FECL 49 (December 1996/January 1997):
For 20 years, the problem of immigration has been a major political issue in various Western European countries and a challenge for the rule of democracy.
Short-sighted policy objectives have for too long delayed a solution to the immigration problem. Yet, faced with a confused public opinion, easily manipulated by extremist rhetoric, a just solution is now a civic priority.
All citizens of Europe - above all those with public responsibilities or moral authority - must unite their efforts to lead the way to a new forward-looking policy.
First of all, people must be made aware of the impasse into which the ever more widespread use of restrictive and repressive policies has led. Such policies are both unjust and ineffective. They have no lasting effect and, in the long run, worsen the difficulties they pretend to deal with.
Europe is not a beleaguered fortress. It is not obliged to pull up the drawbridge behind its illusory frontiers.
On the contrary, such a policy of self-confinement is compatible neither with universality, the best of European traditions, nor with the interests of Europe as a leading power in the field of world exports.
Both dignity and realism demand a completely different approach.
- The first concerns the situation of the "sans-papiers", i.e immigrants lacking residence permits.
The implementation of increasingly harsh anti-immigration policies has resulted in a rapid increase in the number of migrants and their families, deprived of any legal existence and reduced to a life of constant fear.
We cannot afford to wait for time-consuming amendments to the law. We must put an end without delay to inhuman living conditions which are unacceptable in a state governed by the rule of law.
A halt to expulsions, the formulation of fair criteria for the regularisation of stay, and the use of mediation are the most appropriate transitional measures.
- The second action relates to the right of asylum. Here too a climate of systematic suspicion against certain foreigners has had unacceptable consequences.
Asylum should be granted to all persons forced to flee their home countries due to a threat of persecution, whether this threat originates from the state authorities themselves or results from their shortcomings. In general, humanitarian asylum should be extended beyond the present excessively restricted definition of "persecution" to other cases of extreme distress.
In all cases, the risks run by an asylum seeker must be assessed with both realism and humaneness, without juridical hair-splitting and with due regard to the difficulty in providing evidence, which is often inherent in the situation of asylum seekers.
- The third and most crucial action should focus on the foundation of European policies regarding migration and development. As a matter of priority, the very concepts at the origin of immigration law rather than just some one or other effect of this legislation, must be called into question.
The spirit of todays legal texts has remained largely discretionary. While asylum seekers are placed under ever more constraints and administrative obligations, their rights have become increasingly restricted and disputed. This balance must be radically redressed.
Regardless of his or her origin and identity, every person has fundamental rights which every constitutional state has a duty to respect and protect.
The freedom of movement, the freedom to seek a decent existence and the freedom to live a normal private and family life are most genuine fundamental rights.
Any restrictions of these freedoms is inherently discriminatory or arbitrary and must be limited to what the necessities of a democratic society require.
It is in this spirit that a just reconciliation between the rights of migrants and those of the citizens of the host country must and can be found.
Here, we may not separate the struggle for the legitimate rights of migrants from the global action for the protection and promotion of all peoples rights in all areas where these rights are principally at stake.
In particular this implies:
- in the social domain, the fight against the dramatic spreading of exclusion;
- in the economic domain, the fight against the various forms of illegal labour and the increasing insecurity of employment;
- in the cultural domain, the defence of an open and democratic conception of culture, opposed to ghettoisation and all forms of fundamentalism and in full respect of the rights of women and children.
Moreover, it must be ensured by appropriate guarantees and access to legal remedy that migrants actually are granted their legal rights. These measures should include:
- the right to clear information on the grounds for decisions concerning them;
- the right to appeal to an impartial and independent Court, which will arrive at its decision within a reasonable time;
- the right to legal assistance under conditions enabling a genuine defence.
As regards development, there is a need for new forms of solidarity between civil societies of the North and the South, in particular by ensuring increased mobility between urban and rural communities in the countries of emigration and migrants associations in the host countries.
In the age of globalisation, the temptation to withdraw into oneself can only lead to isolation and decline.
By setting an example, both with respect to the protection and promotion of human rights for all people living on its soil and in the search for a genuine co-development between the various continents Europe will best ensure its future.
It falls to all those who believe in mankind to meet the challenge with clearheadedness and generosity!
This appeal was written upon the initiative of the 26 members of the "Collège des médiateurs". This body was created in April 1996 in support of the of the "sans-papiers" (immigrants without residence papers) in France (see FECL No.46: "Irregular immigrants: inconsistent and arbitrary government policy").
The appeal was published on 18 November 1996 on the occasion The "Convention for a new migration policy" in Paris.
All persons who wish to support the appeal are invited to send their signature to: Collège des médiateurs - 14, rue dAssa, F-75006 Paris, Tel/Fax: +33/1 42 031956.