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

Report Shows 10 Hate Crimes Per Day on Refugees in Germany in 2016

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

 

BERLIN, Germany — According to a report conducted by the German Interior Ministry, over 2,500 migrants in Germany were attacked in 2016 as the result of hate crimes.  560 migrants were injured, including 43 children.  Nearly 1,000 of the attacks were on migrant housing, and 217 of the attacks were on refugee organizations and volunteers.  An average of 10 attacks per day occured.

Police in Heidenau secure a refugee center from attacks from far-right extremists opposed to asylum accommodation (Photo Courtesy of The Independent)

In February 2016, a neo-Nazi was sentenced to eight years in jail for burning down a sports hall which housed refugees and caused $3.7 million worth of damage.  In another instance, a group of onlookers cheered as an asylum shelter in eastern Germany was engulfed in flames.

German authorities have recently tightened their refugee procedures, practicing stricter benefit rules, speeding up the process of removing failed asylum seekers, and paying refugees to voluntarily return to their home countries.  Though the country is still struggling with a backlog of asylum applications, Germany’s intake of refugees fell in 2016 to 280,000 from 890,000 in 2015.

The German government issued a statement strongly condemning the violence on refugees, commenting that “people who have fled their home country and seek protection in Germany have the right to expect safe shelter.”

A left-wing politician with the Die Linke party, Ulla Jelpke, blames the violence on far-right extremism, and called upon the government to take stronger action to eliminate the violence.  Jelpke asked whether “people have to die before the right-wing violence is considered a central domestic security problem and makes it to the top of the national policy agenda” and called on the government to “stop giving the impression through new tougher asylum laws that refugees are a threat.”

International human rights group Amnesty International commented that “there are structural problems in Germany with how it prevents and deals with hate crimes.”  Amnesty called for “better risk assessments, more protection at certain locations and prosecutions of these appalling racist crimes.”

2016 was the first year in which data was collected on the amount of attacks on refugees, so the total number of attacks cannot be compared with those of previous years.

 

For more information, please see:

Aljazeera — ’10 Attacks a Day’ Against Refugees, Shelters in 2016 — 26 February 2017

BBC — Germany Hate Crime: Nearly 10 Attacks a Day on Migrants in 2016 — 26 February 2017

The Independent — Nearly 10 Attacks on Refugees a Day in Germany in 2016 — 26 February 2017

International Business Times — Germany sees Hate Crimes Against Migrants Surge in 2016 to 3,500 — 26 February 2017

Italian Police Weaken Large Migrant-Smuggling Network

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

ROME, Italy —  The Italian Police have issued detention orders for 38 people suspected of smuggling migrants into Italy.  On Monday morning, 23 of the 38 people were taken into custody. Those arrested were were a mix of Eritreans, Ethiopians, and Italians.  The remaining suspects who have not yet been caught are all South African nationals.  These arrests occurred in ten different cities across Italy including Rome, Palermo, and Milan.

Police officers in Palermo escort a woman amidst a crackdown on a network smuggling migrants into Italy (Photo Courtesy of The Wall Street Journal)

Investigations last May led to the discovery of the large migrant-smuggling network between Italy and Africa.  According to the investigation, migrants paid smugglers through a system called ‘hawala’ which is a cash transfer system based entirely on trust, and leaves no paper trail.

Investigators were able to gain more insight into the network through the testimony of Nuredin Wehabrebi Atta, an Eritrean man who was arrested in 2014 for his connection to the smuggling network.  Atta’s testimony led to the police raid of a perfume store in central Rome.  Migrants would bring cash to the store and give the cash to two intermediaries who were then caught on film transferring the money to smugglers in several African nations via the hawala system.  At the perfume store, Italian police seized nearly €526,000 ($600,000) and $25,000 in cash, as well as an address book with the names and phone numbers of members involved in the migrant-smuggling network.  According to Atta, migrants who were unable to pay in cash for their voyages were involved in the removal and selling of their organs.

Smugglers utilize different schemes to illegally transport the migrants into Italy.  Palermo Prosecutor Francesco Lo Voi singled out the two main hubs of the network – Sicily and Rome.  The smugglers often organize fake events in Italy, such as weddings or family reunions, to allow the migrants to stay in the country legally.  Lo Voi also revealed another network scheme which involved legal migrants within Italy falsely stating that they had relatives who wanted to reach them in Italy.  This scheme operates under the Italian law which gives immediate family members who live outside of Italy permission to enter the country.  Smugglers will also scoop up migrants who were brought to Sicily after being rescued from a ship, so they can bring them to alleged family members in northern European countries.

For more information, please see:

ABC – Italy Detains 38 in Crackdown on Migrant Trafficking Ring — 4 July 2016

Daily Mail — Italian Police Smash Suspected People-Smuggling Ring, Arrest Dozens — 4 July 2016

Express — Italian Police Arrest 33 People Suspected of Smuggling Thousands of Migrants into Europe — 4 July 2016

The Telegraph — Migrants who Cannot Pay are being Sold for Organs, Smuggler Tells Italian Authorities — 4 July 2016

The Wall Street Journal — Italian Police Arrest 23 in Fresh Crackdown on Migrant Smuggling — 4 July 2016