24th Sep 2020

Latin America could halt EU trade talks over return directive

  • Latin American leaders are worried about the human rights of migrants in Europe and the remittances the send home. (Photo: European Commission)

Ecuador's president, Rafael Correa, has warned that trade talks between the European Union and the Andean Community could be suspended if the 27-member bloc pushes ahead with its new immigration law.

"We could even suspend those negotiations. What do we have to talk about with a union of countries that criminalises immigrants?" asked the Ecuadorean leader during a radio programme on Saturday (21 June), according to Reuters.

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"It will be very hard to talk business and ignore human rights."

Latin American leaders have ramped up the rhetoric against the new EU 'return directive' that allows clandestine migrants to be detained for up to 18 months and face a five-year travel ban after being deported.

Mr Correa, whose nation currently holds the Andean Community of Nations' rotating presidency, referred to the new law as the 'hate directive'.

The trade bloc, made up of Ecuador, Peru, Colombia and Bolivia, launched trade and co-operation talks with the EU last year. Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay are also associate members as of 2005.

Latin America's other trade bloc, Mercosur, has also expressed its misgivings. The bloc's secretary-general, Carlos Alvarez, has also criticised the return directive for violating human rights.

Last week, Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez, threatened to disrupt oil exports to Europe over the controversial new immigration measures.

Although the country only supplies some 400,000 barrels a day to Europe, as opposed to the 1.4 million it delivers to the United States, European leaders have said the move is unwarranted.

EU foreign affairs chief Javier Solana called Mr Chavez's threat "totally disproportionate" on Friday (20 June).

Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Zapatero told reporters at the EU summit of heads of state in Brussels on the same day he believes the Latin American leaders do not understand the new rules.

"Maybe we need to explain exactly to the president of Venezuela what this directive (EU law) consists of," he said.

The Latin American leaders however are not simply concerned about the human rights of undocumented workers. The remittances sent back to poor countries such as Ecuador and Bolivia are an important source of income and driver of development.

Last year, immigrants in Europe, the US and Japan sent money back to their families in Latin America and the Caribbean amounting to just under €43 billion, more than the region receives from foreign direct investment or development assistance combined.

Some 15 percent of that comes from western Europe. Monies from Spain amounting to 36 percent of all global remittances to Bolivia.

The leaders say that it makes no sense for Europe to continue to send aid while cutting off remittances from immigrants.

Last week, the directive was also sharply criticised by the UN and Amnesty International.

African migrants make border attempt during penalty shoot-out

Meanwhile, in related news, Spanish media are reporting that a crowd of some few dozen African migrants attempted to push their way past a border post that guards Melilla, an autonomous Spanish city in Morocco.

Co-ordinating the manoeuvre to coincide with the penalty shoot-out between Spain and Italy in the Euro 2008 quarter finals on Sunday (22 June), the migrants were nonetheless held back by Spanish and Moroccan police guards.

According to Spanish media, the migrants used sticks and stones against the border guards, infamous for having shot some 14 migrants attempting to bypass the frontier in 2005.

It is the first such attempt by African migrants since 2006, when another migrant was killed trying to make his way into the European Union.

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