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January 2018, Volume 24, Number 1

Europe, Asia

The arrival of over a million asylum seekers in Germany and Sweden in 2015 and the subsequent cost of integrating them despite several terrorist acts has been called "Europe's 9/11 moment." In many EU-member states, populist and anti-migrant parties increased their share of the vote in 2017. Spending for integrating migrants and for security rose.

Social-democratic or left-liberal parties have been especially hurt by the migrant crisis, losing votes in most EU member states.

An EU-Turkey agreement in March 2016 slowed the flow of Syrian and other migrants to Greek islands that are just off the Turkish coast. Under the agreement, migrants arriving on the islands may apply for asylum in Greece, but are returned to Turkey while their applications are pending.

The number of migrants making the trip from western Turkey to nearby Greek islands fell but did not stop, especially as most migrants began to appeal decisions that denied them refugee status. Only five migrants were returned to Turkey in the first 18 months of the EU-Turkey agreement. Newcomers report paying smugglers E600 for the short trip to Greek islands.

Most migrants attempt the Libya-Italy route. Over 500,000 migrants moved from Libya to Italy between 2014 and 2016, but the outflow from Libya slowed in Fall 2017 after Italy provided aid to Libyan militias to discourage migrant smuggling and equipped the Libyan Coast Guard with boats.

Some 119,000 migrants reached Italy by boat in 2017, down by a third from 2016 levels.

While in Libya, some of the 700,000 to one million migrants are subject to abuse in camps operated by smugglers. CNN reported that some were sold into slavery for as little as $100 in November 2017. UNHCR flew 162 African migrants from Libya to Italy in December 2017.

Africa poses a dilemma for the EU. There were 1.3 billion Africans in 2017, and there are projected to be 2.6 billion in 2050. Hundreds of millions of Africans are unlikely to find decent jobs at home, and many may try to emigrate. Proposals to deter Africans from migrating to Europe range from a Marshall Plan for Africa to paying governments on the Mediterranean coast to prevent migrants from leaving illegally.

The EU is struggling to provide asylum for genuine refugees without creating incentives for economic migrants.

Some 700,000 Europeans were studying for degrees outside their country of citizenship in 2016-17, such as Germans in Britain. The UK has the most intra-EU foreign students, followed by Germany and Austria.

Belgium. The Flemish secretary of state for asylum and migration, Teho Francken, was condemned by activists in January 2018. Several detained Sudanese men were interviewed by Sudanese officials in Belgium, who warned them that, if they did not leave voluntarily, they could be targeted after they were deported. Three of the nine Sudanese men who were deported said they were detained and abused.

Britain. The British government is struggling to negotiate its exit from the EU. A major demand of the Leave camp, regaining control of UK borders, appears to be a major sticking point with the EU. Britain wants continued free trade in services to support London's financial industry, but not freedom of movement of workers.

Some believe that as the hard choices facing Britain become apparent during negotiations in 2018, British voters may reconsider and decide they wish to remain within the EU.

British farmers complained of labor shortages in Fall 2017 as fewer Romanians and Bulgarians arrived to fill seasonal jobs. The National Farmers Union said that booming economies in these countries and a falling British pound left farmers with 30 percent too few workers. The NFU acknowledged that seasonal farm jobs are for those "with no other choice" of work.

British agriculture typically employs 80,000 seasonal farm workers, 90 percent non-British. Farmers want the government to re-introduce a contractual guest worker program for non-EU seasonal workers that was ended when Bulgarians and Romanians got freedom of movement rights in 2013; the government assumed that British farmers could attract sufficient seasonal workers from these relatively poor EU-member states.

Other sectors also report fewer East European workers, including construction firms and health care providers in high-cost London. Some employers complain that the Eastern Europeans who are now arriving are older and less productive than the younger and better educated Eastern Europeans who are finding opportunities elsewhere.

The NFU says that some British fruit farmers are investing in fruit farms in Poland to take advantage of lower-cost land and more available workers.

France. A record 100,000 foreigners applied for asylum in France in 2017, prompting President Emmanuel Macron to propose new regulations to make it easier to deport those whose applications are rejected. France now deports about four percent of those refused asylum, and Macron says that more of those refused asylum must be returned to their mostly African countries of origin.

Macron went to Calais in January 2018, where there were once 8,000 migrants camped in "the Jungle" waiting to board trucks bound for the UK, and vowed not to allow the rebuilding of the migrant camp destroyed in Fall 2016. Macron also urged police to treat migrants with respect.

France has one of the world's most extensive social safety nets, and is considering extending unemployment insurance benefits to self-employed workers who quit their jobs. President Emmanuel Macron says that a more extensive social safety net is needed to help workers in the expanding gig economy in which workers are self-employed.

France spent almost two percent of its GDP on UI in 2015, more than double the less than one percent in Germany. Many Scandinavian countries have "flexicurity systems" that aim to protect people rather than jobs, that is, they provide high-levels of support to jobless workers but they also have strict rules requiring UI recipients to seek jobs and return to work.

In France, the 2.5 million UI recipients in 2017 were jobless an average of 10 months while receiving over 70 percent of their previous wage, far longer than in Scandinavia. Macron says he will introduce tougher job-seeking requirements, but critics say that UI benefits for the self-employed could wind up subsidizing Uber and other gig-economy firms. French unions oppose expanded UI for the self-employed because it would also weaken their role in administering the UI system.

Germany. PM Angela Merkel's CDU-CSU party won the most seats in September 24, 2017 elections, but not enough to form a government on its own. The CDU-CSU began coalition talks with the FDP and Greens, with immigration a central theme. Merkel pledged to accept a maximum 200,000 foreigners seeking asylum a year, a cap opposed by the Greens.

The CSU wants to restrict the right of foreigners with temporary protected status in Germany to have their families join them, while the Greens want to allow family unification for "refugees from war" such as Syrians. Some 113,000 foreigners have "subsidiary protection" in Germany rather than full refugee status, and they cannot seek to bring family members to Germany until at least March 2018.

The FDP agreed with the CDU-CSU on the need to limit family unification, and pulled out of the coalition talks in November 2017, pushing the SPD into another coalition with the CDU-CSU. The CDU-CSU-SPD agreement will limit Germany to accepting a maximum of 220,000 asylum seekers a year, and limit the number of family members admitted to join refugees in Germany to 1,000 a month.

Germany is trying to integrate asylum seekers who arrived in 2015 and deport those whose applications were rejected. However, more rejected asylum seekers are appealing orders to return to their countries of origin, leaving Germany with 283,000 cases involving asylum seekers at the end of 2017.

The provincial administrative courts that hear rejected asylum seekers cases also deal with employment-related disputes that have been delayed. In most cases, foreigners are seeking full refugee status, which gives them renewable three-year work and residence permits and the right to have their families join them in Germany. Many asylees received only subsidiary protection, which gives one-year renewable permits and no right to unify families.

Austria in October 2017 became the latest European country to move right, a reaction to the influx of over a million Islamic migrants in 2015. The conservative People's Party led by Sebastian Kurz won 31 percent of the vote, followed by the Freedom Party with 27 percent of the vote and the Socialists with less than 27 percent. The new government, likely a coalition of the People's and Freedom parties, is expected to reduce immigration.

Greece. The Greek government in January 2018 reduced payments to families with more than three children and required unions to win more support from members before calling strikes. The new measures aim to satisfy creditors who want the Greek government to reduce spending and make the economy more efficient.

Greece and other southern European countries are increasingly using their pension systems as social welfare systems. Greece paid $36 billion in pension benefits in 2016, almost 18 percent of its $210 billion GDP, but only $1 billion in unemployment insurance benefits despite a 21 percent unemployment rate at the end of 2017.

Greece has 2.7 million retirees and 3.5 million employed workers. Many retirees support their adult children who have lost jobs and cannot get UI benefits or government-funded retraining.

Greece's minimum wage is E580 ($700) a month, but many retirees receive pensions that are over E1,000 ($1,200) a month, or more than their adult children earn if they can find jobs. Since 2008-09, poverty rates for young people have risen as they decreased for the elderly.

Italy. EU and Italian cooperation with Libya reduced flows of migrants across the Mediterranean. There are likely to be far fewer new arrivals in 2017, less than 120,000, down from 180,000 who arrived in 2016.

Italy granted 150,000 foreigners refugee status between 2012 and 2017, and another 150,000 asylum applications are pending. The government enacted Italy's first-ever refugee integration bill in September 2017, which calls for giving refugees Italian language lessons, training and housing. Foreign refugees and asylum applicants are over 80 percent African men; 60 percent are Muslims under 26. Only a sixth completed secondary school.

Italy will hold national elections March 4, 2018, the first general elections since 2013, after which the current center-left Democratic Party formed a government that has had three prime ministers, including Paolo Gentiloni, the 46th PM since 1946. The other two major parties, the populist Five Star Movement and Silvio Berlusconi's center-right Forza Italia and the Northern League, each receive about 25 percent support in polls.

Italy's economy is growing, but is still six percent smaller than in 2008, making Italy the only G-7 country that has not rebounded to surpass its pre-2008-09 size (Greece's economy is 25 percent smaller than in 2008-09). The unemployment rate for those 15 to 24 is about a third in Greece, Italy and Spain.

Immigration could be a major issue. The current Democratic Party tried to naturalize 800,000 children who were born in Italy to foreign parents or arrived at a young age, a change from the current procedure that requires non-citizen children to wait until they are 18 to apply for Italian citizenship.

The 81-year old Berlusconi could also be a factor despite a conviction for tax fraud that bars him from elected office until 2019. Some older voters remember Berlusconi's time in office from 2001 to 2006, the longest tenure of any postwar Italian PM, as a golden era. Berlusconi's defenders note that, after 74 trials, he has been found guilty only once. Berlusconi has promised a E1,000 a month basic income to the nine million poorest Italians.

Norway. Carl Hagen, who led the anti-immigrant Progress Party from 1978-2006, was blocked in December 2017 by the 169-member Norwegian Parliament from a seat on the five-member committee that awards the Nobel Peace Prize when the Parliament voted to bar legislators and their alternates. Hagen is an alternate to a Progress Party member from Oslo.

Israel. Some 60,000 Sudanese and Eritreans entered Israel from Egypt and sought asylum. Most were rejected, prompting Israel in January 2018 to offer the 40,000 who remain a choice of a flight home and $3,500 or jail sentences for illegal entry. Rwanda and several other African countries have offered to accept rejected African asylum seekers in exchange for payments. Critics say that many of those who are returned will attempt re-entry.

Saudi Arabia. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman aims to transform his country and reduce dependence on migrant workers. In October 2017, plans were unveiled for a $500 billion robot-dense city name Neom to be funded by the country's Public Investment Fund, which will get its funding from the IPO of Saudi Aramco. SA has used migrant workers to build several megaprojects that are mostly empty, including the $10 billion King Abdullah Financial District. Neom is part of Saudi Vision 2030, which aims to reduce the country's dependence on oil revenue.

Australia. Papua New Guinea accepts asylum seekers headed to Australia, who are housed on Manus island northeast of Papua New Guinea. Australia ordered the camp opened in 2013 closed in October 2017, but over 300 of the 843 asylum seekers refused to move to a new camp nearer the main town of Lorengau. Some of those in Manus have been accepted for resettlement in the US, while others have had their applications for refugee status rejected.

Some 900,000 foreigners have the right to work in Australia, and many are underpaid, with half earning less than A$15 an hour when the national minimum wage is A$18.29 or almost $14 an hour. The lowest wages are in agriculture, according to 4,300 workers who responded to an online survey. Many of the underpaid workers have working holiday and student visas, with the right to change employers.