Europe tightens up on third-world visitors. High unemployment heats up long-simmering immigrant issue
Europe is toughening its policies for visitors and immigrants from the third world. In recent weeks, France has used a new law to expel more than 1,700 immigrant workers, and even chartered a special plane to send home 100 Malians; Britain has made visas obligatory for visitors from the Indian subcontinent; and West Germany has begun to enforce new immigration rules while pressuring East Germany to stop the flow through East Berlin of asylum seekers mainly from Sri Lanki, Iran, and the Middle East.
The immigration issue has simmered for a long time. During the economic boom of the 1950s and 1960s, Europe welcomed millions of third-world workers to work in factories and perform menial labor. Today, with high unemployment, foreigners are spurned for taking away scarce jobs.
Immigration controls were first enacted in the early 1970s. Since then, the consensus seems to have grown in both left- and right-wing governments that few more immigrants can be accepted.
Now, conservative governments are going one step further. They are taking new measures designed to stop foreigners from crossing the border clandestinely or from requesting political asylum. For each country, the stricter enforcement raises the delicate question of whether civil rights are being respected.
In France last month, conservative Prime Minister Jacques Chirac pushed a law through Parliament which gave the administration full power to expel immigrants who do not have proper papers. No court hearing is required for expulsion. Police were also given powers to check papers and search residences. On the Paris subway, police now regularly stop Arabs and blacks.
The measures won broad public support. Four million foreigners live in France, about 1.5 million of them from North Africa. Immigration was a volatile issue in last spring's parliamentary elections, when the extreme-right National Front party won more than 10 percent of the vote running on an anti-immigrant platform.
But now, many French fear that the government is acting too forcefully. Under the new rules, foreigners can ask to see a lawyer before being deported. But critics charge that police tried to avoid this regulation by rushing the 100 Malians directly to Orly airport, and say some of the Malians were forced onto the plane,
Government officials were unrepentant. National Security Minister Robert Pandraud dismissed the criticism, saying it came from a ``choir of weeping women.''
In Britain, the government also has found it difficult to expel illegal immigrants. Legal measures are costly, slow, and inefficient.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher enacted the Nationality Act in 1983, making it more difficult for Asian and West Indian citizens to have relatives and fianc'es join them in England. Visa requirements for Indian, Bangladeshi, and Pakistani visitors, that went into effect this month were a follow-up to this law.
The new requirements provoked near chaos last week at London's Heathrow Airport, when more than 4,000 foreign visitors were detained.
In West Germany, the problem focuses on the issue of political asylum. Since World War II, West Germany has followed a generous policy of opening its borders to political refugees as well as those fleeing wars or poverty.
But this year the flow became unmanageable, bureaucrats say. In August, the West German interior minister announced that 14,812 refugees had applied for asylum, a new monthly record. Asylum-seekers found it easy to fly to East Berlin, pay a modest fee for an East German ``transit visa,'' and enter West Berlin.
To stop the flow, the conservative Bonn government began enforcing a new set of immigration rules, including halving the length of stay permitted on a tourist visa to four weeks and drastically curtailing transit visas for visitors passing through the country.
After Bonn threatened to cut economic relations with East Berlin, the East Germans instituted stricter visa requirements.
The solution has reduced the number of those seeking asylum, but has not solved the underlying problem. German officials say that as long as their country remains prosperous and peaceful, it will will continue to attract refugees.
Governments throughout Western Europe face the same dilemma. Even Switzerland is hardening its attitude. The Swiss authorities are implementing new regulations Nov. 1 that will make it much more difficult for foreigners to obtain residence permits.