Bonn, 12 January 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The German government says a meeting of European Union foreign ministers on January 26 will discuss refugee flows into Europe and common standards for political asylum.
A spokesman in Bonn said Germany also wants the foreign ministers to consider a stronger police campaign to root out the organized gangs which operate in many European and non-European countries to smuggle illegal immigrants across borders.
Germany is particularly concerned because many of the thousands of illegal migrants caught in Europe want to settle in Germany, largely because of its high standard of living and welfare benefits. But it is not just a German problem. An international meeting of police chiefs and security experts in Rome yesterday was told that while Germany remains the chief goal for would-be asylum seekers and illegal emigrants France, the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries are also affected.
Discussions on the refugee problem are not new in Europe. But they have been energized by the arrival of around 1,500 Kurdish refugees in Italy in the past two weeks.
Bonn's initial response was fear that most of them would quickly move northwards and seek new homes in Germany. Bonn sharply criticized Italy for not maintaining a stricter watch on its land and sea borders. It also criticized Rome for allowing considerable freedom of movement to the refugees and doing little to prevent them from leaving for other countries, particularly Germany and France.
The last few days however has seen a softening of Bonn's initial reaction with an acknowledgment by foreign minister Klaus Kinkel that it could have over-reacted in regard to the Kurds in Italy. Kinkel told journalists in Bonn that the situation in regard to the 1,500 Kurds arriving in Italy by sea was "not dramatic." He said that he personally did not see the influx "in the terms which it has been widely portrayed until now."
Commentators said Kinkel's approach may have been influenced by the fact that very few of the Kurds who arrived in Italy recently have actually arrived in Germany. Border officials confirmed today that they had no information about the recent entry of any of the Kurds, although they warned that they might still come.
But the publicity given to the Kurds who arrived in Italy had led to a swathe of reports from other countries about illegal immigration and the need for more effective co-operation.
According to French authorities, for example, thousands of illegal emigrants -- including Kurds -- try to cross into France from Italy along the Riviera. French officials have long conceded that it is impossible to closely control the whole 180 km border there. Some reports published in France suggest that only about 30 per cent of the illegal immigrants who cross this border are caught. It is believed that as many as 200,000 illegal emigrants may get across each year, although of course the number cannot be confirmed
A Munich newspaper, the "Suddeutsche Zeitung" sent a correspondent to the Riviera to check the situation. The last stop on the Italian side is Ventimiglia and the first inside France is Menton, a resort near Monaco. The correspondent was told by a group of potential illegal emigrants he met in Ventimiglia there were many routes for crossing this border, including some dangerous mountain paths..
The correspondent reported French officials as saying that in the first ten months of last year 3,879 Kurds were caught along this border. In September and October alone the number was 1,281. There are strong legal Kurdish communities in both France and Germany and most of those who slip the borders find accommodation and help in getting work through the community. Some of the would-be immigrants have relatives in the French and German communities.
Some of the Kurds who successfully enter France try to go on to Germany. Normally there are few controls on the borders between these two allies but recently they have been stepped-up. The interior minister of the German province of Baden- Wurttemburg said this has led to a big jump in the number of captured illegal refugees. From September to the end of November last year almost 1,200 Kurds from Iraq were caught on the crossing the border near the French city of Strasbourg. Baden-Wurttemburg has placed an extra 800 border guards on its section of the Franco-German frontier.
In his discussions with journalists this week, Kinkel attempted to deflect the impression that most of the Kurds coming to western Europe were victims of Turkish oppression. In his view, many of them come from the big cities and are more victims of poverty than of political oppression. He said that last year about 17,000 people from Turkey applied for legal asylum in Germany. Of these about 80-90 per cent were Kurds. Most of them came from the cities.
Kinkel said Kurds fleeing for political reasons came mostly from Iraq, not Turkey. He said that last year 14,088 Kurds from Iraq applied for legal asylum in Germany. That was almost double the number in the previous year, 1996. Kinkel said that 16.9 per cent of these were recognized as politically-persecuted. Another 62 per cent were allowed to stay in Germany without being granted formal asylum. Some of the problems in controlling the borders were discussed at a European union meeting in Brussels on Wednesday. The ideas and recommendations discussed by the officials will be considered by the foreign ministers at their meeting later this month. They are expected to include more effective border controls and better co-operation between consular officials and police.
Police co-operation was also discussed at yesterday's meeting in Rome between security experts from the European union and Turkey. Turkey agreed to co-operate in measures to restrict emigration and to crack down on the gangs which organize the flight of would be illegal immigrants to western Europe. Reports from Istanbul today said that Turkish police have begun raiding ships in Istanbul harbor which are suspected of carrying illegal immigrants.
The European Union is also seeking more co-operation from police in other countries. A report issued earlier this week identified Istanbul as the main departure point in Turkey for illegal immigrants from the Turkish and Arabic area. Athens was identified as a departure point for Albanians, Kurds and West Take . Moscow was named as a collecting center for prospective illegal immigrants coming from Asia, including Bangladesh and Pakistan. Kiev, Warsaw, Bucharest, Sofia and Prague were also mentioned. The report said the Czech-German border was among the most notorious crossing points for many illegal immigrants, including Kurds. Germany has recently assigned around 9,000 border guards to its frontiers with Poland and the Czech Republic. .