Asylum and immigration are truly pan-European issues. Most EU states cut back on primary immigration in the 1970s, but are now affected by the rise in asylum-seekers. Given the EU's ageing population, is a return to selective immigration inevitable?by Ben Hall / June 20, 2000 / Leave a comment
Europe’s history has been shaped by migration. For centuries, merchants, craftsmen and artists crossed the continent to practice their trades or start new lives. Millions emigrated from Europe, first to the colonies and later to the Americas and the Antipodes. Europe also has a long history of forced migration: from the expulsion of the Jews from Spain to the population shifts in southeast Europe caused by the many wars between the Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires.
Large-scale immigration into western Europe is more recent. From 1960 to 1973, the number of foreign workers in western Europe doubled from 3 to 6 per cent of the workforce. It was highest in places like Britain and France, with relatively open access for citizens of their former colonies; in Germany, too, the number of foreigners (nearly half Turks) rose 4m in the 25 years after 1960, although they seldom became citizens. But primary immigration into Europe-driven by labour needs-all but ended with the oil crisis of 1973. The foreign-born population has continued to grow, not least because most countries still issue tens of thousands of residence permits each year for the purposes of family reunification (nearly 80 per cent of the 58,700 people accepted for permanent settlement in Britain in 1997 were wives and children). EU countries also issue thousands of work permits each year. In Britain in 1997, nearly half of the 54,000 permits went to Americans and Japanese mainly in highly skilled jobs; elsewhere in Europe the permits often go to seasonal farm workers. But the proportion of foreign-born residents in the EU remains low, ranging from 9 per cent in Austria, Belgium and Germany, to under 2 per cent in Spain.
Since the late 1980s, the number of people applying for asylum has increased sharply. In 1984 there were only 104,000 applications in western Europe. This figure grew to 692,000 in 1992 and then declined during much of the 1990s. Numbers grew again to 350,000 in 1998 and about 400,000 in 1999, although this year they have begun to fall away. Thus asylum has become one of the principal means of immigration into the EU.
Why this sudden surge? The end of the cold war lifted the lid on a number of small wars and ethnic conflicts around the world. In this type of warfare, the combatants-regular troops complimented by paramilitaries-often target civilian populations. Many people applying for asylum…