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EU: Brussels To Put Migration Control At Center Of Relations With Third Countries

Brussels, 3 December 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The European Commission today adopted proposals that -- if enacted by the EU's 15 member states later this month -- will make migration a centerpiece of its cooperation with other countries.

Chris Patten, the EU's external relations commissioner, said today that controlling legal and illegal migration is an equally important goal for both the EU and its partners. "Migration is an increasingly important subject politically, not just in Europe but in many of our partner countries around the world where there's both a big inflow of migrants and a big outflow of migrants. Integration of concerns related to migration within the external policy and programs of the [European] community forms part of the comprehensive effort to address migration in a coherent and efficient way at the EU level."

The commission proposal says the EU should give priority to issues related to migration control in its development aid, and review existing agreements with non-EU countries in this light.

A European Commission statement says the EU is keen to address the underlying causes of migration flows in low-income countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Europe -- with the exception of candidate countries -- and has allocated some 935 million euros ($931.7 million) worth of assistance for them. In addition, existing cooperation programs like TACIS for Russia and MEDA for Mediterranean countries contain "budget lines" that are used to promote cooperation on migration.

Presenting the proposal, the EU's justice and home affairs commissioner, Antonio Vitorino, said the EU will in future assess the "cost-effectiveness" of its external aid programs and reallocate funds if cooperation on migration is withheld. Reviews of cooperation agreements with non-EU countries will in future be used to make such appraisals.

Vitorino said the European Refugee Fund, which has a budget of 216 million euros between 2000 and 2004 to assist illegal migrants to return voluntarily, will also be used to assist forced returns. He mentioned as an example a decision by the EU last month to start sending back up to 100,000 refugees from Afghanistan. The exercise, to be launched next April, will see 1,500 Afghan immigrants leave each month and will cost the EU some 7 million euros in transport costs and 10 million euros in resettlement expenditures.

Vitorino admitted, however, that the EU lacks a coordinated return policy for illegal immigrants and that there are no centrally collated figures detailing the number of refugees or their dispersion in the EU. Also, decisions relating to the forced return of immigrants can only be taken at the member-state level, who alone will decide who will have to leave, when and where.

The commission says that as part of the process, the EU is negotiating readmission agreements of illegal immigrants with more than a dozen countries, ranging from China, Pakistan, and Russia to Turkey and Albania. "Fruitful" talks have been launched with Ukraine, and a readmission agreement with Russia is expected to be signed by the end of next year.