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Four EU states urge stiffer steps on immigrant fraud

(BERLIN) - Austria, Britain, Germany and the Netherlands have called for the EU to step up measures to combat the fraud or abuse of welfare systems by immigrants, according to a letter seen by AFP Thursday.

The four European Union members argue that an inability to enforce immigration rules because the sanctions are ineffective is shaking host countries' confidence in the right to free movement.

They call for talks on sanctions to include expulsion and a ban on re-entry "for appropriate periods".

"It is true, for example, that persons who have acted fraudulently or abused the provisions governing the freedom of movement may generally be expelled," the letter states.

"The way the provisions are construed now, however, means that they may not be subject to a ban on re-entry at the same time.

"In fact, those who have actually been expelled because of fraud or document forgery cannot be stopped from re-entering the country virtually the next day," it said.

The letter, signed by ministers from the four countries and addressed to the EU's Irish presidency, urges the issue to be discussed at a justice and home affairs meeting in June.

The ministers voice a commitment to the European right to the freedom of movement but warned that the right was not "unconditional".

Some towns and cities in EU member countries face a "considerable strain" by "certain immigrants" who "avail themselves of the opportunities" offered by the freedom of movement without meeting the requirements, the letter states.

As well as presenting the host country with additional costs from schooling, health care and accommodation, the four ministers voiced concern about a burden on social welfare systems.

They also warned it could "threaten the acceptance of the European idea of solidarity, particularly if and when new immigrants seek the right to reside in another member state through fraud or the systematic abuse of the right to free movement".

Legal as well as financial steps should be taken to battle it, they argued, urging countries of origin to ensure EU funding for improving living conditions is used to help potential immigrants.

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