Europe refugees flows set to continue amid sharp rise in asylum applications

African migrants stand on the deck of the Italian rescue ship Vos Prudence run by NGO Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) as it arrives in the port of Salerno carrying 935 migrants, including 16 children and 7 pregnant women rescued from the Mediterranean sea. (AFP)
Updated 10 January 2018
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Europe refugees flows set to continue amid sharp rise in asylum applications

LONDON: The flow of migrants into Europe shows no signs of abating, say experts with the number of asylum seekers increasing in some countries and many living in dire conditions as they wait for their applications to be processed.
While Germany saw a decline in the number of refugee applications in 2017, France witnessed the highest number of asylum applications in 40 years during 2017 and anticipates a further rise this year.
Pascal Brice, director general of the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (Ofpra) told French broadcaster CNEWS that the number of asylum applicants in the country had increased by 17 percent, with more than 100,000 requests registered last year.
“France is one of the top countries for seeking asylum in Europe” after Germany, which expects to receive just under 200,000 requests for asylum in 2018,” Brice said.
Brice noted a sharp rise in the number of requests from Albanian and West African nationals with 7,630 applications from Albania and 5,987 from Afghanistan — the second most common country of origin.
Speaking to Arab News, professor Christian Dustmann, director of the Center for Research and Analysis on Migration (CReaM) said: “The political fallout has been quite tremendous in Europe so clearly European countries have tried to make sure that the influx of asylum seekers will be reduced.”
“That has seen some success so things have calmed down a little bit but in the longer run this will not totally abate.”
Neil Grungas, executive director of the organization for Refuge, Asylum & Migration (Oram) pointed to “signs of instability” elsewhere in the region, including the recent uprising in Iran and the possibility of further crackdown on protesters by the regime. “We don’t yet know what will be the impact in terms of outflow from Iran.”
“Also, the fact that ISIL (Daesh) has been apparently quelled in some sections of Syria and in Iraq doesn’t mean they are gone. We can expect the kind of radicalism and the kind of political pressures that we’ve seen to carry on further and further.”
“People will need to leave…some because they are living in war zones and others because they are tired of living in situations of perpetual displacement,” he added.
“There is a lot of political instability in the Middle East so I don’t see that this will now disappear completely, I think we will live with this challenge for a very long time to come,” Dustmann said.
A series of regime air strikes in rebel-held Idlib in Syria on Sunday, which killed at least 40 people, sent thousands fleeing north toward the Syrian border.
Kerem Kinik, president of the Turkish Red Crescent Society, told Arab News earlier this week that in the past fortnight around 64,000 Syrians have traveled from the south of Idlib toward the north.
“We are doing our best to accommodate them in our camp between Idlib and our southern border,” he said.
A report released by The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in March 2017 found that counties bordering Syria hosted the vast majority of refugees, with more than 5 million people seeking refuge in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, as well as Egypt and Iraq.
The controversial deal struck between the EU and Turkey last year, which left many refugees stranded on Greek islands, was designed to stem the flow of migrants crossing into Europe but relations between the signatories have since deteriorated.
The EU’s deal with Turkey is “beginning to fray around the edges” said Jonathan Portes, professor of economics and public policy at King’s College London, and a senior fellow of the UK in a Changing Europe program.
“It’s quite possible that you will continue to have very large numbers of people displaced from Syria to Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and that many of those will continue to try and make their way to Europe if they see that as being a potentially feasible thing to do.”
For those trying to cross into Europe, the journey has grown increasingly difficult and perilous since more countries closed off migration routes.
“Even if applications are going up in France, there’s still quite a strong cohort of people in Calais who are in the dire conditions because there is no official camp and there are more and more restrictions on what services can be provided for them,” said Fizza Qureshi, Director of the Migrants’ Rights Network.
“For us the concern is there are no easy routes for protection, so a lot of people are having to put themselves into the hands of traffickers.”
“Its incredibly difficult for people who end up in places like Hungary and some of the other Eastern European countries that are very unwelcoming at the moment to refugees.”
“There needs to be a much more rights-based approach to refugee protection.”


Joy as US-seized bells return to Philippine church

Updated 15 December 2018
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Joy as US-seized bells return to Philippine church

  • US troops carted away the bronze objects as trophies in reprisal for a surprise 1901 attack
  • For the people of Balangiga the bells are a symbol of the Philippines’ long struggle for independence

BALANGIGA, Philippines: A sleepy central Philippine town erupted in joy on Saturday as bells looted from its church more than a century ago by vengeful US troops were to be turned over to the community.
Children waving bell-shaped signs and tearful residents in Balangiga gathered to welcome home the three bells that are a deep local source of pride, and which the US flew to Manila this week after decades of urging by the Philippines.
US troops carted away the bronze objects as trophies, after razing the town and killing potentially thousands of Filipinos, in reprisal for a surprise 1901 attack that left 48 of their comrades dead.
For the people of Balangiga the bells are a symbol of the Philippines’ long struggle for independence, and a dark chapter which is the subject of an annual re-enactment and remembrance event locally.
“It’s not just me but the whole town is walking in the clouds because the bells are finally with us,” 81-year-old Nemesio Duran told AFP.
“We are the happiest people on Earth now,” he added, noting he is descended from the boy who rang one of the bells, long said to have signalled the attack on the Americans.
The bells arrived in Balangiga late Friday ahead of an official handover ceremony set for later Saturday, but the town’s streets were already crowded with people and vendors selling T-shirts saying “Balangiga bells finally home.”
The ceremony will be not far from the town plaza that holds a monument with statues of the American soldiers having breakfast as the Filipino revolutionaries raise their machetes at the start of the onslaught.
Manila has been pushing for the bells’ return since at least the 1990s, with backing from Philippine presidents, its influential Catholic Church and supporters in the United States.
But the repatriation was long held back by some American lawmakers and veterans who viewed the bells, two of which were in the US state of Wyoming and the third at a US base in South Korea, as tributes to fallen soldiers.
A confluence of factors earlier this year, that included a key veterans’ group dropping its opposition, culminated in the bells landing in Manila aboard a US military cargo plane on Tuesday for a solemn handover.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, 73, bluntly called on Washington in a 2017 speech: “Give us back those Balangiga bells. They are not yours.”
His arrival in power in mid-2016 was marked by moves to split from Manila’s historical ally and former colonial master the United States. At the same time Duterte signalled an end to the standoff with Beijing over the disputed South China Sea.
Yet for some in Balangiga the bells’ return is also a somber occasion tinged with the pain of the past, which has been passed from generation to generation.
“It’s mixed emotions because the bells also remind me of what happened,” Constancia Elaba, 62, told AFP, adding how she grew up hearing stories of the episode from her father.
“It was painful and you cannot take it away from us. We can never forget that,” she said.