The UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported Jan. 6 that 2016 had more recorded migrant deaths than any previous year. According to preliminary figures, 363,348 migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe arrived successfully while 5,079 died at sea. At least 300 more fatalities are expected to factor in, as the figures do not yet reflect more recent events off Spain, Morocco and Tunisia. The IOM suspects there are additional unreported deaths in areas between North Africa and Spain where there was less reliable data collection. The IOM expressed its dismay over the current migrant situation, expressing the need to find "creative means to permit safe, legal and secure migration." The IOM also began training rescuers in Libya to strengthen migrant lifesaving efforts.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has issued an ultimatum to the defenders of Aleppo's rebel-held east that they abandon the city by Friday Oct. 4. The rebel leaders pledge defiance, saying that promised safe passages out of besieged areas are a trap. "This is completely out of the question. We will not give up the city of Aleppo to the Russians and we won't surrender," Zakaria Malahifji, of the Fastaqim rebel group, told Reuters, denying that there are safe exit corridors. "It's not true. Civilians and fighters are not leaving. Civilians are afraid of the regime, they don't trust it. And the fighters are not surrendering." (The Guardian, Al Jazeera) A Russian military fleet is meanwhile making its way to Syria, signaling an imminent escalation in the ongoing aerial assault on Aleppo. There has been some controversy about the fleet's refueling stops along the way. While NATO member Spain has allowed Russian warships en route to Syria to resupply at its port of Ceuta before, this time international pressure led Moscow to withdraw its request for a stop there. (World Post, The Local, Spain) The Royal Navy, which monitored the fleet's passage through the English Channel, says it includes the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov as well as three submarines (two nuclear-powered) armed with cruise missiles. (The Independent)
The Constitutional Court of Spain on Dec. 2 declared unconstitutional (PDF) a resolution by the Parliament of Catalonia that proposed a plan for the region's independence from Spain by 2017. The resolution was approved by Catalonian lawmakers in November, and stated that parliament would take the "necessary steps" to effect the separation from Spain in a peaceful and democratic manner and in a way that would empower citizens. The court held that the resolution violated Articles 1.1, 1.2 , 2, 9.1 and 168 of the Constitution and Articles 1 and 2.4 of the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia. The resolution states that the separation of Catalanonia from Spain is not subject to the decisions of the Constitutional Court.
Judge Jose de la Mata of Spain's Audiencia Nacional on Nov. 12 ordered the Civil Guard and police forces to notify him if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or any of six of his former officials set foot on Spanish soil, as their visit could re-open a case filed against them in the country. The judge put the case on hold in June 2014 after Spain reformed its Universal Justice doctrine. The case was opened by the Audenica, following the 2010 Israeli raid on the Freedom Flotilla bound for Gaza on a humanitarian mission. The list of Israeli officials also includes former defense minister Ehud Barak, former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, former strategic affairs minister (and current defense minister) Moshe Yaalon, former interior minister Eli Yishai, minister-without-portfolio Benny Begin, and the vice-admiral in charge of the operation, Maron Eliezer. (LAHT, Nov. 16; EFE, Nov. 13; El Diaro, Madrid, Nov. 12)
NATO is just winding up its biggest military exercise since the end of the Cold War—Operation Trident Juncture, involving 36,000 troops and more than 140 aircraft and 60 ships from over 30 countries over a month-long span. The maneuvers were centered around Sardinia, where hundreds of local residents attempted to block the troops and craft in a civil disobedience action. They were angered by rising cancers, leukemia and birth defect rates on the island, where the soil and groundwater are contaminated with heavy metals, jet fuel and depleted uranium from decades of military operations and weapons testing there. Maneuvers were also held in Spain, Portugal, Norway and the Atlantic. (Gizmodo, Nov. 10; Revolution News, Nov. 3; ANSA, Oct. 21; NATO, July 15)
OK, this one is sending the irony meter into full tilt. Two Spanish volunteers who went to Iraq to fight ISIS at Sinjar (presumably alongside PKK forces) in an "International Brigade" were arrested upon their return to Madrid and face charges of... (wait for it)... membership in a "terrorist organization"! One defendant is named as Paco Arcadio; the other only by his nom de guerre "Marto." El Mundo reports they were released on bail July 6. Anarchist website Insurrection News informs us that they are followers of Reconstrucción Comunista, one of the more militant tendencies to emerge from Spain's fragmented Communist Party. Upon his release from jail, Arcadio made a statement about why they went to fight ISIS: "In this region, the proletarian struggle is advancing. It is the struggle against fascism as represented by the Islamic State. We went to help, as the international brigades came to help us in '36."
After years of debate and a 2014 referendum, the Spanish town of Castrillo Matajudíos—yeah, that's right, "Fort Kill the Jews"—has officially changed back to its original name of Castrillo Mota de Judíos, or "Jew's Hill Fort." It's believed that the town, in Burgos province of Castile and León region, was originally a Jewish town. Residents had to convert under threat of death (generally being burned at the stake) or exile under the 1492 Edict of Expulsion, and adopted the new name as a way of proving their loyalty to the Catholic kings. No self-identified Jews live in the town today, but many residents have Jewish roots and the town's official shield includes the Star of David. The city's mayor Lorenzo Rodríguez led the initiative, saying that the name was offensive to many. (No, ya think?) (NPR, June 23)
A British warship sailing in the Mediterranean Sea launched a mission on June 7 to rescue over 500 migrants stranded at sea, the Ministry of Defense (MoD) said in a statement. A Royal Navy helicopter has found four migrant vessels in need of assistance so far. It was also reported by the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) and the Italian coastguard that on June 6 over 2,000 migrants were rescued from five wooden boats in the Mediterranean, and there have been reports of seven or more similar boats still currently out at sea.