A proliferation of detainment camps for foreigners is what we can expect in Europe


January 31, 2008 10:39 | interview with Claire Rodier

Clair Rodier is the president of the Migreurop Network and a member of the commission of enquiry into Europe's detention centres, from Malta to Lampedusa.

E.R.: What is your opinion of European immigration policy?

Claire Rodier: Since the end of the 1990s, two of the most scandalous consequences of the European Union's immigration policy have been the increasing number of tragedies on Europe's doorstep, where thousands of people have been dying, by drowning, while crossing the desert, or gunned down by the border police, as was the case in Morocco in 2005, when the Ceuta and Melilla events occurred - and the administrative confinement of immigrants. Whereas nothing justifies Europe's decision to selectively close its borders and to privilege "useful" immigration - i.e. immigration that answers to the labour needs of member states - to the detriment, notably, of family reunification, although that is a factor for successful integration - over the past ten years the greatest effort has been made in realising the repressive side of this policy. Thus, since the year 2000, and in the name of combating illegal immigration, a programme of negotiating agreements for re-entry has been pursued by the EU and its neighbours. The goal is to be able to send undocumented immigrants who are arrested in the tenty-seven EU member states back to neighbouring countries without any administrative formalities. Since 2004, "European community charter flights" have been organized to reduce the cost of deportations. The planned EU directive frames the modalities for deporting illegal immigrants in the form of minimum standards. In EU bureaucratic language, "minimum standards" means downgrading to the lowest common denominator.

E.R. For example?

Claire Rodier: No provision is made for people who are traditionally considered to be "vulnerable" - pregnant women, minors with their parents, the victims of torture or of the slave trade - or for foreigners who have family members in Europe. The spouse of a French national who is expelled from the country (something that happens every day) will have to wait five years to see his or her family in France again! Confinement for up to 18 months can be ordered from the moment that a foreigner who is the object of a deportation measure is considered to be likely to take flight or to be a threat to public safety. No definition of what is meant by a "threat to public safety" is provided to limit its use. As for "likely to take flight," it is probable that it will always be considered to exist. Consequently, a proliferation of detainment camps for foreigners is what we can expect in Europe.

E.R. In reality, beyond this directive, it's the whole concept of immigration that you reject, isn't it?

Claire Rodier: Since the Migreurop Network was set up in 2002, we have endeavoured to condemn both national and European concepts that use the detention and confinement to house arrest of foreigners and asylum-seekers as a key tool for so-called policies to control immigrant flow in the European Union. The detention of immigrants does not so much serve the proclaimed concern to make expulsion procedures more efficient as it serves to send a message to public opinion. With its similarity to prison, the camp for foreigners promotes the association that foreigners = criminals, which, in turn, serves notably to justify the criminalisation of illegal residence and the toughening of laws relating to foreigners. The "strong message" being sent to potential immigrants is a reminder of how precarious their situation is. Based on the examples noted in immigrant camps in Malta, Italy, and Spain ... it seems impossible to guarantee respect for fundamental rights, beginning with the right to move freely, in these places of detention. All of the situations that we have identified are characterised by more or less systematic, and more or less inevitable, violations of fundamental rights, when these violations do not result from an express policy. These fundamental rights include the right to asylum, the right to respect for privacy and for family life, the right not to be subjected to degrading or inhuman treatment, and also the specific rights owed to minors. The situation in these camps must not become the European standard.

The original interview, conducted in French by someone identified only as "E.R." for the progressive French daily L'Humanité, was translated by Gene Zbikowski and first appeared on L'Humanité-in-Englishhttp://www.humaniteinenglish.com/article811.html.

L'Humanité also recently carried the following brief comment on the immigration policies of the European Union and its member states, this time written by "A.R." It was also translated by Gene Zbikowski.

The European Union Encourages the Detention of Immigrants.

The member states of the European Union have widely varying policies regarding undocumented immigrants. Some detain them systematically while others do not, some limit detention to 32 days, while others have unlimited detention.

Last November the humanitarian organization Médecins du monde visited Malta and published a damning report on the fate of immigrants in the island's detention centers, where the authorities systematically detain them until their identity is established and their demand for asylum has been examined. Malta represents the extreme among the immigration policies adopted by the different European governments, as it applies a detention policy whose upper limit is 18 months. Most immigrants are detained for practically a year in conditions which the non-governmental organization described as "deplorable." Médecins du monde condemned the over-population and lack of privacy, hygiene and activity in the Maltese detention centers. The case of Malta alone should plead in favor of forbidding the confinement of immigrants on the sole grounds of their status, a practice which various associations have condemned as "a policy of managing immigration flow."

Cyprus, Greece, Italy and Spain - all of which are Mediterranean countries - practice a similar policy of systematic confinement in conditions which the non-governmental organizations regularly condemn. In general, the legal period of detention for undocumented immigrants varies from one country to another. It is limited to 32 days in France, 40 in Spain, 60 in Italy, three months in Greece, while there is no maximum limit in Sweden or Great-Britain. "These differences are no reason to support the directive, which will establish detention as a 'norm' and will make countries whose maximum period of detention is lower appear to be lenient," a representative of the European Association for the Defense of Human Rights insisted. As to forbidding entry to a country, a measure which the planned directive also provides for, it already exists in Poland, Germany and Spain.

Even more insidiously, the European Union is at the same time encouraging the creation of detention camps outside its borders. Such camps already exist in Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Turkey, Moldavia, and the Ukraine.

See also: http://www.spectrezine.org/europe/Paley.htm