Immigration and asylum policy

The Austrian Presidency of the European Union has
submitted to the K4 Committee (co-operation
Committee composed of senior officials issuing
opinions for the Council of Justice and Home Affairs) a
‘Strategic Document on Immigration and Asylum
Policies’, dated July 1998. This document appears to
encourage European Union member states to develop
a long-term strategy for the treatment of asylumseekers,
refugees and immigrants.

The 40-page document submitted by Austria met with
strong reactions
among nongovernmental
organisations who
denounced its
character as
immigration and
asylum policy.
Although it is only
a draft working
document, some
of the points it
contains should be mentioned, as the language used
is extremely worrying. The good thing about the text is
that it is unambiguous, as the Austrian government
has used a clear and determined language which
leaves no doubt about the way in which it would like
the subject of immigration and asylum policy to be
treated. Whilst the issue of the treatment of
immigrants and asylum-seekers is the subject of frontpage
articles in Belgium after the tragic death of
Semira Adamu, the language and contents of the
‘strategic document’ drafted by the Austrian
government appear to be all the more revolting.

The document explicitly describes the 1951 Geneva
Convention on Refugees as ‘obsolete’, as it was no
longer adapted to the current circumstances: refugees
were no longer fleeing authoritarian regimees, but
rather inter-ethnic conflicts or other crises, particularly
in Third World countries. Illegal immigrants were taking
the place of legal immigrants, thus using up the
absorption capacity of the host state (paras. 27 - 28).
Short-term solutions. To reduce the pressure of
migration causing people to flee their countries of
origin, the document quite rightly proposes a
strengthening of economic cooperation and an
increase of development aid to the countries
concerned. However, the document specifies that the
opportunities for improving the Human Rights situation
in those countries with a lasting effect are
‘undoubtedly very limited’ (para. 52). The document
further says that all the bilateral agreements with the
European Union should deal with the issue of
migration. ‘For instance, economic assistance may
depend on visa
and entry
regulations in the
case of readmission,
regulations which
apply to the
crossing of borders
by air (...)’ (para.
59). Membership
of the European
Union was subject
to the commitment
to apply EU
immigration policy
and to adhere to the Schengen directives.

The use by the European Union of this policy of a
carrot to get third countries to exert a stricter police
control on those intending to leave the country is
gradually taking the place of a policy whose aim should
be to favour the implementation of Human Rights.

Dangerous confusion. The document states in addition
that the formalities of immigration should commence
in the country of origin, at the time when the visa is
granted. Checks should first of all be carried out on
the European Union’s external borders. In the case of
illegal entry, the person should be sent back to the
other side of the border immediately, before any other
measure be carried out. This proposal is very worrying
when we know that most refugees leave their countries
without valid passport or visa.
The document also proposes a review of the current
procedure for asylum-seekers and that in addition to
the protection exclusively based on the Rule of Law.

The Austrian Presidency also proposes the theory of Concentric Circles, with the first circle comprising the Schengen states, i.e. economically and politically developed countries (para. 117), the second circle consisting of associate member states and possibly also the Mediterranean countries, should gradually adopt the same rules as the countries forming the first circle. The third circle of countries (states of the former Soviet Union, Turkey and Northern Africa) should keep a check on people in transit and the fourth circle (Middle East, China and Black Africa) should concentrate its efforts on eliminating factors which cause the population to flee these countries’.

there should be a political concept (para 41). It is a
question of finding ‘multi-dimensional solutions rather
than confining oneself to purely legal issues’ (para 43).
The granting of protection should be considered as a
political concession rather than an individual right of
the asylum-seeker persecuted in his country of origin.

This approach would be much quicker and much more
flexible (para. 102) and could be covered by a
convention amending, supplementing or substituting
the Geneva Convention.

As we can see, the ‘strategic document’ creates real
confusion between refugees and ‘economic’
immigrants; the measures proposed for the fight
against illegal immigration are likely to have an impact
on the situation of asylum-seekers and deprive them of
the right to seek refuge in countries other than their
own. The document strongly advocates a system of
residence permits based on political considerations,
with the decision to be made by the host country and
those who are really in danger of persecution would no
longer have the right to seek asylum in another
country, as is the case under the Geneva Convention.

Towards a more human Europe. It is urgent today that
we ask ourselves the question what kind of Europe we
want: the fortress which has no relationships with the
outside world except for selling its products and
benefiting from the advantages of free trade? A Europe
which closes in on itself and is indifferent to the
human rights violations committed in other parts of the
world? Or a Europe which shows respect for the rights
of its citizens, including those from countries where
they are victims of repression, war or poverty as a
result of the corruption of a few?

True, migration trends must be kept under control, but
this does not justify treating asylum-seekers and
immigrants like goods subject to quotas and deprived
of their rights. The proposal by the Austrian
government is going to be reviewed, as it has met with
objections from the other member states. The Austrian
government has decided to revise its paper and to
submit a new version to the ministers of the other
member states at a later stage. Even so, we must
remain vigilant, as now that such a document has
been made public, we have every reason to fear the
worst in terms of future EU asylum policies.

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