Sunday, February 13, 2011

Italy declares immigration emergency

Italy's government called a humanitarian emergency on Saturday after thousands of asylum-seekers sailed across the Meditarranean from Tunisia, overwhelming authorities on a remote island. "The cabinet today ... has proclaimed a state of humanitarian emergency following the influx of the large number of citizens from North Africa," the government said in a statement.

The statement said that the decision to call an official emergency would enable civil protection officers "to take immediate action needed to control this phenomenon and assist citizens who have fled from North Africa."

In particular, the move will enable the central government to release funds for local authorities in areas which have been inundated by the wave of refugees, most of whom have fled to the tiny island of Lampedusa.

The majority of the asylum-seekers have come from nearby Tunisia, in the wake of the North African country's revolution four weeks ago.

Nearly 3,000 illegal immigrants have landed in Italy since Wednesday, according to a number of sources, including 250 overnight. Most were packed into small fishing boats that were intercepted by coast guards and then taken to Lampedusa where they were given blankets and received medical care after stepping off the boats. Hundreds have had to sleep out in the open at the port because of a lack of facilities on the island, while others were taken to local hotels.

The Italian authorities have organised an airlift and put a ferry into service to take some of the immigrants off Lampedusa, transporting them to identification centres in southern Sicily.

However around a thousand immigrants were still stuck on Lampedusa on Saturday despite the efforts to clear the island.

Italy made a formal request on Friday for aid from the European Union to combat what it warned was a looming humanitarian crisis, saying the EU's justice and home affairs council should meet immediately.

In a joint statement, Interior Minister Roberto Maroni and Foreign Minister Franco Frattini also requested "the immediate deployment of a Frontex mission for patrolling and interception off the Tunisian coast," referring to the EU's border security agency based in Warsaw. [One has to laugh at Frontex being headquartered in Warsaw -- as far away as possible from where most illegal immigration actually occurs -- in the Mediterranean]


Canadian immigration boss accuses courts of undermining immigration system

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is lashing out at the judicial system, accusing judges and lawyers of undermining Canada’s immigration process by indulging spurious refugee cases.

In the text of a speech to the law faculty at the University of Western Ontario in London, Kenney says Federal Court judges are too often second-guessing legitimate policy decisions, working against the reforms legislators have made to improve the system. “If we can’t find a way to reduce the interminable process by which immigration cases creep through the courts, slouching from appeal to appeal, the changes will be of little use and the progress we have made will be for nought,” Kenney said.

In a speech heavy with legal references and stories of refugee claimants playing the Canadian courts for years, at a high cost to taxpayers, Kenney urged the judiciary to be more co-operative.

“We need the judiciary to understand the spirit of what we are trying to do,” he said. “There are serious criminals we have been trying to remove who have been able to delay their deportation through repetitive appeals for almost 20 years.”

Federal courts are flooded with appeals from would-be refugees who are manipulating the system to extend their stay in Canada. But only one per cent of those appeals are successful, Kenney notes. “So it concerns me when I hear that more than half of the cases that come before the Federal Court are immigration- or refugee-related,” he says. “It suggests to me that the integrity of the decisions made by my department is being questioned too often without sufficient justification.”

Both the government and the public are despairing over the ability of unacceptable refugee claimants to take advantage of Canada’s courts, he claimed.

Kenney says the Supreme Court has already told lower-court judges they should defer to a ministerial decision to deport someone — unless it’s obvious the decision was made in bad faith.

He warns that Parliament’s best efforts to design an efficient and fair immigration and refugee system won’t work unless the judiciary starts co-operating. “Even in easy cases, the removal process can be exploited by clever immigration lawyers who know that our courts are too often willing to indulge even the most creative and dubious claims,” he warned.

He accused the courts of “intrusive and heavy-handed” interference in well-reasoned decisions made by officials.

And he said it’s well known that judges will often hand criminals sentences of two years less a day — ensuring they stay in provincial jails, rather than federal — so that the criminals can delay deportation.

Parliament passed a major overhaul of the refugee system last spring, and it is due to come into force in the coming months.

The new system aims to speed the deportation of false refugee claimants, and also help legitimate refugees get their claims accepted more quickly.

Kenney is also hoping to see Parliament agree to a crackdown on human smugglers. But that proposed legislation has been blocked by opposition parties, who say it treats refugee claimants unfairly and would breach the Charter of Rights.


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