FECL 53 (January/February 1998):

KURDISH EXODUS TRIGGERS EU WAR ON "ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS"

The arrival in Italy, on 28 December 1997 and New Year's Day of two boat-loads of forced migrants, many of them Kurds from Turkey and northern Iraq, has triggered almost hysterical reactions in the EU and in the Schengen countries. While the authorities in Italy, the country most directly affected by the alleged "mass influx" have, so far, kept remarkably cool, at the EU and Schengen levels the arrival of less than 2,000 undocumented forced migrants is being used as a welcome pretext for clamping down on refugees, further tightening border controls and promoting extended police cooperation and police powers. Spear-headed by Germany's Interior Minister Manfred Kanther, a plethora of EU and Schengen bodies are discussing measures to combat what Mr Kanther has called the "mass influx of illegal immigrants, organised by criminals".

 

EU Foreign Affairs Ministers adopt "Action Plan"

On 26 January, the EU General Affairs Council adopted an "Action Plan" on the "Influx of migrants from Iraq and the neighbouring region" (The term "neighbouring region" is apparently being used in order to avoid naming Turkey). The Action Plan comes as the EU's response to ever more pressing demands from Germany for strong action against the influx of Kurdish refugees.

The absence in the Action Plan of guidelines for a joint foreign policy approach focussing on the root causes behind forced migration from northern Iraq and Turkey is striking. Thus, for example, calls by Italy for organising an international conference on the Kurdish problem were not retained by the Council. Instead, the 46 point plan amounts to a compilation of policy- guidelines aimed at preventing refugees from leaving their region of origin in the first place, tightening border surveillance, intensifying policing of "illegal" migrants, and enabling their forcible return, both to transit countries and their region of origin.

Among other things, the Action Plan calls for the "effective application of asylum procedures". The Council is to "consider the scope for developing a regional approach to protection in appropriate cases involving cooperation with non-Member States and the possibility of identifying safe areas within the region of origin". Member States shall "exchange information within the Council on the extent to which practical difficulties in returning persons to the region are a factor in decisions granting temporary or subsidiary status to those who do not qualify for asylum".

A number of measures are intended at "preventing abuse of asylum procedures". Thus, pending the entry into force of the Convention establishing Eurodac, the EU's electronic fingerprint- system for asylum seekers, Member States shall "examine the extent to which, on a bilateral basis, (...) fingerprints of asylum seekers could be compared in order to confirm identity and identify the Member State of arrival in the European Union". Insofar as their national law provides for this, Member States shall immediately begin to fingerprint every third -country national illegally entering the territory whose identity cannot be established with certainty, and retain such fingerprints for the purpose of informing the authorities in other Member States, and to consider the exchange of such fingerprints. Accordingly, they shall "examine without delay" whether Eurodac should subsequently be extended to comprise the fingerprints of all third country nationals having entered the EU- territory illegally, no matter whether they apply for asylum or not (on Eurodac, see p.6, this issue) . Member States are further to consider the possibility of concluding parallel agreements to the Dublin Convention (determining the country of entry alone responsible for examining an asylum application) with third countries which are known to be transit countries.

EDU/Europol is to "encourage and facilitate" the bilateral exchange of tactical intelligence on the involvement of "organised crime" in migrant trafficking. The EDU shall further prepare an "urgent, high level strategic analysis" of the involvement of criminal organisations in the influx of forced migrants and the use of false travel documents". Member States are further to consider joint law enforcement projects in the area of migrants trafficking. Coordination and logistical support of such projects could be ensured by EDU/Europol.

Member States are to cooperate with a view to combatting "illegal immigration", by, among other things, by:

­ further mutually adapting their visa issuing procedures and arranging training of staff at their consulates and embassies in the region concerned;

­ promoting "joint missions to specific departure points" to railway carriers, for the detection of false documents;

­ providing mutual assistance in the training of border control staff, and airline personnel;

­ operating "consistent and effective border controls, for Schengen States in accordance with Schengen requirements";

­ exchanging liaison officers, both between themselves and third countries;

­ sending "experts" to the third countries concerned, "by mutual agreement", to advise on the operation of controls at land and sea frontiers;

­ ensuring "routine and effective implementation" of "security measures and carrier's liability legislation", and, for Member States lacking such legislation, the introduction of carrier sanctions;

­ examining whether the UN draft Convention against smuggling of illegal migrants and, within the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), the draft Convention on illegal immigration by sea, could be "useful instruments in the fight against illegal immigration";

­ examining the scope for readmission agreements with the third countries most concerned, including countries of transit;

­ Sharing experience regarding the return of illegal immigrants to the region [i.e. northern Iraq and Turkey] and considering "under what circumstances return might be possible and how it might be effected".

Most of the measures proposed in the Action Plan were first proposed in documents presented by a plethora of EU and Schengen bodies, including a number of "ad hoc" working groups and task forces, set up to tackle the Kurdish "mass-influx". While the wording of the Action Plan is fairly vague as regards the specific measures to be taken by each Member State, some of the preceding documents are more explicit .

Germany's State Secretary at the Interior Ministry, Kurt Schelter, rose the problem of Kurdish migration for the first time at an informal meeting of the EU Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Ministers in mid-October at Mondorf-les-Bains. Schelter expressed alarm at the growing number of Iraqi Kurds leaving their country "for one reason or another" and complained that it was difficult to obtain their readmission by third countries, since it was not easy to determine where they come from. The JHA ministers decided to refer the matter to the General Council and at the same time instructed the K.4 Committee to search for a solution.

 

CIREFI report

The CIREFI (Centre for Information, Discussion and Exchange on the Crossing of Borders and Immigration) is an organisation under the Third Pillar of the Maastricht Treaty. A CIREFI report of 24 October on the influx of immigrants from Iraq notes that a number of Member States, namely Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany and France, are reporting a massive increase of illegal immigrants from Iraq. For example, Germany registered 2,600 illegal immigrants from Iraq between January and August 1997, against 1,549 in the whole of 1996.

The report notes that the current UN embargo against Iraq makes it difficult to return Iraqi nationals who are denied stay in the EU. According to CIREFI, only France and Sweden have actually implemented deportation measures concerning Iraqis.

In way of a conclusion, the report notes that the current influx of Kurds is due to "a certain deficit regarding control" and to the fact that Iraqi nationals cannot be returned. "Turkey, as an important transit country, is evidently not prepared to cooperate to the necessary extent with the EU".

The report proposes, inter alia, the following solutions:

­ Strengthen external border controls, whereby the countries most concerned (Greece and Italy) shall be assisted, through supplies of technical equipment and liaison officers (Greece has made a reservation regarding the competences of foreign liaison officers on its territory);

­ Sensitize Turkish authorities with regard to the EU's problem with immigration from Iraq. In this context, the "ideal solution", in the words of CIREFI, would consist in a readmission agreement with Turkey extending to nationals of other third countries;

- Offer "appropriate assistance" to the transit countries concerned in preventing the transit of illegal migrants, in particular through on the spot training of airline personnel and training of the personnel at EU- embassies and consulates;

­ Consider the possibility of returning Iraqi nationals to areas in northern Iraq declared "no fly" zones under the UN resolution.

 

The JHA Ministers' war on "organised illegal immigration"

On 4-5 December, the JHA Council approved a proposal by the Council Presidency, based on recommendations by the Working Group 'Migration' under the K.4 Committee.

Beyond action proposed in earlier documents, this document also recommends that police cooperation concerning the combat of trafficking be intensified, whereby EDU/Europol could compile "operational information" on trafficking-related crime. EDU could run an "ad hoc" project for the fight against "organised illegal immigration" from Iraq and set up a special contact network providing for expert meetings. Moreover, the document advocates "contacts" with the Central and Eastern European countries applying for EU membership aimed at their tightening border surveillance. Finally, it is noted that "the armed conflict between various Kurdish groups" is "one of the main reasons" for the massive influx of people from northern Iraq. Typically, no mention is made neither of the situation of Kurdish Turks, nor of the Turkish army's continuing presence in northern Iraq. Instead, the presidency calls for the "swift implementation" of a Resolution (adopted by EU-Turkey Association Council, on 30 October 1995) on cooperation with Turkey in the domains of Justice and Home Affairs, and in particular asylum policies and the fight against illegal immigration.

 

German draft programme for "immediate action"

At the same JHA Council meeting, the German Interior Minister, Manfred Kanther, strongly censured the alleged laxity of Italian and Greek immigration control and presented a draft "programme for immediate action", including a strict time-table and efficiency control. The paper states the Kurdish exodus must be confronted "near its initial focus, where it still can be controlled and tackled more effectively". Starting from this "strategy", the paper goes on to enumerate a long list of detailed "defence measures":

­ The reinforcement by Greece of its border controls "in accordance with highest standards", including "consistent entry controls" at the land border with Turkey, watertight exit controls of maritime traffic to Italy, and "complete control" of air traffic with the EU countries. The EU Member States are to assist Greece by dispatching "advisors" and supplying technological equipment, in particular carbon dioxide detectors.

- Intensification of control and surveillance measures by Italy. "Specific action" to the effect that air and sea carriers refuse passengers who lack entry permits to Italy. Sanctions against carriers which fail to comply. Entry controls in compliance with Schengen requirements and immediate implementation of denials of entry and returns. Greater density of surveillance measures at the "blue border" (sea), namely through the deployment of additional air and water-craft.

­ Fingerprinting of all aliens having entered EU territory illegally, and central storage of these fingerprints by the State of entry concerned so that requests by other Member States for readmission can be answered quickly.

- Start "without delay" of consultations with Turkey for the swift realisation of the following objectives:

­ Improvement of exit controls, in particular at Istanbul airport and the seaport of Izmir, in "close cooperation with advisors from the EU Member States";

­ Cooperation with Turkish authorities in ensuring Turkey's compliance under the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) Convention as regards carriers' obligation to control passengers' travel documents at the airport of departure.

- Convocation "without delay" of a special meeting with the states along the Balkan route for their integration in an "overall combat strategy".

- Monthly meetings of the multi-disciplinary Working Group set up by the K.4 Committee (the Working Group 'Migration', extended by foreign policy experts and EDU/Europol experts on trafficking), for information exchange, coordination of measures, and monitoring the implementation of the action programme.

The German proposal, presented almost in the form of an ultimatum, by German Interior Minister Kanther, served as the main basis for all subsequent decisions by Schengen and EU bodies.

 

Schengen Ministers in Vienna decide "immediate action"

While some of the German demands appear to have been watered down somewhat in the EU's Action Plan, Germany got its way swiftly within the Schengen framework.

At its meeting of 15 December in Vienna, the Schengen Executive Committee (the Schengen Ministers) adopted an "immediate action" plan which is more explicit than the EU Council's Action Plan of late January.

In Vienna, the Schengen Ministers agreed to effect "without delay" a number of specific measures, including:

­ Better surveillance of non-public zones at airports and ports with extra-Schengen traffic;

­ strict control of ferries during loading and casting-off;

­ Random "preventive checks" of persons in areas with a high risk of illegal entries;

­ Fingerprinting without delay, to the full extent authorised by valid national law, of all third country nationals "whose identity is not established beyond doubt", and exchange between the member states of the fingerprints concerned (the electronic exchange of fingerprints is possible via the SIRENE-network);

­ "Preventing illegal immigrants whose identity is not established beyond doubt from going underground pending the execution of the foreigners police measures required" (In practice, this implies that the aliens concerned shall be detained). Removal "without delay" of third country nationals denied stay;

­ Full backing by each Member State of negotiations on readmission agreements between Schengen and Turkey, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia.

­ Setting up of a "task force" made up of at least one representative of the 6 Member States most concerned by illegal immigration (Germany, Italy, France, Holland, Austria, Greece). The task force is to monitor and further develop the above policy measures.

 

Secretive police meeting in Rome

On 8 January, less than a month after the Schengen Executive Committee's Vienna decision, police chiefs from the six Schengen countries most concerned by illegal immigration met in Rome with the Turkish police chief to discuss practical cooperation in the fight against "illegal immigration" and criminal organisations involved in trafficking. The UK was represented at the meeting by an "observer".

Very little has leaked from this secretive meeting. According to the Swiss newspaper, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, the police chiefs discussed practical means to contain immigration fluxes in the Mediterranean area and the technical requirements for implementing the immediate action programme decided on by the Schengen Ministers. The German representative at the meeting, Rüdiger Kass, said his country was prepared to give the Italian police "all possible assistance".

In a show of irritation over the EU's unwillingness to consider Turkish membership in the Union, the Turkish police chief, Necati Bilican, made it clear that Ankara would not cooperate with the EU, but was prepared to seek close police cooperation with individual EU-Member States on a bi-lateral basis instead. According to the Brussels based news agency, Agence Europe, Mr Bilican refused to sign a joint document of the police chiefs at the meeting on the grounds that it failed to mention the "direct involvement" of PKK, the largest Kurdish resistance group in Turkey, in trafficking. But Bilican said, that Ankara is prepared to readmit "Turkish citizens" provided they are returned within 48 hours, and that his country was determined to act against third country-nationals transiting through Turkey on their way to Western Europe. According to our own sources in Italy, he particularly called on the Italian authorities to send the fingerprints of all Turkish asylum seekers to the Turkish police.

In a comment on the police meeting in Rome, the Green Italian MEP and Mayor of Palermo, Leoluca Orlando said it was a scandal to dismiss Kurds as economic refugees, since "their economic plight is directly caused by their political persecution in Turkey".

The Schengen Executive Committee's decision describes the implementation of the Schengen countries' own action plan as "a complement to the EU Action Plan" - a hint that at least the leading Schengen countries remain suspicious with respect to the efficiency of EU cooperation in the field. This distrust also hinted at in a German comment on the EU Action Plan. After the JHA Council's informal meeting in Birmingham, on 30 January, Interior Minister Kanther said: "What matters now is that all partners fulfill their obligations - in practice and not only in words, fully and not just partially, immediately and not in a far future only".

 

Sources: Influx of Migrants from Iraq and the Neighbouring Region, EU Action Plan, adopted by the General Affairs Council, 26-27.1.98; German draft programme for immediate action regarding the influx of immigrants from Iraq, presented at JHA Council, 4-5.12.97; CIREFI report on the influx of immigrants from Iraq, 24.10.97, 11858/97, limite, CIREFI 53; Zustrom von Zuwanderern aus Irak, JHA Council presidency, 2.12.97, 12512/2/97 Rev 2, limite, ASIM 229; Schengen Executive Committee, Decision SCH/Com-ex(97) 44 rev 2, Vienna, 15.12.97; Agence Europe, 14.10.97, 9.1.98; Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 9.1.98; Press release of the German Federal Interior Ministry on the informal JHA meeting in Birmingham, 30.1.98; our sources.