The European Union (EU) on 26 September launched a programme to issue monthly electronic cash grants to benefit a million refugees in Turkey. The programme is pat of a deal under which Ankara will curb the numbers trying to reach Europe.
According to officials, the Emergency Social Safety Net (ESSN) will give refugees pre-paid cash cards for food, housing, schooling or medical expenses in Turkey. Speaking at a news conference, Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides disclosed “today we launch the biggest and largest humanitarian project the EU had ever supported. It will provide a basic source of income for one million Syrian refugees.” Stylianides further disclosed that “the ESSN is perfect proof of the EU’s commitment to tackle the challenge posed by the refugee crisis. It’s a clear example of the strong partnership of the EU and Turkey in finding together new, innovative ways to address one of the most important humanitarian challenges of our times.”
Earlier this year, EU member states approved a fund of 3 billion euros to help Turkey improve the living conditions for some 3 million Syrian migrants on its territory. The ESSN, which is part of that agreement, will be implemented by the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Turkish Red Crescent, in collaboration with the Turkish Ministry of Family and Social Policy and the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency. The EU is also funding other humanitarian projects in the country, however Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has accused the bloc of now following through on its financial pledges.
More than a million migrants entered the EU after crossing from Turkey to Greece by boat in 2015. Since Turkey agreed to prevent people from setting sail from its shores earlier this year, the numbers taking that route have fallen dramatically.
Last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called on the European Union (EU) and North African countries to do deals modelled on a controversial agreement that was signed with Turkey earlier this year to stem migrant flows to Europe.
Under the EU-Turkey agreement, Ankara agreed to take back one Syrian who made it to Greece in return for being allowed to send one from its massive refuge camps to the bloc in a more orderly redistribution programme. The agreement also pledges billions of euros in EU aid to Turkey, along with visa-free European travel for Turkish citizens and accelerated EU membership talks.
Last week, the German Chancellor told regional daily Neue Passauer Zeitung, “we must agree on similar deals with other countries, such as in North Africa, in order to get better control over the Mediterranean Sea refuge routes.” She further stated, “such agreements are also in the interest of the refugees themselves,” pointing to the huge risks that migrants take in crossing the Mediterranean in rickety vessels, as well as the large sums that they have to pay smugglers for the perilous sea passage. She added, “it is safer for them and there are good reasons for them to remain in Turkey, close to their homeland, where the cultural and language barriers are lower,” defending the agreement with Turkey as “correct, as before,” and stating, “we should work to ensure that it lasts.” Merkel has also urged EU partners to stop up to their responsibilities in taking in refuges who had arrived in Greece. Prior to the EU-Turkey agreement taking effect, some 45,000 refugees had arrived in Greece as Macedonia closed its borders to the migrants.
There are increasing concerns across the EU that the pact with Turkey to curb migrant flows could collapse as a rift deepens over Ankara’s crackdown following a failed coup. Turkey angrily rejects EU criticism that its post-putsch purges might violate rights norms that Ankara must meet under the agreement in return for visa-free travel for Turks and accelerated negotiations for bloc membership. Hungary has already announced that it will build a second fence along its southern border with Serbia that would effectively enable it to keep out any major new wave of migrants should the EU-Turkey agreement collapse.
The so-called Islamic State (IS) group confirmed on 30 August that one of its most prominent and longest-serving leaders, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, was killed in what appears to be an American air strike in Syria, effectively depriving the militant group of the man in charge of directing attacks overseas.
IS’ Amaq News Agency has reported that Adnani was killed “while surveying the operations to repel the military campaigns against Aleppo.” While IS holds territory in the province of Aleppo, it does not control the city, where rebels are fighting Syrian government forces. Amaq did not say how Adnani, born Taha Subhi Falaha in Syria’s Idlib Province in 1977, was killed, however it did publish a eulogy dated 29 August. A US defense official has also disclosed that the United States targeted Adnani in a Tuesday strike on a vehicle that was travelling in the Syrian town of al-Bab. The official however stopped short of confirming Adnani’s death. Such US assessments usually take several days to confirm and often lag behind official announcements made by militant groups.
Adnani was one of the last living senior members of IS, along with self-appointed caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who founded the group, which would later go on to seize huge parts of Iraq and Syria in 2014. He was a Syrian from Binish in Idlib, southwest of Aleppo, who pledged allegiance to IS’ predecessor, al-Qaeda, more than a decade ago. He was once imprisoned by US forces in Iraq. He was from a well-to-do background however he left Syria to travel to Iraq in order to fight US forces there after the 2003 invasion. He returned to his homeland after the start of its own civil war in 2011. According to the Brookings Institution, he once taught theology and law in jihadi training camps. He had been the chief propagandist for IS since he declared in a June 2014 statement that it was establishing a modern-day caliphate spanning swaths of territory that it had seized in Iraq and neighbouring Syria. As IS’ spokesman, Adnani was its most visible member, often being the face of the militant group, such as when he issued a message in May urging attacks on the US and Europe during the holy month of Ramadan and as in September 2014, when he called on supporters to kill Westerners throughout the world. As the group’s head of external operations, he was in charge of attacks overseas, including in Europe, which this year have become an increasingly important tactic for the group as its core Iraqi and Syrian territory has ben eroded by military losses. Under Adnani’s auspices, IS launched large-scale attacks, bombings and shootings on civilians in countries outside its core area of operations, including France, Belgium and Turkey. According to one US official, Adnani’s roles as propaganda chief and director of external operations had become “indistinguishable” because the group uses its online messages in order to recruit fighters and to provide instruction and inspiration for attacks.
According to SITE Intelligence monitoring group, which monitors jihadist activity online, a statement in the group’s al-Naba newspaper has indicated that the group reacted by stated that his death would not harm it and that his killers would face “torment,” adding “today, they rejoice for the killing…and then they will cry much when Allah will overpower them, with His permission, with affliction of the worst torment by the soldiers of Abu Muhammad and his brothers.” A US counter-terrorism official, who monitors IS, has disclosed that Adnani’s death will hurt the militants “in the area that increasingly concerns us as the group loses more and more of its caliphate and its financial base…and turns to mounting and inspiring more attacks in Europe, Southeast Asia and elsewhere.”
On the ground, advances by Iraq’s army and allied milita towards IS’ most important possession in the country, Mosul, have put the group under new pressure at a time when a US-backed coalition has cut its Syrian holdings off from the Turkish border. These setbacks have also been due to air strikes, which have killed a number of the group’s leaders and which have undermined its organizational ability and dampened its morale.
Amongst senior IS officials killed in air strikes this year are Abu Ali al-Anbari, Baghdadis’ formal deputy, and the group’s “minister of war,” Abu Omar al-Shishani.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban announced on 26 August that the country is planning to build a second fence on its southern border with Serbia that would effectively enable it to keep out any major new wave of migrants.
Orban told public radio that the new barrier, which is to be built alongside the existing one, would strengthen defences to respond if Turkey’s policy on migration changed, adding that if that occurred, hundreds of thousands could appear at Hungary’s border. He noted that “technical planning is under way to erect a more massive defence system next to the existing line of defence, which was built quickly (last year).” Orban also disclosed that Hungary had to prepare for the eventuality of a deal between Turkey and the European Union (EU) to clamp down on migration into Europe via the Balkans unravelling, adding, “then if it does not work with nice words, we will have to stop them with force, and we will do so.” He also indicated that Hungary would increase its police presence to 47,000 from 44,000, of which 3,000 will be constantly deployed on the southern border.
A razor-wire fence built along Hungary’s southern border with Serbia and Croatia has sharply reduced the flow of migrants. Last year, hundreds of thousands of migrants moved up from the Balkans towards northern Europe. That flow however has since been reduced to no more than a steady trickle.
Under the existing agreement between Turkey and the EU, Turkey has agreed to help stem the tide of illegal migrants into the bloc in exchange for aid and visa-free travel for Turkish nationals. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan however has repeatedly stated that European leader are not living up to their side of the pact.
On Friday, Orban and other prime ministers of Central European EU member states, the Visegrad countries, met in Warsaw along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Orban stated that the task for politicians was to change a decision by the EU to let in migrants and distribute them based on quotas among member states. Oran stated that “the question is whether Angela Merkel will be willing to change this flawed Brussels decision together with us. Whether she is willing to fight with us for this, or not.” Hunger is due to hold a referendum on 2 October on whether to accept any future EU quota system for resettling migrants.
Greece’s migration minister has told German daily Bild that the European Union (EU) needs to come up with an alternative plan for tackling migration after Turkey threatened to back out of an accord that was signed in March to help stem the influx of migrants to Europe.
Last week, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu stated that Ankara would back out of the agreement with the EU if the bloc did not deliver the promised visa-free travel for Turks in return. The 28-nation EU is dependent on Ankara to enforce the agreement, which has been responsible for sharply cutting the number of refugees and migrants leaving Turkish shores for Greece. Along with it major financial crisis, Greece has struggled to cope with the influx, with Greek Migration Minister Yannis Mouzalas telling Bild, “we are very concerned…We need, in any case, a Plan B.” Mouzalas also called for a fairer distribution of refugees in Europe, however some countries, including Hungary and Slovakia, have objected to a proposed EU quota system for resettling migrants across the bloc.
However on 1 August, German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel disclosed that Europe would not be blackmailed by Turkey in talks on visa liberalisation, which have been hampered by a dispute over Turkish anti-terrorism legislation and a crackdown in the wake of an abortive coup on 15 July.
On 2 August, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that more than 257,000 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea from the start of this year to 27 July, adding that at least 3,000 have died. The IOM further reported that these figures represent a sharp increase from the same period in 2015.