“Bitter” Refugee Experiences

Monday, March 7th, 2016

Today there occurs that climactic EU summit with Turkey PM Davutoğlu devoted to the refugee crisis. It’s safe to say all Europe awaits the outcome of that with bated breath, although perhaps none more so than the many refugees now trapped in Greece, together with those others even further behind in the pipeline (e.g. still in Turkey; or trapped in Syria in front of the closed Turkish border).

Here and there, however, there will be some who are not so interested: they’ve made up their minds to head back where they came from. The following Agence France-Presse piece by Guillaume Decamme, carried on Yahoo! France, examines a couple of their “bitter experiences.”

AmereExp
Let’s take up these examples. Note that they all have to do with men from Afghanistan. (Note as well that there is also a two-minute video heading the article, in case you’d like to hear them make their cases personally – in language translated to French.)

First we have Mohammed Asif Nouri, 26 years old and with a degree in economics: “I thought my dream would come true in Europe,” he laments. Last year he braved the terrible journey which eventually landed him in Frankfurt-am-Main, via the route everyone knows about (once the Hungarians had put up their fence): Turkey-Greece-Macedonia-Serbia-Croatia-Slovenia-Austria. Once in Germany, he was shuttled between various refugee centers in Hamburg, Sachsen-Anhalt and then to Frankfurt.

The one constant he encountered? “European nationalism,” he says. “The Europeans think we are going to destroy their culture.” Then there was that time when he wanted to ask directions of some German, who first stood off to put some distance between them and then insisted in answering in German – “whereas 99% of Germans speak English.” (more…)

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French Anti-Brexit Threats

Friday, March 4th, 2016

Now this is curious . . . “Brexit would have ‘consequences’ for the migrant question, [France President] Hollande warns.” This comes right when French authorities have just wiped out about a quarter of the infamous “Jungle” camp of migrants at Calais trying to get into the UK – and just as British Premier David Cameron went to the northern French city of Amiens yesterday to visit with President Hollande, Premier Valls and other officials.

3MARBrexit1
What “consequences” could President Hollande have meant? Unfortunately, the Le Huffington Post story is not exactly clear. Here is what Hollande said standing next to Cameron at their joint press conference:

One should not raise fears, but speak the truth. There will be consequences if the United Kingdom quits the EU . . . including the manner of managing situations in the matter of migrations.

And here is Premier Manuel Valls:

The day that this relation [that between the UK and the EU] is broken, the migrants will be no more at Calais.

HuffPoFR reporter Alexandre Boudet then helpfully adds, “In plaintext, the doors will be thrown wide open for them rejoining the United Kingdom.” (Wait: RE-joining?)

And then Harlem Désir, French Secretary of State for European Affairs:

There is no blackmail, nor threat, but it’s true that we cooperate more easily as members of the EU than if the United Kingdom wasn’t that anymore, because for example we also work with common European tools such as Europol or the Schengen information system. Even though Great Britain is not a member of Schengen, it cooperates through this system and other means of exchanging information.

Still not very clear. And there still seems to be some element of threat, despite M. Désir’s denials. Luckily, this piece also references an article in the Financial Times (EN-language; but paywall) which helps to clear things up:

3MARBrexit2

Mr. Macron [that’s the French economy minister] said that Brexit could scupper a bilateral deal with France, known as the Le Touquet [A]greement, that allows Britain to carry out border controls – and keep unwanted migrants – on the French side of the Channel.

Finally the picture comes clear as to how, as David Cameron has also been warning his constituents, that “Jungle” over in Calais could potentially move across the Channel if Brexit were to occur – despite the best efforts of UK authorities. For when their officials can no longer first check travelers’ papers on the far side of the English Channel, then they have to do it once they are already in England – and what can you do then with those who you discover don’t belong there, who immediately claim asylum? According to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, you have to deal with them in a humane way, which includes not just sending them back somewhere, at least not at first.*

Still, this key “Le Touquet Agreement” is a bilateral agreement, i.e. not something within the legal framework of the EU. Therefore, it does not logically follow that it should necessarily fall by the wayside should the UK no longer be an EU member-state. Rather, if that does happen, then that will amount to the French government canceling it after Brexit out of sheer vengeance. If this really is being contemplated, it could set a pattern, by which I mean: If the French will be vengeful after a Brexit, then why won’t the EU be so as a whole? How can those who advocate Brexit really be so sanguine that the UK will be able to re-negotiate basically the same terms for trade, etc. that it had as an EU member once it is out?

One can look at the matter that way, or one can employ another perspective: That, starting here with President Holland and his top officials at this UK-France summit, a campaign has begun of threats and intimidation to try to head off a Brexit. Here at EuroSavant we view the UK remaining an EU member-state as a no-brainer – there’s little doubt future blogposts in the run-up to 23 June will faithfully reflect that – yet one can doubt whether this sort of tough approach is really best calculated to aid the British electorate to make that correct choice when they are called upon to cast their votes.

Anyway, that HuffPoFR piece also reported that President Hollande made special mention of the problem of reuniting the many refugee children stuck at the Jungle who have relatives already in the UK with those relatives. David Cameron was said to be accommodating on that. Further, Cameron announced a supplemental payment to France of €20 million to help out with those refugees still stuck at the Jungle – mainly, however, for encouraging them to be dispersed and moved away to other parts of France.

* Note that the “Le Touquet Agreement” has to do with people arriving to the UK via the cross-Channel ferries. There are analogous agreements (which are also bilateral), under different names, covering train (Eurostar) and aircraft travel, which also could be abrogated by the French/Belgians (train) or those and other EU member-states (aircraft) in the event of Brexit.

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Germany Deals with Refugees (#Fail)

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015

This month’s European crisis has without a doubt been the waves of refugees trekking their way from Turkey, through Greece and then northwesterly up the Balkans, whose eventual desired destination has generally been Germany. Germany itself has changed before our very eyes: first taken aback by developments, then taking a welcoming attitude, but now dialing that greeting back somewhat, with border controls and other restrictions, as the full reality hits of what that welcoming attitude has wrought.

Here are a couple of “under-the-radar” articles from the German press on how that country has been trying to deal with circumstances. First: gut gedacht, schlecht gemacht (“good intentions, terrible execution”).

aChaos
The goal was a noble one, if perhaps also serving as good PR for reBuy.de, a German site that functions as an on-line marketplace for used goods of all types. But what better company to launch an effort to solicit and coordinate used clothing donations for the refugees, right? So it made an arrangement with the German Red Cross; donors could send in their used clothing for free, using labels provided by reBuy.de, via the Hermes package-deliver service.

There was a major misunderstanding, however. For the German Red Cross, this was supposed to be a local action confined to its Berlin Wedding/Prenzlauer Berg affiliate. But reBuy.de understood it to be nationwide – and improperly used the nationwide German Red Cross logo on its website announcing the action. The result was the rest of the German Red Cross’ branches throughout the length and breadth of Germany being inundated with clothes they never expected, before the whole national organization abruptly withdrew from the effort. reBuy.de employees all over Germany gamely tried to push on anyway, accepting, sorting and distributing the clothing themselves, but things soon broke down entirely, with many recriminations.

Then there is this other interesting development in Berlin.

ALuxus
Even beyond clothing, a major concern for the German authorities in dealing with all the refugees has been finding them sufficient acceptable shelter, particularly in view of the oncoming colder weather. Already Berlin officials have taken some decisive measures to achieve this. Last month they pressed into action an old town hall, that of the city quarter Wilmersdorf (capacity: 500), for housing refugees, and the Berliner Morgenpost piece also reports they recently confiscated a former bank in the same area for the same use.

But now those authorities are ready to take things up another notch. Specifically, another Berlin quarter, Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg (known for decades for its many immigrants and left-wing politics) now wants to make use of the many apartments standing empty within its boundaries. These are generally higher-quality residences, and the reason they are not being actively used is either because they are being withheld by their owners for speculation or because they function as second homes for well-off people who usually live elsewhere. They are estimated to number up to 5,000.

It does look like those apartments are going to be pressed into service. Will it be confiscation, or some sort of money paid to the owners as compensation? Likely the former. Here we encounter the age-old conflict between private property on the one hand and taking care of people’s urgent needs, in an emergency situation, on the other hand. Those owning those apartments really should not be surprised; the squatting movement has been particularly active in Berlin and Hamburg for decades, way before any refugee crisis.

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Guests of the Prime Minister

Saturday, September 5th, 2015

Hey, forget Bob Geldof! Now it’s no less than the Prime Minister of Finland who is offering to house – personally – migrant asylum-seekers.

FinnPM
Prime Minister Juha Sipilä this (Saturday) morning made this announcement on Finnish state radio YLE, adding that all fellow Finns should follow his example.

As you might surmise, however, there is some fine print involved here (quite apart from the fact that he did not specify how many such persons he is willing to house – or at least reports I have seen so far do not so specify).

  1. This is Finland, a country not notable as one that asylum-seekers interviewed out of that . . . er, mob coming up from the Balkans through Hungary have mentioned as a desired destination. Indeed, remember that all these folks come from relatively hot lands – yes, “hot” in terms of conflict-ridden, that’s why they are trying to get away, too hot to handle, but here I mean more conventional “hot,” e.g. in terms of ambient temperature records recently broken in the Middle East with measurements of up to 140˚F. Finland, on the other hand, is rather cold. Among other things, this means that any who take up this offer will surely find themselves isolated from anyone else remotely sharing their background or values, as other migrants who aren’t able to take advantage of free accommodation – and who knows to what extent the Finns are truly ready to follow their head-of-government’s lead? – will not follow them there.
  2. Making things worse, the accommodation Premier Sipilä is offering is not his house in Helsinki, at least in Finland’s south, but rather his vacation-house at Kempele which, while not really in the far Lapland-North, is certainly at what you could call Finland’s “Middle.” At least it’s also rather close to the Gulf of Bothnia, that is, the sea – although the concept of “beach” at that Northern latitude is problematic at best.
  3. Finally, whoever takes up the Prime Minister’s generous offer will be obliged to at least keep trying to pronounce his name correctly – a difficult assignment!

Take another look at the Premier’s face in that photo, then – this couldn’t be some sort of elaborate Finnish practical joke, could it?

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Camp Shangri-La

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

The Syrian Civil War is now more than three years old, the death toll by now is surely over 150,000, while estimates of those who have fled the country run from two to four million out of a pre-war population of around 22 million. Worst of all, there is no end to the carnage (including most recently chlorine gas used in the barrel-bombs dropped by regime helicopters on defenseless cities) in sight.

How strange, then, to come across a Syria-related news article that is actually upbeat! This was in the Flemish newspaper De Morgen yesterday, and you can get some idea of its strangeness from the headline, Wifi and pita bars: In the largest refugee camp in the Middle East.

ZaatariThe Palestinians can surely claim seniority when it comes to such tent cities, but the dire current situation in their home country means Syrians win on volume: that largest refugee camp is at Al-Za’atari, in the Jordanian desert just 12km from the Syrian border – in fact from the border to the Deraa region which, like Leipzig in the old East Germany, like Gdańsk in Poland, and indeed like Boston in the United States, will be able to claim pride of place as the cradle of that country’s revolution, if that revolution ever succeeds.

This piece by Gidi Heesakkers* cites the Jordanian proverb that “only the devil lives in Za’atari,” only promptly to controvert that assertion as she writes about the two-day visit a certain Dutch photographer recently paid to that teeming encampment.

Refugee camps, those mean long lines, rice and tears? Seems not. In the largest refugee camp of the Middle East you can find a great pita bar. Photographer Henk Wildschut enjoyed a tasty sandwich there, in a shopping-street smelling of waterpipes, where shoes, festive dresses, lipstick and TVs were also for sale. The camp has Wifi and two supermarkets, with special sales, competitions and shelves full of cola.

Wild, eh? And you may well want to click through and take a look at the photos there (not all by Wildschut): the children look healthy, well-clothed, and reasonably cheerful; and the supermarket aisles look orderly and well-stocked indeed. Credit-card payment is even planned to be made possible – for those carrying them – in about a month. (more…)

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Would A Stitch In Time Have Saved the Nine?

Monday, June 3rd, 2013

If you have been keeping track at all, then you know that tension has been high recently on the Korean peninsula. Things seemed to cool down a bit when the yearly main US – South Korean joint military exercises ended last April 30 (although an additional “river-crossing” drill was held just a few days ago – you can never get enough training!). But now there is this.

Le sort de neuf jeunes provoque des tensions avec la Corée du Nord #droitsdelhomme http://t.co/s22AvQCRCu

@lessentiel

L’essentiel


Le sort de neuf jeunes: the fate of nine young people. Understandably, inmates of North Korea are trying to escape from there all the time, and what this is about is nine young people aged 14 to 18 who succeeded in getting as far away as Laos – which then promptly arrested them for illegal entry into the country and deported them back to North Korea (while arresting two South Koreans found with them and charging them with human trafficking, before releasing them to their embassy). (more…)

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(Back) Into Iraq? Ummm . . . You First!

Sunday, July 25th, 2004

Remember back last winter, when a big fuss hit over the Pentagon announcing a policy prohibiting the awarding of contracts for the reconstruction of Iraq to states which hadn’t been active participants in the Coalition? (€S covered the reaction in both Germany and France.) It sure seemed a good idea then to be among the “ins” rather then the “outs” and so to look forward to the awarding of juicy reconstruction contracts to firms from out of your country.

Well, first of all doubts set in early – particularly in the Polish press – as to whether the Pentagon was really willing to steer those contracts to any other than American firms, with maybe the occasional British company thrown in. Of course, with the transfer-of-sovereignty last month, now it’s supposed to be the Iraqis themselves in charge of such decisions. But things have instead reached a stage where commercial calculations have taken another turn entirely. For instance, those in the transport business might be interested to know of a contract for trucking services that might be coming up for tender soon. The present holder, the Kuwait and Gulf Link Transport Company, is under a bit of pressure – seven of its drivers were abducted in one day, last Wednesday, and are now being held hostage, under the threat of being beheaded, by Islamic militants! (more…)

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