A van carrying 17 undocumented illegal migrants crashed on the Trakia Motorway at 4:20 a.m. on Sunday, the Bulgarian Interior Ministry said in a press release. Ten persons (the driver and nine passengers) were killed in the accident, and eight were injured. The driver was identified as a 16-year-old Bulgarian national with a criminal record. He did not a driving licence. The hospitalized illegals said they were citizens of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Police are yet to find out whether the illegals crossed into Bulgaria from Turkey or Greece. The Interior Ministry Chief Secretary said that between 20 and 50 aliens are attempting daily to cross illegally Bulgaria’s border with Turkey and Greece. Two such attempts were foiled last night, and 13 illegal migrants were found in a heavy-duty truck on the Bulgarian-Greek border.
The current situation counts 60’000 refugees trapped in Greece, living in limbo without end and about nine hundred returned in Turkey from Greece, because of the “pact of shame” signed between Brussels and Ankara, which came into force a year ago and that President turkish Erdogan threatens to break. MSF warns: “The life of asylum seekers in the Greek islands remain at risk, with insufficient access to services and high risk of fires, riots and violence”. Amnesty International warns about the secrecy with which the Turkish government processes the returns on migrants, using the agreement as a weapon against European pressure, periodically threatening to “open borders”.
Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has warned Greece not to try the country’s patience amid fresh tension between the two countries over remarks by Greek Foreign Minister NicosKotzias, which he described as “provocative.” Çavuşoğlu’s remarks follow the latest row between himself and his Greek counterpart, who previously criticized the Turkish top brass’ visit to the long-disputed Kardak islets in the Aegean Sea. He also advised Kotzias to closely follow developments from Turkey in its fight against terror inside the country and abroad and not to mistake the abilities of the Turkish Armed Forces. The islets, named Imia in Greek and Kardak in Turkish, are two small uninhabited rocks in the Aegean Sea, situated between the Greek island chain of the Dodecanese and the southwestern mainland coast of Turkey. The two countries nearly went to war over the islets in 1996 in an escalation that resulted in both sides landing soldiers on an islet each. The minister also refuted claims that Ankara wanted to benefit from Athens’ economic weakness, noting that the country encouraged millions of Turks to visit Greece every year and also limited its activities in the Aegean for years despite all kinds of provocation. The number of Turkish citizens who have illegally entered Greece since the attempted takeover now stands at 100, including the eight ex-soldiers who fled to the country in a stolen helicopter hours after orchestrating the coup and requested asylum. Ankara has repeatedly requested the extradition of the eight men, promising they would get fair trials upon return. However, the Greek Supreme Court ruled against their extradition in January
Israel, Greece and Cyprus have agreed to launch a regional force for tackling fires and other natural disasters, their leaders said on Thursday. Speaking before a three-way summit at which they were expected to discuss Mediterranean offshore gas, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said the force would also respond to earthquakes and floods. The announcement comes two weeks after Greek and Cypriot personnel helped extinguish some of Israel’s worst wildfires in years.
This is the fifth part of the series “Athens: the crisis within the crisis” (click here).
In a corner of the Eleonas refugee camp, among the new barracks inhabited by newly arrived refugees, I met a young man from Syria. He shared his personal experience with the human consequences of geopolitics.
A refugee family
Ibrahim came towards me with his little cousin in a trolley. They were curious about me. Ibrahim was a former student who had to flee from his village in northern Syria. Ibrahim had stayed in Pireus Port for a long time before going to the Macedonian border, then staying for a long time by the border fence. I got the impression that he fled from Jihadists. Ibrahim and the family wish to reach Germany. The little girl misses her father, who left Syria three months earlier, and who is waiting for them in Germany.
The little girl wants her Mom, so we walk towards their barrack. Ibrahim delivers her, and we sit down to talk at the stairs. His friends show up, one of them with his little daughter. They tell me about their life in the camp, and I promise to write about it.
Before the war
Ibrahim misses the Syria that existed before the civil war. Then no-one asked if you were a Christian or a Moslem, a Sunni or an Alawite. “Al-arab wahid ashab” his friend says – he does not speak English, but tells in simple Arabic that all Arab-speakers are one people. We should not fight against each other. Another friend of Ibrahim has worked in Nabatieh in South Lebanon. I tell them that, in fact, I am on my way to Lebanon, to celebrate Resurrection and the Orthodox Easter. The young men wish me a good pilgrimage, and ask me to say hi to the Syrians in Beirut. One and half million refugees from Syria are sheltered in Lebanon, alongside four million Lebanese citizens, as well as several million stateless Palestinians.
The conflict back home
As with the Lebanese thirty years earlier, the Syrians have experienced sudden change from cultural pluralism to sectarian war. The diversity used to be exposed by the presence of various churches, mosques and historical monuments. The civil war, by contrast, pits brother against brother, worker against worker. Tactical alliances change swiftly for militias on the ground, while the strategic map shows four coalitions: the government with allies, the rebels spearheaded by Jihadists, the so-called Islamic State in the east, and the Kurdish democratic forces in the north. Here is scarce room for idealism. In sectarian war, you must shoot your neighbour before he shoots you – or get away. The UN has registered 6,6 million internally displaced persons, while 4,8 have fled the country.
The right to seek asylum
After reading the second article in this series, some of the refugees I had met send me an email. They attach photos of their barracks, most of them lacking air condition. In each barrack, several families live under the same tin roof, under the Greek summer sun. Also an employee sends an email, reporting that the electric supply has become more reliable, but that there is a lack of workforce. But most important of all, the refugees fear the deal between Turkey and the EU, about forced return of Syrian refugees.
Amnesty International claims that the EU-Turkey deal violates international human rights law. Syria certainly is unsafe, and Turkey is moving in the same direction with an Islamist president using Jihadists as proxy against secular leftist forces in the Kurdish areas of Turkey and Syria. The Turkish military always was hostile to Amnesty. But when Turkey and the EU made their deal, Amnesty protested against both.
Ibrahim expects to be deported within few days. The girl and her mother are in contact with the girl’s father, Ibrahim’s brother in law. He has obtained permit to stay in Germany, and contacted the German embassy in Athens, asking to reunite with his family. The German embassy told him to wait five months for a reply, but the Greek temporary residence permits for his family last only one month more. The asylum bureaucracy is overloaded – and hasty deportations prevent serious processing of the asylum applications.
Amnesty International has a petition against the EU-Turkey deal (click here).
The second phase of EUNAVFOR MED, “Sofia”, started in October. It takes name from a Somali child born during a critic journey in the Mediterranean and rescued by a German ship last August.
The project aims to stop the trafficking of human beings intercepting smugglers in the sea. The monitoring of international waters, aims to search, control and seize suspicious craft, and it is entrusted to military ships, helicopters and drones. All this, within the framework of the objectives set in July by the European Union to stem the crisis of migrants in the Mediterranean: identification, arrest and destruction of boats and means used by traffickers.
Currently, six European warships are engaged offshore Libya: an Italian one, an English one, a French one, a Spanish one and two German, but later this month three other means should be made available from England, Belgium and Slovenia. Four helicopters, many drones and 1300 military will be added to these.
According to Admiral Enrico Credendino, head of mission, “the order is enforcing law by the use of force, to dislocate traffickers’ business. While the first phase aimed to find the necessary information about transnational criminal network, the second phase provides for the boarding of vessels, their inspection, the reception of migrants, the arrest of traffickers and the destruction of their boats. All this, however, within international waters, 12 nautical miles away from the Libyan coast. We need a United Nations decision and an invitation from Libyan government to operate directly in the territorial waters. The third next phase would allow the temporary landing on the ground for the destruction of smugglers’ structures “.
This last phase, which hasn’t yet received the green light of the EU, would actually be the most effective, since it is in Libyan waters that most of the smugglers operate, but – as the Italian Foreign minister Paolo Gentiloni says – ”UN Security Council can’t authorize this intervention without the express request of Libya “.
14 European countries are participating in EUNAVFOR MED: Italy, UK, Germany, France, Spain, Slovenia, Greece, Luxembourg, Belgium, Finland, Hungary, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Sweden. The costs of military intervention – apart from an annually European contribution of 12 million Euros – are supported by the individual participating countries. Italy has contributed to the mission with a budget of 26 million euro and 1.020 soldiers.
After the building of the wall on the border with Serbia, the new law on illegal immigration has kicked off in Hungary. EU States have rejected Juncker’s plan on redistribution. Germany is the first European country for asylum seekers in 2015: more efficient identification centers in Italy, Greece and Hungary are necessary.
Arrest and imprisonment up to three years for anyone who arrives in Hungary and has not application for asylum. Since midnight on 15 September 2015 the new law on illegal immigration, launched by Orban government, has entered into forced. It’s also closed the last stretch of wall bordering Serbia. Now there are only two official entrances. On Monday Hungary has observed a record number of entries: 9380 migrants, then blocked by the Hungarian police. Already arrested 16 people, Syrian and Afghan, passed after 12 a.m.
Meanwhile, in the summit in Brussels 14 September, it has been temporarily rejected the increase up to 120,000 migrants between the EU countries, which remains at 40,000. Ministers of Internal Affairs have approved the plan written in early summer, 16 thousand or 24 thousand from Italy and Greece (excluding Hungary). While there was consensus on the launch of the second phase of the mission EuNAVfor Med: European ships transiting the Mediterranean will can stop, seize and destroy boats, having as a priority the protection of human life.
Eastern Europe Countries, especially Poland, Slovakia and Hungary, have closed down the EU Commission President Juncker’s redistribution proposal. Also States, which are in favor of welcoming refugees, have chosen to increase controls on their borders like France and Germany, or Austria, which has sent army on the border with Hungary: “Temporary controls do not mean close the borders – said Chancellor Merkel -. We will continue to accept refugees in Germany, provided that there is an orderly process. ” After internal criticism as a result of 60,000 refugees arrived in Bavaria in the last days, German Prime Minister has done a half step back.
But this words are actually destined to Italy, Greece and Hungary because the systematization of the control of migrants who arrive in Europe is the real critical point. The opening to asylum seekers of the German government in early September passes by the creation of hot spots centers on European borders. The identification of those arriving is crucial. Moreover, refugees have not interest to remain in Italy, Greece and Hungary: their goal is to register directly in Germany, Sweden and Norway because, according to Dublin Regulation, an asylum seeker can stay only in the State where the request was made. But a possible exception to this agreement, as leaked by Brussels, could break through.
Numbers are clear. Arrivals recorded amounted to more than 180000 for Greece, about 170000 for Hungary and 110000 and Italy. But the ranking of total asylum applications in the Q1 of 2015 is very different: Germany, 73120; Hungary, 32810; Italy 15250; Greece (down the list) 2615. Figures about Syrians are even more in opposing trend, except for Hungary, compared to arrivals. From 1 January to 31 August 2015, Germany, 30120; Hungary; 10855; Sweden 7250; Greece (penultimate), 1275; Italy, 155.
So migratory route is clear. And it’s evident as much the anti-immigration policies of Orban government are self-destructive and are overloading the same Hungary, which is the first Eu country has reached 302 refugees per capita in 2015.
The need for identification on the sea and land borders of the European Union is essential. Germany wants to give chances to Syrians because they are graduates, professionals and skilled workers. But it’s also true that Italy and Greece have to make efficient their hot spot to share people with other member states . But despite the refugee emergency, there’s still not an Eu plan.
Greece has become the main European route for migrants, especially for Syrian and Iraqi refugees. In the last two months, they has taken advantage of Turkish borders pass. Aegean Islands is the first step to reach Eu, passing along Balkan route: 244 855 people have transited from Turkey to Greece since January. To speak about this humanitarian emergency, European Affairs has interviewed Constance Theisen, Msf Humanitarian Affairs Officer in Greece, who has talked about Ngo’s activity there, like medical care and basic needs to migrants.
What’s Msf activity in Greece?
“Our aim in Greece and along the Balkan route (we also work in Serbia) is to try and cover the immediate needs of the migrants and refugees arriving, where needed:
- Lesvos Island: Water and sanitation in Kara Tepe camp and Moria informal camp. Two medical teams for mobile clinics in the camps and in Mytilene town and harbor, where people are sleeping outside. Mental health support with one psychologist. Bus service from the North of the island to the south so that people don’t have to walk the 65km in the sun;
- Kos Island: Shelter, water and sanitation in Captain Elias camp. one medical team for mobile clinics in Captain Elias camp and anywhere in Kos town where people sleep outside. Mental health support with one psychologist. Distribution of non-food-items: kit with blanket, torch, toothbrush, toothpaste, energy bars;
- Dodecanese Islands: one medical team based on a boat for mobile clinics in the islands of Simi, Leros, Tilos, Kalymnos. Distribution of non-food-items: kit with blanket, torch, toothbrush, toothpaste, energy bars. Support in all islands of local activists and municipalities with shelter (tents of shadow nets) to create space where people can sleep;
- Athens: we have a project to help people who have suffered ill treatment (torture…) with medical and psychological support and a social worker;
- At the Northern border between Greece and Macedonia: we work at the crossing point of Idomeni, where people will travel to their final destination through the Balkan cross into Macedonia. one medical team for consultations, one psychologist and we installed toilets and showers. Our team also distributes non-food-items: kit with blanket, torch, toothbrush, toothpaste, energy bars. “
Is Greece a real point of passage towards especially Germany, Sweden and Norway?
“Greece has now become the main point of entry to Europe: 244 855 people have arrived there so far (crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey) versus 119 500 arrivals in Italy (UNHCR numbers 08/09/2015). “
What’s Greece government’s behaviour towards refugees?
“The Greek government has shown no leadership to respond to the crisis in a constructive manner. The only way to fix the problem of so many people arriving in the islands, forced to sleep outside for days before the local police can register them and give them the paper needed to leave the island, is to have more police sent to the islands to register the people arriving and reception/transit camps in all islands where people arrive. Instead, the Greek authorities have sent more riot police to the islands (not meant to register people) and have not shown any initiative to identify spaces (fields, stadiums…) where long-term reception can be organized for the people arriving. They have disregarded its responsibilities: no distribution of food organized in most islands (Kos, Leros, Simi, Kalymnos) or insufficient in all others (Lesvos for instance). And they have abused migrants with excessive use of police force (in 2 days in Lesvos last week, our medical team treated more than 10 people who reported being beaten by the police). “
In yours point of view, what’s differences with Italian government?
“I can not speak for the Italian system as I do not know it very well, but I believe that Italy has put in place a national system of reception, in accordance with EU standards, providing 2 things: upon arrival a medical screening and vulnerability screening to all people arriving ; shelter (centers) all over the country, providing also food.
Instead, in Greece:
- No systematic medical screening (not a single island provides it);
- No systematic screening for vulnerabilities (not a single island provides it);
- No shelter (except in some places on Lesvos and Chios islands);
- No systematic provision of food;
No access to hygiene facilities (except in some places on Lesvos and Chios islands). “
How are land routes prefer more than sea routes?
“The route for Syrians to reach the EU has changed. Why: current situation in Lybia; visa restrictions to Syrians traveling to Egypt; more and more difficult stay in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey (see UNHCR reports on access to protection, services and to the local job market there). Once in Greece, since controls in the airports have increased, more and more people chose the land route through the Balkan to reach their final destination. “
What are yours statistics of 2015?
Consultations until July 31st:
- 3236 in Kos;
- 437 in the neighbouring Dodecanese Islands;
- 3000 in Idomeni.
Kits distributed until July 31st: more than 20 000 all over the country. “
The governments of Italy, Germany, Britain, France, Spain and the United States have appealed against Isis attacks in Sirte. Waiting for Tripoli choice, new action plan, led by Italy and under the aegis of Un aegis, has come to light: infrastructure protection and building, UN peacekeepers, training of army.
Over 200 dead and at least 500 injured as a result of the clashes last week in Sirte. ISIS militants have left behind a trail of blood and horror. Crimes, like the crucifixion of 12 Salafist militants or 22 hospital patients died as a result of a fire set by jihadists, which branded as “genocide” by Tobruk government.
“We are deeply concerned by reports that speak of indiscriminate shelling of densely populated districts of the city and acts of violence in order to terrorize the people – governments of Italy, Germany, Britain, France, Spain and the United States in a unique statement said – . We appeal to all factions Libyan who want a unified country in peace and to join forces to combat the threat posed by transnational terrorist groups that exploit Libya for their own purposes, “.
The need for national unity government, called by the International Community, is extremely topical. The United Nations eagerly awaiting the decision of Tripoli, after agreement between the other factions. There is a plan to be implemented to halt the advance of the Isis in Libya.
There are rumors of a military intervention led by Italy and under the aegis of United Nations since a few months. An action plan already drawn up by Italian Foreign Ministry Paolo Gentiloni, to which ambassador Bernardino Leon is working hard, especially after the capture of Sirte, the massacres and the migration emergency.
As revealed in the last hour, this action plan concerns next stage after national unity government constitution. First, the executive should make an official request for international aid. So, it could lead to the financial and military support to stabilize Libya and fight the Islamic State.
As well as subsidies for infrastructures like roads and airports, and security of oil and gas installations, the topic would be Un peacekeepers intervention and the training of Libyan army.
Institutional, political and economical stabilization of Libya are necessary for immigration drop to Italy and Greece and defeat of Isis, as explained by Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs Gentiloni: “Agreement for a national government Libya, with International Community support, remains the only possibility to fight extremist violence and the deterioration of the humanitarian and economical situation in the country. “Tripoli must hurry. Time goes faster.
Greece’s debt crisis is one of the hottest geopolitical issues at the moment. Germany imposed a rescue package last week. The United States played a role of political deterrence towards the EU, to avoid the possibility that Athens could go into Moscow’s sphere of influence. To talk about these issues, European Affairs interviewed Andrew Spannaus, journalist and Director of Transatlantico.info.
With Tsipras’s full-scale surrender, has Greece essentially become a protectorate of Brussels, or better, of Berlin?
“Europe wasted a great opportunity. After talking about the need to shift from austerity to growth, in essence nothing has changed. The European establishment – led by Germany, but don’t let the others off the hook – doubled down, using every weapon possible rather than admit to the failure of its economic policy over the last twenty years.
This is a defeat not only for Greece, but for Europe itself, which has shown 1. that it is unwilling to recognize its own mistakes, and refuses to question the fanatical adherence to budget parameters; and 2. that in this form Europe is not compatible with democracy.
The biggest question is: who’s giving the orders in Brussels and Berlin? Why does the EU insist on a policy that doesn’t work? It’s one thing to have to clean up problems and inefficiencies from the past, but the decision to make the situation worse through a policy of budget cuts and new taxes shows that something else is afoot. Europe has abandoned the best parts of its own history and now answers to other interests.”
“Despite the mistakes made in the past five months, I am proud that I have defended our people.” This is what Tsipras said to the Greek Parliament, at the time of the vote on the measures imposed by Europe. In your view, Did Syriza betray its electoral mandate and the result of the referendum?
“Over the past few months the Greek government alternated between a hardline position and a softer one. The goal was always to influence the negotiations and obtain some concessions. At a certain point it looked like Tsipras had decided to get serious: first with the opening towards Russia, and then the referendum. In the end though, he gave in to the blackmail and demonstrated that he wasn’t willing to risk the consequences of a full break-up.
The Greek people clearly rejected austerity; the problem is that in theory they wanted to remain in Europe as well. So while Tsipras certainly deserves some criticism, the fact remains that the two goals were incompatible: Europe = austerity, so there was no solution.
It’s not over yet. If the plan that Greece has accepted is actually implemented then the situation will get even worse; things could flair up again soon. Moreover, the political debate has changed: it’s impossible now to hide the contradictions and weaknesses of the current economic policy. Sooner or later there will be political leaders, and maybe entire countries, who will refuse to continue in this direction.”
The International Monetary Fund has said that Greece’s debt is unsustainable. Will the EU plan go forward anyway?
“The plan will go forward, but it won’t work. The first “rescue” packages for Greece – in which public money was used to save the private banks, in particular those in Germany and France – were supposed to create the conditions for economic recovery. The same was said for Italy. In reality the result was a drop in GDP, at catastrophic levels in Greece (-30%).
The notion that this type of debt can be repaid through spending cuts is simply absurd. The solution is to restructure and cancel part of the debt, and above all to implement a policy of investment to spur growth. This means ignoring certain dogmas, for example by increasing productive public spending. The part of the debt which is real, and not just due to speculative maneuvers, can be repaid only if the economy is actually growing; the current policy prohibits this, and thus can only fail.”
How big a role did the United States play in facilitating the negotiations between the EU and Greece? Was there, and is there, a real possibility that Athens could get closer to Moscow?
“A myth exists in Europe, about how the United States is against the Euro and afraid of the European Union. However, even if we were to grant the premise that the U.S. sees Europe only as a competitor, there is nothing to be afraid of as long as the current economic policy remains in place.
In the name of political union the strength and cohesion of the nations of Europe is being destroyed. The foundation of the EU was quite different, but starting in the 1990s a shift was made to the so-called “free market” policy that allowed large financial interests to dominate the economy. This is good for a few, not for the many.
Secondly, this myth has been debunked by the American position in this crisis: the U.S. didn’t want to see Europe break up, precisely due to the risk of a geopolitical shock. Tsipras showed that he understood the stakes when in St. Petersburg he said that a “new economic world is being formed,” while “the center of gravity of economic development is shifting.”
The West decided to close ranks, to avoid giving an opening to our “enemy” Putin. However the reality is that Europe’s policy of continuous austerity risks making the alternative of the BRICS even more attractive: numerous countries are already breaking away from the Western financial institutions precisely in order to avoid being controlled by a system dominated by large financial interests.”