EU countries agree on common immigration rules

June 6th, 2008 - 8:13 am ICT by IANS  

Luxembourg, June 6 (DPA) European Union governments agreed Thursday on a long-awaited common set of rules governing the deportation of illegal immigrants and limiting their maximum detention period to 18 months. At a meeting in Luxembourg, EU interior ministers also stepped up cooperation in the fight against terrorism, agreed to provide airline passenger data to Australia and contemplated setting up an electronic travel authorization system similar to the one being introduced by the US.

Officials said the Return Directive on illegal immigrants approved by ministers will provide “clear, transparent and fair common rules” and will fully respect their human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The agreement capped three years of wrangling among member states, but it must now be endorsed by the European Parliament in a vote scheduled to take place on June 18.

The directive limits to six months the period over which EU member states can detain illegal immigrants.

But the decision to allow this limit to be extended by a further 12 month if a detainee refuses to cooperate has been strongly criticized by civil rights groups.

Commissioner Jacques Barrot, the EU’s top justice official, said such extensions would only be allowed in “exceptional” circumstances.

He also noted that as many as nine EU member states currently set no detention limits at all.

The directive also regulates the deportation of illegal migrants to their country of origin, grants them free legal aid and clarifies rules on the access by non-governmental organizations to EU detention centres.

Once expelled, illegal immigrants would not be allowed back into the EU for five years. Such rules do not affect asylum seekers.

On the security front, ministers agreed to work closer together to protect sensitive targets such as gas pipes or bridges from a possible terrorist attack and approved a series of technical measures designed to share information about criminals, including their DNA profiles.

Officials also reviewed the impact of an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), which is to come into force in January and will have to be compiled by European visitors to the United States who currently do not require a visa.

Some member states had expressed reservations about the ESTA, but EU officials said they had been assured by their American counterparts that the new system would not require visitors to provide any more information than they already provide in paper form.

Ministers also agreed to provide passenger name records (PNR) of European visitors to Australia.

The EU has already agreed to provide PNR data to the US, a request submitted in the aftermath of the Sep 11 terrorist attacks, and is considering asking other countries to do the same with their visitors to Europe.

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