"We've seen as a result of 11 September, as a result of immigration, etc, we've seen an enormous dominance of [concern with fighting terrorism and illegal immigration]. So [the choice seems to be to have] security [rather than] freedom and justice -- [we feel this deserves a] question mark. We feel there are a lot of elements that cause concern there," Oosting said.
Oosting said Amnesty has felt this concern since the EU's individual states began merging some of their immigration policies in 1999. He said as member states continue to integrate their immigration policies in the future, Amnesty will continue to call for more of a balance between security and the rights of individual immigrants.
Oosting said one issue he's looking at closely is the use of holding camps outside of the EU to keep would-be immigrants. He said he's concerned that Libya, for one -- with the support of southern EU countries like Italy and Spain -- may become a way station for would-be immigrants into the EU. The southern EU states bear the brunt of the bloc's immigration and asylum burden.
Amnesty does not reject out of hand the idea of setting up holding camps for immigrants in non-EU countries. Oosting said it is difficult to assess the idea as there are still no concrete plans on the table.
Oosting did make one thing clear -- Amnesty does not support deporting illegal immigrants from the EU unless some very stringent safeguards are in place. He sharply criticized a debate currently under way among EU member states to create a list of "safe" third countries. Were such a list to be adopted, immigrants arriving in the EU from such countries would be sent back immediately.
Statewatch, another international human rights organization, yesterday released what it says is classified information indicating discussions on such a list have reached an advanced stage within the EU.
Oosting said any EU country expelling immigrants still retains ultimate responsibility for their subsequent fate. "In fact you transmit your own responsibility to a country where you can never be sure that it is absolutely safe to have a blanket assumption that a country is safe," he said. "It may catch you unawares under particular circumstances. And again, the principle applies that if you send somebody back you're still responsible if things go wrong further down the chain. That's been established by the European Court [of Human Rights]."
Oosting cited two recent cases, both involving the expulsion of immigrants from Somalia, one involving the Netherlands, another Denmark. Both, Amnesty says, were killed shortly after they arrived in Somalia.
The Amnesty report calls on EU member states to explore ways of easing legal migration. Oosting said this could be an important way to undercut illegal immigration. "What we see is that there's enormous pressure to cut back on asylum, to cut back on so-called illegal immigration," he said. "And all the talk about 'Well, we have to open up legal channels of migration' are still stuck in ideas and little suggestions, but there's no firm proposal on the table to really examine that and develop policies in the area. Everybody acknowledges that zero immigration is a fiction, and yet there's no political willingness to open this up."
The outgoing European Commission, which will step down at the end of October, has often expressed support for the idea of controlled legal immigration. However, it remains a highly sensitive subject in many EU member states.