EU reaches long-stalled deal on refugee hosting

A general view shows a round table meeting during a Tripartite Social Summit meeting, at the EU headquarters in Brussels, on March 22, 2023. (Photo courtesy: AFP)
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Updated 09 June 2023

EU reaches long-stalled deal on refugee hosting

  • Sweden, which holds the bloc’s rotating presidency, announced the breakthrough after talks between EU interior ministers
  • Belgian state secretary says migrants from Morocco, Algeria, Bangladesh, Pakistan had less chance of getting refugee status

LUXEMBOURG: EU nations on Thursday reached agreement on a long-stalled revision of the bloc’s rules to share the hosting of asylum seekers and migrants more equitably.

Sweden, which holds the bloc’s rotating presidency, announced the breakthrough after a fraught day of negotiations between EU interior ministers in Luxembourg.

The deal — which needed approval from a majority of countries representing at least 65 percent of the bloc’s population — comes after years of wrangling over asylum policy.

European interior affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson hailed a “hugely significant step” for the EU on migration.

“These are not easy decisions for everyone around the table, but they are historic decisions,” said German interior minister Nancy Faeser.

The proposal tabled at the meeting called for compulsory help between EU countries, but with an option of doing that in one of two ways.

The priority is for EU countries to share the hosting of asylum-seekers, taking in many that arrive in nations on the bloc’s outer rim, mainly Greece and Italy.

The agreement said nations that refuse would instead be required to pay a sum of 20,000 euros ($21,000) per person into a fund managed by Brussels.

Poland and Hungary voted against the proposals, while Bulgaria, Malta, Lithuania and Slovakia abstained.

The preliminary agreement opens the way for negotiations with the European Parliament on legislation that could be adopted before European elections in June next year.

Parliament president Roberta Metsola said lawmakers were “ready to start negotiations immediately to reach a deal.”

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi said he was happy that “all my proposals” were accepted.

“Italy will not be the reception center of migrants on behalf of Europe,” he said.

The difficult reform has jumped up the bloc’s agenda as the number of asylum seekers rises, after a pause caused by travel curbs during the Covid pandemic.

The European Commission — haunted by the migrant crisis of 2015 — put forward its suggestion for a new migration and asylum pact in 2020 based on a quota system.

But that plan quickly hit the buffers after refusals from Hungary, Poland and other countries that objected to any requirement to take them in.

Sweden, which holds the rotating EU presidency until the end of this month, presented two compromise texts: one that called for the hosting-or-cash approach by all member states, and the other on asylum procedures on the EU’s external borders.

That second text obliges member states to put in place fast-track procedures at the borders for arrivals from countries deemed as safe in order to facilitate their return.

“These files constitute the two main pillars of the reform of the EU asylum system and is key to a good balance between responsibility and solidarity,” the Swedish presidency tweeted.

Belgian Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration Nicole de Moor said migrants who statistically had less chance of getting refugee status included citizens from “Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Senegal, Bangladesh and Pakistan.”

But Oxfam, a charity that aids refugees, has criticized the direction of the talks as EU countries take harsher steps to stem asylum seekers.

It argued prior to the final negotiations that the proposals “will not fix the chronic deficiencies in the EU asylum system.”

“Instead, they signal the EU’s desire to barricade Europe from asylum seekers,” Oxfam said.

EU impatience builds over thorny migration reform

Updated 57 min 48 sec ago

EU impatience builds over thorny migration reform

  • Key proposals include lengthening the detention period of irregular migrants arriving on EU soil from 12 weeks to 20 weeks and accelerating evaluations of asylum applications

BRUSSELS: The EU will seek Thursday to make progress on a troubled reform of its policy toward asylum-seekers and migrants, with many member states looking to coax Germany to agree key measures.
Paralysis on the issue has caused frustration in the 27-nation bloc as it faces a rise in irregular migration. The arrival of thousands of asylum-seekers on the Italian island of Lampedusa has spurred matters.
The aim of the reform, put on the table three years ago, is to have EU countries share the burden posed by the arrivals, either by taking in some of the migrants who mainly arrive in Italy or Greece or contributing money to those that do.
The text, drawn up by the European Commission, is in part a bid to forge Europe-wide solidarity in case of a repeat of the massive 2015-2016 influx of asylum-seekers, most of whom were Syrians fleeing their civil war.
Key proposals include lengthening the detention period of irregular migrants arriving on EU soil from 12 weeks to 20 weeks and accelerating evaluations of asylum applications.
In July, an attempt to get the reform adopted failed when the required weighted majority of EU countries was not met.
Hungary, Poland, Austria and the Czech Republic voted against the package, while Germany, Slovakia and the Netherlands abstained.
Germany — a heavyweight voting power — wanted carve-outs for minors and families.
Its foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, on Sunday warned that the current proposal would “de facto prompt a large number of unregistered refugees to head toward Germany if there were a crisis”.
But German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser on Wednesday told Handelsblatt newspaper that Berlin was determined to “finalize” revised EU policy on migration.
Several EU countries have called for the file to be settled quickly.
“We have no time to lose,” Belgium’s minister for migration Nicole de Moor said during a conference Monday organized by the European Policy Center think tank. Failure to agree the pact “could threaten European unity”.
To put pressure, the European Parliament last week decided to pause its negotiations with EU member states on aspects of the pact, dealing with reinforced security along the bloc’s outer border.
One relates to Eurodac, a biometric database for asylum-seekers, and the introduction of a mandatory screening procedure of irregular arrivals.
The goal of the EU is to have the reform adopted before European elections next June that will usher in a new European Parliament and commission.
The next cycle in EU politics could see a political shift in the European Parliament, given the rise of rightwing parties in several EU countries, and would see Hungary and Poland — both hostile to hosting asylum-seekers — take turns holding the rotating EU presidency that sets policy agendas.

Biden isn’t paying much attention to the 2024 GOP debate. He’s already zeroing in on Trump

Updated 28 September 2023

Biden isn’t paying much attention to the 2024 GOP debate. He’s already zeroing in on Trump

  • Biden is drawing a contrast with the GOP logjams in Congress, seeking to showcase what he is getting done
  • Says he is running to prevent Donald Trump and MAGA Republicans from destroying American democracy

SAN FRANCISCO, California: President Joe Biden was raising campaign cash in San Francisco on Wednesday while seven Republican presidential hopefuls held a debate down the coast in Simi Valley. Biden wasn’t paying them much attention because he’s already zeroing in on Donald Trump, the GOP front-runner who wasn’t on the stage.

The president has been increasingly calling out Trump by name and referring to him as his “likely opponent” in 2024, signaling a likely rematch from four years earlier and warning of what the Democratic incumbent sees as major dangers to the nation if he is not reelected.
“I’m running because Democracy is still at stake in 2024. Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans are determined to destroy American democracy,” he said during one fundraiser, referring to a Trump campaign slogan and skipping entirely over Trump’s GOP rivals.
Biden’s trip to the West this week is counterprogramming of sorts as a government shutdown looms, House Republicans launch impeachment hearings, the Republican debate unfolds and Trump makes a campaign stop in Michigan to court autoworkers.

Former US President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at Drake Enterprises, an automotive parts manufacturer, on September 27, 2023 in Clinton Township, Michigan. President Joe Biden met with striking UAW workers the day before at a General Motors parts facility. (Getty Images/AFP)

Biden is drawing a contrast with the GOP logjams in Congress, seeking to showcase what he is getting done and trying to make the case that will continue as long as he wins a second term.
“I’m running because important freedoms we have now are at stake,” Biden told supporters at a Tuesday night fundraiser. “The right to choose. The right to vote. The right to be who you are, love who you love. They’re being attacked and being shredded right now.”
Earlier Tuesday, Biden became the first modern president to walk a picket line when he joined UAW members in the Detroit area. The union has expanded its strike against Detroit automakers by walking out of spare-parts warehouses in 20 states.
Biden met with the science and technology advisers on Wednesday to discuss artificial intelligence, vaccine misinformation and other concerns. He said he did not think a government shutdown was unavoidable.
“I don’t think anything is inevitable when it comes to politics,” the president said. When asked what could be done to avoid it, he said, “If I knew that I would have done it already.”
Before he heading to Phoenix in the evening, Biden headlined three Northern California fundraisers, avoiding for now the famous names — and bank accounts — in Los Angeles as the actors’ strike wears on, although the writers’ strike ended Tuesday.
In Arizona, a critical swing state he won in 2020, Biden will pay tribute to the late US Sen. John McCain and give a democracy-focused address on Thursday.
Trump, meanwhile, railed against electric vehicles during a speech in Michigan at a non-unionized auto parts supplier, shortly before the second debate of the primary season got underway without him. Biden never mentioned the debate, but at his final fundraiser of the night, he told supporters Trump was out for revenge.
“He’ll seek revenge for what’s happened ... you know all the assertions he’s made,” Biden said. “Donald Trump does believe we’re a nation driven by anger and fear, and is playing on it. He says we’re a failed nation.
“Did you ever think you’d hear a former president of the United States say those kinds of things?”
Trump is facing multiple criminal indictments, including charges related to the Republican’s role in seeking to overturn the 2020 election he lost to Biden. Nonetheless, Trump is the most popular choice among Republicans at this point for the party’s White House nomination.
Nearly two-thirds of Republicans — 63 percent — now say they want him to run again, according a poll last month from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. That’s up slightly from the 55 percent who said the same in April when Trump began facing a series of criminal charges.
While 74 percent of Republicans say they would support Trump in November 2024, 53 percent of those in the survey say they would definitely not support him if he is the nominee. An additional 11 percent say they would probably not support him.
Biden doesn’t fare much better, with 26 percent overall wanting to see him run again, with 47 percent of Democrats saying they want him to run, compared with 37 percent in January.

Pakistani vocational school helps Afghan women refugees build businesses

Updated 28 September 2023

Pakistani vocational school helps Afghan women refugees build businesses

  • Officials say hundreds of thousands of Afghans have traveled to Pakistan since foreign forces left and the Taliban took over in 2021

PESHAWAR, Pakistan: In a small workshop in the bustling northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar, a dozen Afghan women sit watching a teacher show them how to make clothes on a sewing machine.
The skills center was set up last year by Peshawar resident Mahra Basheer, 37, after seeing the steady influx of people from neighboring Afghanistan where they face an economic crisis and growing restrictions on women since the Taliban took over in 2021.
Trying to create options for women to become financially independent, she opened the workshop to teach tailoring as well as digital skills and beauty treatments. Basheer quickly found hundreds of women enrolling and has a long wait list.
“If we get assistance, I think we will be able to train between 250 and 500 students at one time, empowering women who can play an important role in the community,” Basheer said.
Officials say hundreds of thousands of Afghans have traveled to Pakistan since foreign forces left and the Taliban took over in 2021. Even before then, Pakistan hosted some 1.5 million registered refugees, one of the largest such populations in the world, according to the United Nations refugee agency.
More than a million others are estimated to live there unregistered. Grappling with an economic crisis of its own, Pakistan’s government is increasingly anxious about the number of Afghans arriving, officials say. Lawyers and officials have said scores of Afghans have been arrested in recent months on allegations they don’t have the correct legal documents to live in Pakistan.
Basheer said that her main focus was expanding operations for Afghan women and she has also included some Pakistani women in the program to boost their opportunities in the conservative area. Once graduating from the three-month course, the women are focused on earning a modest but meaningful income, often starting their own businesses.
Nineteen-year-old Afghan citizen Fatima who had undertaken training at the center, said she now wanted to open a beauty parlour in Peshawar – currently banned in her home country just a few hours away.
“Right now my plan is to start a salon at home. Then to work very professionally so that I can eventually open a very big salon for myself,” she said.

Ukrainian troops repel Russian attacks on eastern front — officials

Updated 28 September 2023

Ukrainian troops repel Russian attacks on eastern front — officials

  • Ukraine’s General Staff reported air strikes on four localities in the area and said 15 towns and villages had come under artillery and mortar attack

Ukrainian troops held off determined attacks on Wednesday by Russian forces trying to regain lost positions on the eastern front, military officials said, while analysts suggested Kyiv’s forces were also making progress in the southern theater.
The Ukrainian military launched its counteroffensive in June intending to recoup ground in the east and in the past two weeks announced the capture of two key villages, Andriivka and Klishchiivka, near the shattered city of Bakhmut.
Its forces are also trying to advance southward to the Sea of Azov to sever a land bridge established by Russia between the annexed Crimean Peninsula and positions it holds in the east.
Ilia Yevlash, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s eastern group of forces, told national television: “We continue to repel intense enemy attacks near Klishchiivka and Andriivka.
“The enemy is still storming these positions with the hope of recapturing lost positions, but without success.”
There had been 544 Russian shelling incidents in the past 24 hours in the area, seven combat clashes and four air attacks, Yevlash said.
President Volodymyr Zelensky referred briefly in a post on the Telegram messaging app to “our advance in the Donetsk sector” in the east, but provided no details.
Ukraine’s General Staff reported air strikes on four localities in the area and said 15 towns and villages had come under artillery and mortar attack.
In its account of military activity, Russia’s Defense Ministry also reported heavy fighting in the area, saying its forces had beaten back 10 attacks by Ukrainian troops near Klishchiivka and further south, near the village of Nevelske.
Ukrainian officials have spoken of gains in the drive southward, with General Oleksandr Tarnavskyi, commander of forces in the south, telling CNN last week of a “breakthrough,” while noting that progress was slower than had been hoped.
Zelensky and other officials have said the counteroffensive will take time and have dismissed Western critics who said the advance has been too slow and beset by strategic errors.
Tarnavskyi referred to the village of Verbove, which other officials have said Ukrainian forces are poised to seize. Ukrainian forces are targeting several other villages as they progress through Zaporizhzhia region toward the major town of Tokmak.
“There have been three or four days of painstaking hard work by our assault group and commanders conducting tactical tasks in this area which have led to very serious problems for the Russians,” military analyst Roman Svitan told NV Radio.
“I would not speak of a breakthrough until we reach Tokmak.”

Reconstruction aid lagging for 2022 Pakistan floods: UN chief

Updated 28 September 2023

Reconstruction aid lagging for 2022 Pakistan floods: UN chief

  • “Delays are undermining people’s efforts to rebuild their lives,” the UN chief said during a special session dedicated to the catastrophe

UNITED NATIONS, US: A year after deadly floods inundated a third of Pakistan, the broken promises to rebuild the country present “a litmus test for climate justice,” the head of the United Nations said Wednesday.
“Billions were pledged” by rich nations in the aftermath of the disaster, said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, “but the vast majority was in loans. And Pakistan is still waiting for much of the funding.”
“Delays are undermining people’s efforts to rebuild their lives,” the UN chief said during a special session dedicated to the catastrophe, adding that the Asian nation was “a double victim — of climate chaos and of our outdated and unjust global financial system.”
Some $9 billion was pledged to help reconstruct Pakistan in January, though it is still reeling from the effects of the heavy monsoon rains, which displaced eight million people and killed some 1,700.
More than eight million residents in areas hit by the floods lack access to clean water, Guterres said, while noting that Pakistan is responsible for less than one percent of the greenhouse gas emissions that likely fueled last year’s “climate chaos.”
“The countries that contributed most to global heating must contribute most to righting the harm it has done.”
Guterres also called for the creation of a “loss and damage” fund for developing countries — many of which, like Pakistan, are at outsized risk of climate change despite contributing relatively little in the way of carbon emissions.
Such a fund was promised at COP27 late last year, though it has yet to take shape. It is on the agenda for this year’s COP28, to be hosted by the United Arab Emirates.
Calling again for the world to move away from fossil fuels, Guterres warned that climate change is no longer “knocking on everyone’s door.”
“Today, it is beating that door down, from Libya to the Horn of Africa, China, Canada and beyond.”