On perilous refugee trail, women often become prey to sexual abuse

The New York Times reports: One Syrian woman who joined the stream of migrants to Germany was forced to pay down her husband’s debt to smugglers by making herself available for sex along the way. Another was beaten unconscious by a Hungarian prison guard after refusing his advances.

A third, a former makeup artist, dressed as a boy and stopped washing to ward off the men in her group of refugees. Now in an emergency shelter in Berlin, she still sleeps in her clothes and, like several women here, pushes a cupboard in front of her door at night.

“There is no lock or key or anything,” said Esraa al-Horani, the makeup artist and one of the few women here not afraid to give her name. She has been lucky, Ms. Horani said: “I’ve only been beaten and robbed.”

War and violence at home, exploitative smugglers and perilous seas along the way, an uncertain welcome and future on a foreign continent — these are some of the risks faced by tens of thousands of migrants who continue to make their way to Europe from the Middle East and beyond. But at each step of the way, the dangers are amplified for women.

Interviews with dozens of migrants, social workers and psychologists caring for traumatized new arrivals across Germany suggest that the current mass migration has been accompanied by a surge of violence against women. From forced marriages and sex trafficking to domestic abuse, women report violence from fellow refugees, smugglers, male family members and even European police officers. There are no reliable statistics for sexual and other abuse of female refugees. [Continue reading…]

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Why has the AK-47 become the jihadi terrorist weapon of choice?

The Guardian reports: In the early years after 9/11 the suicide belt, the car bomb and the homemade explosive device were the weapons of choice for jihadis: hidden, brutal and hard to counter.

But as 2015 heaves to a close, its atrocities littered across the calendar – Charlie Hebdo, Sousse, Garissa, Tunis, Copenhagen and Paris – it is the AK-47 that has come to the fore.

Across Europe more terrorist attacks have been carried out with Kalashnikov-type assault rifles this year than with any other device. In the 13 November Paris attacks, suicide bombers killed few but gunmen killed many. Further afield, in Tunisia and Kenya, it was also automatic weapons that did the damage.

The widespread availability of these guns has been known for years. But it took the scale of death meted out in Paris last month to force Europe to address the threat.

Now law enforcement officers across the continent are trying to establish some basic truths. Where do they come from? Who are the middlemen that deal in these deadly weapons? And why have they become so popular again? [Continue reading…]

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The migrant roots of ancient European ancestry

University of Cambridge

The first sequencing of ancient genomes extracted from human remains that date back to the Late Upper Palaeolithic period over 13,000 years ago has revealed a previously unknown “fourth strand” of ancient European ancestry.

This new lineage stems from populations of hunter-gatherers that split from western hunter-gatherers shortly after the ‘out of Africa’ expansion some 45,000 years ago and went on to settle in the Caucasus region, where southern Russia meets Georgia today.

Here these hunter-gatherers largely remained for millennia, becoming increasingly isolated as the Ice Age culminated in the last ‘Glacial Maximum’ some 25,000 years ago, which they weathered in the relative shelter of the Caucasus mountains until eventual thawing allowed movement and brought them into contact with other populations, likely from further east.

This led to a genetic mixture that resulted in the Yamnaya culture: horse-borne Steppe herders that swept into Western Europe around 5,000 years ago, arguably heralding the start of the Bronze Age and bringing with them metallurgy and animal herding skills, along with the Caucasus hunter-gatherer strand of ancestral DNA – now present in almost all populations from the European continent.

The research was conducted by an international team led by scientists from Cambridge University, Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin. The findings were published last month in the journal Nature Communications.

[Read more…]

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Living as a Muslim in the West’s ‘gray zone’

Laila Lalami writes: It was probably not a coincidence that the Paris attacks were aimed at restaurants, a concert hall and a sports stadium, places of leisure and community, nor that the victims included Muslims. As [ISIS’s magazine] Dabiq makes clear, ISIS wants to eliminate coexistence between religions and to create a response from the West that will force Muslims to choose sides: either they “apostatize and adopt” the infidel religion of the crusaders or “they perform hijrah to the Islamic State and thereby escape persecution from the crusader governments and citizens.” For ISIS to win, the gray zone must be eliminated.

Whose lives are gray? Mine, certainly. I was born in one nation (Morocco) speaking Arabic, came to my love of literature through a second language (French) and now live in a third country (America), where I write books and teach classes in yet another language (English). I have made my home in between all these cultures, all these languages, all these countries. And I have found it a glorious place to be. My friends are atheists and Muslims, Jews and Christians, believers and doubters. Each one makes my life richer.

This gray life of mine is not unique. I share it with millions of people around the world. My brother in Dallas is a practicing Muslim — he prays, he fasts, he attends mosque — but he, too, would be considered to be in the gray zone, because he despises ISIS and everything it stands for.

Most of the time, gray lives go unnoticed in America. Other times, especially when people are scared, gray lives become targets. Hate crimes against Muslims spike after every major terrorist attack. But rather than stigmatize this hate, politicians and pundits often stoke it with fiery rhetoric, further diminishing the gray zone. Every time the gray zone recedes, ISIS gains ground.

The language that ISIS uses may be new, but the message is not. When President George W. Bush spoke to a joint session of Congress after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, he declared, “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.” It was a decisive threat, and it worked well for him in those early, confusing days, so he returned to it. “Either you are with us,” he said in 2002, “or you are with the enemy. There’s no in between.” This polarized thinking led to the United States invasion of Iraq, which led to the destabilization of the Middle East, which in turn led to the creation of ISIS.

Terrorist attacks affect all of us in the same way: We experience sorrow and anger at the loss of life. For Muslims, however, there is an additional layer of grief as we become subjects of suspicion. Muslims are called upon to condemn terrorism, but no matter how often or how loud or how clear the condemnations, the calls remain. Imagine if, after every mass shooting in a school or a movie theater in the United States, young white men in this country were told that they must publicly denounce gun violence. The reason this is not the case is that we presume each young white man to be solely responsible for his actions, whereas Muslims are held collectively responsible. To be a Muslim in the West is to be constantly on trial. [Continue reading…]

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Right-wing populism is surging on both sides of the Atlantic – here’s why

By Ruth Wodak, Lancaster University

On both sides of the Atlantic, right-wing populist parties are enjoying another moment in the sun. In Europe, the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) recently doubled its vote in a state election. Fellow travellers are making headway across Europe – France’s Front National, Hungary’s Jobbik, Bulgaria’s Ataka, and the party formally known as True Finns.

Many explanations for the European surge point to a xenophobic knee-jerk reaction to the refugee crisis, but that’s far too simplistic; the phenomenon is hardly confined to Europe. Look at the surprising success of Donald Trump in the US’s Republican party primary campaign. Many of his fellow candidates are struggling to keep up with his firebrand pronouncements, not least his proposal to deport millions of illegal immigrants.

So why exactly are these leaders and parties enjoying such success – and are they really all birds of a feather?

[Read more…]

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ISIS is losing ground. Will that mean more attacks overseas?

The Washington Post reports: Just hours after his men helped recapture the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar from Islamic State militants last week, Maj. Gen. Ali Ahmed, an officer with Kurdish security forces, watched another battle unfold on his television, this one some 2,500 miles away in Paris.

What had seemed a winning day in the war against the Islamic State had taken a horrific turn with attacks in the French capital that left 129 people dead.

The victory by Kurdish forces in Sinjar was just one in a string of losses for the militant group as it faces attacks on multiple fronts — from Ramadi in Iraq to Raqqa in Syria.

But the squeeze on Islamic State territory has coincided with an uptick in the group’s operations overseas. That’s no coincidence, according to some analysts, who expect the Islamic State to lash out with more attacks abroad to divert attention from its territorial losses.

“Their recruiting appeal is based on the appearance of strength, and that informs a lot of their strategy,” said J.M. Berger, co-author of “ISIS: The State of Terror” and a fellow at the Brookings Institution.

From the outset, the Islamic State has been acutely aware of its international image, with its slickly produced videos of beheadings and massacres a key part of attracting recruits.

“The brothers launched the attack in Paris to prove that we are a strong state and we can fight our enemies anywhere,” said one Islamic State sympathizer in Turkey, who declined to be named because of links to the terrorist group. “Since they are fighting us in our land, we are going to fight them in their lands.”

At its peak last year, the Islamic State had seized about a third of Iraqi territory, but it has lost about a third of that. After more than a year of bloody battles, pro-government forces wrested control of the oil refinery of Baiji in October.

In Ramadi, Iraqi security forces have steadily progressed in recent months and have encircled the city, according to Iraqi commanders.

“The city is besieged 360 degrees,” said Maj. Gen. Thamir Ismail, commander of SWAT forces in the province. “Daesh lost Baiji, and lost Sinjar, and now day by day they are losing Ramadi,” he said. He used an Arabic term for the Islamic State, which is also known as ISIS and ISIL.

“They attacked Paris in order to keep up the morale of their fighters and distract from their losses in Syria and Iraq,” he said. “I expect that when we liberate Ramadi, there will be more attacks in Europe.” [Continue reading…]

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Saudi Arabia targets Russia in battle for European oil market

Reuters reports: From global majors such as Shell and Total to more modest Polish energy firms, oil refiners in Europe are cutting their longstanding use of Russian crude in favour of Saudi grades as the world’s top exporters fight for market share.

Russia has for years been muscling in on Asian markets where Saudi Arabia was once the unchallenged dominant supplier. But now Riyadh is retaliating in Moscow’s backyard of Europe with aggressive price discounting.

This has nothing to do with Western sanctions imposed on Russia over Ukraine, which apply to energy industry equipment but not to oil or gas itself. Instead it is a commercial battle for customers as both exporters ramp up their output despite weak world oil prices. [Continue reading…]

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The long march into Europe

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad writes: Migration is the topic of almost every conversation in the cafés of Baghdad and Damascus – in towns large and small across Syria and Iraq and beyond – along with the pros and cons of social aid given to migrants in different countries. The best routes are common knowledge, and information on new developments and up-to-date advice spreads quickly on social media, via Viber, WhatsApp and Facebook. These days all you need to reach Europe are a couple of thousand dollars and a smartphone. It’s a significant change from the late 1990s, when – in Iraq at least – UN sanctions combined with the conditions of Saddam’s dictatorship meant it was barely possible to get by, existence depending on government handouts and meagre state salaries. Few had the money to reach Europe. Tens of thousands left Iraq but most languished in dull Amman in Jordan. Most people I knew wanted to leave, and most failed – for lack of funds, will or simple luck.

I was one of those who failed. I had finished my degree in architecture and was desperate to continue my studies in Vienna or Beirut, or at least to get a half-decent job in Amman or Dubai. I was a military deserter, so I had no hope of obtaining a passport: my only way out of Iraq was by procuring fake documents or finding a smuggler. I tried for three years. I spent nearly $3000 – then a fortune – on fees to smugglers. I was lied to, betrayed, and conned out of money I had borrowed. For nine months I lived with my bags packed, ready to go, and every night I made a call to the smuggler, who kept lying and saying that the next day was the day. Eventually, I gave up and unpacked my bags and waited another five years.

For decades, the paths that led out of war, destruction and poverty into the safety of life in Europe was a closely guarded secret, the property of smugglers and mafias who controlled the routes and had a monopoly on the necessary knowledge. They conducted their illicit trade out of dingy cafés in the back streets of Aksaray in Istanbul and – for the lucky few who reached Greece – the district of Omonia in Athens, where those who had got that far were handed on from one network to another, to be lied to and manipulated again. After all, they had no choice but to hand over their cash in exchange for a promise and a hope.

This year everything changed. [Continue reading…]

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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…]

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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…]

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Why football embraces migrants

By Simon Chadwick, Coventry University

If the European Union was a football team, right now it would be languishing in the relegation zone. The EU’s disjointed approach to the current influx of migrants and refugees is reminiscent of the rampant individualism displayed in some of Europe’s ego-laden, under-performing football clubs.

But there is an EU team putting together some good passes and scoring important goals – Germany. While other countries have been caught flat-footed, the Germans have been as deft and assured as ever, just like the country’s football teams.

Whether it’s the World Cup, the European Championship or the Champions League, it is normally safe to say that a German team will be in contention for the overall honours. Collective identity and the team’s best interests seemingly always trump individualism and ego.

And, as Germany has opened its borders to people fleeing conflict in the Middle East, so German football has responded in the same way.

Leading from the front, Bayern Munich last week pledged €1m to projects supporting the refugees now entering Germany. Meanwhile FC Schalke invited 100 refugees to their first home game of the season, and the club is organising clothing and toy collections. Other clubs, such as Borussia Dortmund and Werder Bremen are following suit with similar initiatives.

[Read more…]

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Europe is parched, in a sign of times to come

The Guardian reports: Europe has undergone a severe drought this summer, the worst in over a decade. Temperatures have been high across the continent, and have combined with low rainfalls. This drought, like the one in 2012 in the United States, are a sign of what our future holds in a warming world.

As humans emit greenhouse gases, the world warms. We already know that. But a warming world is also host to other changes. Among the most important changes are those to the water cycle. Scientists refer to this as the hydrological cycle – basically changes to the storage of water in the soil and underground, the evaporation of water into the atmosphere, and the subsequent rainfall and runoff that occurs.

A warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture, as people know through the personal experience of high humidity in warm months. Changes to humidity have been measured over the past decades and confirm our expectations. These changes lead to increased rainfall.

At the same time, higher temperatures accelerate evaporation, which dries out the soil and plants and can create drought conditions. [Continue reading…]

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Europe’s fear of Muslim refugees echoes rhetoric of 1930s anti-Semitism

Ishaan Tharoor writes: Some governments in Eastern Europe have even specifically indicated they don’t want to accommodate non-Christian refugees, out of supposed fear over the ability of Muslims to integrate into Western society.

“Refugees are fleeing fear,” urged a spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency last week. “Refugees are not to be feared.”

It’s important to recognize that this is hardly the first time the West has warily eyed masses of refugees. And while some characterize Muslim arrivals as a supposedly unique threat, the xenophobia of the present carries direct echoes of a very different moment: The years before World War II, when tens of thousands of German Jews were compelled to flee Nazi Germany.

Consider this 1938 article in the Daily Mail, a British tabloid still known for its bouts of right-wing populism. Its headline warned of “German Jews Pouring Into This Country.” And it began as follows:

“The way stateless Jews and Germans are pouring in from every port of this country is becoming an outrage. I intend to enforce the law to the fullest.”

In these words, Mr Herbert Metcalde, the Old Street Magistrate yesterday referred to the number of aliens entering this country through the ‘back door’ — a problem to which The Daily Mail has repeatedly pointed.

The number of aliens entering this country can be seen by the number of prosecutions in recent months. It is very difficult for the alien to escape the increasing vigilance of the police and port authorities.

Even if aliens manage to break through the defences, it is not long before they are caught and deported.

No matter the alarming rhetoric of Hitler’s fascist state — and the growing acts of violence against Jews and others — popular sentiment in Western Europe and the United States was largely indifferent to the plight of German Jews.

“Of all the groups in the 20th century,” write the authors of the 1999 book, “Refugees in the Age of Genocide,” “refugees from Nazism are now widely and popularly perceived as ‘genuine’, but at the time German, Austrian and Czechoslovakian Jews were treated with ambivalence and outright hostility as well as sympathy.”

Part of that hostility was fueled, as some of the European grievances are now, by stereotypes of the refugees as harbingers of a dangerous ideology, in this instance communism and anarchist violence. [Continue reading…]

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Stranded on the platform, refugees feel the force of hostility in Hungary

By Umut Korkut, Glasgow Caledonian University

After being blockaded for days, Budapest’s main rail terminal has been reopened to migrants and refugees desperate to settle in the EU.

An estimated 3,000 people had been camped outside the station, and once it was reopened at least 1,000 rushed in to try and board trains – although there were none to board since departures to Western Europe had been cancelled for “security reasons”. The Hungarian authorities reinstated the policy of registering all migrants before allowing them to leave the country, a demand issued by various European leaders including Angela Merkel.

This remarkable series of events highlights the extreme intolerance that has characterised Hungarian politics for some time. But it must also serve as a warning to the rest of Europe. Hungarian xenophobia is becoming a template for rightist movements across the continent.

In 2014, I conducted research on anti-immigrant feelings in Hungary and Turkey, and it was clear to me that fear of migrants was far outpacing the reality of the “threat”.

While there were already signs that Turkey was becoming a major destination for refugees leaving Syria, there was little indication that Hungary would also feel the brunt of the refugee crisis caused by wars in the Middle East. Given its position in central Europe, you might think Hungary would have little to fear from prospective refugees. But the number of immigrants rarely bears any relationship to the fear of them.

Right after the EU accession, a 2007 opinion survey saw 80% of Hungarians say they would not welcome ethnic groups such as Arabs, Chinese and Russians into their country. The same refusal rate applied for the Pirez – a completely fictitious group added into the survey.

So it is perhaps not surprising that the actual arrival of migrants and refugees in Hungary this summer has caused such a stir.

[Read more…]

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Mass migration: What is driving the Balkan exodus?

Der Spiegel reports: When Visar Krasniqi reached Berlin and saw the famous image on Bernauer Strasse — the one of the soldier jumping over barbed wire into the West — he knew he had arrived. He had entered a different world, one that he wanted to become a part of. What he didn’t yet know was that his dream would come to an end 11 months later, on Oct. 5, 2015. By then, he has to leave, as stipulated in the temporary residence permit he received.

Krasniqi is not a war refugee, nor was he persecuted back home. In fact, he has nothing to fear in his native Kosovo. He says that he ran away from something he considers to be even worse than rockets and Kalashnikovs: hopelessness. Before he left, he promised his sick mother in Pristina that he would become an architect, and he promised his fiancée that they would have a good life together. “I’m a nobody where I come from, but I want to be somebody.”
But it is difficult to be somebody in Kosovo, unless you have influence or are part of the mafia, which is often the same thing. Taken together, the wealth of all parliamentarians in Kosovo is such that each of them could be a millionaire. But Krasniqi works seven days a week as a bartender, and earns just €200 ($220) a month.

But a lack of prospects is not a recognized reason for asylum, which is why Krasniqi’s application was initially denied. The 30,000 Kosovars who have applied for asylum in Germany since the beginning of the year are in similar positions. And the Kosovars are not the only ones. This year, the country has seen the arrival of 5,514 Macedonians, 11,642 Serbians, 29,353 Albanians and 2,425 Montenegrins. Of the 196,000 people who had filed an initial application for asylum in Germany by the end of July, 42 percent are from the former Yugoslavia, a region now known as the Western Balkans.

The exodus shows the wounds of the Balkan wars have not yet healed. [Continue reading…]

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