SCMP Thursday, June 22, 2000

EUROPE TODAY

Austria, Italy weak links in stopping illegal entries

MICHAEL LEIDIG


In terms of border security, Italy and Austria remain the weak links in the European Union's (EU's) fight against illegal immigration.

Both are situated on the edges of eastern Europe, the penultimate stop for many refugees from Asia, not to mention the thousands of east Europeans who aim to seek a better life in the West.

Italy, with its long coastline, is particularly vulnerable to penetration from the sea - a dangerous and risky venture as was tragically illustrated last November, when 14 stowaways from countries including Iraq and Albania died of asphyxiation on a ferry heading to Italy.

And the sight of hundreds of small boats making for Italian shores following every crisis in Albania over the past decade has left many EU policy-makers wonder whether the tide can ever be stemmed.

Austria, too, has been seen as a problem country. Despite using the latest technology at its borders, the sheer volume attempting to cross has made it impossible for the authorities to stop illegal immigration completely. Large foreign communities - from the former Yugoslavia, Romania and Russia - mean it is easy for newcomers to hide once they are in.

Both Italy and Austria are following a two-pronged approach in dealing with the problem: offering more legal job opportunities for foreigners while tightening the borders as much as possible.

Increasing the number of immigrants working legally puts the squeeze on black-market labour. Tighter controls and workplace inspections make the real illegal immigrants harder to find, according to Constantin Goescher, a migration expert at Berlin's Humboldt University. "These countries have no other choice but to allow more of their own pools of immigrants to work. The fact that they are afraid of losing their status also means they are less likely to help others find work illegally," Mr Goescher said.

Austria announced last week it was considering allowing spouses of immigrants the chance to work legally, a decision helped by the steady economic situation. While Austria will soon gain a further belt of protection as the EU'S borders move east, Italy is likely to remain a tempting target for immigrants daring enough to risk the waters of the Adriatic.