Czech mogul faces tough cabinet talks after election triumph

Bloomberg reports: Czech billionaire Andrej Babis hit his first obstacle to forming a new cabinet after dominating the country’s parliamentary elections, with potential coalition partners declining to join him in government as long as he’s facing criminal fraud charges.

After promising to run the state like a business, fight Muslim immigration and oppose deeper integration with the European Union, Babis’s ANO party won 29.6 percent of ballots on Saturday. The euro-skeptic Civic Democrats were second, followed by two anti-establishment parties, the Pirates and the anti-Muslim SPD. Mainstream and pro-EU political forces suffered heavy losses.

As the second-richest Czech, Babis has drawn comparisons to Donald Trump and Silvio Berlusconi. He took credit for one of the fastest economic expansions in the EU and the bloc’s lowest unemployment, but his opponents have accused him of conflicts of interest tied to his agriculture and media businesses. A month before the vote, he was charged with fraud. He has rejected the allegations, but his current coalition partners, the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats, said they won’t join him in power as long as the case remains open. [Continue reading…]

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Merkel moves left to disarm the right

Der Spiegel reports: Angela Merkel has been leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) for 17 years, six months and four days, but she still knows how to surprise her party. Last Saturday she dropped by the annual congress organized by its youth wing, the Junge Union. The younger generation has long seen itself in the vanguard of the CDU’s conservative faction, frequently rallying behind politicians who do not see eye to eye with Chancellor Merkel.

At the 2004 congress, Helmut Kohl was given a welcome that suggested he, rather than, Merkel was at the helm of the party (“Who is our idol? – Helmut Kohl”). A year later, the man of the hour was Friedrich Merz, her archrival at the time, who was hellbent on tax reform. This year, the standing ovations were in honor of Jens Spahn, the young state secretary at the Ministry of Finance and the man that many are hoping will spearhead a conservative U-turn within the CDU.

Not surprisingly, there was a rancorous atmosphere when Merkel took to the stage on Saturday morning to field questions from the audience. Was she willing to admit the party had suffered a bitter defeat in the election in late September? Was it not high time she began paying more attention to center-right voters?

Once again, Merkel demonstrated that she is nothing if not flexible when under pressure, and laid out her plan to woo back voters who defected to the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) on September 24. The trouble was, her plan was not even remotely what many members of her party want to hear.

In his speech the previous evening, Jens Spahn had spelled out what he sees as the reasons for the CDU’s election humiliation in no uncertain terms. The elephant in the room, the issue no one dares address, in his opinion, is refugee policy. “Does anyone here seriously believe that the reason we lost 12 percent to the AfD in Baden-Württemberg is because of old-age care policy?”

The one person who does seriously believe it is Angela Merkel. She talked about the badly paid care workers for the elderly, about families who can’t afford affordable housing in Germany’s cities. She talked about aging men and women who spent 45 years working only to find their pensions aren’t enough to live on.

“These are social issues we need to resolve,” she said. “The CDU is sometimes more inclined to focus on the economy and less inclined to consider what it actually means for the individual,” she added, in a small swipe at her own party. By the time Merkel left the Congress center in Dresden after about two hours, it had become eminently clear that her response to the rise of the right-wing populist AfD is to shift to the left. [Continue reading…]

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Facebook and Google helped anti-refugee campaign in swing states

Bloomberg reports: In the final weeks of the 2016 election campaign, voters in swing states including Nevada and North Carolina saw ads appear in their Facebook feeds and on Google websites touting a pair of controversial faux-tourism videos, showing France and Germany overrun by Sharia law. French schoolchildren were being trained to fight for the caliphate, jihadi fighters were celebrated at the Arc de Triomphe, and the “Mona Lisa” was covered in a burka.

“Under Sharia law, you can enjoy everything the Islamic State of France has to offer, as long as you follow the rules,” intoned the narrator of one ad.

Unlike Russian efforts to secretly influence the 2016 election via social media, this American-led campaign was aided by direct collaboration with employees of Facebook and Google. They helped target the ads to more efficiently reach the intended audiences, according to internal reports from the ad agency that ran the campaign, as well as five people involved with the efforts.

Facebook advertising salespeople, creative advisers and technical experts competed with sales staff from Alphabet Inc.’s Google for millions in ad dollars from Secure America Now, the conservative, nonprofit advocacy group whose campaign included a mix of anti-Hillary Clinton and anti-Islam messages, the people said.

The content of some ads left some employees of Harris Media—the Austin-based digital advertising firm that runs campaigns for Secure America Now—feeling uneasy. “It was designed to strike fear in people’s hearts,” said one former Harris employee who requested anonymity. [Continue reading…]

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How America became a timid, cowardly, selfish nation

Susan B Glasser writes: Ai Weiwei is making a strong case for himself as America’s leading dissident of the Trump era.

Never mind that he’s Chinese, or that he lives in Berlin in de facto exile these days.

The legendary artist, who has long embraced political themes in his work, has gone full-out activist in a new feature-length documentary film about the global refugee crisis, called Human Flow and released in theaters across the U.S. Friday, and in a new, New York City-wide public art exhibit of 300 works in dozens of locations called “Good Walls Make Good Neighbors.”

Both are explicit rebuttals of the nationalistic, America-First-fueled policies espoused by Donald Trump, from his proposed Mexican border wall to his curbs on immigration that include admitting the smallest number of refugees to the U.S. in decades.

In a new interview for The Global Politico during a rare visit to Trump’s Washington, Ai referred to Trump’s win as “the moment I think history stopped,” a “backward” evolution that undermines liberal ideas like freedom of speech and human dignity everywhere.

Authoritarian leaders in China and elsewhere are the beneficiaries of Trump and the crisis of American democracy, said Ai, who spent four years under house arrest and forbidden to leave China before being allowed to leave the country two years ago.

“China is laughing about this situation,” he said. “China, Russia, they all laugh about it.”

When we met in Georgetown recently, I found Ai most compelling when talking about why he made the film, a “strangely beautiful” documentary, as the New York Times put it, shot in 23 countries from Asia to Africa to the Middle East and Europe over the course of a year.

It’s a call to action for Americans, he told me, and a commentary on what he sees as the breakdown of our society into a “timid” and “cowardly” and “selfish” place, one whose new role in the world is very much at odds with its self-identity as this liberal, generous nation.

“We have to save our own soul and our own mind and our own society,” he said. [Continue reading…]

 

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How Stephen Miller single-handedly got the U.S. to accept fewer refugees

Jonathan Blitzer writes: In 1980, the year that Congress passed the Refugee Act, the U.S. accepted more than two hundred thousand refugees. The law created a robust program for accepting people who had been displaced by war and strife, and made refugee policy a new tool of American foreign policy, improving the country’s standing with foreign allies and helping the military and intelligence communities find partners in conflict zones. Since then, the mandated refugee “cap” set by the President has fluctuated; during the Obama Administration, it averaged seventy-six thousand, and, in 2017, Obama raised the cap to a hundred and ten thousand to allow in more Syrians fleeing civil war. Then came Donald Trump. In January, he signed an executive order temporarily freezing the refugee program, barring all Syrians, and slashing the number of refugees allowed into the country for the remainder of the year. Late last month, the White House announced that next year’s cap would be forty-five thousand, a record low. The State Department, the Defense Department, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Office of the Vice-President, and the Office of Management and Budget had wanted the number to be higher. But they had all been forced to compete with one influential White House official: Stephen Miller, the thirty-two-year-old former aide to Jeff Sessions who has become Trump’s top immigration adviser.

I recently spoke to four Administration officials involved in the refugee-cap process to try to understand how Miller was able to outmaneuver an array of powerful factions in the federal bureaucracy. Each official described Miller as a savvy operator who understands how to insert himself into the policy-creation process. They also described him as the beneficiary of a dysfunctional and understaffed Administration. Miller hadn’t completely gotten his way on the refugee cap, they told me; he wanted it to be lower. The forty-five-thousand figure—which past Administrations would have considered impractically low—amounted to a kind of compromise. [Continue reading…]

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White House wants refugee admissions to be limited to those who can erase their foreignness

Lauren Wolfe writes: Out in New York Harbor in 1903, the bronze plaque with Emma Lazarus’s poem “The New Colossus” was affixed to the Statue of Liberty. It’s the one that begins: “Give me your tired, your poor…” Her poem went on to welcome 5,000 to 10,000 immigrants every day between 1900 and 1914. About 40 percent of Americans are now descended from someone who came through Ellis Island. My great-grandfather was one of them.

His name was Avram. The year the plaque was being installed inside the Statue of Liberty, Avram was living in a place called Bessarabia, then part of tsarist Russia, now mostly in Moldova. Pogroms were ravaging cities across the region. That year, Avram and his wife, Dora, set sail with their son, my grandfather Joseph, aged four.

The family settled on New York’s Lower East Side, where Avram learned English but spoke his native Yiddish at home, reading a Yiddish-language newspaper each night. He didn’t arrive with much money; he did piecework making zippers for a while and went on to become very active in the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union — a feminist labor organizer ahead of his time. He spent the rest of his life in America, dying in Brooklyn in 1954.

Yet under a new presidential determination from the White House, future Avrams may never have the chance to come to the United States. According to both international and U.S. refugee law, people like my great-grandfather have for decades been candidates for refugee resettlement based solely on their well-founded fear of persecution in their home countries. Their ability to “assimilate” — learn English and embrace the customs of the United States — had no bearing on their asylum applications. That, however, may be about to change: Buried inside the 65-page Sept. 27 directive that also capped the number of refugees to be resettled in the United States next year at 45,000, the lowest since the White House began setting a limit in 1980, there is vague, disconcerting language that lawyers and immigration experts say they have never seen before in reference to refugees in this country.

The Trump administration may now consider “certain criteria that enhance a refugee’s likelihood of successful assimilation and contribution in the United States” in addition to the humanitarian criteria that have long been the standard for refugee claims, according to the determination, which is similar to an executive order in that it has the force of law. That term, “assimilation,” is brand-new in the history of U.S. policy on refugees, and it appears in the document over and over again. Previous directives have used the word “integration,” which comes from the Latin “integrare” — “to make whole” — and implies some change on the part of society as well as those entering it. “Assimilation,” in contrast, “is kind of the erasure of cultural markers,” according to Kathleen Newland, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute. “It’s important to make a distinction,” because, she said, the word “has that connotation of erasure of one thing and absorption into the mainstream culture.”

There is little doubt that this is the meaning of “assimilate” the White House has in mind. As a candidate, Donald Trump complained about what he saw as a lack of assimilation among Muslim immigrants, a group he has smeared repeatedly, from belittling Muslim Gold Star parents to pretending his “Muslim ban” never really targeted Muslims, despite the fact that his campaign website called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the U.S.”. More recently, on Sept. 15, the National Archives in Washington debuted a video of the president welcoming new U.S. citizens in which he says, “Our history is now your history. And our traditions are now your traditions.” He adds, “You now share the obligation to teach our values to others, to help newcomers assimilate to our way of life.” [Continue reading…]

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Rohingya recount atrocities: ‘They threw my baby into a fire’

Jeffrey Gettleman reports: Hundreds of women stood in the river, held at gunpoint, ordered not to move.

A pack of soldiers stepped toward a petite young woman with light brown eyes and delicate cheekbones. Her name was Rajuma, and she was standing chest-high in the water, clutching her baby son, while her village in Myanmar burned down behind her.

“You,” the soldiers said, pointing at her.

She froze.

“You!”

She squeezed her baby tighter.

In the next violent blur of moments, the soldiers clubbed Rajuma in the face, tore her screaming child out of her arms and hurled him into a fire. She was then dragged into a house and gang-raped.

By the time the day was over, she was running through a field naked and covered in blood. Alone, she had lost her son, her mother, her two sisters and her younger brother, all wiped out in front of her eyes, she says.

Rajuma is a Rohingya Muslim, one of the most persecuted ethnic groups on earth, and she now spends her days drifting through a refugee camp in Bangladesh in a daze.

She relayed her story to me during a recent reporting trip I made to the camps, where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya like her have rushed for safety. Her deeply disturbing account of what happened in her village, in late August, was corroborated by dozens of other survivors, whom I spoke with at length, and by human rights groups gathering evidence of atrocities.

Survivors said they saw government soldiers stabbing babies, cutting off boys’ heads, gang-raping girls, shooting 40-millimeter grenades into houses, burning entire families to death, and rounding up dozens of unarmed male villagers and summarily executing them. [Continue reading… ]

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Europe and its discontents

Ivan Krastev writes: While the fear of foreigners seems to be at the heart of the conflict between Europe’s East and West, the East’s alienation from the European project could be better understood elsewhere. It is rooted in the trauma of those who have left. Think of it as a delayed reaction of the consequences of millions of East Europeans emigrating to the West in the past 25 years.

In the period between 1990 and 2015 the former G.D.R. lost 15 percent of its population. The mass migration from post-Communist Europe to the West not only impaired economic competitiveness and political dynamism, but also made those who decided to stay home feel like real losers. Those with roots have grown resentful of those with legs. It is the people in the depopulated areas in Europe who most enthusiastically voted for populists.

And while political anger has erupted both in the east and in the west of Germany and in the east and the west of Europe, there’s a clear pattern: When dissatisfied with the status quo, Westerners largely seek alternatives in or around the political mainstream — many of those disappointed with Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democrats in western Germany voted for the Liberals — while in the east, voters seek alternatives in political extremes.

Germany’s central role for the future of Europe is defined not only by its economic and political power but also by the fact that Germany like no other European country experiences the East-West divide not as a clash between member states but as a split in its own society. [Continue reading…]

 

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In grim camps, Rohingya suffer on ‘scale that we couldn’t imagine’

The New York Times reports: Up to their ankles in mud, hundreds of Rohingya refugees fought to the front of the crowd outside of their makeshift camp. An open-bed truck full of Bangladeshi volunteers was passing by, tossing out donated goods at random: small bags of rice, a faded SpongeBob SquarePants T-shirt, a cluster of dirty forks.

Entire families sloshed through the rain hoping to grab whatever they could. One boy, no older than 6, squeezed his way to an opening where a pair of oversize men’s jeans came hurtling off a truck. He had to fight off an older boy before he could run off with the prize.

There were already more than 200,000 ethnic Rohingya migrants stuck in camps like this one, Balukhali, in southern Bangladesh. But over the past month, at least 500,000 more — more than half of the Rohingya population thought to have been living in Myanmar — are reported to have fled over the border to take refuge, surpassing even the worst month of the Syrian war’s refugee tide.

As international leaders squabble over whether to punish Myanmar for the military’s methodical killing and uprooting of Rohingya civilians, the recent arrivals are living in abjectly desperate conditions.

This is not so much a defined camp as a dense collection of bamboo and tarp stacks. When I visited, children were wandering in the mud looking for food and clothes. There are worries about cholera and tuberculosis. With no toilets, what’s left of the forest has become a vast, improvised bathroom.

While the flow of refugees has greatly slowed in the past week, aid organizations are still overwhelmed.

“It’s on a scale that we couldn’t imagine,” said Kate White, the Doctors Without Borders medical emergency manager in Bangladesh. “This is a small piece of land, and everyone is condensed into it. We just can’t scale up fast enough.” [Continue reading…]

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Is Germany’s election result ‘the revenge of the East’?

The Guardian reports: Two days after a historic vote saw an overtly nationalist party enter the German parliament for the first time in more than five decades, a group of over-60s vent their grievances over lunchtime beers and cigarettes in the smoky back room of a dry petrol station on the border between the German state of Saxony and the Czech Republic.

The German government is throwing cash at refugees “while native pensioners can’t afford to buy a new pair of glasses”, they complain. Putin is Europe’s “only guarantor of peace”, they argue, and Germany is still “under occupation” by America.

A retired lorry driver with a handlebar moustache cites a joke he read in the tabloid Bild, which says that in the wake of Sunday’s federal elections, Angela Merkel should consider handing Saxony to the Czechs in exchange for some of their toxic waste. “Let’s have it,” he shouts. “We’ll become Sudeten Germans again.”

Oppach lies in the new heartland of Germany’s far-right upstarts, part of a cluster of five villages in the district of Görlitz where Alternative für Deutschland won more than 44% of the vote on Sunday.

With 12.6% of the national vote, the AfD will be the third-strongest force in the next Bundestag, but in Saxony the party is already top: 27% of voters cast their ballot for the party that wants to hold a referendum on leaving the eurozone, ban burqas and minarets, and have Merkel prosecuted for her decision to open Germany’s borders to refugees in 2015. [Continue reading…]

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How fake news turned a small town upside down

Caitlin Dickerson reports: On a Tuesday morning in June 2016, Nathan Brown, a reporter for The Times-News, the local paper in Twin Falls, Idaho, strolled into the office and cleared off a spot for his coffee cup amid the documents and notebooks piled on his desk. Brown, 32, started his career at a paper in upstate New York, where he grew up, and looks the part of a local reporter, clad in a fresh oxford and khakis that tend to become disheveled over the course of his long days. His first order of business was an article about a City Council meeting from the night before, which he hadn’t attended. Brown pulled up a recording of the proceedings and began punching out notes for his weekly article. Because most governing in Twin Falls is done by a city manager, these meetings tend to deal with trivial subjects like lawn-watering and potholes, but Brown could tell immediately that this one was different.

“We have been made aware of a situation,” said the first speaker, an older man with a scraggly white beard who had hobbled up to the lectern. “An alleged assault of a minor child and we can’t get any information on it. Apparently, it’s been indicated that the perpetrators were foreign Muslim youth that conducted this — I guess it was a rape.” Brown recognized the man as Terry Edwards. About a year earlier, after The Times-News reported that Syrian refugees would very likely be resettled in Twin Falls, Edwards joined a movement to shut the resettlement program down. The group circulated a petition to put the proposal before voters. They failed to get enough signatures to force a referendum, but Brown was struck by how much support around town the movement attracted. In bars after work, he began to overhear conversations about the dangers of Islam. One night, he heard a man joke about dousing the entrance to the local mosque with pig’s blood.

After he finished watching the video, Brown called the police chief, Craig Kingsbury, to get more information about the case. Kingsbury said that he couldn’t discuss it and that the police reports were sealed because minors were involved. Brown made a couple phone calls: to the mayor and to his colleague at the paper who covers crime. He pieced together that 12 days earlier, three children had been discovered partly clothed inside a shared laundry room at the apartment complex where they lived. There were two boys, a 7-year-old and a 10-year-old, and a 5-year-old girl. The 7-year-old boy was accused of attempting some kind of sex act with the 5-year-old, and the 10-year-old had used a cellphone borrowed from his older brother to record it. The girl was American and, like most people in Twin Falls, white. The boys were refugees; Brown wasn’t sure from where. In his article about the meeting, Brown seems to anticipate that the police chief’s inability to elaborate was not going to sit well with the people whose testimony he had just watched.

That weekend, Brown was on his way to see a movie when he received a Facebook message from Jim Dalos Jr., a 52-year-old known to Twin Falls journalists and police as Scanner Man. Dalos is disabled; he works six hours a week as a dishwasher at a pizzeria but spends most of his time in his apartment, sitting in a reclining chair and drinking Diet Pepsi out of a 52-ounce plastic mug, voraciously consuming news. He reads the local paper, old issues of which litter his living-room floor, and keeps the television blaring — usually Fox News. He got his nickname because he constantly monitors an old police scanner, a gift he received as a teenager from his father, and often calls in tips to the media based on what he hears. He also happens to live at the apartment complex, Fawnbrook, where the laundry-room incident occurred.

Dalos told Brown that he had seen the police around Fawnbrook and that the victim’s mother told him that the boys had been arrested. He also pointed Brown to a couple of Facebook groups that were created in response to the crime. Brown scrolled through them on his cellphone and saw links flying back and forth with articles that said that the little girl had been gang raped at knife point, that the perpetrators were Syrian refugees and that their fathers had celebrated with them afterward by giving them high fives. The stories also claimed that the City Council and the police department were conspiring to bury the crime.

Over the weekend, Brown plowed through his daily packs of cigarettes as he watched hundreds, then thousands, of people joining the groups. Their panic appeared to be piqued by a mass shooting, the deadliest in American history, that had just occurred at Pulse nightclub in Orlando. The perpetrator had declared allegiance to ISIS. The commenters also posted stories that claimed refugees were responsible for a rash of rapes in Europe and that a similar phenomenon in the United States was imminent. “My girl is blond and blue-eyed,” one woman wrote. “I am extremely worried about her safety.”

The details of the Fawnbrook case, as it became known, were still unclear to Brown, but he was skeptical of what he was reading. For one thing, he knew from his own previous reporting that no Syrians had been resettled in Twin Falls after all. He woke up early on Monday to get a head start on clarifying things as much as possible in order to write a follow-up article. Before he got into the office, a friend texted him, telling him to check the Drudge Report. At the top, a headline screamed: “REPORT: Syrian ‘Refugees’ Rape Little Girl at Knifepoint in Idaho.” [Continue reading…]

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New order indefinitely bars almost all travel from seven countries

The New York Times reports: President Trump on Sunday issued a new order indefinitely banning almost all travel to the United States from seven countries, including most of the nations covered by his original travel ban, citing threats to national security posed by letting their citizens into the country.

The new order is more far-reaching than the president’s original travel ban, imposing permanent restrictions on travel, rather than the 90-day suspension that Mr. Trump authorized soon after taking office. But officials said his new action was the result of a deliberative, rigorous examination of security risks that was designed to avoid the chaotic rollout of his first ban. And the addition of non-Muslim countries could address the legal attacks on earlier travel restrictions as discrimination based on religion.

Starting next month, most citizens of Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Chad and North Korea will be banned from entering the United States, Mr. Trump said in a proclamation released Sunday night. Citizens of Iraq and some groups of people in Venezuela who seek to visit the United States will face restrictions or heightened scrutiny.

Mr. Trump’s original travel ban caused turmoil at airports in January and set off a furious legal challenge to the president’s authority. It was followed in March by a revised ban, which expired on Sunday even as the Supreme Court is set to hear arguments about its constitutionality on Oct. 10. The new order — Chad, North Korea and Venezuela are new to the list of affected countries and Sudan has been dropped — will take effect Oct. 18. [Continue reading…]

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What the stunning success of AfD means for Germany and Europe

Cas Mudde writes: In 1991 Belgium had its (first) black Sunday, when the populist radical right Flemish Block gained 6.8% of the national vote. Since then many other western European countries have gone through a similar experience, from Denmark to Switzerland. And now, even the ever stable Germany has its own schwarzer Sonntag, and it’s blacker than most people had expected.

The populist radical-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party not only enters the Bundestag, the German parliament, but does so almost certainly as the third biggest party, with a stunning 13.3%, an increase of 8.8 percentage points according to the exit poll. Moreover, both the centre-right CDU/CSU and the centre-left SPD scored their worst electoral results in the postwar era, with 32.5% and 20% respectively. This means that AfD got two-thirds of the SPD vote, and 40% of the CDU/CSU vote.

Polls from German state TV, showed that AfD has its Hochburgen (strongholds) in the former communist east of the country. While it scored on average 11% in west Germany, it got 21.5% in east Germany, more than twice as much. This is in line with its results in the regional state elections, in which AfD also gained its largest support in the east.

AfD got more votes from past non-voters (1.2 million) than from the CDU/CSU (1 million) or SPD (500,000). In many ways this is an anti-Merkel vote, reflecting opposition to her controversial Willkommenspolitik towards refugees, which not only pushed some voters of mainstream parties to switch but also mobilised previous non-voters. The same poll also shows, for example, that 89% of AfD voters thought that Merkel’s immigration policies ignored the “concerns of the people” (ie German citizens); 85% want stronger national borders; and 82% think that 12 years of Merkel is enough. In other words, AfD has clearly profited from the fact that immigration was the number one issue in these elections. [Continue reading…]

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The White House’s preposterous policy analysis on refugees

In an editorial, the Washington Post says: A quirky thing about government programs is that, in addition to costs, there are benefits, the latter of which may also include revenue. Yet in the case of U.S. refugee programs, xenophobes seeking an upper hand in the Trump administration have covered up half the ledger.

A report ordered up by President Trump in March, and produced by officials in July, concluded that refugees had delivered $63 billion more in federal, state and local tax revenue than they had cost in federal benefits through the decade ending in 2014. According to the New York Times, however, the administration sent the report back for a redo, insisting that any mention of revenue be dropped. The Department of Health and Human Services obliged in a final, three-page report this month, which concluded that per-person departmental program costs for refugees were $3,300, compared with a per-person cost of $2,500 for the U.S. population as a whole.

That’s not exactly a shocker. Refugees, by definition legal immigrants, tend to be poor or penniless. As the report from Health and Human Services says, they naturally draw more heavily on the department’s programs, particularly in their first four years of residency. The fact that they pay more in taxes than they draw in benefits cuts against the administration’s spin and, according to the Times, was suppressed by Stephen Miller, Mr. Trump’s nativist senior policy adviser.

Mr. Miller is leading the charge to slash the number of refugees admitted in the fiscal year starting in October, below even the cap of 50,000 that Mr. Trump imposed this year — itself the lowest number in more than 30 years. (Before leaving office, President Barack Obama had set this year’s target at 110,000.) In addition to his general dislike of immigration, Mr. Miller sees refugees in particular as a terrorist threat and a fiscal burden. The fact that there’s extremely little historical evidence of the former, and that the latter is demonstrably false, doesn’t interest him — or Mr. Trump, who on Tuesday told the U.N. General Assembly that it would be much cheaper for Washington to send money for refugees rather than resettle them in the United States. [Continue reading…]

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Why there’s no end in sight for Myanmar’s Rohingya exodus

Brandon Tensley writes: Myanmar has been careening ever deeper into crisis for several weeks. On August 25th, an insurgent army of the Rohingya people—a stateless Muslim group in the majority-Buddhist country—attacked state security forces. The military responded with a brutal counterinsurgency, one that included torture, summary killings, and the mass displacement of civilians. The Myanmar government has since largely cut off aid operations to conflict-torn areas.

Violence centered around the Rohingya, particularly in the impoverished state of Rakhine, on Myanmar’s western coast, isn’t new. Last year, for instance, on October 9th, the Arakan Rohingya Solidarity Army—the group that also carried out last month’s attacks—killed a dozen officers across state security outposts. Over the next few days, the Myanmar military’s reprisal forced thousands of Rohingya, as well as other civilians, across the border into nearby Bangladesh. Many of those who escaped the violence reported that their villages had been burned down and that innocent civilians had been killed. Four years before that, a string of riots in 2012 claimed more than 100 lives and forced some 140,000 more into squalid refugee camps. The plight of the Rohingya has routinely left them vulnerable to abuse by smugglers, as they take to rickety boats and attempt to look for sanctuary elsewhere; in 2015, increased attempts at migration led to a regional refugee crisis.

Yet the severity and speed with which the current crisis is escalating threatens to make it the worst flare-up of mass migration Myanmar has seen in decades. These developments, in a country allegedly moving toward democracy, can also seem more dire than before. [Continue reading…]

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Trump administration rejects study showing positive impact of refugees

The New York Times reports: Trump administration officials, under pressure from the White House to provide a rationale for reducing the number of refugees allowed into the United States next year, rejected a study by the Department of Health and Human Services that found that refugees brought in $63 billion more in government revenues over the past decade than they cost.

The draft report, which was obtained by The New York Times, contradicts a central argument made by advocates of deep cuts in refugee totals as President Trump faces an Oct. 1 deadline to decide on an allowable number. The issue has sparked intense debate within his administration as opponents of the program, led by Mr. Trump’s chief policy adviser, Stephen Miller, assert that continuing to welcome refugees is too costly and raises concerns about terrorism.

Advocates of the program inside and outside the administration say refugees are a major benefit to the United States, paying more in taxes than they consume in public benefits, and filling jobs in service industries that others will not. But research documenting their fiscal upside — prepared for a report mandated by Mr. Trump in a March presidential memorandum implementing his travel ban — never made its way to the White House. Some of those proponents believe the report was suppressed.

The internal study, which was completed in late July but never publicly released, found that refugees “contributed an estimated $269.1 billion in revenues to all levels of government” between 2005 and 2014 through the payment of federal, state and local taxes. “Overall, this report estimated that the net fiscal impact of refugees was positive over the 10-year period, at $63 billion.”

But White House officials said those conclusions were illegitimate and politically motivated, and were disproved by the final report issued by the agency, which asserts that the per-capita cost of a refugee is higher than that of an American. [Continue reading…]

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How violence in Myanmar radicalized a new generation of Rohingya

The New York Times reports: Nazir Hossain, the imam of a village in far western Myanmar, gathered the faithful around him after evening prayers last month. In a few hours, more than a dozen Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army fighters from his village would strike a nearby police post with an assortment of handmade weapons.

The men needed their cleric’s blessing.

“As imam, I encouraged them never to step back from their mission,” Mr. Hossein recalled of his final words to the ethnic Rohingya militants. “I told them that if they did not fight to the death, the military would come and kill their families, their women and their children.”

They fought — joining an Aug. 25 assault by thousands of the group’s fighters against Myanmar’s security forces — and the retaliation came down anyway. Since then, Myanmar’s troops and vigilante mobs have unleashed a scorched-earth operation on Rohingya populations in northern Rakhine State in Myanmar, sending hundreds of thousands fleeing their homes in a campaign that the United Nations has called ethnic cleansing.

From its start four years ago as a small-scale effort to organize a Rohingya resistance, ARSA — which is known locally as Harakah al-Yaqin, or the Faith Movement — has managed to stage two deadly attacks on Myanmar’s security forces: one last October and the other last month.

But in lashing out against the government, the militants have also made their own people a target. And they have handed Myanmar’s military an attempt at public justification by saying that it is fighting terrorism, even as it has burned down dozens of villages and killed fleeing women and children.

This radicalization of a new generation of Rohingya, a Muslim minority in a Buddhist-majority country, adds fuel to an already combustible situation in Rakhine, Myanmar’s poorest state.

Increasingly, there is also concern that both the relatively few Rohingya who have taken up arms and the broader population — hundreds of thousands of whom are crowded in camps in neighboring Bangladesh — will be exploited by international terrorism networks, bringing a localized struggle into the slipstream of global politics.

ARSA’s attempt at insurgency politics has been disastrous so far — a cease-fire that they declared this month was rejected by the military, and they are reported to have suffered lopsided casualties compared with the government’s. But the men caught up in the cause insist that resistance is worth the steep cost, even to their families. [Continue reading…]

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Aid group warns of lives at risk among Rohingya in Bangladesh

Reuters reports: Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh could die due to a lack of food, shelter and water available for the huge numbers of them fleeing violence in Myanmar, an aid agency warned on Sunday.

Nearly 410,000 members of the Rohingya Muslim minority fled from western Rakhine state to Bangladesh to escape a military offensive that the United Nations has branded a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.

“Many people are arriving hungry, exhausted and with no food or water,” Mark Pierce, Bangladesh country director for the Save the Children aid agency said in a statement.

“I’m particularly worried that the demand for food, shelter, water and basic hygiene support is not being met due to the sheer number of people in need. If families can’t meet their basic needs, the suffering will get even worse and lives could be lost.” [Continue reading…]

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‘Blood flowed in the streets’: Refugees from one Rohingya village recount days of horror

The Washington Post reports: The soldiers arrived in the Burma village just after 8 a.m., the villagers said, ready to fight a war.

They fired shots in the air, and then, the villagers claim, turned their guns on fleeing residents, who fell dead and wounded in the monsoon-green rice paddy. The military’s retribution for a Rohingya militant attack on police posts earlier that day had begun.

Mohammed Roshid, a rice farmer, heard the gunfire and fled with his wife and children, but his 80-year-old father, who walks with a stick, wasn’t as nimble. Roshid said he saw a soldier grab Yusuf Ali and slit his throat with such ferocity the old man was nearly decapitated.

“I wanted to go back and save him, but some relatives stopped me because there was so many military,” Roshid, 55, said. “It’s the saddest thing in my life that I could not do anything for my father.”

The Burmese military’s “clearance operation” in the Maung Nu hamlet and dozens of other villages populated by Burma’s ethnic Rohingya minority triggered an exodus of an estimated 389,000 refugees into Bangladesh, an episode the United Nations human rights chief has called “ethnic cleansing.” The tide of refugees is expected to grow in the coming days. The newly arrived refugees — dazed, clutching their belongings, some barefoot in ankle-deep mud — have crowded out an existing camp and put up makeshift shelters. Others simply sit on the roadways, fighting crowds as large relief trucks fling down bags of rice or water. [Continue reading…]

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