NGOs under attack for saving too many lives in the Mediterranean

By Nando Sigona, University of Birmingham

European politicians and media have accused non-governmental organisations (NGOs) carrying out search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean of undermining their efforts to stem the flow of migration from Libya. Recent accusations by the EU’s border agency Frontex mark a new low in the trend of criminalising those helping migrants and refugees in Europe. The Conversation

Until recently, negative media coverage and police investigations for so-called “crimes of solidarity” were directed mostly at small NGOs and volunteers. Now a main target of Frontex’s ire is the Nobel Peace Prize winner Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which is accused with other NGOs of colluding with human smugglers and ultimately being responsible for more migrants dying at sea.

Speaking in late February, the Frontex director, Fabrice Leggeri, said the presence of NGO vessels in the proximity of Libyan waters “leads traffickers to force even more migrants on to unseaworthy boats with insufficient water and fuel than in previous years”. MSF labelled the charges “extremely serious and damaging” and said its humanitarian action was not “the cause but a response” to the crisis.

Leggeri’s comments are not an isolated case and a number of European politicians have put forward similar statements. But their main intent is to divert attention away from their own inactivity and escape responsibility for the growth in irregular crossings and deaths across the central Mediterranean route from Libya to Europe.

The current focus on search and rescue operations at sea carried out by NGOs signals a more general shift in the political and public mood in Europe. Despite superficial public displays of outrage and condemnation for Donald Trump’s anti-immigration and anti-refugee stances in the US, similar initiatives and a similar rhetoric have gradually become part of the political mainstream in several European member states.

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UN seeks inquiry into deadly assault on migrant boat near Yemen

The New York Times reports: The United Nations on Monday called for an inquiry into an aerial assault on a boat of migrants last week off Yemen’s Red Sea coast that left at least 42 people dead.

The attack on the boat, believed to be carrying 145 people leaving Yemen, was among the most horrific episodes of deadly violence on asylum seekers there since Saudi Arabia and its allies entered the country’s civil war and began an air campaign against the Houthi rebels two years ago.

The boat assault also illustrated the vibrant trade in people-smuggling between the Horn of Africa and Yemen, a congregation point for tens of thousands of Africans fleeing their own countries.

Most of the passengers aboard the vessel were believed to be Somalis who had been staying in Yemen and were trying to reach Sudan.

United Nations officials have registered nearly 280,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Yemen, mostly from Somalia. [Continue reading…]

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Russia ‘stoking refugee unrest in Germany to topple Angela Merkel’

The Observer reports: Russia is trying to topple Angela Merkel by waging an information war designed to stir up anger in Germany over refugees, Nato’s most senior expert on strategic communications has claimed.

The attempt to provoke the removal of the German leader, who has been a strong supporter of sanctions against Vladimir Putin’s regime, is said to have been identified by Nato analysts.

Jānis Sārts, director of Nato’s Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence, based in Riga, Latvia, told the Observer that Russia had a track record of funding extremist forces in Europe, and that he believed there was now evidence of Russia agitating in Germany against Merkel. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s plain words made clear his intention to ban Muslims

The New York Times reports: Rarely do a presidential candidate’s own words so dramatically haunt his presidency.

For the second time in two months, a federal judge on Wednesday refused to allow President Trump to impose a travel ban, citing his campaign rhetoric as evidence of an improper desire to prevent Muslims from entering the United States.

The judge’s stunning rebuke was a vivid example of how Mr. Trump’s angry, often xenophobic rallying cries during the 2016 campaign — which were so effective in helping to get him elected — have become legal and political liabilities now that he is in the Oval Office.

It is a lesson that presidents usually learn quickly: Difficult and controversial issues can easily be painted as black-and-white during a long campaign, but they are often more complicated for those who are in a position to govern.

That is especially true for Mr. Trump’s bellicose remarks about immigrants, which animated his upstart presidential campaign but now threaten to get in the way of his broader agenda for a health care overhaul, tax cuts and infrastructure spending.

It all seemed so simple before.

Five days after terrorists in California killed 14 people in December 2015, Mr. Trump whipped up his supporters at a rally by vowing to impose a complete ban on entry by Muslims “until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.”

The crowd roared its approval.

Later in the campaign, Mr. Trump backed away from calling for a total Muslim ban. But the judge in Hawaii who ruled on Wednesday appears to have concluded that Mr. Trump’s true motivations could be found by looking at his earlier remarks.

“These plainly worded statements,” wrote Judge Derrick K. Watson of Federal District Court in Honolulu, “betray the executive order’s stated secular purpose.” [Continue reading…]

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Sweden, immigrants and Trump’s post-Enlightenment world

Anne Applebaum writes: The Enlightenment belief that we can know and understand reality — that we can measure it, weigh it, judge it, use reason to explain it — underlies all of the achievements of Western civilization, from the scientific revolution to the Industrial Revolution to democracy itself. Ever since René Descartes asked himself how it was possible to know that melting wax is the same thing as a candle, we have believed that reason, not mythology, sensibility, emotion or instinct, provides a superior way to understand the world. But is that still true?

If the strange case of Sweden and its immigrants is anything to go by, then the answer is probably no. This odd story began last month, when President Trump began ranting, memorably, about dangerous immigrants at a rally in Florida: “You look at what’s happening last night, in Sweden! Sweden! Who would believe this, Sweden!” The following morning, puzzled Swedes woke up to find the world’s media asking them what, actually, had happened last night. The answer — other than some road closures — was nothing.

In an Enlightenment world, that would have been the end of the story. In our post-Enlightenment world, things got more complicated. Trump explained that what he had seen “last night” was not a terrorist attack — though that was certainly implied in his speech — but a filmmaker named Ami Horowitz who was interviewed by Tucker Carlson on Fox News. The interview was indeed terrifying: For those unfamiliar with the techniques of emotional manipulation — and they are the same, whether used by Fox News or Russia Today — it should be mandatory viewing. As the two were speaking, a clip of an aggressive, brown-skinned man hitting a policeman, presumably in Sweden, alternated in the background, over and over, with a clip of a burning car. The repetitive, frightening images were bolstered by more clips from Horowitz’s film, in which Swedish police officers appeared to be confirming a massive rise in crime linked to immigration. Carlson, meanwhile, marveled at the stupidity and naivete of the Swedish nation helpless to confront this menace. No wonder the president was upset.

But the next day, the Swedish police officers protested: Horowitz had never asked them about immigration, and had cut their interviews to make it seem as if they were answering different questions. Moreover, while Sweden did — generously and admirably — accept 160,000 refugees in 2015, and while there are genuine problems absorbing and acculturating them, Swedish crime rates remain low, particularly if you compare them with crime rates in, say, Florida.

A faked film had inspired the president to cite an imaginary crisis — but the story didn’t end there. [Continue reading…]

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The spat between Turkey and the Netherlands is all about winning votes

Ishaan Tharoor writes: The escalating crisis between Turkey and the Netherlands is a startling example of how this year’s crucial election campaigns can flare into international incidents.

The Dutch go to the polls this Wednesday for a parliamentary election seen as a bellwether for Europe’s political future, and all eyes are focused on far-right, Euroskeptic, anti-Islam populist Geert Wilders. Meanwhile, Turkey will hold a referendum next month on constitutional revisions that would scrap the country’s parliamentary system in favor of an executive presidency under the powerful President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In their electoral bids, Erdogan and Wilders have found useful bogeymen in one another’s nations.

“The explanation for the Dutch-Turkish ‘crisis’ this weekend is pretty straightforward,” wrote Dutch political scientist Cas Mudde in a message to Today’s WorldView. “Both countries are currently engulfed in electoral campaigns that are dominated by authoritarian nativism.” [Continue reading…]

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A Vermont mayor wanted to take in refugees. He lost his job

Slate reports: For the past year, the national drama over refugees has played out in miniature in the small city of Rutland, nestled in Vermont’s Green Mountains.

The mayor, Christopher Louras, hatched a plan in 2015 for Rutland to settle 100 refugees from Syria and Iraq. The initiative was publicly announced last March, and in September, Rutland was granted State Department approval. It was the right thing to do, supporters said. But Louras, a five-term mayor who was first elected as a Republican but is now an independent, made an economic case for the program.

“The benefits, economically and culturally, that we will recognize is exactly what the community needs at this time,” he told the Boston Globe in May. “As much as I want to say it’s for compassionate reasons, I realize that there is not a vibrant, growing, successful community in the country right now that is not embracing new Americans.”

On Tuesday, the backlash swept Louras from office. His opponent, city Alderman David Allaire, strongly criticized the secrecy surrounding the town’s decision to accept refugees. Announcing his candidacy in December, Allaire stressed that he was not anti-refugee. “I’m sure if this had been handled differently, you would not see the divide you see in this community right now,” he said at the time. “We are a thoughtful, helpful community.”

But the opposition group that supported Allaire, Rutland First, was more evidently against any refugee deal. In addition to local politics, its Facebook page shares content like the Sweden refugee video that prompted Donald Trump’s famous “last night in Sweden” outburst. [Continue reading…]

The Washington Post reports: A Florida man who attempted to set fire to a convenience store told deputies that he assumed the owner was Muslim and that he wanted to “run the Arabs out of our country,” according to the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office.

The sheriff later said the store owners are actually Indian, appearing to make this the latest in a string of incidents targeting South Asians mistaken for people of Arab descent.

Around 7:40 a.m. Friday, police received calls that a white male was acting suspiciously in front of the Met Mart convenience store in Port St. Lucie, officials said.

Deputies arrived to find the store closed, with its security shutters intact — as well as a 64-year-old man named Richard Leslie Lloyd near a flaming dumpster.

“When the deputies arrived, they noticed the dumpster had been rolled in front of the doors and the contents were lit on fire,” St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara said in a statement posted on Facebook. “Upon seeing our deputies, the man put his hands behind his back and said ‘take me away.’ ”

Lloyd “told deputies that he pushed the dumpster to the front of the building, tore down signs posted to the outside of the store and lit the contents of the dumpster on fire to ‘run the Arabs out of our country,’ ” Mascara said. [Continue reading…]

The Rutland voters who thought that putting Rutland first required excluding 100 refugees and the Florida man who took the law into his own hands in trying to drive foreigners out of America, can be described as xenophobes, nativists or in several other ways. But beneath these multifaceted expressions of fear lies one simple emotion: cowardice.

Cowardice is what brought Trump to power and is what animates the fear and hatred that can now be found all across this nation.

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Democrats invite immigrants and refugees to Trump’s first speech to Congress

McClatchy reports: It took Sil Ganzo a moment to grasp what Rep. Alma Adams was saying.

Ganzo, founder and executive director of ourBRIDGE for kids, thought that Adams’ telephone call was an inquiry to learn more about the organization that provides an after-school program a welcoming environment to immigrant and refugee children from around the globe.

But it was about her background and history.

“I am what it means to be an immigrant,” she said. “I was born and raised in Argentina and I came here with nothing more than a dream. There were people who encouraged me to go for it. I improved my English and, here I am, doing what I always wanted to do. And now I feel it’s my responsibility to do that for others.”

Adams, D-N.C., invited Ganzo to be her guest inside the House of Representatives chamber Tuesday night for President Donald Trump’s first address to Congress.

Adams joins other congressional Democrats in bringing immigrants, refugees or advocates to Trump’s speech to protest his actions on immigration. Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth, Texas, has invited two Syrian refugees in a show of defiance against Trump’s temporary ban on immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries.

And freshman Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris of California has invited Yuriana Aguilar – a Mexican-born University of California, Merced, alumnus, who was brought to the U.S. when she was a child – to be her guest for Trump’s prime-time speech. Aguilar is now an instructor in the department of physiology and biophysics at Rush Medical College in Chicago. Her research focuses on the human heart. [Continue reading…]

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No, Sweden isn’t hiding an immigrant crime problem. This is the real story

Kristine Eck and Christopher J. Fariss write: Last weekend at a Florida campaign rally, the president of the United States made vague claims intimating that Sweden has an immigrant violence problem. Research we have conducted shows that this is not true. In fact, criticism of Sweden is based on common misconceptions and mishandled information.

The president’s comments were originally inspired by a Fox News report on a video propaganda piece released by Ami Horowitz, which alleges that Sweden faces a spate of Muslim immigrant violence and that Swedish authorities are covering this up. The video misuses quotes from Swedish police to suggest that official crime statistics in Sweden are being purposely withheld. After President Trump’s comments, several right-wing media outlets doubled down on these claims. This is a feedback loop based on what are now called “alternative facts.”

Official crime statistics from Sweden actually show that the crime rate has remained steady since 2005. What’s more, the Swedish police do not collect information on the ethnicity, religion, or race of perpetrators or victims of crime, which means there’s no evidence for claims that Muslim immigrants are committing crimes in record numbers. Nor is there any evidence to support the claim that Swedish authorities are manipulating the statistics, as the producer of the video alleges.

Actually, compared to the U.S., the government of Sweden is a model in making data accessible and actions transparent. Its official statistics are some of the most complete and readily accessible in the world. Since 1766, Swedish law on freedom of the press has included a principle of public access (Offentlighetsprincipen), which grants public access to all government documents upon request unless they fall under secrecy restrictions. This law is the oldest piece of freedom of information legislation in the world. [Continue reading…]

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For Syrian refugees, there is no going home

The New York Times reports: In the makeshift tent settlements that dot fields and villages in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon, Syrian refugees are digging in, pouring concrete floors, installing underground sewerage and electric wires, and starting businesses and families.

What they are not doing is packing up en masse to leave, despite exhortations from Syrian and Lebanese officials, who have declared that safety and security are on the march in neighboring Syria and that it is time for refugees to go home.

But as a new round of peace talks convened Thursday in Geneva, Syrians interviewed at a randomly selected camp in the Bekaa Valley this week offered a unanimous reality check. Their old homes are either destroyed or unsafe, they fear arrest by security forces and they know that despite recent victories by pro-government forces, the fighting and bombing are far from over. They are not going anywhere.

About 1.5 million Syrians have sought refuge in Lebanon, making up about a quarter of the population, according to officials and relief groups, and there is a widely held belief in Lebanon that refugees are a burden on the country’s economy and social structure.

Nearly six years into a war that began with a security crackdown on protests against President Bashar al-Assad, countries once eager to see him ousted are now more focused on containing the migrant crisis and defeating the Islamic State, and are willing to consider a settlement that allows Mr. Assad to remain in power.

That leaves many governments invested in vague hopes that such a settlement, however rickety or superficial, will somehow stop the metastasis of the Syrian crisis and ease fears of Islamic State terrorism — often conflated with concerns about ordinary Syrian refugees — that have fueled the rise of right-wing politicians.

And it gives many countries a strong stake in declaring Syria safe for return, even without resolving the political issues that started the conflict, including human rights abuses by the Syrian government.

Mr. Assad, Syrian officials and their allies in Lebanon are reading that mood. The Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has called for the return of migrants, and Lebanon’s president, Michel Aoun, has called on global powers to facilitate it.

But in a tent settlement in the village of Souairi, Syrians made clear that neither a fig-leaf deal nor an outright government victory would send many of them home.

Every family interviewed had at least one member who had disappeared after being arrested or forcibly drafted by the government. The refugees said they cared less about whether Mr. Assad stayed or went than about reforms of the security system. Without an end to torture, disappearances and arbitrary arrests, they said, they would remain wary of going back.

Virtually all said that they dreamed of going back, but that it was increasingly a dream for the next generation. [Continue reading…]

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Canada’s plan to bring in hundreds of Yazidi genocide survivors hailed by refugees

CBC News reports: Canada’s promise to resettle hundreds of Yazidis by the end of the year is being welcomed in Iraq, where Yazidi women and girls have endured horrific abuse and persecution at the hands of ISIS.

Among those who have greeted the news with open arms is Saud Khalid, who was kidnapped by ISIS in August 2014 and sold as a sex slave three times before escaping after a year in captivity.

UN officials recently interviewed the 23-year-old about going to Canada and she’s hoping she and her young son will be among the 1,200 Yazidis and other ISIS survivors accepted by the Liberal government.

“We wish to go and live in Canada because here our situation is not good in general,” she said through a translator on Wednesday. “We live in bad conditions and we want to go.

“If they take me to Canada, I will never come back. And my hope is if my relatives still being held by ISIS, if they escape, I want them to also join me in Canada.” [Continue reading…]

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Europe’s child-refugee crisis

Lauren Collins writes: Wasil awoke to the sound of a knife ripping through nylon. Although he was only twelve years old, he was living alone in a small tent at a refugee camp in Calais, France, known as the Jungle. Men entered his tent; he couldn’t tell how many. A pair of hands gripped his throat. He shouted. It was raining, and the clatter of the drops muffled his cries, so he shouted louder. At last, people from neighboring tents came running, and the assailants disappeared.

Wasil had left his mother and younger siblings in Kunduz, Afghanistan, ten months earlier, in December, 2015. His father, an interpreter for nato forces, had fled the country after receiving death threats from the Taliban. Later, Wasil, as the eldest son, became the Taliban’s surrogate target. Wasil was close to his mother, but she decided to send him away as the situation became increasingly dangerous. Her brother lived in England, and she hoped that Wasil could join him there. To get to Calais, Wasil had travelled almost four thousand miles, across much of Asia and Europe, by himself. Along the way, he had survived for ten days in a forest with only two bottles of water, two biscuits, and a packet of dates to sustain him. Before leaving home, he hadn’t even known how to prepare a meal.

Wasil was stunned by the conditions of the Jungle. The camp, a forty-acre assemblage of tents, situated on a vast windswept sandlot that had formerly served as a landfill, didn’t seem fit for human habitation. “I did not come here for luxury,” Wasil told me, in excellent English, which he had learned from his father. “But I can’t believe this is happening in Europe.” A chemical plant loomed nearby. There was no running water, and when it rained the refugees’ tents filled with mud and the camp’s rudimentary roads became impassable.

The Jungle had one thing to recommend it: its proximity to the thirty-mile-long Channel Tunnel, which connects France and England at the Strait of Dover. Thousands of refugees and migrants from all over the world congregated at the camp, amid rats and burning trash, with the sole objective of making it, whether by truck, train, or ferry, onto British soil. On one of Wasil’s first days at the camp, he called his mother on his cell phone. “Are you safe?” she asked. “I was saying to her, ‘I’m in a good condition, I am too safe. I’m going to school and learning French. . . . I can touch the water that one side is here and the other side is England,’ ” Wasil recalled. “I’m not telling her the real situation.” [Continue reading…]

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Trump pursues his attack on Sweden, with little evidence

The New York Times reports: President Trump escalated his attack on Sweden’s migration policies on Monday, doubling down on his suggestion — based on a Fox News report — that refugees in the Scandinavian country were behind a surge in crime and terrorism.

Mr. Trump set off consternation and ridicule on Saturday when he seemed to falsely imply to a throng of supporters at a rally in Florida that a terrorist attack had occurred in Sweden, which has admitted tens of thousands of refugees in recent years.

On Sunday, as questions swirled, a White House spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said that “he was talking about rising crime and recent incidents in general, not referring to a specific issue.”

Mr. Trump then said on Twitter that he was referring to a Fox News segment about an American filmmaker who argues that the police in Sweden are covering up a migrant-driven crime wave.

Officials in both countries expressed alarm and dismay at Mr. Trump’s remarks. Senator Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, said the president should get his information from intelligence agencies and not from television. The Swedish Embassy in Washington offered the Trump administration a briefing on its immigration policies. On Monday, Sweden’s prime minister, Stefan Lofven, said he was surprised by Mr. Trump’s comments, and noted that Sweden ranked highly on international comparisons of economic competitiveness, human development and income inequality. [Continue reading…]

FactCheck.org reports: Sweden saw a dramatic increase in asylum applicants in 2015, with more than 162,000 people arriving in the country, according to the Swedish Migration Agency. Of those, more than 51,000 were from Syria, with another roughly 42,000 from Afghanistan and 21,000 from Iraq. All told, Sweden has taken in nearly 200,000 refugees and migrants in recent years, more than any other country per capita in Europe, the BBC reported.

That’s a big number for a country with a population just under 10 million. (By way of reference, a comparable number based on the population of the U.S. would come to about 5.2 million. President Barack Obama set the level of refugees the U.S. would accept in fiscal year 2017 at 110,000 before he left office, but Trump cut that number to no more than 50,000.)

While there has been an uptick in some crime categories, government statistics from Sweden do not corroborate the claim of a major crime wave due to immigrants.

According to the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (Brå), lethal violence (murder, manslaughter and assault that results in death) totaled 112 victims in 2015. That’s up by 25 (a sizable increase) from 2014, but it’s about the same as the number in 2007, which was 111 victims.

“In a long-term perspective, ever since the 1990’s when Brå started the measurements, the trend shows that lethal violence is declining,” the website says. [Continue reading…]

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The Syrian war isn’t stopping for Trump

Ishaan Tharoor writes: So far, the most meaningful role played by President Trump in the miserable conflict in Syria has been his relentless demonization of Syrian refugees.

But the war still smolders, and the White House will, sooner or later, have to reckon with its complexity. It may also need to confront the mounting evidence of atrocities committed by the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

On Monday, Human Rights Watch issued a report on the regime’s alleged use of chlorine bombs during its successful campaign last year to reclaim the last rebel-held territory in the city of Aleppo. The rights group documented at least eight separate chlorine gas attacks before a cease-fire was signed on Dec. 13. “The attacks resulted in the deaths of nine civilians, including four children, and wounded roughly 200,” reported my colleague Thomas Gibbons-Neff. “If confirmed, the attacks would be a significant breach of the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention that Syria signed in 2013.”[Continue reading…]

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American husbands are incomparably more deadly than terrorists

Nicholas Kristof writes: It’s true that Muslim Americans — both born in the United States and immigrants from countries other than those subject to Trump’s restrictions — have carried out deadly terrorism in America. There have been 123 such murders since the 9/11 attacks — and 230,000 other murders.

Last year Americans were less likely to be killed by Muslim terrorists than for being Muslim, according to Charles Kurzman of the University of North Carolina. The former is a risk of approximately one in six million; the latter, one in one million.

The bottom line is that most years in the U.S., ladders kill far more Americans than Muslim terrorists do. Same with bathtubs. Ditto for stairs. And lightning.

Above all, fear spouses: Husbands are incomparably more deadly in America than jihadist terrorists.

And husbands are so deadly in part because in America they have ready access to firearms, even when they have a history of violence. In other countries, brutish husbands put wives in hospitals; in America, they put them in graves. [Continue reading…]

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The fragile condition of Europe’s youngest democracies

Jan Kubik writes: On 31 January, during an evening session that was suspiciously secretive, the Romanian government adopted two ordinances changing the country’s penal code. The measures were immediately seen by many as a clumsy attempt to decriminalise certain corruption offences, with the main beneficiaries being the politicians of the ruling party. Street protests broke out during that night, culminating last Sunday in the biggest demonstration since the fall of communism.

These events bring into sharp relief the main features of a volatile situation in eastern Europe where three forces vie for dominance: disconnected and sometimes corrupt “traditional” politicians, increasingly impatient and angry publics and assertive demagogues.

The east central Europe that shed communism in 1989 is a convenient laboratory to observe the emergence of a new politics. It is not necessarily due to its politicians being more corrupt, its demagogues flashier (who can compete with Trump?) and its publics angrier. It is more because its democracies are still fresher, more “basic”, their institutions not yet wrapped in a resilient layer of protective pro-democratic cultures. The whole system is thus more exposed to pressure tests. [Continue reading…]

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