Special Report

Out of Amsterdam

Why the European Union is cracking down on illegal immigration.

By 6.27.08

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Self-appointed spokesmen for the international community declared themselves shocked and outraged by immigration reforms passed by the European Union last week. Hugo Chavez of Venezuela has even threatened to stop supplying Europe with oil if the issue is not resolved to his liking.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who will begin a 6-month stint as EU President July 1, initiated large-scale immigration reform in France this past year. Sarkozy claims the reform has been a monumental success and now wants to harmonize EU immigration policy during his time as President.

The EU Returns Directive is a step in that direction. It sets common rules for deporting illegal immigrants from the 26-country bloc. Immigrants are given 30 days to leave voluntarily. If they do not, European nations are authorized to hold them in detention centers for up to six months to process deportation. A 12-month extension will be available under some circumstances.

This amounts to an 18-month holding time in some cases, which horrifies human rights groups. They also object to a 5-year ban on reentering the EU for some involuntarily deported immigrants.

Supporters argue that 18 months is a maximum. France, for example, will not be changing its policy of 32-day detainment. Countries whose policies allow more time, however, will be forced to adhere to the new standard.

The Directive also establishes other human rights policies, asking nations to provide shelter, food and legal aid to detained immigrants. Unaccompanied minors and families are to be afforded special consideration.

TENSIONS BETWEEN European nationals and immigrants have grown in recent years, causing many states to take a more draconian view of immigration. In several European counties, fear of extreme Islam is changing public opinion about immigration, leading to stricter policies.

Denmark has been taking an anti-immigration stance since 2002 when a right of center coalition group including the Danish People's Party (DPP) came to power. The DPP has defended its immigration policy, especially following the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy in 2006, in which the depiction of the Muslim prophet Mohammed in a Danish newspaper led to religious violence.

Jesper Langballe, the DPP's immigration spokesman, has explicitly pointed to Muslim immigrants as the problem, calling other groups essentially harmless. This has resonated. The party's percentage of the popular vote has increased steadily since 1998.

Nor are the Danish alone in this. The Northern League, an anti-immigration party in Italy, came in third of 12 parties in this April's elections. The party has tried to stop new mosques from opening in order to stifle the "Islamic invasion." It also supports measures to decrease immigration to 10 percent of its current levels and has advocated four-year prison sentences for illegal immigrants.

Even in Britain, anti-immigration parties are finding support. The formerly fascist British National Party (BNP) is certainly on the fringes of political life but this year Richard Barnbrook of the BNP secured a seat on the London assembly with 5.3 percent of the votes.

Barnbrook recently published a controversial blog through the London Telegraph blaming immigrants and their children for violence in the city. The party claims to be speaking for native Britons who are tired of minorities being given preferential status. The BNP would ban burkas from public buildings and fight Islamification in other ways.

ISLAMIFICATION. The word rings throughout the continent. Reporters, bloggers and politicians alike are obsessed with it. Many are terrified, others express disgust with the disgusted with the alleged bigotry of the terrified.

Some liberals claim that these new Muslim families want nothing more than to raise 2.3 children and live out peaceful, European lives. But these claims are juxtaposed with terrifying statistics. In French prisons, 60 to 70 percent of inmates are Muslim, as compared with 12 percent of the rest of population. Other countries have a similarly outsized prison statistics, with reason.

In 2001, two out of three rapes in Oslo, Norway were committed by non-western immigrants. The number of cases was also rising steadily. That same year police reports revealed that 68 percent of all rapes in Copenhagen were committed by ethnic minorities, which led even Muslim youth organizations to speak out against the problem.

Not all immigrants or ethnic minorities are Muslim. Still, a parent reading the above statistics would have every reason to be skeptical of Islam and of immigration in Europe. This is especially true given the many anecdotal stories reporting that young Muslim men are permitted, even proud, to rape "infidels."

The peaceful Muslim families depicted in heart wrenching stories of discrimination have every right to speak out. They haven't done anything wrong. Still, the incarceration and rape statistics skyrocket. Anecdotes of Muslim intolerance and violence proliferate on the Internet, when they're forced out of the press through laws outlawing religious intolerance.

Given the direction European public opinion on immigration is going, the Returns Directive may very well be a liberal document. Leaving these countries alone to do what their citizens actually want might lead to policies even more upsetting to those international communitarians.

However, the Directive falls short of seriously addressing Europe's true immigration problems while also alienating potential allies and trading partners.

Deporting illegal immigrants mostly misses the mark. The thing that Europeans are reacting against is not immigration or Islam per se, but rather a serious spike in violence. Perhaps their nations should respond to this by cracking down on serious crimes instead of further criminalizing peaceful immigration.

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About the Author

Erin Wildermuth is a graduate student at the London School of Economics.