A court on the Greek island of Lesbos on May 20 ruled that Turkey is an "unsafe third country" for asylum seekers, throwing into doubt the EU-Turkey migrant deal. The panel of judges refused to reject an asylum application by a Syrian refugee and have him deported to Turkey. The decision came the same day that 51 refugees and migrants of different nationalities were forcibly returned to Turkey by Greek authorities. (Ekathimerini, May 20) Amnesty International's Giorgos Kosmopoulos hailed the decision, charging that Turkey is not complying with standards of the Refugee Convention. "Until it becomes a safe country nobody should be returned there," he said. He cited violations of the rights to work, medical care and family life, and said there have been "widespread returns of Syrians back to Syria from Turkey." On the pact with the EU, he added: "The whole deal should stop and refugees should be settled in other European countries safely and with dignity." (BBC News, May 21)
The US Aegis anti-missile station at Deveselu, Romania, was officially activated this week—to harsh protests from Moscow, despite Washington's claim that the system is intended to intercept missiles fired from the Middle East. Together with an installation in Poland, the Deveselu facility forms the long-delayed "missile shield" first conceived under the George Bush administration. (BBC News, AFP, RT, May 12) Moscow's claim that the "missile shield" is actually aimed at encircling Russia is mirrored by Washington's charge that Russia is in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, having deployed cruise missiles in contravention of the 1987 pact. (Arms Control Association, May 2016)
Far-right protesters marched through Berlin on May 7 to demand that Chancellor Angela Merkel step down for allowing more than a million migrants and refugees from the Middle East into Germany since last year. But the some 1,000 protesters, chanting "No Islam on German Soil," were confronted by more than five times as many anti-fascist counter-protesters who chanted "Nazis out!" Some anti-immigrant protesters held signs calling Merkel "Volksschaedling"—"enemy of the people," a term used by the Nazis. Riot police separated the two groups. (EuroNews, The Telegraph, Reuters) That same day, dozens of hooded anarchists clashed with riot police who blocked their approach to the Austrian border during a protest against plans to tighten controls to prevent the passage of migrants. Police fired tear-gas to disperse protesters wearing motorcycle helmets and gas-masks who tried to occupy the Alpine Brenner border crossing. Claiming that as many as 1 million migrants are massing in Libya with the aim of crossing into Europe through Italy, Austrian authorities are preparing to build an "emergency fence" on the Italian border. (WP, EuroNews, AP)
The Supreme Court of Russia-annexed Crimea on April 26 officially designated the Tatar Majlis an "extremist entity" and banned its activities—effectively ending the last vestige of autonomy for the Crimean Tatar people. The move to ban the Majlis—the representative body of Crimean Tatars—was brought by Crimean prosecutor Natalia Poklonskaya in February, and the body was ordered closed by judicial authoriities two weeks ago, before the regional high court had even ruled. Poklonskaya hailed the decision as "aimed at maintaining stability, peace and order in the Russian Federation." The body's powers had already been eroded since Moscow's annexation of the peninsula two years ago. The current and former leaders of the Majlis—Refat Chubarov and Mustafa Jemilev—have been forced to flee, and currently reside in Kiev. The Crimean prosecutor's office has accused them of involvement in Tatar road blockades launched to protest Russian annexation last year. (RBTH, April 26; HRW, April 15)
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."