Aug 22

Migrant Influx Prompts Macedonia, Britain and France to Increase Security (New York Times, Aug 20, 2015):

BERLIN — Europe’s migration crisis took on new dimensions Thursday as at least three countries announced added security measures to address the biggest movement of refugees and migrants seen here since the aftermath of World War II.

The sheer numbers of migrants are now clogging critical choke points across Europe. In July alone, 107,500 migrants entered the 28-nation European Union, according to Frontex, the bloc’s border management agency. That was more than three times the number in the same month last year.

The latest country to be overwhelmed by the surge was the tiny Balkan nation of Macedonia. It declared a state of emergency on Thursday and said it would deploy the military to restore calm to its southern border with Greece and its northern frontier with Serbia.

Many of the refugees are fleeing the wars in Iraq and Syria and had recently made their way from Turkey to Greek islands. They have flooded into Macedonia — almost 42,000 in the past two months according to the nation’s Ministry of Interior — as they head north to seek asylum in wealthy countries like Austria, Germany, Britain or Sweden.

Migrants in Macedonia told reporters there this week that they were especially anxious to move now that Hungary — the transit land north of Serbia on the long route to Germany — has decided to build a fence to keep migrants out.

Nongovernmental groups in Macedonia criticized the government’s move as a step that would again expose migrants to human traffickers, or tempt them into dangerous paths like walking along rails at night.

At the same time, the British and French authorities announced that they would set up a new “command and control center” in Calais, the French port at the mouth of the Channel Tunnel, where several thousand migrants live in a makeshift camp, awaiting the chance to smuggle themselves to Britain.

While the problems at Calais have disrupted truck drivers and travelers, the images of chaos on the border between two of Europe’s richest nations have highlighted the inability of Europe to deal with the crisis. Indeed, Calais is just one prominent outpost of a situation that German officials have begun to characterize less as an emergency than as the Continent’s new normal.

Europe must act, German leaders say, to distribute refugees from war and persecution more evenly among European nations, while so called “economic migrants” — mostly from impoverished Balkan countries, will be sent home from Germany because they do not qualify for asylum.

Yet so far policy makers have struggled to produce a coherent collective response to the challenge, and efforts to agree on quotas for European Union countries to accept refugees have achieved only limited success.

Hours after meeting in Calais with his British counterpart, the French interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, traveled to Berlin for hurriedly scheduled talks with his German colleague, Thomas de Maizière, who on Wednesday announced that Germany, Europe’s No. 1 power, expects up to 800,000 asylum seekers this year.

Germany has grappled with a rising number of attacks on refugee shelters and arriving migrants. On Thursday, media were full of reports about fighting that broke out at an overcrowded shelter in Suhl in the central German state of Thuringia, injuring at least 17 people, including police officers, refugees and bystanders. About 1,800 people are said to be crowded into a space designed for 1,200.

In Macedonia, reports from the border with Greece on Thursday evening suggested that about 1,500 migrants — many of them Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans — were stranded between the Greek and Macedonian borders.

Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski of Macedonia said that the state of emergency was a “temporary mechanism” intended to control the flow of migrants “so that they will have more humane transport through Macedonia.”

Just two months ago, the authorities in Macedonia introduced measures to document migrants. At that point, there were 500 to 600 arrivals each day, he said. Now, the number has climbed to 2,500 a day and is likely to continue to increase to 3,000 to 4,000 a day, he said.

“The country does not have the capacity to help so many people, so we had to intervene,” Mr. Gruevski said, noting that trains designed to accommodate 350 people have been arriving with 650 onboard.

The British-French agreement on Thursday is intended to halt the acts of desperation seen this summer around Calais, typical of countless others across the Continent. Migrants in the French port have tried to break into the Channel Tunnel and stow away on cars, trucks and trains.

Some efforts to make the crossing have proved fatal, and one migrant even walked most of the 31-mile tunnel, where he avoided being hit by trains but was arrested as he approached Folkestone in Britain.

Under plans announced after talks in France, British police and border protection forces will work with their French counterparts at a new “command and control center” in Calais. The new body will be led by two senior officers, one British and one French, and will try to target those organizing human trafficking.

The British home secretary, Theresa May, said that the situation in Calais was “the result of a global migration challenge,” and promised to work with France to ensure that “the rest of the European Union and the transit and source countries from which migrants are coming are also playing their full part in solving this problem.”

Under the new agreement, Britain will now spend more on reinforcing the perimeter of the Eurotunnel railhead with tougher fencing, CCTV, floodlighting and infrared detection technology.

Extra search teams, including detection dogs, will be deployed, more mobile French policing units will be added and a security audit will be conducted.

Although some British politicians have criticized France for losing control in Calais, Britain’s government has been careful not to do so. Under reciprocal arrangements, British officials conduct passport checks on those crossing the Channel on French soil, before their journey, making them reliant on French cooperation.

French officials argue that migrants are attracted to Britain because of its use of the English language, its growing economy and the fact that, because it does not use identity cards, it may be easier to live illegally there.

Meanwhile, the Council of Europe, a human rights organization of 47 member states, criticized Slovakia for saying that it would refuse to accept Muslim migrants.

“Refusing refugees on the grounds of their religion would be a blatant discrimination,” said the Council’s chairman, Thorbjorn Jagland, in a statement.

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