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Blocher opens global migration conference

Delegates will be discussing how to manage the flow of migrants Keystone

Justice Minister Christoph Blocher, an advocate of tougher asylum laws in Switzerland, has addressed a Swiss-hosted conference on migration policy.

This content was published on December 15, 2004 - 18:19

The two-day event, which ended on Friday, tracked progress made since the launch of the so-called Bern Initiative in 2001.

The non-binding initiative seeks to identify “common interests” for countries affected by the flow of migrants around the world.

It covers issues such as the human rights of migrants, integration, illegal immigration and human trafficking.

According to the United Nations, the number of migrants has doubled since 1965 to reach 175 million.

“The aim of the Bern Initiative is to improve the way countries manage migration at a regional and global level,” said Eduard Gnesa, director of the Federal Office for Immigration, Integration and Emigration and chairman of the conference.

“This can be achieved if governments cooperate in planning and managing the movement of people in a humane and orderly way,” he told swissinfo.

Global debate

Representatives from around 120 countries took part in the conference, which was held in the Swiss capital, Bern.

Delegates agreed on the text of an International Agenda for Migration Management, billed as the first serious attempt to outline “in a comprehensive manner all major aspects of migration”.

“This agenda is designed to assist governments in developing effective ways of cooperating in the field of migration, while fully respecting the sovereignty of individual countries,” said Gnesa.

“The aim is not to [try and enforce] a huge international treaty. It’s not up to Switzerland to come up with a legally-binding accord on migration for other countries to sign.”

The Swiss government, which officially endorsed the Bern Initiative in 2003, hopes the agenda will form the framework for a set of international guidelines regulating immigration and emigration.

Currently the only global treaty dealing with the movement of people is the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.

The Agenda for Migration Management is to be submitted to the Geneva-based Global Commission on International Migration, which is due to submit its own report to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan before the end of next year.

Reorganisation

This week’s conference comes less than a month before Gnesa begins work as head of the new Federal Migration Office. The bureau will replace two existing government agencies: the Federal Office for Immigration, Integration and Emigration and the Federal Refugee Office.

The meeting is also being held just over a year after Blocher, a member of the rightwing Swiss People’s Party, took up office as Swiss justice minister.

Since joining the government, Blocher has made no secret of his desire to clamp down on illegal immigration and enforce a more restrictive asylum policy.

He has proposed setting up refugee camps abroad as a way of stemming the flow of asylum seekers into the country and earlier this year commissioned a report which warned that illegal immigrants were increasingly becoming involved in crime and the black economy.

The study, which was widely condemned by refugee support groups, outlined a series of measures designed to stem the flow of illegal immigrants.

Proposals contained in the report include the introduction of biometric databases for asylum seekers, tighter controls at border points and tougher checks for passengers on flights bound for Switzerland.

swissinfo, Ramsey Zarifeh

Key facts

The Bern Initiative was launched by the Swiss government at the International Symposium on Migration in 2001.
The aim of the agreement is to improve international coordination of migration policy.
According to the United Nations, there were 175 million international migrants in 2000 – double the number recorded in 1965.

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