‘I feel like freedom’: The Afghan kids who found purpose and care on Australian soccer pitches

They call them “The Rascals”.

A rambunctious group of boys, madly dashing around on a Saturday morning playing soccer — the game they love more than anything.

They play like their life depends on it: with passion, untold energy and joy.

In this sense, they’re no different to any other kids their own age.

And yet these boys couldn’t be any more different to the boys on the other side of the pitch.

Because the other young boys they’re playing aren’t refugees. Those other boys didn’t have to endure a terrifying escape from Afghanistan after the Taliban regained power. And they didn’t have to set up a new life in a new country all the while dealing with the trauma of losing one — or both — of their parents while fleeing their country and starting a new life in a strange and foreign land.

But The Rascals of the Melrose Park Football Club under-13s in north-west Sydney are lucky. Because in Australia they found a group of people who cared deeply about giving them the gift of playing soccer with each other.

And they’re lucky because they have a leader. He’s another young Afghan who had lost a parent and was himself little more than a boy when he fled his country.

His name is Zarar Mujahid, and he’s just 21.

When Zarar was three, his father – a soldier in the Afghan army — was killed when the convoy he was leading was blown up by a Taliban roadside bomb.

His death left behind a widowed mother with six young children.

Posted , updated 

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Fear, a decisive force in these European elections

As the European Parliament elections approach, a growing sense of fear stemming from multiple — yet mutually reinforcing — sources seems to be the decisive force shaping electoral behaviour. Citizens of the EU experience uncertainty in the face of broad economic and cultural changes occurring at an unprecedented pace, coupled by unforeseen crises, such as Covid and the climate crisis, and the re-emergence of war conflicts, on a continent accustomed to peace for over half a century.

The survey

Last month, more than 10,800 European voters took a stand on the pressing issues and running challenges of the EU, as part of a large-scale comparative survey conducted by Kapa Research across 10 member countries (Bulgaria, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Romania, and Spain) between May 4 and 24, 2024.

This survey goes beyond domestic dilemmas or voting intentions. Taking a closer look at emerging and established trends within European societies between 2019 and 2024, it examines what shapes the bloc’s social agenda today, citizen concerns about European and international issues, leadership expectations, and opinions about leading global figures. On question after question, responses reveal a strong undercurrent of fear impacting voting behaviour just days before June’s European elections, emanating from four critical realities.

Rising cost of living is the foremost concern for Europeans heading to the polls.

Fear cause No.1: Economic uncertainty

Rising cost of living is the foremost concern for Europeans heading to the polls. Inflation shocks that have stunned European economies during the post-pandemic period established a deep-rooted unease about people’s ability to make ends meet. Asked about issues that worry them most when thinking of today’s Europe, respondents, at an average of 47 percent , place “rising cost of living” as their top concern. The issue has become remarkably salient in countries like France (58 percent), Greece (55 percent), Romania (54 percent), Spain (49 percent), and Bulgaria (44 percent), yet, still, in the rest of the surveyed member countries the cost of living ends up among the top three causes of concern. This wide sense of economic uncertainty is further spurred by a lingering feeling of unfairness when it comes to the distribution of wealth: M ore than eight out of 10 (81 percent overall) sense that “in Europe, the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer”.

via Kapa Research

Anxiety transforms into fear when one realizes that the main political conflict has little to do with competing economic solutions to high living costs. Instead, it is more of a clash between systemic forces and extremists, primarily centred on the field of immigration and the perceived threat to the European way of life.

Fear cause No.2: Immigration

On the cultural front, since 2015, immigration in Europe has been a complex and multifaceted issue, with humanitarian and political implications. In our survey, immigration appears to be the second most important citizen concern with 37 percent (on average), while, at the same time, on the question of which areas should Europe focus on the next five years, calls for “stricter immigration control” are prevalent, with 36 percent of respondents across all surveyed countries ranking it as a top priority. This is notably evident in Germany (56 percent), in spite of its reputation as a welcoming country early in the migration crisis, and in Italy (40 percent), a hub-country into Europe for migrants and refugees. More importantly, the perception of immigration as a “threat to public order” is widespread, with 68 percent of respondents holding this view, compared to only 23 percent who see it as an “opportunity for a new workforce”.

via Kapa Research

Fear cause No.3: War on our doorstep

The return of war to Europe has reignited fears about security; conflicts in Ukraine and, more recently, in Gaza come into play as new factors impacting this year’s EU elections. In this survey, “the Russia-Ukraine war” is the third most pressing concern for 35 percent of respondents, only two percentage points below “immigration ”. Here geographical proximity is crucial as the issue is especially prominent in Estonia (52 percent), Hungary (50 percent), Poland (50 percent), and Romania (43 percent), all neighbouring countries to either Russia or Ukraine. Additionally, demand for immediate ceasefire on both fronts is prevalent: 65 percent believe that hostilities in Gaza “must stop immediately ”, while the same view is supported by 60 percent for the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

To this end, as the feeling of danger from wars and terrorism grows stronger, EU-UK relations become indirectly connected to the issue of security: 56% of respondents wish for a (re)alignment between Great Britain and the EU. At the same time, and compared to current leaders, former UK PM Tony Blair enjoys strong popularity ratings.

Fear cause No.4: The unknown reality of AI

Over time, technological advancement has been widely welcomed as a positive development for humanity, as a means of improving living conditions, and as a growth accelerator. The rapid rise of a rtificial i ntelligence in citizens’ day-to-day lives seems to be disrupting this tradition. Among the member countries surveyed, an average majority of 51 percent considers AI more as a “threat to humanity” rather than as an “opportunity” (31 percent ). Along the same vein, scepticism is reflected in the reluctance to embrace AI as a strategic goal for the EU in the next five years, with 54 percent opposing such a move.

via Kapa Research

Mixing all four of the above ingredients produces an explosive cocktail of fear within European societies.

Key takeaway

Mixing all four of the above ingredients produces an explosive cocktail of fear within European societies. While combined with the prevalent EU technocracy and the weak institutions-to-citizens communication, it is reasonable to expect mounted distrust and electoral consequences. Voters will use their ballot to send painful messages. However, our survey shows that the great majority still favo r strengthening the European acquis — security, freedom, democracy, growth, and social cohesion — and seek a competent leadership that can defend it.

via Kapa Research

See full survey report by Kapa Research here.



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Israeli ground offensive in Rafah ‘aimed at making Gaza uninhabitable’

Israel has announced plans to launch a full-scale offensive on the town of Rafah in the southern Gaza strip, claiming it is the only way to “completely destroy” Hamas. But according to former French military officer and author Guillaume Ancel, a large-scale military operation in the city that is now host to half of Gaza’s population is of no strategic interest. In his analysis, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s only goal is to make the Palestinian enclave “uninhabitable”.

The countdown has begun for Rafah. Israel repeated on Sunday its threats of carrying out a major ground attack against the southern Gaza city before the start of Ramadan: the holy month in Islam, during which Muslims fast, is expected to begin around March 10. The perspective of a ground operation in the city, which was once considered “safe” for civilians, is fuelling international concern about the fate of the 1.5 million Palestinians trapped in the city.

“The world must know, and Hamas leaders must know – if by Ramadan our hostages are not home, the fighting will continue everywhere, including the Rafah area,” Benny Gantz, a former Israeli defence minister currently serving on Netanyahu’s war cabinet, told a conference of American Jewish leaders in Jerusalem on Sunday. “Hamas has a choice. They can surrender, release the hostages and the civilians of Gaza can celebrate the feast of Ramadan,” he added.

Having so far ignored the warnings of his Western allies, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu seems more determined than ever to continue the war against Hamas, reaffirming on February 9 that he was aiming for “total victory”. On February 17 he said that foreign countries calling on Israel to spare the city were effectively telling the country to “lose the war” against Hamas.

“Benny Gantz’s statements reflect a rift within the war cabinet,” French military expert Guillaume Ancel said in an interview with FRANCE 24. “While the extremists led by Netanyahu want to go all the way, those who are more moderate, like Benny Gantz, want to leave the door open for negotiations, which are currently going very badly.”

Pressure ‘on partners involved in negotiations’

According to a Hamas official quoted by Israeli daily Haaretz, the arrival of the movement’s political leader Ismail Haniyeh in Cairo on Tuesday did not mean there had been any breakthrough in the negotiations.

Organised by Egypt and Qatar, several rounds of talks were held in Cairo earlier this month but failed to reach an agreement on a truce and the release of Israeli hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. According to Israel, 130 hostages are still being held in Gaza, at least 30 of whom have reportedly died, out of the 257 kidnapped on October 7.

Read moreWho are the remaining Gaza hostages?

Talks have stalled over Hamas’s demands, described as “delusional” by Binyamin Netanyahu. These include a ceasefire, Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, an end to the Israeli blockade of the Palestinian territory and safe shelter for the hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinian civilians.

“More than on Hamas, this is about putting pressure on the partners involved in the negotiations, specially Egypt, Qatar and the US”, says Tewfik Hamel, a researcher in military history at Université Paul Valéry in Montpellier, who sees Israel’s ultimatum as a call for the Islamist movement to capitulate.

Fears of ‘carnage’

Should new negotiations fail, the prospect of a military ground offensive in overcrowded Rafah raises the worst fears for the trapped Palestinian refugees. Nearly 30,000 people have so far been killed in the conflict, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.

“In an area of 10 square kilometres, there are almost 1.5 million Palestinians, so this will necessarily lead to a massacre of the civilian population,” says Hamel. “Attacking the town of Rafah, where two-thirds of Gaza’s population is now squeezed, would mean committing carnage,” agrees Ancel.

The former soldier points out that the town has already been subjected to daily bombardment designed “to prepare the territory” for a ground attack. On Thursday, fresh Israeli bombardment of the city flattened a mosque and destroyed homes in what residents called one of their worst nights yet, killing at least 97 people and wounding 130 others in the last 24 hours, according to Gaza’s health authorities. Most victims were still under rubble or in areas rescuers could not reach.

“We can’t even begin to imagine what this would mean for all these displaced people. A military offensive is going to create even more chaos,” Jamie MacGoldrick, the UN’s Middle East coordinator, told FRANCE 24.

Reports from humanitarian organisations have been increasingly alarming on the situation in the Gaza Strip, where 2.2 million people could face starvation. According to UN agencies, food and drinking water have become “extremely scarce”, and 90 percent of the enclave’s young children now suffer from infectious diseases.

Watch moreThe desperate search for food and water in Gaza

Netanyahu has said Israel would provide “safe passage” to civilians trying to leave Rafah before the assault, but never mentioned to which destination. In the event of an offensive, Palestinian civilians would have to try to force their way across the closed border with Egypt.

Egypt doesn’t want refugees in Sinai because the authorities don’t know whether Israel would later accept their return to the Gaza Strip, and Egypt doesn’t want to host the refugees out of fears some might end up being Hamas fighters, even if authorities don’t explicitly state it,” explains Bruno Daroux, FRANCE 24’s international affairs editor.

But recently Cairo seemed to be preparing for this scenario. According to reports by the Wall Street Journal and an Egyptian NGO, Cairo is constructing a walled camp in the Sinai Peninsula to receive displaced Palestinian civilians from the Gaza Strip. After satellite images appeared to show extensive construction work along the border, the reports claim the compound could accommodate more than 100,000 people on the Egyptian side, parallel to the border with Gaza.

Ancel sees this flight from Rafah as the real objective of Binyamin Netanyahu’s government. “Rafah is the only urban centre that has not been destroyed by the Israeli army. The government therefore wants to complete the destruction of the Gaza Strip’s infrastructure to make it uninhabitable. Netanyahu’s aim is to empty the Gaza Strip of Palestinians under the guise of fighting Hamas,” says the former officer, who believes that “a terrorist organisation cannot be destroyed by a military offensive”.

Destruction rendering ‘return of civilians impossible’

“The current Israeli government rejects the creation of a Palestinian state. From that point of view, the most reasonable option is to drive the Palestinians out of the territory,” says Hamel. “However, the attachment of the Gazans to the territory remains strong, because they know that as soon as there is a displacement of the population, the possibility of a return completely ceases to exist.”

As well as farmlands, almost 40 percent of the buildings in the Gaza Strip had been destroyed by January 17, an Israeli study revealed. According to satellite data analysis obtained by the BBC, the actual figure is higher. That analysis suggests between 144,000 and 175,000 buildings across the whole Gaza Strip have been damaged or destroyed – meaning between 50 and 61 percent of Gaza’s buildings.

UN human rights chief Volker Turk on February 8 accused the Israeli army of committing a “war crime” in its reported destruction of buildings within one kilometre of the barrier between the enclave and Israel in order to create a “buffer zone” along the border inside Gaza itself.

Read moreGaza: More than 40% of buildings destroyed in the ‘buffer zone’ Israel plans to create

Turk said the destruction “appears to be aimed at, or has the effect of, rendering the return of civilians to these areas impossible,” adding Israel’s “extensive destruction of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly, amounts to a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and a war crime”, he said in a statement.

This story has been adapted from the original in French.

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How a wave of disinformation is endangering Rohingya refugees in Indonesia

Dozens of photos and videos that have been either “doctored” or taken out of context so as to negatively portray Rohingya refugees have been circulating on Indonesian social media. This wave of disinformation has become so intense that the United Nations is worried about the refugees’ safety – even in Aceh province, which has, historically, been considered very welcoming. Our Observer, an Indonesian journalist who specialises in fact-checking for a publication called Mafindo, has been looking at the rise in online hate speech and fake news targeting the Rohingya.

Hundreds of protesters forced a group of Rohingya refugees to leave their temporary shelter in a parking lot in Banda Aceh, the capital of the Indonesian province of Aceh, on December 27, 2023. Videos show the protesters chanting slogans like “get them out” and threatening the frightened refugees, among them women and children. 

This footage, which was widely circulated both on social media and by media outlets, has shocked the Rohingya community and its advocates. Each year, many Rohingya arrive in makeshift boats on the beaches of this province in the far northern part of Indonesia. Up until now, they were welcomed by locals. 

The Rohingya, a Muslim minority from Myanmar, have long faced persecution in their country, but more than 700,000 of them fled when the Myanmar military began a violent campaign of repression in August 2017. Many of them now live as refugees in Bangladesh, often in dire circumstances. Many Rohingya have been attempting to flee the terrible situations in both Myanmar and Bangladesh by boat. 

Many of these boats are bound for Malaysia. However, few reach their target destination, whether due to poor weather conditions, overcrowding or badly equipped boats.  

Many of the boats end up coming ashore in the Indonesian region of Aceh. More than 1,600 landed there in 2023, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

However, in recent months, it seems like the Rohingyas are no longer welcome in Aceh. A group of locals rejected a boat filled with more than 250 refugees back in November 2023, forcing them back to sea and, since then, there have been other cases of the same kind of response. There have also been other reports of locals physically and verbally threatening refugees. Locals have also accused workers with the UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) of being part of a human trafficking network. 

The spike in anti-Rohinyga actions is occurring alongside a rise in online hate speech and disinformation about Rohingya on social media in Indonesia. 

The number of photos and videos taken out of context to feed into a negative narrative about Rohingya refugees has exploded on Instagram and TikTok in recent months.

For example, a video that claims to show Rohingya refugees burning down a warehouse has gone viral on TikTok. We did a reverse image search on the footage (click here to find out how) to figure out when this footage first appeared online. Turns out, it actually shows a fire that took place back in 2020 in Cimahi, a town in the Indonesian province of West Java.


This is a screengrab of a video posted on TikTok. The caption, in Indonesian, says, “Rohingyas burned down this warehouse in Aceh because they weren’t given food.” © FRANCE 24 Observers

Another video, which has garnered more than 11 million views on TikTok since December, shows an enormous boat filled with passengers. The caption on the video reads: “Rohingyas are once again being transported from Bangladesh to Indonesia.” In reality, the footage shows a boat that carries out internal voyages within Bangladesh. You can see the name of the boat in the footage and, from there, we were able to find out its itinerary. It turns out that some of the footage of this boat was taken from a Bangladeshi YouTube channel.

This is a screengrab of a video published on TikTok that claims to show a boat filled with Rohingya refugees who have left Bangladesh bound for Indonesia.
This is a screengrab of a video published on TikTok that claims to show a boat filled with Rohingya refugees who have left Bangladesh bound for Indonesia. © FRANCE 24 Observers

‘Fake information linked to hate speech targets people’s emotions’ 

The Indonesian platform Mafindo investigated these two videos and uncovered their origins. Aribowo Sasmito, a journalist with Mafindo, says that there has been a sharp rise in fake information about the Rohingyas online in recent months :

Everything began with a series of TikTok videos that were made to look like they were from the UNHCR. It became so intense that the UNHCR had to speak out to say that these weren’t their videos.


In this thread posted on X, the United Nations in Indonesia warned social media users about fake information about the Rohingya published by accounts pretending to be the UNHCR. These fake accounts claimed, for example, that the UNHCR in Bangladesh gave special passes to Rohingya.

 

There are also more and more videos on Instagram and TikTok that paint the Rohingyas as ungrateful. 

The problem with these videos is that people allow themselves to be influenced without verifying them, especially anything that reaffirms the narrative that the Rohingya are bad.

 

There are common themes that emerge in these fake news items. One portrays Rohingyas as ungrateful for the help offered by Indonesians. Another common narrative is that they are all part of a human trafficking network. Another is that they are “fake” Muslims.

 

Because most Indonesians are very religious, faith is one of the main themes exploited by disinformation and hate speech. 

It is very difficult to dismantle fake information based on hate speech, because it targets people’s emotions. The easiest way to spread disinformation in a religious and family-orientated society like Indonesia is to integrate religion and racism into it.

 

Some posts compare the Rohingya refugees arriving in Indonesia with the situation in Israel and Gaza – but, in these posts, the Rohingya are portrayed as spoiling the land belonging to Indonesians. 

A fake UNHCR account, for example, seemed to claim that it was going to give the Rohingya an “empty island”. Another fake news item that is supposed to show boats filled with Rohingya refugees is captioned: “The situation in Israel is happening again here.” In actuality, however, the boats shown are Chinese fishing boats.

This is a screengrab of a video posted on TikTok that claims to show boats filled with Rohingya heading towards Indonesia. “Protect our seas from illegal Rohingya refugees,” reads the text.
This is a screengrab of a video posted on TikTok that claims to show boats filled with Rohingya heading towards Indonesia. “Protect our seas from illegal Rohingya refugees,” reads the text. © FRANCE 24 Observers

Some local NGOs are actually starting to believe this negative discourse about the Rohingya. Some of their members believe the narrative that the refugees are ungrateful and badly behaved.  

One reason for the increasingly negative view of the Rohingya in Aceh is an incident that took place in 2021 – three fishermen were imprisoned after they helped 99 Rohingya refugees trapped on a sinking boat. They were sentenced to five years in prison on human trafficking charges. There remains a sense of in injustice in Aceh and sometimes the Rohingya are blamed for this. 

In this impoverished region, the image of the refugees being “ungrateful” has spread quickly, explains journalist Sasmito :

 

The few isolated cases where a Rohingya refugee has been badly behaved end up being applied to the whole population. When people already have an aversion to another group, then they can be easily incited to share false information that reaffirms their beliefs.

There are also external factions that feed into this narrative, like when Indonesian president Joko Widodo said [in December 2023] that the number of Rohingya in the country had increased because of human trafficking.

 

In early January, a video clip that was shared more than 200,000 times made it look like the Indonesian president wanted to deport the Rohingya. But in the full speech, which was obtained by fact-checking outlet AFP factuel, Widodo doesn’t talk about deportation. He says that he wants to end human trafficking and that he is committed to providing temporary aid to the Rohingya “while prioritizing the interests of the local community”. 

‘The Rohingya have become scapegoats’  

The anti-Rohingya sentiment is also growing amid a backdrop of heightened nationalism and patriotism, with elections having been held on February 14. Chris Lewa, the president of the Arakan Project, an association dedicated to Rohingya rights, has kept a close eye on the evolution of this anti-Rohingya discourse online: 

 

When the first boat was prevented from landing [in November], the spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs made a statement underscoring that Indonesia didn’t sign the 1951 Refugee Convention, which meant that they were under no international obligation to receive the Rohingya. His words have often been cited in anti-Rohingya discourse. 

However, the country does need to respect national laws [Editor’s note: which require the country to accept refugees, including a presidential decree from 2016].

Against the backdrop of presidential elections, the Rohingya have become scapegoats. 

[Faced with the rising tensions] the government said that they want to work with the UNHCR and the IOM but, in this climate, it hasn’t changed anything. Locals keep displacing the Rohingya and some of the Indonesian members of my association don’t want to go into the camps anymore. Some have even faced physical threat. It isn’t like that everywhere though, thankfully, and some villagers are still showing their support to the Rohingya refugees. 

 

Some journalists and analysts are speaking about what looks like a coordinated “campaign” of disinformation, but have, so far, been unable to determine who might be behind this. 



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Ukrainian comedian Dima Watermelon explains why Putin is not a joke

Ukrainian comedian Dima Watermelon would love nothing more than to be able to stop making jokes about Putin. But as long as the war in Ukraine goes on, he feels he has to address “the elephant in the room”.

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Some believe that humour always helps but not on the 24 February 2022,when the Russian invasion of Ukraine left nothing to laugh about. Ukrainian comic Dima Watermelon said:  “I don’t think any Ukrainians will ever forget the moment where they were. It’s like asking Americans about 9/11.” 

Except for Ukrainians this time their whole existence as a sovereign state was under threat. Dima remembers exactly where he was that day. In Munich getting ready to fly to South Africa where his wife comes from. Dima had been living in Berlin for several years after moving from Finland as a student. 

How does one switch from IT to stand-up comedy?

After finishing his studies in Berlin and starting to work in IT, Dima began doing live stand-up performances. That’s when Dima became a full time comedian and a regular in the lively Berlin stand-up comedy scene. That’s where having a surname like Watermelon helps. It is his Ukrainian surname Kabyh translated into English. We met Dima before a live show in a well-known comedy venue in Neukölln, in West Berlin. 

Joking about the war is like addressing “the elephant in the room”

Originally political jokes weren’t really Dima’s thing. But circumstances, even in the world of laughter force you to adapt.

“I never wanted to be a political comedian. But because of the war I need to address it, it’s like addressing the elephant in the room. So of course I end up writing more jokes about war and about Russia and about Putin. Humour is important because this is one thing people always have. You know, you can laugh and you can feel better when you laugh.“

And some of his jokes aged better than he would have hoped for. When he first started as a comedian back in 2018, he joked that if someone asked him about his nationality, as he is from Ukraine, he first had to check the news:

During his live set, one member of the audience asks him why he’s here and not there. Dima asks the man for a one-to-one after the show to talk further about this issue. He must continue, the house is full and people have paid for the show – they want to be entertained. 

We asked Dima a similar question before his comedy hour “Culturally Inappropriate aka Ukrainian Dream” began. Dima thinks it is a difficult question but says if he was conscripted and there wasn´t any other option yes, of course, he would go. He´s not sure what he really has to offer. He feels certain groups of people aren´t really fit for the army and artists fall under this category, but he did receive basic military training as a radio operator for air space systems.

Dima’s hometown is Irpin, now sadly known because of the war

And of course his comedy is in a foreign language – English. He has  never really done stand-up in his native language. Although he was brought up bilingually in Ukraine, his mother spoke Ukrainian, his father Russian, he has always spoke Ukrainian.

 Dima is from the eastern suburbs of Kyiv a place called Irpin which is now known as one of the places where the Russian push in Ukrainian was halted in the first months of the war.  Dima didn’t even used to say he was from Irpin to people, because it was unknown, he just said Kyiv. Now it’s on the map, like so many others places in Ukraine that nobody really knew before the war. Dima hasn’t been back to Irpin since the war begun. 

That was really heart breaking, I would like to, to keep those places nice in my head, in my memory. I’m not sure what the right thing to do is.“

“Take the war seriously and supply Ukraine with more weapons”

One thing Dima is sure of is that people in the West and western Europe don’t take the whole situation seriously enough.

“I just listened to Putin and Russia. They’re not playing and they’re serious. And this idea that they will stop in Ukraine and they will take Crimea and Donbas and they will stop, it’s just not true because as I said, Russia was consistent over 20 years of grabbing, of restoring, like Russian Empire, the former Soviet Union.”

According to Dima the West needs to be much more involved and realise the seriousness of the situation. “I hope, the Western world will take this war more seriously and to actually supply Ukraine with more weapons and not just supply leftovers.”

The Ukrainian community is more closely knitted than ever before

Dima feels very pessimistic about the future for Ukraine and for Europe too. He feels things can only get much worse. His hopes are that  he, his family and friends will survive this ongoing nightmare.

“One thing that has changed is that Ukrainians have become much closer as a nation of people.” 

 Other big changes have also taken place in his life. Dima´s mother for example arrived in Berlin as a refugee. They too have become much closer than they were before the invasion. 

Dima says the stereotype about people wanting to come to Germany for financial benefits is not really true. People especially older people like his mother do not want to be here. There’s no joy living in a city where it’s very difficult to find accommodation as a refugee, where the bureaucratic hurdles are so difficult many would rather return home.

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He jokes that she would rather hear sirens than face German bureaucracy every day. “

Putin only has war to offer, nothing else

Dima adds that Putin can only offer Russians war and nothing else. He has no way back, no way out, even if he was offered a peace deal in his opinion. He adds ”Putin is serious about the Baltic countries.” Dima thinks they are also on Putin’s invasion list. “He hates Poland. We need to take it seriously.“ 

And in one of his sets he jokes, that as he is an Ukrainian comedian, the public in Western Europe and the public in Eastern Europe have very different expectations, when it comes to his material and to his jokes about Russia.

Dima knows that with inflation and the costs of living crisis, the daily quality of life has deteriorated for most, even in Western Europe: “But at least people here are not dying. 

“I hope it will sort itself out magically. But yeah, let’s take it seriously, guys.“

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UK’s 2022 migration levels revised to a record-breaking high

The figures will likely be an embarrassment for Rishi Sunak’s Conservative government who consistently pledge to bring the levels down.

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Net migration in the United Kingdom hit a record-breaking 745,000 in 2022, according to revised figures which also revealed some 672,000 people came to the UK in the 12 months to June 2023.

The numbers released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) had previously been put at 606,000, which was deemed then to be a record high.

It’s a significant embarrassment for the country’s Conservative government, who have continuously insisted that it remains committed to reducing migration.

Led by Rishi Sunak, the party has already introduced measures to try to reduce the figure.

Among their initiatives was a plan to stop international students bringing their families with them when they study in the UK – except under very specific circumstances.

Even more controversially, Sunak’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda was ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court earlier in November.

It was part of his attempt to stop small boats crossing the English Channel and a policy supported by many, including the New Conservatives group on the right of the party.

They have repeatedly called for ministers to close temporary visa schemes for care workers and to cap the number of refugees resettling in the UK at 20,000 – with the aim of reducing net migration to 226,000 by the time of the election, which is likely to be held next year.

It is now certain that these efforts have not come to fruition for the Conservatives as they had hoped.

The ONS release of the statistic – some 140,000 higher than first thought – has caused criticism from all parts of the political spectrum.

The Conservatives themselves have hit out at the numbers – with former cabinet minister Simon Clarke saying having legal migration at such a level was “unsustainable both economically and socially”.

MP Jonathan Gullis went one step further, calling the figures “completely unacceptable to the majority of the British people”, and suggesting that “drastic action” is needed.

The newly-installed Home Secretary James Cleverly has all but dismissed the figures – and the impact they’re likely to have – instead insisting that the government remained “completely committed to reducing levels of legal migration” and would also be “focusing relentlessly” on tackling illegal migration.

On the other side of the political fence, the Labour Party have been using the findings as a way to attack the Conservatives and their apparent failures.

Labour’s shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, says she and the party believe the statistics show “the scale of utter Tory failure on immigration, asylum, and the economy”.

It’s an interesting time for Sunak’s government – and its newest, surprise hire David Cameron.

In 2010, the then-prime minister – who is now Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron – pledged to bring net migration down to the “tens of thousands”.

Successive Tory governments have sought to move away from exact targets for reasons exactly like we are seeing now.

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Sunak is under increasing pressure from the right of his party to reduce net migration, especially in light of the 2019 Tory manifesto – when Boris Johnson was in charge. It promised to bring the “overall number down”.

Home Secretary James Cleverly insists that he and the cabinet are “working across government on further measures to prevent exploitation and manipulation of our visa system, including clamping down on those that take advantage of the flexibility of the immigration system”.

Do the figures work both ways?

According to the ONS, most people arriving in the UK in the year to June 2023 were non-EU nationals.

They made up a total of 968,000 immigrants, followed by 129,000 EU citizens.

At the same time, both EU nationals and Britons were leaving the country in greater numbers.

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Some 10,000 more EU nationals left than arrived in the UK and 86,000 more British nationals were seen to be leaving than arriving.

The net figure for non-EU people overall, though, was 768,000 more arriving than leaving.

Work was discovered to be the largest reason people from outside the EU migrated to the UK.

That figure was at 278,000 – and the first time employment was the most popular reason.

Against the Conservatives’ wishes, more foreign students were seen to be staying for longer – and bringing dependents or family members with them.

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For those coming to the UK out of desperation, the number remained relatively stable.

Around 88,000 people were granted asylum, up from 73,000 in the year to June 2022 – when ongoing COVID-19 restrictions were still having more of an impact.

The ONS suggests that net migration has “increased sharply” since 2021 due to a rise in immigration from non-EU countries.

They include thousands of individuals arriving via humanitarian routes from the likes of Ukraine and Hong Kong.

The ONS figures show that the asylum backlog has fallen slightly.

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At the end of June 2023, there were 175,457 people waiting for a decision on their asylum claim; that number dropped to 165,411 by the end of September.

But, that’s not as positive as it might seem, Sile Reynolds, Head of Asylum Advocacy at Freedom from Torture tells Euronews.

“The UK Government’s own data on asylum disproves the toxic and divisive narrative that has guided its punitive approach to refugees. These statistics leave no doubt that most people reaching our shores need sanctuary – men, women and children who have fled the most unimaginable horrors like torture and war, in places like Afghanistan, Syria and Iran,” Reynolds explains.

The charity also hit out at the government’s treatment of so-called “legacy backlog” cases.

They are, in simple terms, claims made before the end of June 2022, which are being cleared by the Conservatives at significant speed, with 28,202 cases taken care of in the last three months.

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“The phenomenal rate at which ‘legacy’ claims are being decided – at nearly 8,000 per month – demonstrates what they can do when they want to deal with a problem”, Reynolds tells Euronews.

“This data disguises the catastrophic backlog of new asylum claims growing as a direct result of a flawed policy of deterrence. As a result, thousands of refugees, including survivors of torture, are condemned to languish in limbo and unsafe accommodation, unable to recover or rebuild their lives,” he adds.

All change for asylum rules?

Sunak’s Rwanda policy was targeted at people arriving in the UK by ‘unauthorised means’, including frequent Channel crossings.

They would have been deported to the African nation and made to claim asylum there and not in the UK.

In its landmark ruling, though, the Supreme Court said that those sent to Rwanda would be at “real risk” of being sent back to their country of origin regardless of whether their asylum claim was justified or not.

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That, they say, is something which would breach international laws on human rights.

Sunak called the ruling “frustrating” and promised to double down on the policy, saying he would “change laws and revisit… international relationships”.

That is not a popular plan with many.

“These statistics show that cruel deterrents, like the Rwanda plan so recently declared unlawful by the highest court in the land, will not stop people risking their lives trying to reach sanctuary here in the UK,” Reynolds says, adding, “Rather than punishing refugees, this Government should reverse the cruel asylum ban, urgently refocus their efforts into rebuilding a fair and compassionate asylum system and restore and expand safe routes to protection.”

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The longer Israel thinks, the more time Washington has to calm its wrath

Jamie Dettmer is opinion editor at POLITICO Europe. 

BEIRUT — “Once you break it, you are going to own it,” General Colin Powell warned former United States President George W. Bush when he was considering invading Iraq in the wake of 9/11.

And as the invasion plan came together, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld blocked any serious postwar planning for how Iraq would be run once the country’s ruler Saddam Hussein had gone. As far as he was concerned, once “shock and awe” had smashed Iraq, others could pick up the pieces.

British generals fumed at this. And General Mike Jackson, head of the British army during the invasion, later described Rumsfeld’s approach as “intellectually bankrupt.”

That history is now worth recalling — and was likely on U.S. President Joe Biden’s mind when he urged the Israeli war cabinet last week not to “repeat mistakes” made by the U.S. after 9/11.

Despite Biden’s prompt, however, Israel still doesn’t appear to have a definitive plan for what to do with the Gaza Strip once it has pulverized the enclave and inflicted lasting damage on Hamas for the heinous October 7 attacks.

Setting aside just how difficult a military task Israel will face undertaking its avowed aim of ending Hamas as an organization — former U.S. General David Petraeus told POLITICO last week that a Gaza ground war could be “Mogadishu on steroids” — the lack of endgame here suggests a lack of intellectual rigor that disturbingly echoes Rumsfeld’s.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told lawmakers Friday that the country didn’t have plans to maintain control over Gaza after its war against Hamas had concluded, saying Israel would end its “responsibility for life in the Gaza Strip.” Among other minor matters, this raises the issue of where the coastal enclave of 2.3 million people will get life-sustaining energy and water, as Israel supplies most utility needs.

Israeli and Western officials say the most likely option would be to hand responsibility to the West Bank-based Palestinian National Authority, which oversaw the enclave until Hamas violently grabbed control in 2007. “I think in the end the best thing is that the Palestinian Authority goes back into Gaza,” Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid said last week.

But it isn’t clear whether Mahmoud Abbas — the Palestinian Authority president and head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which is dominated by his Fatah party — would want Gaza on those terms, or whether he has the power to do much of anything with the enclave in the first place.

Abbas is already struggling to maintain his authority over the West Bank. He’s an unpopular leader, and his government is seen to be not only appallingly venal, but is perceived by many as ceding to the demands of the Israeli authorities too easily. 

Israel now controls 60 percent of the West Bank, and its encroaching settlements in the area — which are illegal under international law — haven’t helped Abbas. Nor have Israeli efforts to hold back the West Bank from developing — a process dubbed “de-developing” by critics and aimed, they say, at restricting growth and strangling Palestinian self-determination.

In West Bank refugee camps, Abbas’ security forces have now lost authority to armed groups — including disgruntled Fatah fighters. “It is unclear whether Abbas would be prepared to play such an obvious role subcontracting for Israel in Gaza. This would further erode whatever domestic standing the PA has left,” assessed Hugh Lovatt, a Middle East analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

But it isn’t only Gaza — or the West Bank — that risks breaking in the coming weeks.

Neighboring countries are watching events unfold with growing alarm, and they fear that if more thought isn’t given to Israel’s response to the savage Hamas attacks, and it isn’t developed in consultation with them, they’ll be crushed in the process. If Israel wants the support of these countries — or their help even — in calming the inevitable anger of their populations once a military campaign is launched, it needs their buy-in and agreement on the future of Gaza and Palestinians, and to stop using the language of collective punishment.

Lebanon, where the Iran-backed Hezbollah — Hamas’ ally — has been intensifying its skirmishes along the border with Israel, is currently the most vulnerable. And Lebanese politicians are complaining they’re being disregarded by all key protagonists — Israel, the U.S. and Iran — in a tragedy they wish to have no part in.

Already on its knees from an economic crisis that plunged an estimated 85 percent of its population into poverty, and with a barely functioning caretaker government, the Lebanese are desperate not to become the second front in Iran’s war with Israel. Lebanon “could fall apart completely,” Minister of Economy and Trade Amin Salam said.

But the leaders of Egypt and Jordan share Lebanon’s frustrations, arguing that the potential repercussions for them are being overlooked. This is why Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah el-Sisi called Saturday’s Cairo summit of regional and international leaders.

El-Sisi focused the conference on a longer-term political solution, hopefully a serious effort to make good on the 2007 Annapolis Conference’s resolution to set up a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Egypt has much to lose if the war escalates — and the country’s officials are fuming at what they see as a careless attitude from Israel toward what happens to Gaza after Hamas is subjugated, potentially leaving a cash-strapped Egypt to pick up some of the pieces.

More than that, Egypt and Jordan harbor deep suspicions — as do many other Arab leaders and politicians — that as the conflict unfolds, Israel’s war aims will shift. They worry that under pressure from the country’s messianic hard-right parties, Israel will end up annexing north Gaza, or maybe all of Gaza, permanently uprooting a large proportion of its population, echoing past displacements of Palestinians — including the nakba (catastrophe), the flight and expulsion of an estimated 700,000 Palestinians in 1948.

This is why both el-Sisi and Jordan’s King Abdullah II are resisting the “humanitarian” calls for displaced Gazans to find refuge in their countries. They suspect it won’t be temporary and will add to their own security risks, as Gazans would likely have to be accommodated in the Sinai — where Egyptian security forces are already engaged in a long-standing counterinsurgency against Islamist militant groups.

And both countries do have grounds for concern about Israel’s intentions.

Some columnists for Israel Hayom —a newspaper owned by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s close friend, American casino mogul Sheldon Adelson — are already calling for annexation. “My hope is that the enemy population residing there now will be expelled and that the Strip will be annexed and repopulated by Israel,” wrote Jonathan Pollard, a former U.S. intelligence analyst who served 30 years in prison for spying for Israel before emigrating.

And last week, Gideon Sa’ar, the newly appointed minister in Netanyahu’s wartime government, said that Gaza “must be smaller at the end of the war . . . Whoever starts a war against Israel must lose territory.”

Given all this, there are now signs the Biden administration is starting to take the risks of the Gaza crisis breaking things far and wide fully on board — despite widespread Arab fears that it still isn’t. By not being fast enough to express sympathy for ordinary Gazans’ suffering as Israel pummels the enclave, Biden’s aides initially fumbled. And while that can easily be blamed on Hamas, it needs to be expressed by American officials loudly and often.

In the meantime, the unexplained delay of Israel’s ground attack is being seen by some analysts as a sign that Washington is playing for time, hoping to persuade the country to rethink how it will go about attacking Hamas, prodding Israel to define a realistic endgame that can secure buy-in from Arab leaders and help combat the propaganda of Jew-hatred.

Meanwhile, hostage negotiations now appear to be progressing via Qatar, after two American captives were freed Friday. There have also been reports of top Biden aides back-channeling Iran via Oman.

So, despite Arab condemnation, the Biden administration’s approach may be more subtle than many realize — at least according to Michael Young, an analyst at the Carnegie Middle East Center. He said it was always inevitable that Washington would publicly back Israel but that a primary aim has been to “contain Israel’s reaction” to the Hamas attacks, while seemingly deferring to the country.

And time will help. The longer Israel thinks, the more opportunity Washington has to reason, to calm, and to explain the trail of cascading wreckage Israel risks leaving behind if it is unrestrained and fails to answer — as Biden put it — “very hard questions.”

But that might not be sufficient to prevent everything spinning out of control. Israel morally and legally has the right to defend itself from barbaric attacks that were more a pogrom, and it must ensure the safety of its citizens. There are also others — notably Iran — that want the destruction of the Jewish state, and even a scaled down response from Israel may trigger the escalation most in the region fear.



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It’s time to hang up on the old telecoms rulebook

Joakim Reiter | via Vodafone

Around 120 years ago, Guglielmo Marconi planted the seeds of a communications revolution, sending the first message via a wireless link over open water. “Are you ready? Can you hear me?”, he said. Now, the telecommunications industry in Europe needs policymakers to heed that call, to realize the vision set by its 19th-century pioneers.

Next-generation telecommunications are catalyzing a transformation on par with the industrial revolution. Mobile networks are becoming programmable platforms — supercomputers that will fundamentally underpin European industrial productivity, growth and competitiveness. Combined with cloud, AI and the internet of things, the era of industrial internet will transform our economy and way of life, bringing smarter cities, energy grids and health care, as well as autonomous transport systems, factories and more to the real world.

5G is already connecting smarter, autonomous factory technologies | via Vodafone

Europe should be at the center of this revolution, just as it was in the early days of modern communications.

Next-generation telecommunications are catalyzing a transformation on par with the industrial revolution.

Even without looking at future applications, the benefits of a healthy telecoms industry for society are clear to see. Mobile technologies and services generated 5 percent of global GDP, equivalent to €4.3 trillion, in 2021. More than five billion people around the world are connected to mobile services — more people today have access to mobile communications than they do to safely-managed sanitation services. And with the combination of satellite solutions, the prospect of ensuring every person on the planet is connected may soon be within reach.

Satellite solutions, combined with mobile communications, could eliminate coverage gaps | via Vodafone

In our recent past, when COVID-19 spread across the world and societies went into lockdown, connectivity became critical for people to work from home, and for enabling schools and hospitals to offer services online.  And with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, when millions were forced to flee the safety of their homes, European network operators provided heavily discounted roaming and calling to ensure refugees stayed connected with loved ones.

A perfect storm of rising investment costs, inflationary pressures, interest rate hikes and intensifying competition from adjacent industries is bearing down on telecoms businesses across Europe.

These are all outcomes and opportunities, depending on the continuous investment of telecoms’ private companies.

And yet, a perfect storm of rising investment costs, inflationary pressures, interest rate hikes and intensifying competition from adjacent industries is bearing down on telecoms businesses across Europe. The war on our continent triggered a 15-fold increase in wholesale energy prices and rapid inflation. EU telecoms operators have been under pressure ever since to keep consumer prices low during a cost-of-living crisis, while confronting rapidly growing operational costs as a result. At the same time, operators also face the threat of billions of euros of extra, unforeseen costs as governments change their operating requirements in light of growing geopolitical concerns.

Telecoms operators may be resilient. But they are not invincible.

The odds are dangerously stacked against the long-term sustainability of our industry and, as a result, Europe’s own digital ambitions. Telecoms operators may be resilient. But they are not invincible.

The signs of Europe’s decline are obvious for those willing to take a closer look. European countries are lagging behind in 5G mobile connectivity, while other parts of the world — including Thailand, India and the Philippines — race ahead. Independent research by OpenSignal shows that mobile users in South Korea have an active 5G connection three times more often than those in Germany, and more than 10 times their counterparts in Belgium.

Europe needs a joined-up regulatory, policy and investment approach that restores the failing investment climate and puts the telecoms sector back to stable footing.

Average 5G connectivity in Brazil is more than three times faster than in Czechia or Poland. A recent report from the European Commission — State of the Digital Decade (europa.eu) shows just how far Europe needs to go to reach the EU’s connectivity targets for 2030.

To arrest this decline, and successfully meet EU’s digital ambitions, something has got to give. Europe needs a joined-up regulatory, policy and investment approach that restores the failing investment climate and puts the telecoms sector back to stable footing.

Competition, innovation and efficient investment are the driving forces for the telecoms sector today. It’s time to unleash these powers — not blindly perpetuate old rules. We agree with Commissioner Breton’s recent assessment: Europe needs to redefine the DNA of its telecoms regulation. It needs a new rulebook that encourages innovation and investment, and embraces the logic of a true single market. It must reduce barriers to growth and scale in the sector and ensure spectrum — the lifeblood of our industry — is managed more efficiently. And it must find faster, futureproofed ways to level the playing field for all business operating in the wider digital sector.  

But Europe is already behind, and we are running out of time. It is critical that the EU finds a balance between urgent, short-term measures and longer-term reforms. It cannot wait until 2025 to implement change.

Europeans deserve better communications technology | via Vodafone

When Marconi sent that message back in 1897, the answer to his question was, “loud and clear”. As Europe’s telecoms ministers convene this month in León, Spain, their message must be loud and clear too. European citizens and businesses deserve better communications. They deserve a telecoms rulebook that ensures networks can deliver the next revolution in digital connectivity and services.



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From welcoming refugees to the crisis in Lampedusa, six years of French immigration policy

French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin announced on Tuesday that France would not be taking in any of the migrants who arrived on the Italian island of Lampedusa last week. FRANCE 24 looks back at six years of French U-turns on immigration policies.

Having lamented for years that the Mediterranean has become “the world’s biggest cemetery”, Pope Francis is visiting the French port city of Marseille on Friday to reinforce his message that the region should welcome migrants.

His visit comes as Lampedusa, a small Italian island nestled in the Mediterranean between Tunisia and Malta, saw a record number of migrant arrivals last week. Some 8,500 people reached the island’s shores, briefly exceeding its resident population of 6,100.

But the pope’s call for peace may fall on deaf ears, as EU nations like Italy and France pledge tougher immigration measures.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni on Monday called for a naval blockade of North Africa to prevent smuggler boats from leaving the continent, lengthened detention time for migrants awaiting repatriation and announced the creation of more detention centres in remote areas.

France boosted border patrols on its southern frontier with Italy and amplified its drone surveillance of the Alps to keep people from crossing over. The government has held firm on its decision not to take in migrants from Lampedusa.

“[We] will not take in migrants,” French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin told national TV channel TF1 on Tuesday. “It’s not by taking in more people that we’re going to stem a flow that obviously affects our ability to integrate [them into French society],” he said.

Darmanin’s words come at a time where immigration has once again taken centre stage in French politics. As the country’s hung parliament wrangles over a draft law governing new arrivals, President Emmanuel Macron has evoked a possible referendum on the topic.

No one knows whether the referendum will actually take place or what question will be posed. But that very sense of uncertainty matches France’s indecision on immigration policy over the past six years.

FRANCE 24 takes a look back at the string of U-turns and contradictions Macron has made on the issue since taking office in 2017, a journey worthy of whiplash.

  • January 2017: Macron praises Angela Merkel’s stance on migration

While he was still running for presidency on January 2, 2017, Macron published an op-ed in French daily Le Monde. In the article, he praised former German Chancellor Angela Merkel for having taken in a large number of migrants years earlier – at a time where most European countries wouldn’t.

“When Italy was alone in handling the arrival of refugees in Lampedusa, to the point of deeply moving Pope Francis, neither France nor Germany were there to help,” Macron wrote. “Greece has also long been on the front line, helpless and overwhelmed in the face of the influx of refugees and migrants. That being said, Chancellor Merkel and German society as a whole have lived up to our shared values – they have saved our collective dignity by taking in refugees in distress, housing them and training them.”

Shortly after he took office, Macron spelled out his vision for welcoming migrants and specifically asylum seekers more clearly. A few months after publishing the op-ed, he made a speech in Orléans, a city south of Paris, in which he stated: “By the end of this year, I no longer want there to be men and women in the streets, in the woods or lost … It’s a matter of dignity, of humanity and also of efficiency. I want to ensure that, wherever emergency accommodation is built to take in [asylum seekers], there are also administrative facilities in place to process their requests.”

In 2023, tens of thousands of migrants are still sleeping rough, according to the Abbé Pierre Foundation, which finances and supports associations that fight against substandard housing.

  • Summer 2018: France rejects dock request from Aquarius migrant ship

The summer of 2018 was marked by diplomatic quarrels between France and Italy, especially regarding the request to dock the Aquarius – a migrant ship chartered by the European humanitarian organisation SOS Mediterranée, which carries out search and rescue missions for migrants lost at sea.

The dispute began in June, when Italy refused to let the ship dock with 629 migrants on board. Macron criticised the “cynicism and irresponsibility” of the Italian government’s decision to close its ports, while refusing to let the ship dock in France. After a week of being stuck off the coast of Sicily, Spain finally agreed to let the Aquarius dock on June 17, before it moved on to Marseille. Of the 629 people on board, 78 were taken in by France.

But a few weeks later, on September 25, the French government refused to let the Aquarius, and the remaining 58 migrants on board, dock for a second time. This time, Malta agreed to take in the migrants but not the ship, which had to stay offshore. Although France eventually took in 17 of the 58 remaining migrants, it still refused to let the ship dock.

Progression of asylum applications and number of asylum statuses granted over the last six years in France. © FRANCE 24 graphic design studio

  • September 2018: A controversial asylum and immigration bill

In the summer of 2018, Macron’s initial Interior Minister Gérard Collomb passed a bill on asylum and immigration that was slammed by non-profit organisations helping refugees across the board. Measures that were soundly criticised included the doubling of the 45-day detention period for illegal migrants to 90 days, the possibility of placing children in detention centres and cutting the maximum processing time for asylum seekers from 120 to 90 days.  

The controversial bill exposed divisions within Macron’s party, who had a majority in parliament at the time. More than a dozen MPs abstained from voting and one MP voted against the bill. The legislation even sparked wrath from the right. Former right-wing minister Jacques Toubon, who later became the French Human Rights Defender, told French daily Le Monde that the bill treated asylum seekers “badly”.

  • November 2019: Prime Minister Édouard Philippe restricts healthcare access for migrants

On November 6, 2019, then French prime minister Édouard Philippe announced a new immigration plan that aimed to combat what the government called “medical tourism”.  The government claimed that the medical coverage offered to migrants was attracting newcomers to France, so they decided to restrict access to healthcare.

For asylum seekers who are not minors, a three-month waiting period to access universal coverage was introduced, and the list of treatments covered was reduced for foreign nationals receiving state medical aid (AME).  

  • November 2020: Brutal dismantling of migrant camp in central Paris

Hundreds of migrants were violently dispersed in central Paris on the night of November 23, 2020, only a few days after a migrant camp housing 2,000 people was dismantled in the northern Paris suburb of Saint-Denis.

During the evacuation operation in central Paris, police officers were accused of violence as they broke up the migrant camp at the Place de la République. Images on social media showed officers hitting protesters and picking up tents, sometimes with people still inside – prompting the country’s interior minister to say that some of the scenes were “shocking” and order an inquiry.

“You can’t respond to misery with police batons. It is urgent, essential and indisputable that the migrants in Saint-Denis who live on the streets should be given shelter. The honour of the French Republic is at stake,” said Delphine Rouilleault, director of the non-profit “France terre d’asile”, which has criticised the treatment of migrants in Calais for years. “When tents aren’t being torn down by police, it’s the ‘jungle’ [the name of the former immigration camp in the Calais region] itself that is dismantled using bulldozers.”

Progression of residence permits granted by the French government over the years.
Progression of residence permits granted by the French government over the years. © FRANCE 24 graphic design studio

  • August 2021: After the Taliban retake control of Afghanistan, France must protect itself against ‘irregular migratory flows’

When France began repatriating its nationals after the Taliban retook control of Afghanistan on August 15, 2021, Macron declared it was his country’s “duty” and “dignity” to protect Afghans (including translators and cooks) who had worked for France on the ground.

But the French president also warned that Europe would have to protect itself “against significant irregular migratory flows”.  His statement was condemned by the left as well as humanitarian organisations, who saw it as showing a shameful lack of empathy for the Afghans.

In the weeks that followed, France was accused of not doing enough for the Afghan people – particularly Afghan interpreters and women. A total of 2,600 Afghans were evacuated to France, compared with 8,000 to the UK and 4,000 to Germany.

  • February 2022: More than a hundred thousand Ukrainian refugees welcomed

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022 prompted large numbers of Ukrainians to flee their country and seek refuge in western Europe. France quickly opened its borders and spent €500 million on welcoming those in need. As a result, more than 110,000 refugees arrived on French soil within a year – 80 percent of whom were women, according to official data released by the interior ministry on February 24, 2023, a year after the war broke out.

Refugee NGOs applauded the French government’s efforts, but also viewed them as a double standard in relation to how those fleeing the Global South are treated. “We’re very happy that things are going well for Ukrainians, but we found the whole thing incredibly unfair. When they are Africans or Afghans, we’re told there is nowhere to house them and they end up sleeping rough. On the other hand, when it’s Ukrainians – people we can identify with – they open accommodation centres,” Yann Mazi, founder of French non-profit Utopia 56, told French daily Libération.

  • November 2022: France accepts the Ocean Viking rescue ship but suspends plan to take in 3,500 refugees

Four years after the Aquarius migrant ship was barred from docking in Italy, a new rescue vessel chartered by SOS Méditerranée, the Ocean Viking, caused a renewed diplomatic spat between France and Italy.

When Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni refused to allow the ship carrying 234 migrants to dock at an Italian port, French Interior Minister Darmanin announced on November 10, 2022 that France would “as an exception” welcome the Ocean Viking in Toulon.

After declaring that France would receive a third of the migrants on board, Darmanin went on to describe Italy’s decision as “incomprehensible” and “lacking humanity”, calling Meloni’s behaviour “contrary to the solidarity and commitments” made by Rome.

However, in protest at Italy’s behaviour, Darmanin then suspended a plan to take in 3,500 refugees who had arrived in Italy. The transfer was planned as part of a European burden-sharing accord.

In line with the multiple U-turns the French government has made on its migration policy over the years, it plans to relaunch its immigration bill – initially planned for the start of 2023 – this autumn.

The bill aims to make it easier to expel foreigners who “pose a serious threat to public order” and give special residence permits to undocumented migrants already working in understaffed sectors in France.

This article has been translated from the original in French

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View Q&A: Lampedusa shows migration is integral to human history

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Following the latest spike in boat arrivals to the Italian island of Lampedusa, Euronews View spoke to MEP Pietro Bartolo about what migration means for Italy and Europe and whether the continent can find a viable and fair way to solve the crisis.

The small Italian island of Lampedusa made international headlines again last week after a surge in boat arrivals to Europe saw at least 11,560 people land on its shores.

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The 6,000 resident-strong island, which is closer to the Tunisian coast than mainland Italy has been the focal point of migrant routes for decades. 

However, the latest spike in arrivals was seen as yet another sign of a growing predicament for Europe, with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen both visiting Lampedusa to pledge a doubling down on the continent’s efforts to curb it.

At the same time, critics believe a concrete solution to the humanitarian crisis, which has become a highly divisive issue for most Europeans, is yet to be found. 

Meanwhile, thousands remain stranded in what has been described as difficult conditions, with many more expected to make the same dangerous journey across the Mediterranean Sea.

Euronews View spoke to MEP Pietro Bartolo (PD, S&D), a surgeon and Lampedusa native who served as the chief medical officer for refugees and migrants arriving on the island for 27 years, about perceptions of migrant arrivals in Italy and Europe, merits of the current political approach to the ever-unfolding situation, and whether Europe can find a viable and fair way to solve the crisis.

Euronews View: For many people, especially journalists and activists, the latest news out of Lampedusa felt like a ‘Groundhog Day’-type scenario, where no matter what is done, the story repeats itself. What is it that we have failed to learn?

Pietro Bartolo: The story that seems to be repeating, in my opinion, is that of bad agreements with third countries from which migrants depart or transit. 

We have ample experience showing that reducing migration and asylum policies to externalising borders and the so-called “strategic partnerships”, especially if signed with countries that have poor human rights and rule of law records — from Turkey to Libya, and now Tunisia — does not solve the problem. 

On the contrary, the numbers tell us that departures are increasing. Moreover, it is a disgraceful strategy that goes against the values of the Union, giving a blank check to dictators in order to keep the flow tap closed, without questioning what the fate of those who want to reach Europe for a hopefully better future will be. 

Therefore, if there is one truth that we have not learned, it is that the EU must change its approach when shaping its migration policies; we need legal channels of entry.

Euronews View: You were born in Lampedusa and know the island community quite well. Has the reaction of Italians living on the island to people arriving changed over time?

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Pietro Bartolo: The inhabitants of Lampedusa have always been a model of solidarity and hospitality. 

Even after the high number of arrivals of the last days on the island, a real solidarity race has taken place, with people who have opened their homes to feed, welcome and temporarily assist migrants. 

This has always been the approach of the Lampedusans. Due to its geographical location, Lampedusa is the first strip of land between Africa and Europe, a natural landing place for those crossing the Mediterranean, both for flocks of birds and for people fleeing war, hunger and violence. 

This marked the identity of those who live here. In addition, Lampedusa is a land of fishermen, and for fishermen everything that comes from the sea is welcome.

Euronews View: In your opinion, what are Europeans failing to see or don’t understand when it comes to refugees and migrants arriving on the continent?

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Pietro Bartolo: They do not realise that migration is not an emergency but something structural, it has always happened and is an integral part of the history of humanity.

Those who flee political and religious persecution, hunger and poverty in search of a better future, have the right to try. 

People must understand that this epochal challenge of our century is not only a problem concerning countries bordering the Mediterranean, but must be dealt with at the European level. 

Only a sharing of responsibility and a collective effort by all 27 member states will lead to concrete results.

Euronews View: How do you comment on last week’s visit of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Italy PM Giorgia Meloni to the island?

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Pietro Bartolo: Unfortunately, it’s one of many symbolic visits that does not lead to concrete proposals on how to deal with a dramatic situation, and we’ve had plenty of these visits in the last decade. 

I was greatly disappointed by the European Commission President’s support for the EU-Tunisia agreement.

Euronews View: How do you feel about people, including experts and journalists outside of Italy, believing that most Italians agree with Meloni’s stance on migration?

Pietro Bartolo: I do not think things are that way. They want us to believe that this is the truth but it is not, and my election serves as a type of proof to the contrary. 

During the last European election campaign, I spoke only about migration, bearing witness to what I saw and touched first-hand in the thirty years in which I was a doctor, acting as the responsible medic who gave migrants their first medical examination after disembarking on the island. 

If you add up the votes in the two constituencies in which I was elected, I had the most, second in overall number of preferences only to [the far-right Lega party leader Matteo] Salvini, who topped the list in all constituencies. 

I will also tell you another thing: in the encounters I have over the weekend in schools with students but also in other contexts throughout Italy, there is always someone who approaches and tells me: “Thank you, listening to you was enlightening. They’ve taught us a whole different narrative these years.” 

We must never stop telling the truth about the migration phenomenon. Not only for those who seek to rebuild their lives but also for Europe and its citizens.

Euronews View: What would be a fair solution to the issue, and is it realistic to expect the political will needed to implement it following the upcoming European election in 2024?

Pietro Bartolo: I hope that there will be a significant reform in this legislature already. I realise it may seem unrealistic, but we cannot discourage ourselves and give up on such an important issue. 

The EU has the opportunity to amend once and for all the Dublin Regulation which puts the weight of managing migration disproportionately on the countries of first entry.

Ultraconservatives and Eurosceptics prefer to fuel fears and hatred of migrants for electoral reasons. 

They talk about illegal immigration, pretending not to see that today those who arrive in Europe are mainly asylum seekers, people fleeing wars, violence or natural calamities. 

The negotiations to approve the new Pact on Migration are underway, and I will do everything I can to bring about a change of course towards solidarity and sharing of responsibility, and to find a way to mediate it that goes in the direction that progressive forces have been hoping for for years now. 

We need to change the paradigm and address the migration phenomenon with a humane, rational, and long-term approach.

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