Italian immigration clampdown could cause mass influx in Spain
Italy’s recent decision to make illegal immigration a criminal offence has sparked concerns of more illegal immigrants moving to Spain.23 May 2008
MADRID - The Spanish government on Thursday expressed concern that a controversial clampdown on illegal immigration by Italy could drive more undocumented migrants toward Spain while in the process undermining EU efforts to establish a common immigration policy.
"We fear that what Italy is doing could divert immigration flows to neighbouring countries... including Spain," Diego López Garrido, Spain's secretary of state for EU affairs, said after meeting with his Italian counterpart Andrea Ronchi in Madrid on Thursday.
"It is an illusion to think that a single country can solve immigration problems alone... and it is certainly not the best way to work toward a common policy."
Ronchi said he "disagreed" with Spain's concerns and argued that Italy is facing an immigration "emergency".
On Wednesday, the recently elected right-wing Italian government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi approved legislation that would make it a criminal offence to be an illegal immigrant.
The move, which could lead to thousands of foreigners being imprisoned, follows a clampdown on illegal immigrants in Italy last week that led to hundreds of mostly Africans and Gypsies being detained.
Spain's Deputy Prime Minister María Teresa Fernández de la Vega said last week that such actions, which preceded the burning of a Gypsy camp near Naples by thugs, could fuel "racism".
The Spanish-Italian spat has developed against the backdrop of broader European efforts to toughen rules on the estimated eight million illegal immigrants living in the EU.
On Thursday, EU governments agreed to establish common rules that would allow countries to hold undocumented migrants for up to 18 months - longer than the current limits in two-thirds of member states. Spain currently only permits immigrants to be held for 40 days.
The common rules would also ban undocumented migrants caught in Europe from re-entering the bloc for a period of five years - a step that has been widely condemned by human rights groups.
The legislation is now due to be put before the European Parliament ahead of a vote expected to take place next month.
[El Pais / Ángeles Espinosa / Expatica]