Turkey can’t be Europe’s gatekeeper

Sinan Ulgen writes: Next week, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey will visit Brussels and tell his European Union counterparts that Europe must act decisively if it wants to stop the massive flow of refugees leaving his country and entering the European Union by land and sea. Turkey is willing to help halt the exodus, but the union cannot expect it to do so if European governments offer Turkey little in return.

Unlike Europe, Turkey decided to adopt an open-door policy for refugees at the beginning of the Syrian crisis in 2011. It did so out of humanitarian concern and a misplaced optimism about the weakness of the Assad regime. But now the refugee population in Turkey has grown to approximately two million.

Turkey’s ability and willingness to accept this huge number seems to have lulled European policy makers into complacency. Their vision for dealing with the tragic consequences of the Syrian war has, it seems, been limited to hoping that Turkey will act as an eternal buffer zone for Europe. That is a pipe dream. [Continue reading…]


The terrible flight from the killing

Hugh Eakin writes: It is not quite clear when Europeans woke up to the largest movement of refugees on their soil since the upheavals of World War II, but Sunday, August 16, may have been a decisive turning point. In a television interview that day, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, returning from her summer vacation, said that the European Union’s single greatest challenge was no longer the Greek debt crisis. It was the wave after wave of Syrians and others now trying to enter Europe’s eastern and southern borders. It is “the next major European project,” she said. It “will preoccupy Europe much, much more than…the stability of the euro.”

In the capitals of Western Europe, Merkel’s words seemed to come as a surprise. And yet across a long corridor of countries, from the Anatolian coast to Greece on up to Hungary and Austria, for anyone who cared to notice there were Syrians waiting to pay human smugglers in back alleys of Turkish beach towns. They were clinging, in the darkness, to hopelessly unseaworthy dinghies in the Mediterranean and Aegean seas; crouching in groups, thirsty and sunbaked, in trash-strewn holding areas on the Greek island of Kos; clamoring to get on rusty trains in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia; trudging, in irregular lines, with young children on their shoulders, through the forests of the Serbian–Hungarian border. They were emptying their last savings so they could again pay smugglers to be stuffed into the backs of trucks for a harrowing journey further north to Vienna or even to Munich.

In fact, the new wave had already begun in late spring, when hundreds of thousands of Syrians, Iraqis, and Afghans began crossing from Turkey to Greece and continuing, as best they could, into Central Europe. Though it was little noted at the time, by July, well over a thousand people were arriving every day in the Greek islands closest to Turkey, which were woefully ill-equipped to receive them. [Continue reading…]


Why Croatia is bucking the eastern European trend on migrants

By Mirna Solic, University of Glasgow

When Hungary put razor wire along its borders, Croatia took centre stage as the East European country most affected by the surge of refugees from conflict zones in the Middle East. An estimated 44,000 people have arrived on Croatian territory since its neighbouring countries began to reject arrivals.

Croatia’s immediate stance on the refugee crisis was that no walls would be built and no barbed wire would be erected, because “in the 21st century barbed wire is not a solution but a threat”. This was warmly welcomed by political circles in the West.

Despite claims in the press that Croatia has closed its borders, the government insists that they remain open. And while public figures have expressed concern about being able to cope with the numbers, there remains a strong desire to help.

This is in stark contrast to the vehemently hostile approach taken by leading figures in Hungary and Serbia. It was also potentially surprising given Croatia’s reputation as a fairly closed and xenophobic society. Only recently, it suffered international shame when a swastika was painted on a football field in Split prior to a game with Italy.

The difference may be because the sight of thousands of desperate people escaping misery is painfully familiar to them. It is not long since many Croatian nationals experienced the same.

[Read more…]


Mother Angela: Merkel’s refugee policy divides Europe

Der Spiegel reports: We can do it. That’s the message Chancellor Angela Merkel has been giving her country ever since she pledged in late August to provide refuge to anyone coming from Syria in addition to others seeking protection from violence and warfare. The initial euphoria in the country was significant, with tens of thousands of everyday Germans joining the army of helpers to try and cope with the huge influx of needy refugees.

But there have since been signs that the initial elation is fading. The most obvious, of course, was Berlin’s reintroduction of border controls on the German frontier with Austria a little over a week ago. But there have been others as well: Frustration in German states about insufficient federal assistance; grumbling within Merkel’s party about her open door policy; and conflicts with the Social Democrats within Merkel’s governing coalition.

Indeed, Germany is struggling to maintain its composure and to ward off panic despite all the rising doubts.

Can it be done? [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: After weeks of indecision, the European Union voted on Tuesday to distribute 120,000 asylum seekers among member states, a plan meant to display unity in the face of the largest movement of refugees on the Continent since World War II.

Instead, the decision — forced through by a majority vote, over the bitter objections of four eastern members — did as much to underline the bloc’s widening divisions, even over a modest step that barely addresses the crisis.

Nearly half a million migrants and refugees have arrived in Europe this year, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, a number that is only expected to rise. [Continue reading…]


UN funding shortfalls and cuts in refugee aid fuel exodus to Europe

The New York Times reports: One of the prime reasons for the wave of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers washing into Europe is the deterioration of the conditions that Syrians face in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, a worsening largely caused by sharp falls in international funding from United Nations countries, officials and analysts say.

That shortfall in funding, in contrast with the greater resources provided by Europe, is prompting some to make the hazardous journey who might otherwise remain where they are. The United Nations Syria Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan, which groups a number of humanitarian agencies and covers development aid for the countries bordering Syria, had by the end of August received just 37 percent of the $4.5 billion appeal for needed funds this year.

António Guterres, the high commissioner for refugees, recently said that his agency’s budget this year would be 10 percent smaller than in 2014, and that it could not keep up with the drastic increase in need from the long Syrian conflict, which includes shelter, water, sanitation, food, medical assistance and education. The United Nations refugee agency’s funding for Syria this year is only at 43 percent of budgeted requirements. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: Najim Rahim says that when he looks around his neighborhood in the northern city of Kunduz now, “I feel lonely.”

His friend Ahmad Ulomi, who worked in the photo shop down the street, gave up his photography studies and left with five family members, striking out across the Iranian desert on the way to Europe. The shop’s owner, Khalid Ghaznawi, who was Mr. Ulomi’s teacher, decided to follow him with his family of eight, and he put his business up for sale. Mr. Rahim’s friend Atiqullah, who ran the local grocery shop, closed it and also left for Iran with his wife. Another neighbor, Feroz Ahmad, dropped out of college and last week called from Turkey to say he was on his way to Europe.

All of that happened in the past two weeks as people in Kunduz are rushing to seize what many see as a last chance to make it to Europe, just as others are doing throughout Afghanistan. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: Thousands of migrants poured into Austria on Saturday after being bounced around countries overwhelmed by their arrival and insistent that they keep moving.

Hungary — which had taken the most draconian and visible measures to turn back the exodus, notably the construction of a razor-wire fence along its border with Serbia — partly caved Friday evening. It grudgingly allowed at least 11,000 migrants to enter from Croatia, and then sent them by bus and train to processing centers along its border with Austria.

The Austrian authorities said that about 10,000 people entered the country on Saturday, from Slovenia and Hungary. [Continue reading…]


Open and shut: How Germany plays politics with its borders

By Holger Nehring, University of Stirling

Was it just a dream? Only last week, Germany made it clear that all refugees were welcome, and chancellor Angela Merkel became the Mother Teresa of European politics.

The country was able to bask in the glory of being an example of the good European – only months after Merkel had been chided for her politics of austerity towards Greece and after she had, to much criticism worldwide, told a young Palestinian girl that “we cannot take everyone in”.

But barely a week after the hearty welcome, the country closed its borders with Austria, the route by which the majority of refugees were arriving. Police forces and helpers in Bavaria were simply unable to cope with the massive influx of people – more than 20,000 refugees had arrived in Munich alone over the course of the weekend, more than UK prime minister David Cameron said his country was prepared to take in over the next five years.

[Read more…]


Europe and U.S. pay cost of inaction against Syria’s Assad

Yaroslav Trofimov reports: The Syrian refugee crisis overwhelming Europe has shattered the illusion, often used to justify inaction, that in the modern world there is such a thing as a distant war in a faraway land.

Over the past four years, 250,000 Syrians have died, most of them killed by the Assad regime against which the West has refused to intervene. More than half of the population has been forced to flee their homes, with four million refugees pouring first into neighboring Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan — and now many of them to Europe.

As Europe’s frontiers have collapsed, millions more are likely to follow suit, overland or by sea. This has already turned Syria from a thorny foreign-policy issue into a full-blown domestic emergency that threatens the cohesion and social peace of the European Union and lays bare the costs of the West’s policy of nonintervention against the regime.

“The Syria conflict is a lot closer to Europe than the U.S. — and the interest in solving it should have been regarded as a vital one at least here in Europe,” said Guido Steinberg, an expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs and the German federal government’s former adviser on international terrorism.

“But the Europeans really have no clue how to deal with a major regional crisis in the Middle East. We needed the U.S. — but the U.S. wasn’t there.” [Continue reading…]


EU nations pull welcome mats for migrants, imposing new restrictions

The Washington Post reports: European nations once friendly to refugees abruptly yanked their welcome mats Thursday, as Germany considered slashing its benefits and Croatia announced it was closing most of its road links with Serbia “until further notice.”

The German measures would overhaul asylum codes to stem the massive flow of migrants into Europe, scaling back the generous policies that have made Germany a beacon for desperate war refugees and economic migrants pouring out of the Middle East, Africa and beyond.

In a 128-page draft law produced by the German Interior Ministry and obtained by The Washington Post, the government would speed asylum procedures, cut cash benefits, hasten deportations and punish those with false claims and phony paperwork. [Continue reading…]


Fortress Hungary: Orbán profits from the refugees

Der Spiegel reports: On Monday, Hungary closed the last remaining hole in the 175-kilometer (109 mile) fence it has been built along the southern border to Serbia, one of the final stations on the Western Balkan route to Europe that has been the focal point in recent days of tens of thousands of refugees making their way from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and North Africa. On Tuesday, a new law went into effect in Hungary making illegal border crossings an offense punishable by up to three years in jail. The developments came as Germany and Austria both imposed border controls to stem the massive influx of refugees on the final leg of the path to Western Europe.

Hungary’s closure of its border with Serbia has led to confusion and desperation among refugees who had hoped to cross into Europe there. For the moment, nobody is being let through at all and Hungary has declared a state of emergency in two counties bordering Serbia to allow for the deployment of the military to assist police there. As part of its new crackdown, Hungary says it has arrested 60 people for damaging the border fence or attempting to cross.
The scenes of chaos the border closure has generated are consistent with those that have played out in Hungary over much of the last couple of weeks. And the cause is clear. The country, under the leadership of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, is downright inhospitable — even hostile — toward refugees. [Continue reading…]


Refugee crisis: Thousands may lose right of asylum under EU plans

The Guardian reports: European governments are aiming to deny the right of asylum to innumerable refugees by funding and building camps for them in Africa and elsewhere outside the European Union.

Under plans endorsed in Brussels on Monday evening, EU interior ministers agreed that once the proposed system of refugee camps outside the union was up and running, asylum claims from people in the camps would be inadmissible in Europe.

The emergency meeting of interior ministers was called to grapple with Europe’s worst modern refugee crisis. It broke up in acrimony amid failure to agree on a new system of binding quotas for refugees being shared across the EU and other decisions being deferred until next month.

The lacklustre response to a refugee emergency that is turning into a full-blown European crisis focussed on “Fortress Europe” policies aimed at excluding refugees and shifting the burden of responsibility on to third countries, either of transit or of origin. [Continue reading…]


Who’s responsible for the refugees?

Steve Hilton writes: While we can argue forever about the causes of conflict in the Middle East, it is impossible to ignore the impact of American foreign policy on what’s happening in Europe. It was shocking to see an “expert” from the Council on Foreign Relations quoted on Saturday saying that the situation is “largely Europe’s responsibility.” How, exactly? The Iraq invasion (which could reasonably be described as “largely America’s responsibility”) unleashed a period of instability and competition in the region that is collapsing states and fueling sectarian conflict.

European leaders wanted, years ago, to intervene directly in Syria in order to check President Bashar al-Assad’s cruelty; the United States didn’t. You can understand why — I wouldn’t for one second question the judgment of American political leaders that their country was reluctant to participate in another military conflict. But at least acknowledge the consequences of nonintervention: the protracted Syrian civil war, the emergence of a lawless territory ripe for exploitation by the sick zealots of the Islamic State, and the resulting flood of millions of displaced people.

So it’s a bit rich for American commentators to lecture Europeans when part of the reason the refugees are arriving on Europe’s doorstep is American foreign policy. It’s great that the United States is by far the largest provider of humanitarian assistance to Syrians, but America is bigger than Europe, and wealthier. Why should Europe be expected to take around a million refugees practically overnight and the United States, hardly any? [Continue reading…]


UK backs bid by fossil fuel firms to kill new EU fracking controls, letters reveal

The Guardian reports: The UK government has added its weight to a behind-the-scenes lobbying drive by oil and gas firms including BP, Chevron, Shell and ExxonMobil to persuade EU leaders to scrap a series of environmental safety measures for fracking, according to leaked letters seen by the Guardian.

The deregulatory push against safety measures, which could include the monitoring of on-site methane leaks and capture of gases and volatile compounds that might otherwise be vented, appears to go against assurances from David Cameron that fracking would only be safe “if properly regulated”.

In a comment piece in 2013 the prime minister wrote: “We must make the case that fracking is safe … the regulatory system in this country is one of the most stringent in the world.”

But UK government sources say that any new form of industry controls would be “an unnecessary restriction on the UK oil and gas industry”. [Continue reading…]


The refugee crisis that isn’t

Kenneth Roth writes: European leaders may differ about how to respond to the asylum-seekers and migrants surging their way, but they seem to agree they face a crisis of enormous proportions. Germany’s Angela Merkel has called it “the biggest challenge I have seen in European affairs in my time as chancellor.” Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni has warned that the migrant crisis could pose a major threat to the “soul” of Europe. But before we get carried away by such apocalyptic rhetoric, we should recognize that if there is a crisis, it is one of politics, not capacity.

There is no shortage of drama in thousands of desperate people risking life and limb to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean in rickety boats or enduring the hazards of land journeys through the Balkans. The available numbers suggest that most of these people are refugees from deadly conflict in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia. Eritreans — another large group — fled a brutally repressive government. The largest group — the Syrians — fled the dreadful combination of their government’s indiscriminate attacks, including by barrel bombs and suffocating sieges, and atrocities by ISIS and other extremist groups. Only a minority of migrants arriving in Europe, these numbers suggest, were motivated solely by economic betterment.

This “wave of people” is more like a trickle when considered against the pool that must absorb it. The European Union’s population is roughly 500 million. The latest estimate of the numbers of people using irregular means to enter Europe this year via the Mediterranean or the Balkans is approximately 340,000. In other words, the influx this year is only 0.068 percent of the EU’s population. Considering the EU’s wealth and advanced economy, it is hard to argue that Europe lacks the means to absorb these newcomers. [Continue reading…]


The deadly business of human smuggling

Der Spiegel reports: Every day, people are dying because of the policy that refugees must first get to Europe before they can apply for asylum. And because of the fact that they are required to remain in the country where they fill out their application and are not allowed to travel further. It is a situation that human smugglers have found to be extremely profitable and one that enables them to charge €300 ($335) to €400 per head for the trip from Budapest to Vienna in a jam-packed truck even though a train ticket doesn’t even cost €50.

Refugees are dying because Europe is failing. But the drama continues. One week after the catastrophe [in which 71 people died] on the A4 in Austria, a new batch of horrific images has emerged, this time of a Syrian boy lying dead on a beach. He drowned while attempting to cross the water from Turkey to the Greek island of Kos. His family, too, had put their fates in the hands of human smugglers.

These tragedies serve to illustrate just how great is the desperation gripping the refugees — and how irrepressible is the greed of those in whom they entrust their fates. There are several indications that the deaths of the 71 people inside the truck were not the result of a planned crime but that it was probably the result of an oversight, of stupidity. But it could happen again at any time; that is the incident’s uncomfortable lesson. At least if nothing changes.

Thousands of people continue to cross into Europe every day. In just the first eight months of this year, almost a quarter of a million people crossed the sea to Greece, including young men, families, pregnant women and children from Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Eritrea, Sudan and elsewhere. Many are fleeing from bombs and terrorism — and they are prepared to use the last of their money and to entrust their lives to people they don’t know.

In the end, during recent days at least, they get stuck at Keleti Station in Budapest where Hungarian authorities have prevented them from boarding trains to continue their journeys westward. Some refugees have made signs reading: “We love to go to Germany.” At some point, someone starts chanting the German chancellor’s name, quietly at first before getting louder and louder. “An-ge-la! An-ge-la!” Those who pay particularly close attention to the calls for help are waiting outside, next to taxis and minibuses. They are the true profiteers of Europe’s refugee drama.

The trip from Syria to Germany currently costs at least €2,500 per person, with the human smuggling market likely worth several hundred million euros per year. The organization The Migrant’s Files, a consortium of journalists from over 15 European countries, estimates that migrants have paid smugglers around €16 billion since the year 2000. [Continue reading…]


Europe plans to house an additional 120,000 refugees

Al Jazeera reports: France’s President Francois Hollande has announced his country will take in 24,000 refugees over the next two years, while it is understood Germany will take 31,000 additional people under a European plan which is strongly opposed by Hungary.

The figure revealed by the French leader on Monday represents France’s share of a European proposal to relocate 120,000 refugees.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is due to unveil new proposals on Wednesday.

EU officials have said Juncker will propose adding 120,000 people to be relocated on top of a group of 40,000 the commission previously proposed relocating.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban told a gathering of foreign ambassadors on Monday, however, that the plan could not be discussed while the EU’s outer borders were not secured. [Continue reading…]


Europe needs the migrants it doesn’t want

Paul Mason writes: The OECD’s central projection is that, to stand a chance of avoiding stagnation, the EU’s workforce will have to add 50 million more people through migration by 2060 (a similar number is needed in the US). The Paris-based thinktank says if that doesn’t happen, it is a “significant downside risk” to growth. What this means should be spelled out, because no politician has bothered to do so: to avoid economic stagnation in the long term, Europe needs migrants.

Consent for inward economic migration is fragile and falling – as evidenced by the sudden rush by politicians and tabloids to reclassify the Syrian exodus as a special case. Even if populist resistance to migration stops short of fascism, and even if anti-migration parties are disempowered by the electoral system, their existence highlights a failing consensus. And that is, in turn, founded on economic failure. The Eurozone has produced an arc of stagnation and discontent along its southern border. There is mass unemployment in the very countries that have become the first port of call for migrants and refugees.

So the challenge for Europe is clear. To absorb the refugees we are going to need a new set of rules about where they’re processed; new arrangements for internal travel in Europe. Plus a new social consensus about who can come, who can’t and where they are going to live and work. And, ultimately, a massive economic stimulus.

If the EU cannot do all this, its constituent nations will begin to do so separately. And so, in the space of a summer, the refugee crisis crashes into the Euro crisis, and the one consistent problem is failure of leadership, anticipation and vision. [Continue reading…]


Faith in humanity should be restored

Winnie Byanyima, the executive director of Oxfam International, writes: In 1978, I ran away from the brutal dictatorship of Idi Amin in Uganda to the United Kingdom via Kenya. My family and I chose Britain, knowing then – as I do now – that this was a country with a door open to people like me. As I arrived in the UK, this black, 18-year-old African refugee girl was not deported. I got the chance to stay.

This was a European country where I safely had a chance to fulfil my potential. I studied at the University of Manchester and, years later, have been brought full circle back to the UK to serve a great movement, which started in the UK, called Oxfam.

My story might have turned out very differently if a door to a safe haven was closed to me forty years ago. That memory quickly turns now into a calling.

Today, we are in the midst of a global and complex displacement crisis. To view this global crisis solely through the lens of Europe is to miss the bigger picture.

According to the UN figures, 59.5 million people fled from their homes at the end of 2014 – an increase of 63 percent compared to a decade ago – and the highest number since World War II.

The majority of displaced people are as young as or younger than I was when I fled Uganda for the UK.

Oxfam is well-placed to connect the dots between the sources and the destinations of displaced people. This helps us understand the reasons for displacement and to strive for solutions.

We witness the terrible human suffering that every day forces people into exile. We know this well because we work in nine of the top ten source countries for refugees.

It is clear to us that the broken politics of conflict weigh most heavily on forced migration. The UN recently found that the majority of people arriving in Europe by sea were fleeing from war, conflict or persecution – half of them from Syria and Afghanistan.

Yet, conflict is preventable. Critical questions must be asked of international political leaders who are initiating or prolonging these conflicts but are unable or unwilling to take responsibility for their humanitarian consequences. [Continue reading…]


On the refugee issue, French politicians are paralyzed by fear

Sylvie Kauffmann writes: When the body of a Syrian toddler was washed up on a Turkish beach, most European newspapers put the excruciating picture on their front page. In France, the only major national paper to do so was Le Monde. Have we become numb?

Polls actually reveal some uncomfortable truths. The number of people in France opposed to taking in refugees from Syria, for example, has decreased since July, down from 64 percent to 56 percent, but they are still a majority. There is a strong partisan divide: 91 percent of National Front voters and 67 percent of former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s supporters are against taking in more migrants, while 68 percent of Socialist voters and 73 percent of Green supporters are in favor.

There is also a generational and social divide; older and well-off people are more likely to accept migrants. The reason is simple: Older people have left the competition for jobs, and well-off people don’t live in neighborhoods with high immigrant populations. The age category most hostile to new immigrants is people 35 to 49; not surprisingly, it is also the one where the far-right National Front enjoys more support.

Marine Le Pen, the National Front leader, has not been very vocal on the migrant crisis — she doesn’t need to. Her party is the elephant in the room. Its 20 to 25 percent share of the votes over the past year partly explains why French politicians, with the belated exception of the Greens, are so silent about the refugee issue: They are paralyzed by fear, the fear of feeding the xenophobic National Front. [Continue reading…]