San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

New EU Immigration Policy Sparks Criticism in Region

MANAGUA – European diplomats in Nicaragua last week defended the European Union’s new immigration policy, which has become a thorny issue between the EU and Central America as the two regions prepare to enter the fifth round of negotiations toward a future association agreement.

The head of the European Commission in Central America, Francesca Mosca, said recent comments from Latin leaders reflect a “lack of understanding” about the European Union’s new immigration policy, which will permit authorities to detain illegal immigrants for up to 18 months prior to their deportation.

The measure, which would enter into force in 2010 in a region with an estimated 8 million illegal immigrants, including many Latin Americans, has drawn widespread criticism in this hemisphere.

Earlier this month, Nicaragua’s National Assembly condemned the new EU policy as a threat to human rights, while Foreign Minister Samuel Santos called the measure a “mistake” that must be corrected. The new policy prompted the Organization of American States (OAS) to send a diplomatic mission to Europe to discuss the implications of the new policy.

During a speech last week in Managua, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez threatened to expel European investors from countries as a tit-for-tat response, and also threatened to stop selling oil to those countries. Chávez compared the European immigrant detention centers to “concentration camps.”

French Ambassador in Managua Thyerry Frayssee acknowledged that there is a lack of bed space in European detention centers, but told The Nica Times the new measure is meant to protect immigrants in the European Union, not punish them.

“It’s not a directive against immigrants. To the contrary, we need immigration for our economies,” he said.

The immigration law, approved June 18 by the European Parliament, seeks to crack down on illegal immigration while providing protections for child immigrants and victims of trafficking in humans, Frayssee said. The new law also bans deportees from re-entry for up to five years Latin leaders have widely criticized part of the law that calls for detention of up to 18 months for immigrants.

But Frayssee defends that provision as an improvement mechanism to establishing clear limits, considering that seven European countries didn’t have any limits on how long illegal immigrants could be detained without charge.

Frayssee said the new immigration policy has been in the making for three years. OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza said in a statement that “the two regions haven’t conversed (about the new policy) despite many opportunities to do so.”

Mosca, however, said the two regions will “get to the bottom” of the sensitive issue at the next round of negotiations to take place in Guatemala in October.

“There’s nothing we can’t resolve. We just need some time,” she said, adding that the European Commission hopes to complete negotiations with the region by 2009.

EU Talks Advancing

The fourth round of negotiations, which took place July 14-18 in Brussels, saw advances in aid, security and environmental issues, according to Mosca.

The European Commission’s political attaché to the region, Nicolas Bulte, said the EU is interested in seeing that Central America cracks down on illegal logging and making its exotic-wood export industry more sustainable.

Bulte and Mosca both skirted reporter questions about how Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s alleged ties to Colombia’s largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), might affect negotiations with the EU, considering the European community considers FARC a terrorist group.

“We’ve talked about a terrorism clause, and there’s no big difference between both regions,” Mosca said, adding that the negotiations don’t directly address specific current events but rather establish a framework to address future issues between the two regions.

With its association agreement, the European Union seeks to create a framework of cooperation to deepen political, commercial and security ties with Central America, as well as to encourage integration between Central American countries.


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