AYS Digest 26/8: Bulgaria and Hungary looking to secure their borders, fearing end of EU-Turkey deal
Syrian city Darayya evacuated. Deaths increase in the Central Mediterranean in 2016 and maximum capacity reached on Greek islands. Hungary looking to build second fence and help Serbia with border control.
The BBC reports residents and fighters are evacuating Darayya, a city that has been under government siege since 2012. Under the deal, 700 rebel fighters will leave for the the rebel-controlled city of Idlib while 4,000 civilians will move to government shelters.
Valerie Szybala of the Syrian Institute explains that Darayya has been bombed everyday since an aid convoy in early June and worries that the evacuees will never be able to return. On a similar note, Leila al Shami, co-author of “Burning Country”, writes “fears abound of a plan to cleanse opposition strongholds permanently, adding that “in previous evacuation deals, even those carried out under UN auspices, many were detained by the regime, never to be seen again.” She also says that the siege had become unbearable, as the whole city, including the hospital and agricultural lands were targeted by the army, while the only aid convoy in four years included “medicine, mosquito nets and baby formula, but no food”. Ibrahim al-Assil of the Syrian Nonviolence Movement adds that thousands of barrel bombs were dropped on Darayya, while more than 400 were massacred between the 20th and 25th of August 2012 alone.
International migration increasingly unsafe in 2016
The IOM’s Missing Migrants Project has recorded a 67% increase in
the number of recorded deaths and disappearances
across the Mediterranean Sea in the first half of 2016, compared to the same period in 2015.
Numbers have increased in the Central Mediterranean, with 1,688 deaths recorded in the first half of 2015, compared to 2,484 between 1 January
and 30 June 2016. This increase is likely due to several
new and dangerous smuggling practices, including the use of new routes and the departure of several boats simultaneously, making search-and-rescue operations more complicated.
806 deaths were recorded in the Eastern Mediterranean in 2015 overall compared to 376 in the first six months of 2016.
143 refugees arrive in Greece
143 refugees arrived in Greece between 7:30 this morning and yesterday — 93 on Lesvos and 50 on Kos.
UNHCR says that 923 refugees and migrants crossed the sea to Greece between 15 and 21 August and points out that up to the 21th of August, 11,343 refugees are accommodated on Greek islands, despite a maximum capacity of only 7,450. This impacts Moria and Kara Tepe on Lesvos in particular, while the Registration and Identification Centre (RIC) in Kos has reached its maximum capacity as well.
All other official accommodations on Kos are also full, including a hotel hosting families. The Greek police announced newly arriving refugees should just go “anywhere” to sleep.
UNHCR says it has provided accommodation for 275 unaccompanied children in more than three months, while 1,472 are still on waiting lists as of 11th of August. UNHCR has received €25m from the EU for, among other things, “ protection assistance with emphasis on unaccompanied or separated children”.
Pregnant women’s hunger strike in Ritsona
Pregnant women and women with newborn babies in Ritsona camp are on a hunger strike because of living conditions in the camp and because of the slowness of the relocation programme. They also insist on the installation of isoboxes before winter arrives.
Meanwhile, Ekathimerini reports that UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi says Greece must step up efforts to protect thousands of refugees and migrants from the coming winter and boost security in its camps, calling for additional police to guard the facilities and saying “there are criminal elements… infiltrating and exploiting people”.
“Europe has no idea what happens in Greece”
In an interview with Are You Syrious, the Mobile Info Team points out security risks and says refugees now feel abandoned, as they are stuck in warehouses, with less support than during their time in Idomeni. Of course, the main problem besides poor living conditions remains the slowness of the relocation programme.
Refugees relocated to France but EU programme still extremely slow
A group comprised of 128 Syrians, 30 Iraqis, and two stateless individuals arrived safely in France on Thursday. Of these, there were 93 men, 67 women, and 53 children under the age of 18.
As of the 25nd of August, 1,413 refugees have been relocated from Greece to France. France has also relocated 231 refugees from Italy. However, the country is far away from its own target of welcoming 30,000 refugees over two years. The situation is not better in the rest of the EU — only 3,386 have been relocated from Greece, despite a target of 66,400 over two years.
German Chancellor Merkel is on an European tour, trying to convince heads of state of the relocation programme. She was rejected today by Czech Prime Minister Sobotka, who maintained ‘we cannot endorse a system that insists on mandatory quotas for the relocation of refugees’. His country has welcomed only 12 refugees out of Greece so far.
Bulgaria looks to secure its border as it fears end of EU-Turkey deal
Speaking to the FAZ, Bulgarian PM Bojko Borissow calls on the EU to help the country secure its border with Turkey, saying the country currently feels ‘abandoned’ by the EU. He adds the failure of the refugee agreement with Turkey could be ‘fatal’ for Bulgaria and would see Europe ‘flooded’ with migrants. He asks for help from the EU to protect the border with Turkey as he fears that Erdogan could end the EU-Turkey deal.
During a joint press conference today between Borissov and his Turkish counterpart Yıldırım, Yıldırım insisted that unless the EU guaranteed visa-free travel by the end of October, Ankara could back out of the deal, saying “We want our European friends to understand that the time to take more responsibility on the migrant question has come”.
Unusual arrivals in Kelebija
There are multiple cases of individuals specifically flying to Serbia in order to access the transit zones at Kelebija. The individuals who came by this route do not hail from what are considered refugee-producing areas, and arrived after the official closure of the route. There are at least two confirmed cases. The nationalities of those involved will not be released in order to protect their identity. However, unusual though this may be, it only highlights the pull effect that goes on regardless of EU policy and procedure.
Hungary plans to build second fence and help Serbia with border control
Hungarian Spectrum reports the Hungarian government decided that the Serbian-Hungarian border defense must be reinforced, and therefore launched a campaign to recruit an additional 3,000 men and women. These people will constitute a special unit within the police force, specifically trained for duty along the border. They will be called “határvadászok” (border hunters) instead of “rendőrök” (policemen).
During the Rákosi and Kádár periods, when the borders were hermetically sealed, the military had a separate unit whose members were called “határőrök” (border guards). This special military force ceased to exist with the arrival of democracy and open borders. For years, however, the extreme right political party Jobbik has been demanding the re-creation of this force, which up until now the Orbán government has resisted. Finally, pressured by the flood of refugees whom they want to keep out of Hungary, the government obliged.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban announced that Hungary will erect a second fence at its border with Serbia in case an EU-Turkey deal on migration falls through.
Hungary’s IM Pinter, quoted by Reuters, also indicated his country is prepared to send police to Serbia’s border with FYROM and Bulgaria to help stem the flows of migrants. His Serbian counterpart Nebojsa Stefanovic said the two Interior Ministries were ready to assess where additional police would be most needed when the migration routes switch back to the land from the sea as the weather worsens.