'Returns directive' voted at the European parliament

Article published on June 19, 2008
Article published on June 19, 2008

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

The law establishing common rules on deporting illegal immigrants was adopted by the EU parliament on 18 June. But the extremely controversial text is condemned by associations

The directive ‘concerning the return of illegal migrants coming from developing countries’ is the result of long negotiations between the 27 EU member states. The text was approved by 367 votes to 206 with 109 abstentions around the semi-circle of the European parliament on 18 June. However, politicians from the left and many European NGOs, particularly Amnesty International and 'le Cimade' (a French organisation working extensively to support illegal immigrants in France), have taken a stand against this text and have renamed it the ‘directive of shame.’

SOS Racism went as far as to say in a press release that: ‘This directive is an attack on the ideals of freedom and communal living that the foundation of Europe is based on.’ The communal policy establishes minimum humanitarian norms to protect illegal immigrants (legal assistance, medical care, emergency protection) for the first time which is progress, but it is the length of detention of illegal immigrants that is controversial. Until now the duration varied considerably between EU countries, unlimited in Sweden and the Netherlands for example, but fixed at 32 days in France. The European text ratified by the members of the European parliament fixes it at a maximum of six months in all European countries - a term which can however be extended to twelve months if the cooperation from the prisoner or their country of origin is insufficient.

200, 000 illegal immigrants

Amnesty International was not able to contain its concern. ‘This directive could encourage using detention as the primary mechanism to fight illegal immigration,’ the Brussels office had already said in 2006. ‘Detention is often justified as being the only way to enforce an efficient deportation policy. Our reports show that often people are detained even if there is little chance they will be deported in a reasonable timeframe, often because of a lack of cooperation from their country of origin.’

Illegal immigrants expelled from the EU will be banned from returning for a duration of five years

A second point has given rise to anger: illegal immigrants expelled from the EU will then be banned from returning for a duration of five years. A measure which now threatens more than 200, 000 illegal immigrants arrested in the EU during the first quarter of 2007 and which already applies to the 90, 000 deported since. Additionally, the new law does not give any protection from deportation to minors without papers.