Posts Tagged ‘migrants’

Seeking post-Brexit unity, EU leaders find more fights

February 18, 2018


© AFP/File / by Danny KEMP | European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was picked after European elections in 2014 by a controversial “Spitzenkandidat” system — German for “lead candidate”

BRUSSELS (AFP) – EU leaders face difficult talks this week on the thorny issues of how to plug holes in the post-Brexit budget and choose a successor for European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker.A special one-day summit in Brussels on Friday of the 27 leaders without Britain is meant to be a key step in the roadmap to a leaner and more unified bloc after Britain leaves in just over a year.

But cracks have already appeared between French President Emmanuel Macron, leading the charge for a reformed Europe, and Juncker with his federalist vision of how top EU officials should be chosen in future.

The row means the EU’s attempts to overcome the shock of losing a major member are running into the classic problems that have bedevilled it for its six decades of existence: money and sovereignty.

Juncker was picked after European elections in 2014 by a controversial “Spitzenkandidat” system — German for “lead candidate” — under which the political group with the most votes gets to nominate its candidate for the job.

Both the European Parliament and Juncker back a repeat after the May 2019 European election, saying it gives the public a direct say in who heads the commission, the EU’s powerful executive arm.

– ‘Right and obligation’ –

European Council President Donald Tusk — who coordinates summits and represents the EU member states — is expected to lay out options at the summit, including whether to continue with the Spitzenkandidat system.

Leaders are expected to say it is their own “right and obligation” to choose the commission chief, while “taking into account” the views of parliament, as the EU treaties state, an EU source told AFP.

Many national leaders are bitterly opposed to the Spitzenkandidat process, saying it sidelines democratically elected heads of government in favour of a backroom deal by Brussels-based political parties, and also makes the job of commission chief too political.

Macron this week slammed the Brussels establishment as ideologically incoherent and called for a “political revamp” to give the commission a clear mandate, defined by the national leaders.

Juncker however said earlier this week that the Spitzenkandidat system was “completely logical”. He also called for the commission chief’s job to be merged with Tusk’s.

The row has become particularly fierce after the European Parliament earlier this month dealt Macron a slap by voting against “transnational lists” — which would allow 30 of the 73 seats vacated by Britain to be elected on pan-European tickets, instead of directly to constituencies.

“Why should we have Spitzenkandidaten if we have no transnational list for elections?!” Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel tweeted.

– Fixing a hole –

Filling the hole that Brexit leaves in the EU’s multi-year budget from 2020 threatens to open up even deeper divisions — but this time between member states themselves.

Tusk will ask the leaders at the summit whether they want to increase the budget, decrease it or keep it the same, sources said.

EU Budget Commissioner Guenther Oettinger has said that Britain’s exit could leave a hole of as much as between 12 and 15 billion euros ($15-19 billion) and suggested that contributions be increased to between 1.1 percent and 1.2 percent of GDP from the current level of one percent of GDP in the 2014-2020 budget.

The Netherlands, Denmark, Austria, Sweden and Finland, all net contributors, are said to be against that idea.

Warnings by Oettinger of cuts on agriculture — a bugbear for France — and “cohesion funds” that benefit poorer eastern European states are also likely to go down badly.

But there is little appetite for suggestions that the EU could try to bring countries like Poland and Hungary into line on issues including the rule of law and migration by making cohesion funds “conditional” on good behaviour.

With these tensions in the background it is no surprise that the EU has been stressing the need for unity in Brexit talks with Britain.

Tusk is expected to ask leaders on Friday if they want to push ahead next month with issuing negotiating red lines on a post-Brexit future relationship with Britain.

Uncertainty over Britain’s wishes, and difficulties in negotiations on a post-Brexit transition period, could push that back.

by Danny KEMP

Anti-fascist protesters rally against racism in Italy

February 11, 2018

Protesters have gathered to denounce racism after an Italian man opened fire on African migrants in Macerata. Immigration has become one of the most important political issues in the run-up to parliamentary elections.

Protesters rally against racism

Thousands of anti-fascist protesters on Saturday took to the streets to rally against racism in the eastern city of Macerata, where an Italian man earlier this month opened fire on African migrants, injuring six people.

Up to 30,000 demonstrators marched through the streets of Macerata carrying placards and shouting slogans against rising right-wing extremism. Protesters also gathered in Milan and other cities across Italy.

“We are here because we want to be a dam against this mountain of hate which is spreading continuously, a social hate against migrants and, in general, against the poor,” Francesco Piobbicchi, a protester, told Reuters news agency.

Read more: German-speaking Italy and the legacy of fascism

Tensions reached a fever-pitch on February 3, when Luca Traini, a 28-year-old who ran as a candidate for the far-right Northern League at local elections, went on a two-hour shooting spree targeting African migrants in Macerata.

Traini reportedly told police he was out to avenge the death of Pamela Mastropietro, an 18-year-old Italian woman who was found dead by police. Authorities arrested a suspected drug dealer with Nigerian origins for the murder of Mastropietro.

Police clash with Forza Nuova protestersEarlier this week, police clashed with New Force supporters in Macerata after the far-right supporters gave them a fascist salute during an unauthorized protest

‘Hate, terror and division’

Protesters also decried political parties’ attempts to use migration as a scapegoat for other issues in the run-up to parliamentary elections slated for March 4.

“If there’s unemployment, blame the government, not the migrants,” protesters chanted during the rally. “The political parties are using populism to create hate, terror and division,” said Valentina Guiliodora, who joined the demonstration.

Read more: Italy’s extreme right-wing on the rise

Italy has witnessed a resurgence of far-right activity, including growing support for neo-fascist party New Force (Forza Nuova), in tandem with a wave of migrants reaching Italian shores from North Africa over the past four years.

The Northern League party, which forms part of a right-of-center alliance expected to perform well during the elections, has campaigned on an anti-migrant platform. The far-right party’s leader Matteo Salvini said he was “ashamed as an Italian” for the anti-fascist march in Macerata.

90 Migrants Drowned After Boat Capsized off the coast of Libya

February 2, 2018


90 migrants reported drowned after boat capsized off the coast of Libya early on Friday leaving three known survivors –


GENEVA/TRIPOLI (Reuters) – An estimated 90 migrants are feared to have drowned off the coast of Libya after a smuggler’s boat capsized early on Friday, leaving three known survivors and 10 bodies washed up on shore, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said.

Survivors told aid workers that most of the migrants on board were Pakistanis, who form a growing group heading to Italy from North Africa, IOM spokeswoman Olivia Headon, speaking from Tunis, told a Geneva news briefing.

Image may contain: sky, ocean, outdoor and water

FILE photo — In this Saturday Jan. 27, 2018, photo, 329 refugees and migrants, mostly from Eritrea and Bangladesh, wait to be rescued by aid workers of the Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms, after leaving Libya trying to reach European soil aboard an overcrowded wooden boat, 45 miles north of Al-Khums, Libya. (AP)

“They have given an estimate of 90 who drowned during the capsize, but we still have to verify the exact number of people who lost their lives during the tragedy,” she said.

Earlier security officials in the western Libyan town of Zurawa said two Libyans and one Pakistani had been rescued from the boat. It said 10 bodies had been recovered, mostly Pakistani, but gave no further information.

Zurawa, located near Libya’s border with Tunisia, is a favoured site for migrant boat departures .

Libya is the main gateway for migrants trying to cross to Europe by sea, though numbers have dropped sharply since July as Libyan factions and authorities – under pressure from Italy and the European Union – have begun to block departures.

More than 600,000 people are believed to have made the journey from Libya to Italy over the past four years.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Ahmed Elumami in Tripoli, Additional reporting by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Five migrants shot in Calais brawl blamed on traffickers

February 2, 2018


© AFP / by Gregory DANEL, Clare BYRNE | Three fights across Calais drew in hundreds of the migrants camped out in the hope of stowing away on a truck to England

CALAIS (FRANCE) (AFP) – Five migrants were shot during a giant brawl in Calais, leaving four fighting for their lives Friday in what the French government called an “unbearable” escalation of violence in a port that serves as a gateway to Britain.Twenty-two were hospitalised with injuries after three fights across the city, which drew in hundreds of the migrants camped out in the hope of stowing away on a truck bound for England, according to officials.

Four Eritreans, who were shot in the neck, chest, abdomen and spine, were in critical condition, they said.

Police were searching for a 37-year-old Afghan suspected of the shooting.

A number of other migrants sustained stab wounds in what Interior Minister Gerard Collomb, who visited the scene of one of the clashes near a food distribution point, called an “escalation of violence that has become unbearable for the people of Calais and the migrants”.

The violence comes two weeks after President Emmanuel Macron visited Calais with a message of zero tolerance on migrants setting up camps like the sprawling “Jungle” which was razed in 2016.

He later travelled to Britain, where Prime Minister Theresa May agreed to pay more to help stop migrants trying to reach England’s shores and to take in more unaccompanied minors.

– Unprecedented levels of violence –

Crucially, Macron did not seek to renegotiate a controversial 2003 deal effectively pushing Britain’s borders back onto French soil.

Collomb, who met with security force members and immigration officials in Calais, on Thursday accused the traffickers who charge the migrants hefty sums to secure passage to England, of “fuelling daily violence and brawls”.

“This is a level of violence never seen before,” he said.

He repeated that the government would not allow migrants settle in the area.

“The message I want to get across is that if you want to go to Britain, it’s not here you should come,” he said, adding that minors applying for asylum in Britain would be automatically moved to shelters around the country.

Clashes between migrants are a frequent occurrence in Calais, where newcomers live scattered in the woods, emerging at night to try waylay passing trucks.

The notorious Jungle, once home to some 10,000 people, was demolished in 2016, but hundreds more migrants have since descended on the city.

Shots were fired during the first fight Thursday between about 100 Eritreans and some 30 Afghans queueing for free meals at a distribution point near the town’s hospital at around 3:30 pm (1430 GMT).

The authorities suspect that traffickers mixed in with the crowd.

Shortly afterwards, a second fight broke out at an industrial site around five kilometres (three miles) away, with more than a hundred African migrants armed with iron rods and sticks setting on a group of around 20 Afghans, prosecutors said.

Police intervened to protect the Afghans, the authorities said.

– No tolerance for economic migrants –

Further violence broke out in the late afternoon at a third site.

Two police officers were injured during the clashes and security reinforcements were deployed.

In July, 16 people were injured in a brawl, one seriously.

Groups of migrants have also frequently clashed with the police, who systematically tear down their encampments and intervene to prevent them boarding trucks.

Macron has taken an unbending line towards those dubbed economic migrants because they are not fleeing war or persecution.

He has vowed to step up deportations while speeding up waiting times for bona fide asylum-seekers — an approach he touts as mixing “humanity” and “efficiency”.

Polls show the French supporting his approach but leftist parties, intellectuals and NGOs have been critical.

A former key adviser Jean Pisani-Ferry was among those who signed a hard-hitting open letter recently, accusing the centrist president of betraying his image as a humanist.

by Gregory DANEL, Clare BYRNE

Israel’s Immigration Crisis Is a Lesson for Trump

February 2, 2018


By Zev Chafets

A state founded as a haven for the displaced may deport 40,000 job-seeking Africans.
On the right side of the wall.

 Photographer: Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

In his first State of the Union message on Tuesday, President Donald Trump again made his controversial case for building a wall along the southern border of the U.S. Back in 2016, his opponents scoffed at the feasibility of such a grandiose project, he had. But when asked about it by Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto he was ready for the question. “Look at Israel,” was his response, “Bibi Netanyahu told me the wall works.”

It does. In 2006, thousands of penniless, undocumented Sudanese and Eritreans, most of them young men, began crossing Israel’s border with Egypt. Bedouin coyotes led them on a harrowing journey through the Sinai desert and dropped them off. The migrants made their way to the working class neighborhoods of Tel Aviv, where they found cheap housing and off-the-books jobs.

Work was plentiful. Word spread. Soon Israel found itself facing what looked like an unstoppable flow of undocumented migrants. Employers were happy to hire cheap manual workers. Slumlords made a killing from renting overcrowded apartments. But most citizens, especially in Tel Aviv’s working-class neighborhoods, were unhappy with the influx of rootless foreign migrants.

Bringing the Jewish diaspora back to the Holy Land is the essence of Zionism. In Israel’s 70 years of independence it has welcomed Holocaust refugees, embattled Jewish communities from the Muslim Middle East and, more recently, over a million immigrants from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia.

But these latest newcomers from Sudan and Eritrea were different. They were, to put it simply, not Jews. They fell outside Israel’s mission statement. Increasingly, the public came to see them as a problem.

Israel is a problem-solving country. In the fall of 2010, it began building a wall along its 152-mile border with Egypt. It was completed within four years. Built mostly of steel, the wall reaches a height of 25 feet in some places, and is equipped with state-of-the-art electronic sensors, cameras and detection technologies. The whole project came in at less than half a billion dollars. The border is now virtually impassable to undocumented workers as well as smugglers and drug traffickers.

But, once you have sealed off the border, Israelis learned, you are still left with the illegal immigrants who are already on your side of it. This is an issue the U.S. will have to contend with if and when it builds its wall. Israel is dealing with it now.

There are an estimated 35,000 to 40,000 Sudanese and Eritreans in the country, mostly in the Tel Aviv area. Until now they have been allowed to stay on renewable two-month visas. But they are now being notified that these permits will not be renewed. On April 1, they will face three choices: They can return to their countries of origin. They can go to prison. Or they can accept resettlement in a third country.

Those who take option number three will receive a $3,500 stipend and a one-way ticket. In the past, most voluntary deportees have been gone to Ghana or Rwanda. So far those countries — which are paid $5,000 per capita by Israel — have not publicly agreed to take more migrants. Still, some Israeli officials are confident that Rwanda, at least, is on board.

Not everyone will be deported. About 10,000 children and their parents will be exempt. They are the Israeli version of the U.S. Dreamers, although their future status is unclear. Some 2,000 bona fide humanitarian refugees from Darfur are also staying. But single men of working age who are presumed to be economic migrants — an estimated 65 percent to 70 percent of the Sudanese and Eritrean community — have two months to decide their next destination.

Those two months promise to be turbulent. Left-wing political parties and activists — with the moral and financial support of “progressive” American Jewish organizations — have been mobilizing. Demonstrations are already taking place. Some of the protestors have deployed the “hands-up-don’t-shoot” gesture, an American import. Others have been clad in chains. This is a campaign designed for television.

The pictures won’t look good, especially if the police use force to disperse angry crowds. Israel — which has long been accused of apartheid by Palestinian propagandists — is sensitive to charges of racism. In their defense, officials cite the fact that in recent years, Israel has deported more illegals from the former Soviet Union than from Eritrea and Sudan. They argue that Rwanda is a safe destination where the United Nations is active in overseeing refugees.  And they contend that the $3,500 stipend the deportees receive is generous enough to cover two years of living expenses.

This rebuttal may be true, but it doesn’t change the likelihood that Israel’s image will take a hit. Prime Minister Netanyahu is highly attuned to foreign public relations, but his first concern is the opinion of voters, who strongly support Israel’s right to control its own borders and to remove illegals. This sentiment is not limited to members of his Likud party or religious nationalists. Last month, Tel Aviv University released the results of a two-year survey on the willingness of Europeans to give asylum to foreign refugees. Israel (counted as a European country in the survey) placed second-to-last, above only the Czech Republic.

American opinion seems to be hardening as well. In Tuesday’s speech, Trump proposed allowing Dreamers to remain in the US, but insisted on ending the visa lottery and closing down so-called chain immigration — positions that have strong public support according to a Harvard-Harris poll published in late January (That poll also revealed a majority want to decrease legal immigration and give preference to those with qualifications that can contribute to the economy.) Significantly, the president did not tell Congress what he proposes to do with the many millions of undocumented non-Dreamers in the U.S.

Some will be deported, as they have been all along. In 2017, federal immigration officers removed 226,000 people in the country illegally, down slightly from the last year of the Barack Obama administration. Israel’s planned operation pales in comparison, but it will provide a real-life example of a post-wall removal policy. The scale, sensitivities and complexities are completely different, of course, but Trump has proven to be a close student of all things Bibi. Presumably he will be watching.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Zev Chafets at

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Tobin Harshaw at

German SPD leader dampens hopes for quick coalition deal – source

January 29, 2018


BERLIN (Reuters) – The leader of Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD) played down hopes on Monday for swift progress in coalition talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives, an SPD source said, amid continued disagreement over several issues including refugees.

Image may contain: 2 people, people standing

Acting German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Social Democratic Party (SPD) leader Martin Schulz attend a news conference after exploratory talks about forming a new coalition government at the SPD headquarters in Berlin, Germany, January 12, 2018. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

Four months after both Merkel’s party and the SPD performed worse than expected in a federal election, they are trying to iron out policy differences and form a ‘grand coalition’ like the one that led Germany from 2013 to 2017.

Merkel, who failed to form a government in talks with two smaller parties late last year, needs the talks with the SPD to succeed in order to secure a fourth term as chancellor.

In meetings with his party leadership on Monday, SPD leader Martin Schulz expressed scepticism about the first round of coalition talks with the conservatives and highlighted the main controversial issues, the SPD source said.

Those include family reunions for refugees allowed to stay in Germany, health insurance and employment policy.

Schulz said it was unclear what kind of compromises or agreements could be made in those areas, the source said.

The family reunion issue is particularly sensitive after the previous Merkel-led ‘grand coalition’ agreed in 2015 to take in more than one million migrants and refugees, many fleeing conflicts in the Middle East.

The SPD favors a more lenient approach towards those refugees seeking to bring to Germany family members whom they left behind in places like Syria and Iraq.

But the conservatives are keen to present a tougher line on immigration to avoid losing more votes to the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which surged into parliament for the first time after last September’s election.


Although the talks on family reunions broke off overnight without agreement, SPD deputy leader Malu Dreyer had earlier sounded a more optimistic note than Schulz, saying the parties were in the “final stages” of clinching an accord on this issue.

Dreyer told Deutschlandfunk radio there was a will among the negotiators “that we really reach an agreement today”.

Representatives of the SPD and conservatives told Reuters that suggestions to include a pledge in the coalition deal to introduce a levy on petrol, gas and heating oil had met with strong resistance during talks on Sunday.

The idea had been to use the extra revenues to reduce the cost of electricity or promote environmentally-friendly fuels but the Christian Social Union (CSU) – the Bavarian sister party of Merkel’s conservatives – was especially concerned that higher prices for heating oil could harm their chances in Bavaria’s regional election this year, the sources said.

They said negotiations in the working group that focuses on the environment and energy had otherwise been constructive. The group backed an extra paragraph on energy efficiency to be added to the coalition blueprint, which would also ensure that building renovations were tax-deductible.

Additional reporting by Paul Carrel and Joseph Nasr; Writing by Michelle Martin; Editing by Gareth Jones

Israel to double pace of deporting Africans and replace them with Palestinian workers

January 29, 2018

The goal is to get at least 600 Eritrean and Sudanese nationals to leave each month, for a total of 7,200 a year, and replace them with Palestinian workers

Thousands of asylum seekers protest Israel's efforts to deport them to Rwanda and Uganda on January 22, 2018 outside the Rwandan embassy.
Thousands of asylum seekers protest Israel’s efforts to deport them to Rwanda and Uganda on January 22, 2018 outside the Rwandan embassy.Meged Gozani

The government is seeking to double the pace at which African asylum seekers leave Israel, and to replace them with Palestinianworkers.

The target the government has set is to get at least 600 Eritrean and Sudanese nationals to leave each month, for a total of 7,200 a year. That is more than double the approximately 3,300 who have left in each of the last three years. The last time the government achieved a departure rate similar to its current target was in 2014, when some 6,400 Africans left.

A resolution adopted at a special cabinet session two and a half weeks ago says that if, on average, at least 600 “infiltrators” a month leave, the government will issue one Palestinian work visa for every two Africans who depart. The resolution doesn’t explain why this ratio was chosen.

The Interior Ministry’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority, which is responsible for carrying out the deportations, said on Sunday it wasn’t consulted on the matter and cannot explain the decision.

According to the authority’s data, some 34,000 Eritrean and Sudanese adults currently live in Israel. Most are employed in restaurants, hotels or cleaning jobs, and the government expects most of them to leave within the next three years.

In their stead, the resolution said, the government will grant up to 12,000 work visas to Palestinians. An inter-ministerial committee will decide which industries these Palestinians will be authorized to work in.

The cabinet also decided at that meeting to grant work visas to up to 13,000 additional Palestinians, including 1,500 for the restaurant industry, 1,000 for the hotel industry, 7,000 for construction, 2,000 for agriculture, 1,000 for institutional nursing care and 700 for East Jerusalem hospitals.

According to data from the Office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, some 70,000 Palestinians are already employed in Israel and another 30,000 in the settlements.

About 10 days ago, the immigration authority began informing asylum seekers held at the detention facility in Holot that if they don’t leave Israel, they will be jailed indefinitely at Saharonim Prison. So far, such notices have been handed to a few dozen of the approximately 900 asylum seekers at Holot, which is slated to be closed in about another six weeks.

Israel about to read them the riot act 

In early February, the authority is slated to start handing out such notices to thousands of asylum seekers who aren’t at Holot when they come to renew their visas, which they must do every two months. Authority employees will give these asylum seekers one final two-month visa and tell them that if they haven’t left by the time it expires, they will be unable to work legally and be subject to arrest and unlimited detention. This step is expected to remove thousands of asylum seekers from the workforce in April and May.

Hoteliers and restaurateurs have recently warned that mass deportations of asylum seekers will seriously harm their industries. They say there aren’t enough Israelis willing to do the jobs now done by Eritreans and Sudanese, even if they are offered higher wages.

Tourism Minister Yuval Levin told TheMarker three weeks ago that he’s trying to get government approval to bring in migrant workers from the Philippines to replace the African asylum seekers at hotels. On Sunday his office said it has received approval for 500 Filipinos now and another 500 later if the program proves successful, along with 1,000 Palestinians.

More than three years ago, the government approved letting 1,500 Jordanians come to Israel to work in Eilat hotels in place of African asylum seekers. These workers commute to Israel, going home every night.

Shai Berman, head of the Israeli Restaurant Association, said on Sunday that the plan approved by the government is inadequate. “We received a quota of 1,500 Palestinian workers who are supposed to replace more than 10,000 asylum seekers,” he said. “Given that Israelis aren’t interested in filling these positions, that’s not really a solution.”

Moreover, he said, employing Palestinians “isn’t at all simple. You have to get a permit from the army for them to stay overnight and then rent apartments for them. You have to remember that for us restaurateurs, it’s not like in construction, where they can come to work and at 3 P.M. the van comes and takes them back home. For us, work at many businesses begins at 3 P.M., and it also includes weekends.”

Meanwhile, the immigration authority is still trying to recruit new immigration inspectors to help carry out the deportations. In response to a question from Haaretz, the authority said on Sunday that 300 people have applied for the jobs, of whom 100 will be hired, almost doubling the current number of inspectors.

The new inspectors will start work in March on two-year contracts. Aside from detaining asylum seekers who are here illegally, they will be responsible for enforcing the law against businesses that employ asylum seekers illegally.

The authority said it has also received some 300 applications for 40 new positions at the Refugee Status Determination unit in south Tel Aviv, which processes asylum applications. This is a significant boost over the unit’s current staff of 60.

Both categories of new workers are being promised special bonuses – 30,000 shekels ($8,900) for the inspectors and 20,000 shekels for the RSD staffers – if they stay on the job for a specified period of time.

Eastern EU states tell Brussels to back off — Hungary, Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia want talks talks among all EU leaders on how to reform the bloc following Britain’s departure

January 26, 2018

BUDAPEST/BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The four eastern European Union states who are often at loggerheads with the bloc’s executive told Brussels on Friday not to overstep its mandate in policing national capitals.

Image may contain: 2 people, people standing

Czech Republic’s Prime Minister Andrej Babis, Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban attend a Visegrad Group panel discussion in Budapest, Hungary, January 26, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

Meeting in Budapest, the leaders of Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic agreed a joint stance for talks among all EU leaders on how to reform the bloc following Britain’s departure next year.

The four ex-communist countries are pushing back as leading, western EU powers Germany and France, backed by the European Commission in Brussels, are floating proposals for more integration among the remaining 27 EU states.

“Europe needs a new blueprint. We must speak about an alliance of free nations,” said nationalist Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

He was echoed by Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki who said a “strong, integrated Europe” should be based on a group of sovereign, national member states rather than an increasingly centralised federation as some western states want.

Warsaw and Budapest have become the enfants terribles of the EU under right-wing populist leaders who promote Catholic, conservative values and often clash with Brussels as it singles out deviations from EU standards on democracy and rule of law.

Poland has drawn the sharpest criticism from Brussels since the conservative, nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party won election in late 2015 and swiftly acted to tighten control over publicly-owned media, as well as the judiciary.

The bloc has taken unprecedented punitive steps against Warsaw, the largest, ex-communist EU state, for violating the rule of law and democratic principles. Warsaw has lashed back, accusing Brussels of double standards and saying its judicial overhaul is ridding Poland of lingering communist influence.

All four Visegrad countries have repeatedly rebuffed requests from Brussels and western EU states to host some of the hundreds of thousands of mostly Muslim refugees that have streamed into the EU since 2015. The bitter row has undermined trust between the bloc’s members and weakened their unity.

Such differences were redolent in a joint document issued by Bratislava, Prague, Budapest and Warsaw on Friday.

“EU institutions should treat all member states equally and act strictly within the remits of their respective… competencies. The right of member states to carry out domestic reforms within their competences should be respected,” it said.

On migration, the four restated their focus on “effective, responsible and enforceable (EU) external border protection to avoid obligatory quotas (being) applied, which are ineffective and have already divided Europe.”


All parties in the EU agree the quotas have proven divisive but have stuck to sharply divergent views on how to mend the bloc’s failed asylum system by a June deadline.

The four Visegrad premiers also said they should not be punished for having different opinions within the bloc.

“I reject any criticism of us just because we have a different opinion … about the (migration) quotas. We are not black sheep,” said Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico.

They called for preserving generous EU spending on agriculture and development to help the poorer, ex-communist east catch up with wealthier peers in the west of the bloc.

But, as negotiations in the EU are starting to heat up on the bloc’s next budget for 2021-27, Brussels and other EU states say they want to link EU handouts to upholding the rule of law and assigning extra funds for managing migration.

While the details are in the making, such decisions could cost Poland and Hungary billions of euros in the future if their nationalist-tinged feuds with Brussels are not resolved.

“We are discussing preparing the definition of what conditions must be fulfilled by member states to be able… to receive the money of European taxpayers,” EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova said on Friday in Sofia.

“The definition will be a more precise description of what we understand by the rule of law … For me, it is a functioning system of independent judiciary, which should be in place in member states.”

Editing by Mark Heinrich

Israeli Holocaust survivors ask Netanyahu not to expel Africans

January 26, 2018



© AFP | African migrants demonstrate against the Israeli government’s policy to forcibly deport African refugees and asylum seekers from Israel, at a protest on January 22, 2018 in the Israeli city of Herzliya

JERUSALEM (AFP) – Israeli Holocaust survivors are pleading with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cancel his plan to forcefully expel tens of thousands of African migrants, citing their own experiences as outcasts.”We, who know precisely what it’s like to be refugees, to be homeless and bereft of a state that preserves and protects us from violence and suffering, cannot comprehend how a Jewish government can expel refugees and asylum seekers to a journey of suffering, torment and death,” the 36 signatories wrote in an open letter published in English by Haaretz newspaper on Friday.

The appeal came on the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

On January 3, Netanyahu announced implementation of a plan to deport about 38,000 migrants who entered Israel illegally, mainly Eritreans and Sudanese, and gave them until the end of March to leave voluntarily or face jail and eventual expulsion by force.

He defended his decision at the weekly cabinet meeting last Sunday, denying that the potential deportees were refugees.

“We are acting against illegal migrants who come here not as refugees but for work needs,” he said. “Israel will continue to offer asylum for genuine refugees and will remove illegal migrants from its midst.”

He did not say to which country they would be sent but Israel tacitly recognises it is too dangerous to return the Sudanese and Eritreans home.

Aid workers and media have named Uganda and Rwanda.

Uganda has publicly denied being a destination.

The website of the Aid Organisation for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel (ASSAF) says that of 10,000 asylum requests from Eritreans in Israel, only seven have been granted, while one Sudanese has received asylum.

It does not state the number of Sudanese applicants, but government figures from October 2016 list 8,066 Sudan nationals among the migrants.

A 2016 UN commission of inquiry into Eritrea’s regime found “widespread and systematic” crimes against humanity and said an estimated 5,000 people flee the country each month.

The International Criminal Court has indicted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide linked to his regime’s counter-insurgency tactics in the 14-year-old Darfur conflict.

ASSAF says that there are “thousands” from the Darfur region of western Sudan among those seeking asylum in Israel whose applications have yet to receive an answer.


Israel’s Plan to Deport Asylum Seekers, a Seemingly Done Deal, Is Now in Shambles

January 26, 2018


Only a few weeks ago, activists were conceding defeat to deportation. But the wheels had been coming off the hastily drawn plan for months

One of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proudest achievements in office has been the new border fence with Egypt. He may have been exaggerating when he described it in 2013 as “one of the greatest…
African asylum seekers protesting outside the Rwandan Embassy in Herzliya, Israel, January 22, 2018.
African asylum seekers protesting outside the Rwandan Embassy in Herzliya, Israel, January 22, 2018.meged gozani

One of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proudest achievements in office has been the new border fence with Egypt. He may have been exaggerating when he described it in 2013 as “one of the greatest engineering feats ever achieved in Israel.” Still, it has certainly worked and actually proved one of his least controversial actions.

Replacing the old, ramshackle barbwire fence, the new 5-meter (16-foot), reinforced steel barrier has made it much more difficult for Islamist groups to launch cross-border terror attacks like the one near Eilat in August 2011, when eight Israelis were killed and the impetus to finally build the fence was provided. It has also severely hampered the smuggling of arms and drugs, and, most importantly, cut off the Sinai’s human-trafficking route. Since the fence’s completion in 2013, the Bedouin gangs that trafficked in Eastern Europe women (to be forced into prostitution) and African refugees – fleeing repressive Sudan and Eritrea – have had to look elsewhere.

>> ‘We will go down terribly in history:’ Holocaust survivors join growing Israeli backlash against deportation of African refugees <<

But cutting off the smuggling channels was not enough. In the seven years before the barrier was up, some 50,000 African refugees had paid the Bedouin’s exorbitant fees and reached Israel. Denied status and unable to work legally, most of them ended up in cramped accommodations in south Tel Aviv, where odd jobs were available and a community of sorts emerged.

A toxic combination of authentic complaints and unsubstantiated allegations of crime and epidemics made the plight of south Tel Aviv’s veteran residents a rallying point for far-right activists – including members of the outlawed Kahanist groups – and Netanyahu has for years been trying to work out a deportation solution.

With record low unemployment rates and a growing demand for foreign workers, a comprehensive plan to “legalize” the asylum seekers and resettle them across Israel would have been the humane and efficient solution. But incitement against the “infiltrators” – as the government calls them – by nationalist politicians and pundits has turned it into a challenge from the right-wing base that Netanyahu could not avoid. Deportation was the only way out. Anything less would be seen as a sign of weakness.

There was no way the High Court of Justice would allow the government to deport the Sudanese and Eritreans back to their homelands. Quiet negotiations were conducted with various African countries to serve as “third countries,” and eventually secret deals were reached with Uganda and Rwanda.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in south Tel Aviv, August 31, 2018.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in south Tel Aviv, August 31, 2018.\ Moti Milrod

A few thousand asylum seekers were prevailed upon to leave “voluntarily,” with a few thousand dollars in their pockets. But news of how they were mistreated upon arrival soon filtered back – and then no one was prepared to volunteer any more. However, egged on by his cheerleaders, Netanyahu refused to back down and together with Interior Minister Arye Dery, who holds the immigration brief, made dramatic visits last year to south Tel Aviv, where he was received rapturously.

The main problem was not having sufficient leverage against the refugees. The High Court refused to let the government incarcerate them for more than 60 days. But a breakthrough came for Netanyahu last December, when the High Court approved deportation to “third countries” of any refugee whose asylum request is not pending. The fact the Interior Ministry has made it extremely difficult to request asylum – and that of 12,000 requests, only a third have been cursorily processed, and of those only 10 approved – failed to sway the justices.

The orders were given to expedite the mass deportation plan. Dozens of planes were to be chartered, the refugees given the stark choice of leaving voluntarily with $3,500 in cash or facing indefinite detention. The Rwandan government was to receive $5,000, or some other form of goods or arms, for every refugee they accepted.

Only a few weeks ago it seemed all over. The small band of activists who had fought for the refugees’ rights were conceding defeat and trying to at least save the unaccompanied children among them from deportation.

But even as the first notices were being issued to the refugees, the wheels were coming off from the plan. It had been drawn up too hastily, without due consultation with the various agencies involved. The Israel Prison Service, already suffering from massive overcrowding, made clear it had no space for the thousands of expected detainees. The refugee groups made clear they would not accept the financial inducements and when the government threatened to deport them by force, legal advisers made clear to the High Court they would almost certainly accept a petition against forcible deportation.

No less important, the small circle of activists supporting the refugees had rapidly begun to grow. A series of petitions circulated, with the signatories committing themselves to hiding refugees in their homes if necessary.

At first, it was easy for the government’s supporters in the media to deride these groups as anti-Zionist, far-leftist, elitist NIMBYists who didn’t care for the poor residents of south Tel Aviv. But still the protests grew, with petitions signed by over 1,000 doctors and medical staff; 100 air crew refused to man deportation flights and called upon their colleagues not to do so either; and, perhaps most damagingly, a personal letter was sent to Netanyahu, signed by 36 Holocaust survivors.

The publicity has already caused Rwanda to announce it has no “secret” agreement with Israel and that it will not accept refugees deported against their will. Whatever deal President Paul Kagame’s government has with Netanyahu, it doesn’t seem to be worth the adverse publicity in Africa.

The timing couldn’t have been worse. The survivors’ letter is now the main Holocaust-related news coming out of Israel just in time for the one date in the calendar when most of the global media is looking for stories on this issue: International Holocaust Remembrance Day, this Saturday.

It hardly seemed necessary, but apparently even Israel’s ambassador to the United States and one of Netanyahu’s closest advisers, Ron Dermer – certainly no liberal – has been warning the prime minister of the PR disaster being caused by reports about the deportations.

Is the leaking of Dermer’s concerns the harbinger of a government climbdown? It’s too early to say. Either way, Netanyahu will seek to blame the south Tel Aviv-hating left for sabotaging his “humane and just” deportation and furthering their goal of swamping Israel with aliens.

There are valuable lessons here for embattled Israeli human rights groups on how to actually win a campaign despite what seem at first like insurmountable odds and public indifference.

It is still way too early to declare victory. But even if Netanyahu succeeds in salvaging his plan, the self-inflicted damage has been done and the deportations, if they take place, will be accompanied by a great deal more lousy publicity for him. What seemed imminent a few weeks ago now looks improbable.