EU agrees on a new migration pact, as mainstream parties hope it will deprive the far right of votes

Migrants disembark from a Greek coast vessel after a rescue operation, at the port of Mytilene, on the northeastern Aegean Sea island of Lesbos, Greece, on Aug. 28, 2023. (AP/File)
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Updated 15 May 2024
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EU agrees on a new migration pact, as mainstream parties hope it will deprive the far right of votes

  • EU government ministers approved 10 legislative parts of The New Pact on Migration and Asylum
  • Mainstream political parties believe the pact resolves the issues that have divided member nations since migrants swept into Europe in 2015, most fleeing war in Syria and Iraq

BRUSSELS: European Union nations endorsed sweeping reforms to the bloc’s failed asylum system on Tuesday as campaigning for Europe-wide elections next month gathers pace, with migration expected to be an important issue.
EU government ministers approved 10 legislative parts of The New Pact on Migration and Asylum. It lays out rules for the 27 member countries to handle people trying to enter without authorization, from how to screen them to establish whether they qualify for protection to deporting them if they’re not allowed to stay.
Hungary and Poland, which have long opposed any obligation for countries to host migrants or pay for their upkeep, voted against the package but were unable to block it.
Mainstream political parties believe the pact resolves the issues that have divided member nations since well over 1 million migrants swept into Europe in 2015, most fleeing war in Syria and Iraq. They hope the system will starve the far right of vote-winning oxygen in the June 6-9 elections.
However, the vast reform package will only enter force in 2026, bringing no immediate fix to an issue that has fueled one of the EU’s biggest political crises, dividing nations over who should take responsibility for migrants when they arrive and whether other countries should be obligated to help.
Critics say the pact will let nations detain migrants at borders and fingerprint children. They say it’s aimed at keeping people out and infringes on their right to claim asylum. Many fear it will result in more unscrupulous deals with poorer countries that people leave or cross to get to Europe.
WHY ARE THE NEW RULES NEEDED?
Europe’s asylum laws have not been updated for about two decades. The system frayed and then fell apart in 2015. It was based on the premise that migrants should be processed, given asylum or deported in the country they first enter. Greece, Italy and Malta were left to shoulder most of the financial burden and deal with public discontent. Since then, the ID-check-free zone known as the Schengen Area has expanded to 27 countries, 23 of them EU members. It means that more than 400 million Europeans and visitors, including refugees, are able to move without showing travel documents.
WHO DO THE RULES APPLY TO?
Some 3.5 million migrants arrived legally in Europe in 2023. Around 1 million others were on EU territory without permission. Of the latter, most were people who entered normally via airports and ports with visas but didn’t go home when they expired. The pact applies to the remaining minority, estimated at around 300,000 migrants last year. They are people caught crossing an external EU border without permission, such as those reaching the shores of Greece, Italy or Spain via the Mediterranean Sea or Atlantic Ocean on boats provided by smugglers.
HOW DOES THE SYSTEM WORK?
The country on whose territory people land will screen them at or near the border. This involves identity and other checks -– including on children as young as 6. The information will be stored on a massive new database, Eurodac. This screening should determine whether a person might pose a health or security risk and their chances of being permitted to stay. Generally, people fleeing conflict, persecution or violence qualify for asylum. Those looking for jobs are likely to be refused entry. Screening is mandatory and should take no longer than seven days. It should lead to one of two things: an application for international protection, like asylum, or deportation to their home country.
WHAT DOES THE ASYLUM PROCEDURE INVOLVE?
People seeking asylum must apply in the EU nation they first enter and stay until the authorities there work out what country should handle their application. It could be that they have family, cultural or other links somewhere else, making it more logical for them to be moved. The border procedure should be done in 12 weeks, including time for one legal appeal if their application is rejected. It could be extended by eight weeks in times of mass movements of people. Procedures could be faster for applicants from countries whose citizens are not often granted asylum. Critics say this undermines asylum law because applicants should be assessed individually, not based on nationality. People would stay in “reception centers” while it happens, with access to health care and education. Those rejected would receive a deportation order.
WHAT DOES DEPORTATION INVOLVE?
To speed things up, a deportation order is supposed to be issued automatically when an asylum request is refused. A new 12-week period is foreseen to complete this process. The authorities may detain people throughout. The EU’s border and coast guard agency would help organize joint deportation flights. Currently, less than one in three people issued with an order to leave are deported. This is often due to a lack of cooperation from the countries these people come from.
HOW HAS THE ISSUE OF RESPONSIBILITIES VS OBLIGATIONS BEEN RESOLVED?
The new rules oblige countries to help an EU partner under migratory pressure. Support is mandatory, but flexible. Nations can relocate asylum applicants to their territory or choose some other form of assistance. This could be financial -– a relocation is evaluated at 20,000 euros ($21,462) per person -– technical or logistical. Members can also assume responsibility for deporting people from the partner country in trouble.
WHAT CHALLENGES LIE AHEAD?
Two issues stand out: Will member countries ever fully enact the plan, and will the EU’s executive branch, the European Commission, enforce the new rules when it has chosen not to apply the ones already in place? The commission is due to present a Common Implementation Plan by June. It charts a path and timeline to get the pact working over the next two years, with targets that the EU and member countries should reach. Things could get off to a rocky start. Hungary, which has vehemently opposed the reforms, takes over the EU’s agenda-setting presidency for six months on July 1.


South Africans start voting in election that could see ANC lose majority

Updated 11 sec ago
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South Africans start voting in election that could see ANC lose majority

  • Voters are electing nine provincial legislatures and a new national parliament
  • More than 27 million people registered to vote out of a population of roughly 62 million
JOHANNESBURG: South Africans started voting on Wednesday in an election that could mark a big political shift if the governing African National Congress party loses its majority as opinion polls suggest.
Voters are electing nine provincial legislatures and a new national parliament, which will then choose the country’s next president.
If the ANC gets less than 50 percent of the national vote it will have to seek one or more coalition partners to govern the country, the first such alliance in the 30 years since it swept to power with Nelson Mandela as its leader at the end of apartheid.
Voting stations opened at 0500 GMT and will close at 1900 GMT, with more than 27 million people registered to vote out of a population of roughly 62 million.
South Africa’s electoral commission is expected to start releasing partial results within hours of voting stations closing. The commission has seven days to announce final results.

Philippines president says new China coast guard rules ‘worrisome’

Updated 5 min 48 sec ago
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Philippines president says new China coast guard rules ‘worrisome’

  • China has maritime sovereignty disputes with the Philippines and other claimant countries in the South China Sea

MANILA: Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr said on Wednesday new rules outlined by China’s coast guard that could result in the detention of foreigners in the South China Sea were an “escalation” and “worrisome.”
China, which has maritime sovereignty disputes with the Philippines and other claimant countries in the South China Sea, has issued new rules that would enforce a 2021 law explicitly allowing its Coast Guard to fire upon foreign vessels.


Clashes erupt at Israeli embassy protest in Mexico

Updated 16 min 39 sec ago
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Clashes erupt at Israeli embassy protest in Mexico

  • Around 200 people joined the “Urgent action for Rafah” demonstration

MEXICO CITY: Clashes broke out Tuesday between police and protesters outside the Israeli embassy in Mexico, rallying against the country’s military offensive in the southern Gazan city of Rafah, AFP journalists said.
Some protesters covered their faces and threw stones at riot police who blocked their path to the diplomatic complex in the city’s Lomas de Chapultepec neighborhood.
Around 200 people joined the “Urgent action for Rafah” demonstration, about 30 of whom started to break down barriers preventing them from reaching the Israeli mission.
Police officers deployed tear gas and threw back the stones hurled at them by protesters.
The demonstration was called in response to an Israeli strike which ignited an inferno in a displacement camp outside Rafah, killing 45 people according to Palestinian officials.


Indian capital records highest-ever temperature at 49.9°Celsius: weather bureau

Updated 35 min 31 sec ago
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Indian capital records highest-ever temperature at 49.9°Celsius: weather bureau

  • New Delhi authorities have also warned of the risk of water shortages as the capital swelters in an intense heatwave
  • Warnings on heat’s impact on health, especially for infants, the elderly and those with chronic diseases

NEW DELHI: Temperatures in India’s capital soared to a record-high 49.9° Celsius on Tuesday, the government’s weather bureau said.
The India Meteorological Department (IMD), which reported “severe heat-wave conditions,” recorded the temperatures at two Delhi suburbs stations at Narela and Mungeshpur.
Forecasters predict similar temperatures on Wednesday.
In May 2022, parts of Delhi hit 49.2° Celsius, Indian media reported at the time.
India is no stranger to searing summer temperatures.
But years of scientific research have found climate change is causing heatwaves to become longer, more frequent and more intense.
New Delhi authorities have also warned of the risk of water shortages as the capital swelters in an intense heatwave — cutting supplies to some areas.
Water Minister Atishi Marlena has called for “collective responsibility” to stop wasteful water use, the Times of India newspaper reported Wednesday.
“To address the problem of water scarcity, we have taken a slew of measures such as reducing water supply from twice a day to once a day in many areas,” Atishi said, the Indian Express reported.
“The water thus saved will be rationed and supplied to the water-deficient areas where supply lasts only 15 to 20 minutes a day,” she added.
The IMD warned of the heat’s impact on health, especially for infants, the elderly and those with chronic diseases.
At the same time, West Bengal state and the northeastern state of Mizoram have been hit by gales and lashing rains from Cyclone Remal, which hit India and Bangladesh on Sunday, killing more than 38 people.
Bangladesh’s Meteorological Department said the cyclone was “one of longest in the country’s history,” blaming climate change for the shift.


Nikki Haley writes ‘finish them’ on Israeli shell: lawmaker

Updated 29 May 2024
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Nikki Haley writes ‘finish them’ on Israeli shell: lawmaker

WASHINGTON: Former US presidential hopeful Nikki Haley has been photographed writing “Finish Them” on an Israeli shell as she toured sites near the northern border with Lebanon.
The photograph was posted on X on Tuesday by Danny Danon, a member of the Israeli parliament and former ambassador to the United Nations, who was accompanying Haley on her visit.
“’Finish Them’. This is what my friend the former ambassador Nikki Haley wrote,” Danon said in his post that showed a kneeling Haley writing on a shell with a purple marker pen.
Haley was a hawkish UN envoy under Donald Trump, and her term overlapped with Danon.
The Gaza war was sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,189 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on the latest Israeli official figures.
Militants also took 252 hostages, 121 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 36,096 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the territory’s health ministry.
Haley, 52, abandoned her White House bid in March after heavy defeats in Republican primary contests to Trump, and last week said that she would vote for him in the election.
Trump has ruled her out of contention to be his vice president, but she is a potential presidential runner in 2028.
The White House said Tuesday that President Joe Biden has no plans to change his Israel policy following a deadly weekend strike on Rafah but that he is not turning a “blind eye” to the plight of Palestinian civilians.