Several aid organizations urged EU leaders on April 14 to stop deportations of migrants from Greece to Turkey and to stop detaining asylum seekers. Oxfam, Norwegian Refugee Council and Solidarity Now took part in the joint letter. The deportations are part of a deal struck last month between Turkey and EU leaders in which all migrants crossing the Aegean into Greece would be sent back to Turkey. The rights groups report that thousands of migrants are being held in detention camps in Greece and many are returned to Turkey without proper asylum hearings. The "fast-track" expedited asylum hearings adopted by Greece are also of concern, they say, because important decisions and examinations concerning asylum are made by understaffed agencies in only one day. The rights groups are also calling for EU to open all camps housing asylum seekers, increase the number of asylum officers in Greece, and improve security in the facilities.
It was certainly convenient for Serbian ultra-rightist Vojislav Seselj that the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) chose to convict his buddy Radovan Karadzic of genocide on March 24—the same day that Operation Allied Force, the NATO bombing campaign against Serbia, began in 1999. Seselj—leader of the Serbian Radical Party and a former paramilitary warlord, himself facing charges before The Hague-based tribunal—had already planned a rally in downtown Belgrade that day to commemorate the anniversary. Of course it became a rally in support of Karadzic, wartime leader of the Bosnian Serb Republic. "The criminal Hague, the false court of the Western powers, has condemned Karadzic to 40 years," Seselj railed to hundreds of gathered supporters. "They convicted him when he was innocent, only because he led the Serb people in Bosnia during a crucial moment." In another case of fascist pseudo-anti-fascism, he compared the European prisons holding Karadzic and other accused Serb war criminals to "Hitler's camps." To make it even better, many of his supporters bore the flag and regalia of the Chetniks—the World War II-era Serbian nationalist movement that collaborated with the Nazis after the German occupation of Yugoslavia in 1941. (The Independent, Radio B92)
The terror attacks on the airport and a subway station near the European Union headquarters in Brussels have left at least 34 dead, and some 170 injured. Amaq News Agency, an ISIS propaganda organ, issued a claim of responsibility. (Long War Journal) This was of course good news for the Republican presidential contenders in the US, helping to shift the debate from domestic economic suffering to the international jihadist threat. Ted Cruz wasted no time, saying in a statement: "We need to immediately halt the flow of refugees from countries with a significant al Qaida or ISIS presence. We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized." This was of course a call for bringing back the NYPD surveillance program that targeted Muslims before it was shut down in the wake of outcry and litigation. It was all the more galling that Cruz made his comment on a visit to New York City, where he was quickly blasted by Police Commissioner Bill Bratton. "If he's that short-sighted, I can understand why the American public would repudiate his efforts to run this great country," said Bratton. (Daily News)
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, expressed concerns March 8 for a proposed migrant exchange program between the EU and Turkey. The Joint Action Plan (PDF), was proposed to decrease human smuggling along the shores of southern Europe and to help alleviate the massive influx of refugees hosted by Turkey. The most controversial aspect of the deal is the objective "to resettle, for every Syrian readmitted by Turkey from Greek islands, another Syrian from Turkey to the EU Member States."
French police resumed their eviction of the Calais migrant camp known as "the Jungle" on March 1 after a night of violent clashes with camp residents. Riot police fired tear gas after migrants began throwing rocks, and at least 12 shacks were set ablaze. Those living in the camp, mainly from the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa, hope to cross the Channel. The government is promising to offer alternative shelter to all of those in the camp, said to number between 800 and 3,500, according to various estimates. Demolition crews reportedly left standing shacks that were clearly inhabited. (EuroNews, March 1; BBC News, Feb. 29) Aslo Feb. 29, Macedonian police fired tear-gas at a crowd of migrants who destroyed the barbed-wire fence on the Greek border using a makeshift battering ram. It is unclear if any migrants succeeded in crossing the border at Idomeni, where some 7,000 are stranded on the Greek side as Macedonian authorities let only a very few pass. (BBC News, Feb. 29)
The Independent on Feb. 3 reports on a very encouraging project organized by a group calling itself I Am Your Protector—"a community of people who speak up and stand up for each other across religion, race, gender and beliefs"—to highlight the often forgotten stories of Muslims who helped Jews during the Holocaust. With interfaith ceremonies in several European and American cities on Holocaust Memorial Day, Jan. 27, IAYP celebrated the lives of such figures as Abdol Hossein Sardari, the "Iranian Schindler" who as a diplomat helped Persian Jews escape from wartime France by issuing passports and letters of transit. He was able to convince Nazi and Vichy authorities that Jugutis (Persian Muslims descended from Jews) should not be considered "racial" Jews—and was then able to secure travel documents for actual Jews under cover of being Jugutis. A similar personage is Selahattin Ulkumen, a Turkish diplomat in Nazi-occupied Greece, who interceded with the Germans to allow Jews of Turkish origin escape to neutral Turkey.
Thousands of people in Poland on Jan. 23 protested the government's planned changes to the legal code that would increase its surveillance over Polish citizens. The proposed changes to the law, initiated by the ruling Law and Justice Party, would expand the government's power to access digital data and loosen restrictions of using surveillance in law enforcement. The Law and Justice Party has been making moves to gain more control over the judiciary since it took office in November. The European Union has taken notice, launching an investigation into allegations that the Polish government is undermining democratic principles. If Poland were to be found guilty of these allegations, the country would lose voting rights in the EU for a specified period of time.
A trial is about to open in Russian-annexed Crimea in which Akhtem Chiygoz, deputy head of the Crimean Tatar Majlis, and two other Tatar leaders stand accused of organizing mass disturbances in February 2014, in the prelude to the regional referendum that approved union with Russia. The Ukraine-based Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group assails the trial as "lawless" and says it "flies in the face of all principles of law." The Crimean court on Nov 25 imposed a Dec. 4 deadline for the defense to review a huge file assembled by prosecutors, consisting of 26 volumes and 47 gigabits of video footage, each some four hours long. An appeal against this ruling was rejected on Dec. 24, although the defense argued that they had only had time to read 10 of the 26 volumes, and had actually been denied access to the material for much of the peroid. Chiygoz has been detained since January, and his freedom was a demand of recent protest blockades of Crimea's border with Ukraine, which stopped delivery of goods into the peninsula. Since the former Majlis head Mustafa Dzhemiliev and his successor Refat Chubarov have both been exiled by the new Russian athorities, Chiygoz is the highest-ranking Tatar leader remaining in Crimea.