Category Archives: Europe

Balkan route influx now to a trickle: EU-turkey deal paves way for visa free travel for Turks but raises concern in Europe.

New arrivals on the Greek islands now are down to less than a hundred than from an average 10,000 a day at the peak last October. Also the latest figures from Turkey’s Coast Guard show that the EU-Turkey deal is working, with the number of migrants intercepted at sea only 1,536 in April whereas 8,100 people were intercepted in March. This has led the European Commission to declare that Turkey has broadly met the criteria for early visa liberalization and would be asking EU governments and the European Parliament to approve the decision by the end of June. This will allow visa-free travel to Europe for millions of Turks, as a reward for having reduced a flood of refugees and migrants into Europe to a mere trickle.

On 18 March this year, following on from the EU-Turkey Joint Action Plan activated on 29 November 2015 and the 7 March EU-Turkey statement, the European Union and Turkey decided to end the irregular migration from Turkey to the EU. EU and Turkey have agreed that all new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey into Greek islands as from 20 March 2016 will be returned to Turkey but in full accordance with EU and international law. The agreement stipulates that all such migrants will be protected in accordance with the relevant international standards and in respect of the principle of non-refoulement. As per the agreement, migrants arriving in the Greek islands will be duly registered and any application for asylum will be processed individually by the Greek authorities in accordance with the Asylum Procedures Directive, in cooperation with UNHCR but migrants not applying for asylum or whose application has been found unfounded or inadmissible in accordance with the said directive will be returned to Turkey. The agreement further stipulates that for every Syrian being returned to Turkey from Greek islands, another Syrian will be resettled from Turkey to the EU taking into account the UN Vulnerability Criteria. A mechanism will be established, with the assistance of the Commission, EU agencies and other Member States, as well as the UNHCR, to ensure that this principle will be implemented as from the same day the returns start. Priority will be given to migrants who have not previously entered or tried to enter the EU irregularly.

As per the agreement, Turkey will take any necessary measures to prevent new sea or land routes for illegal migration opening from Turkey to the EU, and will cooperate with neighbouring states as well as the EU to this effect. Once irregular crossings between Turkey and the EU end or at least have been substantially and sustainably reduced, a Voluntary Humanitarian Admission Scheme will be activated.

On the monetary aspect, the EU will further speed up the disbursement of the initially allocated three billion euros under the Facility for Refugees in Turkey and ensure funding of further projects for persons under temporary protection identified with swift input from Turkey before the end of March. A first list of concrete projects for refugees, notably in the field of health, education, infrastructure, food and other living costs, that can be swiftly financed from the Facility, will be jointly identified within a week. Once these resources are about to be used to the full, and provided the above commitments are met, the EU will mobilise additional funding for the Facility of an additional 3 billion euro up to the end of 2018. Also the fulfilment of the visa liberalisation roadmap will be accelerated with a view to lifting the visa requirements for Turkish citizens at the latest by the end of June 2016. The EU and its Member States are further obligated to work with Turkey in joint endeavour to improve humanitarian conditions inside Syria, in particular in certain areas near the Turkish border which would allow for the local population and refugees to live in areas which will be more safe.

The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently warned that it would stop implementing the deal with the European Union on curbing the flow of refugees to Europe if the EU failed to fulfill its promises under the agreement. Now the EU hastily seems to fulfil its commitments under the deal so that Turkey does not renege from its commitments. But allowing of visa free travel to Turks have not gone down well with few European nations who are voicing their resentment quite openly. In the coming days it will be interesting to watch how the EU tackles the objections of the member states in fulfilling its commitments made to Turkey

Justice for Bosniaks and Croats; Radovan Karadzic, the “Butcher of Bosnia”, convicted by ICTY for Srebrenica massacre and seige of Sarajevo.

The war in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the early 1990s was the worst conflict in Europe since World War II. It was a civil war that tore apart the former Yugoslavia and left more than 100,000 people dead and two million displaced. Radovan Karadzic, nicknamed the “Butcher of Bosnia”, after a protracted trial was yesterday held guilty by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, an adhoc court the United Nations established to prosecute serious crimes committed during the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, of genocide and other crimes against humanity over atrocities that Bosnian Serb forces committed during the Bosnian War from 1992 to 1995 and has been sentenced to 40 years in prison. He was the President of the National Security Council of the Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and on 12th May 1992, he was elected as the President of the Presidency of the Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. From 17th December 1992, he was the President of the Republika Srpska. He is the most senior political figure to be convicted over the violent Bosnian wars. Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian president who was another high profile accused, died in March 2006 pending his trial before the tribunal.

The charges against Karadzic were of genocide, crimes against humanity(namely persecution, murder, extermination, deportation, and forcible transfer) and violations of the laws or customs of war (namely murder, acts of violence the primary purpose of which was to spread terror among the civilian population, unlawful attacks on civilians, and the taking of hostages). The complete trial record amounted to over 48,000 transcript pages, over 95,000 pages of filings and over 190,000 pages of admitted exhibits!

The Court observed that during the war, the Serb Forces took control of municipalities in Bosnian Serb-claimed territory in Bosnia and Herzegovina. During the course of these well-planned and co-ordinated take-overs and after, there was an organised and systematic pattern of crimes committed against Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats. Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats were also removed from positions of authority and dismissed from their employment. Thousands of Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian Croat civilians were unlawfully detained in around several detention facilities across the Municipalities. There was also widespread looting of non-Serb property and extensive destruction of Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian Croat villages and property by Serb Forces in many of the Municipalities. Serb Forces also destructed mosques and churches. The Court held that the objective of his atrocities was to permanently remove Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats from Bosnian Serb-claimed territory in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Also in early 1993, following a series of Bosnian Serb attacks in nearby villages, the Bosnian Muslim population fled to Srebrenica, which was proclaimed a safe area. But in March 1995, Karadzic issued a Directive, ordering the armed forces to create an unbearable situation of total insecurity with no hope of further survival or life for the inhabitants of Srebrenica. Following this, restrictions on humanitarian aid and UNPROFOR resupply convoys intensified, resulting in disastrous conditions in the Srebrenica enclave. He also eliminated the Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica by killing thousands of men and boys of Srebrenica and forcibly removing the women, young children and some elderly men.  Also the civilian population of Sarajevo was shelled and sniped by members of the Bosnian Serb Forces. It conducted a campaign of sniping and shelling of Sarajevo with the intention to terrorise the civilian population living there resulting in thousands of killed civilians in the city. He also consistently and systematically provided misleading information to representatives of international organisations and the media. This verdict sends a powerful signal that the Head of States who order atrocities cannot escape from justice anymore.

Homage to Catalonia: Is this Balkanization of Europe ?

Falangists win over Republicans in the bloody civil war started the Francoist era which ended with Franco’s death in 1975. The nascent Republic was destroyed by Franco and his army with active military assistance from Nazi Germany and Italy. The Republicans were helped by USSR. Orwell’s commander famously described the situation as “This is not a war, it is a comic opera with an occasional death.”After a prolonged war, Republicans could not save Madrid and the Nationalists (Franco) captured it and formed the government with Franco at its helm. In 1931 Spain became a Republic and an autonomous Catalan regional government, the Generalitat, was created. But the long 36 years of Franco dictatorship saw Catalan being completely incorporated within Spain. Catalan and other regional provinces were dominated under the Franco regime. Autonomy, culture and even language of Catalan was suppressed. Only after the transition to democracy, limited autonomy was restored to Catalonia.

Orwell humorously stated that the Spaniards were good at many things, but not at making war! The Spanish civil war was more of a comedy where the Republicans were using forty years old German Mauser dated 1896! Machine guns at the rate of approx 1 to 50 men and where majority of rifles were mere scrap iron, also rounds were in tremendous short supply.

Catalonians argue that it is absolutely absurd to suggest that Catalan’s small size is an impediment to its independence. Comparable to that of prosperous Switzerland, it is a rich province which pays much more to the Republican than it receives from it. In terms of its population, territory, GDP and language, Catalonia has similar proportions to that of many other countries of the European Union. Though it does not have natural resources like natural gas or petroleum, yet it is of no significance as Spain also does not have any such resources. Catalonians argue that peaceful separation like ‘Velvet Revolution’ in 1993, the self-determined split of the federal state of Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, a bloodless affair, can be beneficial to both the economies. But a situation like Yugoslav Wars must be avoided at any cost.

Artur Mas i Gavarró is the current President of the Generalitat of Catalonia. He is the leader of the Catalan liberal nationalist party Democratic Convergence of Catalonia (CDC) and his coalition ‘Together for Yes’ alongwith other parties like Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) and Democrats of Catalonia (DC) had garnered the largest vote percentage of 39.54 and won the maximum 62 seats out of 135 in the elections held in September 2015.   As it is six short of a majority, the alliance is currently in negotiations with another pro-independence party to try to form a coalition majority. The elections were plebiscitary in nature. Mas has set a period of approximately 18 months for a measured and progressive disconnection. In November 2014, a referendum was held, wherein about 80 percent voted in favour of breaking away from Spain. Spain’s Constitutional Court had suspended it but it was still held. Prosecutors now accuse Artur Mas of grave disobedience, abuse of public funds, usurping powers and obstructing justice which has led to mass protests.

Spain fear that if Catalonia is allowed to become independent, similar demands will be raised by the separatists of Basque province. The violent Euskadi Ta Askatasuna ETA (Basque Country and Freedom) still haunts Spain. Also Nationalists of Bavaria(German), Flanders(Belgium), Corciso(France), Scotland(UK) are already clamouring for independence. The pandemonium will only grow louder.

Europe’s worst humanitarian crisis since WW II.

The recent deluge of refugees in Europe has posed serious questions on the political stability of the European Union. Effects of an ongoing bloody conflict in Syria on peaceful Europe is not surprising. Widespread protests against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government started in 2011 (remember Arab Spring) but later it turned into an armed conflict. Many belligerents like Islamic Front, Free Syrian Army got involved in the conflict. But gradually ISIL captured a vast portion of Syrian territory. ISIL’s rapid military gains exacerbated the already volatile situation. Now Syrians, in hundreds of thousands, have desperately started taking refuge in other countries like Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. The crisis began in 2011 with the Syrians crossing the borders to Lebanon and Turkey. The pace of migration has been increasing but in the last few months, an unprecedented number of Syrians are trying to go to Germany and other Western European countries. Desperate Syrians are crossing into European Union through South East Europe. Capsizing of ships carrying illegal migrants from Libya is very common. In fact Italian government continued Operation “Mare Nostrum” till November 2014 to tackle such accidents but it had to be discontinued for lack of funds. Now Operation “Triton” conducted by the Border Security Agency is the successor of Operation “Mare Nostrum”.

Under the Schengen agreement, the European countries have abolished border checks on international borders, though the countries with external borders are obligated to enforce border control regulations. This Schengen agreement has made Europe a unified place but in the recent times it has led to strained relations between the member states as the number of migrants entering Europe has reached colossal levels.

A large number of asylum seekers have entered EU through Hungary (by crossing Serbia Hungary border). To stop the influx, Hungary has been recently constructing a fence along its border with Serbia (a non EU state). But the influx continues in Hungary. Most asylum seekers want to use Hungary as an entry point to finally reach Germany and Scandinavia. Under the Dublin Regulations, if a person who has filed for asylum in one country, illegally crosses border to another country, he shall be returned to the former. But, in the last few months, enforcement has become increasingly difficult, as more and more asylum seekers headed for Germany. At one point of time, Germany suspended the regulations for ease of the asylum seekers. But such benevolent measure only increased the number of desperate asylum seekers to go to Germany. During the last fortnight, countries have started cracking down on asylum seekers. Austria which was providing passage from Hungary to Germany, is now reluctant to continue. Also Hungary has taken steps to control the movement of migrants towards Germany resulting in chaotic situations seen in Budapest railway station. Even Germany has established temporary border controls to limit the incoming surge. Austria too has established border controls alongside border with Hungary. Even Hungary has now criminalised unauthorised entry. But refugees have started taking a new route via Croatia to enter Hungary after Hungary decided to shut the EU’s external border with Serbia. As more member states introduce border control, though described as temporary measures, it seriously undermines the free Schengen movement.

Germany’s stand on this refugee crisis has also led to a serious political debate. An anti-immigration wave, which was dormant for a long time, has made a comeback. Christian Social Union has openly resisted the uncontrolled entry of asylum seekers in Germany. Blame game is also going on. Right wing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has blamed Germany for the present crisis.

European Commission President JeanClaude Juncker, backed by Germany, France and few western states, tried but failed to implement a migration quota system which would have forced individual countries to take on a share of some of hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers. Instead the members only agreed to share the asylum seekers on a voluntary basis. The move for quota system was opposed by East European countries like Hungary, Czech Republic and Baltic States. They argued that their economy cannot sustain the influx of asylum seekers. Also the asylum seekers want to go to Germany and Scandinavian countries where there are better social welfare measures.

The most affected countries by this influx are Italy, Hungary and Greece. Turkey shelters home to more than two million refugees but it also feels a lack of support from Europe in tackling the crisis. UNHCR should have done more to tackle this humanitarian crisis effectively. Even United Kingdom has been facing severe criticism for doing too little, probably prompting David Cameron to visit refugee camps in Lebanon.

Questions are also being raised regarding the composition of asylum seekers. What to do with those merely seeking a better life and not fleeing from war and persecution? Can economic migrants be allowed uninterrupted entry in Europe? Questions on asylum shopping are also being raised.

The European Commission in the extraordinary Justice and Home Affairs Council has significantly increased the financial support to Syria and its neighbouring countries. It also stressed on stronger joint effort to secure the external borders of the European Union. But in the ongoing crisis, as Governments are trying to take positions best suited to their countries, rights of refugees seem to be ignored. European Commission President JeanClaude Juncker has rightly remarked that giving refuge and complying with the fundamental right to asylum is very important.