The European Union is debating whether to adopt new restrictions against asylum shoppers, those seeking refugee status in countries where asylum rules are considered softer.  The proposal reflects a broader European trend toward tougher immigration and asylum policies.

The proposal to curb so-called asylum shopping is being sponsored by EU Commissioner Franco Frattini.  European commissioners debated this proposal in Brussels, as part of a larger effort to craft a common European asylum policy.

Across Europe, countries are adopting tougher asylum restrictions.  Advocates say they carefully screen applications by would-be refugees, but existing rules are subject to abuse.  Critics say the 25-member bloc is closing its borders to people needing refuge.

A new report by Amnesty International takes a number of European countries to task - including Malta, Italy, Greece and Spain - for allegedly expelling asylum seekers before considering their claims.

"Paradoxically, even as it becomes increasingly difficult to seek asylum in Europe, the number of asylum applicants is also dwindling," says says Daphne Bouteillet, a European immigration expert at Amnesty International, in Brussels. She points out that roughly 250,000 people sought refugee status in Europe last year, about half the amount of five years ago.

The issue of asylum has been particularly controversial in The Netherlands after its immigration minister rescinded the nationality of controversial lawmaker Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somalian who also has strict views about immigrants. 

Hirsi Ali was accused of offering a false story more than a decade ago, to support her asylum application in The Netherlands.  She argues her claims were justified.

Along with asylum, European countries are also adopting tougher immigration restrictions.  On Tuesday, the European Union agreed to offer planes, patrol boats and other support for Spain's effort to stem a flood of illegal immigrants from Africa.