United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan says Europe needs immigrants to insure a prosperous future and should stop using immigrants as a scapegoat for its social ills. Mr. Annan addressed the European Parliament in Brussels after receiving the European Union's top human rights award in memory of all U.N. staff killed or injured in the line of duty.
Mr. Annan made an impassioned plea for greater European tolerance towards immigrants at a time when European Union member states are seeking to tighten their immigration controls.
The moves come as EU governments try to limit the appeal of far-right political parties that have accused immigrants and asylum-seekers of being responsible for rising crime and of living off of public funds.
The U.N. secretary-general reminded members of the European Parliament that Europe's birth rates are falling and that the continent needs immigrants to fill jobs, spur the economy, and insure a better future.
"Migrants are part of the solution, not part of the problem. They should not be made scapegoats for a vast array of social ills. Migrants need Europe, but Europe needs migrants," said Mr. Annan. "A closed Europe would be a meaner, poorer, weaker, older Europe."
EU countries have been trying to harmonize their immigration policies, but their emphasis has been on restricting access rather than opening the door to more immigrants.
Mr. Annan urged Europeans to show understanding and tolerance toward immigrants and asylum-seekers, and to fight false stereotypes of migrants.
"The public has been fed images of a flood of unwelcome entrants and of threats to their societies and identities," he said. "In the process, immigrants have sometimes been stigmatized, vilified, even dehumanized. They don't want a free ride. They want a fair opportunity. They are not criminals or terrorists. They don't want to live apart. They want to integrate while retaining their identity."
The secretary-general said attempts by EU members to curb legal immigration have forced migrants into the hands of unscrupulous traffickers and abusive employers.
"This silent human rights crisis shames our world," continued Mr. Annan. "It also generates billions of dollars for shadowy networks of organized criminals. It is the sovereign right of all states to decide which voluntary migrants they will accept, and on what terms. But we cannot simply close our doors or shut our eyes to this human tragedy."
Mr. Annan was awarded the annual Sakharov Prize on behalf of his late envoy to Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, and other U.N. workers who have been killed or injured in the line of duty. Mr. Vieira de Mello was killed in the bombing of the U.N. building in Baghdad last year. The prize is named for the late Soviet physicist and human rights advocate Andrei Sakharov.