Richard North, 04/02/2005  

There must be a better cliché than "chickens coming home to roost", which is in danger of being over-used, even by this Blog. But if there is a more apt cliché to describe the situation arising from Spain’s decision to offer amnesty to its 800,000 illegal immigrants, I would like to know it.

Without dwelling on the vexed issue of whether immigration is good or bad, the facts are that, from 7 February, the Spanish government is to allow any foreign national who can show that they have a job contract and has lived in the country for more than six months to obtain legal residency.

The amnesty is expected to benefit between 800,000 and one million immigrants who work in the underground economy - about six percent of the labour force – largely originating from Africa and developing countries.

What may be a liberal and humane policy for Spain, however, has, in the words of Otto Schily, the German interior minister, "consequences for the rest of Europe". This is because, once granted official residency status in Spain, immigrants will then, under the EU treaty rules, acquire rights of "freedom of movement" throughout the rest of the member states.

Thus, what previously would have been an internal decision for Spain now affects the rest of the EU, by virtue of the "open border" policy of the Community.

The move is reported to have been met with alarm in other European capitals, fed by reports of bus-loads of foreign nationals amassing at Spanish borders. Spain is seen as an easy target for migrants, mainly Muslims, coming largely from Africa, who last year made up one third of net migration into the EU as a whole.

Police on the Spanish border with France say they are turning back bus loads of Romanians and Bulgarians every day. "They all have fake addresses in Spain, dated back six months, and they are coming in search of jobs," say the police, who last month turned back 10,000 suspected immigrants trying to cross the Pyrénées.

Now, of course, the pressure builds for further strengthening the EU's common asylum and immigration policy, so that issues like this can be tackled, reducing still further the ability of nation states to control their own policies.

But since the problem was created in the first instance by the breaking down of national border controls, perhaps "chickens coming home to roost" is not the appropriate cliché. How about, "the lunatics have taken over the asylum... policy".

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