EU powers push for uptake of migrant relocation pilot scheme

Over 50% of immigrants arrive to EU through Greece. (File/AFP)
Updated 06 October 2019

EU powers push for uptake of migrant relocation pilot scheme

  • The plan was named the Malta declaration
  • It urges European countries to take a share of asylum-seekers

LUXEMBOURG: EU powers France, Germany and Italy, along with smaller member Malta, will on Tuesday seek to rally the rest of the European bloc to a joint scheme they have come up with to distribute migrants saved at sea.
But it was unclear, ahead of the meeting of EU interior ministers in Luxembourg, how many other states would sign on to the so-called Malta declaration reached two weeks earlier.
Migration remains a hot-button issue in the EU in the wake of a massive 2015 influx of mostly Syrian refugees fleeing war.
While the numbers have fallen to just a fraction since — under contentious EU deals done with Turkey and Libya to hinder migrants’ onward travel — no progress has been made in three years of efforts to reform the EU’s refugee policy.
The Malta declaration is an attempt at a stop-gap measure pending efforts by the incoming European Commission taking charge next month to unblock the refugee policy impasse under a vice president specifically tasked with “Protecting the European Way of Life.”
The text urges EU countries to take a share of the asylum-seekers crossing the Mediterranean, who are arriving mostly in Italy and Malta either in overcrowded boats or rescued by ships run by NGOs.
However the document’s language is deliberately vague to avoid raising hackles.
It makes no mention of intake quotas, for instance, or punishment for EU states that do not participate, or how economic migrants with no right to asylum might be weeded out and returned to their country of origin.
The mechanism has just a six-month period lifespan, renewable if there’s sufficient support.
“The beauty of this text is that you can’t be against it. But also you can maybe not be totally in favor of it. Because there are things lacking,” one European diplomat said.
“There’s hardly anything in there that describes the disembarkation, the disembarkation procedure and the relocation scheme afterwards.”
Some EU states grumbled that the Malta declaration does little to address migration flows to Spain or Greece which are largely not subject to sea search-and-rescue.
Since the start of this year, 13 percent of irregular migrants have arrived in Europe through Italy or Malta, compared to 57 percent in Greece and 29 percent in Spain.
Several states acknowledge however that the scheme seeks to “empty the boats” and alleviate a situation in which rescued migrants might spend weeks at sea before a European port allows an NGO ship to finally dock and have them disembark.
The European Commission sees the declaration as “the outline of a future agreement,” according to a spokeswoman.
NGOs such as Amnesty and Human Rights Watch called it a “positive step,” while Oxfam said it was “the first moment of hope for a more humane system since European migration policies deteriorated in 2015.”
But not all EU states are on board.
While Luxembourg and Ireland are “highly probable” candidates to join the temporary scheme, Finland was in favor only if a critical mass of member states signed up, and the Netherlands was against, according to various EU diplomats.
Asked how many might support the scheme in Tuesday’s meeting, one diplomat told AFP: “I have no idea. Your guess is as good as mine.”
Any suggestion that EU countries opposed to taking in migrants, such as Hungary or Poland, might be penalized through reduced EU spending or enforced contributions to those countries that do host could sour the meeting quickly.
Another diplomat cautioned that “we’re still in a relatively early stage — this is a process which will certainly continue after Tuesday.”


Can Muslims swing UK vote?

Updated 07 December 2019

Can Muslims swing UK vote?

  • They may be a minority, but British Muslim voters could have a major impact at the ballot box, a new report suggests
  • The Muslim Council of Britain has identified 18 constituencies in which Muslim voters could have a high impact

LONDON: With Islamophobia on the rise in the UK, and uncertainty surrounding Brexit and its implications, British Muslims could have a significant impact on the result of the Dec. 9 general election simply by exercising their right to vote.

Despite the UK’s Muslim population standing at 5 percent, there are 31 marginal seats in which Muslim voters could have a “high” or “medium” impact, according to a list published by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB).

The council has identified 18 constituencies in which Muslim voters may have a high impact, and 13 in which they could have a medium impact.

Top of the list for high-impact areas are Kensington, Dudley North and Richmond Park.

High-impact seats are those where the current margin of victory is small and the proportion of Muslim voters is significant compared to the margin of victory.

In Kensington, Labour candidate Emma Dent Coad won her seat in 2017 by a margin of 20 votes.

The number of Muslims of voting age in this constituency, estimated at 5,431, is 272 times this margin.

A British Muslim woman leaves a polling station after voting in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, UK, in a previous election. (Shutterstock)

In Dudley North and Richmond Park, the Muslim electorate — which stands at 4 percent of voting-age constituents — was over 70 times the victory margin in both constituencies, which was 22 and 45 votes, respectively. Muslims are, therefore, in a position to make a difference in high-impact seats such as these.

The MCB is the UK’s largest and most diverse Muslim umbrella organization, with over 500 affiliated national, regional and local organizations, mosques, charities and schools.

It does not endorse any political party or prospective parliamentary candidate.

Ahead of the last general election, the MCB identified 16 high- and 23 medium-impact seats where it thought Muslims could make a difference.

“Where we highlighted that these seats had the potential for Muslims to have a huge impact if they voted a particular way, we did see that actually come to fruition,” the MCB’s Public Affairs Manager Zainab Gulamali said.

In the 16 constituencies where the MCB thought Muslims could have a high impact, every one of these seats went on to be held by the Labour Party.

Eleven of these were previously Labour seats, but it increased its majority, and five were previously Conservative seats.

Of the 23 medium-impact constituencies, 16 seats in which Labour was the incumbent saw an increase in its majority, with the exception of Bolton North East.

Of the seven previously Conservative seats, five were retained with a smaller majority, one seat was gained by the Liberal Democrats, and the Conservatives increased their majority in the final seat.

The MCB’s election policy platform report said Muslims “do not all affiliate with one particular political party. Muslims vote for different reasons like all voters.”

It added that the British government’s own analysis confirms that “minorities are not a bloc vote that automatically supports Labour irrespective of Labour’s performance.”

Gulamali said: “This election is going to be a really interesting one for Muslims and non-Muslims, and the fact that the UK is going through unprecedented change means that it’s important for everyone to get out and vote.”

She added: “The choices that people will make in this election will be really crucial. We know that Muslims choose to vote for whoever they vote for based on a number of concerns, especially as Islamophobia is so prevalent in particular political parties.

“We think that would be something that many Muslims consider when casting their vote.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently apologized for the “hurt and offence” caused by instances of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party.

He said that an inquiry into “every manner of prejudice and discrimination” in his party would begin by Christmas.

Former party Chairwoman Baroness Warsi — the first Muslim woman to be part of a British Cabinet, who has been calling for an inquiry into Islamophobia within the party — said the apology was “a good start.”

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson has apologized for the ‘hurt and offence’ caused by instances of Islamophobia within the Conservative Party.  (AFP)

Johnson’s apology came as Flora Scarabello, who was running as the Conservative candidate for Glasgow Central, was suspended by the party over “alleged use of anti-Muslim language.”

A party spokesman said: “There is no place in the Scottish Conservatives for anti-Muslim language, or any other form of racial or religious discrimination.”

Johnson has remained silent about his own comments on Muslim women. Writing in his Daily Telegraph column in August 2018, he said Muslim women wearing the niqab “look like letter boxes” or bank robbers.

The MCB report said there “has been a disturbing and dangerous rise in Islamophobic incidents and support of anti-Muslim sentiments within political parties,” and urged them to investigate “issues of Islamophobia within their parties.”

Gulamali said: “Before the general election, we surveyed over 500 of our affiliates and other British Muslims, and we found that tackling Islamophobia was a No. 1 priority the Muslims that we spoke to had for political parties.”

But “Muslims don’t just care about Islamophobia and Muslim issues. They also care about all the other issues that everyone else cares about,” she added.

These include Brexit. A recent MCB survey of its affiliates and wider Muslim communities found that 77 percent of participants back remaining in the EU. The same percentage of participants support a second referendum on Brexit.

“Muslims are overwhelmingly poorer than mainstream society — 46 percent of the Muslim population resides in the 10 percent most deprived local authority districts in England,” Gulamali said.

“We know that Brexit is likely to hit people in low socioeconomic groups more than people who are well off. So Muslims will be disadvantaged by Brexit in that way.”

Muslim voters also care about issues such as the privatization of the National Health Service, tackling knife crime, unemployment and the cost of living.

Boris Johnson's apology was described as ‘a good start’ by Baroness Warsi, right, the party’s former chairwoman. (AFP)

The MCB held its first national Muslim voter registration day on Nov. 22, when it encouraged political participation among Muslims, 300,000 of whom registered to vote that day.

The East London Mosque’s London’s Muslim Centre took part in the MCB’s voter registration drive.

Dilowar Khan, its director, said by taking part in the initiative, “we hope to have played our part in increasing awareness for our congregants of their democratic right to vote and cause change.”

He added: “Overall, we hope this increased political participation by the Muslim community will help steer our country toward a better society.”

Khan said: “It’s only through engagement that we can identify and voice key issues affecting Muslim communities.”

He added: “It’s important that everyone realizes their potential to cause change via political participation.

“Muslims make up a significant minority in the UK, and it’s of utmost importance that our concerns are validated and that our politicians address these issues,” Khan said.