No Oil for Europe! South American Leaders Protest EU Immigration Rules

A new set of rules for illegal immigrants passed by the EU has upset human rights groups as well as leaders in South America. Hugo Chavez has even made a hollow threat to sell no oil to Europe. Behind the bluster lie legitimate concerns about long detentions for undocumented workers.

Most undocumented migrants to Europe set sail from Africa, but Latin American leaders have declared solidarity.

Most undocumented migrants to Europe set sail from Africa, but Latin American leaders have declared solidarity.

To protest new EU restrictions on illegal immigrants, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez threatened on Thursday to shut off oil exports to Europe -- although Venezuela sells no oil to Europe.

"Our petroleum should not go to these European countries" that apply the new regulations, he said at a press conference in Caracas.

The EU parliament in Strasbourg passed a controversial new "directive" on Wednesday which says that illegal immigrants to Europe can be held up to six months in detention camps, or up to 18 months in extraordinary cases. The rules would come into force in 2010.

Right now detention guidelines vary widely in Europe, from 30 days in France to indefinite periods in Britain.

The so-called "return directive" -- meant to harmonize immigration laws across the EU -- also says member states will have to choose between issuing residency or other permits to immigrants caught without them, or sending the immigrants home.

Those denied residency would also face a choice: Go home voluntarily, or face deportation. Anyone deported could be banned from the EU for five years.

'An Extremely Bad Example'

The United Nations is against the new rules for their lack of "protection of individuals' rights who are in a very vulnerable situation," according to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour.

Amnesty International said the long detention period and five-year re-entry ban could lower "standards" for the treatment of immigrants. A statement by the human-rights group said the EU directive "sets an extremely bad example to other regions in the world."

But other Latin American leaders pounced on the rules with as much gusto and bluster as Chavez. Bolivian President Evo Morales wrote an open letter to the European Parliament on Wednesday, calling the detention centers in Europe "concentration camps." Ecuador's President Rafael Correa also slammed the directive, calling it "shameful."

About 300,000 illegal migrants to Europe are caught on EU borders every year, according to the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society at Oxford University. Many come from Latin America, but more make treacherous boat crossings from northern Africa.

The new measures will form the backbone of a new EU "immigration pact" which France would like to introduce in July when it assumes the Union's rotating six-month presidency.



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