An international team of prosecutors investigating the downing of flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine on 17 July 2014 released its findings on 28 September, stating that the missile, which downed the plane “came from Russia.”
The Joint Investigation Team (JIT), which has been investigating the downing of flight MH17 over Ukraine and which includes prosecutors from Australia, Belgium, Malaysia and Ukraine, disclosed Wednesday that the Buk missile that hit the plane was transported from Russia. According to chief Dutch police investigator Wilbert Paulissen, “based on the criminal investigation, we have concluded that flight MH17 was downed by a Buk missile of the series 9M83 that came from the territory of the Russian Federation.” He added that the missile launcher, which fired one missile from the village of Pervomaysk, was later taken back to Russia. During a news conference, prosecutors played recordings from intercepted phone calls. They further stated that witnesses reported seeing the missile launcher move from Russia into Ukraine and presented pictures and videos, adding that the launch site was pinpointed by “many witnesses.” Prosecutors noted however that it was not clear whether an order had been given for fighters to launch the missile or whether they had acted independently. The investigative team has identified 100 people who were described as being of interest to them however they have not yet formally identified individual suspects.
An earlier inquiry by the Dutch Safety Board concluded that a Russian-made Buk missile had hit the plane. The Safety Board (DSB) report disclosed in October 2015 that the missile was fired from a 320 square kilometre area southeast of where the plane came down, with the head of the DSB disclosing that the area was under rebel control.
Pro-Russian rebels have been blamed by Ukraine and the West for shooting down the plane. At the time of the incident, Ukrainian government forces were involved in heavy fighting with pro-Russian separatists. Wednesday’s findings will challenge Moscow’s suggestion that the plane was brought by the Ukrainian military. In the past, Russia has denied any involvement, including allegations that the Buk missile launcher had come from Russian territory. Repeating those details on Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated, “first-hand radar data identified all flying objects, which could have been launched or were in the air over the territory controlled by rebels at the moment,” adding that “the data are clear-cut…there is no rocket. If there was a rocket, it could only have been fired from elsewhere.” Investigators have noted that they did not have access to the new radar images on which Moscow was basing its latest statements. Separatist rebels have also denied their involvement. Eduard Basurin, military deputy operational commander at the rebel Donetsk People’s Republic, told Interfax news agency, “we never had such air defense systems, not the people who could operate them…Therefore we could not have shot down the Boeing (flight MH17).”
After the attack, the European Union (EU) and the United States extended sanctions on Russia that had been initially introduced after the Ukraine conflict began. Earlier this week, Russia produced radar images, which it argued depicted that the plane could not have come from rebel-held areas. Critics however have pointed out that Russian officials have given three versions of events since the plane was shot down over two years ago.
All 298 people on board the Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 died when the plane broke apart in mid-air while it was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. Most of those on board were Dutch citizens.
On 26 September, French President Francois Hollande stated that France will completely shut down “the Jungle” migrant camp in Calais and called on London to help deal with the plight of thousands of people whose dream is ultimately to get to Britain.
Speaking during a visit to the northern port city, where as many as 10,000 migrants from war-torn countries like Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria live in squalor, President Hollande stated that “the situation is unacceptable and everyone here knows it,” adding, “we must dismantle the camp completely and definitively.” While France is planning to relocate the migrants in small groups across the country, right-wing opponents of the Socialist leader are raising the heat ahead of next year’s election, accusing the French leader of mismanaging a problem that is ultimately a British one.
While the migrants in Calais want to enter Britain, the UK government is arguing that migrants seeking asylum need to do so under European Union (EU) law in the country where they enter. Immigration was one of the main drivers of Britain’s vote in June to leave the EU, and it is likely that the issue will be a major factor in France’s presidential election next year. If France stopped trying to prevent migrants from entering Britain, Britain would ultimately find itself obliged to deal with the matter when asylum-seekers land on its shores a short distance by ferry or subsea train from France’s Calais coast. President Hollande reminded Britain of this, stating that he expects London to fully honour agreements on managing the flow of migrants. London and Paris have struck agreements on issues such as the recently begun construction of a giant wall on the approach road to Calais port in an attempt to try to stop migrants who attempt daily to board cargo trucks that are bound for Britain.
In response to Monday’s comments by the French leader, a British government spokesman stated that “what happens in the Jungle is ultimately a matter for the French authorities, what they choose to do with it.” The spokesman further disclosed that “our position is very clear: we remain committed to protecting the shared border that we have in Calais,” adding, ‘the work that we do with France to maintain the security of that border goes on and will go on, irrespective of what happens to the Jungle camp.”
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.
Paris, France is to open its first refugee camp in October in response to asylum seekers living in the city’s streets.
Mayor Anne Hidalgo has disclosed that a camp to house 400 men would be opened at a site in the north of the city in mid-October while a camp for women and children, in the suburb of Ivry-sur-Seine, will follow by the end of the year. Makeshift camps have appeared in public areas and streets in Paris, before being cleared by police. Hundreds of people dispersed in the city hours before the latest announcement. The two camps will cost an estimated 6.5 million euros (US $7.3 million; £5.4 million) and will provide shelter and medical care for asylum seekers for five to ten days.
Meanwhile investigators have disclosed that a planned centre for 200 asylum seekers in Essonne, which is located 30 km (20 miles) southwest of Paris, was set on fire overnight. The planned centre in Essonne, at Forges-les-Bains, was due to take in ninety people in October. French media have reported that a meeting on 5 September to discuss it was attended by protesters who dispersed late in the evening. The fire was reported to the authorities at about 2:30 local time (00:30 GMT). French police are expected to launch an investigation into the case of the fire.
Calls have also been mounting to close th emigrant camp in Calais, in northern France, near the entrance to the Channel Tunnel. Earlier in the week, protesters causes severe disruption as they blocked roads near the port town, demanding the closure of the “Jungle” camp. Hundreds formed a human chain, joined by farmers and local businesspeople. Calais mayor Natacha Bouchat, who was amongst the protesters, stated that things were “becoming unbearable and something needs to be done.” About 7,000 migrants now live in the “Jungle,” with many attempting to reach Britain in lorries crossing the Channel. In August, the authorities in France and the United Kingdom agreed to increase security and humanitarian aid in Calais and to further secure the Channel Tunnel.
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.