Tag Archives: Migrants

Photos Shape Attitudes to Refugees: View from Australia

JANE LYDON
July 30, 2016

Over the last two decades we have seen the unprecedented politicisation of immigration. Many Australians remember the wave of immigration after World War II when our rapidly developing industrialised economy addressed its labour shortage. Yet, like many Western countries, since the end of the Cold War we have worked to prevent refugees from seeking asylum by making our borders impenetrable.

Today, we distinguish between migrants, who arrive via our Migration Program (currently up to 190,000 places per year), and refugees, admitted through our Humanitarian Program, (providing 13,750 places in 2016-2017). Migrants make a conscious choice to seek a better life elsewhere. Refugees are forced to leave their country because of persecution.

Photography has mapped a distinctively Australian version of this global story. Once migrants were represented as complex, vulnerable, diverse people, as in David Moore’s iconic 1966 photograph, Migrants arriving in Sydney. This image allows us to empathise with the fear, anxiety and hope felt by newcomers, poised between old and new, tradition and change.

David Moore Migrants arriving in Sydney 1966, gelatin silver photograph.
Art Gallery of NSW, gift of the artist 1997 © Lisa, Michael, Matthew and Joshua Moore

By contrast, today the Australian government seeks to suppress photographs of asylum seekers, seemingly from fear that such images will prompt empathy with them and undermine border security policy. As asylum seekers have come to be widely viewed as a security threat, refugee policy has been militarised, displacing attention from the situation of those attempting to reach Australia to their supposed menace to our way of life.

The power of photos

Researchers have long debated the impact and ethics of photographs of those very far away or different from ourselves – how do such representations allow us to empathise with their subjects’ plight? Do our responses to such photos prompt political or social change? Or, after a moment of compassion or shame, do these feelings simply subside, letting us return to business as usual and thereby reinforcing the status quo?

Clearly, Australian government and military officials believe, very deeply, in the power of such imagery to undermine – or conversely, support – their agenda.

Two episodes in our recent history reveal the power of photography to shape attitudes and influence public debate. The first is 2001, the year of the Tampa incident, Children Overboard, and the Pacific Solution. The second is the increased border protection measures introduced by the Abbott government from 2013, still in place today.

During the late 1990s, increasing numbers of people attempted to travel to Australia by boat to seek asylum, including Afghanis, many being members of the persecuted Hazara minority. In August 2001, the Norwegian vessel MV Tampa rescued 438 mostly Afghan refugees from their sinking boat, around four hours from the Australian territory of Christmas Island.

The Australian government blocked the Tampa from landing on Christmas Island. Indonesia, which had not ratified the 1951 Convention on Refugees, refused to receive them. When the Tampa entered Australian waters without permission, the Australian military intervened. After much delay, the refugees were taken to Nauru.

Australian citizens’ understanding of these remote events was necessarily highly mediated. A review carried out by researchers from the University of Queensland examined the visual representation of asylum seekers on the front pages of two prominent Australian newspapers at this time – The Australian and the Sydney Morning Herald.

The boat carrying asylum seekers pulls up alongside the Tampa.
Wallenius Wilhelmsen/AAP

Their analysis showed the predominance of pictures of boats, mostly from a distance, as well as those depicting asylum seekers as large groups (42%). In contrast, there was a striking lack of images showing individual asylum seekers with clearly recognisable facial features (only 2%).

The researchers concluded that the effect of this pattern was to dehumanise refugees and frame the refugee “problem” as a potential threat that demanded mechanisms of security and border control.

Perhaps the most widely circulated image from this crisis was an aerial view of the Tampa showing the rescued refugees sitting on the deck in rows, in a space defined by shipping containers. Powerful as it was, this image did not show a single human being’s face.

Asylum seekers on board the Tampa.
Wallenius Wilhelmsen/AAP

Following the Tampa incident, a new border protection initiative titled Operation Relex implemented a restrictive public affairs plan that tightly regulated the collection and circulation of information and images.

The Director-General of Defence Communication Strategies, Brian Humphreys, later testified to the Senate Select Committee on a Certain Maritime Incident that Defence Minister Peter Reith had explicitly instructed personnel, “Don’t humanize the refugees”.

The inquiry concluded that this restrictive public affairs plan intended to retain “absolute control” of the facts,

to ensure that no imagery that could conceivably garner sympathy or cause misgiving about the aggressive new border protection regime would find its way into the public domain.

Visual theorists express concerns about the ethical use of images of suffering. They argue that such images exploit their subjects by violating their privacy or showing them as abject and less-than-human. In addition, there are well-grounded fears that identifying individuals may render them vulnerable to persecution in their home countries.

However, the complete suppression of images by the state also acts to erase the social experience of suffering. In this way, the absent image may be as powerful, and terrifying in its effects, as images of suffering.

Empathy overboard

John Howard’s government did, however, make active use of photographs to advance its agenda at this time. In October 2001, in the immediate lead-up to a federal election, a boat designated Suspected Illegal Entry Vessel 4, carrying 223 asylum seekers, was intercepted by HMAS Adelaide north of Christmas Island, and then sank.

Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock claimed that passengers had thrown children overboard as a means of forcing the Australian navy to rescue them. Defence Minister Peter Reith and the prime minster repeated this claim, and on 10 October released photographs that supposedly proved it.

An October 8, 2001 file photo of video footage of refugees being rescued in seas off Christmas Island by defence personnel from HMAS Adelaide.
Defence PR/AAP

However, journalist Virginia Trioli challenged their status as proof during a radio interview with Reith, pointing out

Mr Reith, there’s nothing in this photo that indicates these people either jumped or were thrown?

Reith responded

Well, quite frankly, if you don’t accept that, you don’t accept anything I say … they are clear as day. A mother and her presumably son, aged seven or eight clearly in the water and clearly being assisted by a female member of the Royal Australian Navy … Now, we have a number of people, obviously RAN people who were there who reported the children were thrown into the water.

However a later Senate inquiry found, on the basis of evidence provided by senior Navy personnel, that the photographs offered as evidence of children thrown overboard on 7 October were actually pictures taken the following day, 8 October, while SIEV 4 was sinking.

The inquiry concluded that the Howard government had deliberately told lies about these events and suppressed the truth for political purposes.

A different picture

In mid-2003, meanwhile, an anonymous source published photographs of the rescued asylum seekers taken by Navy personnel aboard HMAS Adelaide in October 2001.

Aboard the HMAS Adelaide
Courtesy Project SafeCom, Jack H Smit.

These photographs show how these rescued people responded aboard the navy vessel. Note the good health and happiness of the children. Imagine the effects on the Australian public in October 2001 of seeing these happy, relieved families: would our political history have been different?

Children drinking milk.
Courtesy Project SafeCom, Jack H Smit.

The Howard government’s response to the “children overboard” affair was “The Pacific Solution” – establishing Nauru and Manus Island as offshore processing centres. According to a report compiled by parliamentary library staff using a variety of official sources, the policy was effective in halting boat arrivals in 2001.

With the election of the Rudd government in 2007, after six years of operation, Manus was closed. However a sharp rise in arrivals of asylum seekers by boat up to 2012 led to the re-opening of offshore processing centres under then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

In October 2011, meanwhile, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship announced a new media policy designed to control media access to asylum seekers. A key part of this policy was to regulate the use of images and, in particular, to prevent journalists from showing the faces of asylum seekers, justified as protecting the individual’s identity. This policy remains in place.

After the election of the Abbott government in 2013, Operation Sovereign Borders was mounted, a key component being the Regional Deterrence Framework, at a cost of A$420 million. This is still in place.

Part of this campaign entailed the production of a video and poster, captioned “No Way. You will not make Australia home.” This stated,

Any vessel seeking to illegally enter Australia will be intercepted and safely removed beyond Australian waters.

At sea

In response to these official campaigns, those seeking to arouse empathy with asylum seekers and counter aspects of the Australian government’s policies have also turned to photography.

In 2014 Hazara refugee Barat Ali Batoor’s photo on board an asylum seeker boat between Indonesia and Australia won Photo of the Year in the Nikon-Walkley Award for Excellence in Photojournalism.

Barat Ali Batoor, The First Day at Sea
Courtesy Barat Ai Batoor

Batoor was lucky to survive the two-day voyage. The boat he and 92 other asylum seekers took from Indonesia ran aground on rocks before reaching Australia. His camera was ruined, but his images survived. He was officially recognised as a refugee and resettled in Australia in 2013. In response to his photo, the Walkey judges said:

For all the years of debate about asylum seekers, this is the first time we’ve seen what one of those boats look like. No-one else has been there. The processes Barat Ali Batoor went through to get on that boat, and facing the possibility it could sink – which it did – that took phenomenal courage and commitment to telling a story. Batoor broadened the debate and helped us visualise what happens before the boats arrive at Christmas Island.

Since 2014, we have seen ever-increasing tightening of control of information about detention centres. In July 2015, reporting of abuse within the Manus Island centre was made illegal, prompting a campaign of civil disobedience by staff.

Events such as the tragic death in February 2014 of Reza Berati, a 23-year-old Iranian national, have aroused great concern. Medical staff have repeatedly testified to the trauma for inmates of these places, especially children. The Australian government has continued to invest heavily in media programs to discourage refugees.

Commissioned by the Immigration Department, the telemovie Journey cost $5.6m and was filmed in three countries, screening in 2015 in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq. It aimed to inform audiences in “source countries” about the

futility of investing in people smugglers, the perils of the trip, and the hard line policies that await them if they do reach Australian waters.

In September 2015, however, photographs of a three-year-old Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, whose body had washed up on a beach in Turkey went viral on social media.

Aylan Kurdi, Bodrum, September 2015.
AAP

Aylan had drowned with his brother Galip, who was five, and his mother Rehan as they tried to reach the Greek island of Kos in a small, overloaded rubber dinghy.

European newspapers debated whether or not to show the image, because historically, publishing images of dead children has been taboo for Western media. But the next morning most European newspapers ran the photo on the front page. British prime minister David Cameron’s initial response was to reiterate his policy that “we can’t take any more people fleeing from war”.

But within hours of seeing Aylan on all the front pages he admitted that he was deeply moved, and within days he announced that Britain would accept 20,000 more refugees.

In Australia, our papers carried the photo the following day. Initially the tragedy was represented as a European problem, with headlines such as “The images that stopped Europe”. Tony Abbott expressed sorrow but blamed the choice of refugees to flee by boat:

Well, I’d say if you want to stop the deaths, if you want to stop the drownings, you’ve got to stop the boats …

For a week, refugees were the subject of almost every radio and TV debate. Pressure from voters and Coalition backbenchers caused the prime minister to pledge $44 million in emergency aid to refugees still detained in camps, and on September 9, Abbott announced Australia would resettle an additional 12,000 refugees from the Syria/Iraq conflict.

There is a clear link here between the empathy aroused by such affective images – of which Aylan’s was perhaps only the most shocking – and its concrete political consequences.

Shutting our eyes

The Australian government currently has obligations under various international treaties to ensure that the human rights of asylum seekers and refugees in Australian territory are respected and protected.

As a party to the UN Refugee Convention, Australia has agreed to ensure that asylum seekers who meet the definition of a refugee are not sent back to a country where their life or freedom would be threatened. This is known as the principle of non-refoulement.

Australia also has obligations not to send people to third countries where they would face a real risk of violation of their human rights under these instruments. On April 26 this year, Papua New Guinea’s supreme court ruled the detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island illegal. Offshore detention was among three areas of concern raised by the UN’s recent universal periodic review of Australia’s human rights record. Our refugee policy remains a troubling and unresolved question for the nation.

Authorities respond to an inmates’ hunger strike at Manus Island in January 2015.
AAP Image/Refugee Action Collective

This recent history reveals the intense politicisation of media representations of these events. Official responses with their focus on border protection have framed immigration and asylum seeking as a military threat, constituting asylum seekers as invaders and enemies of the state.

Increasingly, we have seen our government move from attempting to control images of events such as shipwreck or rescue or conditions in detention centres, to simply prohibiting them.

The more troubling aspects of these policies – such as effects upon asylum seekers and particularly children and families under indefinite detention – remain invisible.

We forget that the occupants of offshore processing centres are not enemy soldiers but refugees – they are already victims of conflict in their home countries. Many of them are children, and we have specific responsibilities towards them under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The examples I have reviewed here demonstrate the Australian government’s profound fear of the power of photographs to provide a counter-narrative to its own policies, and specifically, to create empathy between Australian public audiences and asylum seekers.

They show that in certain contexts, displaying and circulating images, or conversely, restricting them, may have a significant impact on viewers’ attitudes and subsequently on events.

Harsh national border defence policies are maintained at the expense of refugee well-being. Many atrocities have been committed in the shadow of such secrecy: only this week Four Corners revealed terrible conditions prevailing within onshore juvenile detention centres as well, prompting immediate public outrage, and leading Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs to call for a wide-ranging inquiry into Australia’s detention culture.

I suspect that most Australians would feel just as sad, angry, or ashamed if they witnessed conditions within offshore detention centres: yet so far most Australians have not been prepared to insist on seeing into these places, nor to demand that we soften our policy of mandatory offshore detention.

As ethical – and privileged – Australian citizens, there is a moral imperative for us to engage with and respond to what these pictures show us.The Conversation

Creative Commons

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Related on F&O:

 

jpegviewJane Lydon is the Wesfarmers Chair of Australian History at the University of Western Australia. Her books include The Flash of Recognition: Photography and the emergence of Indigenous rights (NewSouth, 2012), which won the 2013 Queensland Literary Awards’ USQ History Book Award. Photography, Humanitarianism, Empire has just been published by Bloomsbury.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Facts, and Opinions, that matter this week

People film with their phones and cameras during a flag-raising ceremony at the Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China June 4, 2016.   REUTERS/Damir Sagolj.

Taiwan tells China not to fear democracy. Above, people film with their phones and cameras during a flag-raising ceremony at the Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China June 4, 2016. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj.

Reports:

Shelter the focus at Venice Architecture Biennale, by Joel Dullroy

The Venice Architecture Biennale is usually a showcase of prestigious architecture projects from around the world, but Germany’s entry this year has taken a different angle, focusing instead on simple shelters used to house asylum seekers.

Emily Dickinson’s garden, “native” plants, and climate change, by Janet Marinelli

A plant from the homestead of poet Emily Dickinson is challenging basic precepts of conservation practice, such as what is the definition of “native”? Are climate refugees that hitchhike north via horticulture less worthy of protection than plants that arrive on their own? Do they pose a threat to existing native species? Should native plant gardening, the domestic form of assisted migration, be used to help plants stranded in inhospitable habitat?

Taiwan tells China not to fear democracy, by J.R. Wu

On the anniversary of China’s bloody crackdown on student-led protests in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, Taiwan’s new president told China that democracy is nothing to fear, and Taiwan could serve as an example to China.

Commentary:

Hong Kong activists split over Tiananmen Square, by Jonathan Manthorpe, International Affairs columnist

For the first time, Hong Kong’s Federation of Students, a coalition of student unions, eschewed the Victoria Park demonstrations over the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square uprising and killings. Instead, it focused on democracy and even independence in Hong Kong’s future.

Polls: The good, the bad and the ugly, by Tom Regan, Summoning Orenda column

A few suggestions about what to watch out for in political polls: how you can tell a good one from a bad one, and why you never, ever, ever bet your house on one poll only.

Magazine:

Christopher Park/ ProPublica

Christopher Park/ ProPublica

Gunfight in Guatemala: and insider’s tale of Latin America corruption. By Sebastian Rotella

Big or small, leftist or rightist, rich or poor, with only a few exceptions, Latin American nations struggle with a crime problem that threatens political stability and security; many are in a struggle between the rule of man and the rule of law. This is one man’s story in the large, long-running war.

 

Notebook:

This fall’s US presidential election will affect the world. Barring a cosmic event or supernatural intervention, Republican Donald Trump will be pitted against either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. A campaign milestone  —  the Democratic party primary in California — will occur Tuesday June 7. Some polls place Sanders and Clinton in a statistical tie. The latest developments include a remarkable letter released Friday by Green party contender Jill Stein urging Californians to support Bernie Sanders, unless already registered with the Green party,  to support “the agenda of economic and racial justice shared by Bernie’s and my campaigns.” Robert Reich, one of Sanders’ most vocal supporters, urged Democrats to put aside their differences no matter who wins. “I can’t criticize anyone for voting their conscience, of course. But your conscience should know that a decision not to vote for Hillary, should she become the Democratic nominee, is a de facto decision to help Donald Trump,” he wrote on his blog.

Follow the campaigns at these credible outlets: New York Times; Politico; Reuters; Bloombergthe BBC; the Guardian; the Economist.  Here are the campaign pages for Sanders, Clinton, and  Trump.  America’s two dominant parties are not the only ones in the running, though all others typically are ignored by pundits and political journalists and — in a Catch 22 — receive precious few votes. Here are the pages for the Green’s likely presidential candidate Stein, and for Gary Johnson of the Libertarian party.

Elsewhere:

This is good: Muhammad Ali, a feature and a video documentary on the New York Times about the fighter who died this week.

“Muhammad Ali was a three-time world heavyweight boxing champion who transcended sports and helped define his turbulent times. He entertained with his mouth as much as his fists, narrating a life of brash self-confidence full of religious, political and social stances.”

And THIS is surprising, and important: A criticism of neoliberalism by, of all organizations,  the International Money Fund

Neoliberalism: Oversold? Instead of delivering growth, some neoliberal policies have increased inequality, in turn jeopardizing durable expansion….

There has been a strong and widespread global trend toward neoliberalism since the 1980s, according to a composite index that measures the extent to which countries introduced competition in various spheres of economic activity to foster economic growth….

“There is much to cheer … however:

“An assessment of these specificpolicies (rather than the broad neoliberal agenda) reaches three disquieting conclusions:

•The benefits in terms of increased growth seem fairly difficult to establish when looking at a broad group of countries.­

•The costs in terms of increased inequality are prominent. Such costs epitomize the trade-off between the growth and equity effects of some aspects of the neoliberal agenda.­

•Increased inequality in turn hurts the level and sustainability of growth. Even if growth is the sole or main purpose of the neoliberal agenda, advocates of that agenda still need to pay attention to the distributional effects.­…

As Maurice Obstfeld (1998) has noted, “economic theory leaves no doubt about the potential advantages” of capital account liberalization, which is also sometimes called financial openness. It can allow the international capital market to channel world savings to their most productive uses across the globe. Developing economies with little capital can borrow to finance investment, thereby promoting their economic growth without requiring sharp increases in their own saving. But Obstfeld also pointed to the “genuine hazards” of openness to foreign financial flows and concluded that “this duality of benefits and risks is inescapable in the real world.” (my emphasis.)  Visit the IMF site to read the  analysis 

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Note to our readers: F&O’s weekly blog post was delayed this weekend by a technical glitch. Thanks for your patience.

In Case You Missed These:

 

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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EU fate at stake on muddy Greek border

By Lefteris Papadimas and Renee Maltezou
March, 2016

A volunteer (2nd L) gives away goods to stranded refugees and migrants, most of them Afghans, who find shelter on Victoria Square in Athens, Greece, March 3, 2016. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

A volunteer (2nd L) gives away goods to stranded refugees and migrants, most of them Afghans, who find shelter on Victoria Square in Athens, Greece, March 3, 2016. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

IDOMENI, Greece (Reuters) – In muddy fields straddling the border with Macedonia, a transit camp hosting up to 12,000 homeless migrants in filthy conditions is the most dramatic sign of a new crisis tearing at Greece’s frayed ties with Europe and threatening its stability.

For the last year, Greece has largely waved through nearly a million migrants who crossed the Aegean Sea from Turkey on their way to wealthier northern Europe.

Now, on top of a searing economic crisis that took it close to ejection from the euro zone a year ago, the European Union’s most enfeebled state is suddenly being turned into what Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras calls a “warehouse of souls”.

At least 30,000 people fleeing conflict or poverty in the Middle East and beyond are bottled up in Greece after Western Balkan states effectively closed their borders. Up to 3,000 more are crossing the Aegean every day despite rough winter seas.

“This is an explosive mix which could blow up at any time. You cannot, however, know when,” said Costas Panagopoulos, head of ALCO opinion pollsters.

Men, women and children from Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq are packed like sardines in a disused former airport terminal in Athens, crammed into an indoor stadium or sleeping rough in a central square, where two tried to hang themselves last week.

The influx is severely straining the resources of a country barely able to look after its own people after a six-year recession – the worst since World War Two – that has shrunk the economy by a quarter and driven unemployment above 25 percent.

After years of austerity imposed by international lenders, who are now demanding deeper cuts in old-age pensions, ordinary Greeks say they feel abandoned by the European Union.

A staggering 92 percent of respondents in a Public Issue poll published by To Vima newspaper last Sunday said they felt the EU had left Greece to fend for itself.

The poll was taken before the European Commission announced 300 million euros in emergency aid this year to support relief organisations providing food, shelter and care for the migrants. But such promises do little to soften public anger.

“I want to spit at them,” said 40-year-old Maria Constantinidou, who is unemployed. “Those European leaders .. should each take 10 migrants home, feed them, look after them and then see how difficult things are.”

While the EU and Turkey will struggle to find a consensus at an emergency summit on Monday on how to stem the influx of migrants, Greece looks set to become Europe’s waiting room for months to come.

At Idomeni, a small border town in northern Greece, men from Syria held screaming babies close to a razor wire fence on Thursday, imploring Macedonian police they be allowed to cross.

Greece says it is a victim of geography; some EU partners say Greek fecklessness forced them to reimpose border controls, putting the future of a border-free Europe at stake.

“Its like watching a slow moving train wreck,” said Theodore Couloumbis, a veteran professor of international relations who is an expert on the Balkans and Greek foreign policy.

Yanis Varoufakis, a former finance minister who took Greece to the brink of a euro zone exit last year by battling creditors over bailout terms, says the crisis was symptomatic of a moral, political and economic trauma in the EU.

“Greece has been, as it always is, the weakest link in the organism and shows the biggest symptoms of disease,” he told Reuters.

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Migrants sleep on Victoria Square, where stranded refugees and migrants, most of them Afghans, find shelter in Athens, Greece, March 3, 2016. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

Migrants sleep on Victoria Square, where stranded refugees and migrants, most of them Afghans, find shelter in Athens, Greece, March 3, 2016. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

CRISIS IN A CRISIS

The initial response from the public has been an outpouring of generosity towards stranded migrants, although a neo-fascist party, Golden Dawn, which advocates forcing immigrants out of Greece, has captured 7 percent of the vote in recent elections.

The migrant crisis threatens a nascent economic turnaround forecast in Greece from the second half of 2016, after six years of deep recession. Business leaders and the central bank have warned that the uncertainty could be a drag on the economy.

The main uncertainty factor is stalled negotiations between Athens and its creditors – the euro zone, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

A first review of economic reforms under the bailout plan agreed last August, which Greece wants concluded fast to move on to debt relief talks, has been held up by disagreement among the lenders over how much more Athens needs to save in public spending, notably on pensions.

Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos insisted on Thursday that cuts in basic pensions were a “red line” for the government.

Publicly at least, nobody is making linkages between the refugee crisis and the bailout review or discussing trade-offs between the two, which are being handled separately.

“It is certainly not my intention to say, ‘look, I have a refugee crisis and that gives me leeway to operate beyond the framework of the (bailout) agreement’,” Tsipras said in a television interview this week. “The agreement will be kept.”

One of the most hawkish creditors, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told Reuters that while the EU should give Greece humanitarian aid, the bailout programme must be kept separate.

Greece is funded till July when it faces bond repayments to the ECB, so there is no immediate financial pressure.

But a worsening migrant flow could further complicate Tsipras’ attempts to sell painful bailout reforms to a public which already feels maltreated by its EU partners.

And some policymakers in Brussels, Paris and even Berlin acknowledge that having averted a Greek exit from the euro last year, this would be the worst time for another Greek financial meltdown or political upheaval.

Greeks don’t need much prompting to take to the streets. Mass protests are a regular feature in a volatile country of 11 million where pensions have been cut 11 times since 2010.

Pollster Panagopoulos said he doubted the dual crisis would topple the government, but Tsipras might call another election — after two general elections and a referendum last year — if he felt in a deadlock.

Stranded refugees and migrants, most of them Afghans, are seen on Victoria Square in Athens, Greece, March 3, 2016. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

Stranded refugees and migrants, most of them Afghans, are seen on Victoria Square in Athens, Greece, March 3, 2016. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

CRISIS HOVERS OVER BREXIT

In mid-February, Greece briefly threatened not to sign off on final agreements at an EU summit on amending Britain’s membership terms unless Athens won assurances that EU states would not shut their borders. They did so anyway.

Now Tsipras has hinted at using the veto threat again to ensure his country does not become a holding pen for migrants.

“What I am seeking is the best possible outcome for Greece. Even if it means, to achieve that, using all tools provided for under (EU) conventions,” the leftist prime minister said in a television interview this week when asked if he could veto a deal between the EU and Turkey at a summit next week.

How Greece and the migrant crisis are handled may resonate at the other end of the continent in Britain, where voters will decide in a June 23 referendum whether to stay in the bloc.

James Ker-Lindsay, a Balkans expert at the London School of Economics, said leftist academics in Britain – a small but influential group typically supportive of the EU – were so dismayed by Brussels’ treatment of Greece in 2015 that it would not take much to alienate them completely.

“If it looks like a double dose harsh treatment, the euroscepticism which is coming in very strong from right-wing parties across the EU could start being repeated on the left, but for a very different reason,” Ker-Lindsay said.

Copyright Reuters 2016

(Writing by Michele Kambas; Editing by Paul Taylor and Mark John)

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Analysis: In crisis, interests trump European values

 

By Paul Taylor
January, 2016

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Europe is torn between upholding its values and pursuing its interests in the multiple crises over refugees, challenges to the rule of law, relations with Russia and Turkey, and Britain’s membership that are shaking the European Union.

Political and economic interests are mostly prevailing over the EU’s declared values and governance standards, but it is not clear that the outcomes are any more effective.

Migrants queue to enter a tent that serves as a waiting room at the the Berlin Office of Health and Social Affairs (LAGESO), in Berlin, Germany, January 5, 2016. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

Migrants queue to enter a tent that serves as a waiting room at the the Berlin Office of Health and Social Affairs (LAGESO), in Berlin, Germany, January 5, 2016. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

 

To critics including human rights campaigners, Europe is too willing to betray its principles. To supporters, it is “growing up” and acting less naively.

“Politics is the art of the possible, but this is very different from the conception of Europe promoted for the last half century,” said Michael Leigh, senior adviser at the German Marshall Fund think-tank on transatlantic relations and a former senior European Commission official.

After more than a million migrants flooded into Europe last year, EU governments are divided on whether the bloc should give priority to its commitment to give asylum to refugees, or whether the main aim should be to toughen border controls and pay other countries to keep potential asylum-seekers at bay.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is under fire at home and in Europe for having taken the moral high ground by welcoming hundreds of thousands of refugees.

The sullen reluctance of most of the EU – not just central European states but core partners like France – to take in quotas of refugees to which they agreed months ago is driven by fear of a domestic political backlash.

Brussels faced another of those values-versus-interests dilemmas last week when the executive European Commission had to decide whether to launch disciplinary action over Polish laws shackling the constitutional court and the state media.

The EU was widely criticised for failing to act to uphold its values of democracy and the rule of law when Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban launched a similar crackdown in 2010 on the judiciary, the media and civil society organisations.

The Commission did take a first step on Poland but stressed it wanted to resolve the issue in dialogue with Warsaw and there was no likelihood of moving to sanctions such as suspending the country’s EU voting rights or access to funds.

Within the EU executive, officials are reluctant to appear to be lecturing a democratically elected Polish government as it goes about implementing campaign promises.

After big demonstrations in Warsaw in defence of liberal values, many in Brussels are pinning their hopes on the self-correcting strength of Polish democracy. Others are looking for someone else to take the lead such as the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, a pan-European constitutional watchdog.

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REASONS FOR EXPEDIENCY

Major EU members Germany and Britain have mostly kept quiet about Poland on pragmatic grounds. Berlin wants to preserve as cooperative a relationship as possible with the more nationalist government of Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s Law and Justice party.

London needs Polish goodwill as it renegotiates sensitive aspects of its own EU membership. Eager to curb the access of EU migrants – mostly Poles – to in-work welfare benefits to deter further mass immigration to Britain, it is the last country likely to criticise Warsaw over civil rights.

Indeed, Europe’s willingness to seek a formula to permit Britain to deny fellow EU citizens who enter its labour market the same benefits as its own nationals highlights a willingness to compromise on core values for the sake of expediency – in this case to try to ensure Britons vote to remain in the EU in a forthcoming referendum.

While the European Parliament, which sees itself as Europe’s conscience on human rights, is likely to criticise Poland in a special debate this week which itself is a form of political punishment, other EU bodies are cautious.

“With the migration crisis and … with Europe’s current fragility, it would be a big mistake to lose Poland,” a senior European Commission official said.

Similar mixed feelings guided the EU’s schizophrenic response to Russia’s 2014 seizure and annexation of Crimea and moves to destabilise eastern Ukraine.

While the bloc did agree under German leadership to impose sectoral sanctions that have pushed the Russian economy into recession and restricted its access to capital, there are charges of double standards when it comes to energy.

EU regulatory pressure forced Russia to cancel a South Stream gas pipeline it had planned to build to supply southern European countries bypassing Ukraine. But Germany is resisting pressure to desist from building a second sub-Baltic Nord Stream pipeline directly from Russia, also bypassing Kiev.

Italy, Bulgaria and others that lost out on South Stream accuse Berlin of hypocrisy, while Poland and Baltic states say doubling Nord Stream would negate EU support for Ukraine.

Germany is trying to sidestep the arguments about values and pointing to Moscow’s historic role as a reliable supplier.

With Turkey, the EU is drawing a veil over its criticism of deteriorating civil liberties, media freedom and judicial independence in a candidate country for the sake of its vital interest in stemming the refugee flow to Europe.

The European Commission delayed a critical report on Turkish compliance with EU standards until after parliamentary elections in November to avoid upsetting President Tayyip Erdogan.

EU officials acknowledge they have muted criticism of Ankara because they are desperate for Turkish help on the refugees.

Across north Africa, the EU is downplaying the human rights and good governance elements of its policy towards neighbours such as Egypt, Morocco and Algeria – a stumbling block to dealing with authoritarian rulers – due to Europe’s need for security cooperation against Islamist militants.

“We are not abandoning our values but we are perhaps being more pragmatic,” said an EU official involved in managing those relationships, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Copyright Reuters 2016

(Editing by Mark Potter)

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Heartbreak in starving Syrian town

Residents, who say they have received permission from the Syrian government to leave the besieged town, walk past Syrian Army soldiers as they depart after an aid convoy entered Madaya, Syria, January 11, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

Residents, who say they have received permission from the Syrian government to leave the besieged town, walk past Syrian Army soldiers as they depart after an aid convoy entered Madaya, Syria, January 11, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

By Lisa Barrington and Stephanie Nebehay
January 12, 2015

A toddler is held up to the camera in this still image taken from video said to be shot in Madaya on January 5, 2016. Handout via Social Media Website

A toddler is held up to the camera in this still image taken from video said to be shot in Madaya on January 5, 2016. Handout via Social Media Website

BEIRUT/GENEVA (Reuters) – Aid workers who reached a besieged Syrian town spoke of “heartbreaking” conditions being endured by emaciated and starving residents, with hundreds in need of specialised medical help.

An aid convoy on Monday brought the first food and medical relief for months to the western town of Madaya, where 40,000 people are trapped by encircling government forces and local doctors say some residents have starved to death.

“It’s really heartbreaking to see the situation of the people,” said Pawel Krzysiek of the International Committee of the Red Cross. “A while ago I was just approached by a little girl and her first question was did you bring food … we are really hungry.”

The World Health Organization said it had asked the Syrian government to allow it to send mobile clinics and medical teams to Madaya to assess the extent of malnutrition and evacuate the worst cases.

A local doctor said 300 to 400 people needed special medical care, according to Elizabeth Hoff, the WHO representative in Damascus who went into Madaya with the convoy.

“I am really alarmed,” Hoff told Reuters by telephone from Damascus, where she is based. [ID:nL8N14W1NZ]

“People gathered in the market place. You could see many were malnourished, starving. They were skinny, tired, severely distressed. There was no smile on anybody’s face. It is not what you see when you arrive with a convoy. The children I talked to said they had no strength to play.”

Aid convoys also delivered supplies to Foua and Kafraya, two villages in Idlib province encircled by rebels fighting the Syrian government.

FOOD WEAPON CONDEMNED

Western diplomats have condemned the use of food as a weapon of war, with the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, accusing the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of “grotesque starve-or-surrender tactics”.

Britain’s U.N. ambassador, Matthew Rycroft, said “wilfully impeding relief supply and access can constitute a violation of international humanitarian law”.

Legal experts said that could be construed as either a war crime or a crime against humanity, or both.

An independent U.N. commission of inquiry on Syria has long denounced use of starvation by both sides as a weapon of war, and has a list of suspected war criminals and units from all sides which is kept in a U.N. safe in Geneva.

However, there appears little immediate prospect of such a case being brought before the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague, since Syria is not a member and any referral to the court by the U.N. Security Council would have to overcome Russian reluctance.

The difficulties in getting aid into Madaya and other besieged places could also set back efforts to hold new peace talks on the five-year-old war in Syria, scheduled to take place under U.N. auspices in Geneva on Jan. 25.

A U.N. road map for the talks calls on the parties to allow aid agencies unhindered access throughout Syria, particularly in besieged and hard-to-reach areas.

An opposition grouping has told the United Nations that this must happen before the talks can begin, lending weight to suggestions that the humanitarian situation could make Jan. 25 a hard target to hit.

Negotiations to get into Madaya and the other two villages were lengthy and difficult. There are presently about 15 siege locations in Syria, where 450,000 people are trapped, the United Nations says.

The main opposition coordinator, Riad Hijab, said the United States had backtracked over the departure of President Bashar al-Assad as part of any settlement and this meant the opposition would face hard choices on whether to attend the talks.

MORE AID DUE THURSDAY

The WHO intends to return to Madaya on Thursday as part of a U.N. convoy with more medical and food supplies, Hoff said.

ICRC spokeswoman Dibeh Fakhr also said its next distribution is planned for Thursday. The aid consists of blankets and medicine as well as food.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group that monitors the war, said the people of Madaya had dismissed the head of the town’s military council because he tried to put the newly delivered aid in warehouses.

“The people refused to let it be put in warehouses and asked that it be distributed directly,” the Observatory said.

The U.N. refugee agency said local people in Madaya were involved unloading and distributing the food they received.

Asked if the United Nations was confident that the food wasn’t simply being intercepted and confiscated by fighters, UNHCR representative in Syria Sajjid Malik said: “The way it was handled we could see that it was a very broad community engagement … they assured us it was going to be distributed to the population.”

WHO’s Hoff said there had been no sign of fighters in Madaya except at checkpoints.

The Observatory said at least 300 people left the town and were taken by government forces to the Damascus region. The U.N. said its vehicles were not used to take anyone out of Madaya.

Hoff said medical staff had told her that mothers had no milk for breast-feeding and many malnourished people were too weak to leave their homes.

“I sent an immediate request to authorities for more supplies to be brought in. We are asking for mobile clinics and medical teams to be dispatched,” she said.

Doctors said patients preferred to spend what little money they had on food and not health care, Hoff said. Rice was on sale, but at $200 or $300 a kilo.

At a field hospital, Hoff said, doctors “had to give a drip to a patient outdoors because there was no room in the clinic”.

“An elderly lady had not eaten for 20 days, she was picked up unconscious on the street and brought in.”

Hoff said she had spoken with a severely malnourished man who could hardly talk, was totally dehydrated and had turned yellow in colour.

Copyright Reuters 2015

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Additional reporting by Tom Miles, Lisa Barrington, Kinda Makieh and Lou Charbonneau; Writing by Giles Elgood, editing by Peter Millership)

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Migrants to Europe via sea top one million in 2015

A Palestinian volunteer doctor helps Syrian refugees disembark a raft at a beach on the Greek island of Lesbos October 25, 2015. According to United Nations over half a million refugees and migrants have arrived by sea in Greece this year and the rate of arrivals is rising, in a rush to beat the onset of freezing winter. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis - RTX1T4FC

A Palestinian volunteer doctor helps Syrian refugees disembark a raft at a beach on the Greek island of Lesbos October 25, 2015. According to United Nations over half a million refugees and migrants have arrived by sea in Greece this year and the rate of arrivals is rising, in a rush to beat the onset of freezing winter. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis

By Sebastien Malo
December 31, 2015

NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – More than one million refugees and migrants braved the seas in 2015 seeking sanctuary in Europe, nearly five times more than in the previous year, the United Nations’ refugee agency said.

About half of the 1,000,573 men, women and children who made the perilous journey came from war-torn Syria, while Afghans accounted for roughly a fifth, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees agency said in a statement.

Most people who took to the water for Europe made their way on the Aegean Sea to Greece’s islands from Turkey, it said. From Greece, many travel to wealthier western Europe.

A photograph of a 3-year-old Syrian boy who drowned trying to reach Greece with his family in September appeared around the world, prompting sympathy and outrage over the refugee crisis.

Nearly 4,000 people were believed to have drowned before reaching shore, according to UNHCR.

Another major route for migrants was the Mediterranean Sea, separating North Africa and the Middle East from Europe, it said.

Europe is in the midst of its biggest migration crisis since World War Two, according to the United Nations.

The number of people forcibly displaced worldwide is likely to have surpassed 60 million this year, mainly driven by the war in Syria and other long-term conflicts, the United Nations has said.

The UNHCR said it tallied the number of migrants traveling by sea to Europe using figures from national authorities.

The figure in 2015 represents nearly five times the sea arrivals to Europe in 2014, recorded at roughly 216,000, the UNHCR said.

The number highlights the issue of people forced to flee in dangerous ways, said UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards.

“There are abundant regular, safe and legal means of managing this, and they need serious looking at,” he said.

Syria has been ravaged by a nearly five-year-old civil war, which has forced more than four million people to leave the country and killed some 250,000 people.

The influx of refugees and migrants has caused tensions across Europe, with some nations toughening border controls.

Copyright Reuters 2015

(Reporting by Sebastien Malo, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. The Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)

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Facts, and Opinions, this week

Howard Morry, left, brings his sheep in from the community pastures on the islands off Tors Cove, Newfoundland. Like generations of farmers and fisherman have been doing for hundreds of years. Life goes on in rural Newfoundland and the old ways are still practiced despite the loss of its historic economy and 50,000 people. See Greg Locke’s photo essay on his recent travels through Newfoundland and finding what he thought was lost.

F&O starts our week in easternmost Canada, with Greg Locke’s photo-essay about the resilience (and beauty) of rural Newfoundland. We focus onPope Francis’s visit to the Americas; relish the news about Africa’s bright spot of Ivory Coast; puzzle at a seemingly-crazy notion that orange juice could replace petroleum; and heed Tom Regan’s warning about a future of massive migration. Read about Corbynomics by its creator, and discover how in Alabama the womb is increasingly a crime scene. And then, take a leisurely stroll in the Arts, with Brian Brennan’s Brief Encounter on Elizabeth Taylor; the relationship between The Martian movie and Robinson Crusoe; and a tale about the Man Booker awards.

Note to readers: Please excuse some disarray. F&O is almost sorted from our major move; we’ll get the mess cleared away soon. Emailed access codes will be emailed to paid subscribers this weekend. Thank you for your support — and patience.

Dorothy's last meeting with Mother Teresa, in Dorothy's room at Maryhouse in Manhattan. Eileen Egan is on the left. The photo was taken in 1979, the year before Dorothy's death, by Bill Barrett. (Marquette University Archives via Jim Forest, Flickr)

Dorothy Day’s last meeting with Mother Teresa, 1979.

Pope Francis and Dorothy Day Economics. By Chuck Collins

Perhaps the most subversive part of Pope Francis’ speech to the United States Congress was in celebrating a little-known figure and thus reviving interest in what Dorothy Day stood for. And if we truly heed the teachings of Dorothy Day, we would radically transform our society and economy.

Pope to Canonize Friar Serra: a halo stained with blood?

Faith and tradition in Cuba. Report and Photo-essay

Watch Pope Francis’s address to the US Congress:

A reflection is seen in the window of a Woodin clothing store at the newly expanded Cap Sud mall in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, September 14, 2015. From Abidjan’s packed airport arrivals hall to the buildings mushrooming across the capital, Ivory Coast is booming, a rare African bright spot as the world’s biggest cocoa producer bounces back from a 2011 civil war. Buyers of luxury apartments include Ivorians living overseas, while promoters from Morocco, Turkey and China are attracted by tax breaks. Elections - the source of national unrest four years ago - are due in a month but there is no let-up in investment given expectations of an easy victory for incumbent Alassane Ouattara. The government predicts 9.6 percent growth this year, making the former French colony the standout performer on a continent hammered by a slump in commodity prices, capital outflows and tumbling currencies. REUTERS/Joe PenneyPICTURE 22 OF 33 FOR WIDER IMAGE STORY "IVORY COAST IS BOOMING". SEARCH "BOOMING PENNEY" FOR ALL IMAGES

Africa’s Bright Spot: Ivory Coast is booming. A  photo essay

From Abidjan airport’s packed arrivals hall to the hotels and plush villas mushrooming across the city, Ivory Coast is booming, a rare African bright spot as the world’s biggest cocoa producer bounces back from years of turmoil and civil war.

When the Womb is a Crime Scene. By Nina Martin

Women in Alabama are running afoul of the state’s “chemical endangerment of a child” statute, the United States’ toughest criminal law on prenatal drug use. Passed in 2006 as methamphetamine ravaged Alabama communities, the law targeted parents who turned their kitchens and garages into home-based drug labs, putting their children at peril. A woman can be charged with chemical endangerment from the earliest weeks of pregnancy, even if her baby is born perfectly healthy, even if her goal was to protect her baby from greater harm.

 

Crisis just beginning of massive migrations. By Tom Regan, Summoning Orenda columnist

The current migrant crisis is only the tip of the iceberg. What will drive the next great wave of refugees will not be political violence, but climate change.

Can orange peel could replace crude oil in plastics? By Marc Hutchby

New research indicates orange juice could have potential far beyond the breakfast table. The chemicals in orange peel could be used as new building blocks in products ranging from plastics to paracetamol – helping to break our reliance on crude oil.

Jeremy Corbyn, the new leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party greets supporters after speaking in a pub in London, Britain September 12, 2015. REUTERS/Neil Hall

REUTERS/Neil Hall

Jeremy Corbyn and the economics of the real world. By Richard Murphy

As the creator of what has come to be known as Corbynomics, I argue that my policies are at the core of tackling the austerity narrative.

ICYMI: JEREMY CORBYN: British Labour’s New Leader

Art Following Life: Elizabeth Taylor, a Brief Encounter by Brian Brennan (*subscription)

My very brief encounter with Elizabeth Taylor occurred late on a Saturday afternoon in May 1983 on a busy street in midtown Manhattan. A mounted New York City policeman was barking orders to the small crowd of about 30 waiting outside the stage door of the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on West 46th Street: “Everybody keep to the sidewalk and stay behind the barricades!” Why all the fuss?

Booker shortlist: bastion against death of the novel. By Stacy Gillis

The 2015 year’s Man Booker shortlist features two Britons, two Americans, one Jamaican and a Nigerian (four men and two women) and has been applauded for its diversity.

Photo: 20th Century Fox

Photo: 20th Century Fox

The Martian — and Robinson Crusoe, Matt Damon and Viola Davis. By Victoria Anderson

In The Martian, directed by Ridley Scott, Matt Damon plays Mark Watney, an astronaut left stranded on Mars. Alone, presumed dead, he must work out a way to survive. If this storyline sounds vaguely familiar, that’s because it is.

In Case You Missed It:

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal, of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by you, our readers. We do not carry advertising or “branded content,” or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Please support us with a contribution, below, of at least .27 per story, or a site pass for $1 per day or $20 per year. We’d be grateful if you’d help us spread the word.

 

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Migrants shut trains to UK; dead wash ashore in Turkey

Syrian refugees raise their arms in front of the railways station in Budapest, Hungary September 2, 2015. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh

Syrian refugees raise their arms in front of the railways station in Budapest, Hungary September 2, 2015. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh

 

By John Pullman and Marton Dunai 
September 2, 2015

CALAIS, France/BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hundreds of migrants poured onto the high-speed railway linking Paris with London near the French port of Calais, stranding passengers in darkness aboard Eurostar trains.

Thousands of miles away, the bodies of other migrants washed up on a Turkish beach. Photos of a drowned toddler face down in the surf spread quickly across the Internet, yet another searing image from Europe’s worst migration crisis since the 1990s Balkan wars.

Outside a Budapest train station, an angry crowd camped out demanding to board trains for Germany, as Europe’s asylum system crumbled under the strain of the influx.

Hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing wars, as well as economic migrants escaping poverty, have arrived in the European Union, confounding EU leaders and feeding the rise of right wing populists.

Thousands have drowned in the Mediterranean and many others have died travelling over land, including 71 people found in the back of an abandoned truck in Austria last week.

The EU’s executive European Commission promised to unveil a new policy next week to make it easier to process asylum claims, send those from safe countries home and distribute bona fide refugees among the bloc’s 28 members.

Meanwhile, authorities have struggled to enforce rules which ordinarily allow free movement within most of the EU but restrict travel by undocumented migrants.

Hundreds took to the tracks around France’s Calais-Frethun station, the latest target for those trying to reach Britain, which many regard as a better place to live than countries on the continent.

Rail operator SNCF was forced to halt services near the entrance to the Channel Tunnel. Three Eurostar trains were blocked overnight and eventually continued to London early on Wednesday, while two returned to their departure stations.

Passengers on one London-bound train, which stopped less than a mile (1.6 km) from the tunnel, were told at one point to keep quiet and listen for people on the roof. A helicopter with a searchlight circled as guards walked the tracks.

With the power out, passengers sat in stifling darkness for nearly four hours. A woman in business class wept.

Eurostar later pulled the train back to Calais, where passengers disembarked for fresh air and bottled water.

About 3,000 to 4,000 migrants from the Middle East, Asia and Africa camp near Calais, dodging police as they try to board trains and trucks heading to Britain through the tunnel or on ferries. They have disrupted passenger and freight transport between Britain and France throughout the summer.

A spokeswoman for Eurotunnel, which operates the railway tunnel beneath the channel, said that as security has been tightened at Calais port and the tunnel entrance, migrants have targeted Calais-Frethun, about 5 km (three miles) inland, beyond a zone controlled by Eurotunnel. 

A policeman stands in front of a door of a train ready to go to Munich, Germany, as he blocks migrants without the proper documentation from getting on it, at Brenner railway station, Italy May 28, 2015. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

A policeman stands in front of a door of a train ready to go to Munich, Germany, as he blocks migrants without the proper documentation from getting on it, at Brenner railway station, Italy May 28, 2015. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

 

CONFUSION

In Hungary, hundreds of migrants protested for a second day in front of Budapest’s Keleti Railway Terminus, after they were blocked by police from boarding trains bound for Germany. The police said they must go to camps set up in Hungary instead.

Germany, which is prepared to take by far the greatest number of refugees, has begun accepting asylum claims from Syrians regardless of where they entered the EU, even though undocumented migrants are barred from travel across the bloc. That has caused confusion for neighbouring countries, which have alternated between letting migrants through and halting them.

Italy announced new measures to add checks at its northern border in response to a German request.

Hungary is the main arrival point for those crossing the Balkans by land. A government spokesman said the country would observe EU rules which bar travel by those without valid documents.

“I want my freedom, I have been on the road for a very long time, and now I am in the European Union, and I want my freedom,” said Sanil Khan, 32, leader of a group of about 100 young men who marched behind a cardboard cutout Afghan flag in a tight formation near a mainly peaceful crowd at the station.

CONFOUNDED

The perils of the voyage were brought home by the images of a toddler in red t-shirt, blue shorts and tiny sneakers, washed up on the beach in Bodrum, Turkey. Turkish Police said at least 12 people had drowned from a group of 23 that had set off on two boats bound for a Greek island.

The migration crisis has confounded the EU, which is committed to the principle of accepting refugees fleeing real danger but has no mechanism to compel its 28 member states to share out the burden.

EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is expected to unveil proposals in an annual state-of-the-union address to the European parliament next week. Interior ministers hold an emergency meeting five days later.

The member states’ envoys to Brussels held their first weekly meeting after a summer break and some diplomats detected a somewhat less divided atmosphere on the migrant issue – but sharp differences remain on how to share out responsibilities.

“The mood has changed,” one said. “It was a little more consensual today. There was a realisation of the challenge Europe faces. There was more appetite to do more.”

Opinion across Europe has been increasingly polarised: German soccer fans have unveiled “refugees welcome” banners at matches, while a popular British newspaper columnist called migrants “cockroaches”.

Countries like Italy, Greece and Hungary, where most migrants arrive before heading for richer countries further north, say they need more help from EU partners.

Greece, where around 2,000 people have been arriving per day on beaches in dinghies, announced plans for a new operations centre and said it would improve conditions at camps the United Nations has described as “shameful”. Four Bulgarians and two Turkish citizens had been arrested for trafficking 103 migrants in trucks, it said.

Germany has been the most welcoming, with plans to accept hundreds of thousands of refugees this year alone, adding 3.3 billion euros ($3.7 billion) to its welfare bill next year. A record 104,460 asylum seekers arrived in Germany last month, and more than 400,000 migrants have registered in a German computer system since the start of the year.

But that has caused chaos for neighbours and threatened the Schengen system that abolished frontier checks among 26 European countries. Berlin says that despite its decision to accept asylum applications from Syrians who arrive elsewhere in the EU, other EU states must still demand migrants remain in the countries where they first register.

At the opposite end of the spectrum of openness is Britain, which so far has accepted just 216 Syrian refugees under a scheme in partnership with the United Nations, as well as around 5,000 that managed to reach Britain and apply on their own.

“We have taken a number of genuine asylum seekers from Syrian refugee camps, and we keep that under review, but we think the most important thing is to try to bring peace and stability to that part of the world,” Prime Minister David Cameron said. “I don’t think there is an answer that can be achieved simply by taking more and more refugees.”

(Writing by Peter Graff; editing by Philippa Fletcher and Anna Willard)

Hungarian police officers face migrants outside the Eastern railway station in Budapest, Hungary, September 2, 2015. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh

Hungarian police officers face migrants outside the Eastern railway station in Budapest, Hungary, September 2, 2015. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh

Merkel’s conservatives want limits on incentives for refugees — paper

BERLIN (Reuters) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives want to limit the financial incentives for refugees coming to the country as their numbers soar, a paper showed on Wednesday, underlining the strain the crisis is putting on Europe’s largest economy.

With relatively liberal asylum laws and generous benefits, Germany is the EU’s biggest recipient of people fleeing war in the Middle East and economic migrants from southeastern Europe.

A record 104,460 asylum seekers entered the country in August, and it expects about 800,000 people to file for asylum this year – four times last year’s level.

Leaders of the conservative parliamentary bloc made up of the Christian Democrats and their Bavarian allies, the Christian Social Union, wrote in a 12-point programme that dealing with the refugee crisis had become “the biggest domestic and foreign policy task of our time”.

They stressed that while Germany should accept civil war refugees, it needed to avoid attracting migrants who seek to benefit from its welfare system: “We don’t want immigrants coming due to our social security systems.”

Their paper is due to be discussed along with one by junior coalition partner the Social Democrats at a coalition meeting on Sunday.

The conservative leaders said refugees at centres for new arrivals should only get non-cash benefits in future. They slapped down a proposal from some federal states to hand out health cards that would entitle refugees to free treatment.

“Such a card would be very symbolic and create a strong incentive to apply for asylum because it would allow people to get free healthcare in Germany,” they said in the paper.

They rejected calls for asylum seekers to be given a work permit on the first day of their application, saying the time taken to process applications should be drastically reduced instead.

The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees should get an extra 1,000 employees in 2016 for that purpose, they said.

But in the paper they also emphasized the importance of taking in civil war refugees and people who have been granted asylum.

They said Germany’s national voluntary service – a scheme set up by the government in 2011 to place volunteers in a range of sectors – should be more involved and provide at least an extra 5,000 people to help deal with the crisis, while the government should increase support for the federal states and municipalities.

They called for more consistent deportation of economic refugees and rejected asylum seekers, saying the latter group should be banned from entering Germany for up to five years.

Bavarian state premier Horst Seehofer said his state, the first point of entry for many refugees in Germany, needed billions more in aid from the federal government.

(Reporting by Andreas Rinke; Writing by Michelle Martin; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

Migrants, hoping to cross into Hungary, walk along a railway track outside the village of Horgos in Serbia, towards the border it shares with Hungary, August 31, 2015. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

Migrants, hoping to cross into Hungary, walk along a railway track outside the village of Horgos in Serbia, towards the border it shares with Hungary, August 31, 2015. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

Twelve Syrians drown en route from Turkey to Greek Island

ANKARA (Reuters) – An image of a drowned toddler washed up on the beach in one of Turkey’s prime tourist resorts swept across social media on Wednesday after at least 12 presumed Syrian refugees died trying to reach the Greek island of Kos.

The picture showed a little boy wearing a bright red t-shirt and shorts lying face-down in the surf on a beach near the resort town of Bodrum. In a second image, a grim-faced policeman carries the body away.

Turkish media identified the boy as 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi, whose 5-year-old brother died on the same boat. Media reports said he was from the north Syrian town of Kobani near the Turkish border, scene of heavy fighting between Islamic State insurgents and Kurdish regional forces a few months ago.

The hashtag “KiyiyaVuranInsanlik” – “humanity washed ashore” – became the top trending topic on Twitter. In the first few hours after the accident, the image had been retweeted thousands of times.

The two boats, carrying a total of 23 people, had set off separately from the Akyarlar area of the Bodrum peninsula, a senior Turkish naval official said.

The confirmed dead included five children and one woman. Seven people were rescued and two reached the shore in life jackets. The official said hopes were fading of saving the two people still missing.

The army said its search and rescue teams had saved hundreds of migrants in the seas between Turkey and Greek islands over the last few days.

Tens of thousands of Syrians fleeing the war in their homeland have descended on Turkey’s Aegean coast this summer to board boats to Greece, their gateway to the European Union.

In a statement late on Wednesday, Turkey’s National Security Council voiced concern over the immigration policies of European countries.

“European countries’ worrying approach to the flow of migrants has caused sorrow and it has been evaluated that the issue should be taken up in a basic human rights perspective.” the statement said.

The official said almost 100 people in all had been rescued by Turkish vessels overnight as they tried to reach Kos.

Aid agencies estimate that, over the past month, about 2,000 people a day have been making the short crossing to Greece’s eastern islands on rubber dinghies.

A ship bringing about 1,800 migrants and refugees from one of the islands arrived at the port of Piraeus near Athens on Tuesday night, the Greek coastguard said.

Thousands of people, mainly Africans, have also been trying to reach Europe via boat from Libya to Italy. The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said four bodies had been pulled from the central Mediterranean on Tuesday and 781 migrants rescued, mostly from Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Senegal.

So far this year, more than 2,500 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean, the UNHCR said.

(Writing by Daren Butler and Ece Toksabay; Additional reporting by Crispian Balmer in Rome; Editing by Kevin Liffey/Hugh Lawson)

 

Migrants fall as they rush to cross into Macedonia after Macedonian police allowed a small group of people to pass through a passageway, as they try to regulate the flow of migrants at the Macedonian-Greek border September 2, 2015. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

Migrants fall as they rush to cross into Macedonia after Macedonian police allowed a small group of people to pass through a passageway, as they try to regulate the flow of migrants at the Macedonian-Greek border September 2, 2015. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

Truckers fear migrants crisis will lead to more border controls

By Martinne Geller

LONDON (Reuters) – Truckers caught up in Europe’s migrant crisis say business is increasingly disrupted by queues and stowaways, but they are far more worried governments will step up border controls.

If the border-free zone within Europe were to disintegrate or be scrapped, it would call into question not only the road haulage industry’s own, time-sensitive business model but the supply chains of industries across the continent, they say.

Faced with an influx of migrants, the European Union’s 28-nation members have accused one another of breaking the law with ad hoc measures and failing to join forces to agree a common, workable solution.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday that if Europe fails to agree to a fair distribution of refugees, the passport-free Schengen zone encompassing 26 European states would be called into question.

For DSV, the third largest road freight operator in Europe with more than 17,000 trucks on the roads every day, that would have a serious impact that would end up fuelling inflation.

“If they start to stop all the trucks it will be costly for everyone and the bill will be passed on to customers and in the end, goods will be more expensive,” said Soren Schmidt, head of DSV Road.

Jack Semple, Director of Policy for the UK’s Road Haulage Association said its more than 6,000 member companies were already feeling the impact in an industry built on just-in-time logistics, whether for car parts or fresh produce.

Strike action by ferry workers in June exacerbated the situation by creating extra long queues.

“Our members tell us they have incurred substantial and demonstrable losses but so too have their customers. We had one case where a load of high-grade steel plate was written off because migrants had got into the trailer because it was delayed and that impacted all sorts of supply chains,” Semple said.

 

“NEW ERA”

Britain is not a party to the Schengen agreement but its companies, with parts coming and going across the continent, would still be affected if it began to crumble.

“I think were Schengen to be scrapped, we’re into a completely new era,” Semple said. “There would have to be a rethinking of the European supply chain, stocking levels and that would obviously impact on cash flow.”

Cyrille Gibot, spokesman for Dutch logistics company TNT Express, said it was looking closely at what ministers or governments might decide. “For now we’re not going to speculate on what measures they could take,” he said.

Austria’s toughening of controls along its eastern borders last week, after 71 migrants were found dead in a truck, created long queues and raised the prospect other countries may follow suit. “If that is permanent, it could spread like wildfire,” said a senior European diplomat. “Schengen is under serious stress.” [IDnL5N118188]

For Jan Buczek, head of Poland’s Association of International Road Transport Carriers, talk of an end to Schengen, or its gradual erosion, brings back bitter memories of the time before Poland joined.

“There were passport, document controls, crosschecks, and all of this increased the waiting time to hours at best and days at worst,” he said.

Buczek, who represents 5,500 companies, says there are 27,000 companies in Poland doing international road haulage, employing 200,000 drivers.

“The cost of a driver-car set stands at around 200 euros a day, so it’s easy to imagine how much crossing borders used to cost us monthly or annually before we joined.”

The impact of any tightening of border controls would be far-reaching, he said.

“Suspending the free flow of people within the EU would definitely boost nationalistic tendencies, tendencies to close national markets, and that would limit international road transport, and have a really negative impact on the industry.”

Schaak Poppe, spokesman for the Dutch port of Rotterdam, Europe’s largest, from which much of Germany’s industrial output departs for China, said containers would be hardest hit.

The impact on bulk materials would be relatively small, since shipments of iron ore or oil were “relatively easy to deal with when it comes to customs”, he said.

The situation with containers would be far more serious, since shipments went in relatively small batches of 35 by train or inland barges, he said.

“Especially for trucking it would have quite an impact.”

A spokesman for Swiss logistics group Panalpina said 80 percent of its overland business in Europe takes place in the Schengen zone. Its abolition would mean more queues, delays, increased costs and possibly missed deadlines.

“If border controls are introduced and depending on how thorough they might be, this could have an impact on our business, and also on industry as a whole,” he said.

 

(Additional reporting by Ole Mikkelsen in COPENHAGEN, Wiktor Szary in WARSAW; Thomas Escritt in AMSTERDAM and Michael Shields in Zurich; writing by Philippa Fletcher; editing by Anna Willard)

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Hungarian police officers face migrants outside the Eastern railway station in BudapestA policeman stands in front of a door of a train ready to go to Munich at Brenner railway stationMigrants, hoping to cross into Hungary, walk along a railway track outside the village of Horgos in Serbia, towards the border it shares with HungaryMigrants fall as they rush to cross into Macedonia after Macedonian police allowed a small group of people to pass through a passageway, as they try to regulate the flow of migrants at the Macedonian-Greek borderIranian migrants approach the Greek island of Kos on a dinghyPeople stand in a queue to buy train tickets a the railway station in BudapestTravellers sit on a platform as they wait for a train to Austria at the railway station in BudapestMigrants stamped as they are gradually let in MacedoniaA policeman assists a family as migrants try to enter Macedonia near Gevgelija near the border with GreeceMigrants seeking asylum status queue outside the foreign office in BrusselsSyrian refugees raise their arms in front of the railways station of Budapest

 

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*Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal, of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by you, our readers. We do not carry advertising or “branded content,” or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Please support us, with a subscription (click here for our subscribe page) or a donation, and/or by spreading the word.

 

 

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Refugee, asylum seeker, migrant: what’s the difference?

By Reuters
August, 2015

26-year-old Azam from South Sudan stands on rail tracks after failing to flee to Italy in the western Greek town of Patras April 28, 2015. Afghan, Iranian and Sudanese immigrants, living precariously in abandoned factories in Patras, southwest Greece, try to stow away on nearby ferries to Italy as they seek a better life in Europe beyond crisis-hit Greece. Shocked after as many as 900 people drowned last month in the worst Mediterranean shipwreck in living memory, European Union leaders have agreed to triple funding for sea patrols, but disagreement persists on what to do with those fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East and Africa. Some in Patras are recent arrivals, often travelling via Turkey, others have languished in the empty buildings for as long as two years. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis

26-year-old Azam from South Sudan stands on rail tracks after failing to flee to Italy in the western Greek town of Patras April 28, 2015. Afghan, Iranian and Sudanese immigrants, living precariously in abandoned factories in Patras, southwest Greece, try to stow away on nearby ferries to Italy as they seek a better life in Europe beyond crisis-hit Greece. Shocked after as many as 900 people drowned last month in the worst Mediterranean shipwreck in living memory, European Union leaders have agreed to triple funding for sea patrols, but disagreement persists on what to do with those fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East and Africa. Some in Patras are recent arrivals, often travelling via Turkey, others have languished in the empty buildings for as long as two years. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Europe is grappling for answers to its worst refugee crisis since World War Two with the crisis testing the unity of the 28-nation European Union and fuelling anti-immigration sentiment.

European Union members are struggling to cope with record numbers of people fleeing war and poverty and heading across Europe by land and sea.

Nearly 300,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean this year with 2,373 migrants and refugees dying in a bid to reach Europe, nearly 300 more than the same period last year, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The terms refugee, asylum seeker and migrant are often used interchangeably to describe people on the move but there are major differences and different requirements regarding their treatment. These differences are explained below:

 

WHO IS A REFUGEE?

A refugee is a person who has left his or her own country fearing persecution because of race, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, according to the United Nations. Refugees have no protection from their own state. It can be their own government that is threatening to persecute them. Recognition as a refugee provides protection under international laws and conventions, mainly the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention, and support from the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) with food, shelter and safety.

 

WHAT ARE YOUR OPTIONS AS A REFUGEE?

Refugees have three options: repatriation to the country they fled from, integration into their host country, or resettlement in another country.

 

HOW MANY REFUGEES ARE THERE GLOBALLY?

The United Nations estimates there were 19.5 million refugees worldwide at the end of 2014, around 2.9 million more than in 2013. The number of people forcibly displaced was 59.5 million with 38.2 million displaced within their own country and known as internally displaced people (IDPs) with 1.8 million asylum seekers.

 

WHO IS AN ASYLUM SEEKER?

An asylum seeker is someone seeking refugee status. They have fled their country in search of international protection. Those judged to be neither refugees nor in need of any other form of international protection can be sent back to their home countries.

 

WHO IS A MIGRANT?

Migrants and refugees often travel in the same way but migrants choose to leave their country for reasons not related to persecution. They may want to study abroad, reunite with family, or improve the future economic prospects of themselves and their families. A migrant continues to enjoy the protection of his or her own government even when abroad. Refugees have to move to save their lives or preserve their freedom.

 

WHO IS AN ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT?

An illegal immigrant is often someone who has arrived in a country on a legal visa but overstays this visa. Asylum seekers can become illegal immigrants if their claim to refugee status fails and they remain in the host country.

 

WHAT ABOUT ECONOMIC MIGRANTS?

Migrants and refugees often travel in the same way but economic migrants choose to leave their country to improve the future economic prospects of themselves and their families. Refugees have to move to save their lives or preserve their freedom.

Copyright Thomson Reuters Foundation 2015

(Reporting By Astrid Zweynert and Alex Whiting,; Editing by Belinda Goldsmith and Tim Pearce.  Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change.)

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*Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal, of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by you, our readers. We do not carry advertising or “branded content,” or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Please support us, with a subscription (click here for our subscribe page) or a donation, and/or by spreading the word.

 

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Migrants: A Train Towards a New Life

Migrants arrive from Greece at the train station in Gevgelija near the Greek border with Macedonia July 30, 2015. Tens of thousands of migrants, mainly from the Middle East and Africa, use the Balkans route to get into the European Union, passing from Greece to Macedonia and Serbia and then to western Europe. After walking across the border into Macedonia to the small local station of Gevgelia, migrants pile onto an overcrowded four-carriage train in sweltering heat, young infants among them, to travel about 200 km north. Their aim: to enter Serbia on foot, another step in their uncertain search for a better life. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

Migrants arrive from Greece at the train station in Gevgelija near the Greek border with Macedonia July 30, 2015. Tens of thousands of migrants, mainly from the Middle East and Africa, use the Balkans route to get into the European Union, passing from Greece to Macedonia and Serbia and then to western Europe. After walking across the border into Macedonia to the small local station of Gevgelia, migrants pile onto an overcrowded four-carriage train in sweltering heat, young infants among them, to travel about 200 km north. Their aim: to enter Serbia on foot, another step in their uncertain search for a better life. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

 

By Ogden Reofilovski, Reuters
August, 2015

In the past month, an estimated 30,000 refugees have passed through Macedonia, another step in their uncertain search for a better life in western Europe. They all travel in harsh conditions and face many challenges en route.

The small railway station of Gevgelia, a stone’s throw from the border with Greece, has space for about 20 passengers to wait comfortably for a train heading north.

 

 

  

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal, of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by you, our readers. We do not carry advertising or “branded content,” or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Please support us, with a subscription (click here for our subscribe page) or a donation, and/or by spreading the word.

 

 

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