Schengen and EU extend Fortress Europe (feature)
01 January 1998
At its meeting on 4 December in Brussels the Council of Justice and Home Affairs Ministers (JHA) discussed "the problem caused by the mass influx of asylum-seekers and illegal immigrants, particularly from northern Iraq". The JHA Council acknowledged that the migration appeared to be via Turkey then Greece and Italy or "via the Balkan route" (from Turkey, Bulgaria, former states of Yugoslavia, Hungary Slovakia, Czech Republic and Germany) - though the latter route received scant mention later in the media. Then EU Foreign Ministers meeting in the General Affairs Council on 8-9 December discussed returning "Iraqi nationals" (Kurdish people) to areas covered by the US imposed "no-fly" zone.
The EU Summit at the end of the Luxembourg Presidency agreed on 12-13 December that:
"The situation arising from the massive influx of immigrants from Iraq in particular is disturbing. The Council must prepare and implement rapidly an action plan to respond to this problem."
These three meetings allowed the Schengen Executive Committee to take the initiative at its next meeting just two days later.
Schengen sets the scene
At its meeting on 15 December 1997 under the Austrian Presidency in Vienna the Schengen Executive Committee adopted a far-reaching Decision to stem the "large increase in immigration of third country nationals, particularly of Iraqi and other citizens". Among the key decisions were the:
"taking of fingerprints of each illegal third country national immigrant who identity cannot be established beyond doubt on the basis of valid documents, and storing of the data for information exchange with other authorities of the member states.."
The plan to fingerprint all third country nationals without "valid documents" by the 13 Schengen states would create a major source of information to be entered into the EU's EURODAC computerised fingerprint database when it comes on line in 1999. All fingerprints are to be taken according to national legislation which varies greatly both in the powers given to authorities and the protection afforded to the individuals concerned (see Statewatch, vol 6 no 4, "EURODAC: EU to hold asylum seekers' fingerprints on central computer - draft Convention proposals"). Cooperation prior to EURODAC starting will only work bilaterally where computer software is compatible.
Second, the plan sets out the need for all Schengen countries to have "holding centres" (camps for migrants). Schengen countries should:
"prevent illegal immigrants disappearing until their identity has been established or until the implementation of necessary police measures... [and allow for] immediate repatriation/readmission [the French eloignement is ambiguous in this respect] of illegal immigrants if they have not been granted temporary leave [to remain]"
The plan also includes: the "harmonisation of sanctions regarding and arrangements with carriers which transport illegal immigrants"; "pre-frontier checks at risk entry points" (that is, check before a person official lands or embarks onto the soil of a Schengen state); and support for the negotiation of readmission agreements between Schengen states and "Turkey, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia". Representatives from the six states "most affected" are to form a task force to implement the plan.
The Decision states that "the implementation of this decision shall take place in addition to the EU action plan".
Both the Schengen Executive Committee decision of 15 December 1997 and the EU's Action Plan (see below) adopted by the General Affairs Committee on 26 January 1998 use the issue of Kurdish people (whether from Turkey or northern Iraq) seeking to enter the EU to set up new, far-reaching measures to maintain the borders of "Fortress Europe".
Furore over massive "threat" of Kurdish immigrants
In the first week of January news stories started to appear (in the English language press) concerning the "imminent" influx of thou