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.”

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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.”

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German writer held in Spain on Turkish warrant granted conditional release | World news

Germany welcomed the release on Sunday of a German writer detained in Spain on a Turkish warrant and accused Turkey of abusing the international system used to hunt down fugitives.

Turkish-born writer Doğan Akhanlı, who has German citizenship, was arrested on Saturday while on holiday in southern Spain. Akhanlı was conditionally released after a court hearing on Sunday, but ordered to remain in Madrid while Turkey’s extradition request is considered, his lawyer said.

It was not immediately clear what Akhanlı is accused of, but the author has in the past written about the mass killing of Armenians in Turkey in 1915. The killings are a sensitive subject in Turkey, which rejects the widespread view that they constituted genocide.

In a statement, the German foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, praised Akhanlı’s release and said “it would be terrible if Turkey could get people who raise their voice against [Turkish president Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan imprisoned on the other side of Europe.

“I have complete faith in Spain’s judicial system and know that our friends and partners in the Spanish government understand what’s at stake,” Gabriel said.

Erdoğan hit back while speaking to supporters in Istanbul, attributing Ankara’s souring relations with Berlin to next month’s German election and warning Germany to “mind its own business”.

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, said the arrest of Akhanlı was wrong.

“We mustn’t abuse international organisations like Interpol for this,” she told German broadcaster RTL.

German chancellor Angela Merkel



German chancellor Angela Merkel has called Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s remarks on the German election ‘unacceptable’. Photograph: Sebastian Kahnert/AP

The already high tensions between the two countries hit another peak on Friday when Erdoğan said all of Germany’s mainstream parties were enemies of Turkey and urged Turkish-Germans to not vote for them in the upcoming election.

Merkel called Erdoğan’s comments “completely unacceptable”.

“I invite everyone to vote, here in a free country,” she said.

Merkel said she would work hard to improve prison conditions for a number of Germans currently detained in Turkey on accusations of supporting banned organisations.

Akhanlı emigrated to Germany in 1991 after spending years in a Turkish prison following the 1980 military coup in the country.

The German section of the writers’ association PEN called the arrest warrant against Akhanlı politically motivated.

Spain is also holding Turkish-Swedish reporter and writer Hamza Yalcin, who was arrested on 3 August in Barcelona on a Turkish warrant for alleged terrorism.

PEN and Reporters Without Borders have demanded his release. The Swedish branch of Reporters Without Borders said Yalcin’s arrest was an attempt by Erdoğan to show he can reach critical voices abroad.

Spain’s Freedom of Information Defence Platform said it welcomed the decision on Akhanlı, but reiterated that it expects Yalcin to be let go and Spain to explain both arrests.

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Germany urges Spain not to extradite Erdoğan critic to Turkey | World news

Germany’s foreign minister has urged Spain not to extradite a German writer to Turkey after he was arrested on a Turkish warrant.

Sigmar Gabriel called his Spanish counterpart over the arrest of Doğan Akhanlı while in Granada on holiday.

Akhanlı was born in Turkey but emigrated to Germany in 1991 after spending years in Turkish prison following the 1984 military coup in the country.

He was arrested after Turkey issued an Interpol warrant for the writer, a critic of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government, increasing tensions between the Nato allies.

The arrest of the writer was part of a “targeted hunt against critics of the Turkish government living abroad in Europe,” Akhanlı’s lawyer Ilias Uyar told magazine Der Spiegel, which first reported Akhanlı’s detention.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Angela Merkel



Tensions remain high between Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Angela Merkel. Photograph: Michael Kappeler/AFP/Getty Images

Any country can issue an Interpol “red notice”, but extradition by Spain would only follow if Ankara could convince Spanish courts it had a real case against him.

Ties between Ankara and Berlin have been increasingly strained in the aftermath of last year’s failed coup in Turkey as Turkish authorities sacked or suspended 150,000 people and detained more than 50,000, including other German nationals.

“This is a development of dramatic significance,” said Social Democrat leader Martin Schulz at a campaign rally. “As part of his (Erdoğan’s) paranoid counter-putsch, he is reaching out for our citizens on the territory of European Union states.”

Schulz, who seeks to replace Chancellor Angela Merkel in September’s elections, called for talks on Turkey joining the EU’s customs union to be suspended, saying that Erdoğan was “every day testing the limits of how far he can go.”

The German Journalists’ Union warned journalists critical of Ankara to have German police check their Interpol records before travelling abroad.

“To our knowledge, our colleague has done nothing wrong,” said Frank Überall, the union’s president.

The German section of the PEN literary network said charges against Akhanlı center on a crime committed while he wasn’t in Turkey. The group said it believes the arrest warrant against Akhanlı to be politically motivated, citing his writings about the mass killing of Armenians in Turkey in 1915.

Merkel has been cautious in her criticism of Erdoğan despite Ankara’s arrests of German citizens. Critics say she is beholden to him because Turkey stands in the way of another wave of Syrian war refugees arriving in Europe, as they did in 2015.

Akhanlı, detained in the 1980s and 1990s in Turkey for opposition activities, including running a leftist newspaper, fled Turkey in 1991 and has lived and worked in the German city of Cologne since 1995.

On Friday, Erdoğan urged the 3 million or so people of Turkish background living in Germany to “teach a lesson” to Germany’s main parties by boycotting them in the elections.

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Democracy is dying – and it’s startling how few people are worried | Paul Mason | Opinion

A rough inventory of July’s contribution to the global collapse of democracy would include Turkey’s show trial of leading journalists from Cumhuriyet, a major newspaper; Vladimir Putin’s ban on the virtual private networks used by democracy activists to evade censorship; Apple’s decision to pull the selfsame technology from its Chinese app store.

Then there is Hungary’s government-funded poster campaign depicting opposition parties and NGOs as puppets of Jewish billionaire George Soros; Poland’s evisceration of judicial independence and the presidential veto that stopped it. Plus Venezuela’s constituent assembly poll, boycotted by more than half the population amid incipient civil war.

Overshadowing all this is a three-cornered US constitutional face-off between Trump (accused of links with Russia), his attorney general (who barred himself from investigating the Russian links) and the special prosecutor who is investigating Trump, whom Trump is trying to sack.

Let’s be brutal: democracy is dying. And the most startling thing is how few ordinary people are worried about it. Instead we compartmentalise the problem. Americans worried about the present situation typically worry about Trump – not the pliability of the most fetishised constitution in the world to kleptocratic rule. EU politicians express polite diplomatic displeasure, as Erdoğan’s AK party machine attempts to degrade their own democracies. As in the early 1930s, the death of democracy always seems to be happening somewhere else.

The problem is it sets new norms of behaviour. It is no accident that the “enemies of the people” meme is doing the rounds: Orbán uses it against the billionaire George Soros, Trump uses it against the liberal press, China used it to jail the poet Liu Xiaobo and keep him in prison until his death.

Another popular technique is the micromanaged enforcement of non-dissent. Erdoğan not only sacked tens of thousands of dissenting academics, and jailed some, but removed their social security rights, revoked their rights to teach, and in some cases to travel. Trump is engaged in a similar micromanagerial attack on so called “sanctuary cities”. About 300 US local governments have pledged – entirely legally – not to collaborate with the federal immigration agency ICE. Last week the US attorney general Jeff Sessions threatened federal grants to these cities’ local justice systems, a move Trump hailed using yet another fashionable technique – the unverified claim.

Trump told a rally of supporters in Ohio that the federal government was in fact “liberating” American cities from immigrant crime gangs. They “take a young, beautiful girl, 16, 15 and others and they slice them and dice them with a knife because they want them to go through excruciating pain before they die”, he said. At school – and I mean primary school – we were taught to greet such claims about racial minorities with the question: “Really? When and where did this happen?” Trump cited no evidence – though the US press managed to find examples in which gang members had indeed hacked each other.

This repertoire of autocratic rule is of course not new; what makes it novel is its concerted and combined use by elected rulers – Putin, Erdoğan, Orbán, Trump, Maduro, Duterte in the Philippines and Modi in India – who are quite clearly engaged in a rapid, purposive and common project to hollow out democracy.

Equally striking is that, right now, there is no major country prepared to set positive global standards for democracy.

In her 2015 book, Undoing the Demos, UC Berkeley political science professor Wendy Brown made a convincing case that the world’s backsliding on democratic values has been driven by its adoption of neoliberal economics.

It is not, argues Brown, that freemarket elites purposefully embrace the project of autocracy, but that the economic microstructures created in the last 30 years “transmogrify every human domain and endeavour, including humans themselves, according to a specific image of the economic”. All action is judged as if it has an economic outcome: free speech, education, political participation. We learn implicitly to weigh what should be principles as if they were commodities. We ask: is it “worth” allowing some cities to protect illegal migrants? What is the economic downside of sacking tens of thousands of academics and dictating what they can research?

In his influential 2010 testament, Indignez-Vous (Time for Outrage!), the French resistance fighter Stéphane Hessel urged the rising generation of social justice activists to remember the fight he and others had put up during the drafting of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They fought for the word universal (not “international” as proposed by the main governments) in the full knowledge that arguments about sovereignty would sooner or later be advanced to deny the rights they thought they had secured. It seemed odd, back then, even to those of us sympathetic to Hessel, to receive this long, repetitive lecture about the concept of universality. But he was prescient.

The tragedy today is that there is not a single democratic government on Earth prepared to defend that principle. Sure, they will issue notes of displeasure over the death of Liu Xiaobo or Maduro’s crackdown. But they refuse to restate the universality of the principles these actions violate. The fight for universal principles has to begin – as Hessel recognised – with individual people. We must keep restating to ourselves and those around us that our human rights are, as the 1948 declaration states, “equal and inalienable”. That means if one faraway kleptocrat steals them from his subjects, that is like stealing them from ourselves.

Every democratic advance in history, from the English revolution of 1642 to the fall of Soviet communism in 1989, began when people understood the concept of rights they were born with, not to be granted or withdrawn. Today that means learning to think like a free human being, not an economic subject.

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