September 23-30, 2019

Migration Developments in Greece's Aegean Islands

Following the deadly fire in Moria the weekend prior, Greek authorities announced last Monday their intention to transfer 20.000 asylum seekers from the islands to the mainland as soon as possible, and to deport 10.000 failed asylum seekers to Turkey in the next 18 months. On the same day, authorities transferred 250 asylum seekers from Lesvos to camps in mainland Greece. Alternate Minister for Migration Koumoutsakos stated last week that migrant arrivals have jumped by 200% over the last five months, attributing the increase to: tougher policies against Syrian refugees in Turkey, increased fighting in Idlib, Iran’s settlement of Afghan refugees further west in its territory, and tensions between the EU and Turkey over Cypriot offshore resources. This Sunday, 570 asylum seekers were moved from Moria to a camp in Vaghiochori in northern Greece.

Sources: Politico Europe, Ekathimerini.

Migration Developments in Mainland Greece

Prime Minister Mitsotakis declared in Parliament that he believes the majority of arrivals are economic migrants, not refugees, and that his migration policy reforms will speed up refugee status determinations, improve coordination between government agencies providing services, improve border patrolling, and streamline transfers from the islands to the mainland. Greek authorities have also pledged to support communities on the mainland that receive arrivals from the islands, and have demanded that migration be put on the agenda of an EU Council summit on October 17 and 18. On Sunday, a Syrian toddler exited a refugee camp in the Peloponnese unsupervised and drowned at a nearby beach. Last week, after police evicted asylum seekers from a disused school in the Exarcheia neighborhood in Athens, parent associations of nearby schools, where asylum seekers had also been attending, protested the evictions and asked that the evicted students be allowed to return to their homes and school

Sources: Ekathimerini, Al Jazeera.

EU-Turkey Migration Diplomacy

EU and German leaders visited Turkey last week to attempt to reinvigorate the EU-Turkey deal, and reported frank discussions where Turkish officials dismissed this summer's increase in arrivals to Greece as insignificant and renewed demands for additional support from the EU. As this visit was ongoing, Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis charged that Turkey was fully capable of controlling migrant flows to Greece, and demanded that Turkey do more to enforce the EU-Turkey deal, while also calling for the EU to sanction member states that do not accept relocated asylum seekers from first countries of arrival. Returning from these discussions, German Interior Minister Seehofer stated that Europe could be at the doorstep of a migration wave even larger than that of 2015. On Sunday, the White House announced that it would allow Turkish forces to intervene in northeast Syria without any U.S. troop presence, as previously stipulated, which may lead to further instability in the Kurdish-majority region and renewed refugee flows. 

Sources: Deutsche-Welle, Reuters, the Guardian.

Mediterranean Search-and-Rescue

Moroccan authorities announced last Monday that they had found 5 bodies in the Atlantic Ocean, adding to 7 bodies found a few days prior after a shipwreck between Morocco’s Atlantic coast and the Spanish Canary Islands. Following this incident, UNHCR announced that the yearly death toll for asylum seekers trying to reach Europe from North Africa had surpassed 1.000 for the 6th year in a row. Later in the week, 20 Syrian asylum seekers were rescued off the coast of Cyprus and brought to a reception center in Nicosia. This Monday, the Italian Coast Guard rescued 22 asylum seekers on a sinking ship off the coast of Lampedusa that reportedly had 50 souls on board, and retrieved 9 bodies. On Sunday night, the Open Arms ship rescued 40 people in the Mediterranean, and stated that another 30 had drowned near Lampedusa. Over the weekend, reports emerged that a notorious human trafficker, denounced by the UN for the murders of multiple migrants at sea, attended a 2017 meeting of Italian and Libyan to define the deal that would lead the EU to finance the Libyan Coast Guard's deployment to interdict maritime crossings.

Sources: Al Jazeera, Reuters, the Cyprus Mail, ANSA, Open Arms, the Guardian. 

European Migration Trends

Germany announced this week that it would step up random border checks to intercept and discourage secondary movements by asylum seekers authorized to live in other European countries trying to enter Germany by irregular means. An NGO report found that Italy hosts Europe’s third-largest immigrant community, with 5.3 million regular immigrants making up 9% of Italy’s population, and that, since 2014, Italy’s native-born population decline has been roughly balanced by immigrant arrivals. Late last week, Italian Foreign Minister Di Maio announced a new asylum decree that will cut the time for refugee status determinations from 2 years to 4 months, which once in effect would allow Italy to remove rejected asylum seekers more quickly than it is currently capable of. Last Monday, Flemish political leaders announced a new government after over 3 months of coalition negotiations following regional elections in May, promising to toughen immigration laws and to make it more difficult for asylum seekers to settle in Flanders. Refugee support groups in the UK funded by AMIF accused the Home Office of committing a disgrace by reneging on a past pledge to sustain AMIF’s funding levels in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Sources: CNN, ANSA/InfoMigrants, Politico Europe, the Guardian.

Migrant Detention and Repatriation in Africa

Tanzania and Burundi began a planned mass repatriation of displaced Burundians, with the first 1.000 set to return to Burundi last week. Burundian officials insisted that all returns were voluntary. The first 600 returnees arrived in Burundi late in the week, though it is unclear if all 182.000 displaced Burundians in Tanzania will be willing to return, or how Tanzanian authorities will act if a large number refuse to return. On Monday, Tanzanian authorities repeated that returns would be voluntary, but also that stability had returned to Burundi as Burundian authorities prepare for a new election, even though Burundian refugees reported that conditions in camps have become more difficult as part of a supposed pressure campaign, and that many are fleeing to other neighboring countries rather than return to Burundi.

Sources: Reuters, Al Jazeera, the Guardian.

U.S. Migration Policy Developments

Last weekend, UN High Commissioner Grandi urged greater support for COMAR, Mexico’s refugee agency, which has become deluged with asylum petitions following the toughening of U.S. asylum policy. UNHCR’s current support for COMAR includes support opening 3 new offices and the deployment of 112 staff. A measure advanced early last week that will make it possible for U.S. authorities to collect DNA broadly from people in immigration detention. The Administration also announced a new rule late last week requiring that aspiring immigrants to the United States be able to demonstrate their ability to afford health insurance in order to obtain a visa. Analysis emerged last week comparing the recent agreements signed between the United States and Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador with the EU’s deals with Turkey, Libya, and Tunisia, and with Australia’s deals with Papua-New Guinea and Nauru to effectively offshore migration and asylum management. 

Sources: Reuters, Politico, the Hill, PRI.

Rohingya Refugee Crisis Developments

UNHCR released a report last week documenting that forced migration, and fatalities resulting from forced migration, are on the rise in Southeast Asia, mainly fueled by continued flight by Rohingya refugees. Late last week, reports emerged that a 12-year old Rohingya girl was raped by three Bangladeshi soldiers in a refugee camp in Cox’s Bazaar, and that despite the rights and protection guarantees all refugees are entitled to in Bangladesh, her family has struggled to obtain medical and psychological care or justice in the aftermath. Over the weekend, the Prime Ministers of India and Bangladesh called on Myanmar to make more efforts to guarantee safe return for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, decrying that conditions in refugee camps are dreadful, that Myanmar’s security guarantees to potential returnees are insufficient, and that new census exercises by authorities in Rakhine state are efforts to remove Rohingya communities from local administrative records. India also pledged greater support to Bangladesh to sustain existing refugee camps.

Sources: Al Jazeera, Deutsche-Welle the Myanmar Times.

Joel Hernàndez