Blair calls for Balkan immigration clampdown

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Series Details Vol.7, No.6, 8.2.01, p2
Publication Date 08/02/2001
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Date: 08/02/01

By John Shelley

UK PRIME Minister Tony Blair has tabled a series of emergency measures designed to clamp down fast on the flow of illegal immigrants through the Western Balkans and into the Union.

Blair, with the backing of Italy and Germany, says teams of immigration officers should be positioned on the borders of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia to provide assistance, training and advice to customs officials in those countries. He also suggests setting up an EU-wide network of immigration officers which will allow member states and Balkan countries to coordinate their fight against organised smuggling gangs.

Some of the urgent measures, he says, could be put in place within five weeks and all of them are designed to take effect by the middle of this year.

The proposals come in response to a growing trade in illegal immigrants through the Western Balkans that has caused problems for several member states. In the first ten months of 2000, more than 50,000 migrants are estimated to have passed through Bosnia on their way to the West.

"Urgent assistance needs to be provided to help establish legal frameworks, institutions and the administrative infrastructure as a platform for responding to the problem," says the proposal.

But diplomats say the timing has less to do with any sudden crisis in 2001 and more with the UK government's attempts to persuade its electorate it is taking firm action against illegal immigrants.

"The Commission is already working on long-term plans to tackle the problem of trafficking in human beings through the Balkans; the British proposals are short-term measures that they want to get going in the run up to their elections in May," said one.

Under the plans, and with the permission of Balkan governments, teams of between eight to ten police and immigration officers would be dispatched to land and air borders to help local police efforts.

"The teams should include a mix of personnel skilled in investigation, forgery detection, training and intelligence gathering," says the proposal.

Blair also wants the EU to set up an Immigration Liaison Officer network by the middle this year to create an intelligence structure to target criminals who smuggle human beings.

The network would be geared towards ensuring a coordinated 'rapid response' to the problem of immigration through the area, an efficient deployment of Union resources and an early warning for member states.

The plans already have the backing of other countries such as Germany and Italy, which similar to the UK, are common final destinations for illegal immigrants.

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has tabled a series of emergency measures designed to clamp down fast on the flow of illegal immigrants throught the Western Balkans and into the Union.

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