• Human rights advocates are disappointed with the EU's return directive on clandestine migrants (Photo: European Commission)

Global outcry against EU immigration directive

19.06.08 @ 09:33

  1. By Leigh Phillips

The European Parliament has approved stringent new laws for dealing with clandestine immigrants – a move that has come under forceful criticism from the United Nations, human rights advocates and developing countries.

The parliamentary assent is the last stage in the passage of common rules on migration, making it possible to detain irregular migrants for up to 18 months.

The rules, or "return directive" will not cover asylum-seekers, but all those who overstay their visa period will be affected.

It will be up to EU member states' governments to decide whether to deport the immigrants or regularise them. But in most cases they will be given two options – to return home voluntarily or face deportation.

Those who refuse to go voluntarily could be forcefully removed and banned from coming back to EU territory for five years.

In addition, the same individuals could be detained for up to 18 months in some circumstances – a time-limit which exceeds that of most EU states.

A total of 367 members of the European Parliament voted in favor of the bill and 206 MEPs opposed it, while 109 members abstained.

UN convention

The United Nations however has attacked the new laws as not providing sufficient protection for the "vulnerable."

The UN high commissioner for human rights, Louise Arbour said at a press conference in Geneva on Wednesday (18 June) there lay in the new rules a "difficulty in advancing the fundamental principles of the protection of individuals' rights who are in a very vulnerable situation," according to a report from AFP.

Ms Arbour would have preferred that the EU instead ratify the UN convention on rights for migrant workers.

Leading human rights NGO Amnesty International has also attacked the law, saying it was "deeply disappointed" with the EU.

The directive "does not guarantee the return of irregular migrants in safety and dignity," said the group in a statement. "On the contrary, an excessive period of detention of up to 1.5 years as well as an EU-wide re-entry ban for those forcibly returned, risks lowering existing standards...and sets an extremely bad example to other regions in the world."

Amnesty International is worried that there were insufficient guarantees for unaccompanied minors within the legislation, and that there was little mention of judicial oversight of the recourse to detention.

Ahead of the vote, the group's secretary-general, Irene Khan said: "I want to remind European governments that just because some persons do not have documents, it does not mean they do not have rights."

Directive is 'shameful', say third world leaders

Criticism has also come from some of the developing countries from where migrants launch their sometimes perilous journey to what they hope will be a better life in Europe.

Ecuadoran president Rafael Correa on Wednesday called the directive "shameful," while his Latin American counterpart, Bolivian president Evo Morales, described the new laws as "draconian."

"The directive is not a return directive, but a directive of shamefulness, it is truly a shame what Europe has done," Mr Correa said.

Writing in the UK's Guardian newspaper on Monday, Mr Morales described the directive as "hypocritical, draconian and undiplomatic."

In an open letter to the European Parliament issued on Wednesday, the Bolivian attacked what he called "concentration camps" for detainees.

"How can we accept without reacting for [detainees] to be concentrated in camps our compatriots and Latin American brothers without documents, of which the great majority have been working and integrating for years?" he asked in the letter.

"On what side is the duty of humanitarian action? Where is the 'freedom of movement', and protection against arbitrary imprisonment?"

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