by Esther Ben-David
2nd part of 2
Current Immigration: Asylum Seekers.
Traditionally, asylum was reserved for those who fled persecution. Before the immigration stop, some asylum seekers came as economic migrants without bothering to go through the official process of being recognized as refugees. After the immigration stop, the process changed and many economic migrants started posing as refugees as a "consciously planned act of subversion." Asylum seekers enter the country as illegal immigrants, destroying their papers and lying as much as necessary to achieve their objective—a new life in Europe. Today, those who cannot immigrate through marriage often choose the asylum process regardless of their situation back home. Only a minority of asylum seekers are quota refugees for whom the United Nations has recognized their status during a stay in refugee camps ahead of their travel to Europe. Most refugees enter Europe illegally, which requires paying smugglers and sometimes obtaining fake documents. These refugees make their way to the country most likely to accept their application. In recent years, Iraqi and Afghan refugees crossed several European states in order to claim asylum in Sweden and Norway, countries which have more liberal asylum laws. And many of those seeking asylum exaggerate or fabricate persecution claims creating an absurd situation whereby asylum seekers, claiming shelter in Europe, spend holidays on vacation in their countries of origin.
Still, there are real cases of political persecution. Beginning in the 1950s, many Muslim students arrived in Germany not only to take advantage of the technical education in German universities but also to escape political persecution by secular, military leaders such as Gamal Abdel Nasser, bent on eradicating Islamist groups back home. One of these exiles was Said Ramadan, son-in-law of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna, and father of Tariq Ramadan. Said Ramadan was granted asylum in Switzerland where he continued working for Muslim Brotherhood interests. The trend has accelerated into the 1980s and 1990s as Islamist activists fled intensified domestic crackdowns in Syria, North Africa, and Egypt. However, unlike many asylum seekers who sought to flee oppression, these refugees sought to replicate it, plotting the replacement of secular dictatorships with religious dictatorships. They cared little for the values of liberal democracy even as they sought to utilize it for their own purposes. European officials, perhaps for reasons of moral equivalency, granted such activists asylum without regard to what caused the persecution against them in the first place. Using their new European base, many of these Islamist activists continued in their struggle for regime change in their homelands, creating networks that at times became the basis for today's European Muslim terrorist networks. As one Egyptian official said, "European countries like Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, England and others, which give sanctuary to these terrorists should now understand it will come back to haunt them where they live." The idea of "refugee" has degenerated so much that, during the war in Afghanistan, British officials granted asylum to Taliban fighters.
Conversely, Islamic countries can also produce refugees who flee strict application of Islamic law, individuals such as homosexuals, converts from Islam to other religions, or members of persecuted minorities, such as the Ahmadiyya in Pakistan, or the Jews in Yemen who may face capital punishment for their beliefs or actions. However, such a trend can encourage fraud. For example, after the Norwegian government granted automatic residence permits to persecuted homosexuals, fifty Iranian asylum seekers claimed to be persecuted homosexuals. At least one married in Iran and after receiving asylum proceeded to request family reunification. Several others reported doubtful stories but were given asylum anyway.
Likewise, the decision to grant automatic residence permits to converts from Islam—even those who converted after arriving in Europe—encourages more abuse. In Norway, one hundred Afghan refugees converted to Christianity after the rejection of their initial asylum claims.
While European governments do reject the applications of many asylum seekers, this does not mean the individuals leave or are deported. Perhaps 80 percent of asylum seekers stay in Europe after the rejection of their application.
There are many reasons why asylum seekers are not immediately deported. The West's liberal court systems allow for appeals and for further review after a decision by the first instance of justice. Death sentences in the home country, seen as inhumane by the Europeans, or refusal by the home country to accept its own citizens back can also prevent deportation. Others simply disappear, continuing to live in the country as undocumented illegal immigrants. The result is that those detained in camps for months or years before the completion of court processes are removed from productivity and learn to live at public expense.
In the years of legal battles, prospective asylum seekers are willing to do everything in order to ensure their stays. Children are kept as virtual hostages without knowing their own family abroad, without learning their original mother tongue, and without being able to integrate in their original homelands as a last resort for a residence permit on grounds of humane consideration should the asylum battle fail.
Those who live illegally do not pay taxes and cannot enjoy the full benefits of a welfare society. However, as more illegal immigrants arrive in a country, pressure grows to regularize them by awarding them amnesty and residence permits. Though regularization deals with the humanitarian aspects of the illegal immigrant's situation, it also gives incentives for illegal behavior and further immigration. In Belgium, for example, illegal immigrants have protested in recent years for regularization. Such protests have involved squatting in churches and climbing high-rise cranes. This creates an irony in which state attempts to stop immigration are thwarted by institutions—such as churches—that are subsidized by the state itself. The Belgian protests are aided by pro-immigrant groups, many of which the state also subsidizes.
The Challenge of Stopping Immigration
European governments are aware of the problem. Since the immigration stop of the 1970s, there have been several attempts to halt or slow down the immigration flow. Some European governments seek to discourage emigration by improving the life conditions of the prospective emigrant in his home country or by trying to scare prospective immigrants through ad campaigns that show the horrors of life as an illegal immigrant. In 2007, Spain ran an ad campaign in West Africa warning Africans not to risk their lives in futile illegal immigration.
Ignorance contributes to immigration. Researchers studying Turkish marriage immigrants who immigrated to Belgium found that children and adults growing up in Turkey in an emigration town, that is, a town where most of the residents either emigrated or wanted to emigrate, were unaware of the basic facts of European life. They knew about the high unemployment benefits but were not aware that basic necessities were much more expensive. One marriage-migrant interviewee admitted frankly that life in Belgium was not what he had expected. However, when he tried warning the youth in his hometown of the hardships of immigration, he was accused of wanting to keep new-found wealth to himself.
The problem with both methods is that a European lifestyle is based not only on material wealth but also on the rights and privileges of a liberal democracy. Even if it were easy to try to create jobs and affluence in countries such as Tunisia—which it is not—it would be harder to change the fabric of the legal system in a liberalizing direction.
Several countries have also tried unsuccessfully to convince immigrants to leave their new homes by offering incentives and continued welfare support for those who return to their native countries. Two such programs in France, the first in 1977 and the second in 2005, ended in failure. Creating incentives for departure might also backfire by encouraging migration for the purpose of collecting the offered benefits and by convincing those in the home country that Europe is drowning in cash, ready to be exploited.
As many countries become aware that the long-term effects of a brain drain outweigh any short-term benefits from remittances, some have themselves begun to discourage emigration. The Algerian Ministry of Religious Affairs, for example, issued a fatwa (religious edict) decreeing that illegal immigrants who die at sea have committed suicide, a sin in Islam.
Tightening immigration laws is an obvious strategy but one that is undercut by inconsistent regulations among EU states. Sweden, long the destination of choice for Iraqi asylum seekers, saw claims drop after it tightened its regulations although there was an increase in asylum claims in neighboring Norway during the same period. Tough marriage immigration laws in the Netherlands likewise encouraged the creation of the "Belgian Route," in which the non-EU spouse first comes to Belgium, using that country's laxer marriage-immigration laws. After the couple stay in the country for the minimum amount of time required by EU law, they move to the Netherlands. A recent EU Court decision, however, scrapped the requirement for a minimum stay and rejected any national restrictions on free movement. Judicial activism compounds the problem when courts create new legislation by imposing their own opinions on elected lawmakers.
In two such recent cases, for example, courts struck down laws intended to prevent immigration. A court in Amsterdam rejected a requirement for immigrants from certain countries to undergo integration testing and to prove their knowledge of Dutch language and culture in their home countries before receiving a visa to the Netherlands for marriage immigration. The high court in Belgium struck down a law preventing the children of polygamous marriages from immigrating to Belgium in order to reunite with their father and, thereby, opened the option for the polygamous spouse to do the same.
As these countries are EU members, they also subordinate national law to European Union directives and to the decisions of the European Court. For example, in recent years, both Denmark and the Netherlands have passed laws limiting family reunification. In both cases, marriage immigration dropped significantly from about 60 to 38 percent in four years, 2001-05, for Denmark, and from 56 to 27 percent for Dutch Turks and 57 to 23 percent for Dutch Moroccans over a five year period beginning in 2001. However, in July 2008, the European Court prohibited member states from denying residence permits to non-EU spouses of EU citizens or residents. This ruling caused a political crisis in Denmark, but it holds for all other countries as well, and in practice prevents them from stopping marriage immigration.
It will be far more difficult to stop immigration than it was to initiate the immigration flow. A unified European approach, slashing the time to process requests and achieve final adjudication might help to decrease immigration. Immigration to Europe might have developed differently with tougher, more restrictive immigration policies, but as long as Europe offers opportunities for work, education, and personal safety, and as long as it offers a liberal democracy with the rights and privileges such a lifestyle entails, it will continue to attract mass immigration.
The West has always been proud of its moral standard of protecting human rights and giving refuge to persecuted individuals. Referral to human rights has catalyzed immigration. For example, the right to marry is recognized as a fundamental right that in many European countries brings conveyance of citizenship. However, in a society where arranged marriages are the norm and forced marriages are common, the right to marry can easily place the law on the side of the aggressor who coerces somebody else to marry rather than the victim. Redefining refugee status by creating so many categories that fulfil it renders that status meaningless. Not only does it encourage economic immigration, it actually hurts those who truly need refuge.
Esther Ben-David is an independent researcher of Islam in Europe.
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.
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