Continued Migrant Fallout in Europe

The consequences of the European migrant crisis, which reached a peak in 2015, continue to reverberate throughout Europe.

As the BBC reported in March 2016, more than a million refugees, and possibly as many as 1.8 million, entered the continent that year, up from 280,000 the year before. In addition, 3,770 others died on the journey to Europe that year.

According to the network’s figures, 476,000 asylum claims were filed in Germany that year, and more than a million had entered the country. Of those claims, Germany granted asylum to just less than 141,000 migrants, Sweden an additional 32,215, and Italy 29,615. All told, 292,540 asylum claims were granted by countries of the European Union that year. The vast majority of asylum applicants in the European Union that year were from Syria, followed by Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kosovo.

The surge into Germany was blamed on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s order for “a temporary open-door asylum policy” intended to benefit a large number of Syrians fleeing the conflict in that country, although other nationals took advantage of that policy is well.

By 2016, the number of asylum applicants in Germany had dropped to 280,000; the country’s interior minister credited the decline to the closure in 2016 of a migration route through the Balkans and to a “migrant deal between the EU and Turkey”. As the Migration Policy Institute explained in March 2016:

At its core, the agreement aims to address the overwhelming flow of smuggled migrants and asylum seekers traveling across the Aegean from Turkey to the Greek islands by allowing Greece to return to Turkey “all new irregular migrants” arriving after March 20. In exchange, EU Member States will increase resettlement of Syrian refugees residing in Turkey, accelerate visa liberalization for Turkish nationals, and boost existing financial support for Turkey’s refugee population.

Due to Chancellor Merkel’s policies, migration became a significant issue in the lead-up to Germany’s September 24, 2017, federal election. The chancellor was quoted as stating: “Germany acted humanely and correctly in a very difficult situation. It was a question of averting a humanitarian catastrophe,” but admitted that the crisis “should never be repeated.”

Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the center-right Christian Social Union (CSU) lost 65 seats in that election, and the rival center-left Social Democratic Party (SDP) lost an additional 40. While the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) gained 80 seats, the big winner in the election was the “far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) “, which captured 94 seats and entered the Bundestag, its first seats in that body, largely on its “opposition to Angela Merkel’s open-door policy toward migrants.” As Deutsche Welle (the country’s “international broadcaster“) described that party’s position on immigration:

The AfD completely rejects Chancellor Angela Merkel’s welcoming policy toward refugees, particularly from the Arab world, which has seen more than 1.5 million migrants arrive in Germany since 2015. The party wants to change Germany’s constitution to get rid of the right to an individual hearing in asylum cases and would seek to immediately deport all those whose applications to remain in Germany are rejected, regardless of whether the countries to which deportees are sent back are safe or not. It also advocates foreigners who commit crimes in Germany being sentenced to prisons outside the country and treating minors as young as 12 as adults for certain offenses.

The AfD wants to seal the EU’s borders, institute rigorous identity checks along Germany’s national borders and set up holding camps abroad to prevent migrants from leaving for Germany in the first place. Although nominally favoring a targeted immigration policy along the Canadian model, lead candidate Alice Weidel has said the party wants to achieve “negative immigration” to Germany. It also argues that Germany is being “Islamified” and portrays itself as a bulwark for traditional Christian values.

Because there are a number of political parties, no one party is generally able to gain a majority in the parliament under its current electoral system, and therefore “it’s unusual for a chancellor to receive an absolute majority of votes from only his or her party.” To secure more than half of the votes, a larger party may team up with smaller parties to form a coalition government.

Since 2013 and up until the election, Germany was governed by a “grand coalition” between the CDU and the SPD. Prior to the election, however, SPD stated that it would not join another such coalition, because it was unable to name the new chancellor. Following the election, the SPD reportedly was “also reluctant to renew the coalition as it would leave the AfD as the largest opposition party, granting it a set of privileges including the right to respond first to the Chancellor and a boost in resources — an outcome none of the other parties want.”

Each of the German parties is identifiable by a specific color (black for CDU/CSU, red for SPD, light blue for AfD, red or magenta for the Left, yellow for the FDP, and green for the Greens), and so consequently the possible coalitions have colorful nicknames. Chancellor Merkel had been attempting to create a “‘Jamaica’ (Black-Yellow-Green)” coalition consisting of the CDU, FDP, and leftist Green party. That plan fell apart on Sunday November 19, 2017, however, when the FDP left the coalition talks, in part over immigration.

As CNN reported: “The parties failed to make progress on a number of policy areas — including the right for family members of refugees in Germany to join them there — and tensions had risen.” Politico stated that “it was [CSU leader Horst] Seehofer’s insistence that war refugees not be granted the right to bring relatives to Germany that bedeviled the talks more than any other issue.”

Deutsche Welle has summed up the “asylum policy” issues facing the parties in forming a coalition:

After years of considerable friction, the two leading conservative parties, the CDU and CSU, agreed to impose a “soft limit” on the number of asylum applicants that Germany would accept annually, even though this presents some considerable legal questions. The only trouble now is that both of the other potential coalition parties, the laissez-faire FDP and the Greens, are against such a limit.

Then there’s the perennially thorny issue of reuniting people who are granted “subsidiary protection” with their close relatives — allowing spouses, children or parents to fly in once an asylum request has been successful. The last German government, a coalition of the CDU/CSU and the Social Democrats, suspended reunifications until March 2018. Now, the CDU/CSU bloc seeks to extend that even further. The Greens want to do the exact opposite and lift the suspension entirely, while as a compromise the FDP has proposed a case-by-case assessment, with individual family members allowed to come to Germany in certain circumstances.

Chancellor Merkel is now reportedly leaning toward a “snap election”, requiring a new vote, in lieu of forming a minority government, but such a decision would be in the hands of Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German president. AfD may, however, benefit from snap elections, and the party reportedly seeks such a result.

Italy is dealing with issues resulting from the migrant crisis of its own. On November 19, 2017, the Wall Street Journal reported:

Italy is facing a daunting challenge integrating refugees, even as the pace of seaborne arrivals on its shores shows signs of slowing. Since 2012, 150,000 people have won refugee status in Italy, and another 155,000 asylum applications are pending.

Other European countries, such as Germany and Sweden, are wrestling with the same task. But Italy is doing so with a chronically weak economy, high unemployment and a state bureaucracy that often fails to provide a social safety net even for native-born Italians. And many refugees lack marketable skills, officials and aid groups say.

“It is a challenge that makes your hands shake,” said Domenico Manzione, an undersecretary at Italy’s Interior Ministry who is in charge of immigration.

That article states that, although the government has approved Italy’s “first-ever plan for integrating refugees in late September,” setting out “general priorities such as providing Italian lessons, work training and housing to people who obtain the right to live and work in the country,” the plan itself lacks a mechanism for meeting these goals.

Part of the problem, according to the Journal, is that Italy, a country that received few immigrants “until the early 1990s” was overwhelmed by “hundreds of thousands of migrants [who] have arrived in the country in recent years, most of them traveling by boat across the Mediterranean Sea.”

Another issue is that more recent entrants to Italy lack the skills and connections that enabled earlier immigrants to integrate more easily. As the Journal explains:

Previous waves of migrants to Italy included many individuals — often women — with education and work experience that allowed them to find employment relatively quickly. Those people, many of them from North Africa and Eastern Europe, relied on networks within their national and ethnic groups to find housing, jobs and support, with minimal intervention by the state, aid groups and government officials say.

By contrast, only about 16% of migrants in recent years have a high school degree, and 10% are illiterate, according to a 2016 survey by the International Organization for Migration, a United Nations agency. About 80% are African men, and a similar percentage are under 30.

The demographics of this group present a particular integration challenge to a country that, according to the CIA, had a high overall unemployment rate in 2016 of 11.7 percent, and a youth unemployment rate of 37.1 percent.

The recent decrease in migrants entering Italy, who come primarily seeking entry to that country via Libya, is credited to “tougher actions against smugglers operating in the Mediterranean,” according to an August 2017 article in the Guardian:

The fall in numbers making the crossing is likely to be the result of a more aggressive turnaround policy by the Libyan navy and coastguard, backed by improved boats and equipment — funded by the European Union — and Italian-led training. In the past few days, the Libyan coastguard has fired warning shots at one NGO ship seeking to rescue migrants. At a press conference on Thursday the Libyan navy underlined the message by telling foreign ships to stay outside Libya’s search and rescue zone.

The Guardian reported that these policies have had political ramifications in both Italy and Libya:

At home, the Italian government is pressing NGOs that are operating rescue ships to sign up to a 13-point code of conduct or else finds their ships barred from landing in Italian ports. So far four NGOs have agreed, with four refusing on the grounds it requires them to allow the Italian military to accompany their rescue missions, something they say is in breach of humanitarian principles.

A vociferous political campaign has claimed the NGOs are not humanitarians, but working in tandem with the smugglers to act as a taxi service for African economic migrants that want to start a more prosperous life in Europe. The allegations have not been proven, and each of the NGOs has rescued tens of thousands of migrants from drowning.…

In Libya, the UN-backed government of Fayez al-Sarraj is under attack for agreeing to allow Italian military ships help the Libyan coastguard combat smugglers inside Libyan coastal waters. The rival Libyan administration based in Tobruk claims the agreement violates Libya’s sovereignty and the Italian flag has been burned in Benghazi in protest. The scale of the protests has forced Rome to reduce the number of ships it sends. As the former colonial power, any perceived Italian interference in Libya is highly sensitive.

The commander of the eastern forces in Libya, Khalifa Haftar, has ordered his air force and naval force troops to bomb any foreign vessels in the Libyan waters but the Libyan navy seems prepared to defy the threats and cooperate with the Italian navy.

For migrants now stranded in Libya, however, the situation has become dire. CNN has reported that there are “slave auctions” in that country where migrants are sold as day laborers in order to pay smuggling fees. In addition, as coyotes along the U.S. Southwest border have done, Libyan smugglers have allegedly begun demanding ransom payments from the families of migrants.

The effects of migrant policies that were implemented with the best of intentions continue to reverberate, from the North Sea to Africa, resulting in turmoil, of one degree to another, for all involved.

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