Spain stays silent as EU immigration debate drags on

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Lawmakers from across the 27-nation bloc continue to debate over common measures to expel migrants that could come at the expense of human rights.

8 May 2008

MADRID - The European Parliament on Wednesday prolonged a debate on immigration policy until next week as lawmakers from across the 27-nation bloc continue to quarrel over common measures to expel migrants that could come at the expense of human rights.

The debate over how long undocumented migrants can be held before being deported, who should be responsible for their arrest and what to do about juveniles is of crucial importance to Spain, with the Socialist government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero having turned to the EU for assistance to help stop an influx of Africans in recent years.

Conversely, in such a close and controversial debate, approval of the legislation may hinge on the votes of Spain's European Parliament representatives. Many, like their counterparts from elsewhere in Europe, are so far sitting on the fence.

Such hesitation reflects the prickliness of the subject. A proposal drafted by the current Slovenian term presidency of the EU and backed by France and Italy would allow undocumented migrants to be held in detention centres for up to 18 months if they could not be deported sooner.

France and Italy, whose governments have both promised to get tough on immigration, see the extended detention period - compared to a previous proposal for a six-month limit - as necessary to keep clandestine migrants off the streets.

Currently, France, Italy, Spain and other countries free illegal immigrants who cannot be deported within a few weeks, after which few can be relocated within the EU's borderless area.

Other countries, such as the United Kingdom and Sweden, which currently have no limits on how long a migrant can be held, fear that the EU legislation will weaken their own laws, while many leftist legislators worry that the long detention period would violate human rights.

"Eighteen months is too long to keep immigrants in detention centres," Martin Roure, the Socialist spokesman in the parliament, argued recently.

Indeed, other voices in Spain have begun to ask the government to speak out against the directive, or at least make its position clear.

The organisation SOS Racismo says the `plan is a "step backward in immigrants' rights," while United Left leader Gaspar Llamazares yesterday demanded the government express its views on the proposals.

An official on Wednesday said that Spanish legislation need not change in accordance with the EU rules.

[El Pais / Ángeles Espinosa / Expatica]

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