quarta-feira, 9 de março de 2016

Fears grow on alternative migrant routes in Europe / MEPs warn against ‘blank checks’ for Turkey / Italy fears becoming center of migration storm

Fears grow on alternative migrant routes in Europe
BRUSSELS, 9. MAR, 19:32

Fears are growing that migrants and refugees will try to enter the EU via Albania and the Adriatic Sea after Europe on Wednesday (9 March) closed the Western Balkan corridor.
There is no sign yet of a build-up of people on the Albanian-Greek border.

But Albania, a Nato member and EU aspirant with a population of less than 3 million, could be a gateway to Italy.
“We have to collectively look at all the possible consequences of the envisaged agreement between the EU and Turkey, and prepare for them, including the issue of alternative routes,” a senior EU official told press in Brussels on Wednesday, referring to an EU-Turkey deal to close the Western Balkan path.

EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said: “There is always the possibility that this flow could be diverted in other directions if the Balkan route is closed. For the moment it is not the case.”

“All countries in the region are well prepared even for this likelihood. But for the moment there is no sign that migratory flows are diverted towards either Albania or other countries in the region,” he said.

According to Frontex, the EU’s border agency in Warsaw, just 8,932 people crossed the Greek-Albanian border illegaly last year. Most of them were Albanians.

Western Balkan leaders, including from Albania and Bulgaria, were expected to discuss the issue in their weekly video conference.

EU home affairs ministers, who are to meet in Brussels on Thursday, are also expected to touch on the question of alternative routes.

According to local media, Albanian authorities have already drawn up plans to provide reception centres for 10,000 Syrian refugees in the towns of Korca and Gjirokastra, near the border with Greece.

The UN's refugee agency, the UNHCR also said it is working on contingency plans.

The UNHCR, the Albanian government and local NGOs are looking at infrastructural needs and possible processing sites in Kakavia and Kapstice, also near Albania’s border with Greece.

The EU official said the possibility of novel routes is not a reason to abandon plans to stop the primary “leak” through the Greek border to Macedonia.

The EU is closely monitoring migrant flows, the official said.

Some migrants have also begun arriving to Europe from Russia in recent months, with EU diplomats suggesting that Russia is facilitating the development.

An EU source said that Russian border authorities had previously kept a tight grip on border security.

‘Sultan Erdogan’
Meanwhile, MEPs in Strasbourg on Wednesday criticised the EU-Turkey accord. International human rights organisations have also said it goes against international and EU law.

Guy Verhofstadt, the head of the Liberal group in the European Parliament, said it’s “a deal in which we are giving, in fact, the entrance keys, the keys to the gates of Europe, into the hands of Turkey, of the successors of the Ottoman Empire, to Erdogan, I should even say maybe to Sultan Erdogan.”

Manfred Weber, the leader of the biggest group, the centre-right European People's Party, said that the EU should not give a "blank cheque" to Turkey.

Weber also said Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s seizure of the country’s leading opposition newspaper, Zaman, last week was “unaccpetable.”

The Turkey deal was agreed politically by EU leaders and Turkish PM Ahmet Davutoglu in Brussels on Monday.

Home affairs ministers are to discuss details of the plan, which is to be adopted formally by EU leaders at another summit next week.

The Greek migration minister will also brief colleagues on new bilateral accords signed by Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras and Davutoglu in Turkey on Tuesday.

The bilateral arrangements are designed to make it easier to return migrants to Turkey.

Sources said some ministers are concerned by Erdogan’s crackdown on civil liberties and could bring up the Zaman issue in Thursday’s talks.

MEPs warn against ‘blank checks’ for Turkey

Parliamentary leaders take aim at the EU’s deal with Ankara on migration.

By MAÏA DE LA BAUME 3/9/16, 1:03 PM CET Updated 3/9/16, 1:05 PM CET

Political leaders of the European Parliament unleashed harsh criticism Wednesday of the controversial deal EU leaders hope to finalize with Turkey on controlling migration flows, with top MEPs warning against giving “blank checks” to Ankara.

During a debate in the assembly’s plenary session in Strasbourg, senior lawmakers voiced concerns about the decision by EU leaders at an emergency summit in Brussels to give in to Turkey’s demands for more money and promises on visa liberalization and the country’s application to join the Union. They also took aim at Turkey’s record on human rights.

The agreement is expected to be finalized with Turkey at another summit on March 17-18. But EU leaders will need the European Parliament to endorse key parts of the deal, including on visa liberalization. The Parliament would also have to approve any increase in the EU budget required to pay more to Turkey for its cooperation.

Manfred Weber, leader of the Parliament’s biggest group, the center-right European People’s Party, told lawmakers that while the deal would help the effort to control the flow of refugees, it was wrong to give Ankara too much leverage.

“The question of how many refugees would be let into Europe, or not let into Europe: We can’t have Turkey putting pressure on Europe in the future,” Weber said. The EU’s relationship with Turkey, he added, is “a partnership, it is not dependency.”

Weber allowed that the offer of granting visa waivers and moving forward on Turkish accession to the EU, in return for Ankara’s commitment to take back refugees arriving in Greece illegally, was part of a “comprehensive and specific solution.”

But he and other MEPs underlined that there would not be automatic approval from Parliament on plans to drop visa restrictions for all Turks traveling to the EU.

“Turkey has to meet all the standards,” he said, including on an independent data protection system.

European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis defended the deal, telling MEPs it was “a chance to break the model of people smugglers.” If it is finalized, he said, it will be “a breakthrough.”

Gianni Pittella, the leader of the assembly’s other main party, the center-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, said the EU plan with Turkey should not be a “blank check” to Turkey, a country that he said has a record of human rights violations.

“We need full respect of human rights,” Pittella said.

Pittella refered to Turkey’s recent decision to close one of its main newspapers, Zaman, as well as its persecution of the Kurdish minority, which “have an impact on negotiations.”

The strongest criticism came from Guy Verhofstadt, the president of the centrist Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe group, who called the future agreement with Turkey “problematic” given the increasingly autocratic rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

“We need practical arrangements with Turkey, but with this deal we try to outsource our problems,” Verhofstadt said. “We give the entrance keys to the gates of Europe to the successors of the Ottoman Empire: to Erdoğan, Sultan Erdoğan.”

“Turkey has not fully adhered to the Geneva Convention and is rapidly falling into autocracy,” said Verhofstadt. The deal with Turkey, he added, “is like Americans telling Mexicans: ‘You manage the borders in the future.'”


Maïa de La Baume  

Italy fears becoming center of migration storm

Rome concerned that closure of Western Balkans route will force migrants to Albania — and then on to Italy.


As the Western Balkans route used by migrants to get from Greece to Northern Europe becomes almost impossible to navigate, fears are growing in Italy that it will become the center of attention — on two fronts.

Croatia, Slovenia and non-EU Macedonia announced Wednesday that their borders were now closed, leaving thousands of migrants stranded in Greece and looking for alternative ways north.

Many of them may head toward Albania, and then on to Italy.

As European interior ministers meet Thursday to discuss a Turkish plan to send back all migrants on Greek islands, Italians have other worries: how to deal with a potential influx from Albania at the same time as the weather improves and boats laden with migrants could begin making their way across the Mediterranean from Northern Africa to Sicily.

“If the Balkans close their borders there is the danger of a route from Albania,” Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi was quoted as saying to Jean-Claude Juncker, the Commission president, when they met in Rome at the end of last month.

Irregular flows of migrants along Western Balkans route have come to an end — Donald Tusk
Since then, the Western Balkans route has effectively closed. “Irregular flows of migrants along Western Balkans route have come to an end,” Donald Tusk, the European Council president, said in tweet on Wednesday, stressing that this was “not a question of unilateral actions but [a] common EU28 decision.”

On Monday, at an EU-Turkey summit, there were clashes over whether the closure of the migratory route should be officially announced. Germany’s Angela Merkel was opposed to such a move, fearing it could be seen as a victory for Hungary, which has been campaigning to shut the route, and for Austria, which has imposed yearly and daily caps on the number of refugees that it will take in.

For Italy the problem is a practical one. The country is at risk of seeing new flows of migrants from Albania, as happened in the 1990s. Officials and analysts say it’s too early to tell if any deal with Turkey will make a difference.

Michele Emiliano, the president of the Puglia region, Italy’s heel, which faces Albania, said on Wednesday that a strong flow of migrants is “likely,” and mention 150,000 potential arrivals.

At a meeting scheduled for Tuesday of a Council body known as the EU Integrated Political Crisis Response Arrangements, ambassadors and officials will, according to a document seen by POLITICO, discuss the question “Are we ready for increased inflows in spring, in particular on the Central Mediterranean route as well as the Western Mediterranean and following the closure of the Western Balkans route?”

Waiting in the woods

To make the case more urgent, Italian and Albanian media have reported that as many as 25,000 migrants have been camped out in woods, ready to make their way to the EU.

A Syrian Kurd originally from Aleppo and her eldest son are reunited with her other children after being separated on the crossing from Turkey to Greece

An Albanian diplomat said a more realistic figure was 10,000 and it would be difficult for them to get to Italy because of tough local laws on the ownership of boats. A more likely route, the diplomat said, would be north through Montenegro and Kosovo.

“The Italians have been worried about it for months and that is why we invited also Albania at the informal meeting of foreign ministers in Amsterdam last month and why [Federica] Mogherini [the EU’s foreign policy chief] traveled to Tirana recently,” said a senior EU official.

Albania was also invited to a Western Balkan conference at the end of October and is setting up facilities to host between 3,000 and 5,000 migrants, said a diplomat.

The UNHCR, the U.N.’s refugee agency, is working with the government in Tirana to “identify possible processing sites close to Kakavia and Kapshticë” — two strategic crossing points between northern Greece and Albania. However, “the government of Albania has not at this stage formally requested UNHCR to set up reception facilities,” a spokesperson said.

Although the Italians are worried, they are also trying to downplay the risks. “We don’t have a single sign to say that this happening,” Mario Morcone, the head of the migration department at the Italian interior ministry, said in an interview. “If it happens we are ready but for now there’s no sign.”

Italy is already braced for an influx of migrants through the often deadly Central Mediterranean route. Last April, a boat full of migrants capsized off the Sicilian coast, killing almost 800.

Last year, 885,000 migrants arrived in the EU via the Eastern Mediterranean route, according to Frontex, the EU’s border agency, while 157,000 used the Central Mediterranean route. The closure of the Western Balkan route, along with calm conditions at sea and the chaotic situation in Libya, could see those numbers increase.

The Italian interior minister, Angelino Alfano, has often raised this issue at summits, a diplomat said. But other officials argue that the Italians will be helped by the Eunvafor Med naval operation, launched last summer to tackle people-smuggling.

When it comes to Italy’s concerns “some elements are true but there are also fears that tend to be exaggerated compared to what data shows,” said Maurizio Ambrosini, a migration expert at Milan University.

“Time and again we have read about one million people ready to cross from Libya: it has never happened.”


Jacopo Barigazzi  

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