Anywhere but home: An Afghan child labourer in Iran dreams of life in Sweden

The Guardian reports: Mohammad, 14, is an Afghan immigrant who recently joined the flow of refugees arriving in the holding centre for unaccompanied minors on the Greek island of Lesvos.

Leaving his parents behind in Iran, he crossed the Aegean Sea on an overcrowded rubber dinghy with 38 other passengers. Mohammad describes the nighttime crossing as the scariest moment in his life. But he would not allow himself to cry. Unlike the other children on the boat, his parents were not there to comfort him. He “needed to be brave” and “be a man,” he says. His family’s decision to send their eldest son on an uncertain journey to Europe was a difficult one – but it was the most promising option compared to returning to his homeland or staying in Iran.

Afghans account for the largest proportion of unaccompanied minors arriving in Lesvos. Over one-third of the 2,248 minors that passed through Lesvos last year hail from Afghanistan, according the Greek NGO Metadrasi.

Most Afghans fleeing war and economic strife in their homeland have spent time in Iran, which has hosted the second-largest population of Afghan refugees for over 30 years. But worsening living conditions in Iran are forcing young migrants like Mohammad to leave even their temporary homeland in search of yet another one.

An estimated 2.3-3 million Afghans now live inside Iran, of whom 800,000 are children. The first wave of Afghan refugees arrived in Iran following the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and subsequent civil war. They had access to public education and opportunities to work. Some 97% of Afghans lived outside refugee camps, and were integrated into urban communities.

Since the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan and the fall of the Taliban, Iran began instituting increasingly restrictive laws on Afghans, including bureaucratic hurdles, limitations on movement, deportation of minors and separation of families, and reduced access to education. [Continue reading…]


Turkey’s Erdogan reported to have threatened to flood Europe with migrants

Reuters reports: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan threatened in November to flood Europe with migrants if European Union leaders did not offer him a better deal to help manage the Middle East refugee crisis, a Greek news website said on Monday.

Publishing what it said were minutes of a tense meeting last November, the financial news website revealed deep mutual irritation and distrust in talks between Erdogan and the EU’s two top officials, Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk.

The EU officials were trying to enlist Ankara’s help in stemming an influx of Syrian refugees and migrants into Europe. Over a million arrived last year, most crossing the narrow sea gap between Turkey and islands belonging to EU member Greece.

Tusk’s European Council and Juncker’s European Commission declined to confirm or deny the authenticity of the document, and Erdogan’s office in Ankara had no immediate comment.

The account of the meeting, in English, was produced in facsimile on the website. It does not state when or where the meeting took place, but it appears to have been on Nov. 16 in Antalya, Turkey, where the three met after a G20 summit there. [Continue reading…]


Will Germany give up on European integration?

Ivan Krastev writes: The millions of people storming the borders of the European Union today are right to believe that migration is the best revolution. It is a revolution of the individual, not the masses. The European Union is more attractive than any 20th-century utopia, for the simple reason that it exists. But as it looks today, the migrants’ revolution could easily inspire a counterrevolution in Europe.

The myriad acts of solidarity toward refugees fleeing war and persecution that we saw months ago are today overshadowed by their inverse: a raging anxiety that these same foreigners will compromise Europe’s welfare model and historic culture. Cellphone images of foreign-looking men attacking and abusing German women during New Year’s in Cologne crystallized the fear that liberal governments are too weak and confused to defend Europe, and that the situation with migration is spiraling out of control.

Even before Cologne, a majority of Germans had started to doubt that their country could integrate those hundreds of thousands of Syrians, Afghans and others who have arrived in the last year. Chancellor Angela Merkel, who until recently was the symbol of the European Union’s self-confidence and resilience, is now portrayed as a Gorbachev-like figure, noble but naïve, somebody whose “Wir shaffen es” — “We can do it” — policy has put Europe at risk.

But it is not only the refugees who have arrived, and those on the way, that keep Berlin’s government on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Germany has a second, less discussed but no less disturbing integration problem: European integration itself. [Continue reading…]


Attackers torch refugee center in Prague

The Associated Press reports: Czech police say unknown attackers have set a refugee center on fire in the Czech capital of Prague, injuring one person.

Spokeswoman Iveta Martinkova says about 20 people attacked the Klinika center in Prague’s No. 3 district with Molotov cocktails Saturday about 7:30 p.m. She says it’s not clear who was behind the attack and police are investigating.

The attack took place just hours after thousands of people rallied in Prague against Muslims and immigration. [Continue reading…]


A New Deal for Europe

Thomas Piketty writes: The far right has surged in just a few years from 15 percent to 30 percent of the vote in France, and now has the support of up to 40 percent in a number of districts. Many factors conspired to produce this result: rising unemployment and xenophobia, a deep disappointment over the left’s record in running the government, the feeling that we’ve tried everything and it’s time to experiment with something new. These are the consequences of the disastrous handling of the financial meltdown that began in the United States in 2008, a meltdown that we in Europe transformed by our own actions into a lasting European crisis. The blame for that belongs to institutions and policies that proved wholly inadequate, particularly in the eurozone, consisting of nineteen countries. We have a single currency with nineteen different public debts, nineteen interest rates upon which the financial markets are completely free to speculate, nineteen corporate tax rates in unbridled competition with one another, without a common social safety net or shared educational standards—this cannot possibly work, and never will.

Only a genuine social and democratic refounding of the eurozone, designed to encourage growth and employment, arrayed around a small core of countries willing to lead by example and develop their own new political institutions, will be sufficient to counter the hateful nationalistic impulses that now threaten all Europe. Last summer, in the aftermath of the Greek fiasco, French President François Hollande had begun to revive on his own initiative the idea of a new parliament for the eurozone. Now France must present a specific proposal for such a parliament to its leading partners and reach a compromise. Otherwise the agenda is going to be monopolized by the countries that have opted for national isolationism—the United Kingdom and Poland among them. [Continue reading…]


The West must stop giving Turkey a free pass

Behlul Ozkan writes: Last month, more than 1,200 Turkish and foreign academics signed a petition calling attention to the continuing humanitarian crisis in many Kurdish-majority towns in southeastern Turkey, which are the site of fighting between the Turkish Army and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K. The petition decried the Army’s shelling of urban areas and the imposition of weekslong, 24-hour curfews, which have left many civilians unable to bury their dead or even obtain food. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan publicly denounced the signers as “so-called intellectuals” and “traitors.” Within days, antiterror police had detained and harassed dozens of the signatories.

Mr. Erdogan’s actions shouldn’t have been surprising. The president has a history of jailing journalists and cracking down on media companies critical of his policies. And yet this time the response from his supporters was exceptionally chilling: A pro-Erdogan organized crime boss proclaimed, “We will take a shower in your blood,” while the office doors of some of the academics were ominously marked with red crosses.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who as a former academic might have been expected to come to his colleagues’ defense, announced that he “did not regard the petition as falling under the rubric of free speech.” He then set out on a trip to several European countries in order to encourage foreign investment in Turkey’s foundering economy. In Britain and Germany, Mr. Davutoglu received a warm welcome from Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor Angela Merkel. The European Union’s response to the latest crackdown on dissent in Turkey amounted to little more than a statement calling the persecution of the academics “extremely worrying.”

Many prominent Western academics and non-governmental organizations have been vocal in censuring the persecution suffered by their Turkish counterparts. The European Union’s lack of action on Turkey’s crackdown on academic freedom and human rights would therefore be inexplicable but for one crucial detail: As the European Union faces its largest refugee crisis since World War II, the 2.5 million Syrians currently in Turkey are a huge bargaining chip for Ankara. Europe’s leaders are well aware of this. [Continue reading…]


Russia’s manipulation of Germany’s refugee problems

Judy Dempsey writes: Russia’s propaganda machine—which went full blast against members of the Ukrainian government during the Ukraine crisis, labeling them fascists and anti-Semites—is in full swing again. This time, the target is Germany, once considered Russia’s closest ally in Europe.

Ever since Chancellor Angela Merkel declared her intention to allow refugees from Syria to enter Germany, the Russian media have been reporting every twist and turn of the opposition that is building up in her conservative bloc and among sections of the German public to her open-door refugee policy.

But in recent days, the Russian state media, joined by none other than Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, have taken a different turn. They are tapping into Germany’s community of 1.2 million ethnic Russians to criticize Merkel’s policies and boost those who are unequivocally against Germany taking in refugees. The community is known for its conservative if not xenophobic views, as witnessed during demonstrations by Germany’s anti-Islam Pegida movement, in which ethnic Russians participate.

Now, Russia may be using Germany’s Russian-speaking community to create further opposition to Merkel, similar to the way it tries to instrumentalize the ethnic Russian communities in the Baltic states. Merkel is an easy target, certainly for many Russians living in Germany and for Russians back home. To the surprise and annoyance of the Kremlin, Merkel has managed to keep the EU united over maintaining sanctions on Russia after it annexed Crimea in March 2014 and subsequently invaded eastern Ukraine. [Continue reading…]


U.S. fortifying Europe’s east to deter Putin

The New York Times reports: President Obama plans to substantially increase the deployment of heavy weapons, armored vehicles and other equipment to NATO countries in Central and Eastern Europe, a move that administration officials said was aimed at deterring Russia from further aggression in the region.

The White House plans to pay for the additional weapons and equipment with a budget request of more than $3.4 billion for military spending in Europe in 2017, several officials said Monday, more than quadrupling the current budget of $789 million. The weapons and equipment will be used by American and NATO forces, ensuring that the alliance can maintain a full armored combat brigade in the region at all times.

Though Russia’s military activity has quieted in eastern Ukraine in recent months, Moscow continues to maintain a presence there, working with pro-Russian local forces. Administration officials said the additional NATO forces were calculated to send a signal to President Vladimir V. Putin that the West remained deeply suspicious of his motives in the region.

“This is not a response to something that happened last Tuesday,” a senior administration official said. “This is a longer-term response to a changed security environment in Europe. This reflects a new situation, where Russia has become a more difficult actor.” [Continue reading…]


Fear and paranoia lead Finns to form vigilante groups that ‘protect women’ from asylum seekers

The Washington Post reports: On a frigid night in this industrial city, three local men pulled up to a curb in a beat-up van sporting the stars and bars of the American Confederacy (because, they said, they just liked the look of it). Soon, they joined a dozen other beefy vigilantes gathering on a sidewalk for their first patrol to keep “our women” safe.

These are the Soldiers of Odin, a new far-right citizens group sprouting chapters across Finland. Its members are multiplying as this northern nation becomes a case study in the fear and suspicion gripping Europe after multiple sexual assaults allegedly committed by asylum seekers and others on New Year’s Eve.

Those incidents, in cities across central and northern Europe, included hundreds of complaints of sexual harassment in Cologne, Germany, as well as 15 alleged sex-related crimes in the Finnish capital, Helsinki. They have quickly altered the debate over a record wave of asylum seekers arriving in Europe from the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Fresh barriers to new migrants are going up from Sweden to Greece. [Continue reading…]


Britain is distracted while Europe faces an existential crisis

By Clara Sandelind, University of Huddersfield

Europe is undergoing an existential crisis. Whatever the eurozone hasn’t already managed to break is well on the way to being destroyed by the refugee crisis.

The Schengen agreement of open borders has more or less vanished, at least for now. The Dublin regulation, aimed at supporting asylum seekers, is hardly being upheld. The burden-sharing schemes that were agreed last year to distribute refugees more evenly over Europe are failing to come to fruition.

Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, warned earlier this year that the EU has two months to get the refugee crisis under control, or the whole EU project will be in question.

[Read more…]


Masked men in Stockholm threaten to ‘punish’ refugee children

The Guardian reports: A gang of masked men have been detained in Stockholm after distributing leaflets threatening to punish “north African street children roaming” the Swedish capital.

Police said one man had been charged with assaulting a police officer and the others had been charged with wearing a mask in public, which is illegal in Sweden, and for causing a public disturbance.

A police spokesman told local media the men detained were believed to have gathered “with the purpose of attacking refugee children”.

According to the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet, up to 100 masked men marched into central Stockholm on Friday to hand out leaflets carrying the message “It’s enough now” and threatening to give the “north African street children who are roaming around” the “punishment they deserve”.

This week an employee at a refugee centre for unaccompanied youths in Mölndal, near Gothenburg, was fatally stabbed, allegedly by a young man living at the centre.

The killing of Alexandra Mezher, 22, has led to questions about overcrowded conditions in some refugee centres, with too few adults and employees to take care of children, many of whom are traumatised by war. [Continue reading…]


10 children among the dead as refugee boat capsizes off Turkey

The New York Times reports: One photo showed a small boy, perhaps 3 years old, dressed for a mild winter — dark blue pants and coat, a sky blue sweater for extra protection. The grown-up who had dressed him for the journey — barely five miles across the Aegean Sea — had cared enough to put on matching socks, with little blue cars. The boy was lying face up on the rocks. A winter hat, sky blue with a white pom-pom, covered his lifeless face.

The little boy was among 37 people — most of them believed to be Syrians fleeing war and trying to reach European shores — who died when their boat capsized on Saturday and washed up on the rocky shoals of the Turkish coast. At least 10 children died in the accident, according to reports from The Associated Press, which came as the rival parties in Syria were in Geneva, squabbling over the terms of sitting down for peace talks.

Another photo showed a Turkish rescue worker carrying a child, slightly older, maybe old enough to be in first grade. He was wearing jeans and a red life jacket. His eyes appeared to be half open, staring at the rescue worker who was putting him into a body bag. [Continue reading…]


Greece resists role as European Union’s gatekeeper

The New York Times reports: On a recent weekday, 40 buses jammed into the parking lot of a gas station near the Macedonian border, carrying thousands of refugees who had survived a perilous crossing on wintry seas from Turkey.

Now they were approaching ground zero in the intensifying debate over how to curb the unceasing stream of men, women and children from war-ravaged and poor nations in the Middle East and Africa heading to the safety and prosperity of Europe.

After trying and largely failing to persuade Turkey to stem the flow, Europe has reached a critical point in the migrant crisis. With few options left, short of halting the war in Syria, much of the Continent is coalescing around proposals that would harden the border with Macedonia and effectively turn Greece into a giant processing center for migrants.

At the border crossing here — one of the busiest gateways for migrants on the path north and the site of occasional violence between the authorities and frustrated migrants — Greece has played that filtering role to some degree for months. In theory, Greece is allowing only Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans to continue toward their preferred destinations in Germany and Austria. [Continue reading…]


How the politics of fear and the crushing of civil society imperil global rights

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Kenneth Roth writes: Fear stood behind many of the big human rights developments of the past year. Fear of being killed or tortured in Syria and other zones of conflict and repression drove millions from their homes. Fear of what an influx of asylum seekers could mean for their societies led many governments in Europe and elsewhere to close the gates. Fear of mounting terrorist attacks moved some political leaders to curtail rights and scapegoat refugees or Muslims. And fear of their people holding them to account led various autocrats to pursue an unprecedented global crackdown on the ability of those people to band together and make their voices heard.

In Europe and the United States, a polarizing us-versus-them rhetoric has moved from the political fringe to the mainstream. Blatant Islamophobia and shameless demonizing of refugees have become the currency of an increasingly assertive politics of intolerance.

These trends threatened human rights in two ways, one well known, the other less visible. The high-profile threat is a rollback of rights by many governments in the face of the refugee flow and the parallel decision by the self-declared Islamic State, or ISIS, to spread its attacks beyond the Middle East. The less visible threat is the effort by a growing number of authoritarian governments to restrict civil society, particularly the civic groups that monitor and speak out about those governments’ conduct. [Continue reading…]


Danish migration law: A sign of things to come?