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October 2002, Volume 9, Number 10

France, Italy, Spain

On September 25, 2002, the French government announced proposed reforms to its asylum policies aimed at speeding up decision-making. By January 1, 2004, the government hopes to reduce the time to one to two months and to promptly send home rejected asylum seekers.

The Sangatte migrant center near Calais will stop accepting migrants in November 2002, and close in April 2003. UNHCR will screen the 2,000 migrants at Sangatte, and the UK will accept half of those who are recognized as refugees. Some of those rejected will be offered E2,000 to return to their countries of origin.

Some 6,000 people rallied in Paris on September 7, 2002, to demand legalization for unauthorized foreigners. The Interior Ministry is examining the cases of 10,000 foreigners, and some are occupying churches in the Paris region in support of their demand for legal residency rights. Many cannot be deported because, for instance, they have children born in France with French citizenship. However, without legal residency papers, they cannot get good jobs. In August 2002, some of the migrants occupied the Saint Denis Basilica for two weeks.

The Interior Ministry estimates that France has about 300,000 illegal migrants.

France reduced the standard work week from 39 to 35 hours for firms with more than 20 employees on February 1, 2000 in a bid to reduce unemployment, then over 10 percent. The new conservative government announced that it would relax the 35-hour-a-week, 1,600-hour-a-year system, permitting employers to return to 39-hour work weeks. In exchange, minimum wages would be unified and increased by 11 percent over three years.

Torrential rains hit southern France in September 2002, causing extensive damage in the Rhone Valley in southeast France and drastically lowering wine grape yields in the Cotes du Rhone and Vaucluse, which account for 10 percent of French wine production.

Italy. There are 1.3 million legally registered foreigners in Italy, and another 500,000 to 700,000 unauthorized foreigners. According to the Italian Interior Ministry, between January and August 2002, more than 16,000 immigrants arrived in Italy, compared to 12,000 for the same period in 2001. An increasing proportion of immigrants are arriving from Africa rather than via Albania.

Under Italy's new immigration law, the so-called Bossi-Fini law, employers of unauthorized foreign maids and caretakers for the elderly must register them by October 31, 2002 and pay $300 in back pension contributions to legalize their clandestine domestic help. Other employers in September 2002 can pay $1,000 per unauthorized worker and legalize their status. In a sign that the government faces more opposition than expected to the new law, big business has complained that it is excessively restrictive, with companies now struggling to find workers willing to do manual or semi-skilled jobs. For example, Italian grape growers in September 2002 complained that the government was too slow processing harvesters from Poland, threatening the harvest.

Anti-immigrant sentiment is strongest in the north of Italy, which is also most dependent on foreign workers. The mayor of Treviso, an industrial town of 81,000 north of Venice, removed park benches to discourage "non-European hang-abouts in Treviso," a city with an estimated 30,000 foreigners employed in 300 area factories; Benetton has its headquarters in Treviso.

In September 2002, the Treviso mayor had the shanty homes of legal immigrant workers razed, prompting 20,000 demonstrators from all over Italy to protest the mayor's orders in a "Humanity Day" rally. The mayor is a member of the Northern League, which forms the coalition government with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party and the Italian Social Movement (MSI).

About 60 percent of Italians aged 20 to 35 live at home, up from 46 percent in the early 1990s. Italian women have an average of 1.2 children, and some experts say that high youth unemployment combined with the rising cost of housing encourages young people to stay at home.

On September 15, 2002, a boat with about 130 Liberians sank off the southern city of Agrigento, killing 36. Some far-right politicians said that Italy was being overrun by immigrants- the number of immigrants was 16,000 in the first eight months of 2002, up from 12,000 in 2001. Marion Borghezio, a member of the Northern League party, said, "We don't need any more illegal immigrant drug-dealers."

Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu said: "Italy is doing everything it can to stem the flow of illegal immigration. But the resources at our disposal are not enough. The problem is European and all of Europe must bear the burden."

Spain. The Canary Islands, 50 miles from Morocco, is receiving more African migrants. Most leave by boat from Morocco, and the Spanish government blames the Moroccan government for not preventing their departure. Over 1,000 migrants, mostly Moroccans, were detained at the former airport terminal in Fuerteventura.

Spain has expelled more than 12,155 illegal immigrants in 2002, most of them Moroccans. In 2001, Spain deported about 44,841 illegal immigrants. A September 2002 poll found that 70 percent thought increased immigration had increased crime, and 44 percent said they would support a party that pledged to reduce immigration. However, 85 percent agreed that immigrants took jobs Spaniards rejected.

There are about 1.4 million foreigners among the 41 million residents of Spain.

Benelux. The Dutch Immigration Ministry in September 2002 said that 6,000 migrants were deported in the first nine months of 2002, including 1,000 on specially-chartered fights. The new center-right government said it plans to reduce immigration by 25 percent in 2002-03, and to make entry into the country without a visa a criminal offense.

"France unveils sweeping plan to reform asylum policy," Agence France Presse, September 25, 2002. "78,000 Filipinos face arrest in Italy, Xinhua, September 23, 2002. Frank Bruni, "Off Sicily, Tide of Bodies Roils Immigrant Debate," New York Times, September 23, 2002. "Death toll leaps to 27 in immigrant boating tragedy," Reuters, September 18, 2002. Luke Baker, "Liberian deaths fuel Italian anti-immigrant debate," Reuters, September 16, 2002. "Illegal Immigrant Backers Stage New Protests in France," Associated Press, September 4, 2002. David Sharrock, "Moroccan migrant tide swamping Canaries," The Times, September 2, 2002.