Swedish Nazis trained in Russia before bombing a center for asylum seekers

BuzzFeed reports: By the time Anna Ahlberg arrived at the shelter, the only evidence that remained of the blast was a pool of blood that had melted through the snow in the parking lot.

The makeshift shelter was a rundown concrete motel on a lonely road off the highway running into Gothenburg, Sweden’s second-largest city. It housed people who had come to Sweden seeking asylum, but had been ordered to leave the country. Ahlberg, the director of the local migration agency, rushed to the scene about an hour after the explosion went off on the afternoon of January 5. By the time she arrived, the only person injured had been taken away in an ambulance. He was a janitor who’d been peppered with shrapnel and had both legs broken in the blast.

Ahlberg spent a long hour sitting in the back of a police car waiting for a bomb squad to clear the building before they’d allow her inside to reassure the roughly 60 asylum seekers on lockdown. She clung to the hope that the explosion was caused by a firework, or by a propane canister that one of the residents had been using to fuel a camp stove in their room.

“I didn’t want to think that it was meant to harm any person, that it was just an accident or bad luck,” Ahlberg told BuzzFeed News during an interview in Gothenburg in March.

But Ahlberg’s worst fears were confirmed a week later when investigators revealed that the people behind the blast were members of Sweden’s largest Nazi organization, the Nordic Resistance Movement.

They had found DNA samples on fragments of a bomb and the bicycle it had been strapped to that matched a 23-year-old named Viktor Melin. Melin was the leader of the group’s Gothenburg cell, and prosecutors ultimately brought charges against him and two other members, 20-year-old Anton Thulin and 50-year-old Jimmy Jonasson. The explosive matched devices used in two other attacks that winter: one that exploded in November outside the gathering spot of a left-wing organization without injuring anyone, and another that was discovered before it could go off at a residence for refugees in late January.

This was not the first time Ahlberg had seen one of her facilities vandalized. Two others in her jurisdiction had been damaged just before they were due to open in 2015. Scores of facilities were torched that year, part of the backlash that met the 160,000 asylum seekers who came to Sweden at the height of the EU refugee crisis. But the incident in the parking lot was the first time Ahlberg had heard of a bombing — and someone was nearly killed.

As the case headed to trial six months later, prosecutors dropped a bombshell. The perpetrators weren’t simply inspired by events at home, according to court filings reviewed by BuzzFeed News. Prosecutors presented evidence that two of the men had traveled to Russia, where they trained with paramilitaries who had fought alongside Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine.

The evidence prosecutors laid out to the judge could have far-reaching consequences throughout Europe. They showed how a largely forgotten war hundreds of miles away that has claimed thousands of lives had emboldened fringe nationalists deep inside the EU and built networks into Russia.

Security analysts worry that the Ukraine conflict fueled a transformation of right-wing extremist groups across the West. [Continue reading…]

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The country’s first Somali-American legislator and her politics of inclusivity

Pacific Standard reports: Two days before the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump stepped out of his personal jet and into a hangar at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport to promise a crowd of more than 9,000 supporters that, if elected, he would halt arrivals of Somali refugees. Minnesota has the largest Somali population in America—estimated to be around 46,000—as well as comparatively large populations of Ethiopians, Liberians, and Nigerians. “You’ve suffered enough in Minnesota,” Trump told the audience, referring to Somali immigrants as a “disaster.”

Two days later, on November 8th, a majority-white district in Minneapolis elected Ilhan Omar to the Minnesota House of Representatives, making her the country’s first Somali-American legislator. Omar’s win—in a district that includes both a portion of University of Minnesota and an immigrant neighborhood known as Little Mogadishu—represented a clear rejection of Trump’s rhetoric. And even while the incoming administration planned to reverse years of progressive policymaking, the rise of an optimistic immigrant politician served as a reminder that our country’s unique promise to newcomers was still alive.

At Omar’s election-night celebration, her husband, Ahmed Hirsi, saluted the diversity of Omar’s campaign. “Look around,” Hirsi said, waving his arms to the corners of a ballroom filled with hijab-wearing Millennials and balding brown and white heads. “This is what this country’s all about. This is America. Folks from different backgrounds, different faiths, different cultures, coming together for one good cause. So, for those who believe that Somalis are a disaster, I say you are delusional. That is not, let me tell you, that is not what this country is about.” Wearing an ivory hijab pinned with a glittering brooch, the 34-year-old Omar beamed from the front row, one of her three children perched on her lap. [Continue reading…]

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Pope Francis warns G-20 against ‘dangerous alliances’ damaging poor, migrants

Reuters reports: Pope Francis warned leaders of the world’s top 20 economies meeting in Hamburg against forming dangerous and distorting alliances that could harm the poor and migrants, in an article in Italian daily la Repubblica on Saturday.

“The G20 worries me, it hits migrants in countries in half of the world and it hits them even more as time goes by,” the Pope was quoted as saying in a conversation with the paper’s founder Eugenio Scalfari.

Francis, the first non-European pope in 1,300 years, said he was afraid of “very dangerous alliances among (foreign) powers that have a distorted vision of the world: America and Russia, China and North Korea, (Vladimir) Putin and (Bashar al-)Assad in the war in Syria.”

He said the greatest danger concerned immigration, with “the poor, the weak, the excluded and the marginalised” juxtaposed with “those who… fear the invasion of migrants”. [Continue reading…]

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How Iran recruited Afghan refugees to fight Assad’s war

Ali M. Latifi writes: War and poverty have scattered Afghans across the globe like pieces of shrapnel. Millions of Afghans came of age in refugee camps in Pakistan and Iran or as workers in the Persian Gulf nations. The migration continues. The past few years have added a new lethal geography to the Afghan diaspora: the battlefields of President Bashar al-Assad’s Syria.

Two years ago, Abdol Amin, 19, left his home in the Foladi Valley in Bamian, one of Afghanistan’s poorest provinces, to find work in Iran. Two million undocumented Afghans and a million Afghans with refugee status already lived in Iran. His sister and brother-in-law lived in Isfahan. He hoped to improve on his life of subsistence farming in impoverished Bamian.

Two-thirds of the population in Bamian Province lives on less than $25 a month. The intense poverty and the absence of opportunity forces thousands of young Afghans from Bamian to travel illegally to Iran in search of work. Many, like Mr. Amin, end up fighting other people’s wars.

Mr. Amin managed to earn a meager wage, about $200 a month, as a bricklayer in Isfahan. Last year, he used his modest savings and went to Iraq with a group of fellow Afghan refugees for a pilgrimage to Karbala, the city where Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, was killed in A.D. 680.

Elated after his pilgrimage, Mr. Amin returned to Iran but couldn’t find any work for three months. As often happens with Afghan refugees in Iran, Mr. Amin was humiliated and discriminated against. He lived with the constant fear of being deported. “Iran isn’t our country. It belongs to strangers,” Mr. Amin said. “Either you suffer and try to make some money or you die.”

Last winter Iranian authorities presented Mr. Amin with a proposition. He could gain legal status in Iran and be free of the fear of deportation. The Iranians offered him a 10-year residency permit and $800 a month if he would go to Syria to “fight to protect” the shrine of Sayyida Zainab, a granddaughter of the Prophet Muhammad.

Around 2013, when Mr. Assad’s military was losing ground to the rebels, Iran poured billions of dollars into Syria, brought in Hezbollah fighters and began raising Shiite militias from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other places with significant Shiite populations. Iran does want to protect the major Shiite shrines in Damascus, Aleppo and Raqqa, but the use of foreign Shiite militias in the Syria war was simply another element in the larger battle for control and influence in the Middle East run by Qassem Suleimani, the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps’ elite Quds Force. [Continue reading…]

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Overwhelmed by immigrants, Italy threatens to bar the door to rescue ships

The Washington Post reports: More than 12,000 immigrants have been rescued in the blue seas of the Mediterranean in the past four days, a spike that has some overwhelmed Italian policymakers threatening to partly bar their ports to rescue ships.

The drastic step would, in theory, force ships bearing people fleeing wars and economic deprivation to find other places to dock, shifting some of the burden of Europe’s grinding migration crisis to nations such as France and Spain. Both nations are on the Mediterranean Sea, but they are far more distant from Libya, through which nearly all the migrants are passing.

The proposal probably is a bargaining position taken ahead of a meeting of European migration ministers next week to discuss the continent’s challenges.

But it is also a reflection of Italy’s years on the migration front lines with little help from the rest of Europe. More than 82,000 people have arrived in Italy this year, a 20 percent increase over the same period last year, according to the United Nations refugee agency. Migrant flows into Greece from Turkey have mostly dried up, meanwhile, a result of a March 2016 deal with Ankara to halt the traffic. [Continue reading…]

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Forced displacement worldwide at its highest in decades

UNHCR reports: War, violence and persecution have uprooted more men, women and children around the world than at any time in the seven-decade history of UNHCR according to a report published today.

The UN Refugee Agency’s annual Global Trends study found that 65.6 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide at the end of 2016 – a total bigger than the population of the United Kingdom and about 300,000 more than last year.

It noted that the pace at which people are becoming displaced remains very high. On average, 20 people were driven from their homes every minute last year, or one every three seconds – less than the time it takes to read this sentence. [Continue reading…]

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Hell on Earth: The Fall of Syria and the Rise of ISIS

 

The complete documentary airs on National Geographic Channel, Sunday evening (6/11) at 9pm Eastern, 8pm Central.

It can also be viewed on YouTube Movies from 6/12.

David Denby writes: Sebastian Junger, who co-produced the documentary with Nick Quested (the head of Goldcrest, a documentary-production company in London), narrates “Hell on Earth,” which he also wrote. Junger points out that foreign players (Iran, the Kurds, Turkey, Russia, America) have all pursued their own interests in Syria. “Once you get involved in a proxy fight, so many people have so huge a stake in the outcome that it’s almost impossible to stop,” he states. The trouble is, not only does foreign involvement keep the war going, the war itself comes back and bites its enablers. American politics has been materially altered by the fear of ISIS and of Syrian refugees. Our hopes for a normal life have been dislodged as well.

In 2010, Junger and the late Tim Hetherington made the classic documentary “Restrepo,” a portrait of an American combat unit in Afghanistan. After Hetherington was killed, in Libya, Junger refashioned the “Restrepo” outtakes into another strong movie, “Korengal,” in 2014. For those films, the two men did the camera work themselves. But Junger and Quested couldn’t get into Syria, so they adopted a different strategy. They drew on various media sources (network news, Human Rights Watch, ISIS propaganda), and they interviewed a wide range of experts (including the British writer Robin Yassin-Kassab and, in a lucid moment, Michael Flynn). The core of the movie, however, was shot by Middle Eastern news outfits, and by activists, witnesses, and citizen journalists. Most of this footage is devastatingly effective. The participatory camera has become commonplace, but you don’t often see one (usually a cell phone, I would guess) being carried into a tumultuous firefight or threading through the shocked, incoherent wake of a bomb blast. Or capturing shots of panic as a crowd falls under open fire. Or sharing eloquent views of rubble-strewn streets and grieving relatives. The movie dramatizes the destruction of a society from within that society. Watching “Hell on Earth” is not an easy experience; I can’t recall another documentary with so many corpses. It’s a grief-struck history of cruelty, haplessness, and irresponsibility—a moral history as well as a history of events. [Continue reading…]

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The murderous consequences of xenophobia

Decca Aitkenhead writes: Every night, for almost a year, Brendan Cox and his wife sat up discussing the rise of the far right. He was conducting a major study of populist extremism across the western world and, once the children were in bed, the pair would talk through its implications and analyse the threat.

The contrast between the couple and the darkly angry ideology could scarcely have been more acute. His wife was a young, smiley, idealistic new Labour MP whom he had met when they both worked for Oxfam. They loved camping and mountain climbing, lived on a houseboat on the Thames and spent weekends at their cottage on the Welsh border, without electricity or water, where they’d celebrate the summer solstice each year with a party for 100 friends. Their son, Cuillin, now six, was named after a mountain range on the Isle of Skye; their four-year-old daughter, Lejla, after friends Cox had made while volunteering for a children’s charity in Bosnia. Liberal and internationalist, they worried about xenophobic hate – but their concern was political, not personal.

Brendan Cox spent the morning of 16 June 2016 working on the research project as normal, for an international campaign organisation called Purpose, and was on his way to lunch with his colleague when his phone rang. It was his wife’s parliamentary assistant. “Jo has been attacked. Get to Leeds as fast as you can.” Racing to the station, he called her constituency office and was told she’d been shot and stabbed. He was alone on a train, hurtling north, when the call came from Jo’s sister: “I’m so sorry, Brendan. She’s not made it.”

“Do you mean Jo’s died?”

“I don’t know what to say … but yes.”

As Cox broke down in tears, a man sitting across the aisle fetched him tissues and water. “If there’s anything I can do …” he offered kindly. Cox wiped his eyes, thanked the man and thought: “Is this what you are meant to do when your wife has just been murdered?”

The horror awaiting him in Yorkshire defied all comprehension. Thomas Mair, a 52-year-old Nazi sympathiser incensed by Jo’s support for refugees, had calmly approached the MP outside her constituency surgery in the Yorkshire village of Birstall, shot her with a sawn-off shotgun, pulled her to the ground and stabbed her repeatedly with a dagger. A 77-year-old pensioner who tried to stop him was stabbed. Cox’s last words were to her two assistants were: “Get away, let him hurt me, don’t let him hurt you!” Mair’s last words, after shooting her twice more, were: “Britain first. Britain will always come first.” [Continue reading…]

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102 villagers, 750 refugees, one grand experiment

Ben Mauk writes: There is no cinema in Sumte. There are no general stores, no pubs, gyms, cafes, markets, schools, doctors, florists, auto shops or libraries. There are no playgrounds. Some roads are paved, but others scarcely distinguish themselves from the scrub grass and swampy tractor trails surrounding each house – modest plots that grade into the farmland and medieval forests of Lower Saxony. There is no meeting hall. All is private and premodern.

One day in October, after a thousand years of evening gloom, a work crew arrives and lines the main avenue with LED street lamps. The lights are a concession to the villagers – all 102 of them – from their political masters in the nearby town of Amt Neuhaus, who manage Sumte’s affairs and must report to their own masters in Hanover, the state capital of Lower Saxony, who in turn must report to their masters in Berlin, who send emissaries to Brussels, which might as well be Bolivia, so impossibly distant do the villagers find that black hole of tax euros and goodwill.

It’s this vague chain of command that most alienates the people of Sumte. They are pensioners and housepainters. They are farmers, subsistence and commercial. They are carpenters, clerks and commuters who cross the River Elbe by ferry every morning, driving to jobs in Lüneberg or Hamburg, 90 minutes away. More than a few are out of work. Nobody tells them anything.

Which is not to suggest anyone here is unaware of what’s going on in the world in 2015. The people of Sumte are not hicks (or hinterwälder, as the Germans say). Word has reached Dirk Hammer, the bicycle repairman, and Walter Luck, the apiarist, about the capsizing trawlers, the panic in Lampedusa. They watch the nightly news. They’ve heard of this crisis. And they wonder where these people – more than a million of them – are headed. The streetlights, a long-standing request now mysteriously granted, make them suspicious.

Only Reinhard Schlemmer watches the workmen and knows for sure. A grizzled figure with a wild nest of silver hair, Schlemmer was once an officer in the East German army. These days he sells painting supplies out of the detached shed behind his house, a nominal business that mostly serves as an excuse to chat with neighbours. He may have lately fallen into the role of odd old man on the margins – the unreformed communist with his cans of primer – but he was Sumte’s mayor when the border came down, a decorated party member, and his bearing still suggests something of the phrase “pillar of the community”.

After reunification, as farming collectives dissolved and unemployment rose, Schlemmer came up with a shrewd plan to save Sumte from extinction. He convinced a rich businessman in Hanover to invest in the construction of a huge complex on its outskirts, a private village-within-the-village where East German women would train to become caseworkers for a debt-collection agency.

The plan worked. The office opened in 1994 and for almost 20 years, the agency provided jobs for 250 women from Sumte and neighbouring towns in Lower Saxony and Mecklenburg, becoming the area’s largest employer. But the 2008 financial crisis razed the debt market, and in 2012 the agency, now called Apontas, decided to consolidate its operations in Hanover. A few women moved with them. The rest lost their jobs. The complex has stood empty ever since.

Now Schlemmer thinks back to the moonless night a month ago when he was out in his yard, looking across the weedy lot at the blackness where the darkened Apontas buildings eclipsed a wedge of stars. He thought of that pitiful infant body lying in the Turkish surf. “All the children out in the dirt,” he remembers thinking. “And all of our halls standing empty.” He asked himself: what is to be done?

It’s an oddly warm October morning when Grit Richter, sitting in her modest mayoral office in Amt Neuhaus, gets a phone call from the interior ministry in Hanover. An administrator explains to her that Sumte will receive 1,000 asylum seekers starting at the end of the month, to be housed in the Apontas office complex. Richter isn’t sure she’s heard correctly. Yes, the administrator says, they know that Sumte is small. They also know that the complex is empty and disused. But the village has something that no other town in the area can boast: 21,000 square feet of dry shelter. Her options, she’s told, are to say “yes” or “yes”.

She hangs up. Like a lot of Germans, Richter is sceptical, pragmatic, stolid. Not much escapes her when it comes to the 4,700 constituents living in border hamlets from Stiepelse to Wehnigen, but she can’t keep track of everything. She doesn’t yet know that Reinhard Schlemmer has been busy making phone calls of his own, offering up the Apontas complex and setting this new idea in motion. [Continue reading…]

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Syrian refugees choose Turkey

Charles Simpson, Zeynep Balcioglu, and Abdullah Almutabagani, write: At first glance, the March 2016 EU–Turkey deal, which gives visa-free travel and 3 billion Euros ($3.3 billion) in relief aid to Turkey if it stems the flow of refugees to Europe, seems to have worked. Turkey now hosts three times the number of Syrian refugees as all of Europe, and according to data from the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex), there has been a dramatic drop in the number of refugees moving from Turkey to Greece since the deal was enacted. However, for many refugees, the real reason behind the decrease in refugee flows into Europe lies in their own widespread preference to remain in Turkey, where they perceive a better life is possible.

Earlier statistical analysis by Oxford University researchers found the drop in migration predated the EU-Turkey deal and therefore could not be causally connected. A series of interviews with Syrian refugees confirm this trend, indicating most refugees interviewed wanted to stay in Turkey and were using their socioeconomic resources to facilitate integration. Many of those who did travel to Europe found life there was not necessarily the paradise they anticipated and in many cases communicated back to Syrians in Turkey that the journey’s risk was not worth the reward.

Those refugees in Turkey with the resources to do so are buying homes, learning Turkish, starting businesses, enrolling in schools, and forming communities. They face a range of obstacles, including health service inadequacies, a language barrier, and racism. Not all refugees in Turkish cities are lucky: while many refugees in Turkey have found informal work, most are underemployed, underpaid, and have a difficult time finding jobs that meet their qualifications or educational level. Still, most of those interviewed—even those who had lived in Europe or had close relatives living there—reported a preference for life in Turkey over Europe. Turkey offers them looser enforcement of employment regulation, more established Syrian communities, a familiar religion and culture, and geographic proximity to Syria that gives hope for return. Three communities are particularly illustrative of the appeal Turkey holds: Fatih and Sultanbeyli in Istanbul, and Manisa near Izmir. [Continue reading…]

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Deportation and the refugees who ‘fall away from the world’

Rachel Aviv reports: Georgi, a Russian refugee who came to Sweden with his family when he was five years old, could talk at length about the virtues of the Volvo. His doctor described him as “the most ‘Swedeified’ in his family.” He was also one of the most popular boys in his class. For his thirteenth birthday, two friends listed some of the qualities that he evoked: energetic, fun, happy all the time, good human being, amazingly kind, awesome at soccer, sly.

Georgi’s father, Soslan, had helped found a pacifist religious sect in North Ossetia, a Russian province that borders Georgia. Soslan said that in 2007 security forces demanded that he disband the sect, which rejected the entanglement of the Russian Orthodox Church with the state, and threatened to kill him if he refused. He fled to Sweden with his wife, Regina, and their two children, and applied for asylum, but his claim was denied, because the Swedish Migration Board said that he hadn’t proved that he would be persecuted if he returned to Russia.

Sweden permits refugees to reapply for asylum, and in 2014, having lived in hiding in central Sweden for six years, the family tried again. They argued that there were now “particularly distressing circumstances,” a provision that allowed the board to consider how deportation will affect a child’s psychological health. “It would be devastating if Georgi were forced to leave his community, his friends, his school, and his life,” the headmaster of Georgi’s school, Rikard Floridan, wrote in a letter to the board. He described Georgi as “an example to all classmates,” a student who spoke in “mature and nuanced language” and showed a “deep gratitude for the school.”

In the summer of 2015, shortly before he entered seventh grade, Georgi learned that the Migration Board had rejected his family’s application again. The news came in a letter, which he translated for his parents, who couldn’t read Swedish.

They appealed the board’s decision, and Georgi tried to focus on school as he waited for more news. Not long afterward, a friend on his floor-hockey team stopped coming to practice. Georgi was distraught when he learned that the teammate, a refugee from Afghanistan, had been deported with his family, “as if they were criminals,” he said. Georgi became sullen and aloof, and he stopped speaking Russian. He said that the words were just sounds, whose meaning he could no longer decipher. He withdrew from his parents, whom he accused of having failed to assimilate. His nine-year-old brother, Savl, acted as the family’s interpreter. “Why haven’t you been learning Swedish?” Georgi said in Swedish to his brother, who translated the words into Russian for their parents.

In December, 2015, the Migration Board rejected their final appeal, and, in a letter, told the family, “You must leave Sweden.” Their deportation to Russia was scheduled for April. Soslan said that to his children Russia “might as well be the moon.” Georgi read the letter silently, dropped it on the floor, went upstairs to his room, and lay down on the bed. He said that his body began to feel as if it were entirely liquid. His limbs felt soft and porous. All he wanted to do was close his eyes. Even swallowing required an effort that he didn’t feel he could muster. He felt a deep pressure in his brain and in his ears. He turned toward the wall and pounded his fist against it. In the morning, he refused to get out of bed or to eat. Savl poured Coca-Cola into a teaspoon and fed Georgi small sips. The soda dribbled down his chin.

At the recommendation of neighbors, Georgi’s parents called Elisabeth Hultcrantz, an ear-nose-and-throat doctor who volunteers for the charity Doctors of the World. Three days after Georgi took to his bed, Hultcrantz drove to his home, a red wooden cottage with white trim in the farmlands of Garpenberg, a hundred and twenty miles northwest of Stockholm. Georgi was wearing boxers and short athletic socks. He appeared to be asleep. A tulip-patterned blanket had been pulled up to his chin. When Hultcrantz touched him, his eyelids trembled, but he didn’t move. Using a pillow, she propped up his head, but it flopped to the side. “He provides no contact whatsoever,” she wrote.

After a week, Georgi had lost thirteen pounds. Hultcrantz, a professor emeritus at Linköping University, urged the family to take him to the emergency room in Falun, a city forty miles away. He hadn’t eaten for four days and had not spoken a full sentence in a week.

A doctor at the hospital wrote that Georgi “lies completely still on the examination table.” His reflexes were intact and his pulse and blood pressure were normal. The doctor lifted Georgi’s wrists a few inches above his forehead and then dropped them. “They fall down on his face,” she wrote. A nurse noted that he showed “no reaction to caregiving.”

The next day, a doctor inserted a feeding tube through Georgi’s nostril. “He showed no resistance,” Soslan said. “Nothing.” Georgi was given a diagnosis of uppgivenhetssyndrom, or resignation syndrome, an illness that is said to exist only in Sweden, and only among refugees. The patients have no underlying physical or neurological disease, but they seem to have lost the will to live. The Swedish refer to them as de apatiska, the apathetic. “I think it is a form of protection, this coma they are in,” Hultcrantz said. “They are like Snow White. They just fall away from the world.” [Continue reading…]

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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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