On 13 July, the European Commission proposed more unified European Union (EU) asylum rules in what is the latest bid to stop people waiting for refugee status moving around the bloc and disrupting its passport-free zone.
Last year, in an unprecedented wave of migration, 1.3 million people reached the European continent, with most ignoring legal restrictions and instead opting to trek from the Mediterranean coast to apply for asylum in Germany. This prompted some EU countries to suspend the Schengen Area system, which allows free passage between most EU states.
The new proposal would standardize refugee reception facilities across the bloc and unify the level of state support that they can get, setting common rules on residence permits, travel papers, access to jobs, schools, social welfare and healthcare. It would grant prospective refugees swifter rights to work, however it would also place more obligations on them, effectively meaning that if they do not cooperate with the authorities or head to an EU state of their choice rather than staying put, their asylum application could be jeopardized. The Commission has stated that the five-year waiting period after which refugees are eligible for long-term residence would be started if they move from their designated country. According to EU Migration Commissioner Dimitis Avramopoulos, “the change will create a genuine common asylum procedure,” adding that “at the same time, we set clear obligations and duties for asylum seekers to prevent secondary movements and abuse of procedures.”
The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR has already indicated that it has concerns about the new rules, stating that the new system must not lower standards of protection and asylum.
The plan, which will be reviewed by EU governments and the European Parliament, comes after Brussels proposed in May a system for distributing asylum seekers, an idea that has been opposed by eastern EU states, which refuse to accept refugees. The Commission has reported that only 3,056 people have so far been relocated under the scheme that was meant for 160,000 people. Both Hungary and Slovakia have challenged the system in the courts.
In the wake of a train stabbing, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere has warned that Germans should be prepared for further attacks carried out by small groups and radicalized “lone wolves.”
On 18 July, five people were wounded, two critically, by a 17-year-old who went on the rampage on a train in Wurzburg in the southern state of Bavaria. According to witnesses, the attacker, who has been named as Muhammad Riyadh, screamed “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) three times. Riyadh, who arrived in Germany last year as an unaccompanied migrant, was shot dead holding an axe and a knife. A video has since emerged, in which he states that he was a soldier of the so-called Islamic State (IS) group. Through its news agency IS has claimed that the teenager was a follower. Authorities found a hand-painted IS flag in his room.
Riyadh had only just moved to a foster family in Wurzburg from a refugee centre at Ochsenfurt, which is located south of Frankfurt. He was described as a quiet boy who had had a work placement in a bakery. He apparently did not display any radical behaviour. Questions however have been raised about whether he was really from Afghanistan, with reports emerging that a Pakistani document was found in his room. It is common knowledge that Afghan refugees are more likely to be given asylum in Germany than irregular migrants from Pakistan, so there have been many cases of migrants pretending to come from Afghanistan. Furthermore, several clues to his origin have also emerged from the video that he filmed before he carried out the attack on the region al train near his home. His use of the Pashto language suggests that he spent at least some time in Pakistan, because of his choice of words. When speaking of Syria, Riyadh chose to use the word Sham, a word that is commonly used in Pakistan. In Afghanistan, Pashto speakers would say Shuria. Furthermore, his choice of term for army is also key as he states, Fauj, which is common in Pakistan, rather than Aurdu, which is the word that is used in Afghanistan.
Interior Minister de Maiziere has since reported that the teenager had been “incited” by IS propaganda, adding however that there was no evidence that he was following the militant group’s orders. Furthermore, Riyadh was unknown to German intelligence agencies and no concrete link has yet been established with IS. The minister has warned that while the government is doing all it can in order to prevent such attacks, there could be no guarantee. The minister described Monday night’s attack as “perhaps half-way between running amok and terror,” adding that “in Germany, we must also expect attacks by small groups or radicalized ‘lone-wolf’ attackers.”
The attack has raised questions about Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door refugee policy. The attack is likely to deepen worries about so-called “lone wolf” attacks across Europe and could put political pressure on Merkel, who over the past year has welcomed hundreds of thousands of migrants to Germany. Unlike neighbouring France and Belgium, Germany in recent years has not been the victim of a major attack by Islamist militants, however security officials have disclosed that they have thwarted a large number of plots.
An important, but often under-discussed aspect of Europe’s migrant crisis is the specific roles played by criminal organizations. In a rare development, the Italian Government announcd that an Eritrean national named Mered Medhanie was now in their custody. He had previously been detained in Sudan back in May, before being formally extradited to Italy. In contrast to the political divisions that existed for much of the crisis, the UK’s National Crime Agency and Italian prosecutors worked together closely. The BBC reported that the NCA obtained specific information about Medhanie’s presence in Sudan that made the arrest possible. Italian prosecutors have alleged that Medhanie, along with an Ethiopian accomplice, ran one of the largest human-traffic organizations transporting migrants across the Mediterranean Sea. As with many of the human traffickers, he was suspected of having a blatant disregard for safety, including packing hundreds of migrants on to unseaworthy boats. The Italian investigation, based out of the Sicilian city of Palermo, has argued that Medhanie was directly connected with the sinking of a boat off the island of Lampedusa in October 2013. At least 359 migrants died after the boat, travelling from Libya to Italy, capsized suddenly.
Though Mered Medhanie’s arrest is an important development, it does not change the larger, tragic trend in human trafficking. The Red Crescent reported on June 2 that at least 100 migrants died after their boat capsized off the Libyan coast (exact numbers differ, with 100 being the conservative estimate). Libya’s Coast Guard is largely viewed as lacking the proper resources, personnel and equipment to handle the current crisis. As bodies wash ashore on Libya’s coastline, the large number of maritime emergencies recently make it difficult to know which human remains were connected with an individual sinking. Though the Libyan Coast Guard has limited successes, such as intercepting 100 migrants on June 7, these are only a small percentage of the total. Considerable international aid has been pledged to help Libya, but assistance has been hindered by internal conflict, corruption and governance problems. Until Libya’s political fragmentation is meaningfully addressed, it is difficult to see a comprehensive strategy being successful.
On 31 May, the mayor of the French capital announced that a camp for migrants is to be set up in the northern region of Paris within the next six weeks.
Anne Hidalgo announced the plans on Tuesday, with officials disclosing that the new camp in Paris is expected to provide both day facilities and overnight accommodation. Speaking to reporters, the Socialist mayor disclosed that “we are going to work extra hard on this,” adding that the exact location of the “humanitarian camp” would be revealed in the next few days after an inspection of possible sites. She also indicated that the current situation was no longer “tenable,” citing a makeshift camp that had sprung up in the north of Paris in the fast few days, which is now home to 800 people. She added that the new camp would be modelled on one created near the northern port of Calais to take people from the unofficial “jungle” encampment. Hundreds of migrants have been camping rough in the capital city.
International crime-fighting agencies Interpol and Europol reported on Tuesday that people smugglers have made over US $5 billion from the wave of migration into southern Europe last year.
A report released by the two agencies disclosed that nine out of ten migrants and refugees who entered the European Union (EU) in 2015 relied on “facilitation services,” which comprised of mainly loose networks of criminals along the routes, noting that the proportion was likely to be even higher this year. The report further indicated that about 1 million migrants entered the EU in 2015, adding that most paid between 3,000 – 6,000 euros (US $3,400 – $6,800), so the average turnover was likely to be between US $5 billion and US $6 billion. According to the report, to launcher the money and integrate it into the legitimate economy, couriers carried large amounts of cash over borders while smugglers ran their proceeds through car dealerships, grocery stores, restaurants or transport companies. Furthermore, while the main organizers came from the same countries as the migrants, they often had EU residence permits or passports. The report states that “the basic structure of migrant smuggling networks includes leaders who coordinate activities along a given route, organizers who manage activities locally through personal contacts, and opportunistic low-level facilitators who mostly assist organizers and may assist in recruitment activities.” The report added that corrupt officials may let vehicles through border checks or release ships for bribes, as there was so much money in the trafficking trade. About 250 smuggling “hotspots,” often at railway stations, airports or coach stations, have been identified along the routes, in which of these 170 were inside the EU while 80 were located outside. The reports authors however found no evidence of fighting between criminal groups, noting however that larger criminal networks slowly took over smaller opportunistic ones, effectively leading to an oligopoly. Last year, the vast majority of migrants opted to take risky boat trips across the Mediterranean from Turkey or Libya, and then travelling on by road. The report states that around 800,000 were still in Libya waiting to travel to the EU, noting however that increasing border controls effectively mean that air travel is likely to become more attractive, with fraudulent documents rented out to migrants and then taken back by an accompanying facilitator. The report also indicates that migrant smuggling routes could be used to smuggle drugs or guns, adding that there is a growing concern that radicalized foreign fighters could also use these routes in order to enter the EU. The report however adds that there currently is no concrete data yet to suggest that militant groups consistently relied on or cooperated with organized crime groups.