Shukri Sindi still remembers the time when, in the dead of a moonless Iraqi night, he and his nine siblings struggled into their clothes and left home for the Turkish border.
Home was the town of Zakho in Iraq, where the Sindis lived along with several Christian and Muslim families.
But the Sindis were Kurds, and as the rumors of Kurdish civilians being gassed grew stronger and more urgent, the Sindis fled to a refugee camp in Turkey where the next few years were spent in wretched conditions.
In 1994, the Sindis were allowed to emigrate to the United States where Shukri is now pursuing a career in architecture after spending years in a camp where a pencil and paper were luxuries. The family has now saved enough to buy a home.
Sindi is one of millions fleeing economic and political oppression around the world.
Europe has seen one of the most dramatic increases in illegal immigrants and people seeking asylum. British authorities say 61 illegal immigrants were caught trying to enter the country in 1991. That number jumped to 16,000 last year.
Based on arrests and asylum applications across Europe, governments estimate some 700,000 people a year are using clandestine means to enter Western Europe.
Refugees from Iraq, China, Bangladesh, Nepal and India are increasingly making their way to Europe. The new wave of immigration hitting Europe in recent years is often fueled by a multibillion-dollar-a-year business of human traffickers.
In June, British customs officials found the bodies of 58 Chinese who had died of suffocation in the back of a truck on a cross-Channel ferry from Belgium to Dover.
The 58 Chinese immigrants were the cargo of the Snakeheads, a Chinese criminal group that offers to take villagers to the West — for a price — and once they have reached their destinations, often put them to work in sweatshops.
The Snakeheads is just one of the many Mafia groups, syndicates, scafistas and gangs grabbing a piece of the thriving trade, estimated to be $20 billion a year by Britain’s National Criminal Intelligence Service.
While Europe has seen a spiraling of the number of asylum-seekers arriving at its doors in recent years, the United States, long the destination of the world’s hungry, huddled masses, has actually seen a decline in the number of people seeking political asylum.
In 1993 for instance, the Immigration and Naturalization Service received 127,129 applications for political asylum, 15 percent of which, were approved. In contrast, 1999 saw 41,377 applications and the approval rate was 38 percent.
U.S. Tightens Asylum Policy
Bill Strassberger, an INS spokesman, puts the declining numbers of political asylum applications coupled with increasing approval rates, down to reform in asylum legislation.
In 1995, the INS established an Asylum Officer’s Corps to handle political asylum cases ‘expeditiously.’ Before this, cases were handled by adjudicators, a process often lasting years, due to severe backlogs. Applicants received employment authorization permits to tide them over the waiting period.
Under the new system, work permits are only given if the process stretches over six months. A beefed up Asylum Officer Corps now says cases filed after 1995 typically take around two months to process, effectively blocking the work permit carrot the INS believed was the cause of numerous fraudulent applications.