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Illegal Immigration Spike Expected in Europe

Europe is bracing for an increase in illegal immigration as the financial crisis continues. As unemployment rises, some countries look to restrict visas, which could push more people to enter Europe illegally.

African immigrants wait on the beach after they were intercepted while trying to reach the Canary Islands

Experts warn that restricting work visas will increase illegal immigration

Spain's building boom drew Africans to the southern European country by the hundreds of thousands in recent years. Many of these workers were the first to be laid off when Spain's real estate market cooled earlier this year.

Spain, a country which welcomed 1 million immigrants in 2007, now finds itself with 11.3 percent unemployment, the euro zone's highest. This has lead Spain to slam the door on further immigration with laws aimed at cutting the number of work permits, restricting family reunion visas, and offering money to unemployed foreigners to go home.

Spain is not alone in grappling with how to deal with migrant workers. The International Labor Organization predicts that 20 million jobs will disappear worldwide by the end of next year. Countries across Europe are considering more restrictive immigration measures.

Europe warns against ejecting workers

Yet simply sending workers home won't help the situation, the United Nations has warned. It will simply decrease the number of legal immigrants and increase the number of illegal immigration.

To try and prevent that, the European Union launched a 15 million euro ($18.70 million) initiative on Tuesday, Oct. 28 together with the UN to try and protect migrant workers during the current economic crisis. The program was launched on the sidelines of the Global Forum on Migration and Development in Manila.

Turkish man sits at computer in Berlin

Many people migrate looking for job opportunities

Rich countries should not try to restrict migration from poor countries, even during the economic slowdown, Peter Sutherland, the UN secretary general's special representative on migration, warned.

"We've seen how ineffective simple prohibition policies in regard to migration actually are," he said. "They don't really work. Migrants migrate. They will find a way, one way or another to do it."

The number of migrants in the world is now estimated to be 40 million, 25 percent of whom are illegal, with the United States having the most migrants, according to Sharan Burrow, president of the International Trade Union Confederation.

"Our fear is that those numbers will increase," Burrow said at the opening of the four-day migration forum in Manila.

Britain looks to tighten immigration

Rising unemployment in the UK means that the country needs to consider restricting immigration, British Immigration Minister Phil Woolas recently told The Times newspaper.

"If people are being made unemployed, the question of immigration becomes extremely thorny...It's been too easy to get into this country in the past and it's going to get harder," Woolas said.

Many European migrants from new EU member countries have come to Britain in the past four years. But there are some signs that many are heading home as the crisis hits, Reuters recently reported.

The British government has considerred immigration reform which would have put into place an Australian-style point system to let in highly-skilled workers but restrict access for unskilled migrants.

Europe remains under pressure

A polish worker at a construction site

Many Polish workers have headed West in search of work

While officias say that they have not yet seen numbers of illegal immigrants spike globally, there are signs that European countries continue to be under pressure from illegal immigrants.

On Monday, about 400 illegal immigrants were detained by Italians as they tried to land on the Italian island of Lampedusa.

An additional 280 illegal immigrants had made landfall on the island over the weekend, according to the coast guard. There has been a sharp increase in the number of people trying to enter Italy by sea, according to figures from the interior ministry, which so far this year totals 23,600. AFP news agency puts the number of immigrants who have tried to reach Italy in October at 2,800.

In Greece,10,000 would-be immigrants have been arrested trying to enter the country illegally during the first nine months of this year, compared to 9,240 last year, according to AFP.

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