Concerns of a new refugee crisis are rising in Europe after the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan. Six years after the 2015 migrant crisis that came dangerously close to splintering the EU, the continent is faced with the prospect of another one not far off. European leaders are keen to avoid a repeat of 2015, although the stars appear to be lining up in a similar fashion now. The Syrian Civil War was the impetus for the large influx of asylum-seeking refugees to Europe. With Taliban control of Afghanistan now complete and atrocities already beginning there, anxiety is growing on the continent. The message European governments want to convey to fleeing Afghans who have Europe in mind is: if you are determined to leave, go to neighboring countries, don’t attempt to come here. This applies to all Afghans except for those who helped Western military forces during the 20-year war.
Earlier this week, as Afghanistan descended into deeper chaos, European Union officials told interior ministers that the key to avoiding a new refugee crisis is to prevent a humanitarian disaster from occurring. Without a large amount of humanitarian aid, Afghans will start moving in large numbers. Meanwhile, Austria has suggested setting up deportation centers in the nations neighboring Afghanistan to speed up the deportation process for those who are denied asylum.
In Southern Europe, Greece has made it very clear it does not want to see a repeat of the 2015 crisis that saw a number of its islands in the Aegean Sea become the entry point to Europe for hundreds of thousands of Syrian and other Arab refugees. Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi has said Greece won’t accept being the “gateway for irregular flows into the EU,” and that the Greek government considers Turkey to be a safe place for Afghans. Ankara has differing thoughts on that, not surprisingly. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned in a speech Thursday that “Turkey has no duty, responsibility or obligation to be Europe’s refugee warehouse.”
As European Union nations bicker and Brussels attempts to organize itself, Great Britain has declared it will welcome 5,000 Afghan refugees by the end of the year and has plans to resettle 20,000 more over the next three years.
Europe is in the crosshairs of international terrorism once more. Just days after an attack in Nice, France another attack has taken place on the continent. Tonight in Vienna two people were killed and over fifteen wounded in a series of shootings in central Vienna. Austrian police and government spokesmen confirmed that a group of gunmen launched the attacks in six different locations across the capital city. The first shootings took place near the Seitenstettengasse synagogue although it is unclear if the synagogue was an intended target.
Information coming out at present is somewhat fluid. Austrian media claims a manhunt for the suspects is still underway. According to police as many as six shooters might’ve been involved and at least one is dead. Reports from outside of Austria claim one of the shooters was a Chechen with ties to ISIS. Other reports from firearm experts suggest the weapons used were likely an AK type rifle and an M57 Tokarev. Authorities believe the number of casualties will likely increase in the coming hours.
News of the attack has arrived as the last day of campaigning in the 2020 US Presidential Election enters its final hours. Neither candidate has made mention of the attack yet, but as more information becomes available both Donald Trump and Joe Biden will likely release statements.
I’ll touch on the attack a bit tomorrow and then Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning I’ll post about India and China.
Open internal border travel has been a foundation block of the European Union’s desire to create a European Superstate. The Schengen network was regarded as a crown jewel, heralding a new era of openness and unity at a dawn of what many hoped would be a ‘One Europe’ mindset. It braved a migrant crisis, as well as the wave of populist nationalism sweeping across the continent since 2016. However, Schengen may have met its match in the coronavirus pandemic. Europe’s freedom of movement is descending into chaos as a growing number of EU nation-states are opting to close their borders in order to stem the flow of the coronavirus. Many EU nation-states are imposing strict entry measures on their borders, or closing them entirely, defying warnings by Brussels to avoid blanket travel bans.
As the hours roll by, the situation at land borders across Europe continues to evolve. The continent has become new epicenter of the pandemic and this fact is driving the border closure actions in every case. Denmark, Poland, and the Czech Republic will close their respective borders almost entirely in the coming days. The most recent EU member to announce border restrictions is Germany. According to the German government, Germany’s borders with France, Austria, Denmark, Luxembourg, and Switzerland will be partially closed on Monday. Germany’s federal police chief Dieter Romann explained that his country will not be closing its borders, but controlling them. “We are not closing the borders, that is what they do in North Korea,” he told reporters. “We are controlling the border, that is something completely different.”
Romann’s comments came as the number of coronavirus cases in Germany rose by 1,000 from Saturday. There are now 4,838 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the Federal Republic and that number is most likely going to increased more in the coming days.
With more European cases of COVID-19 appearing every day, the subject of potential border closures in the Schengen free travel zone is becoming more prevalent. Earlier this week the European Union stated it has no plans to suspend the Schengen Agreement or recommend border closures as a way to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. That was on Monday, and the situation has arguably worsened since then. Schengen’s rules provide EU member-states with discretion to apply border controls in response to internal security or a threat to public policy although the EU would prefer if they were never used. The last time Schengen was seriously challenged was in 2015 during the European migrant crisis. Border controls were unilaterally put back in effect by certain EU member-states to stem or block the flow of refugees streaming over their borders.
Given the rate at which the coronavirus is spreading around the continent, border restrictions might be coming back into play in the near future. To be honest, it is surprising to see that it has not happened yet. The Italian government refuses to suspend the Schengen Agreement and reimplement controls even as a COVID-19 outbreak is underway in Italy. Government officials appear to be nowhere near the point where border restrictions can be considered a justifiable preventative measure. “Closing down the borders would make no sense, as the circulation of the virus is not just limited to administrative borders,” junior transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari told a French reporter.
Most other EU member-states are thinking along similar lines for the moment. If the uptick in case numbers increase, and spread into previously untouched nations in the coming days this will likely change. Policy matters, and the benefits of open borders cannot be allowed to trump public safety at a time when Europe and the rest of the world may very well stand on the brink of a major pandemic.
The European Union is preparing a new naval and air mission off the Libyan coast to support the enforcement of a UN arms embargo. An agreement in principle was reached by member governments in Brussels on Monday. There was initial objections voiced by Austria, Italy and Hungary over the possibility that the operation could end up attracting migrants and enabling a greater number of them to reach Europe. The EU foreign policy head Josep Borrell compromised with the promise that the ships would be withdrawn if they start to encourage migrants to make the dangerous crossing from North Africa to Europe.
Weapons have been pouring into Libya despite a UN arms embargo being in place. With no methods of enforcement supporting it, the embargo has been ridiculed, and disregard. Even UN deputy special envoy for Libya, Stephanie Williams described the arms embargo as a joke over the weekend. With the EU stepping in, there is a chance of enforcing the embargo more stringently in the coming months.
The new mission will be known as Operation EU Active Surveillance. It will replace Operation Sophia which was set up in 2015 to combat human-trafficking, and prevent heavy losses of life at sea during the height of the European Migration Crisis. Sophia was suspended in March of 2019 when the Italian government threatened to veto the entire operation. The new mission will take place mostly in the Eastern Mediterranean where the arms smuggling routes are located. This is a considerable distance away from the routes most migrants have taken on their journeys north to Europe.