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OECD: EU Need Not Fear Migration

The OECD this week published a series of studies examining migration trends in East and Central Europe and their impact on the EU membership bids of candidate countries.

Prague, 1 March 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD, says it is unreasonable for European Union countries to fear a flood of Eastern European and Asian immigrants after the EU expands eastward.

The EU has not yet agreed upon a common policy on immigration. But the head of the OECD's international migration division, Jean-Pierre Garson, says Brussels is working to create a common policy by 2004.

So far, agreement has been reached only on policy concerning asylum-seeking refugees from outside of the EU. But Garson told RFE/RL today a key requirement for EU membership is that candidate countries must have immigration laws in place which are both in harmony with future EU standards and in compliance with the existing Schengen accords, which allow people to move freely across the EU's internal borders.

Garson says the migration issue is important enough that the 10 Eastern EU candidate states are already receiving significant financial and technical assistance aimed at strengthening their border controls and improving legislation.

He said some people in the EU fear that countries like Poland and Hungary won't efficiently control their eastern borders, which will become the eastern borders of the EU after the first wave of expansion.

"If eastern European countries who are joining the EU don't have strong enough migration policies, and they don't control their borders, then as soon as you enter the EU zone you can circulate everywhere. That's why we have tried to put pressure on eastern European countries -- to realize that they should be concerned, and not only complain that they are transit countries [for illegal immigrants hoping to travel further west]."

Garson says the EU and OECD understand that Eastern applicants have a complicated task. On one hand, they must ease concerns in some EU states about a possible wave of illegal immigrants from further east. On the other hand, EU applicants need to maintain good relations with former Soviet republics.

"The concerns are maybe in some countries -- Germany, Austria -- the countries who receive the largest portion of people coming from the east. The fear is [of illegal immigration] from [countries] east of the [Eastern candidates]. But all the studies done -- including the study financed by the EU, by the way -- they all show that this fear is not really justified."

Garson also says re-admission agreements ultimately will make the accession states responsible for any illegal immigrants that pass into the EU across their borders.

"Any newcomer [to the EU] should accept the Schengen system, and all the re-admission agreements. If an illegal immigrant is caught in France, for example, and it is possible to prove that he is coming from Romania through Poland, for example, then this person will be expelled to Poland. And Poland will be in charge of sending the person back to Romania. These things are already working now -- with a lot of problems -- but it works."

Garson said the Czech Republic is leading all other EU candidates on the issue of bringing migration policies up to the expected EU standards and tightening border controls.

Bulgaria today received a strong sign of support for progress it has made during the last two years on these issues when the European Parliament voted to lift EU visa requirements for Bulgarians. To formally take effect, the measure still must receive final approval by the EU Council of Interior and Justice Ministers, which is due to meet in two weeks.

The EU has conditioned the lifting of visa requirements for both Bulgarians and Romanians on improved migration laws and border controls.

But Romania so far has failed to move forward on the kind of legislation required by Brussels. Garson said he thinks Bucharest appears more willing to work on the issue because of growing concerns about highly-skilled workers who are leaving Romania to find work in western Europe.

Garson says the OECD has not yet formulated a view on immigration from former Yugoslav republics because the situation there remains unclear. OECD data shows a drastic decrease in the number of asylum requests by citizens of former Yugoslav republics since the end of the Kosovo conflict and the ouster of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

Garson said the data show small numbers of refugees from Bosnia and Croatia are leaving Western Europe to return to their homes.

But groups of ethnic Albanians from southern Serbia's tense Presevo Valley fled into Kosovo last year after Milosevic's ouster. And in recent days, some 400 ethnic Albanians have fled into Kosovo to escape fighting near their border village in northern Macedonia.