Against Hungarian and Slovakian resistance, ECJ upholds EU redistribution plan

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe

A police officer stands guard near the border between Serbia and Hungary. Image courtesy of of AP.

LUXEMBOURG, Luxembourg – The European Court of Justice (“ECJ”) ruled September 7th in favor of the European Union’s migrant redistribution scheme.

The case was brought by Hungary and Slovakia, two members of the European Union that have refused to take their share of the migrants flooding into the European continent.

The two countries have been at odds with the governing body of the EU since September 2015, when the relocation plan passed. EU member countries have since been required to take their portion of refugees and migrants from Greece and Italy.

Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, the Czech Republic, and Poland all voted against the relocation plan. Among the four countries, only Slovakia accepted any refugees, but not enough to meet their quota.

Migrant and refugee concerns have grown to become a largely divisive issue within the European Union.

Since the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union in June 2016, far-right politics has spread through the European mainland, mostly revolving around anti-immigration, isolationist policy points.

Heinz-Christian Strache, leader of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party, criticized the decision by the ECJ, saying that it is a way of taking away state “right[s] to self-determination and decision-making when it comes to receiving [asylum-seekers].”

Hungary’s foreign minister Peter Szijjarto took harsher words to describe the binding decision by the court, stating that “politics has raped European law and values.”

But the EU Migration Commissioner, Dimitris Avramopoulos, stands by the ECJ’s ruling. He called for unity on Twitter, saying it is “time to work in unity and implement solidarity in full.”

If the countries fail to comply with the binding order of the ECJ, the threat of further legal action hovers. The European Commission, the EU’s executive, has already brought action against Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic for their failure to comply with the mandatory relocation program.

They may face heavy fines if they do not comport with the new decision.

The fate of the asylum-seekers also rests in the hands of the five European Union member states who have resisted compliance.

Since August 30th, only 27,412 asylum seekers in Greece and Italy have been transferred to 24 other countries. The relocation scheme called for relocating 120,000.

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban has specifically called out Brussels, the center of the EU government, for actions he believe violate state sovereignty.

“[The question is raised] of principles: Whether we are an alliance of European free nations with the commission representing our interests, or a European empire which has its center in Brussels and which can issue such orders,” Mr. Orban said in a statement. “The real battle is just beginning.”

For more information, please see:

The Washington Post – Hungary and Slovakia challenged Europe’s refugee scheme. They just lots badly. – 8 September 2017

Al-Jazeera – Hungary to fight EU migrant quotas despite setback – 8 September 2017

Reuters – Austria’s Freedom Party Criticizes ECJ Ruling on Migrant Quotas – 7 September 2017

BBC News – Europe migrant crisis: EU court rejects quota challenge – 6 September 2017

The Guardian – EU court dismisses complaints by Hungary and Slovakia over refugee quotas – 6 September 2017

The New York Times – E.U. Countries Must Accept Their Share of Migrants, Court Rules – 6 September 2017

CNN – Top EU court rejects Hungary and Slovakia migrant relocation case – 6 September 2017

Merkel takes stronger stance against Turkey for detaining Germans

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe

German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Image courtesy of Getty Images.

BERLIN, Germany – German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for a decisive reaction to Turkey’s arrest of two more German citizens on Friday, September 1st.

The detainees are being held in Turkey on political charges. They join the twelve others who have been imprisoned in Ankara since February.

Chancellor Merkel believes that under the circumstances, it would be inappropriate to “carry out further discussions with Ankara about its participation in a European Union customs union.”

The Turkish government has been working towards becoming a European Union member for several years. As a result of political turmoil starting with the failed coup d’etat in 2016, the country has not succeeded with their bid.

Tensions between Turkey and Germany have been rising since the arrests of human rights activists in February. Deniz Yucel has been held for 200 days in Turkey on charges of “terror propaganda.”

Later, German human rights activist Peter Steudtner and nine others were detained and charged with “committing crimes in the name of a terrorist organization without being a member.”

And in early August, Dogan Akhanli, Turkish-German critic of Turkey’s President Erdogan, was arrested in Spain. It remains unclear on what charges Mr. Akhanli is being held on. German Member of Parliament Volker Beck requested that Mr. Akhanli not be extradited to Turkey.

Other Europeans have been arrested in Turkey over alleged involvement in last year’s failed coup against President Erdogan.

Leaders across Europe have denounced President Erdogan’s actions. Germany has already threatened to place travel and trade restrictions on Turkey if the activists are not released from detainment.

The newest arrests come at a turbulent time in German politics. On September 24th, Germans will go to the polls to either re-elect Chancellor Merkel for a fourth term or to replace her.

President Erdogan earlier in August called on Turkish-German voters to boycott the two main parties in Germany, the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats. Erdogan also suggested a boycott of the Green Party, believing them to be “enemies of Turkey.”

It remains to be seen what the results of the election will be. But Chancellor Merkel and her main opponent, Martin Schulz, do agree on one thing: suspending talks of Turkey’s EU customs union bid.

“This is a development of dramatic significance,” Mr. Schulz stated at a recent campaign event. “As part of [Erdogan’s] paranoid counter-putsch, he is reaching out for our citizens on the territory of European Union states.”

For more information, please see:

Al-Jazeera – Turkey detains two Germans in relation to Gulen probe – 1 September 2017

Reuters – Germany may ‘rethink’ Turkey ties after two more Germans detained: Merkel – 1 September 2017

CNN – Germany accuses Turkey of arresting 2 more Germans for “political reasons” – 1 September 2017

BBC News – Time to ‘rethink’ turkey relations, says Merkel – 1 September 2017

Reuters – German writer critical of Turkey’s Erdogan arrested in Spain – 19 August 2017

BBC News – Erdogan critic Dogan Akhanli arrested in Spain – 19 August 2017

BBC News – Q&A: Turkey and the EU – 6 October 2004

 

World leaders work together in Paris over migrant crisis

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe

African and European heads of state convened in Paris for discussions on the migrant crisis. Image courtesy of AFP.

PARIS, France – French President Emanuel Macron played host to several world leaders in Paris on August 28 in a meeting over the migrant crisis.

Present were leaders from four European countries that have faced a heavy influx of migrants from Africa in the past several years.

Germany, France, Italy, and Spain sent their heads of state to Paris for the meeting. Alongside them were the presidents of Niger, Chad, and the head of Libya’s unity government.

President Macron praised Italy for their recent policies on nongovernmental aid rescues off the Libyan coast.

Italy has been working with Libya’s coast guard to reduce the number of illegal migrants coming to their shores.

“[This] is a perfect example of what we are aiming for,” President Macron said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for “urgent” rethinking of the European asylum system to curb the instances of illicit human trafficking across the Mediterranean.

She called for a system of asylum in which there is a defining line between having “legitimate humanitarian needs” and “fleeing poverty”.

Some of the African leaders at the mini-summit disagreed with the Chancellor’s approach. Niger’s President Mahamadou argues that poverty is the driving force behind migration. That driving force, he says, is what leads people into trafficking.

President Mahamadou says that the crux of the issue will always be development. Without more resources, he says, this problem will continue to exist.

Chad’s President Idriss Deby Itno concurred with Niger. He cited “poverty and a lack of education” as the main reasons Africans make the perilous journey to Europe.

Despite instances of disagreement, the nations did come to one policy covenant.

Plans were proposed that would entail migrants seeking asylum to apply for protection while they remain in Africa. Currently, there is no policy in place preventing migrants from coming to the European mainland and subsequently applying for asylum where they land.

President Macron suggested that the European Union pay 60 million euros to Africa in order to help with the process.

This is one of the first times Europe has worked directly with Africa to stem the crisis.

President Macron insists that the only way the migrant crisis can be solved is by coherence between the European Union and the African Union.

“[The issue is a] problem that concerns us all and that cannot be solved without us all,” he said in a statement after the meeting was over.

“This is a challenge for the European Union and the African Union…that [needs to be approached] with solidarity, humanity, and efficiency.”

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Migrant crisis: Macron unveils plans after meeting – 28 August 2017

Washington Post – Can Africa thwart the next migration crisis? European leaders think so. – 28 August 2017

Al Jazeera – EU, African leaders back new plan over migrant crisis – 28 August 2017

The Guardian – African and European leaders agree action plan on migration crisis – 28 August 2017

The New York Times – European Leaders Look to Africa to Stem Migration – 28 August 2017

 

Battle over EU migrant crisis continues in Court of Justice

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe 

Migrants enter Austria and Hungary in 2015. Image courtesy of Getty Images.

LUXEMBOURG, Luxembourg – The European Court of Justice held against Asylum seekers from Syria and Afghanistan in a case on June 26.

The asylum seekers arrived in Croatia during the migrant crisis of 2015-2016. The families were then transported to Austria and Slovenia without proper visas. Many migrants seek to move north upon entry in places like Greece and Turkey. Countries in the north often have more resources to give refugees a better life.

Austria sought to deport the refugees back to Croatia under the Dublin rule.

Under the rule, individuals coming into Europe must seek asylum in the first country of entry. In this case, that country is Croatia.

While an exception to the rule does exist, the court held that it was not applicable in this case. Asylum seekers are only permitted to be transferred to another country under “exceptional circumstances.”

Despite the influx of migrants coming in to southern European countries, the court ruled that this did not constitute an “exceptional circumstance”.

Countries can also allow entry of an asylum seeker on humanitarian grounds. However, the court reasoned that the exception is not “tantamount to the issuing of a visa, even if [the admission] can be explained by exceptional circumstances characterized by a mass influx of displaced people into the EU”.

The asylum seekers will be deported to Croatia, where they can seek asylum there.

Austria is one of several northern European countries that has declined to take on refugees, despite the European Union’s quotas. The quotas were designed to offset the influx into poorer countries like Italy and Greece.

Hungary and Slovakia have also been against taking in refugees. The Court of Justice released an additional decision on July 26 that dismissed the two country’s claim against the mandatory relocation of asylum seekers.

The two nations sought to have the EU plan for relocation annulled. The arguments were rejected by the Advocate General of the court, Yves Bot.

“The contested decision automatically helps to relieve the considerable pressure on the asylum systems of Italy and Greece following the migration crisis of 2015,” he said. “[It is] thus appropriate for attaining the objective which it pursues.”

The relocation of migrants in the EU reached a “record level” in June, according to the European Commission. The EU continues to push forward against the countries that have failed to meet their obligations for accepting migrants.

The EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos is calling on EU member states to “step up efforts” to re-locate migrants from Italy.

“Relocation works if the political will is there,” he says, adding, “Italy still needs our support.”

For more information, please see: 

CNN – Court: Responsibility remains with state of entry – 26 July 2017

CNN – Lawyer urges dismissal of Hungary, Slovakia case – 26 July 2017

Reuters – Top EU court adviser deals blow to easterner’s refugee battle – 26 July 2017

The Guardian – EU court backs migrant deportations by Austria, Slovenia – 26 July 2017

Politico – Top court clears Austria, Slovenia of turning back asylum seekers – 26 July 2017

Washington Post – The Latest: EU migrant relocation reached record in June – 26 July 2017

BBC News – EU migrant crisis: Austria can deport Asylum seekers, court says – 26 July 2017

German Foreign Ministry advises against travel to Turkey

By: Sara Adams 
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe 

Germany’s Foreign Minister speaks at a press conference on July 20. Image courtesy of AP.

BERLIN, Germany – German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel advised citizens against traveling to Turkey, in a time of rising tension between the two countries.

The tension comes from Turkey’s actions since the failed coup against the government in 2016. In the past year, the Turkish government has arrested at least 50,000 people, including journalists and opposition members. Of those, 22 have been German citizens.

German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel was among those arrested in the past year. He was detained on terror charges in February. Six of the human rights activists arrested in June were jailed in Turkey on July 18 while they await trial.

The jailing of the activists is what some are saying triggered Berlin to issue a warning against travel to Turkey.

Relations between Turkey and Germany have become a key topic as Germany approaches a general election in September. Foreign Minister Gabriel is part of the Social Democrats, a rival to Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democrats.

Despite the rivalry, Chancellor Merkel has backed the Foreign Minister’s warning against traveling to Turkey.

Foreign Minister Gabriel is reviewing the relations between the two countries. While he says that Germany “wants Turkey to become part of the west,” he also urged that “it takes two to tango.”

Germany is considering review of an export credits system that benefits Turkey. They are also considering how to handle Turkey’s bid to join the European Union.

Meanwhile, Turkey has stated that it will “reciprocate” what it calls “blackmail and threats” by Berlin. The Turkish Foreign Ministry blames the tensions on Germany’s “double-standard attitude” toward Turkey.

Counsel of Europe’s Secretary General Throbjorn Jagland joins the calls for freeing the prisoners in Turkey.

“Human rights defenders should be able to fulfill their activities freely without being subject to arbitrary interferences by the authorities,” he said in a statement on June 20.

Continuing, the Secretary General stated that the lack of evidence against those jailed can lead to “fear, self-censorship and a chilling effect on Turkish civil society.”

Even so, the government in Ankara continues to hold steadfast to their own judicial processes.

A statement released by the Turkish Foreign Ministry insisted that “the independent Turkish judiciary must be trusted.”

The Ministry strongly condemned any suggestion that German citizens were not safe when traveling to Turkey.

“There is no such thing,” the Turkish Foreign Minister said. “as far as the judiciary could establish [those arrested were] not ordinary visitors, [but] people who engaged in illegal or suspicious activities.”

For more information, please see: 

BBC News – Germany warns citizens of Turkey risks amid arrests – 20 July 2017 

The Washington Post – The Latest: Turkey says it would reciprocate German threats – 20 July 2017 

Reuters – Germany warns citizens to be more careful in traveling to Turkey – 20 July 2017 

AP News – Germany raises pressure on Turkey after activists jailed – 20 July 2017 

LA Times – Turkish court jails an Amnesty director and 5 other human rights activists pending trial – 18 July 2017 

The Guardian – ‘Assault on freedom of expression’: Die Welt journalist’s arrest in Turkey – 28 February 2017  

Italian government suggests shutting borders to prevent migrant entry

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe 

Migrants travel through a Northern Italian city. Image courtesy of AP.

ROME, Italy – The Italian government has threatened to close its ports to prevent an influx of migrants from entering the country.

The suggestion to close ports was suggested by Italy’s EU ambassador, Maurizio Massari, to EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos during a meeting.

About 73,000 migrants have entered Italy this year. The migrants are mostly from North African countries.

For those who are not aided by a nonprofit group, the route is treacherous. Smugglers from Libya stow away migrants on small fishing boats. Nonprofit aid groups like Doctors Without Borders, as well as the EU’s official rescue operation Frontex, rescue stranded migrants, dropping them off on Italy’s shores.

The Italian Coast Guard also joins in rescue efforts.

Nearly 2,000 have died on the journey or gone missing. In one instance, Italian authorities arrested a man for allegedly torturing migrants in Libya as they waited for passage on a smuggler’s boat.

The consideration of closing ports comes after the arrival on Italian shores of 11,000 migrants over the course of five days.

The government has suggested refusing docking privileges to boats that are not carrying Italy’s flag.

Other countries have closed their borders to migrants to prevent them from moving north, out of Italy. Poland and Hungary have avoided taking on refugees to lessen Italy’s burden. And on June 26, police at the French-Italy border sprayed tear gas at the 400 migrants attempting to travel north.

Critics have described this threat as a “panic measure.” Mattia Toaldo, a Libya expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said that he would be “surprised if [this move] is legal.”

EU leaders agree that Italy and Greece need to receive more aid in managing incoming refugees and migrants.

The move to close ports would not impact the European Union’s Frontex program. The program is governed by international law and cannot be altered. The commissioner’s office will be in charge of leading discussions for the policy change. These discussions will likely include the nongovernmental humanitarian aid groups.

For more information, please see:

Associated Press – Italy Threatens to Close Ports to NGO Migrant Rescue Ships – 28 June 2017

The Washington Post – World Digest: June 28, 2017 – 28 June 2017

BBC News – Migrant crisis: Italy threatens to shut ports – 28 June 2017

The Guardian – Italy considers closing its ports to boats carrying migrants – 28 June 2017

ABC News – The Latest: Aid group fears for migrants at Italy border – 27 June 2017

Reuters – Italian police use tear gas on migrants trying to enter France – 26 June 2017