- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 3, 2002

LONDON September 11 delivered the final blow to the myth of "fortress Europe" a privileged Western enclave that was once thought of as off-limits to foreigners.
In the months that followed the terrorist attacks on the United States, police broke up cells of al Qaeda terrorists throughout Western Europe. Authorities discovered plots to attack targets ranging from the European Parliament building in Strasbourg, France, to the American Embassy in Rome.
"Those who come to our shores, to receive our hospitality, should adapt to our culture and ways of life, while retaining their own if they wish," said the mass circulation London Daily Mirror in a recent editorial.
"They are welcome so long as they don't abuse that welcome," the newspaper wrote.
Europeans learned that some of the suicide bombers who struck the United States, as well as much of their support network, had studied in Germany. They had canvassed for recruits at radical mosques in Britain, Italy and Spain and openly lived for long periods in Europe while planning attacks on both European and American targets.
Europe had problems with undocumented aliens long before September 11.
For years, migrants from Northern Africa, the Mideast, Eastern Europe and Western Asia have gathered along the French coast facing the Dover cliffs, waiting for a chance to sneak into Britain.
Take the case of Ali Ratilland, 30, a former economics student from Uzbekistan.
He has been on the run across Europe for seven years, he says. He rode trains and trucks and slogged on foot through Turkey, Greece, Italy and France, paying local mafia and people-smugglers to avoid arrest.
"On mountains and all across Europe I've been OK on foot, but now I have no ship and no money," Mr. Ratilland said as he languished last month in Sangatte, an asylum-seekers center in northern France operated by the Red Cross.
He came to Sangatte after hearing that he might be able to cross the 23-mile Channel Tunnel from France to England, where conditions for illegal immigrants are considered far better than on the continent itself.
On his arrival at the camp, smugglers turned him down when they discovered he had only $300. They charged $1,100 per illegal crossing.
On Christmas Day he made a dash for it.
The tunnel is only a couple of miles from the camp, and about 500 desperate people, mainly Iraqi Kurds, figured they could sneak through on foot while guards enjoyed their Christmas lunch and few trains were running.
Most were caught and turned back, but in regular attempts to reach Britain some illegal immigrants die after being struck by trains.
The French courts have refused to order the Sangatte camp's closure, though added security and disruption of train traffic cost the Channel Tunnel owners more than $30 million last year.
The fear of terrorism only adds to the insecurities of many Europeans, who long have clamored for stricter immigration controls.
Enoch Powell, a prominent leader of Britain's Conservative Party, predicted in the early 1960s that "rivers of blood" would flow if immigration was not checked from that nation's former colonies in the Third World. Mr. Powell, forced out of the party leadership as a result, was speaking about those who entered Britain legally often on British colonial imports.
Across Europe, there is a paradoxical belief that immigrants are needed, legal or otherwise, even if they are unwanted.
"To put it crudely, we want immigrants to work during the day and contribute to the growth of our economies, and thus our welfare. But we do not want them to walk the streets of our cities at night," wrote Antonio Polito, European editor of the leading Italian daily La Repubblica.
Apart from terrorism, the rise of Muslim militancy within Europe adds another element of concern.
In the working-class suburbs of Paris, synagogues are being firebombed and Jewish cemeteries desecrated with increasing frequency. Instead of skinheads and neo-Nazis, today's attacks increasingly are blamed on young Arabs who have been radicalized by growing violence in the Middle East and sermons of hate being preached by Muslim clerics at mosques in major European cities.
Against that backdrop, the idea of erecting new fortress walls against unwanted migrants, or of strengthening existing barriers, is increasingly attractive to mainstream voters.
Last week, the Italian Senate approved a tough new immigration bill that includes heavy penalties on illegal immigrants who return after being kicked out of the country and lays out strict procedures for documenting legal "guest workers."
In Switzerland, which holds a referendum today on whether to join the United Nations, a billionaire businessman has financed a huge political campaign urging voters to reject the world body as a threat to traditional Swiss values.
Perhaps nowhere are people as fed up as in Britain.
"The system here is a disaster," said Andrew Geddes, an immigration policy specialist at Liverpool University. "There are too many asylum-seekers and with all the rhetoric here of getting 'fair but tough,' the numbers still increase."
Since 1993, Britain has attempted to revamp its system for approving immigrants and applications for political asylum, but problems persist.
Analysts point out that fears of being swamped by immigrants are greatly exaggerated. In 2000 there were 1,154,000 legal immigrants living in Italy, for example 2 percent of the population plus an estimated 300,000 illegals. In Germany, Austria, France and the Netherlands, the figures are somewhat higher but still not dramatic.
Between 1988 and 1997, the United States admitted nearly twice as many immigrants as all 15 European Union countries combined roughly 9 million compared with 5 million.
Yet it is not the actual numbers of would-be immigrants to Western Europe that cause the greatest concern. In addition to fears of terrorism, surveys show rising worry across Western Europe over personal security and living standards.
A post-September 11 poll of EU countries, the Eurobarometer, showed that more than 86 percent of Europeans fear terrorism, an increase of 12 percentage points from a year ago. And only 16 percent of Europeans expect the economic situation in their countries to improve from last year, a drop of 8 percentage points.
Not long after the September 11 attacks shook many of Europe's own assumptions about security, France played Algeria in a soccer match in Paris. When the French national anthem played, immigrants from Algeria began booing and jeering.
The incident came as a huge shock to the patriotic French, and highlighted the alienation felt by many young Arabs.
Throughout Europe, fringe parties long have appealed to voters with nationalistic, anti-crime and anti-immigrant themes.
Only rarely, as in the case of Austria's Freedom Party under Joerg Haider in elections a year and a half ago, did an anti-immigration party draw enough support to be part of a government. During that campaign, in which Mr. Haider's party polled nearly 30 percent, he blamed immigrants for an austerity budget that trimmed government spending.
Yet in a time of heightened insecurity, the biggest beneficiaries of a conservative shift among European voters do not appear to be the so-called "hard-right" parties, but mainstream conservatives.
In Germany, opposition leader Edmund Stoiber brought his once-ridiculed campaign to parity with the Social Democrat incumbent, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Only a few months ago, Mr. Schroeder was considered a sure bet for re-election.
French President Jacques Chirac may well beat back a challenge from Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin to win another term in elections this spring.
Media mogul Silvio Berlusconi won the election last year in Italy.
Conservatives from Scandinavia to the Netherlands appear to be gaining ground, putting Social Democratic governments throughout Europe on the defensive.
The Dutch government has embarked on a program called "inburgering" (literally "citizen-making"), in which potential immigrants cannot become citizens until they have passed courses in Dutch culture and societal norms.
Britain is following suit. Its recent white paper copies the Dutch and adds even more conditions for citizenship. Applicants will have to prove their proficiency in English and undergo compulsory training in what it means to be a good British subject.
More weight will be attached to the citizenship ceremony, Home Secretary David Blunkett said: " … like in America, without the flag-waving, but swearing an oath of allegiance to the queen and to uphold democratic values and respect human rights."
Even the European Union bureaucracy has begun looking at the task of coming up with a common European policy on immigration and policing its borders.
After September 11, the EU quickly created a common arrest warrant aimed at terrorist suspects, drug smugglers and people traffickers.
Europe still lacks a common computer system at its borders to screen criminals and potential terrorists. But that's now being considered, said Joaquim Nunes d'Almeida, the official in charge of immigration policy at the EU's Brussels headquarters.
"The idea is to reach the level playing field, so the conditions will be the same all around Europe," Mr. d'Almeida said. "We cannot have a sensible discussion with our citizens on welcoming immigrants and refugees until we combat abuse, and we feel our systems are to a large extent abused."


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide