INNSBRUCK, Austria, July 12, 2018 (News Wires) — The top security officials of Germany, Italy and Austria are touting their hard line on migration issues, saying Europe needs to protect its exterior borders and crack down on human smuggling.
Germany's Horst Seehofer held talks with his Austrian and Italian counterparts, Herbert Kickl and Matteo Salvini, Thursday morning ahead of a wider meeting of European Union interior ministers.
Kickl says the group wants "to send a clear message to the world, and especially to the traffickers, that it won't be possible anymore in the future, shouldn't be possible anymore to step on European soil if you don't have a right to protection."
Seehofer says the ministers, all hardliners on migration, are seeking European solutions, but "all three of us know that this is going to be a Herculean task."
BERLIN, July 10, 2018 (News Wires) - Germany's top security official on Tuesday unveiled his new plan on controlling and limiting migration, which he called a "turning point" in the country's asylum policy.
The main goals of the 63-point "migration master plan" include the quick deportation of people living in Germany whose asylum applications have been rejected, who already registered for asylum in another European country or who have a criminal record, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer told reporters in Berlin.
Seehofer, who has long pushed Chancellor Angela Merkel to take a harder line against migrants, said the new plan also envisions placing all asylum-seekers in big centers to have their applications processed there. Asylum-seekers currently are mostly distributed to small asylum homes across the country, though some states have already introduced centers where hundreds of applicants need to stay for months while awaiting decisions.
The new plan also foresees that asylum applicants who previously registered in another EU country will be taken directly back to where they first entered the EU - primarily Greece and Italy.
That issue had led to a clash between Seehofer and Merkel, who repeatedly insisted that Germany shouldn't act unilaterally by sending back asylum seekers to other European countries that would then have to bear the biggest burden of the influx. The controversy ended last week with a compromise in which Germany will have to make agreements with affected countries before sending back asylum seekers there.
"We prefer European solutions, but national solutions are not necessarily superfluous," Seehofer said.
More than 1 million migrants entered Germany in 2015-2015, most of them from war-torn countries like Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. While they initially received a friendly welcome in the country, the mood has turned and led to a backlash against migrants and helped fuel the rise of the nationalist Alternative for Germany. In the last two years, however, the numbers of newly arriving migrants in Germany have gone down sharply.
Seehofer's office reported Tuesday that the country saw a 16.4-percent decline in asylum applications in the first half of 2018 over the same period last year.
There were 93,316 formal applications from January through June, 18,300 fewer than in the first half of 2017. The largest group seeking asylum was from Syria, with 22,520 applications, followed by Iraq with 9,015 applications and Afghanistan with 6,222.
In the first six months, German authorities decided on 125,190 applications, down nearly 70 percent from the same period of 2017, an indication that the backlog of cases is starting to be cleared.
About 40,000 people were granted asylum or related protection, 45,000 were rejected and 40,000 cases were otherwise resolved, such as being withdrawn or sent to another European country for review.
TARIFA, Spain, July 7, 2018 (News Wires) - Spain has become the new main entry point for asylum-seekers fleeing Africa, an influx that European Union officials fear could exacerbate political tensions across the region over migration.
Around 19,000 asylum-seekers arrived in Spain in the first five months of this year, almost as many as arrived there in all of 2017, a record year, and eclipsing for the first time the numbers flowing through north Africa to Italy.
The surge has intensified in recent weeks as Italy's new government shut its ports to most asylum-seekers, rescue officials say.
With the EU struggling to contain dissent over migration policy, some officials in Brussels say they worry that Spain could become a new flash-point, even as overall numbers of arrivals into Europe from Africa are in sharp decline.
"We must not let it blow up," an EU diplomat said.
He said the Morocco-Spain route had been kept under control for years. "It's not dramatic for now, but we are keeping an eye on this one."
Spain's new socialist prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, has been welcoming, and accepted two boat-loads of asylum-seekers denied port entry by Italy even as the number of boats from Morocco also rose.
The asylum-seekers are arriving in mostly inflatable boats each week, often without enough fuel for the crossing, straining Spain's coastguard. Madrid is training more lifeguards to deal with the rising numbers, coastguard union officials say.
People-smugglers in Morocco use a rights activist to contact the coastguard, advising it when boats set off for Spain, said coastguard official Oriol Estrada.
"The people traffickers know that the lifeguards are going to come for them," said Estrada, whose vessel has rescued around 1,200 people so far this year, more than 80 percent of its total for 2017."They call to say that a certain boat has left such-and-such a coast at a certain time with however many people. They even give the names of those aboard."
A similar situation developed off Libya before Rome's recent crackdown, prompting Italy's ruling League party to accuse rescue ships of running a "taxi service".
Rescue officials working in the Strait of Gibraltar say more Asian migrants from countries like Pakistan and Sri Lanka are also crossing, another sign that smuggling networks are focusing more of their efforts on Spain.
Morocco is a destination in itself for those fleeing poverty and violence in sub-Saharan Africa, but it has become more of a stepping stone as people determined to reach Europe realize the Libya-Italy route may be worse than futile, refugees say.
"In Libya I saw migrants being fired at with live ammunition. A friend of mine was killed in front of my eyes by a Libyan teenager," said Guinea migrant Oumar Dialo, who tried and failed to reach Europe via Libya before ending up in Morocco.
"I would never recommend Libya even to my enemy."
GENEVA, June 29, 2018 (News Wires) - The Medecins Sans Frontieres charity on Friday denounced a new EU deal on migration, saying it appeared to be aimed at blocking even the most vulnerable people outside of the bloc.
"The only thing European states appear to have agreed on is to block people at the doorstep of Europe regardless of how vulnerable they are, or what horrors they are escaping," MSF's emergencies chief Karline Kleijer said in a statement Friday.
She also accused the deal of aiming to "demonise non-governmental search and rescue operations."
Her comments came after EU leaders sealed a deal following marathon talks overnight in Brussels.
The 28 leaders agreed to consider setting up "disembarkation platforms" outside the bloc, most likely in North Africa, in a bid to discourage migrants boarding EU-bound smuggler boats.
No third country has so far offered to host these reception centres, where authorities would distinguish between irregular migrants and asylum seekers admissible into the EU.
According to the EU deal, member countries could also set up migrant processing centres -- but only on a voluntary basis -- to determine whether the arrivals returned home as economic migrants or were admitted as refugees in willing states.
Kleijer was especially critical of the likelihood that migrants would be sent to chaos-wracked Libya.
"Without batting an eyelid, they have formalised - through financing and training - the use of the Libyan Coast Guard to intercept people and return them to Libya," she said.
"European governments do this fully in the knowledge that these people will be sent to arbitrary detention and subject to extreme abuse."
Kleijer warned that the EU's "actions block and obstruct us from doing the work EU governments are failing to do, all the while dehumanising people in need."
BRUSSELS, June 29, 2018 (News Wires) - European leaders reached a deal on migration in the early hours of Friday after tortuous talks, but details were vague, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel conceded differences remained on an issue that threatens her political career.
After nine hours of often stormy talks, EU leaders agreed to share out refugees arriving in the bloc on a voluntary basis and create "controlled centres" inside the European Union to process asylum requests.
They also agreed to share responsibility for migrants rescued at sea, a key demand of Italy's new prime minister, Giuseppe Conte.
"Italy is not alone anymore," he said.
Conte, whose government includes the anti-establishment 5-Star movement and far- right League, had earlier refused to endorse a summit text on security and trade until other leaders had pledged to help Italy manage Mediterranean arrivals.
Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, whose League party campaigned to bar migrants fleeing Africa and expel those already in Italy, said he was "satisfied and proud of our government's results in Brussels".
"Finally Europe has been forced to discuss an Italian proposal... (and) finally Italy is no longer isolated and has returned to being a protagonist," he said in a statement.
The summit underscored how Europe's 2015 spike in immigration continues to haunt the bloc.
Although the traffic has slowed in recent years, there are still daily stories of disasters as migrants make the perilous crossing from Africa to Europe. The Libyan coastguard said around 100 were thought to have drowned off Tripoli on Friday.
United Nations aid agencies gave the EU deal a cautious welcome.
"We will welcome any outcome that leads to a more collaborative and harmonised approach to asylum, also one that has at its core and priority saving lives at sea," said Charlie Yaxley of the refugee agency UNHCR.
The EU summit took place in an atmosphere of political crisis, with Merkel under intense pressure at home to take a firmer stance on migration.
Speaking to reporters at 5 a.m. (03:00 GMT), she said it was a good signal that leaders had been able to agree a common text, but acknowledged the bloc still had "a lot of work to do to bridge the different views."
French President Emmanuel Macron, who has sharply criticised Italy for refusing to allow a migrant rescue ship into its ports, said European cooperation had "won the day".
In a final statement full of convoluted language designed to appease the divergent views, the leaders agreed to restrict migrant moves within the bloc but made clear virtually all of their pledges would be carried out on a "voluntary basis" by member states.
They also agreed to tighten their external border and increase financing for Turkey, Morocco and other North African states to prevent migration to Europe.
Merkel's coalition partner, the Christian Social Union (CSU), which has threatened to shut Bavaria's border to migrants - something that could trigger the collapse of her three-month-old government as well as the EU's Schengen free-travel zone - gave the summit deal a cautious welcome.
CSU lawmaker Hans Michelbach told ARD television areas of the deal would be "difficult to implement" and that Merkel would have to discuss it with CSU leader, Horst Seehofer, in the coming days.
But he underlined the importance of the CSU's ties with Merkel's CDU: "We want to work together. The alliance with the CDU has absolute priority".
Diplomats described a tense, tortuous meeting with small groups of leaders huddled together in a desperate bid to break the deadlock and avert the humiliation of heading home without an agreement.
Early in the evening, Merkel and Conte set aside 45 minutes for a chat, only to break it off after 20 minutes when the Italian rejected the German leader's overtures, according to diplomats.
"It is so toxic. They go into the room, clash, storm out, go back again, clash again. With no end in sight," said one exasperated diplomat as dawn approached.
"It's pure politics driving this, emotions are flying as high as back in 2015," another EU diplomat said.
Fewer than 45,000 migrants have made it to the European Union this year, according to UN data, a sharp drop from 2015 when many thousands were entering on a daily basis.
But the political tremors are still being felt across Europe, with populist, anti-immigrant parties on the rise in many countries.
Ex-communist easterners, led by Poland and Hungary, are still refusing to accept a share of the new arrivals to alleviate the burden on countries such as Italy and Greece.
BERLIN, June 29, 2018 (MENA) – Egypt's Speaker of the Egyptian House of Representatives Ali Abdel Aal said his current visit to Germany included several meetings with MPs and government officials that focused on boosting Cairo-Berlin relations in the economic and political fields as well as in combating illegal migration.
The meetings achieved satisfying outcome, Abdel Aal told MENA, noting that the German officials have expressed their unlimited support for Egypt as they believe that its stability affects the region’s stability.
Germany commends Egypt’s role in confronting terrorism and tightening its grip on land and sea borders to eradicate illegal migration into Europe, he said.
He added that the German side supports the Egyptian leadership and the steps it takes to achieve economic reform, improve infrastructure as well as to develop education and technical training.