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UN: Italian Foreign Minister Calls For West European Migration Strategy

Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini has called on West European nations to adopt a clear strategy for dealing with immigrants. Speaking to the UN General Assembly yesterday, Dini said current policies have not succeeded in slowing the surge in migrants of all kinds and fail to recognize the growing need for legal migrants in EU nations. RFE/RL's UN correspondent Robert McMahon reports.

United Nations, 14 September 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The migration of thousands of people into western Europe takes many forms. Some crowd onto boats sailing from Albania to Italy. Others flee war in Afghanistan or repression in Iraq by paying illegal traffickers.

For Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini, all of them present a challenge to European Union nations, but also an opportunity. Italy is a front-line EU state facing illegal immigration from the Balkans, the Middle East, and Africa. But it is also a country with a rapidly aging population that needs to replenish its workforce.

Dini said in an address to the UN General Assembly yesterday (Wednesday) that Italy's problems are shared by a growing number of EU nations. He called for clear rules to guide migration and a common strategy to integrate migrants. And he said the trafficking of human beings by criminal organizations needs a coordinated response.

"We must put a stop to this trafficking, a stop to boats being cast into the sea filled with sadness and desperation, driven by hopes in a promised land. The pictures of these illegal crossings have become unbearable."

Dini used his assembly speech and a press conference afterwards to try to raise awareness of UN members about the worsening immigration situation in Europe. Dini called for several steps to bring it under control. He said migration needs to be managed so that it can be used as a healthy way to rejuvenate aging societies, such as Italy's, without generating racial tensions.

Dini said assistance to developing countries -- the source of most migrants -- needs to be increased to help ease some of the problems that give rise to emigration. And he said stricter law enforcement is needed to combat the trade in human beings, which seems particularly prevalent in the Mediterranean region.

"This new form of piracy would be impossible if those involved knew that they could not count on collusion, safe havens and, all too often, impunity."

Some of Dini's statements echo concerns raised by a report commissioned this summer by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR. The report said west European governments are contributing to the trafficking problem by taking measures that are threatening the right of asylum. Many people who would be considered legitimate asylum cases, it said, have been forced to seek illegal means to reach Europe because of the way asylum requests are processed.

French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine, whose country currently holds the EU presidency, cited Dinis comments at a press conference. Vedrine said EU states are already engaged in talks on all aspects of immigration policy, including border controls and the integration of immigrants into society. He said the topic has gained a great deal of attention since last year's EU summit in Tampere, Finland.

"There are no particular differences between the viewpoint of the Italians and the others, except certain countries are more affected than others in the EU by migratory pressures. It depends on geographic position."

But Dini's comments reflected concerns that organized crime has outpaced EU efforts to cope with trafficking. Following the deaths of nearly 60 Chinese in a truck bound for England early this summer, EU officials have refocused efforts to deal with the trade in humans. The EU minister for external relations, Chris Patten, told reporters at the UN yesterday that he had discussed the problem with Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan this week.

"The Chinese will send a group of experts to discuss the issue with us in Europe, focusing on a number of things we can do together -- better public information campaigns, better sharing of information, better measures in general to deal with this horrific trade."

The UNHCR report issued this summer said the states of eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States represent key transit areas for the majority of irregular movements of people from all over the world into western Europe. These former Soviet bloc nations are now considered the fastest-growing region for trafficked migrants.