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October 2017, Volume 23, Number 4

Europe: Migrants

Over 13,000 migrants a month left Libya in boats in 2017. Italy received 100,000 or over 80 percent of the 130,000 migrants who reached the EU during the first eight months of 2017, while the others arrived in Cyprus, Greece, and Spain. The largest group were Nigerians, followed by Guineans, those from Ivory Coast and Bangladeshis.

Many migrants hope to be rescued by NGO and EU vessels 12 miles offshore. After the EU began to destroy wooden smuggling boats used to transport migrants, smugglers switched to cheaper rubber dinghies, filled them with 170 or more migrants, three times their capacity of 50, and sometimes removed engines when the dinghies were 12 miles offshore.

Dinghies intercepted in Libyan coastal waters by the Libyan Coast Guard, which is trained and funded by the EU, are returned to Libya.

In August 2017, migrant arrivals in Italy plunged to less than 3,000. Italian interior minister Marco Minniti is credited with engineering the sharp drop in migrants leaving Libya by providing patrol boats to the Libyan Coast Guard, paying tribes in the southern Sahara to stop migrants from entering Libya, and supporting the mayors of 14 Libyan coastal cities to stop migrants from leaving in exchange for infrastructure aid.

Some 153,000 migrants arrived in Italy in 2015 and 181,000 in 2016. IOM reported that 117,000 migrants arrived in Europe by sea in the first seven months of 2017, down from 263,000 in the same period in 2016, when there were more arrivals in Greece.

Italy in July 2017 announced a new code of conduct for the NGO rescue boats that wait 12 miles offshore from Libya and bring a third of migrants to Italy. In order to bring migrants to Italian ports, NGO rescue boats must register with the Italian government, which prohibits them from entering Libyan coastal waters to rescue migrants. In response, several NGOs suspended their efforts to rescue migrants off Libya's coast in August 2017.

The EU is trying to end Libya's civil war to reduce outmigration. Italy in July 2017 announced that three to six navy ships would patrol Libyan coastal waters to stop smuggling. The EU may establish an asylum center in Libya for Africans and others to apply for refugee status in the EU.

There are an estimated 400,000 migrants in Libya waiting to get into boats for Europe. NGOs say that proposals to open refugee processing centers in Libya and other African countries do not take into account the determination of Africans to reach Europe.

A meeting between EU and African leaders in August 2017 in Paris ended with pledges to provide aid to increase the number of jobs in African countries and to help Chad and Niger deal with the flow of migrants through these countries to Libya. The EU currently provides $24 billion a year in aid and other assistance to African countries.

France. In order to reduce the unemployment rate, newly-elected President Emmanuel Macron proposed revisions to the Code du Travail, 3,300 pages of laws and regulations governing the French labor market. Macron wants to replace national labor standards with wages and benefits negotiated firm by firm, thus reducing the power of pro-worker labor courts.

Unions oppose Macron's five labor decrees, arguing that workers need the protections embodied in the code; they organized protests September 12 and 23, 2017. There were more union-led protests in October 2017 led by the unions representing France's 5.5 million public employees; Macron wants to eliminate over 100,000 public sector jobs.

Employers welcomed the proposed changes, saying they are reluctant to hire workers under current laws because of the difficulty firing them.

Government spending is 56 percent of GDP in France, the highest in the OECD, and government debt is almost 100 percent of GDP. Reducing labor protections and government spending is likely to produce a wave of strikes and demonstrations, testing Macron's resolve.

Germany. Some 890,000 migrants arrived in 2015 and 280,000 in 2016, but the number of new asylum seekers fell to 90,000 in the first half of 2017.

Since October 2015, most Syrians and many others receive subsidiary protection, which grants them one-year work and residence permits but no right to sponsor family members to join them in Germany. Foreigners recognized as refugees receive three-year permits and can unify their families in Germany.

Some of the foreigners granted subsidiary protection are suing the German government to be recognized as refugees; some 250,000 appeals of first-level asylum decisions were pending in summer 2017. Being recognized as a refugee requires showing that someone individually faces persecution "for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion" rather than general danger in the country of origin.

Germans re-elected PM Angela Merkel to a fourth term September 24, 2017. Her CDU-CSU party won 33 percent of the vote, compared to 21 percent for the SPD. The AfD won 13 percent, FPD 11 percent, and the Greens nine percent. Migration contributed to the rise of the AfD; exit polls found 90 percent of voters agreeing that rejected asylum applicants had to be deported faster, 71 percent wanted a limit on the number of refugees admitted, and 57 percent were concerned about a rising influence of Islam in Germany.

Merkel was considered vulnerable to far-right parties because of her 2015 decision to open the borders to Syrian and other asylum seekers. Over a million arrived that year, and Merkel led EU negotiations that closed the route from Turkey to Greece in March 2016.

After the election, Merkel announced that the coalition government she expected to lead with the support of the Greens and FDP would accept a maximum 200,000 foreigners for humanitarian reasons a year. Merkel said that her government would try to "permanently reduce the number of people fleeing to Germany and Europe in order to prevent a repeat of the situation such as in 2015." Some 890,000 asylum seekers entered Germany in 2015, 280,000 in 2016, and 125,000 in the first eight months of 2017.

Germany and Sweden have accepted most of the migrants arriving in the EU over the past five years. The EU-Turkey agreement of 2016 and other EU plans to distribute migrants from front-line states such as Greece and Italy by quota to other EU member states is opposed by Central European countries that do not want Muslim immigrants.

The EU Court of Justice in September 2017 ruled that Hungary and Slovakia must accept migrants under the EU quota system or pay fines. Most experts expect the EU to fine countries that do not accept relocated migrants to prevent migrants from reaching the EU.

Over 19 percent of German workers are employed in manufacturing, almost double the 10 percent in the US and UK. The largest manufacturing sector is autos, of which Germany is the world's leading exporter.

Germany is also a leader in combating global warming, spending almost $225 billion since 2000 on renewable energy subsidies and a doubling of consumer electricity prices over the past two decades. However, Germany's greenhouse gas emissions have been stable at 2009 levels, as more electricity is generated from coal as nuclear plants close.

A third of German electricity was from renewable sources in 2016, compared with a quarter in the UK, 20 percent in France and 15 percent in the US.

In the late 1990s, Germany led an EU effort to substitute "clean diesel" for gasoline to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The incentive for diesel was stimulated by changing fuel taxes so that diesel was cheaper than gasoline, so that over half of new cars sold in Europe in 2011 were diesel-powered. Diesel produces more nitrogen oxides and particulates, which is why the US did not embrace the move toward clean diesel.

Volkswagen and other German auto firms developed software so that their diesel engines would not emit as many nitrogen oxides and particulates when they were tested. US engineers discovered the cheating software and levied fines on German auto makers, who resisted efforts in Germany and other European countries to allow cities to impose bans on diesel cars to reduce emissions.

Austrian voters in October 2017 elections are expected to give most of their votes to the New People's Party led by 31-year old Sebastian Kurz, who pushed to limit immigration. The second largest vote getter was the Freedom Party, which has long opposed immigration. Some 90,000 foreigners arrived in Austria in 2015 and 2016 and applied for asylum. Kurz wants to reduce benefits for foreigners awaiting decisions on their applications and appeals.

Greece. Some 173,000 migrants arrived in Greece in 2016, usually in small boats from Turkey. In the first seven months of 2017, 11,000 arrived. Over 60,000 migrants are in Greece. Many have relatives in Germany, and want to join them there rather than remain in Greece.

Greece in summer 2017 had E314 billion in debt. Chinese investment is beginning to turn Greece's economy around, including Cosco's E500 million investment in the port of Piraeus, now the busiest in the Mediterranean. Greece, in turn, declared itself "China's gateway into Europe" and helped to stifle EU criticism of Chinese policy in the South China Sea, which includes building military bases on islands. Chinese investors are developing Hellenikon near Athens to attract Chinese tourists.

Italy. There were over 170,000 migrants in Italian reception centers in summer 2017, the most ever, as Italy's northern neighbors made it harder for migrants to leave Italy. Schengen rules require Italy to process new arrivals and determine if they are refugees. If Italy recognizes migrants as refugees, the government is supposed to help to integrate them into the Italian labor market.

The influx of migrants weakened the governing center-left coalition government, which lost seats in many cities in June 2017 local elections. In some cities that have long voted for the center left, citizens complained that migrants get scarce local public housing while local residents wait years. There are also complaints of migrants being given jobs while young Italians leave Italy because they cannot find jobs.

Spain. Spain received 8,300 migrants by sea in the first seven months of 2017, up from 2,500 in the same period of 2016..

Spain's GDP returned to 2008 levels in Fall 2017, although the unemployment rate remained at 18 percent, and almost 40 percent for youth. Spain has become a major auto assembler for Europe, with light vehicles and auto parts accounting for a sixth of exports.

Catalonia, Spain's richest province, held an independence referendum October 1, 2017 that was disrupted by national police; the central government deemed the vote illegal. The 7.5 million Catalonians have long complained that their taxes subsidize the poorer regions of Spain. Over 90 percent of the two million votes cast were for independence.

Turkey. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan used the one-year anniversary of the July 16, 2016 coup that left 240 dead to justify the firing or suspension of 150,000 alleged participants in the coup and the arrest of over 50,000 people. Erdogan says that the coup was inspired by the Hizmet (service) movement of US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, who denies any involvement.

Over 950 companies with $11 billion in assets have been seized, putting downward pressure on the lira and reducing foreign investment in Turkey.

Rallies on July 16, 2017 attracted millions of Erdogan supporters. Erdogan has moved Turkey away from the secularism introduced by Ataturk in 1923 and revived interest in the Ottoman sultans and Turkish history. He has maintained popularity by improving Turkey's infrastructure.

Events leading up to the coup attempt have fueled suspicion that Erdogan knew of the effort, allowed it to unfold, and used it as an excuse to crack down on opponents. Turkey has 356 generals, and 167 or almost half have been arrested, even though less than two percent of the military attempted to overthrow the government.

Erdogan became Prime Minister in 2003, and turned to Hizmet for help to replace Kemalists in government jobs with people more sympathetic to conservative Muslims. Erdogan turned on Hizmet after Gulenists police and prosecutors in 2013 accused Erdogan's son of corruption. Since 2013, Erdogan has tried to remove Gulenists from government jobs.

Some three million Turks live in Germany and many support Erdogan, raising Erdogan's ire when many German cities refused to allow Turkish ministers to hold rallies in Germany in support of an April 2017 referendum that granted Erdogan more power.

Turkish-German relations were further strained by the July 2017 arrest of a German IT specialist employed by Amnesty International and several more Germans who were charged with supporting terrorists. Some four million Germans visit Turkey each year, and the German government warned its citizens of arbitrary arrests in Turkey.

Many EU leaders have called for suspending EU-Turkey accession negotiations. German PM Angela Merkel agreed while campaigning in September 2017.

Dubai. The Trump International Golf Club in Dubai opened in 2017 in Damac Hills, a gated complex of 4,000 luxury villas and 7,500 condos selling for up to $4 million each; a second Trump-branded course will open in Akoya Oxygen. Some of the migrant workers employed to build these Trump-themed developments complained of late payment of wages from local contractor Al Arif, prompting short strikes in summer 2017.

Pakistan. The first census since 1998 found 208 million residents, making Pakistan the fifth most populous country in the world, after China, India, the US and Indonesia. About 60 percent of Pakistanis are under 30. Two-thirds of Pakistanis live in rural areas, 60 percent are literate, and a third of women use birth control.

Thailand. A Thai court convicted 102 defendants, including police officers, of human smuggling after 36 bodies were found in graves near the Thai-Malaysia border. Most of the victims were Rohingya from Myanmar who wound up as virtual slaves on Thai fishing boats. The Thai government publicized the trial to demonstrate its commitment to reduce human trafficking.

Over 500,000 Muslim Rohingya in western Myanmar fled to Bangladesh in August-September 2017 to escape military and Buddhist vigilantes who retaliated after a Rohingya militant group attacked several police posts and a military base in Rakhine province August 25, 2017. The Burmese military's violent response led a third of the 1.5 million Rohingya to flee.

A million Rohingya remain in Myanmar; they are not considered Burmese citizens. The UN described Burmese military operations against the Rohingya as a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing." There was widespread criticism of de facto Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for her resistance to the Burmese military dictatorship, for refusing to stop or denounce the military response against the Rohingya.

Bangladesh in September 2017 announced plans to build a refugee city for the Rohingya on 2,000 acres near Cox's Bazar. There will be 14,000 shelters, each of which can house six families. Most Rohingya will be restricted to the refugee city and not allowed to work in Bangladesh.

Japan. The government in September 2017 expanded the sectors allowed to employ foreign trainees to include food processing. Japanese employers may hire foreigners for work and training, and they hired 210,000 in Fall 2016, including 20,000 to fill farm jobs. New rules allow agricultural cooperatives that pack and process farm commodities to employ foreign trainees.

Australia. In a bid to halt the smuggling of migrants by boat from Indonesia, Australia in 2013 began taking migrants intercepted at sea to camps in Papua New Guinea and other Pacific Islands. The government, whose slogan in September 2013 elections was Stop the Boats, announced that migrants intercepted at sea "would never be allowed to settle in Australia."

Recognized refugees remain in the camps until other countries, including Cambodia and the US, agree to accept them. Those not accepted for resettlement are to be returned to their countries of citizenship.

About 100 asylum seekers housed in Pacific Island camps were brought to Australia for medical treatment. In August 2017, the government cut off their support of A$400 ($315) a month, saying that they would have to support themselves until they left Australia.

Australia has admitted economic immigrants via a point system since 1989, and also has an employer-nomination system that allows employers to recommend particular foreigners for immigrant visas. Under the latest revisions in 2011, up to 60 points are available for having skills in short supply as opposed to 20 points for fluency in English; additional points are available for graduating from an Australian university and for being age 25 to 32.