Britain accused of unlawfully deporting Afghan asylum seekers | World news

Britain and other European countries have been accused of breaching international law, as it emerged that the number of asylum seekers forced to return to Afghanistan has tripled at a time when civilian casualties in the country are at a record high.

According to a report by Amnesty International, unaccompanied children and Christian converts at risk of persecution, torture and death – a status that should legally guarantee asylum – have been removed from European countries.

Between 2015 and 2016, the number of people returned by European countries to Afghanistan nearly tripled, from 3,290 to 9,460. This corresponds to a marked fall in recognition of asylum applications, from 68% in September 2015 to 33% in December 2016, official EU statistics show.

chart

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan has reported that 2016 was the deadliest year on record for civilians in the country, with 11,418 people killed or injured. In the first six months of 2017 alone, UNAMA documented 5,243 civilian casualties in attacks by armed groups, including the Taliban and the so-called Islamic State.

Amnesty’s report, Forced Back to Danger: Asylum-Seekers Returned from Europe to Afghanistan, further accuses European governments, including the UK, of being “determined” to return young Afghans despite being well aware of the unfolding “horrors” in the country.

It claims that in a leaked 2016 document, EU agencies acknowledged Afghanistan’s “worsening security situation and threats to which people are exposed”, as well as the likelihood that “record levels of terrorist attacks and civilian casualties” will increase. The report further claims that the agencies then stated in the document that “more than 80,000 persons could potentially need to be returned in the near future”.

chart

It quotes Eklil Hakimi, Afghanistan’s finance minister, who told the Afghan parliament that the government needed to accept the returnees in order to guarantee aid. “If Afghanistan does not cooperate with EU countries on the refugee crisis, this will negatively impact the amount of aid allocated to Afghanistan,” he is quoted as saying.

The Amnesty report adds: “Similarly, a confidential Afghan government source called [the policy] a ‘poisoned cup’ that Afghanistan was forced to drink in order to receive development aid. The country is highly aid-dependent, with nearly 70% of Afghanistan’s annual income dependent upon international donors.”

In 2016, the five European countries that returned the most Afghans were: Germany (3,440), Greece (1,480), Sweden (1,025), the UK (785) and Norway (760).

Between 2007 and 2015, the report notes, 2,018 young people who had sought refuge in the UK as unaccompanied child asylum seekers were deported to Afghanistan. Despite Kabul being the most dangerous province for citizens, the UK Home Office’s policy guidance states that “return or relocation to Kabul is, in general, considered reasonable”.

Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, said: “By rejecting the vast majority of claims for asylum by Afghans, the UK is setting a worrying precedent which risks encouraging other countries to do likewise. If the government doesn’t stop deporting Afghans, it will have blood on its hands.”

Amnesty International researchers interviewed several families who described their experiences after being forcibly returned from European countries – losing loved ones, narrowly surviving attacks on civilians and living in fear of persecution.

The researchers highlighted the case of a woman and her family who fled Afghanistan in 2015 after her husband was kidnapped, beaten and released in return for a ransom. After travelling for a month, they arrived in Norway, where the authorities “denied their asylum claim and gave them a choice between being detained before being deported or being given €10,700 to return voluntarily”.

A few months after returning to Afghanistan, the husband disappeared and was later discovered to have been killed, presumably by kidnappers.

Anna Shea, Amnesty International’s researcher on refugee and migrant rights, said: “In their determination to increase the number of deportations, European governments are implementing a policy that is reckless and unlawful. Wilfully blind to the evidence that violence is at a record high and no part of Afghanistan is safe, they are putting people at risk of torture, abduction, death and other horrors.”

The Home Office said: “The UK has a proud history of granting asylum to those who need our protection. Where a decision has been made that a person does not require international protection removal is only enforced when we and the courts conclude that it is safe to do so, with a safe route of return.”

Source link

Migrant death toll rises after clampdown on east European borders | World news

More than 22,500 migrants have reportedly died or disappeared globally since 2014 – more than half of them perishing while attempting to cross the Mediterranean, according to a study by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

A clampdown on Europe’s eastern borders has forced migrants to choose more dangerous routes as the death toll in the Mediterranean continues to rise despite a drop in the overall number of arrivals, data compiled by the UN refugee agency shows.

“While overall numbers of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean by the eastern route were reduced significantly in 2016 by the EU-Turkey deal, death rates have increased to 2.1 per 100 in 2017, relative to 1.2 in 2016,” reads the IOM report which is released on Monday. “Part of this rise is due to the greater proportion of migrants now taking the most dangerous route – that across the central Mediterranean – such that 1 in 49 migrants now died on this route in 2016.”

Since 2014, more deaths have been documented on this route than any other migration route in the world. In the first half of this year, the IOM said at least 3,110 migrants have died or disappeared globally, which is lower than the figure in 2016 (4,348), but the risk of dying has increased in the Mediterranean even though fewer migrants crossed into Europe.

“The central Mediterranean route, ending at Lampedusa or the main island of Sicily, accounts only for about a quarter of almost 1.5 million people who have arrived since 2014 on all routes, but for 88% of all migrant deaths in the Mediterranean,” it said.

Last month, Amnesty International criticised Italy for taking measures to keep migrants away from its shores, which it said leads “in their arbitrary detention in centres where they are at almost certain risk of torture, rape and even of being killed”. The IOM’s report also complained about smugglers in Libya and Italy increasingly using less seaworthy vessels.

Jean-Guy Vataux, head of mission in Libya for Médecins Sans Frontières, told the Guardian nearly all the people rescued from drowning in the Mediterranean have been “exposed to an alarming level of violence and exploitation: kidnap for ransom, forced labour, sexual violence and enforced prostitution, being kept in captivity or detained arbitrarily”.

According to Vataux, the majority of migrants in Libya live clandestinely “under the yoke of smugglers or – for the most unlucky – kidnapping organisations”.

He added: “Migrants going through Libya to reach Europe are facing impossible choices: getting on a boat is very risky, many die before they reach the European coast or a rescue ship. Remaining in Libya, whether in detention centres run by the administration or a criminal organisation, exposes them to unbelievable levels of violence and exploitation. There needs to be other options made available very quickly, like safe passage to other Mediterranean countries.”

.
.

Restrictions on the eastern route meant the number of arrivals in countries such as Croatia, Serbia and Macedonia had dramatically dropped. The three countries, which are not a part of the EU border-free Schengen zone, restricted migrants’ access in late 2015.

In the first half of this year, at least seven migrants have died of hypothermia during the winter months in the western Balkans. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has recently published a report warning of the dangers in the route. A mother and son who successfully crossed the Evros river – along the border between Turkey and Greece – both later died of hypothermia.

More than 120,000 people have arrived in Europe by sea so far this year – most departed from Libya bound for Italy, from Turkey bound for Greece or, more recently, from Morocco bound for Spain. About 82% of all migrants were travelling to Italy from Libya. In June, the Italian coastguard rescued about 5,000 people in one day in the Mediterranean.

The IOM report covers the period from January 2014 to the end of June and thus does not reflect the recent developments in Myanmar, where atrocities against the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority has led to an exodus of thousands to neighbouring Bangladesh.

The IOM report, titled Fatal Journeys, has been compiled by the Berlin-based Global Migration Data Analysis Centre (GMDAC). It is the only existing database on migrant deaths at the global level, collected through various means including official records, medical examiners and media reports.

Ann Singleton, senior research fellow at the University of Bristol’s school for policy studies, said: “For the families left behind it could make a real difference if they are able to find more information on their missing relatives. Better data on migrant fatalities can also help inform policies aimed at reducing migrant deaths.”

Global figures for the first half of 2017 show that northern Africa also had high fatalities and disappearances, with at least 225 recorded deaths. The majority of incidents occurred along routes from western Africa and the Horn of Africa towards Libya and Egypt. Sickness or violence are the main cause of death in those cases.

At least 150 deaths were also recorded in the US-Mexico border crossings since January. “Along the border, irregular migrants avoid coming into contact with authorities in well-patrolled areas and are often forced to cross natural hazards such as the desert of Arizona or the fast-running Rio Grande river,” IOM said. More people have died attempting to cross the border compared with last year despite an ease in border apprehensions of migrants.

Recent clampdowns on the Libya-Italy route have also led to the increase in attempts to reach the continent via Morocco. The IOM has said the number of people arriving in Spain by sea this year is likely to outnumber the number arriving in Greece.

Francesca Friz-Prguda, UNHCR representative in Spain, who recently visited the port cities of Tarifa and Algeciras, where refugees are arriving almost daily after crossing the strait of Gibraltar from Morocco, said Spain was underprepared and lacked an integrated national strategy. More than 14,000 migrants have arrived by sea – a 90% increase compared with last year. Arrivals in Andalusian ports have tripled.

“While this is really not an emergency situation if you compare it to Italy, there are no adequate structures and procedures in place to deal even with the current level, let alone with more arrivals,” she said.

“It’s a myth to assume that people arriving here are all economic migrants, sub-Saharan Africa is one of the most refugee-producing regions in the world, so even statistically there’s a likelihood that these mixed flows are refugees travelling,” she said. “A lot of media have not dealt with the issue in a very responsible way, talking about avalanches and storms, flood, and God knows what – there’s a clearly a perception which doesn’t seem to sufficiently understand that first there are many refugee-producing countries in sub-Saharan Africa.”

Source link

Sweden rejects asylum claim by 106-year-old Afghan woman | World news

A 106-year-old Afghan woman who made a perilous journey to Europe, carried by her son and grandson through mountains, deserts and forests, is facing deportation from Sweden after her asylum application was rejected.

Bibihal Uzbeki is severely disabled and can barely speak. Her family has appealed against the rejection, and she is allowed up to three appeals, a process that could take a long time. The applications of other family members are in various stages of appeal.

Their journey made headlines in 2015, when they were part of a huge influx of people who came to Europe from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries. They traveled by foot and on trains through the Balkans before finally reaching Sweden.

The Swedish Migration Agency confirmed it has made a decision on the case and said age doesn’t by itself provide grounds for asylum.

Uzbeki arrived at the Opatovac refugee camp in Croatia in October 2015 after what she said had been a 20-day journey with her 17 family members to reach Europe, with her 67-year-old son and a 19-year-old grandson often carrying her on their backs.

Uzbeki spent some time in the Opatovac refugee camp in Croatia during her long journey to Sweden from Afghanistan.



Uzbeki spent some time in the Opatovac refugee camp in Croatia during her long journey to Sweden from Afghanistan. Photograph: Marjan Vucetic/AP

Her rejection letter came during Ramadan. While the family avoided telling her, the constant grief from her granddaughters made her suspicious.

“My sisters were crying,” explained 22-year-old Mohammed Uzbeki. “My grandmother asked, ‘Why are you crying?’”

The family said that soon after she understood her request was denied, her health started deteriorating and she suffered a debilitating stroke.

The family feels the plight of Afghans is being ignored by Swedish authorities. Many countries in Europe deny asylum to Afghans from parts of the country considered safe.

“The reasoning from the migration agency is that it’s not unsafe enough in Afghanistan,” said Sanna Vestin, the head of the Swedish Network of Refugee Support Groups. But she said many of the big cities cited as safe are not at the moment.

Before their journey to Sweden, the family had been living illegally in Iran for eight years. They left Afghanistan because of an ongoing war and insecurity, but Mohammed Uzbeki said it’s difficult to prove that the family faces a specific enemy if they return.

“If I knew who was the enemy, I would have just avoided them,” he said, citing Islamic State, the Taliban and suicide bombers as possible dangers.

Source link

Emmanuel Macron seeks extra EU funding to tackle migration crisis | World news

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, is hosting a “major European powers summit” on Libya also attended by three African nations, in an attempt to raise more funds to tackle the migration crisis.

The EU has struggled to agree on a coherent answer to the influx of migrants fleeing war, poverty and political upheaval in the Middle East and Africa, and the crisis is testing cooperation between member states.

The mini-summit in Paris provides a chance for the major European powers to coordinate their Libyan policy after individual countries, especially France and Italy, started to mount separate initiatives to create political unity in Libya.

Macron wants the EU to offer an extra €60m (£55.5m) to help African countries handle asylum seekers who have returned from Europe and to prevent further migration flows.

Over the summer, Macron sought to take the initiative on managing the flow of migrants crossing the Mediterranean from Libya, mainly into Italy. He proposed hotspots in Africa to handle asylum requests.

European and African allies questioned the viability of such centres and an official from the Élysée Palace said on Monday the idea was no longer under discussion.

“The hotspots announcement was nonsense and neither Chad nor Niger were consulted beforehand,” a west African official said. “Macron is trying to make up for that mistake.”

Although the number of migrants reaching Italy from Libya by sea dropped by nearly 70% in July and August compared with the same months last year, it is felt the numbers could easily rise again without further measures.

There has been a small increase in flows from Morocco to Spain, a point of concern for the Spanish government dealing with sensitive public opinion in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Barcelona earlier this month.

The fall in the number of refugees leaving Libya raises questions about the management of the makeshift camps where those still seeking to reach Europe are being held either before attempting the perilous Mediterranean voyage or after being turned back by the Libyan coastguard.

The Paris summit is expected to propose a stronger role for the UN in the administration of the Libyan detention camps and endorse extra cash for countries such as Niger and Chad from which many of the migrants on the Libyan shoreline originate.

The four European leaders attending the summit are the Italian prime minister, Paolo Gentiloni, the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, and Macron himself. The three African countries taking part are Libya, Niger and Chad.

The UK – despite leading the military engagement that led to the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and the subsequent power vacuum – is not among the attendees, a possible sign of Britain’s gradual marginalisation ahead of Brexit.

The foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, visited Tripoli last week, but the bulk of the diplomatic work on reaching a political solution in Libya has been left to the former colonial power Italy, or to France.

The political crisis in Italy over migration continues, with clashes at the weekend in Rome between migrants and police over living conditions.

The total number of migrants who reached Italy from Africa between January and 23 August this year was 98,072, according to the International Office for Migration (IOM), the UN migration agency, a fall of only 7,000 from the same period last year.

But this small drop masks a collapse of more than 70% in the number of migrants reaching Italy in July and August. The IOM figures show 14,177 African migrants reached Italy by sea in between 1 July and 20 August, compared with 45,000 over the same period last year. The figures for August alone are likely to show a fall of more than 75% on August 2016.

But the IOM estimates the number of people reaching Spain from Africa is starting to increase, exceeding 8,300 by 9 August, higher than the total number of migrants that reached Spain during the whole of 2016.

Although the Italian government is taking some credit for the sudden decline in the number of migrants reaching its shores, the fall appears to precede implementation of its tough measures, which include a restrictive code of conduct for NGO ships patrolling outside Libyan coastal waters, as well as stronger efforts by the Libyan coastguard to turn the smugglers’ rafts back. It is possible that changes in the power dynamics in key Libyan ports had already made it more difficult for the smuggling networks to operate.

The Italian government has been providing help to the political leadership in key ports such as Sabratha, west of Tripoli, and this in turn could be seen as an incentive to local militia to forgo people smuggling in return for western grants.

But the decline in numbers reaching Europe may lead to tens of thousands becoming stranded in camps in north Africa, with little oversight by the weak Libyan government.

The Paris summit will nevertheless welcome the NGO code of conduct, as well as measures by African countries to do more to police migration flows.

In a further sign that European leaders are starting to look at the root cause of the crisis, the Italian interior minister, Marco Minniti, met 14 Libyan mayors for a second time on Saturday to talk to them about their needs, including funds to ensure there were economic alternatives to human trafficking.

Source link

‘We would rather die than stay there’: the refugees crossing from Morocco to Spain | World news

On the hilltops of Tarifa, the Spanish city that faces Morocco across the Strait of Gibraltar and mainland Europe’s southernmost point, gusts of wind power the turbines dotting the landscape.

For the surfers who pack the city’s hotels, the wind is a welcome sign of challenging waves. But for the Spanish coastguard and NGOs, the gusts are a warning that the record numbers of migrants and refugees attempting to cross the 10-mile strait are in grave danger.

The number of refugees and migrants risking the sea journey between Morocco and Spain has been rising sharply, and last week was an exceptionally busy one for rescuers.

On Wednesday, Salvamento Marítimom, Spain’s maritime safety and rescue agency, together with the Spanish Red Cross rescued nearly 600 people from at least 15 different vessels off the coast of Tarifa – the largest figure for a single day since August 2014, when about 1,300 people landed on the Spanish coast in a 24-hour period.

Migrants arrive on board a Spanish maritime rescue boat at the port of Tarifa



Migrants arrive on board a Spanish maritime rescue boat at the port of Tarifa. Photograph: Marcos Moreno/AP

Most attempt the crossing using paddle boats, but others use jetskis, inflatable vessels and rickety fishing boats. According to Frontex, the EU’s border agency, more migrants are dying at sea this year than in 2016. And most who continue to cross know the risks they are taking.

“We prefer to die than to stay there. Death happens once but we prefer to risk our life than stay there,” said Abdou, 29, of the ethnic Amazigh community in the impoverished northern Rif region of Morocco, where hundreds of people have been arrested after recent protests against the state. He was rescued last week along with seven others from an inflatable Zodiac boat they had bought for €4,000 – a cheaper option that avoids the need to pay people-smugglers for passage.

Zakaria, 30, said he was saved by a helicopter last week after coastguards spotted him and others attempting to cross the choppy waters in another Zodiac boat. “I was afraid. If the helicopter didn’t come we would have died,” he said.

Recent clampdowns on routes to Europe via Libya have led to the increase in attempts to reach the continent via Morocco. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has said the number of people arriving in Spain by sea this year is likely to outnumber the number arriving in Greece.

According to IOM, 11,849 irregular migrants and refugees reached Spain by sea between 1 January and mid-August. A further 3,500 have made it to two Spanish enclaves in north Africa, Ceuta and Melilla, the only EU land borders with Africa.

Though Spain’s numbers are dwarfed by those of Italy, which has seen 97,376 arrivals so far this year, there is significant pressure on Spanish authorities to make sure it can protect, register and accommodate those arriving on its shores.

Concerns are also growing over the potential for militants to exploit migrant routes into Europe in the wake of terror attacks in Nice, Brussels and most recently Barcelona – all claimed by Islamic State.

Rosa Otero, of the UN’s refugee agency in Spain, said the country was not yet in an emergency situation, particularly when compared with Italy, but authorities were struggling to cope.

“Given the current rise … there are no adequate structures and procedures in place to deal with more arrivals and to swiftly identify international protection and other protection needs,” she said, adding that the shortcomings left migrants – especially children – vulnerable to traffickers.

Every day, between three to four dark green buses marked Guardia Civil arrive in Tarifa to transfer new arrivals to the nearby city of Algeciras, where the Centro de Internamiento de Extranjeros (the alien internment centre) is located. Most arrivals are originally from the west African countries of Nigeria, Guinea and Ivory Coast.

The Red Cross, one of many NGOs active in Algeciras, provides asylum seekers with food three times a day and a place to sleep. On Saturday the centre’s rooms were packed with children using computers. Women washed clothes outside.

Abdou was one of the men being housed at the Red Cross facility. He said the thought of the trip across the Strait of Gibraltar had frightened him, but he had been determined to make it.

“What is important is that I’ve left Morocco, nothing else is important. We had a lot of fear, because the sea was sometimes peaceful, sometimes not,” he said. “There’s war. The state of Morocco has conflict with [the Amazigh] people. It’s not like Syria but they put us in jail for political reason. There’s no right[s], no economy, nothing.”

Two brothers, 28 and 19, and their two cousins, both 21, were among those rescued on Wednesday. Like Abdou, they too belong to the Amazigh community.

Last month their city, al-Hoceima on the northern edge of the Rif mountains, was the scene of a million-man march. Moroccan security guards used batons and teargas to quell protesters. Human Rights Watch said at least 185 people had been arrested in connection with the protests and at least 46 of them had been sentenced to 18 months in jail after forced confessions.

The hand of a Moroccan Amazigh refugee, scarred after being beaten by Moroccan police



The arm of a Moroccan Amazigh refugee, scarred after being beaten by Moroccan police. Photograph: Saeed Kamali Dehghan for the Guardian

The four men made the six-hour, 105-mile journey from Plaga Soaan in el-Hoceima to Motril, on Spain’s south coast, on one jetski. They were kept in custody for two days upon their arrival before being taken to the Red Cross in Algeciras.

Those seeking asylum in Spain can wait anything from six months to two years to receive a decision, and a growing backlog means the processing time is getting longer. Local police say local temporary detention centres are so overwhelmed by the number of asylum seekers that they are relying on NGOs to help find accommodation.

Albert Bitoden Yaka, a centre coordinator at Fundación Cepaim in Algeciras, which shelters refugees and migrants in eight different houses in the city, agreed there was a lack of resources to deal with the new arrivals.

“In my opinion, I think the authorities and European states are proving to be inefficient when it comes to addressing this phenomenon, especially the arrival of refugees,” he said.

The Guardian visited one Fundación Cepaim house on Saturday, where seven refugees were sheltered in four rooms in a flat in a large residential block. Residents receive monthly payments of €50 to spend as they wish and €170 for food, until Spanish authorities reach a decision on their asylum application.

“Algeciras is a city of more than 120 nationalities, they know how important it is to live together. It is in moments of like this [after the Barcelona attack] that we realise the impact of having experience in diversity to prevent hostility,” Yaka said.

Larri, a 22-year-old English-speaking refugee from Ghana, lives in a Cepaim house. He said he first tried to reach Europe via the Libya-Italy route, but nearly died when the boat carrying 35 people capsized an hour after their departure.

Larri



Larri: ‘Here, it’s 100% better than Ghana.’ Photograph: Saeed Kamali Dehghan for the Guardian

“Only 12 people survived, the rest all died before our eyes, among them children and women,” he remembered. “I swam and caught the boat, until the next day fishermen came and saw us. They went back and brought help. We were crying, they went back, people came with a boat. I was in sea for one day until 11am.”

Undeterred, Larri travelled to Morocco in an attempt to reach Spain across the strait. He said he belonged to Ghana’s Bimoba ethnic group, which is fighting a long-running conflict with the rival Konkomba group. He had left Ghana for Libya as soon as he finished junior high school, in search of a better life.

“I didn’t know Libya was also fighting,” he said. He worked in Libya for three years before going to Morocco, where he paid 1,000 dinars (£82) to get on a dinghy with women and children.

“In this weather, a lot of people die,” he said. “It’s up to God, some people don’t reach, some people reach. The moment you’re in the boat, you’re selling your life, but there’s no solution. [The] only solution [is to] pray God to save you, [to] reach the place, but it’s not easy to enter this sea.”

Asked whether it was worth taking the risk, he said: “Here, it’s 100% better than Ghana. I was suffering, sometime beaten up on my way from Niger to Libya. When I see everything now that I’m in Europe, it was 100% worth taking the risk.”

Source link

Solidarity must extend far beyond the victims of terror | Editorial | Opinion

Spain has been a model of solidarity in the three days since the terror attacks that killed 14 people in Barcelona and Cabrils. That number is now known to include the seven-year-old Julian Cadman, who had dual British-Australian nationality and whose engaging image has been on front pages. He had been missing since the savage vehicle attack on Thursday afternoon. On Sunday morning the king and queen led the mourners at a service in La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona’s cathedral, which, perhaps paradoxically in the circumstances, was conceived by Antoni Gaudí as a paeon to faith and nationalism. More than 1,500 people packed the church, while nearby Las Ramblas continued to be a focus for grief and resistance.

But behind the solidarity, Spain’s national cohesion faces more stresses than in most European countries. At least eight of the terrorists appear to have grown up in one small town, Ripoll. Their horrified families are blaming Abdelbaki Es Satty, the imam of one of the town’s mosques, for radicalising their sons. The small community, where one in 10 residents is a migrant, is in a state of shock to discover that football-loving kids who appeared entirely comfortable with their Spanish identity set out on such a murderous course. Police, who are investigating what they now say was a plot to launch a huge terror attack, are trying to establish whether the imam died in a gas explosion that destroyed a house last Wednesday.

Yet this is a region that is uncomfortably familiar with conflicts of identity. Catalonia’s president, Carles Puigdemont, attended the Sunday service with the king and queen, but it was a rare joint appearance with the monarchs for the republican politician, who is the architect of the unofficial referendum on independence that is scheduled to take place in less than six weeks’ time. Madrid continues to insist the plebiscite is illegal and that it will do everything it can to stop it happening. The last Catalan president who organised a similar referendum has been banned from public office for two years.

Thursday’s attack is likely to be used by Madrid to add to the pressure on the regional government. The argument has already been rehearsed in the national capital’s newspaper El País, which said it was a wake-up call for the Catalan government, described independence as a fantasy and called on the regional politicians to “ditch the democratic nonsense … and start working for our real interests”.

There are plenty of people, not just in the darker corners of social media, who believe there is a link between terror and refugees. Late last year, Europol reported Islamic State was deliberately trying to radicalise vulnerable refugees in order to inflame the migration crisis and turn EU citizens against refugees seeking asylum. That makes the challenge Barcelona faces now, to sustain the qualities of a multicultural cosmopolitanism, the youthful and open approach that has made it so beloved, the more important. It has a fine record: its recent hostility to rapidly growing tourism, partly aggravated by the way Airbnb has driven up rents in the city, is more than matched – as banners during anti-tourism protests showed – by its readiness to welcome refugees. It describes itself as a “refugee city” and it has an impressive plan for comprehensive reception and resettlement facilities. But Barcelona’s offer of welcome is not shared absolutely everywhere in Spain, and, last week, the UN refugee agency warned the country was struggling to cope with the 9,300 refugees who have already arrived this year. That number will only increase as the route from Libya becomes ever more dangerous and some of the tens of thousands who risk the crossing to Italy seek a safer route.

The past year has seen terror strike half a dozen European countries. Events in Spain were still unfolding when a man went on the rampage in the Finnish town of Turku, murdering two women. His ethnicity, like that of the Spanish terrorists, was Moroccan. These brutal murders have played a part in poisoning the atmosphere against migrants. While Angela Merkel of Germany stoutly upholds her commitment to refugees, the EU collectively has failed at every turn, unable even to ensure that members honour the commitments they have already made to ease the burden on the frontline states of Greece and Italy. This is a desperate tragedy for millions fleeing endemic violence and insecurity. It threatens, too, the precious cohesion of neighbourhoods. And it is a kind of victory for the terrorists of all sides who seek to undermine Europe’s universal values.

Source link

Spain lacks capacity to handle migration surge, says UN refugee agency | World news

Spain lacks the resources and capacity to protect the rising number of refugees and migrants reaching it by sea, the UN refugee agency has said.

The warning from UNHCR comes as the Spanish coastguard said it rescued 593 people in a day from 15 small paddle boats, including 35 children and a baby, after they attempted to cross the seven-mile Strait of Gibraltar.

The number of refugees and migrants risking the sea journey between Morocco and Spain has been rising sharply, with the one-day figure the largest since August 2014, when about 1,300 people landed on the Spanish coast in a 24-hour period.

About 9,300 migrants have arrived in Spain by sea so far this year, while a further 3,500 have made it to two Spanish enclaves in north Africa, Ceuta and Melilla, the EU’s only land borders with Africa.

Chart of child refugees and migrants arriving in Europe after crossing Mediterranean

María Jesús Vega, a spokeswoman for UNHCR Spain, said police were badly under-resourced and there was a lack of interpreters and a shortage of accommodation for the new arrivals.

“The state isn’t prepared and there aren’t even the resources and the means to deal with the usual flow of people arriving by sea,” she said.

“Given the current rise, we’re seeing an overflow situation when it comes to local authorities trying to cope at arrival points.”

Vega said the agency was seeing a very high number of vulnerable people including women, victims of people-trafficking, and children.

“What we’re asking is for there to be the right mechanisms in place to ensure people are treated with dignity when they come,” she said.

Last week, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said Spain could become more popular than Greece as a destination for people seeking to enter Europe, as some look for alternatives to Italy.

About 12,440 people have arrived in Greece so far in 2017, according to UNHCR. The numbers heading to Spain and Greece are dwarfed by Italy, which has seen 97,376 arrivals so far this year. Although this is a reduction on the 101,512 people who arrived during the same period in 2016, the issue continues to cause problems for the authorities, with almost 5,000 people reaching Italy on one day in June.

William Spindler, a spokesman for UNHCR in Geneva, said: “There have been three main routes into Europe for many years, for decades: the central Mediterranean one, the eastern one from Turkey to Greece, and there has always been Spain.

“What is true is that when efforts are made to clamp down on one route, another tends to open up.”

UNHCR figures show that most of those arriving in Spain by sea set out from Morocco, although some also embark from Algeria. The majority of the migrants are from Cameroon, Guinea and the Gambia.

Vega said the continuing instability in Libya meant people trying to escape the war in Syria were trying to reach Europe via Ceuta and Melilla.

She said the agency had noticed an increase in the number of Moroccans travelling to Spain, coinciding with the end of Ramadan and unrest in the Rif region.

Although Vega stressed that the situation in Spain was hardly comparable with Italy, she said Madrid needed to do much more.

“This could be managed quite simply if it were properly addressed,” she said.

“[But] if there isn’t a proper response, we could see people who have fallen into the clutches of people-traffickers becoming merchandise. We’re going to see people who should have international protection facing danger if they’re returned home.”

Statistics compiled by the IOM show that more than 113,000 migrants and refugees have entered Europe by sea this year. To date, more than 2,300 have died in the attempt, 119 of them while trying to reach Spain.

Migrant and refugee arrivals in Europe chart

Italy has embarked on a flurry of initiatives to reduce numbers, including a diplomatic campaign to persuade tribes in the south of Libya to clamp down on people smugglers.

Marco Minniti, the Italian interior minister, has insisted that NGOs involved in sea rescues sign a code of conduct, which was sharply criticised by the UN-backed IOM.

Several aid groups refused to sign the code of conduct because they thought their neutrality would be compromised by taking armed police officers on board. At least three organisations signed it.

The Italian government remains under pressure, as neighbouring countries have tightened border controls, meaning refugees and migrants are unable to head north to France or Austria as they have done in the past.

On Wednesday, 70 Austrian troops were deployed to the Brenner pass to help police with border checks, the Italian news agency ANSA reported.

UNHCR said it was too soon to tell whether the recent drop in arrivals in Italy represented a downward trend or a temporary fluctuation.

Under pressure from the EU, the Libyan coastguard has stepped up interceptions of boats, while some NGOs have suspended work in the central Mediterranean because they felt threatened by Libya’s coastguard.

Both could explain the recent fall in sea crossings, but Spindler said: “We don’t have any hard evidence. We could see an increase in the next few weeks.”

Vega said the international community needed to do more to tackle the root causes of migration, such as conflict, climate change and economic instability, to reduce numbers.

“It’s clear that walls and fences aren’t going to deter anyone who’s desperate enough to risk their life and those of their children. Whatever lies ahead of them, it can’t be worse than what they’re leaving behind. They know they could die,” she said.

The Spanish government did not respond to a request for comment.

Source link

Britain First supporter calls for Merkel to be shot for refugee policy | World news

A prominent Britain First supporter has advocated gunning down Angela Merkel because of Germany’s policy of allowing Muslim refugees to settle in Europe.

Marian Lukasik, a far-right activist, said the German chancellor should be shot “to pieces” after allowing Syrian and Iraqi people to enter Germany.

Footage of his comments has been uploaded to YouTube as part of an interview which has been viewed thousands of times.

It comes days after a man, reportedly with rightwing views, was charged with planning to assassinate the French president, Emmanuel Macron, and one year on from the murder of the Labour MP Jo Cox, who was killed by a far-right activist who shouted “Britain First” before shooting and stabbing her.

Lukasik, 61, a Polish national who lives in Enfield, north London, made his comments while attending a Britain First rally in Birmingham last month. He was interviewed for more than 20 minutes by a Polish blogger, Weronika Kania, and asked for his opinion on Merkel’s immigration policy.

Lukasik replied in Polish: “Let comrade Mauser speak” – an apparent reference to a German semi-automatic pistol – before imitating the sound and miming the action of a firing gun for several seconds. He then said: “Shoot her into pieces. This is the only solution. If this whore remains in charge it will just get worse. There will be terrorist attacks and so on.”

According to the Criminal Law Act 1977, a person who makes a threat to kill, intending that others would fear it would be carried out, can face a sentence of up to 10 years.

After being urged to calm down by another man at the rally, Lukasik said: “I will go to prison for what I have said. I will not be the first or the last. If I go to prison for telling the truth, it’s fine by me.”

Lukasik, a former champion wrestler, stood as an independent councillor in Enfield in 2014. During the campaign Lukasik told the Barnet and Whetstone Press that he wanted to help foreigners: “We, foreigners, English people, must find some solution to live together peacefully.”

This benevolent sentiment is absent from Lukasic’s current presence on social media where he has posted slogans warning about the number of Muslims in Europe, and called for trade unions to be banned.

Lukasik’s views on Islam have been uploaded to YouTube by Britain First’s deputy leader, Jayda Fransen, and he has been photographed alongside her on several occasions.

In one piece of footage, he says: “I am here to warn you about Islamisation,” before claiming that Muslim gangs have been involved in the “ritual rape” of young white girls.

Contacted on Wednesday night, Lukasik said he stood by the sentiment of what he said in the footage but would not murder Merkel or anyone else. He said he had lived in Germany and became emotional when asked about Merkel but would not actually shoot her.

“I do not like what she has done because of the many Muslims who have come to Germany and the terrorist attacks in Europe. I would not shoot her or anyone,” he said.

He said he had helped Britain First to recruit supporters among the Polish community and took 40 supporters to recent rallies by the group.

“I worry about the Muslims coming to Europe. We have seen too many deaths from terrorism in Germany, in London, in Manchester,” he said.

Three far-right activists from Poland were recently stopped from attending the Britain First rally in Birmingham after being detained by the UK authorities at airports.

They included Jacek Międlar, 28, an antisemitic priest, and his fellow activist Piotr Rybak, who was indicted for inciting hatred last year after burning an effigy of an orthodox Jew during a protest against Muslim immigration.

Rafał Pankowski from the Never Again Association, which monitors far-right activity in Europe, said Lukasik was “the tip of the iceberg”, because of growing radicalisation in the UK Polish community by far-right groups. “It is time for British authorities and organisations to wake up to this issue,” he said.

Source link

The Guardian view on the return of the migrant boats: Europe’s problem | Editorial | Opinion

High summer is migrant season in the Mediterranean. In rising numbers, men, women and children set off in the flimsiest of craft for Italy. So far this year, according to the International Organization for Migration, at least 2,000 people have drowned in the attempt. This is made all the worse by the equivocation and even the hostility of EU states which make little show of solidarity; today Austria announced it was ready to send troops and tanks to stop migrants crossing the border from Italy. The Mediterranean is already the world’s worst maritime cemetery. Italy, which finds itself on the receiving end of this migration, urgently needs more European support than is currently on offer. Lest anyone doubt it, this applies to the UK government too: last year, only 13,000 asylum claims were granted.

The numbers are not as staggering as they were, but this year’s migration crisis is no less tragic and no less diplomatically fraught. The number entering Europe by sea so far is 100,000, half last year’s number for the same period. Four-fifths of them arrived in Italy. Migrant centres are overwhelmed. The Italian government says the situation is “unbearable”. Last week it threatened to close its ports to ships used by NGOs to rescue migrants. It wants other coastline states – Spain and France – to offer points of arrival. A flurry of EU meetings – with another one due on Thursday in Tallinn – has so far produced little concrete help, while a proposed EU “code of conduct” for NGOs risks limiting their action. NGOs are furious that their humanitarian work has been described as creating a “pull factor”: they say that is finger-pointing rather than tackling the real issues.

It is to Italy’s credit that, in 2013, it became the first European country to launch a life-saving operation, Mare Nostrum. Since then, search and rescue operations have been internationalised. But little has been done to make the welcoming effort a genuinely Europe-wide one. Refugee relocation plans have been more of a concept than a reality. To date, an EU plan originally intended for tens of thousands has led to the resettlement of only 7,354 people from Italy. Yet, although Italy’s frustration is understandable, blocking humanitarian ships cannot be the right answer. There are more sustainable solutions. It is lack of political will that makes them unattainable. EU migration policies need to be overhauled. Fear of a populist backlash leaves governments wary of creating the safe, legal routes that would allow an orderly processing of asylum claims. Not all migrants are entitled to asylum, but all asylum claims must be fairly examined. Crisis management that centres on border control, even if it is pushed back to Libya’s southern borders, is not enough. Outsourcing the problem to Libya’s coastguards or militias only makes it worse.

The UNHCR says there is “no slowing down” of migrant movements to Libya. That is likely to mean ever larger numbers trying to travel the central Mediterranean route to Europe. Last year’s EU-Turkey agreement managed to stem migrant and refugee movements across the Aegean Sea, but to a large extent it has only displaced the problem. It is no surprise that Libya, a country of three competing governments, plunged in internal chaos, has become a network of ruthless and sometimes murderous traffickers, and the new flashpoint.

The mounting concerns of the centre-left government in Rome may not be motivated only by human tragedy, but also by the fear that uncontrolled migration will help either the far right or the Five Star movement make gains in the coming elections. Europe has a collective interest in thwarting such an outcome, just as it does in upholding its commitment to the principle of asylum. That can only be done through coordination across the EU. Migration is a long-term problem. But with the so-called summer season under way, pledges of solidarity must urgently be translated into action. Italy’s problems are not only Italian but European too.

Source link

EU takes action against eastern states for refusing to take refugees | World news

The European commission has launched a legal case against Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic for refusing to take in refugees, intensifying a bitter feud within the bloc about how to deal with migration.

The Eurosceptic governments in Poland and Hungary have refused to take in anyone under a plan agreed by a majority of EU leaders in 2015 to relocate migrants from frontline states Italy and Greece to help ease their burden. The Czech Republic initially accepted 12 people but has since said it would not welcome more.

Speaking at a news conference on Tuesday, the EU’s migration chief, Dimitris Avramopoulos, said: “I regret to see that despite our repeated calls to pledge to relocate, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland have not yet taken the necessary action.

“For this reason, the commission has decided to launch infringement procedures against these three member states … I sincerely hope that these member states can still reconsider their position and contribute fairly.”

The legal action is likely to reinvigorate the debate over the independence of EU states from Brussels. It kickstarts months, or even years, of legal wrangling before a top EU court could potentially impose financial penalties.

Out of 160,000 refugees due to be taken under the scheme agreed in 2015, only 20,869 have been relocated. In theory, countries can be fined for every refugee in the quota they fail to accept.

The Czech prime minister, Bohuslav Sobotka, nosediving in the polls and facing elections in November, claimed the commission was “blindly insisting on pushing ahead with dysfunctional quotas which decreased citizens’ trust in EU abilities and pushed back working and conceptual solutions to the migration crisis”.

He added: “Given the deteriorating security situation in Europe and the non-functioning of the quota system, the Czech government will not participate in it. We are ready to defend our position in the EU and the relevant judicial institutions.”

But speaking in Prague, the former Italian prime minister Massimo D’Alema said the EU “cannot tolerate countries that do not respect the law that is based on our fundamental values and those values are to respect human rights”.

He added: “The only way to solve the crisis is to share the burden. It is not acceptable for Germany to take 1 million refugees and for some EU states to simply say no. In that case, sanctions are needed.”

The eastern states are firmly opposed to accepting any asylum seekers, and believe their populations will not accept large numbers of migrants, especially if imposed by the EU.

Speaking in Hungary’s parliament earlier on Monday, the prime minister, Viktor Orbán, said: “We will not give in to blackmail from Brussels and we reject the mandatory relocation quota.”

Poland’s interior minister, Mariusz Błaszczak, said: “We believe that the relocation methods attract more waves of immigration to Europe; they are ineffective.”

The Czech Republic had initially taken in 12 people from their assigned quota of 2,691, but said earlier in June it would take no more, citing security concerns. Sobotka argued on Monday that the biggest crisis facing the EU was terrorism.

Poland and Hungary have refused to take in a single person under a plan agreed in 2015 to relocate 160,000 asylum seekers from Italy and Greece, which had been overwhelmed by an influx of people from the Middle East and Africa.

Although the number of refugees coming into Europe from Syria along the Balkan route has fallen, the number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean from Libya has risen significantly, placing great pressure on local Italian authorities.

Critics of the eastern European countries’ stance over refugees claim they are willing to accept the economic benefits of the EU, including access to the single market, but have shown a disregard for the humanitarian and political responsibilities.

Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania opposed agreeing to the relocation scheme for asylum seekers in 2015, but were outvoted. Although generally opposed, Poland eventually voted with the majority.

Source link