Mi­gra­tion de­bate dom­i­nates EU agenda

Lead­ers hold con­flict­ing po­si­tions on im­mi­grants

Pretoria News Weekend - - NEWS - REUTERS

SEV­ERAL EURO­PEAN lead­ers, in­clud­ing those of France, Ger­many, Italy and Aus­tria, will hold talks to­mor­row on mi­gra­tion, an is­sue bring­ing bit­ter po­lit­i­cal di­vi­sions to a head in Europe and in­creas­ingly in the United States.

Sources said the lead­ers of Greece and Bul­garia would also at­tend the gath­er­ing, which will ex­plore how to stop peo­ple from mov­ing around the Euro­pean Union af­ter claim­ing asy­lum in one of the Mediter­ranean states of ar­rival.

To­mor­row’s talks, an­nounced by the ex­ec­u­tive Euro­pean Com­mis­sion, pre­cede a June 28-29 EU sum­mit at which lead­ers will try to agree on a joint mi­gra­tion pol­icy three years af­ter more than a mil­lion peo­ple poured into Europe, mostly flee­ing con­flict in the Mid­dle East and Asia.

The de­vel­op­ment co­in­cides with an in­ter­na­tional out­cry over the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pol­icy of sep­a­rat­ing mi­grant fam­i­lies at the Mex­i­can bor­der, as videos emerged of young­sters held in en­clo­sures far from their par­ents, and an au­dio of wail­ing chil­dren went vi­ral. Trump has since back­tracked.

Im­mi­gra­tion is in­creas­ingly shap­ing pol­i­tics in rich coun­tries, and in Ger­many, the EU’s wealth­i­est econ­omy, threat­ens to wreck Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel’s re­la­tion­ship with her Chris­tian Demo­cratic Union’s (CDU’s) Bavar­ian sis­ter party, part of her coali­tion.

The Chris­tian So­cial Union (CSU) on Mon­day gave Merkel two weeks to get a Europe-wide deal. Horst See­hofer, CSU leader and Ger­many’s in­te­rior min­is­ter, wants to turn away mi­grants who have al­ready reg­is­tered in other EU states, but Merkel op­poses any uni­lat­eral move to re­verse her 2015 open-door pol­icy and un­der­mine her author­ity.

“We can no longer look on as this refugee tourism across Europe hap­pens,” Bavaria’s CSU in­te­rior min­is­ter, Joachim Her­rmann, told Ger­man broad­caster Deutsch­land­funk.

Pope Fran­cis said in an in­ter­view that pop­ulists were “cre­at­ing psy­chosis” on the is­sue of im­mi­gra­tion, even as age­ing so­ci­eties like Europe faced “a great de­mo­graphic win­ter” and needed more im­mi­grants.

He said that with­out im­mi­gra­tion, Europe would ”be­come empty”. But the EU is bit­terly di­vided. It has strug­gled to re­form its in­ter­nal asy­lum rules, which broke down in 2015, and has in­stead tried to tighten its bor­ders and pre­vent new ar­rivals. To that end, it has given aid and money to coun­tries in­clud­ing Turkey, Jor­dan, Libya and Niger.

Trump, de­fend­ing his own tough anti-im­mi­grant po­lices, waded into Ger­many’s de­bate on Mon­day with a se­ries of tweets crit­i­cis­ing Merkel’s open-bor­der pol­icy as a “big mis­take” that had fu­elled crime in Europe.

The in­creas­ing tempo of mi­gra­tion diplo­macy co­in­cides with the sum­mer peak sea­son for mi­grants sail­ing in small boats from north Africa to Europe’s south­ern shores.

The Ital­ian Coast Guard ship Di­ciotti ar­rived at the Si­cil­ian port of Poz­za­llo overnight and 519 mi­grants on board were be­ing dis­em­barked, re­lief work­ers said. They were saved in seven dif­fer­ent res­cue op­er­a­tions off the Libyan coast, and some spent days at sea as the new Ital­ian gov­ern­ment looks to slow the in­flux of mi­grants.

“They are in ter­ri­ble con­di­tions, not only med­i­cal con­di­tions but (also) psy­cho­log­i­cal con­di­tions, and they re­ally need ur­gent med­i­cal care and psy­cho­log­i­cal care,” UN refugee agency (UN­HCR) spokesman Marco Ro­tunno told Reuters TV.

“We are very wor­ried be­cause af­ter th­ese peo­ple were res­cued, along with the peo­ple that were res­cued in the other events, there was a long de­lay be­fore peo­ple could reach a safe port.”

The num­ber of peo­ple flee­ing war or strife for more sta­ble parts of the world de­clined sig­nif­i­cantly in 2017, although the US reg­is­tered a sharp in­crease in asy­lum ap­pli­ca­tions dur­ing Trump’s first year in the White House.

In a re­port on mi­gra­tion trends, the Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Eco­nomic Co-op­er­a­tion and De­vel­op­ment (OECD) said the lead­ing source of refugees had been Afghanistan, fol­lowed by Syria and Iraq – the coun­tries that have headed the list for the past three years.

Mean­while, Trump, who has made a tough stance on im­mi­gra­tion a pil­lar of his pres­i­dency and prom­ises a wall along the US-Mex­ico bor­der, faced an out­cry over his what as his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pol­icy of sep­a­rat­ing im­mi­grant par­ents and chil­dren along the fron­tier.

Asy­lum ap­pli­ca­tions to OECD coun­tries fell 25% in 2017 from the record-high of 1.64 mil­lion a year ear­lier, the re­port said.

Ap­pli­ca­tions to EU mem­ber states nearly halved.

At the Vat­i­can, Pope Fran­cis crit­i­cised the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pol­icy of sep­a­rat­ing mi­grant fam­i­lies at the Mex­i­can bor­der, say­ing pop­ulism was not the an­swer to the world’s im­mi­gra­tion prob­lems.

Speak­ing to Reuters, the Pope said he sup­ported re­cent state­ments by US Catholic bish­ops, who called the sep­a­ra­tion of chil­dren from their par­ents “con­trary to our Catholic val­ues” and “im­moral”.

“It’s not easy, but pop­ulism is not the so­lu­tion,” Pope Fran­cis said this week.

PIC­TURE: HER­MINE POSCHMANN/AP/AFRICAN NEWS AGENCY

Mi­grants wave from aboard a ship op­er­ated by the Ger­man NGO Mis­sion Life­line.

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