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“A Proliferation of Detainment Camps for Foreigners Is What We Can Expect In Europe.”

Translated Saturday 26 January 2008, by Gene Zbikowski

An interview with Claire Rodier, the president of the Migreurop Network, who is a member of the commission of enquiry into Europe’s detention centers, 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 labor 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 realizing the repressive side of this policy. Thus, since the year 2000, and in the name of combating illegal immigration, a program of negotiating agreements for re-entry has been pursued by the EU and its neighbors. The goal is to be able to send undocumented immigrants who are arrested in the 27 EU member states back to neighboring 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, minor children 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 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 endeavored 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 criminalization 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 characterized 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.

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