Posts Tagged ‘asylum seekers’

‘Germany to cap yearly refugee arrivals at about 200,000’

January 12, 2018
© AFP/File | Migrants and refugees walk to cross the Greek-Macedonian border near Idomeni on November 24, 2015


Germany will limit the number of asylum seeker arrivals to around 200,000 annually under a draft coalition agreement sealed Friday in marathon talks between the country’s two biggest parties.

“We determine that the number of new arrivals… should not exceed the range of 180,000 to 220,000 per year,” according to a copy of the document agreed by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and the Social Democrats obtained by AFP.

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An asylum seeker takes a selfie with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Getty Images

On the thorny issue of family reunions for asylum seekers granted temporary refuge, the preliminary accord says current restrictions should be loosened.

The agreement calls for parliament to pass a law by the end of July allowing 1,000 family members per month to come to Germany.

Merkel long resisted a strict upper limit on asylum seekers coming to Europe’s top economy, as demanded by her CDU’s Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union.

But after winning an election with a reduced majority in September, she agreed to a soft cap on Germany’s refugee intake in a bid to silence bitter squabbling within her conservative camp.

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Merkel’s decision to let in more than one million people fleeing war and misery from 2015 has proved deeply divisive in Germany.

The anti-immigration Alternative for Germany capitalised on voter anger over the issue to score 12.6 percent in the general election, a record for a far-right party in the post-war period.



German AfD hardens radical, anti-Muslim course railing against “barbaric, Muslim, gang-raping hordes”

January 10, 2018


© AFP/File / by Frank ZELLER | Von Storch started 2018 by attacking police in Cologne for tweeting in Arabic.


The Alternative for Germany party started the year by railing against “barbaric, Muslim, gang-raping hordes”, ending months of relative post-election calm and any remaining doubt about its hardening far-right course.

If the AfD had been at pains to portray itself as a patriotic conservative force after the September 24 polls, the latest slur signalled that an extremist faction is winning the battle for control, say political scientists.

“The radical course has been cemented,” said Hajo Funke of Berlin’s Free University, adding that the AfD was now openly reaching out to the right-wing extremist fringe, including neo-Nazis and white-pride Identitarians.

Funke said the former anti-euro party had steadily radicalised, purged its more moderate figures, built bridges to groups such as the anti-Islam Pegida street movement, and had never publicly expelled a far-right member.

While the AfD’s declared enemy, Chancellor Angela Merkel, has been struggling to form a new government with the Social Democrats, the AfD has barely been out of the headlines in recent weeks.

In a familiar pattern, its provocations have been followed by vague apologies but also complaints about “political correctness” and censorship by a liberal media and political “thought police”.

Meanwhile, long-unthinkable content has appeared on social media despite tough new rules against online hate speech.

Days ago, said Funke and news reports, an AfD local politician in Berlin’s multicultural Neukoelln district, Franziska Lorenz-Hoffmann, briefly posted a Nazi-era propaganda poster on Facebook that warned the “German woman” to “keep your blood pure”.

– ‘Groping migrant mobs’ –

AfD deputy leader Beatrix von Storch started 2018 by attacking police in the western city of Cologne for tweeting in Arabic, as well as in German, English and French, on New Year’s Eve.

“What the hell is going on with this country?” she wrote. “Did you mean to placate the barbaric, Muslim, gang-raping hordes of men?”

The comment pointed to mass sexual assaults there in 2016 by mostly North African men whom the far-right labelled “rapefugees”.

The inflammatory tweet was quickly taken down, while Cologne police filed a criminal complaint.

AfD parliamentary group leader Alice Weidel chimed in with a “solidarity tweet” about “marauding, groping migrant mobs”.

And AfD chairman Alexander Gauland charged that the new online “censorship law” amounted to “Stasi (secret police) methods” from the former communist East Germany, a region which is today the party’s heartland.

Another tweet, from AfD lawmaker Jens Maier’s account, defamed tennis legend Boris Becker’s adult son Noah as “a little half-negro”.

The tweet was deleted, and Maier apologised while insisting it was written by a staff member who no longer worked for him.

The party’s leadership warned Maier to take greater care in managing his employees.

Noah Becker filed a criminal complaint and his father demanded “consequences” in an article for a Sunday newspaper.

“That’s what they always do in the AfD, that’s their trick: put something out there, then distance yourself from it,” Becker charged.

– ‘Unleash aggression’ –

The AfD, formed in 2013 as an anti-euro party, two year later shifted course to capitalise on fears about a mass influx of more than one million asylum seekers to Germany, while demanding “Merkel must go”.

It won almost 13 percent of the vote on September 24, the strongest showing for a far-right party in the post-war era.

There has been no sign of voters deserting the AfD after using it to register discontent with the leftward drift of Merkel’s Christian Democrats at the election, as some political observers had speculated.

A new poll this week by Spiegel Online gave it 14.7 percent support.

In a country that has long struggled to deal with its collective guilt over the Nazi era and the Holocaust, the taboo-breaking new extremists have reawakened deep fears about rising xenophobia and race hate.

Berlin daily Tagesspiegel said “the worst thing is that, the more AfD officials say such things, the more quickly they become normal. The outrage wears off, and at some point there will no longer be an outcry.”

Robert Vehrkampf of think-tank the Bertelsmann Foundation called the AfD a generally right-wing populist party that “breaks taboos in a calculated way to reach right-wing extremist voters”.

Funke said the recent hardline tweets “did not happen because someone’s computer mouse slipped, they were calculated”.

“Their idea is we unleash the aggression, we want to integrate the far-right, the neo-Nazis, into our party.”

by Frank ZELLER

Hungary’s Orban tells Germany: ‘You wanted the migrants, we didn’t’ — EU-wide refugee resettlement quota let in “Muslim invaders”

January 8, 2018

In an interview with the German daily Bild, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban defended his country’s refusal of an EU-wide refugee resettlement quota, saying that he believed refugees are “Muslim invaders.”

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (picture-alliance/NurPhoto/K. Dobuszynski)

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a populist leader known for his hardline anti-immigration stance, said that the European Union’s migration policies threaten the “sovereignty and cultural identity” of Hungary, in an interview published Monday.

“We don’t see these people as Muslim refugees. We see them as Muslim invaders,” he told the German daily Bild newspaper.

In the interview, he said Syrian refugees were not fleeing their home country — where a multi-sided war has been raging for almost seven years — out of fear for their lives.

Read morePoland, Hungary say EU migration policy has failed

Instead, he said the decision of thousands of migrants to journey to richer western European countries like Germany while passing through less wealthy “but stable” countries like Hungary was proof that they could not be classed as refugees, but rather “economic migrants in search of a better life.”

Orban also rejected the idea that Hungary should be open to accepting people from majority-Muslim countries, saying his country “doesn’t want to be forced.”

“We believe that a large number of Muslims inevitably leads to parallel societies, because Christian and Muslim society will never unite,” Orban told the paper.

“Multiculturalism is only an illusion,” he added.

Read moreTwo against the EU — Hungary PM Viktor Orban visits Poland

Germany ‘wanted the migrants’

Orban also addressed the ongoing spat between Budapest and Brussels over a refugee resettlement quota, which Hungary and Slovakia unsuccessfully challenged at the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

When asked by a Bild reporter why it was fair that Germany accepted hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants while Hungary accepted none, Orban responded: “The difference is, you wanted the migrants, and we didn’t.”

He said in Bild, that if the September ECJ ruling had fallen before the quota’s validity was to run out, Hungary would have accepted the refugees.

Read moreThe EU migrant relocation and resettlement scheme – what you need to know

The ECJ decision fell on September 6 while the European Commission decision mandating the quota system expired on September 26.

At the time of the decision, however, Hungarian officials rejected the ruling and decried it as political, with Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto saying: “Politics has raped European law and values.”

Orban also told Bild that it “a double standard” that Hungary was the “only” country in the bloc that was criticized although the quota “wasn’t implemented in over 20 countries.”

According to the latest European Commission figures, only two EU member states took in no refugees under the quota system — Hungary and Poland. Slovakia, Austria and the Czech Republic took in a handful of refugees under the program.

A total of 22 countries involved in the resettlement scheme fell short of their “legal commitment.” Although Germany took in more refugees than any other involved in the program with 9,169, it still fell short of its quota of 27,536.

Read moreEU sues Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland over low refugee intake

Orban has been ramping up his anti-migrant statements ahead of elections in Hungary this April.

The interview with Bild followed Orban’s controversial appearance last Friday at the party conference of the conservative Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), the sister party to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU).

Suffering from losses at the polls in last year’s general election, the CSU has been calling for a tougher stance on immigration.

Second time lucky? Merkel starts over with coalition talks

January 5, 2018

BERLIN (Reuters) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel, weakened by an election setback in September, launches a second bid to build a coalition government on Sunday when she sits down with the Social Democrats (SPD) for exploratory talks.

A re-run of her ‘grand coalition’ with the SPD, in power from 2013 to 2017, appears the best option for conservative Merkel is as it would provide stability in what would be her fourth term.

But with success far from guaranteed, there are a range of other possible scenarios.

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel

After her conservatives bled support to the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) in the Sept. 24 national election, Merkel saw her authority undermined two months later by the collapse of three-way coalition talks with the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) and Greens.

That shifted her focus back to the SPD, but the center-left party is wary of another tie-up with Merkel after voters punished it for four years of power-sharing in the September vote, when its support slumped to its lowest level since 1933.

The consensus among politicians and commentators is that the talks will last at least until March.

Although the current caretaker government under Merkel is keeping things ticking over, investors fear that protracted talks will delay what they view as necessary reforms in Europe’s biggest economy and the bloc as a whole.

After a flow of leaks, tweets and selfies emanating from last year’s three-way coalition talks undermined trust, this time around participants have agreed to a news blackout during negotiations.

Here are the main scenarios:


The most likely outcome, given that the two camps have ruled together for eight of the 12 years Merkel has been chancellor and broadly agree on foreign and security policy. However, with both blocs struggling to stem a fall in support, it is by no means a done deal.

They are at odds on a range of issues, from tax to healthcare and Europe. The SPD wants a wholesale reform of health insurance to end what it describes as a two-tier system. Conservatives oppose this idea and are more skeptical than the SPD on plans for deeper EU integration.

Migrant policy is likely to be one of the trickiest issues as Germany struggles to integrate the more than 1.6 million asylum seekers who have arrived since the start of 2015.

Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU), sister party to Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), has called for benefit cuts for asylum seekers and wants limits on family members joining refugees in Germany – anathema to the SPD.

Offering the greatest degree of stability, this tie-up is Merkel’s favored option but many SPD members are wary. The party had promised to go into opposition after its worst election result since 1933.

The SPD leadership, worried about internal splits, seems certain to make tough demands and has stressed that the outcome of talks is open. It is offering members a vote on Jan. 21 after ‘exploratory’ talks before leaders start official coalition negotiations.


Mooted by skeptics of a grand coalition in the SPD, the center-left party would work with Merkel in some areas including the budget and European and foreign affairs but force her to find ad-hoc parliamentary majorities for other policies.

While this is more palatable to many SPD members, many senior conservatives have rejected the idea outright, rendering it unlikely.


This would be a post-war first for a country that craves political stability – a result of the fragmentation in the years that preceded the rise of Hitler’s Nazi party.

Nevertheless, some Social Democrats prefer this option, which would allow them to oppose Merkel’s policies and force her to seek parliamentary majorities on individual laws. It would also be likely to hasten the end of her political career.


Some conservatives, including Merkel, have said they would prefer new elections to a minority government.

This scenario would also throw Merkel’s future into doubt. She has indicated she could stand again and, while the absence of an obvious successor makes her the most likely candidate, her personal ratings are on the wane.

As far as the parties go, opinion polls indicate there have been no big swings since the September election. A GMS survey this week put the conservative bloc on 32 percent, unchanged from the previous week, the SPD was down 1 point at 20 percent and AfD up 1 point at 14 percent.

Germany’s President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who would have to get involved if no coalition deal was agreed, has made clear he wants to avoid new elections if possible.


There is little appetite for a re-run of talks on this nationally untested three-way alliance, dubbed ‘Jamaica’ because the parties’ colors match those of the Jamaican flag.

Divergences on policies from Europe to tax and migration were clear during the weeks of talks that descended into acrimony last year before collapsing.

However, some in the FDP – which was responsible for the breakdown of talks in November – have left the door open to another try if all other efforts at forming a government fail.


Some experts have pointed to the possibility of an alliance between the conservatives and Greens – easier to agree than a three-way deal with the FDP. This could get a degree of backing on some policies from the SPD. However, this seems an unlikely option and would be unstable.

Reporting by Madeline Chambers; editing by John Stonestreet

‘Historic’ turning point in Italy’s migrant crisis

December 30, 2017

Evacuated migrants taken out of detention centers by the UNHCR from Tripoli in Libya, arrive at the military airport Pratica di Mare in Rome, Italy. (Reuters)

ROME: The year 2017 marked what Italian authorities hope was a turning point in the nation’s struggle to manage a chaotic and deadly rush of migrants to its shores.

Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni this week called it a pivotal moment in Italy’s “historic transition from immigration managed by criminals to controlled, legal and safe migration.”
While migrants who made the perilous journey across the Mediterranean in rickety boats still numbered nearly 119,000, it was a roughly one-third drop over the previous year.
However, Italy’s effort to tackle the issue has not been without controversy, including its moves to enlist the help of powerful militias to curb traffickers’ activity.
Still the situation as 2017 closes, is vastly different than the first half of the year.
Between January and June, Italy saw a nearly 20 percent jump in the number of migrants arriving by sea, while asylum applications exploded as its EU neighbors — France, Switzerland and Austria — had closed their borders.
In just the last three days of June, a total of 10,400 people landed in Italy as its neighbors refused to allow even a single ship of migrants rescued off the coast of Libya to dock.
With legislative elections on the horizon — now set for March 2018 — immigration has been a key issue, particularly for Italy’s right and the populist Five Star Movement (M5S).
Italy has tried to adapt how it handles the migrants on its soil, trying prioritize smaller reception centers believed to help new arrivals get on their feet.
Still tens of thousands of asylum seekers languish in large shelters, feeding into the mutual distrust of surrounding neighborhoods.
But everything began to change in July as migrant boat departures from Libya suddenly dropped. The downward trend continued to the point that sea arrivals over the past six months have fallen by 70 percent compared with the same period last year.
The drop has been attributed to a controversial combination of an Italian-led boosting of the Libyan coast guard’s ability to intercept boats and efforts to seek the assistance of powerful militias.
There have also been moves to tighten Libya’s southern borders, accelerate repatriations directly from Libya and measures to stem the flow of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa through transit states such as Niger and Sudan.
It seemed to pay off as in early December, with the Libyan navy saying a total of 80,000 migrants were rescued or intercepted in 2017.
However, harrowing accounts emerged of desperate migrants throwing themselves overboard in order to avoid being sent back to the chaos in Libya.
Migrants intercepted or rescued by the Libyans are usually held in detention centers to await repatriation, but waiting times are often long and conditions deplorable.
International outrage over the situation was stoked in November by a CNN television report on migrant Africans being sold as slaves in Libya.
It got to the point that the EU’s decision to help Libya intercept migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean and return them to detention centers was condemned as “inhuman” by the UN human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.
Italy has continued to press its contacts in Libya to push ahead with another prong of its migrant policy. It has sought the processing of migrants on-site, in cooperation with UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), with a program of repatriating economic migrants and transferring vulnerable people.
Returns increased from 1,200 in 2016 to over 19,000 in 2017. As far as refugees, Italy last week became the first country to welcome a group of 162 Ethiopian, Somali and Yemeni refugees flown in directly from Libya.
Italy’s Interior Minister Marco Minniti says up to 10,000 refugees could benefit from these humanitarian corridors in 2018, provided they can be spread among EU partners.
“There is a reliable path we can take. We would not be pretending that the problem does not exist, but rather managing it humanely and safely” for both Italian citizens and migrants, Gentiloni said this week.
Despite these efforts, crossings remain deadly. According to the IOM, at least 2,833 men, women and children died or went missing off Libya this year, compared to 4,581 in 2016, a relatively constant level of about 1 in 40.


Israel: Thousands of Asylum Seekers to Be Given 90 Days to Leave or Face Prison — But Israel is Importing Tech Workers

December 28, 2017

People who have applied for refugee status but have not received a response will be allowed to stay, for now

By Ilan Lior and Josh Breiner Dec 28, 2017 9:18 AM

African asylum-seekers in Tel Aviv, November 2017.

African asylum-seekers in Tel Aviv, November 2017. Meged Gozani

Thousands of asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan will soon be told to leave Israel within three months or face prison. The Interior Ministry’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority has begun this month preparing to deport these asylum seekers, on the orders of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Interior Minister Arye Dery and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan.

The cabinet vote on the deportation campaign has been postponed due to a budgetary dispute between the treasury and the Public Security Ministry.

In the first stage, certain groups will be exempted from deportation: children, adults over 60, parents of minor children who rely on them for support, those with serious medical or mental health problems and victims of human trafficking and slavery. Individuals in these groups are exempt from being sent to the Holot detention facility in the Negev.

People who have applied for refugee status but have not received a response will also be allowed to stay, for now.

Thousands of other African migrants who entered Israel illegally and who have been detained at Holot in the past, or who meet the criteria for detention there, will receive notification that they must leave Israel within three months the next time they go to Interior Ministry offices to renew their residency permits or face indefinite imprisonment. Barring changes to the law, Holot is scheduled for closure in less than three months.

There are an estimated 27,000 citizens of Eritrea living in Israel, as well as 7,500 Sudanese nationals and 2,500 people from other African nations. Some 5,000 children have been born to African asylum seekers in Israel.

Netanyahu has told Interior Ministry officials that he expects many of these people to leave Israel within a short period.

The Interior Ministry estimates the total cost of its deportation operation at some 300 million shekels ($86 million) a year. This includes wages of Interior Ministry employees, deportation flights and money given to those who leave. For now, every asylum seeker who leaves the country will receive $3,500, but this amount will be reduced in the future.

The actual cost to the state will depends on the program’s success, or lack thereof. The estimates do not include the cost of detention for asylum seekers who refuse to leave Israel. This is the major cause of the dispute between the finance and public security ministries. The latter says it was not consulted in advance on the plan.

The Israel Prison Service, which is under the Public Security Ministry, estimates that hundreds of African asylum seekers will have to be jailed in the Saharonim detention center, an expensive proposition.

On Wednesday, representatives of the Interior Ministry told the Knesset Finance Committee it spent 68 million shekels to remove 4,500 African asylum seekers from Israel in the past year. This money went for airplane tickets and the cash grants. Haaretz has found that the actual number was just under 4,000, meaning the state spent about 17,000 shekels for every African asylum seeker who left, whether to their country of origin, to Uganda, or a Western country.

Ilan Lior
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Tech Nation: Israel Weighing Plan to Ease Rules on Importing Tech Workers

Harel launches quant fund based on models developed in-house ■ Merck Serono, WuXi App Tech launching a biotech incubator

TheMarker Dec 27, 2017 3:54 AM
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Israel weighing plan to ease rules on importing tech workers

Finance Ministry officials are weighing a plan to address the high-tech labor shortage by making it easier to import foreign workers. The key reforms, which officials say may be included in the 2019 Economic Arrangements Law, would create a mechanism for bringing in foreign tech workers for projects involving government contracts, and would in general reduce barriers to hiring foreigners so long as it doesn’t come at the expense of Israeli hires. The measures come as policy makers grapple with an estimated shortfall of about 10,000 workers in Israel’s high-tech industry. The shortage has slowed growth of the industry and threatens to inflate salaries, making local companies less globally competitive on price. “Why can you import building and farm workers but in high-tech you can’t?” asked one industry executive, who asked not to be named. However, there are others who say the government should invest more in developing homegrown talent rather than importing workers from abroad. (Eliran Rubin)

Harel launches quant fund based on models developed in-house

Harel Finance reported on Tuesday that it is launching a quant investment unit using models it has developed in-house. Like other quant fund managers Harel’s Alpha-Tech use algorithms or systematically programmed investment strategies, rather than relying on human managers. “Israeli technology leads in a wide range of industries. Looking forward the country has all the knowledge, tools and resources to turn itself into a leader in managing investments based on technology,” said Tal Kedem, CEO of Harel Finance, the investment arms of Harel Insurance. Alpha-Tech, headed by Relli Ben-Shabat – until now senior vice president at Harel Finance – will initially offer four funds: one solely invested in domestic bonds, one focused on domestic stocks, a third in foreign stocks, and the fourth a mixed stock and bond fund. The funds, to be managed by Harel PIA Mutual Funds, will charge a single management fee of 0.5%. The models being employed by Alpha-Tech were developed by Harel’s research unit, led by Uri Rabinovitz. (TheMarker Staff)


Merck Serono, a subsidiary of Germany’s Merck KGaA, is collaborating with the Shanghai-based pharmaceutical company WuXi AppTec Group to open a pharma and biotech startup incubator in Israel early next year, the Calcalist financial website reported this week. Dubbed Explore Bio, the incubator will be housed in Merck Serono’s complex in Yavneh, near Tel Aviv. The incubator is already evaluating investments in several local startups, each at an initial investment of several million dollars. ExploreBio won’t rely on government support, but will be funded entirely by the partners. In addition to providing capital, the incubator will assist its startups with drug development, provide feasibility and market-demand assessments, and offer early-stage mentoring. Explore Bio has set no ceiling for the number of startups it will back. Israeli biotech entrepreneur Moshe “Mori” Arkin and life sciences venture capital fund Pontifax will also be joining forces in operating the new incubator. (TheMarker Staff)

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Germany’s far-right AfD meet to capitalise on Merkel woes

November 30, 2017


© AFP / by Deborah COLE | German Chancellor Angela Merkel has yet to seal a coalition agreement, with the far-right AfD aiming to bolster its strong election result

BERLIN (AFP) – The far-right Alternative for Germany gathers Saturday for a special meeting looking for ways to make the most of the political impasse that has left Chancellor Angela Merkel hamstrung.Around 600 delegates will assemble in the northern city of Hanover for the two-day event, with pro-refugee protests and police on hand.

The AfD won nearly 13 percent in September’s general election, taking almost 100 seats in parliament on an anti-immigration and anti-Muslim platform.

Its main rallying cry was “Merkel must go” following her decision to let in more than one million asylum seekers since 2015.

The AfD has relished the chancellor’s woes since the poll left her without a clear ruling majority and now tied up in protracted coalition talks.

However the AfD has growing problems, with a power struggle emerging between hardliners and more moderate forces in the four-year-old party which could spill over at the weekend meeting.

The main order of business will be the election of new leadership after the dramatic departure in September of its best-known figure, Frauke Petry.

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Frauke Petry

While co-leader Joerg Meuthen is standing for re-election, he is facing a challenge from the party’s Berlin chief, Georg Pazderski.

AfD parliamentary group president Alexander Gauland urged the party to continue having two leaders, saying it helped bridge internal divisions.

“It is crucial to me that the top of the AfD reflects east and west as well as more conservative and economically liberal positions,” he told AFP.

– ‘Rightward lurch’ –

Former co-president Petry, who bolted over a split with radical nationalists to form her own party, had been the AfD’s most charismatic voice.

Although the sudden exit reinforced an image of infighting, Petry failed to lure more than just one MP to join her in defecting.

“She apparently hoped to take more people with her and then it didn’t happen,” Gauland said.

“The parliamentary group is working together harmoniously,” he insisted.

It is also possible that Bjoern Hoecke, who has triggered outrage with calls for Germany to back away from its atonement for World War II crimes, will stand in Hanover for the party’s 13-member board.

Hoecke recently became the target of a group of activists who unveiled a replica of Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial secretly erected outside his home.

“Hoecke and his supporters are in the radical nationalist wing of the party,” Berlin’s Tagesspiegel newspaper said.

“If they are strongly represented on the new board, it would be seen as a rightward lurch for the party… possibly prompting many relatively moderate members to leave.”

– ‘Enormous volatility’ –

The congress comes at a time of great uncertainty for Germany, with suspense building as to how the current deadlock in Europe’s top economy can end.

Merkel held four weeks of talks with the pro-business Free Democrats and the ecologist Greens to form an unprecedented alliance spanning the political spectrum but the negotiations collapsed in acrimony earlier this month.

She is now courting the Social Democrats, who long languished in her shadow, to join her in a re-run of a “grand coalition”.

AfD leaders have claimed credit for the troubles stalking Merkel as she seeks to begin a fourth term.

“We have enormous volatility right now” that could help the AfD, political scientist Wolfgang Schroeder of the University of Kassel in western Germany told AFP.

“That could help feed the disenchantment with politics — along the lines ‘they can’t even get a government together’.”

Polls confirm an unsettled political landscape. Some show slight gains for the AfD since the collapse of the first round of coalition talks but others indicate a slight dip since the September vote.

Schroeder said the AfD’s success meant other parties including the liberal FDP and Merkel’s Bavarian partners, the CSU, were trying to poach some of its tougher stances on immigration, Europe and climate protection.

“That may mean it will have to try harder to get attention — you’ll surely see that at the party congress.”

by Deborah COLE

Manus Island: Police enter decommissioned Australian refugee detention camp

November 23, 2017

Papua New Guinea police have moved in on the shuttered Australian-run Manus detention camp in an attempt to force hundreds of asylum seekers occupying it to leave. The camp long symbolized Canberra’s strict asylum laws.

– Authorities in Papua New Guinea are removing more than 300 asylum seekers from a squalid immigration camp on Manus island to another location

– Australia has paid PNG and the nearby island of Nauru to hold refugees as part of its controversial immigration policy

– Rights groups and the UN have warned of violence and a humanitarian crisis

– Asylum seekers have refused to leave for three weeks

Papua New Guinea authorities moved to empty a decommissioned Australian-run immigration detention center, drawing criticism from rights groups and the UN over hardhanded tactics and a potential humanitarian crisis.

Police Chief Superintendent Dominic Kakas said 50 police and immigration officials entered the camp on Thursday morning and persuaded 35 of the 378 men there to go to alterative accommodation in the nearby town of Lorengau.

But asylum seekers reported police were using force to remove them from the Manus island camp, where authorities stopped providing water, electricity and food supplies nearly three weeks ago.

Other detainees said that dozens of men have been arrested, including Iranian journalist and refugee Behrouz Boocahni, who is one of the most vocal advocates for those inside the camp.

Tweeting before his reported arrest, Boocahni said police were destroying their belongings, beds, water supplies and stocks of food.

They are destroying everything. Shelters, tanks, beds and all of our belongings. They are very aggressive and put our belongings in the rubbish bins. The refugees still are silent are watching them so scared.


Other detainees reported similar hardlanded tactics.

PNG Police Commissioner Gari Baki said earlier this week that no force would be used.

How did it come to this?

The detainees are held under Australia’s strict “sovereign borders” immigration policy, under which the country refuses to allow asylum seekers attempting to enter by boat to reach its shores.

Last year, PNG’s Supreme Court ruled the Manus camp illegal and asked the Australian government to close it.

About 400 asylum-seekers, men mostly from Afghanistan, Iran, Myanmar, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Syria, barricaded themselves into the camp on October 31 to protest their removal.

Many Manus occupants have said they fear for their safety if moved to other transit centers on the island amid opposition from locals.

Instead of being left in limbo at another detention facility, they want to be permanently settled in Australia or another country.

Items on the floor of the Manus Island detention centreConditions at the Manus Island detention center have been deteriorating rapidly

What is the situation in the center?

The inmates’ medicines ran out last week, their health is suffering in the hot and humid weather and they have started digging wells inside the center to get water.

“The situation on the ground is very serious and deteriorating day by day,” said Nai Jit Lam, a regional representative of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

“Australia must continue to take responsibility and play an active role in achieving solutions,” Lam said.

The UN had long criticized the living conditions on Australia’s offshore migrant detention centers.

The detention center is on Manus Island north of the mainlandThe detention center is on Manus Island north of the mainland

What is the Australian government’s stance?

Australia’s refugee policy has prompted protests at home for better conditions and rights for asylum seekers. However, the government argues it deters people smugglers and prevents deaths at sea.

Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton told Sydney radio station 2GB that a police operation was under way to move the asylum seekers to a new $10 million (€8.7 million) in PNG.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull shrugged off asylum seekers’ fears, accusing them of trying to pressure Australia to accept them.

“They think that … in some way they can pressure the Australian government to let them come to Australia. Well, we will not be pressured. We will not outsource our migration policy to people smugglers,” Turnbull told reporters.

Protesters block the entrance to the Victorian Liberal party offices in Melbourne, AustraliaProtesters block the entrance to the Victorian Liberal party offices in Melbourne

“People on Manus should go to the alternative places of safety with all the facilities they need, they should do so peacefully and they should do so in accordance with the legal directions of Papua New Guinea,” he added.

Under a deal struck between the Obama administration and Australia, the United States agreed to take up to 1,250 of the several thousand refugees on Manus island and nearby Nauru. US President Donald Trump has decided to honor the US commitment despite his opposition to immigration.

But slow processing of asylum applications has meant that so far only 54 asylum seekers have been accepted by the United States.

New Zealand has also offered to take some of the men.

cw/rt (Reuters, dpa, AFP)


Australia, New Zealand officials discuss screening for Manus refugees

November 20, 2017

By Charlotte Greenfield

Australia should accept New Zealand offer to resettle refugees: UNHCR

November 14, 2017


SYDNEY (Reuters) – The U.N. refugee agency on Tuesday urged Australia to accept New Zealand’s offer to resettle 150 refugees from an abandoned Australian-run detention center in Papua New Guinea, as about 450 men remain barricaded inside without food or water.

Image may contain: 4 people, people standing and outdoor

An undated image released November 13, 2017 shows detainees staging a protest inside the compound at the Manus Island detention centre in Papua New Guinea. Refugee Action Coalition/Handout via REUTERS

The asylum seekers have been holed up inside the center for the past two weeks defying attempts by Australia and Papua New Guinea to close the facility, saying they fear for their safety if moved to transit centers.

With many detainees complaining of illness bought about by the unsanitary conditions in the camp, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) urged Australia to allow 150 of them to resettle in New Zealand.

“We urge Australia to reconsider this and take up the offer,” Nai Jit Lam, deputy regional representative at the UNHCR told Reuters.

Most of the asylum seekers are from Afghanistan, Iran, Myanmar, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Syria.

Australia’s “sovereign borders” immigration policy, under which it refuses to allow asylum seekers arriving by boat to reach its shores, has been heavily criticized by the United Nations and human rights groups but has bipartisan political support in Australia.

Australia says allowing asylum seekers arriving by boat to reach its shores would only encourage people smugglers in Asia and see more people risk their lives trying to sail to Australia.

Two motions introduced in Australia’s parliament by the Labor and Green parties, and passed in the upper house on Tuesday, call on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to approve the New Zealand proposal.

“This is a foul and bloody stain on Australia’s national conscience,” Greens senator Nick McKim told reporters.

Turnbull this month rejected the refugee resettlement offer from his New Zealand counterpart, Jacinda Ardern, preferring instead to work through an existing refugee swap deal he negotiated with former U.S. President Barack Obama last year.

Under the U.S. deal, up to 1,250 asylum seekers detained by Australia in Papua New Guinea and Nauru in the South Pacific could be resettled in the United States in return for Australia accepting refugees from Central America. So far, the United States has accepted only 54.

Despite Turnbull rejecting the offer, Ardern this week said it remained on the table and she would seek a second meeting with Turnbull to discuss the “unacceptable” situation inside the Manus island detention center.

Water and electricity to the center were disconnected two weeks ago after Australian security withdrew and the camp closed on Oct. 31. The camp gad been declared illegal by a Papua New Guinea Court.

Papua New Guinea has threatened to forcibly move the men if they remain inside the center. It has set three deadlines but all have passed largely without incident.

Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel