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.
Ukraine’s security service reported this month that it had blocked channels that were being used by jihadists travelling to fight with the so-called Islamic State (IS) group in Syria and neighbouring Iraq, adding that they detained an ‘IS recruiter’ from one of the former Soviet republics.
In a statement, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) disclosed that “the Ukrainian security service, prosecutor’s office, police and migration service have blocked several channels for the transit of foreign fighters to the IS international terrorist group throughout state’s territory,” adding that the discovery was made in a wave of security sweeps that were carried out across several major cities in the country. The SBU further reported that an apartment in the government-held northeastern city of Kharkiv was being used as a temporary shelter by alleged IS members who intended to travel to both Syria and Iraq. The statement says that “this ‘transit point’ had four nationals from Asian states,” adding, “two of them had been earlier deported from Turkey in connection with their involvement in terrorist activity.” The SBU also disclosed that they held several fake passports from various countries and that two of them had been waiting to receive forged Ukrainian documents so that they could enter Syria through Turkey. The Ukrainian service indicated that the four were being financed and assisted by foreign countries, however they did not reveal which ones, adding, “two of the foreigners have already been expelled from the territory of our state…Investigations into the other two are continuing.”
The SBU also disclosed that it had also detained an “IS recruiter from one of the former Soviet republics that was being sought by Interpol” pan-European police organization. It reported that security agents had detained another “IS supporter” in the Kiev region who had undergone training in “Syrian terrorist camps.” The individual, who has not been named, is facing a court hearing and has not yet been charged.
In January and June the SBU disclosed that it detained four alleged IS fighters headed for Europe from Central Asia and Russia.
Ukraine has been riven by a 27-month pro-Moscow insurgency in its industrial east that has claimed the lives of more than 9,500 people and left around 400 kilometres (250 miles) of its southeastern border with Russia under rebel control. Ukraine’s security service has been under increasing pressure to show its strength as the pro-Western government in Kiev ties to meet President Petro Poroshenko’s pledge to apply for EU membership by 2020. Some EU nations and leaders however have called the bid far too optimistic as Ukraine not only lacks control of its separatist east and the Russian-annexed Crimea peninsula, but it also remains riddled with other security threats. This includes what appears to be the increasing use of Ukraine and its porous borders to ship IS fighters to stage attacks in Europe or to joint he group in Syria and Iraq.
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Europe’s toughened borders are prompting migrants to switch their focus to the United States however their trek is being thwarted in Central America, where a bottleneck has formed.
The IOM has reported that in Costa Rica, a makeshift camp has sprung up, housing hundreds of Africans and Haitians. Elsewhere in the country, smaller numbers of Afghans and Pakistanis are biding their time to head north, with officials estimating that there are now 2,000 such migrants in the country. They are being stalled by Nicaragua, which eight months ago strictly closed its border to migrants without visas. The move was carried out in order to mainly stop the flow of thousands of US-bound Cubans through its territory. That closed-door policy however has also trapped what are being called “extra-continental” migrants – effectively meaning those who are coming from outside Latin America.
In the wake of the March 2016 agreement between the European Union (EU) and Turkey, which aims to send back migrants trying to reach Europe through Greece, coupled with eastern European states building barriers across their borders, the number of migrants in Costa Rica has increased. The IOM’s representative in Costa Rica, Roeland de Wilde, discloses that “we have documented cases of people telling us they chose this route to the United States or Canada because they felt that getting to Europe was too dangerous, that it was too difficult to enter Europe or the conditions in Europe weren’t what they hoped for,” adding that most of them seem to be coming through from Brazil and other South American countries that are facing declining economic situations.” Wilde further reported that the Pakistanis and Afghans, who account for around 10 percent of the migrants, are well-organized and often lay up in basic hotels, adding that most who states that they are from Africa are making do with plastic sheets strung up as shelter by the roadside.
The IOM however notes that not all of the latter are “extra-continental” migrants, although many pretend to be. According to Wilde, “more than half” of the migrants who present themselves as Africans are from Haiti, an impoverished Caribbean country with a predominately black population that speaks French. He adds that “they say they are Congolese, but when questioned they don’t know form which part of Congo they come from,” adding, “sometimes they say Kinshasa or Brazzaville, mixing up one Congo for the other. When asked which ethnicity they belong to, they have no idea.” The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), whose capital is Kinshasa, and the Republic of Congo, ruled from Brazzaville, are neighbours located in central Africa. While both use French, the former is riven by deadly ethnic violence in its east, increasing the odds of emigrants from there receiving asylum.
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.
Police in Italy arrested a Syrian man in the northern city of Genoa on 3 August on suspicion that he was planning to travel to his home country to join Islamist militants.
In a statement, police reported that their anti-terrorism unit had arrested an unemployed man, 23, who they said was planning to return to Syria to join the rebel group Nusra Front. He was arrested on suspicion of supporting international terrorism. Police have further disclosed that they are investigating the arrested man’s relationship with other foreigners in the Genoa area in order to determine whether they were trying to recruit fighters. They have disclosed that there is currently no indication that attacks in Italy were being planned.
The news comes just a day after Interior Minister Angelino Alfano disclosed that Italy had expelled a 26-year-old Pakistani man who officials have said supported the so-called Islamic State (IS) group and was planning to go to Syria to join Islamist militants.
The Syrian Islamist rebel group, which emerged at the beginning of the Syrian conflict, re-branded itself at the end of July this year as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham and cut ties with international jihadist network al-Qaeda.