -- savvy, skilled and self-sufficient. At a time when European Union planners are striving to devise a common immigration policy, many businesses and governments are jockeying to entice the best and brightest outsiders to fill shortages in high-demand sectors such as nursing and information technology.
Over the next 25 years, if trends continue, the United Nations predicts an aging Europe will need about 160 million immigrants to meet its labour needs.
Job vacancies in the IT sector alone are expected to soar to around 1.6 million by 2002 -- three times the vacancies in 1998 -- according to the International Labour Office in Switzerland.
Already, Europe's failure to fill these jobs fast enough has cost EU member states about $106 billion in lost GDP growth -- losses that are likely to mount unless qualified labour can be found quickly.
DEBATE OVER IMMIGRATION: ARGUMENTS IN FAVOR (The
The majority of the contemporary European public would seem to be dead set against immigration, fearing they will be swamped by floods of immigrants they don't really need and cannot accommodate.
And yet contrary to popular perception, Western Europe does need, and will continue to need, increasing access to foreign workers -- for high-tech jobs, for global financial positions, and also for a proliferation of low-wage service jobs and other manual work.
There is nothing new in this. Europe has for some time acknowledged the existence of shortages in specific occupations -- notably nursing, nannying and the high-tech industry -- and created legal channels for bringing in overseas workers to make up those shortages.
In fact this need to draw on foreign workers has been part of the unwritten history of Western Europe -- specifically northwestern Europe -- for the last two centuries. During this time the region experienced short-lived periods of labor surplus, followed by longer periods of acute labor shortage accompanied by massive recruitment efforts.
Immigration into Europe has never simply been an indiscriminate one-way flow from poverty to wealth, as many opponents would have it.
On the contrary, migrants from particular cities and regions in one country tend to gravitate towards particular cities and regions in another, drawn by invisible ties of culture, economics and history.
Such movement of people is, and always has been, a highly differentiated process. It doesn't just involve people seeking permanent settlement. There are many who are only seeking temporary employment and who want to circulate back and forth.
There is now a growing presence of immigrants who are not searching for a new home in a new country; but rather who think of themselves as moving in a global labor market.
When they are allowed to circulate freely in this way, many prefer to retain a permanent residence in their country of origin and only work a few months in the destination country.
We know, for instance, that some of the Polish women now employed as cleaners in Germany favour using easily available three-month visas to do this work before returning to their hometowns. This is also the case with some of the African migrants in Italy.
The number of immigrants seeking to become permanent residents in a host country is thus considerably smaller than is often suggested.
Another important point to note is that immigrants, whether permanent or temporary, still only account for a tiny minority of a host country's population, except for very small countries such as Switzerland and Luxembourg.
A further issue has been raised by globalisation: Is it possible to have closed national labor markets in an era of global economics?
The answer would appear to be no. Globalisation brings with it a need for more flexible cross-border labour circulation. The World Trade Organization, for instance, as part of the liberalisation of international trade, has adopted measures that facilitate cross-border circulation of professionals in finance, telecommunications and other highly specialized services.
Only by recognising these factors can Europe's governments formulate a clearer and more realistic policy towards immigration. This will, in turn, help create a more flexible labor market, dissuade human trafficking, reduce exploitation and minimise the impact of illegal immigrants on the indigenous labour market.
Since the early 1990s, immigration into Western Europe has risen dramatically, both as a result of the political changes in Eastern Europe -- in 1992 Germany alone received 1.2 million migrants -- and increased migration to the southern states of the European Union.
During the same period the number of asylum applications has also risen dramatically. In 1985, for instance, Germany received only 73,832 applications. By 1993 this figure had risen to 322,600. In the UK, likewise, the number increased from 5,000 in 1985 to 80,000 in 2000.
The magnitude of these flows has led to increasing debate about the economic, social and political impact of immigration on Western Europe.
The principal economic gain from immigration ostensibly lies in the increase in the supply of labor it provides. Theoretically this should enhance the productive capacity of the host economy.
This assumes, however, that the host economy actually needs an increased labor supply, either because it lacks the capacity to automate or has no existing unemployment. This has hardly been the European experience.
Immigration has significant implications for those working in the sectors in which immigrants are employed. It is generally recognized, for instance, that immigration can have a depressing effect on wage levels, which is why historically many trade unions have opposed it.
Continuing immigrant inflow allows an economy to avoid the structural changes necessary for sustaining growth, such as investment in the training and education of its own workforce. It must be questioned, however, whether this is a sensible or a sustainable long?term strategy.
The one area where immigration does offer an unambiguous economic gain is where it supplies a specific skill. The recent recruitment drives for IT specialists from India by the UK and German governments are good examples.
Europe, however, is a labor market of such size that localized skill shortages should normally be capable of being met within the EU. The fact that it can't do so suggests a serious structural problem in the European economy that governments ought to be addressing -- rather than simply relying on the short-term expedient of bringing in skilled immigrant workers from abroad.
Unemployment, health concerns and language issues among immigrants can also place economic burdens on the host country.
Although economic considerations dominate much of the debate about immigration, its social and political implications are equally significant.
Despite attempts in Germany to preserve the myth of temporary migrant communities, the experience across most of Europe is of large permanent immigrant communities that receive equal political rights as the indigenous population.
Where these communities are substantial and homogenous, they will increasingly make their influence felt in the political system. They may, for instance, influence the host state's foreign policy towards the immigrants' home countries.
The introduction of heterogeneous religious and cultural values may also make it more difficult to maintain a political consensus in Europe. Although politics is the business of the reconciliation of conflicting interests, these conflicts are likely to become more acute in diverse societies.
Communities place considerable value upon their shared culture. They may regard the demands of multiculturalism as too high a price to pay for any economic gain.
Human trade: The fastest-growing crime
LONDON, England (CNN) -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Italian counterpart Giuliano Amato issued a simple, stark warning in the first sentence of a recent joint article: "People trafficking is the world's fastest-growing criminal business."
They were clear about the scale of operations. In the first 10 months of 2000, they said, more than 50,00 illegal immigrants passed through Bosnia en route to the West.
They were equally explicit about how nasty the human trade gets: "There is evidence that traffickers have thrown women and children, many of whom cannot swim, into the Adriatic to avoid detection by police patrol boats."
Human trafficking is certainly a big business. At a Sicilian conference on organised crime in December 2000, Pino Arlacchi, executive director of the U.N. Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention, declared that traffickers of people make annual profits of some $7 billion in prostitution alone. Only the drug trade brings them more.
It is, he says "the biggest violation of human rights in the world." Worldwide it is estimated that between 700,000 and 2 million women and children are trafficked every year.
The Mafia (both the Italian and Russian versions) play their part. So do the Japanese Yakuza and the Chinese Snakeheads. So do countless small "freelance" family groups operating with no more elaborate equipment than a couple of mobile phones. So do corrupt border guards and government officials in Balkan countries with little industry, low employment and large informal economies.
With as many as 500,000 illegal immigrants making their way into Western Europe each year, many through the Balkans, EU governments are turning their attention more and more to countermeasures.
Blair and Amato talked of increasing the penalties for people smuggling. But the scope for that is limited because most of the smugglers operate outside British and Italian borders.
They talked of repatriating more illegal immigrants. But how do you encourage people to go back to countries they fled because their economic or political prospects seemed so grim there in the first place? How do you find them? When most have no papers, where do you send them?
European leaders talk of winning greater cooperation from transit countries such as Bosnia, reckoning those states' eagerness to enter the EU one day will act as an incentive.
But while unemployment is high and people smuggling helps the black market thrive, such long-term aspirations offer little incentive to countries to spend their meagre funds on border patrols.
So how will the problem ever be solved? EU initiatives to provide cash and training for border officials are doing some good. So will tough penalties where they can be made to stick. Turkey's EU ambitions will help win cooperation there.
But employers in Europe are keen for more labour, both skilled and unskilled. Many thousands of would-be immigrants are desperate to come in. So while some people smugglers are ruthless criminals who exploit, abandon and sometimes even kill those who have paid them transportation fees, not all are seen that way by their customers.
To some of those who have no other way of getting to European capitals, the people smugglers are seen not as criminals but as facilitators performing a useful service.
Zero-immigration policies, EU authorities now acknowledge, have played into traffickers' hands and cannot succeed in current economic circumstances. One answer is more "managed immigration" that allows legal quotas of immigrants to enter.
Filling the information void with better statistics will help. So will more targeted subsidies and border-control training in transit states.
But there can be no complete solution, the immigration experts say, until
Europe can win the cooperation of the "exit countries" from which the illegal
immigrants come. And none of the experts are suggesting a likely time scale for
Human trade: Four case studies
Illegal immigration into Europe takes many forms. Most of those who arrive are economic migrants, seeking to better the standard of living for themselves and their families. Others -- such as Afghans fleeing the Taliban, or Kurds fleeing Saddam Hussein -- are refugees seeking to escape religious, racial or political persecution.
There is a growing recognition among European Union governments that more immigrants are needed to maintain economic growth and provide the tax revenue needed to provide pensions for an aging population. Studies by the UK Home Office have shown that immigrants are net contributors to the economies of the countries they move into.
But the immigrants' arrival is not politically popular with many voters, and most EU governments have strict controls on legal immigration. That has played into the hands of smugglers, who have been making rich profits off their human trade. Many people think of immigration in terms of statistics, but those statistics conceal a wide range of human stories.
Thousands of Africans have abandoned their homes in search of a better life in Europe. The journey is long and dangerous and may not be successful. African journalist Sorious Samura fled the violence in his country, Sierra Leone, for London. He later returned to document the violence there in an award-winning documentary, "Cry Freetown."
Samura has now turned his focus on the arduous trek that Africans are making
and why they risk their lives for an uncertain future. In "Exodus From Africa,"
Samura traces the steps of his fellow Africans leaving their homes and families
behind for the promise of Europe.