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April 2017, Volume 23, Number 2

Europe: Migration and Politics

Europe grappled with three major migration issues in Spring 2017. First, about 7,000 migrants a month continued to arrive in Italy from Libya, with more expected as the weather improves. There are believed to be up to a million African migrants in Libya and an average 15,000 migrants a month arrived in Italy by boat in 2016. Most are from West Africa, have little education, and are seeking a better life in Europe.

IOM reported that 5,100 migrants died attempting to cross the Mediterranean in 2016, in part because the proliferation of search and rescue boats waiting 12 miles offshore allows smugglers to persuade migrants to get into less seaworthy boats in Libya. Ten major shipwrecks accounted for half of Mediterranean deaths in 2016. The EU border agency Frontex in April 2017 suggested that rescue boats operated by NGOs assisted Libyan smugglers by rescuing 40 percent of the migrants who travel only a short distance from Libya before being taken aboard sturdier vessels to Italy.

Second, EU governments are struggling to integrate the migrants who arrived in the past several years and to deport those whose asylum applications were rejected. Both integration and deportation are difficult under the best of circumstances, and governments are under pressure from restrictionist voters to demand that migrants do more to integrate and to expedite deportations.

Third, anti-migrant and anti-EU political parties have gained support from voters tired of Brussels and the changes wrought by migration. Disparaging Brussels often reflects discomfort with regulations made in faraway places. The language, religious, and other changes associated with especially Muslim immigration are often experienced by poorer and working class residents, making them supportive of anti-migrant rather than social democratic political parties.

Some 181,000 migrants reached southern Italian islands in 2016 after leaving Libya in small boats. The EU promised more aid to the Libyan Coast Guard to intercept smugglers' ships and return migrants intercepted at sea to Libya. Some EU leaders want to create reception centers in Libya so that migrants do not try to cross the Mediterranean.

Migrants continue to leave Turkey for nearby Greek islands, some 27,000 in the year after a March 18, 2016 agreement between the EU and Turkey went into effect. Under this agreement, migrants arriving in Greece without documents and no valid claim to asylum are returned to Turkey and go to the back of the line for resettlement. There were three million Syrians in Turkey in Spring 2017 but, with a border wall on much of the Syria-Turkey border, it is difficult for additional Syrians to enter Turkey and continue to Greece.

Some Syrians are reportedly integrating in Turkey, whose government is a "protector of Muslims." The Turkish government has several times threatened to allow migrants to leave in large numbers if the EU does not release more of the E6 billion in aid that was promised; less than E1 billion was delivered in the first year after the agreement. The EU has also failed to allow Turks visa-free access to the EU's Schengen area.

The EU celebrated its 60th anniversary on March 25, 2017 in Rome, the site of the signing of the Treaty of Rome by six nations in a spirit of optimism about the benefits of creating the European Economic Community. Most analysts compared the optimism about a United States of Europe in 1957 with fears today that the EU is threatened with disintegration after Brexit and disputes over issues ranging from the Greek debt crisis to migration and the entry of Turkey.

EU expansion (28 member states and 510 million people) and the Euro (19 members and 340 million) were accomplished by yielding some aspects of national sovereignty to Brussels. Today, politics in many countries are nationalistic, with anti-EU politicians attacking a distant Brussels. Slower economic growth has made many Europeans less generous and less willing to share resources with poorer neighbors. Most opinion leaders endorse plans for a multiple speed or multi-tier EU, as when some members form ever-closer bonds while others do not join.

Europe has 48 countries and 750 million people, and a multi-tier EU could accommodate more of them in some fashion, the so called … la carte, not prix fixe, approach to further EU expansion.

Britain. As plans for Brexit were being finalized in Spring 2017, farmers and food processors asked the government for permission to recruit non-EU migrants. Farmers say they need 85,000 seasonal workers to harvest fruits and vegetables, and food processors say that 120,000 of their 400,000 employees are migrants from other EU countries.

The Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme, which ended in 2013, allowed British farmers to recruit seasonal workers in Eastern Europe. During 2017, farmers are likely to weigh investments in lobbying and housing for guest workers versus investments in labor-saving machinery.

Denmark. Inger Stojberg, minister for Immigration, Integration and Housing, in March 2017 celebrated the 50th piece of restrictive legislation enacted by the coalition government with a cake, prompting discussion of more restrictive migration and integration policies. There are an estimated 1,300 unauthorized foreigners among the 5.6 million people in Denmark, and Stojberg asked Danes to report suspected unauthorized workers to police.

The Danish government has a portal laying out regulations on working in Denmark. (

France. France received 85,244 requests for asylum in 2016, and granted refugee status or protection to 40 percent of those applying.

The National Front's Marine Le Pen appears poised to take the largest share of the vote in April 23, 2017 presidential elections, but less than 50 percent, prompting a run off on May 7, 2017 that she is expected to lose as the other major candidates combine to oppose her. In addition to Le Pen, there are three major candidates representing the governing Socialists, the center-right Republicans, and Emmanuel Macron, who left the Socialist government to launch a new political movement.

Germany. Some 700,000 foreigners applied for asylum in 2016, and 300,000 foreigners had their applications for asylum rejected. Over three-fourths of the asylum seekers in 2016 were from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Germany deported 25,000 foreigners in 2016, and another 56,000 left voluntarily with return bonuses that averaged E700, while the cost of deportations averaged E1,600. Most of those who were deported or returned voluntarily were from Albania, Kosovo and Serbia.

There are 207,000 foreigners ordered to leave, including 99,000 failed asylum seekers; three fourths are from countries that do no always accept the return of their citizens. The 16 states are responsible for deporting foreigners. Some want the German government to urge the EU to restrict visas from countries that do not cooperate with returns, while others disagree with the federal government and refuse to deport Afghanis.

Germany's Parliament in March 2017 considered a bill that would allow authorities to use data from migrant's phones to determine their true identity and to require some to wear electronic ankle tags so they could be monitored.

Germany's economy is booming, with the unemployment rate falling to 5.8 percent in March 2017, the lowest since unification in 1990. In 2003, when unemployment was almost 12 percent, Germany adopted Agenda 2010 to make the labor market more flexible by making it easier to hire part-time and limited-contract workers.

Germany introduced a minimum wage of E8.50 an hour in 2015; it rose to E8.81 January 1, 2017.

Greece. Where did all the money go? Greece received an estimated $800 million in aid from the EU and private funders since the asylum crisis began in June 2015 that brought a million migrants into the country. Two-thirds was from the EU, but not all of the promised EU money was given to Greece because of its failure to submit satisfactory spending plans.

Most migrants passed through Greece en route to Germany and Sweden, but 57,000 remained in Greece when the Macedonia border closed March 9, 2016, leaving $14,000 per migrant to care for them. Up to 70 percent of the money was "wasted." For example, the UNHCR moved staff into Greece, paying salaries three times local levels and adding hardship pay, which caused resentment from Greeks who said they did much of the work.

Europe's Court of Human Rights ordered the Greek government to pay E12,000 to E16,000 each to 42 Bangladeshis for failing "to prevent the situation of human trafficking, to protect the victims." In 2013, supervisors shot 20 strawberry pickers in Manolada when they demanded delayed wage payments. The supervisors were convicted of the shooting but not of forced labor, but released them pending an appeal.

The Greek government said it cannot cut its budget or raise taxes further but, with Germany unwilling to forgive Greek government debt, Greece negotiated a new assistance package with the EU and IMF in February 2017.

The Greek unemployment rate is 23 percent, and three-fourths of the unemployed have been out of work a year or more, meaning they get no jobless benefits. The government approached the World Bank in Spring 2017 for a E3 billion loan to create 100,000 jobs a year over three years.

Italy. A record 180,000 migrants arrived in 2016, bringing the total number of migrants arriving by boat from Libya to 500,000 between 2014 and 2016. Some 123,000 foreigners applied for asylum, 60 percent were rejected, and the Italian government reduced the number of appeals that asylees can file after their applications are denied. The government is opening more detention centers to hold those ordered deported.

Italy in 2016 stopped allowing migrants to travel north to other EU countries, instead aiming to accelerate deportations. An average of fewer than 500 migrants a month were deported in 2016, prompting the government to offer return bonuses to get migrants to leave voluntarily.

There were 435,000 unauthorized migrants in Italy in January 2016, including 100,000 to 400,000 employed in agriculture.

Imports of oranges from Brazil and Morocco reduced the price of Italian oranges and the piece rates paid to pickers to harvest them. Italy's orange acreage has fallen by a third since 2000, and during the November 2016-March 2017 orange-picking season, earnings fell to $15 a day as more workers competed for jobs.

Netherlands. Dutch voters on March 15, 2017 gave most of their votes to rightist parties, likely prolonging the coalition government of current PM Mark Rutte, who said that migrants must integrate or leave. Geert Wilders and his Party for Freedom campaigned on a anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim platform, and won 20 seats, compared to 33 for Rutte's party. Some 28 parties fielded candidates for the 150-seat Parliament, and 13 won seats.

About 10 percent of the 17 million residents of the Netherlands are immigrants or their children, and Moroccans are often arrested for committing crimes. In comparison to neighboring Belgium and France, the Netherlands has successfully integrated many Muslim and other immigrants, although Dutch experts agree that Muslim and other youth who grow up in the Netherlands without fathers often have little respect for the many rules governing Dutch society.

Spain. Spain has two outposts, Ceuta and Melilla, on the Moroccan coast, ringed with 20-foot high barbed wire fences. African migrants in Morocco regularly try to climb over or cut through the fences, including 600 who succeeded in February 2017. Some 1,400 migrants were in Ceuta in February 2017.

Sweden. President Trump in February 2017 repeated a charge aired on Fox News that crime was rising in Sweden, a country of 10 million, because of an influx of 163,0000 asylum applicants in 2015. Swedish crime data reported an increase in assaults and rapes in 2016 and a drop in thefts and drug offenses.

Half of Swedes in opinion polls blame rising crime on migrants; researchers emphasize that much of the crime is migrant-on-migrant crime. There were incidents in February 2017 involving migrants and police in the Stockholm suburb of Rinkeby, which has 16,000 residents.

In Malmo, a city of 350,000, over 40 percent of residents were born outside Sweden or have parents who were born abroad. The crime rate, while low by US standards, is very high by Swedish standards.

Sweden changed its refugee polices in Fall 2015, and now offers protection to refugees that can be ended after one to three years if conditions in the country of origin change. Migrants in probationary status can rarely bring family members to Sweden.

Turkey. A constitutional referendum on April 16, 2017 aimed to expand the powers of the president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. After a July 15, 2016 coup attempt, Erdogan declared a state of emergency and arrested 200,000 civil servants, professors and journalists. Turkish leaders want the US to extradite Fethullah Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania, but the US has said there is no proof of Gulen's involvement in the coup attempt.

The campaign to persuade Turks to vote yes on the referendum strained relationships with the EU and member states. After Germany and the Netherlands refused to allow Turkish ministers to hold rallies in support of the referendum, Erdogan denounced them as Nazi-like states. Erdogan called Turks "the future of Europe," and urged them to have more children to combat "the injustices against you" from EU nations. Muslims were six percent of Europeans in 2010, and are expected to be eight percent in 2030.

Turkey received an invitation to join the EU in 1999, and began making democratic changes in anticipation of accession negotiations that began in 2005. Since then, accession negotiations have stalled as other issues took higher priority, including the 2008-09 recession. The Turkish government expressed anger that EU leaders did not condemn the attempted July 2016 coup, and the gap between Turkey and the EU is widening as EU leaders became more open in their criticism of Erdogan's authoritarianism.

Japan. A record one million foreign workers were employed in Japan in 2016. Many migrants, 30 percent of whom are Chinese and 15 percent of whom are Vietnamese, are employed in construction, as Tokyo prepares to host the 2020 summer Olympics.

Bangladesh. The minimum wage in 2017 is 5,300 taka ($67) a month; the minimum wage was last raised in 2013 after a sewing factory at Rana Plaza collapsed, killing over 1,000 workers. China exported $177 billion worth of garments in 2013, Bangladeshi garment exports were $24 billion, and India and Vietnam each exported $17 billion worth of garments.

South Africa. As the richest country in sub-Saharan Africa, South Africa attracts migrants from other African countries. However, with a 27 percent unemployment rate, migrants are blamed for taking jobs and increasing crime.

Over a million people, half from Zimbabwe, are living in South Africa with temporary permits. Many had their applications for asylum rejected; the refugee recognition rate is five percent. Many migrants report having to pay bribes to obtain or renew permits that allow them to live and work legally; police officers reportedly demand bribes to allow migrants to avoid arrest and detention. Mobs attacked migrants in January 2015 and again in January 2017, leaving scores dead.

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