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Refugees flee US on foot, seek safety in Canada

Canada has seen a surge of refugees crossing into the country illegally from the US. Advocates say the number will rise as fears grow over President Donald Trump’s policies. Jillian Kestler-D'Amours reports from Toronto. Dozens of families, women and young children, are making the journey in blistering cold and waist-high snow, while young men have been stranded for hours and lost several fingers and toes to frostbite. They are all among a rising number of refugee claimants illegally crossing into Canada on foot from the United States, which many now say they feel is no longer safe under the administration of US President Donald Trump. "The concern really comes from the fact that people are walking across in very, very frigid winter weather, across deep snow, in fields, and really risking their health and their safety,"said Rita Chahal, executive director of the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council, a non-profit organisation that assists refugees and immigrants in the province. Chahal said about 300 refugee claimants that have entered Canada without legal permits have made in-country applications for protection in Manitoba since last April. In previous years, 70 refugee claimants in a similar period would have been a high number, she told DW. No fair hearing While the reason for the surge is unclear, Chahal said many people say they feared being deported from the US back to their home countries, or felt they wouldn't receive a fair asylum hearing. Others "are concerned about the political climate and the social climate within the US and how they might be treated there," she said. Most asylum seekers cross into Manitoba near the small town of Emerson, about 110 kilometers south of Winnipeg, the provincial capital and its largest city. The US states of Minnesota and North Dakota are across the border from Emerson, which has a population of about 700 residents. Twenty-two refugees crossed into Canada near Emerson over the first weekend of February, according to the national police service (RCMP), while 21 others made it across last week. Asylum seekers are also crossing at other points along the porous, nearly 9,000-kilometer US-Canada border: the RCMP intercepted 823 refugee claimants in the province of Quebec between Apr. 1 and Nov. 30 last year, according to Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) figures. Most asylum seekers arriving in Manitoba are Somali citizens, followed by Eritrea and Djibouti passport holders, according to CBSA data. In Quebec, most are originally from Eritrea, Sudan and Syria. But so many asylum seekers are crossing over near Emerson that the town organized an emergency meeting with the RCMP and CBSA last week. "Safety was the biggest [concern]," Greg Janzen, the town's top official, said after the meeting. "Now we know the protocol if we get an influx of people… The governments have been very supportive in this whole issue." Maggie Yeboah is a social worker and president of the Ghanaian Union of Manitoba. She said about 30 Ghanaian refugee claimants have walked over the US border into Manitoba in recent months. Most of the men did not set out to come to Canada, Yeboah said, but many fled persecution and violence related to their sexual orientation in Ghana. Male homosexuality is illegal under the country's penal code. "They are being persecuted or being attacked back home in Ghana because of their sexual orientation," she told DW. Yeboah said many of the men were advised to take a bus to Minneapolis, Minnesota, and a taxi from Minneapolis to the US-Canada border. From there, they were told they could walk into Canadian territory. "It's not as easy as people think or people say, and they did not set out to come to Canada the wrong way, or [to] jump over the [border]. They thought they were going to [stay in] America, where they would be safe or where they would be welcomed. But they realised that it's not like that … so they took the chance," she said. Dangerous journey Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, said asylum seekers are forced to take dangerous routes into Canada due to a deal that came into force in 2004 known as the Canada-US Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA). The agreement means that most asylum seekers applying for protection in Canada at a US-Canada border crossing will be immediately sent back to the US, which Canada deems a safe country. But the agreement does not apply to anyone who is inside Canada, and the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada will likely hear their refugee claim. The agreement "prevents people from applying in a safe and orderly way at the border points,” Dench told DW. The CCR and other human rights groups, including Amnesty International Canada and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, have long called on Canada to rescind the agreement. They say it's especially crucial in light of US President Donald Trump's travel ban on immigrants and refugees from seven countries in the Middle East and Africa, and general policies towards refugees. The order has been challenged as unconstitutional, and as of last week, a federal court has upheld a stay on its implementation. But the Trump administration's policies more generally toward refugees have raised concern about whether the US still meets the requirements in Canadian law to be considered safe. "From our perspective, Canada should withdraw from the agreement. We were never in favour of the agreement and the irregular crossings [are] one of the very obvious and known consequences," Dench said. US no longer safe for refugees Amnesty International Canada Executive Director Alex Neve agreed. "It is, to put it generously, fiction to continue to believe that the United States at this time is safe for refugees." But Canada's Immigration Minister, Ahmad Hussen, recently said the STCA would remain in place. Trump's executive order deals with refugee resettlement, and does not affect the US asylum program, while Canada's Immigration and Refugee Protection Act involves the continual review of whether conditions that led a country to be designated as safe continue to be met, said a ministry spokesperson. "The STCA remains an important tool for Canada and the US to work together on the orderly handling of refugee claims made in our countries," Spokesperson Nancy Caron told DW in an emailed statement. "We continue to monitor the situation." Meanwhile, Chahal said while it's hard to speculate, the general sense is that the number of asylum seekers crossing into Canada illegally will continue to increase, especially as the weather gets warmer. "I'm not sure we've peaked yet," she said, "so we'll just wait and see."

Canada has seen a surge of refugees crossing into the country illegally from the US. Advocates say the number will rise as fears grow over President Donald Trump’s policies. Jillian Kestler-D’Amours reports from Toronto. Dozens of families, women and young children, are making the journey in blistering cold and waist-high snow, while young men have been stranded for hours and ... Read More »

Protesters in Britain demonstrate against Trump immigration policy

Several thousand people have protested in the UK against a US travel ban that affects several Muslim-majority nations. Critics see the ban as inflaming religious tensions and violating international laws on refugees. Thousands of people on Saturday heeded a call from rights groups and Muslim organizations in Britain to protest outside the US Embassy in London against President Trump's executive order suspending travel to the US from several Muslim-majority countries. Protesters held banners bearing slogans such as "No to Trump, No to War" and "Trump: Special Relationship? Just say no." The protest is taking place the day after a US judge temporarily suspended the order, saying the order had caused "immediate and irreparable injury." It is the third protest addressing various aspects of Trump's presidency to have taken place in the British capital in two weeks. A similar protest was to take place on Saturday afternoon before the US embassy in the Germany capital, Berlin. Trump, on Saturday, criticized a "so-called judge" for suspending the ban saying it was "ridiculous" and would be overturned. Anti-Muslim order? The executive order signed by Trump suspended entry to the United States to people traveling from seven Muslim-majority countries - Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen - for 90 days, as well as putting a temporary halt to the entire US refugee program.The administration said the move is designed to combat terrorism. The US State Department on Friday said that 60,000 visas had been revoked following Trump's order, after media reports quoted government lawyers as saying that more than 100,000 people had been affected. Critics of the order say that the ban has separated families, harmed thousands of US residents and goes against international law on taking in refugees fleeing conflict. Rights groups have also warned that the move could heighten religious tension and encourage Islamophobia. Australian protests The order also brought thousands of demonstrators onto the streets in Australia on Saturday, with protesters coupling their outrage at Trump's move with calls for Australia to close its offshore processing centers on the tiny Pacific island of Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. Australia's hardline refugee policy, which denies asylum to anybody attempting to enter the country by boat, has been slammed by rights groups, and the United Nations have called for the offshore centers to be shut amid allegations of violence, sexual assualt, degrading treatment and self-harm. The protests in Australia come following a diplomatic spat between Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, with Trump calling a deal between the two nations struck by his predecessor, Barack Obama, "dumb." The deal is to see the United States taking up to 1,250 asylum-seekers held on Nauru and Manus to enable Canberra to stick to its "no boat" policy. In return, Australia would take in refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Trump later said he planned to stand by the agreement, which has been widely criticized in Australia. Student rallies against Trump's immigration policy were also held in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, and outside the US embassy in the Philippine capital, Manila.

Several thousand people have protested in the UK against a US travel ban that affects several Muslim-majority nations. Critics see the ban as inflaming religious tensions and violating international laws on refugees. Thousands of people on Saturday heeded a call from rights groups and Muslim organizations in Britain to protest outside the US Embassy in London against President Trump’s executive ... Read More »

Some 1,600 migrants rescued from Mediterranean in two days

More migrants attempting to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean have been taken aboard rescue ships, aid organizations said. The rescues come as EU leaders adopt controversial measures in cooperation with Libya. Aid organizations on Saturday rescued 300 people from waters in the Strait of Sicily after some 1,300 refugees and migrants were saved off the Libyan coast the day before, the Italian news agency Ansa reported. The Italian coast guard confirmed the number of those rescued on Saturday, saying they had been on board two rubber dinghies and a punt. Aid organizations on Saturday rescued 300 people from waters in the Strait of Sicily after some 1,300 refugees and migrants were saved off the Libyan coast the day before, the Italian news agency Ansa reported. The Italian coast guard confirmed the number of those rescued on Saturday, saying they had been on board two rubber dinghies and a punt. Dangerous route Another 1,300 people were rescued on Wednesday. The sea crossing from Libya across the Mediterranean to Italy is currently the main route to Europe for migrants. More than 5,000 are believed to have drowned attempting the crossing in 2016, with many consigned to flimsy and often overfilled boats run by people smugglers. A record 181,000 people made the journey last year. Controversial cooperation The latest rescues come a day after European Union leaders meeting in Malta adopted a number of plans in cooperation with Libya aimed at cutting the number of migrants attempting the sometimes perilous sea crossing from Africa to Europe. Among other things, they agreed to give financial aid to the Libyan coast guard to help it intercept boats shortly after they set off. They also intend to set up "safe" refugee camps in Libya. The proposed measures have met with criticism from rights groups, who say cooperation with Libya is dangerous for migrants owing to the country's fragile security situation and record of violent conflict. MSF was among those to slam the plans forged at the Malta summit. Since longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi was ousted and killed in 2011, Libya has remained divided between militias. It currently has a UN-backed Tripoli-based government that controls only sections of the country's vast coastline.

More migrants attempting to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean have been taken aboard rescue ships, aid organizations said. The rescues come as EU leaders adopt controversial measures in cooperation with Libya. Aid organizations on Saturday rescued 300 people from waters in the Strait of Sicily after some 1,300 refugees and migrants were saved off the Libyan coast the day ... Read More »

Donald Trump slams Angela Merkel’s refugee policy

US President-elect Donald Trump labeled German Chancellor Angela Merkel's stance on refugees a "catastrophic mistake." He said the policy would lead to even more countries leaving the European Union after Britain. President-elect Trump heavily criticized Chancellor Merkel's open-door policy on refugees in a joint interview published on Sunday with German tabloid newspaper "Bild" and British newspaper "The Times of London." "I think she made one very catastrophic mistake and that was taking all of these illegals, you know, taking all of the people from wherever they come from,” he said. "And nobody even knows where they come from. So I think she made a catastrophic mistake, very bad mistake.” In 2015 about 900,000 migrants, many coming from Syria, entered Germany after Merkel opened the country's doors, famously saying "we can do this." The bilionaire businessman said Germany had "got a clear impression" of the consequences of her policy from a Berlin terror attack that killed 12 people in December. Trump insisted he had "great ­respect” for Merkel and would start his presidency trusting the "fantastic leader," but that his trust might not last long. Brexit deal Trump promised he would offer the United Kingdom a trade deal within weeks of taking office to help make Brexit a "great thing”. "We're going to work very hard to get it done quickly and done properly. Good for both sides,” Trump said. "I will be meeting with [British Prime Minister Theresa May]. She's requesting a meeting and we'll have a meeting right after I get into the White House and it'll be, I think we're going to get something done very quickly.” May said on Saturday she would lead the country towards a "hard Brexit." Others will leave Trump warned that other countries in the 28-member EU would follow suit after Brexit because of immigration. "I think it's very tough,” he said. "People, countries want their own identity and the UK wanted its own identity.” "If refugees keep pouring into different parts of Europe ... I think it's going to be very hard to keep it together because people are angry about it." He said the mass arrivals in 2015 were "the last drop that made the barrel overflow" in convincing British voters to back leaving the bloc in a June 24 referendum. "If they hadn't been forced to take in all of the refugees, so many, with all the problems that it... entails, I think that you wouldn't have a Brexit. This was the final straw that broke the camel's back." He further said the European Union had become "a vehicle for Germany”. Nato obsolete Trump described the NATO alliance as an "obsolete" organization. "I said a long time ago that NATO had problems. Number one it was obsolete, because it was designed many, many years ago," he said. He insisted that NATO remained "very important to me," but that some NATO allies weren't paying enough. "We're supposed to protect countries. But a lot of these countries aren't paying what they're supposed to be paying, which I think is very unfair to the United States." "With that being said, NATO is very important to me. There's five countries that are paying what they're supposed to. Five. It's not much," he added. US contributions to NATO accounted for about 70 percent of spending by the bloc's nations. Taxes for BMW He threatened German carmaker BMW with a border tax of 35 percent on cars that it planned to build at a new plant in Mexico and export to the US. He told the German daily that BMW should instead build its new car factory in the US because this would be "much better" for the company. A BMW spokeswoman said a new plant in San Luis Potosi would build the BMW 3 Series starting from 2019. Merkel, who is facing elections later this year, criticized Trump's protectionist policies on Saturday, and earlier said there was no guarantee of cooperation between the two countries. "From the point of view of some of our traditional partners - and I am thinking here as well about the transatlantic relations - there is no eternal guarantee for a close cooperation with us Europeans," Merkel told an audience in Brussels. On Friday the outgoing US ambassador to the EU warned against Trump supporting the bloc's breakup, saying it would be "sheer folly." Trump was interviewed for "The Times of London" by prominent Brexit campaigner and conservative British member of parliament, Michael Gove; and for "Bild" by its publisher and former editor Kai Diekmann, a prominent German journalist who will soon depart the business.

US President-elect Donald Trump labeled German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s stance on refugees a “catastrophic mistake.” He said the policy would lead to even more countries leaving the European Union after Britain. President-elect Trump heavily criticized Chancellor Merkel’s open-door policy on refugees in a joint interview published on Sunday with German tabloid newspaper “Bild” and British newspaper “The Times of London.” ... Read More »

Bavarian government to release new refugee policy so ‘Germany remains Germany’

Amid an ongoing dispute with Berlin, Bavaria's government is due to finalize its proposal for Germany's refugee policy. As well as a yearly cap on refugee arrivals, Premier Horst Seehofer is calling for tighter borders. The ever-growing divide between Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), showed no sign of resolving itself on Saturday, with Munich's local newspaper the "Münchner Merkur" reporting that the Bavarian government is due on Tuesday to finalize its overall concept on refugee and immigration policy in Germany. The charter titled "So that Germany remains Germany" was reportedly written by CSU leader and Bavarian Premier Horst Seehofer. At the top of the agenda is the CSU's long-time demand for an upper-limit on the number of asylum seekers accepted in Germany - something Bavaria aims to achieve through EU quotas. For months, the CSU has called a yearly cap of no more than 200,000 refugees, a move that Merkel has repeatedly rejected. The debate has prompted an unwelcome divide in the so-called "Union" of conservative CDU and CSU - particularly in the year of Germany's federal election. Watch video02:10 CSU stands by demand for refugee cap (04.01.2017) Unrest among conservatives The CSU, which often takes more conservative stances than the CDU, has sharply criticized Merkel's open-door policies that allowed more than a million people to enter the country as refugees and migrants since 2015. Last month Seehofer even ruled out governing with Merkel's CDU should they refuse to introduce an upper limit on the number of migrants entering Germany. In an apparent attempt to calm the rumbling debate, Merkel's CDU proposed on Friday the idea of flexible annual targets for asylum seeker numbers. The Christian Democrats gave no precise numbers but called for Germany to set a new target each year based on the humanitarian situation in global crisis zones and Germany's ability to absorb newcomers. Alongside its refugee cap, the Bavarian state government is also proposing further restrictions on family reunions for refugees, possibly calling for asylum-seekers to secure a livelihood independent of state subsidies before being permitted to apply for family members to join them in Germany. The basic protection for migrants in old age should also be restricted if they have not spent the most important period of working life in Germany, the Bavarian government wrote, adding that asylum-seekers who commit a criminal offense in Germany also "forfeit their right to hospitality" and must be deported. 'Humanitarian responsibility' At the same time, however, the paper also states its commitment to the reception of refugees. "The admission of those in need of protection is a requirement of Christian and humanitarian responsibility," the document reads, adding that Germany must proceed with "zero tolerance against xenophobia, racism and anti-Semitism." The charter also calls for the expansion of aid to developing countries, with Seehofer demanding an "African Act" from the European Union (EU). Aid programs can no longer be underfunded, the paper continues, noting that without the financial support, misery and distress would increase in refugee camps. Schengen under pressure In light of the terror attack on Berlin last month, the Bavarian government is also proposing tighter border controls. Twelve people were killed and almost 50 others injured, when a truck was rammed into a Berlin Christmas market. Police suspect Tunisian asylum-seeker and "Islamic State" (IS) sympathizer Anis Amri was behind the wheel. After fleeing the scene on Decmeber 19, Amri was able to cross Germany's border into the Netherlands and travel via France to Italy, where he was later killed in a police shootout in Milan. His unchecked travel was possible due to the Schengen Zone - the EU's borderless travel region. In light of the growing number of terror attacks, however, the Schengen agreement is being put under increasing pressure, with Merkel also ordering a comprehensive review of Germany's security infrastructure.

Amid an ongoing dispute with Berlin, Bavaria’s government is due to finalize its proposal for Germany’s refugee policy. As well as a yearly cap on refugee arrivals, Premier Horst Seehofer is calling for tighter borders. The ever-growing divide between Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), showed no sign of ... Read More »

German high court stops one Afghan deportation, dozens more go ahead

Germany's Constitutional Court has postponed the deportation of an Afghan man until he can complete an application for asylum. The court did not, however, stop the deportation of some 34 other Afghans. The German Constitutional Court ruled on Wednesday in favor of a 29-year-old asylum-seeker and issued a stay of his deportation order. The court did not, however, stop the deportations of some 34 other Afghans who were deported on Wednesday, according to German media. In its ruling, the court left open the question of whether deportations to Afghanistan are constitutionally justifiable and instead addressed only the case of the 29-year-old. The man had filed an asylum application 30 months ago and more recently filed a follow-up application, citing the poor security situation in Afghanistan as the reason why he could not return. The Constitutional Court said he could not be deported until that application had been processed. The court denied an application from a second Afghan who requested an injunction against his deportation. Protests at airport A spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Refugees said authorities were expecting a plane with 50 returnees from Germany to arrive on Thursday in Kabul. Several hundred people gathered at Frankfurt Airport on Wednesday to protest against the planned deportations, chanting: "Deportation is torture; deportation is murder; the right to remain for all, immediately." A charter flight carrying a group of rejected Afghan asylum seekers back to their home country left Germany on Wednesday evening, according to Reuters news agency and Germany's ARD public broadcaster. "Spiegel Online" reported earlier Wednesday that 50 Afghans would be on board the flight from Frankfurt to Kabul, which is to be just the first in a series of such deportations, with the next one planned for January. A spokeswoman for the German Interior Ministry would not confirm details about the flight. Ahead of the deportations, she said the time and place were being kept confidential so as not to endanger the measure, which was agreed as part of a deal with the Afghan government in October. Lawmakers and rights groups react to deportations The chairman of the Green Party parliamentary group in Berlin decried the deportations, accusing German Justice Minister Thomas de Maiziere of playing a "ruthless game" with the well-being of the asylum seekers. The human rights organization Pro Asyl called on local Green Party lawmakers to fight future mass deportations of Afghan migrants denied asylum status. Pro Asyl's head, Günther Burkhardt, told German news agency DPA: "We are appealing to Green Party members in Hessen, Baden-Württemberg and Hamburg to do all they can to stop these people from being deported." However, leading figures from the Christian Social Union (CSU) party, Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative allies in Bavaria, welcomed the deportations. CSU leader Horst Seehofer told German broadcaster ARD that he hoped Wednesday's deportations would "not be a one-time event." Returning rejected asylum seekers would also disparage radicalized forces within Germany, he added. Eight of the deported Afghans were living in Bavaria. Bavaria's interior minister, Joachim Herrman (CSU) also refuted claims that the deportations were a violation of human rights. With German soldiers and police forces supporting local security forces in Afghanistan to stabilize the region, "this warrants the return of rejected asylum seekers to Afghanistan's secure provinces," he said. Afghans caught in the middle According to "Spiegel," the Afghan returnees will first be handed over to local authorities before returning to their home regions, if these are considered to be "halfway safe." More than a million migrants, mainly fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East and Africa, have entered Germany since 2015. In 2016, Afghans were the second biggest group of asylum-seekers in Germany after Syrians, according to data from the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees. Germany has sought to speed up the processing of applications for people most likely to receive asylum, such as those fleeing the conflict in Syria. But that also means the government has sped up the process of expelling certain groups, with Afghans falling somewhere in between. While some areas aren't considered safe enough to send asylum seekers back, others are. The German and Afghan governments signed an agreement on deportations several weeks ago.

Germany’s Constitutional Court has postponed the deportation of an Afghan man until he can complete an application for asylum. The court did not, however, stop the deportation of some 34 other Afghans. The German Constitutional Court ruled on Wednesday in favor of a 29-year-old asylum-seeker and issued a stay of his deportation order. The court did not, however, stop the ... Read More »

Brisk business for smugglers in Greece

After a period of quiet following the closure of the Balkan route, people smugglers have returned to northern Greece and profits continue to roll in. Pavlos Zafiropoulos reports from Thessaloniki. In a small kebab shop across the broad avenue that runs in front of the Thessaloniki train station, clusters of migrants drink tea and huddle around electrical outlets charging their phones. Over the past two years the shop, a family-run business operated by Evangelia Karanikolas and her husband, developed into a key stopping point for many migrants and refugees looking to travel the so-called Balkan route to northern Europe. Karanikolas offered free use of the electricity and bathrooms to people sleeping rough in the nearby square and abandoned buildings. She also provided free food when she could, and even a warm place to sleep for some families when the weather was cold. For this reason she has become known to many migrants as 'Mammi'. Today, even following the sealing of the border with Macedonia, little appears to have changed. The numbers of migrants and refugees may be well below the great tide of people who traveled the route in 2015 and early 2016. Yet migrants are still coming - and going. "In any way, they are trying to find some way out," Karanikolas told DW. When asked, a number of the migrants in the shop confirm that they are seeking passage out of Greece. Moving in and out of the shop over the course of the day one can also see other, distinctly better dressed individuals. One such person, Sharif,* told DW that he was a "tourist" in town for a few days. Speaking in an accent with heavy East London tones he claimed that he was visiting the shop merely to be with other Afghans. A few hours later however he could be seen in a nearby dark, abandoned building conversing heavily with an Afghan family who had set up tents for the night. Other migrants told DW that the family had recently attempted to head north but had been picked up by the police in Macedonia and returned to Greece. Now they were considering their options. For a tourist, Sharif behaved very much like a smuggler. Leaky borders The unprecedented movement of people that saw approximately 1 million mainly Syrian and Iraqi refugees reaching northern Europe in 2015-2016 may have been stemmed following efforts to seal Greece's northern borders coupled with the EU-Turkey agreement. Yet today migrants and refugees continue to head north through a number of illicit channels, passing under the radar of immigration officials and filling the coffers of criminal people smuggling networks to the tune of tens of millions of euros. "I would say it is on the rise," one high-ranking police official involved in efforts to combat people smuggling networks in Thessaloniki told DW with regards to the smugglers' activity. "Following the closure of the Balkan route there was a period of relative calm, shall we say, while people waited to see what would happen, what the policies were going to be. Now in recent weeks we have seen a rise in arrests... There are active organizations and there are people who wish to be smuggled, it's the law of supply and demand." The precise numbers of people successfully being smuggled out of Greece are impossible to know for certain. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal citing European immigration officials stated that the whereabouts of as many as 13,000 migrants and refugees who had been registered in Greece is currently unknown. The same article, citing unnamed Greek and European officials, claimed that about 500 per week were being smuggled over the northern border. Yet experts say this figure is necessarily little more than an estimate. Nebulous networks According to police to be smuggled from Thessaloniki to Belgrade usually costs at least between 800 and 1,300 euros ($852-$1,384) per head. Another 1,500 euros is required to reach Germany. Often this money is not paid by the migrants directly but by their families through networks spread across multiple countries. Such prices reflect both the demand for smugglers as well as the difficulty in crossing the border. When movement across the border was largely unimpeded, prices collapsed. Now that the Balkan route is more difficult for migrants, it is more lucrative for the smugglers. "The smugglers certainly celebrated," the police official said of the closure of the Balkan route. "We heard from people involved in this that they were pleased because they would be better able to work." Yet the police describe people smuggling operations as loose criminal networks that are different from the closed pyramid structures associated with the Italian or Russian mafias. While this makes the groups easier to infiltrate, it also means that when significant arrests are made other players can quickly adapt to fill the void. "We have observed that the networks, when they receive a major blow, they go quiet for a period of time. But we can't say they stop. They reorganize themselves, they start recruiting other players, and this has to do with the law of supply and demand. This phenomenon will not stop as long as there are people who want to migrate, who want to leave their countries, due to wars, due to poverty," the police official said. Terror threat The latter is a sentiment that is echoed by Angeliki Dimitriadi, a migration expert and Research Fellow with the think tank ELIAMEP in Athens. She argues that past experience dating back to the 1990s indicates that even supposedly successful efforts to seal Europe's external borders such as in the case of Spain usually only deflect the problem elsewhere. "The fact of the matter is there is going to be a way in, there is no way to create Fortress Europe that prevents entry 100 percent. It's not going to happen," she told DW. One way of addressing the rules of supply and demand would be to create legal routes, thereby removing the incentive for refugees to use illegal smuggling alternatives, according to Dimitriadi. The criminal activity may also be making Europe less safe. This is because the same underground networks funded largely by the movement of asylum seekers can also be exploited by criminal and terror groups. "That these networks are used to send some fighters, that has been proven recently with the events in Paris," the police official told DW. "To put it very plainly it is always safer if we know who's coming," Dimitriadi says. "In order to know who's coming, it always better if we can 'choose' also who that person will be. Why not make it legal? We can choose that. We can know who is coming. It will be safer for us and beneficial for them. It is a win win." However, with Europe showing little appetite for the creation of new legal migration routes, the cat and mouse game between police and smugglers on Greece's borders looks set to continue, with increasingly desperate migrants caught in the middle. *Name has been changed.

After a period of quiet following the closure of the Balkan route, people smugglers have returned to northern Greece and profits continue to roll in. Pavlos Zafiropoulos reports from Thessaloniki. In a small kebab shop across the broad avenue that runs in front of the Thessaloniki train station, clusters of migrants drink tea and huddle around electrical outlets charging their ... Read More »

Brussels: Turkey could face economic sanctions

Hard-line President Recep Tayyip Erdogan risks losing Turkey's lucrative customs union with the EU, its main trading partner. European Parliament chief Martin Schulz has said economic sanctions are being considered. European Parliament President Martin Schulz has confirmed rumors in Brussels that EU leaders at their summit in December could opt for economic sanctions in response to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ongoing crackdown on dissent - instead of terminating controversial EU accession talks. Schulz told Germany's "Bild am Sonntag" newspaper that breaking off talks with Turkey would rob the EU of the channels to help Turkey's opposition and the tens of thousands held in detention since July's failed putsch. Instead, Schulz said: "We as the EU will have to consider which economic measures we can take." He warned, however, that should Turkey under Erdogan reintroduce the death penalty - in breach of its obligations within the 47-nation Council of Europe - then accession negotiations "would be ended." Trade: Erdogan's 'weak spot' Schulz's remarks followed a commentary Saturday on German public radio Deutschlandfunk by the Brussels correspondent of "Handelsblatt" Ruth Berschens. Since the signing of the customs union in 1995, the deal on duty-free exchanges in industrial products had made the EU into Turkey's biggest trading partner, Berschens wrote. Erdogan has wanted to widen the customs union to include more of the agricultural and service industries, she said. Should the EU terminate the customs union, subject to renegotiation since 2015, this would amount to a "bitter setback" for many Turkish companies, she wrote. "His political rise as chief of the governing AKP party was due especially to his successful economic policies. During Erdogan's [prime ministerial] period of government a new middle class emerged in Turkey," Berschens said. "The president cannot betray their interests otherwise he could lose political support across the country," she said. "That is Erdogan's "weak spot," alongside the EU's deal on refugees reached in March and Turkey's role as NATO partner hosting troops from alliance nations. "Exasperation is mounting among Europeans. In Brussels something is brewing. If the Turkish president persists [on his current course] then a decision could be made at the EU summit in December that could hurt Erdogan," Berschens predicted. The European Commission had numerous reasons for not breaking off protracted talks on Turkey's bid for EU accession, she continued, added that Brussels would walk "into a trap" set by Erdogan. "The Turkish president is only waiting for the EU to finally place the stool before the door," said Berschens, adding that Europe and especially Germany still had good reputations in Turkey. "Erdogan doesn't want to take personal responsibility for a final rupture with Europe, because he would end up in great distress explaining himself to his fellow citizens," she said. "Many Turks reject a total break with Europe." Cumhuriyet head detained Meanwhile, Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency said late Saturday thatAkin Atalay, the chief executive director of the Turkish opposition newspaper "Cumhuriyet," had been remanded in custody after returning from Germany. Nine other "Cumhuriyet" staff and executive members are already under arrest. Since Ankara declared a state of emergency in July following an attempted coup, some 37,000 people have been arrested in Turkey and more than 100,000 government employees have been dismissed or suspended. More than 170 media outlets have been shut down. Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus claimed Saturday that the closures were necessary in order to address multiple terror threats.

Hard-line President Recep Tayyip Erdogan risks losing Turkey’s lucrative customs union with the EU, its main trading partner. European Parliament chief Martin Schulz has said economic sanctions are being considered. European Parliament President Martin Schulz has confirmed rumors in Brussels that EU leaders at their summit in December could opt for economic sanctions in response to Turkish President Recep Tayyip ... Read More »

Australia reaches deal to send refugees languishing on islands to US

Australia has reached a resettlement deal with the United States for refugees held on two Pacific island detention centers. Canberra has come under international and domestic pressure over the camps. Refugees being held at controversial detention facilities on two isolated Pacific islands will be resettled in the United States, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Sunday. Asylum seekers who try to reach Australia by boat are sent to detention facilities on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island and the small island nation of Nauru. Under Australia's strict border policy, they are prevented from receiving asylum even if found to be refugees. "The arrangements with the United States will offer the opportunity for refugees, both on Nauru and Manus, to be resettled," Turnbull told reporters in Canberra. "It is a one-off agreement. It will not be repeated ... Our priority is the resettlement of women, children and families." Australia has come under international and domestic pressure over the detention camps, where some refugees have been stuck in limbo for more than three years. Rights groups have criticized Australia, citing bad conditions and mental health problems associated with what amounts to keeping refugees in indefinite detention on the islands. US Secretary of State John Kerry confirmed the resettlement deal, saying "we in the United States have agreed to consider referrals from [UN refugee body] UNHCR on refugees now residing in Nauru and in Papua New Guinea. "We know that these refugees are of special interest to UNHCR and we're very engaged with them on a humanitarian basis there and in other parts of the world," he told reporters in New Zealand on Sunday. Many refugees from Middle East, Asia It was unclear how the resettlement deal would proceed, with Donald Trump taking over the White House on January 20 after winning the US election this week. Trump campaigned on an anti-immigration and anti-Muslim policy. Many of the refugees on the islands are Muslims from the Middle East and Asia. The Australian and US governments did not say how many refugees were part of the resettlement plan. But Turnbull said the agreement was reached much earlier. "There is a great deal of preparation and planning that has gone into it and, indeed, in leading up to this announcement." Out of more than 2000 applications, about 675 asylum seekers on Manus and another 941 on Nauru have received initial or final refugee status, according to Australia's immigration department. Asylum seekers whose applications are denied will be sent back to their countries. Refugees who refuse to go to the United States will be offered 20-year residency on Nauru, a poor and environmentally destroyed island. The Australian funded detention center is now the island's main source of income. Papua New Guinea has said it will close the detention center on Manus. Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the deal was not an incentive for people smugglers to send boatloads of people to Australia. Future boat arrivals will not be eligible for the deal.

Australia has reached a resettlement deal with the United States for refugees held on two Pacific island detention centers. Canberra has come under international and domestic pressure over the camps. Refugees being held at controversial detention facilities on two isolated Pacific islands will be resettled in the United States, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Sunday. Asylum seekers who try ... Read More »

Hungarian voters weigh in on refugee quotas

Hungarians have begun voting on the EU's refugee quota in a referendum likely to reject EU quotas. Hungary has barely accepted any refugees and has been a leader among European nations rejecting any EU-wide resettlement. Polling opened at 6 a.m. (0400 UTC) Sunday and will remain open until 7 p.m. local time as Hungarians are asked to weigh in on the EU's migrant quotas designed to distribute migrants more evenly around the EU bloc. The "Yes" or "No" question voters are being asked is, "Do you want the European Union to be able, without consulting the Hungarian parliament, to decree the compulsory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens into Hungary?" The "No" camp is expected to win comfortably but the result would be invalid if less than 50 percent of eligible voters turn out. A poll published Saturday by the Publicus Institute found that only 46 percent of 1,000 respondents said they would vote, down from 54 percent last month. Hungarian premier doubles down Prime Minister Orban repeated warnings Saturday that mass migration was a "threat... to Europe's safe way of life" and that Hungarians had "a duty" to fight the failed "liberal methods" of the "Brussels elite." "We can send a message to each European... telling them that it depends on us, European citizens, to bring the EU back to reason, with common effort, or let it disintegrate," Orban wrote in the right-leaning Magyar Idok newspaper. The EU proposal - spearheaded by Germany and approved last year by most of the 28-nation EU bloc - is aimed at easing pressure on Italy and Greece, the EU's main entry points for hundreds of thousands of people mainly fleeing war in Syria. It would also take some pressure off Germany, which has absorbed the largest number of migrants. Opposition parties and human rights groups held protests ahead of the vote, accusing the Hungarian government of stoking xenophobia given the lack of asylum-seekers in the country. "This referendum is an effort to mobilize fear and hatred," economist Tamas Bauer told the AFP news agency at a rally in Budapest on Friday. The plebiscite also threatens to further split the EU, already weakened by its worst migration crisis since post-World War II and the UK's decision to leave the EU. Hungary led anti-migrant backlash Hungary was the first country to erect a wall on its border and ban migrants, including refugees, from entering its territory, with several other countries later following its example. In December it and Slovakia also filed a legal challenge to the EU quota plan. More than 400,000 refugees, mainly fleeing war and strife in Syria and Iraq, transited through Hungary toward northern Europe in 2015 before Hungary sealed its southern frontier with razor wire and enacted tough anti-migrant laws. Other countries on the overland Balkan route followed, stranding some 60,000 migrants in Greece, who are now languishing in refugee centers. An EU-Turkey deal struck in March halted much of the influx, but its future remains in doubt following a summer coup attempt and increasingly strained relations between EU leaders and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Hungarians have begun voting on the EU’s refugee quota in a referendum likely to reject EU quotas. Hungary has barely accepted any refugees and has been a leader among European nations rejecting any EU-wide resettlement. Polling opened at 6 a.m. (0400 UTC) Sunday and will remain open until 7 p.m. local time as Hungarians are asked to weigh in on ... Read More »

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