Germany’s open acceptance of refugees have put a massive strain on the country. The recent talks to form a government were bogged down over issues of refuges, and a political party with connections in the far right has been gaining more power. Refugees have changed the political landscape of Germany.
After the brutal civil war in Syria many fled the country. They fled to Europe where they were not always accepted. Germany opened their arms to the refugees. There were scenes of people cheering when they arrived in train stations and the German government suspended the Dublin rules for Syrian refugees; The Dublin rules state that asylum seekers can only apply for asylum in the country that they arrive in. The move lessened the impact of the refugees on countries like Greece and Hungary, but put Germany’s infrastructure under a lot of pressure as over 150,000 refuges were accepted in 2015. As of 2017 Germany had accepted an estimative 1.5 million immigrants. The cost of settling and educating the refugees was put at 21 billion.
Angela Merkel championed the refugees and it won her praise but also a lot of criticism even from members of her own party. The election in 2017 reduced Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) vote by 8%. Many of the CDU were afraid of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) during the election as they were appealing to the right wing, as such they didn’t offer much protection to the refugees. In the aftermath of the election Merkel’s old coalition partners the Social Democratic Party (SDP) claimed it wouldn’t seek another coalition forcing the CDU to have to forge a government with two other parties. After four weeks negotiation failed, one of the major issues between them was asylum. The SDP later agreed to talk but asylum remained a contentious issue between the two parties. After much negotiation the parties agreed and formed the government 3 months after the election.
While many in Germany opened their arms to the refugees at first the sentiment has definitely soured over the years. In 2015 there was a sharp increase in attacks against refugee’s homes by far right groups. Germany also suffered several terrorist attacks from some of the refugees that had been accepted, fueling the political rise of the AfD. The far right linked party became the third largest party after they received 11% of the vote, an increase of 6% from the last election. The party has flirted with taboo subjects such as ‘reclaiming’ völkisch a word used by the Nazis when referring to the German race; they have also taken to referring to the press as Lügenpresse or lying press. The party owes its success to the influx of immigrants and is exposing a dark underbelly in Germany.
Refugees has changed Germany, in this period of change the country faces uncertainty and it is reflected in its political process that left them without a government for several months and a rising extreme party.
Last month both Iraq and Syria declared victory over the Islamic State with reports stating that ISIS lost 98 percent of the territory it once held in both regions. However, last Monday two suicide bombers managed to launch an attack in a busy market, in central Baghdad, killing at least 38 people and injuring hundreds. Although no terrorist group has claimed responsibility, the Islamic State group is suspected to be behind the bombing as it has claimed such attacks in the past. In December, the government announced that ISIS had been expelled from the Baghdad region and urban areas of Iraq that it controlled. Nevertheless, Jihadist elements are still active; on Saturday, a suicide bomb attack near a security checkpoint killed at least five people in northern Baghdad. There was also no immediate claim of responsibility for that bombing. The bombings come as Iraq gears up for elections in May, raising questions about the government’s readiness to deal with the security challenges posed by the group’s retreat to its insurgent roots. Analysts have warned that ISIS would increasingly turn to such tactics as it was pushed underground after losing territory on both Iraq and Syria.
On the other hand, in Syria a government bombardment killed 17 civilians on Saturday across the besieged opposition enclave of Eastern Ghouta- which has been under government siege since 2013. The United Nations has said about 500 people are in critical condition inside Eastern Ghouta and need to be evacuated for urgent medical treatment. In the first 14 days of the year, more than 30 children were killed in Eastern Ghouta, a report by UNICEF found. Last week, at least 25 civilians were reported killed in air strikes on two towns in rebel-held Eastern Ghouta. The air raids are believed to be part of the government’s assault on rebel-held positions in Eastern Ghouta, a neighbourhood near Damascus. A missile was also fired last week in Syria’s Idlib province at a makeshift camp for displaced people from the nearby Hama province. In the past week, tens of thousands of civilians in the north-western Idlib province have been uprooted, many of them for a second or third time, by Russian and Syrian airstrikes. In total, more than 200,000 people have fled. Last week, aid workers told BBC that at least 10 hospitals in rebel-held areas of Syria had suffered direct air or artillery attacks within a 10-day period.
And while the battle against the rebels continues with more people suffering catastrophic consequences, experts both in and outside the U.S. government warn that ISIS remains a lethal threat, as it demonstrated by a double suicide bombing in Baghdad on Monday. Hisham al-Hashimi, an adviser to the Iraqi government in its battle against ISIS, told NBC News that while the number of active fighters on the battlefield is probably in the range of 1,000 to 1,500, the actual number of ISIS-loyalists in Iraq and Syria is closer to 10,000. In the meantime, the manhunt for ISIS leader Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi continues across Iraq and Syria with the US looking optimistic of his location.
A few days ago, the US army announced the troop and military personnel will continue their presence in both Iraq and Syria in order to ensure the regional stability. This announcement comes amid growing dissatisfaction towards the US- led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria which have resulted, according to reports, in thousands of civilian casualties- 31 times more civilians than the number of the casualties stated by the US army. But news broke on 13 January that the US was helping the Syrian Democratic Forces (an alliance of militias in northern and eastern Syria dominated by the Kurdish YPG) build a new “border security force”- an announcement that enraged Turkey which considers the force to be a “terror army”.
Meanwhile, Turkey since the 20th January has begun assault operations on Afrin, aiming to clear the Kurdish forces from the region. Nonetheless, a siege in Afrin could have further humanitarian consequences in Syria- Kurdish officials saying that there could be 1 million people living in the area. And while Russia has stated that will not be part of the conflict, it is suspected that since Russia controls the territory’s airspace therefore Turkey’s airstrikes must have had Russian clearance.
However, while the battle against ISIS is coming to an end, neither Iraq or Syria can count themselves as whole even with the territory reclaimed. In Iraq, the Kurdish minority in the country’s northeast voted to break away from Iraq and with the upcoming elections concern is rising. In Syria, the six-year long civil war continues with only a shaky vision of an end in sight. On the other hand, both ISIS-free Iraq and Syria will likely feature more powerful actors such as Iran, Saudi Arabia or Israel competing for greater influence with the US. The Syrian government stated on Thursday that a U.S. military presence in Syria represented an “aggression” against Syrian authority, and vowed to free the country from any “illegitimate” foreign presence. At the same time the humanitarian crisis deepens with millions uprooted, several killed from airstrikes, and others succumbed from starvation or the freezing temperatures while trying to cross to Lebanon.
Tensions during the last three months between President Igor Dodon and the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova have escalated dramatically since Moldova and Russia have been embroiled in a series of political rows in 2017 leading to Moldovia recalling their ambassador from Russia on 18 December. Dodon is a vocal supporter of Russia and an opponent of his country’s relations with the European Union and NATO. Dodon has vowed to take Moldova into the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union, which includes Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Armenia and revoke Moldova’s association agreement with the European Union (EU). The Moldovan parliament has taken a more pro-western stance and has been moving towards closer relations with the EU. Dodon has intentionally refused to carry out his required duties as president whenever the legislation or appointment would not favor a closer Russian-Moldovan relationship. On three occasions since October 2017, the Moldovan Constitutional Court has had to temporarily suspend Dodon from power to enact legally passed legislation, or ministerial appointments, by the Chisinau-based government.
On 5 January the court suspended Dodon’s power to enact legislation that would restrict Russian television broadcasts as foreign propaganda. Previously, the court ruled that Dodon can veto a bill only once and must approve the legislation if passed again. Dodon refused to comply with the judicial ruling and was found to be in violation of his duties. Lawmakers say the bill would prevent the dissemination of what they describe as “fake news” on foreign channels and would ban television channels from airing news and analytical programs from countries that have not signed up to a European broadcasting agreement, such as Russia.
On 2 January the court suspended Dodon’s powers due to a disagreement between him and the pro-Western government over ministerial appointments. Dodon had earlier blocked the government’s choice of new ministers in a reshuffle, accusing the nominees of incompetence and saying some had links to a notorious scandal in which around $1 billion was siphoned out of the Moldavan banking system.
On 24 October the Moldovan Constitutional Court ruled that Dodon could be temporarily suspended over his failure to fulfill his constitutional duties and for causing an institutional deadlock for his refusal to appoint Eugen Sturza as defence minister. Dodon refused to approve Sturza because he said the 32-year-old did not have the proper experience to serve as defence minister.
On December 21 Dodon told his supporters to refrain from “revolution” and wait for the upcoming elections next year to oust the current government because he has seen what revolutions can do in other countries. However, it is important to note that Russia has used the perceived perception of persecution of Russian minorities in former Soviet Union republics as an excuse for military action. It is possible that the underlying context of this statement was more of a veiled threat against the Chisinau government than a genuine plea to Dodon’s supporters.
Ecuador’s Vice-President Jorge Glas has been sentenced to six years in jail in connection to corruption at Brazilian construction company Odebrecht. Prosecutors say Glas received $13.5m (£10.2m) in bribes from the company from 2012-2016 in exchange for contracts.
Glas, who had served as Vice-President since May 2013, was relieved of his duties by President Moreno on the 3rd August 2017 when corruption allegations against Glas first began, with judicial investigations beginning 3 days after. Moreno was unable to relieve him of his position however as Glas obtained the position of Vice-President through popular vote.
Glas was first detained on 3rd October 2017 in order to prevent him from fleeing the country, and he remained incarcerated until and throughout his trial. Charges were officially brought against Glas on 8th November, with the National Court beginning his trial on the 24th along with 12 others accused in relation to the Odebrecht scheme. On 15th December, Glas was sentenced to 6 years in jail having been found guilty of accepting bribes from Odebrecht, alongside 6 others including his Uncle who was also found to be guilty. During the trial, prosecutors say Glas received bribe payments via his Uncle, Ricardo Rivera.
Former President Rafael Correa has denounced the sentence, saying the courts have imprisoned “an innocent”, and believes the trial against Glas has been politically motivated. Glas’s defence council, Eduardo Loor, announced after the sentencing that he will be appealing the 6-year sentence, and has called it “barbaric”. Glas continues to protest his innocence.
On the 17th of December, the President of Ecuador’s National Assembly, Jose Salgado, announced the country would be going forward with impeachment hearings of Glas. Days later, after receiving unanimous backing, Ecuador’s National Courts paved the way to begin proceedings into the dismissal of Glas from his position as despite his sentence he was refusing to step down as Vice-President. On the 27th, the impeachment of Glas took place, with Glas having 5 days to present written or oral exculpatory evidence to defend himself. The impeachment was, in the end, unnecessary in the removal of Glas from his position. On the 2nd January 2018 under Ecuador’s Constitution’s Article 146, Glas was stripped of his position after being unable to exercise his office for 90 days due to his incarceration. President Moreno has been given 15 days to put forward the names of three candidates for the position of Vice-President, but it is suspected he will do so well before the 15 days given.
Glas at present is the highest-ranking politician to be convicted in the scandal that has spread across much of Latin America, which is being called one of the biggest corporate corruption cases in history. Widespread protests have occurred across Latin America, with the scheme bringing issues of corruption to the forefront of prosecutors and the Medias agendas. Former CEO Marcelo Odebrecht is currently serving a 19-year jail term which began in 2016, and has since provided information to the authorities regarding others involvement in the scheme, including information that was used in Glas’s trial. Over 70 other Odebrecht executives have been jailed, with many of them offering information in exchange for more lenient sentences. At present, $785.5m worth of bribe payments have been admitted by various Latin American and two African countries, with a further $26.5m suspected.
There is no doubt, that South East Asian littoral states are sitting among the busiest maritime routes of recent decades. Half of the Earth’s population lives in the region, stretching from Japan across the busiest straits of Malacca and Singapore to the western ports of India and Pakistan, not to forget the thousands of islands of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines etc. The thousands of ships responsible for the shipping of various raw materials, manufactured goods, or providing living to people by fishing are concomitant to maritime piracy.
The actual number of crimes under the aegis of piracy is unknown, because all the global and regional organisations and regimes like the UN, the International Maritime Organisation or the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against ships in Asia’s (ReCAAP) Information Sharing Centre (ISC) rely on incidents which have been reported to them. Therefore, many of the small-scale crimes committed mostly against fishing dhows or private vessels remain unreported. According to the annual reports of the ISC, the number of attempted and actual crimes against ships increased until 2015 in the region and totalled in 203 incidents. Mainly, there are two types of attacks depending on the position of the ship, when it is at anchor or berth and when the ship is underway. In 2016 most violent acts of piracy happened in the territorial waters of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, especially around the island of Borneo and the area of the Sulu and Celebes Seas, between the islands of the Philippines and Borneo. The littoral waters of Gujarat province in Western India, the Malacca and Singapore Straits, the southern parts of Vietnam and the Sunda-Strait between the islands of Java and Sumatra in Indonesia are also among the affected areas. Last year, the total crimes topped at less than half of 2015, at 85 incidents. Comparing the first half of the year of 2017 with the same period of previous years shows a decreasing tendency in the number of crimes. Thanks to the efforts of regional states, the reported number of incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships is the lowest of the last ten years.
Littoral states continue to step up efforts in combatting incidents in the affected areas. Malaysian and Philippine maritime forces killed many militants and pirates in recent years. The Defence Ministers of Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia met at the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting in May 2016 and decided to finalise relevant agreements, especially the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) on maritime patrol, so all maritime crimes are addressed in a cooperative manner. On 19 June 2017, the Philippine Department of National Defence (DND) announced that Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines launched a trilateral patrol agreement. The agreement addresses the piracy incidents, armed robbery against ships, kidnapping of crew at sea and other maritime transnational crimes along the shared border of these three countries. The launch of the maritime patrol also included the establishment of three Maritime Command Centres located at Bongao in the Philippines, Tawau in Malaysia and Tarakan in Indonesia.
Although number of incidents is decreasing, the ReCAAP ISC reiterates its advice to all the captains and the crews of the ships. Always be alerted and vigilant and in case of an attempt to rob or board a ship, follow procedures, report the incident they were involved in and communicate with the littoral states’ enforcement agencies to assist them the best they can.