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…]


Donald Trump: I would send Syrian refugees home

BBC News reports: Donald Trump has said he would send home all Syrian refugees the US accepts, if he becomes president.

The billionaire, who is the current frontrunner in the Republican race for the White House, told a New Hampshire rally: “If I win, they’re going back.”

It marks a reversal in policy – earlier this month he told Fox News the US should take in more refugees.

A migrant crisis has gripped parts of Europe and the US has pledged to take 10,000 refugees from Syria next year.

Half a million people have crossed the Mediterranean into Europe in 2015, with the largest number from Syria, where 250,000 people have been killed in a civil war.

On Wednesday night, Mr Trump told an audience at Keene High School: “I hear we want to take in 200,000 Syrians. And they could be – listen, they could be Isis [Islamic State].”

Describing them as a “200,000-man army”, he later added: “I’m putting the people on notice that are coming here from Syria as part of this mass migration, that if I win, if I win, they’re going back.” [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…]


Saudi Arabia doesn’t ‘do’ refugees – it’s time to change that

By Julie M. Norman, Queen’s University Belfast

As the Syrian refugee crisis has garnered global attention in recent weeks, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states have faced increasing criticism, from sources both domestic and international, for failing to open their borders to those displaced by the conflict.

On social media, political cartoons and hashtags shaming the Gulf states’ inaction have been widely shared and circulated, as have maps and human rights reports slamming Saudi Arabia and its neighbours for offering zero resettlement spaces to refugees.

Saudi Arabia has previously responded to such criticism by pointing to the estimated $700m in humanitarian aid it has given to support Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan. Then, last week, a government official told the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) that Saudi Arabia has received nearly 2.5m Syrians since the conflict began, just not as refugees.

Though the numbers claimed by the unnamed official appear unsubstantiated at best and spurious at worst, it is likely that Saudi Arabia has in fact welcomed between 100,000 and 500,000 Syrians on visas.

This very unclear data is just another sign of the fundamental problem: Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states simply don’t “do” refugees.

[Read more…]


While some Americans are afraid of refugees, many are not

The New York Times reports: In many parts of the country, including South Carolina, the Syrian crisis has elicited calls for compassion and offers of help: On Sept. 13, hundreds of people gathered in University City, a suburb of St. Louis, to ask the federal government to accept “as many Syrian refugees as possible” in the area, according to the St. Louis chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

This week, the mayors of 18 American cities, including Bill de Blasio of New York and Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles, sent a letter to President Obama urging him “to increase still further the number of Syrian refugees the United States will accept for resettlement.” The mayors asserted that the United States had a “robust screening and background check” system in place for refugees, who, they said, “have helped build our economies, enliven our arts and culture, and enrich our neighborhoods.”

But even before the Syrian crisis dominated headlines worldwide, resettlement agencies had noted a rise in anti-refugee sentiment in parts of the United States, said Melanie Nezer, vice president of policy and advocacy at HIAS, a Jewish nonprofit that works with refugees. In the last two decades, they have increasingly placed people in smaller communities to try to avoid the high cost of living in traditional immigrant magnets like New York and Los Angeles. At the same time, unemployment and tight budgets have prompted some local governments to fight the placement of refugees.

In South Carolina, a number of influential Upstate religious leaders have embraced the refugee program. The Rev. D.J. Horton, senior pastor of Anderson Mill Road Baptist Church, said dozens from his flock of 2,300 had already completed refugee support training. “It’s very hard to read your Bible, especially your New Testament, and refuse refuge to people who are vulnerable,” he said. [Continue reading…]


Why are the Gulf states so reluctant to take in refugees?

By Rana Jawad, University of Bath

Europe’s reaction to the refugee crisis has hardly been a calm and considered one; with fences erected and border controls reinstated, the continent’s governments are struggling to agree on a response.

But at least Europe’s governments are acting. In the Middle East, things are rather different. In particular, the Arab Gulf States are catching serious flack for their response to the crisis – or rather, their failure to respond.

One big question is reverberating in the minds of the general public, expert observers and policy-makers; why have the Gulf states, who are among the richest countries in the world, not taken in any Syrian refugees? There’s no need to rewrite the commentary that’s already out there: many articles have provided useful statistics and background information on the international conventions and treaties the Persian Gulf countries are signed up to, and their failure to honour them.

What all this misses, though, is the general lack of social justice and a social welfare ethos in the Persian Gulf and Middle East in general. This is a complex story about the mindset of a region in disunity and disarray.

[Read more…]


The pope has a radical solution for the refugee crisis: The Golden Rule

The Huffington Post reports: Pope Francis urged compassion on Thursday for refugees and unauthorized immigrants, speaking to a crowd that included lawmakers who have said the U.S. should keep out Syrians and others who fled their countries, and should deport more of the undocumented immigrants who are already here.

During an address to the House of Representatives and the Senate, the pope said the solution to the refugee crisis is for other countries to follow the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” His mention of the Golden Rule earned a standing ovation.

“Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War,” he said. “This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children?”

He went on to call for people to see refugees and other immigrants as human beings in need of compassion, rather than focus on the resources it would take to help them.

“We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation,” Francis said. “To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome.” [Continue reading…]


To stem the flow of Syrian refugees, stop the barrel bombs

Kenneth Roth writes: Assad’s barrel bombs play a particularly big part in forcing millions of Syrians from their country. In most wars, civilians can find a modicum of safety by moving away from the front lines. But Assad’s indiscriminate use of barrel bombs deep in opposition-held territory means that many have no place to hide. The international community could probably take no more effective step to curtail the refugee flow than to stop Assad’s barrel bombs.

Yet little effort has been made. The two governments with the greatest potential to influence Assad — his principal backers, Russia and Iran — refuse to get him to stop and supply him with weapons. Western governments have been reluctant to exert strong public pressure, let alone sanctions, because of other priorities — Ukraine, in the case of Russia, and the nuclear deal, in the case of Iran. Even now, as Russia deploys its own military forces in Syria, Washington is pressing Moscow to coordinate with America’s anti-ISIS operation but isn’t mentioning the barrel bombs. As for the European Union, it talks about tackling the “root causes” of migration to Europe but has done little to address the atrocities that lead Syrians to flee. [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…]


The resignation and resilience of Syrian refugees stuck in Zaatari

The New York Times reports: As the West grapples with a new flood of asylum seekers bursting across Europe’s borders, the vast majority of Syrian refugees remain in the region: 1.9 million in Turkey, 1.2 million in Lebanon and 630,000 registered here in Jordan. Underfunded aid agencies and overburdened host countries have been struggling for years to support them.

With the World Food Program having cut vouchers this month to 229,000 Syrians living in Jordanian cities — where it is illegal for them to work — the once-reviled Zaatari (pronounced ZAHT-ah-ree) is increasingly seen as the most stable spot for refugees. While growing numbers yearn to join the exodus to Europe, many in the camp have all but surrendered to a life of limited possibilities.

Until recently, virtually every family imagined an imminent return to Syria as soon as President Bashar al-Assad fell. Now, many see their beloved homeland as lost, and grudgingly accept that Zaatari is somewhere they will be a while.

Refugees have planted vegetables, flowers, even trees that will not bear fruit for years in their compounds cobbled from corrugated tin and trailers. Unicef is spending $37.7 million to install water and sewage systems and Germany $20 million to build a solar field. A recent United Nations report estimated that residents run 2,500 shops — scores of new ones repair bicycles — generating $14 million a month.

“We’ve become used to a system here, and a way of life,” explained Ola Mahmeed, 26, a mother of five who was applying for a two-day “vacation” to visit relatives in nearby Irbid. “There’s order, in terms of security, in terms of services. Anything I can think of I can find now in the market.”

Zaatari’s occupants say they would still jump at any chance to leave. Complaints are rife about electricity, which since June has been available only at night; rationed water; and, especially, the dismal quality of the schools. Last year, classes in the camp were crammed with up to 90 children; of those who took Jordan’s 12th-grade exam, 3 percent passed. [Continue reading…]


Refugee crisis: How border closures in Europe are boosting the profits of organized crime

Misha Glenny writes: In the midst of the refugee crisis, the European Union has for the first time ever been considering deploying naval assets against organized crime. People smuggling, chiefly from Syria and the Horn of Africa, is now a multibillion-dollar business that is as profitable, if not more so, than the trade in illegal narcotics.

This is not the trafficking of migrant labor or women for sexual purposes. These criminal gangs are effectively offering travel-agent services to desperate people fleeing conflict. Their services can include false documentation, bribes to border guards and transport, in dangerous, often deadly, circumstances.

Sadly, the measures countries are taking to counteract the flood of refugees serve only to make organized crime stronger. As long as European countries fail to implement a plan to take in refugees across member states, the business of people smuggling will continue to grow.

It has been almost a decade since I first argued that organized crime should be seen as a priority for resources above the more emotive issue of combating terrorism. The crisis in Europe demonstrates just how devastating the impact of organized crime can be, through both the exploitation of defenseless refugees and the undermining of legitimate governments at a time when countries on Europe’s periphery are facing daunting economic challenges. [Continue reading…]


Syrian refugees dreaming of Europe


Justice should be the driving force for reporting on the refugee crisis

By Steven Harkins, University of Sheffield

If truth, accuracy and objectivity guaranteed that all journalism would be ethical, the cause of the Syrian refugees would have been taken up long before the shocking images of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi’s body washed up on a Turkish beach. The publication of the image triggered a brief volte-face in sections of the British press that had been blaming the victims for the refugee crisis.

Newspapers agonised over the ethical issues raised by publishing such a shocking image. In response to reader’s complaints for publishing the image, Berlin-based newspaper Bild removed every image from a subsequent edition.

This will become a staple case study for journalism ethics students at universities. But it will also raise questions about how journalists are trained. Journalism education should not only be able to teach people how to do journalism but also why.

[Read more…]


Some Iraqis ditch fight against ISIS for life in Europe

Reuters reports: Some Iraqi soldiers are abandoning their posts and joining a wave of civilian migrants headed to Europe, raising new doubts about the cohesion of the country’s Western-backed security forces in the fight against Islamic State militants.

Interviews with migrants and an analysis of social media activity show scores of fighters from the national army, police and special forces as well as Shi’ite militias and Kurdish peshmerga have left in recent months or plan to go soon.

They join more than 50,000 civilians who have left Iraq in the past three months, according to the United Nations, part of an even larger exodus from neighbouring Syria and other conflict zones across the Middle East.

The inability of Iraq to retain its soldiers threatens to further erode morale in a military that has partially collapsed twice in the past year in the face of the Islamic State militant group. [Continue reading…]


Human migration will be a defining issue of this century. How best to cope?

Alexander Betts writes: Throughout the crisis, a debate has been on whether it is a “migrant” or a “refugee” crisis. It has been important for the public to understand that most people coming to Europe have been from refugee-producing countries and that “refugees” have a particular set of rights under international law. Furthermore, people have a right to seek asylum, and have their claims to refugee status adjudicated.

However, the stark dichotomy between “refugee” and “economic migrant” masks a growing trend: that many people coming fall between those two extremes.

The modern global refugee regime was established at a particular juncture of history, in the aftermath of the Holocaust and at the start of the cold war. The 1951 convention on the status of refugees defines a refugee as someone fleeing “persecution”, based on race, religion, nationality, membership of a social group, or political opinion. The interpretation of that definition has adapted over time. But at its core was the idea of protecting people whose own governments were either out to get them or unable to prevent persecution by others. Today, the sources of cross-border displacement are increasingly complex, and many fit poorly with the 1951 convention.

Environmental change, food insecurity, and generalised violence, for example, represent emerging sources of human displacement. In strong states, the government can usually provide some kind of remedy or resolution to people affected by these types of crisis. However, much less so in fragile states. People who fall outside the internationally recognised definition of a refugee but are nevertheless fleeing very serious socio-economic rights deprivations might be called “survival migrants”.

In the contemporary world, a significant proportion of the people we attempt to describe as economic migrants fall into this category.

Survival migration has been an emerging challenge. Nearly a decade ago, Zimbabwean asylum seekers fleeing Robert Mugabe’s regime made up the largest group of asylum seekers in the world. Most British people would probably assume that at the height of the crisis between 2003 and 2009 the majority would have been refugees. However, in South Africa, to where the overwhelming proportion fled, only about 10% were recognised as refugees and up to 300,000 people a year were deported back to Zimbabwe. The reason for this was simple: they were not judged to fit the 1951 convention definition of a refugee. However, on ethical grounds, it was incontrovertibly cruel to deport people back to a country in a state of socio-economic and political collapse.

This example illustrates how current policy responses bypass engagement with long-term trends. The world as a whole lacks a vision for how to respond to the changing nature of displacement. So much of the current “crisis” is not a crisis of numbers but a crisis of politics. We need bold leadership that correctly and honestly articulates the causes of movement and outlines global solutions. [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…]


The roots of German openness

Dominique Moisi writes: “Germany, Germany,” shout thousands of refugees, faced with the obvious bad will of Hungary’s political authorities, in front of Budapest’s Keleti railway station. They are dreaming of Germany – not any European country, but specifically Germany – the way, more than a century ago, Europe’s poor, fleeing misery – and, in some cases, pogroms – dreamed of America.

This represents a dramatic shift from the past. What a contrast between the photo, taken less than 80 years ago in the Warsaw Ghetto, of a small Jewish child with raised arms and fearful eyes, and one taken a few days ago in Munich of a smiling refugee boy, his head protected by a policeman’s hat. For the first child, Germany meant certain death; for the second, it offers hope for a better life.

And Germany does not represent just an abstract hope; the country is welcoming more migrants than any of its European counterparts, with Chancellor Angela Merkel having announced that the country will take at least 800,000 asylum-seekers this year. How can a country move so rapidly from darkness to light?

No one can deny the role of schools, civic and business leaders, and, of course, external forces in bringing about this change. But nor should one underestimate the importance of political leadership. [Continue reading…]