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April 2022, Volume 28, Number 2

Europe, Asia

EU border-control agency Frontex reported that almost 200,000 foreigners tried to enter the EU illegally in 2021, including 65,000 who attempted to travel by boat from Libya and Tunisia to Italy. The second route was from the Balkans to Croatia and Hungary, involving 60,000 migrants, followed by 20,000 migrants who traveled from Turkey to Greek islands. The leading nationalities of unauthorized migrants were Syrians, Tunisians, Moroccans, Algerians and Afghans. Over 90 percent were men.

European countries in winter-spring 2022 began to change their policies toward covid, treating it like other endemic viruses rather than as a special threat to be extirpated. Instead of lockdowns, most governments urged residents to be vaccinated and boosted.

Britain. A Vietnamese man was sentenced to 15 years in prison in Bruges in February 2022 for organizing the smuggling of 39 Vietnamese migrants who died in a refrigerated truck October 22, 2019 that was to travel from Zeebrugge to London. Seventeen other members of the smuggling ring were found guilty and given sentences ranging from one to 10 years in prison. Up to 20,000 Vietnamese pay $10,000 to $50,000 each to be smuggled into the UK each year to work in nail salons and factories.

British farmers can hire up to 40,000 guest workers via the Seasonal Worker Scheme if they pay guest workers at least L10.10 per hour. Dubai-based DP World, owner of P&O Ferries, laid off 800 directly hired workers in March 2022 and replaced them with agency-supplied workers to save 50 percent on labor costs.

France. President Emmanuel Macron was expected to win the largest share of the vote in the first round of voting in April 2022; two of his three major rivals are rightists who stress anti-immigrant themes, while one is a leftist whose goal is to reduce inequality. An estimated 10 percent of France’s 67 million residents are Muslim, and some Muslim professionals have emigrated because of anti-Muslim attacks in France.

Germany. Germany dropped most covid restrictions in March 2022 as the coalition government pushed for a vaccine mandate. Anti-mask protestors and populist politicians threatened public health officials in some former East German states. Police counted more than 10 verbal and physical attacks on politicians a day in 2021, many linked to anti-mask and anti-vaccine protestors.

Russia’s February 24, 2022 invasion of Ukraine transformed Germany’s energy and defense policies. Europe’s largest economy is very dependent on Russian natural gas amidst a rapid transition away from coal and nuclear power by 2030. Nord Stream 2 is an $11 billion 746-mile pipeline that moves gas from Russia to Lubmin under the Baltic Sea did not go into operation due to the invasion of Ukraine despite the support of ex-German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. The Nord Stream 1 pipeline that ends in Lubmin remained in operation, contributing to the $220 million that Germany paid Russia each day for coal, natural gas, and oil.

Germany announced that its defense spending would rise by E100 billion en route to two percent of GDP, the NATO goal. The US spends over three percent of GDP on defense.

Tesla received approval to open its $7 billion factory near Berlin in March 2022. Tesla produced almost a million vehicles in 2021, and expected to employ 12,000 workers to produce 500,000 Model Y cars and sport utility vehicles a year in Germany. Tesla has other plants in Newark, California, Austin, Texas, and Shanghai.

Italy. Italy re-elected its 80-year-old president to another seven-year term after squabbling political parties could not agree on a successor.

The 951-foot-long Costa Concordia cruise ship sank January 13, 2012 after the captain ordered the ship to steer close to the island of Giglio to salute an old friend and struck submerged rocks, killing 32 of the 4,229 passengers and crew. The captain is serving a 16-year sentence for abandoning the ship.

Russia-Ukraine. Russia invaded Ukraine February 24, 2022, aiming to remove the pro-western government headed by President Zelensky. Russia retook the Crimean peninsula in 2014 that had been “given” to Ukraine in 1954 and supported pro-Russian separatists who have been seeking independence in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine since 2014.

Before the Russian invasion, France and Germany stressed the need for diplomacy to preserve Ukraine’s borders, while Poland and the Baltic states called for a more muscular response to Russian aggression. Western leaders decried Russian President Putin’s efforts to break the post WWII international order in Europe by invading another European country.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine unified NATO leaders, who imposed economic sanctions on Russia that caused the value of the ruble to fall sharply before recovering to about 82 to $1 in April 2022 when the government doubled interest rates to 20 percent and prevented people from moving their money abroad.

The Bank of Russia had $640 billion in foreign exchange reserves in February 2022, much of which is held outside the country and was frozen by sanctions.

After five weeks of fighting, over four million Ukrainians, mostly women and children, fled to neighboring Poland, Moldova, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania, about 10 percent of all Ukrainians and the largest refugee flow in Europe since WWII. Half of the refugees entered Poland, where trains gave free passage to those headed to Germany and other EU countries. In 2015, some 1.3 million Syrians and others arrived in EU member states.

The EU urged member states to grant three-year work and residence permits to Ukrainians. Poland had two million Ukrainians before the February 24, 2022 Russian invasion, including some who had been displaced by fighting in eastern Ukraine. Many European companies hired Ukrainian refugees, who are usually well educated. Some employers offered on-site child care to the women with children who were the majority of refugees.

Many of the Ukrainian refugees wound up in Germany and Poland, reluctant countries of immigration that may wind up with the highest shares of foreign-born residents among large EU member states. The US pledged to accept 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, some of whom flew to Mexico and sought to apply for asylum at US ports of entry; the US has a million residents with Ukrainian roots.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine upended many assumptions about the 21st century global order, from no more war in Europe to increased economic integration that made war too costly. Russia sends a quarter of its oil exports and 40 percent of its natural gas exports to European countries, and the value of Russian energy exports is a fourth of Russia’s GDP.

Economic integration to prevent war was a rationale for what has become the EU, and many Europeans assumed that integrating more closely with Russia would have the same no-war effects. However, exporting energy is different from linking manufacturing supply chains because reduced energy exports can mean higher prices and the same revenue for exporters.

Sanctions on Russia reduced the value of the ruble by 30 percent, increased inflation to over 10 percent, and shrank the economy. Many western firms stopped doing business in Russia, leading to layoffs. Demand for goods rose as Russians tried to buy items before prices rose more.

After a month of fighting, there was speculation about what would be required for peace. President Putin seems immune to internal pressures to stop the fighting, with dissidents arrested quickly and many Russians apparently believing that Ukraine is governed by “Nazis” who persecute Russian-speakers and the country has bioweapons labs that threaten Russia. Meanwhile, the invasion unified western allies, who sought to pressure China to avoid supporting Russia.

Western allies were careful about aiding Ukraine to avoid nuclear war with Russia, emphasizing the delivery of defensive weapons with limited ranges to make clear that they were not supporting a Ukrainian invasion of Russia. One lesson from the Russia-Ukraine war is that allies are careful about providing aid to countries whose enemies have nuclear weapons, which may encourage Iran and other countries to develop such weapons.

Serbia. A $900 million Ling Long Tire factory is being built in Zrenjanin in northern Serbia by Chinese and Vietnamese migrant workers, some of whom complain of poor treatment by the subcontractors who are building the plant. The factory is expected to produce 130 million tires a year and make Serbia China’s beachhead in Europe; China also funded a steel mill near Belgrade and a copper mine in Bor.

Some of the Vietnamese migrants say they are trapped because they mortgaged their homes and land to brokers at home who promised higher wages than they are receiving in Serbia. If they break their contracts and return, they could lose their assets.

Spain. Spain exported fruit worth E9.1 billion and vegetables worth E6.5 billion in 2021, sending 80 percent of its export fruits and vegetables to EU countries such as France and Germany and the UK.

Turkey. Inflation topped 50 percent in winter 2022 as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan insisted on low interest rates despite a falling lira. Real wages are falling, and the recession that began when covid reduced tourism continues. The government-set price of electricity rose sharply in January 2022 to over $1,000 a month for some small businesses and restaurants, as much as they pay in rent.

During his 18 years in power, Erdogan expanded services to the middle class and poor and borrowed money to build infrastructure. As the bill for these investments comes due, some professionals are emigrating, including doctors who have seen the value of their wages decline even as their workload increases. Turks who turn to hospitals for primary care have attacked doctors in frustration with long waits and short appointments.

China. China had 10.6 million births in 2021, down from 12 million in 2020 and only slightly larger than the 10.1 deaths. China introduced a one-child policy in 1980 that ended in 2016 with women allowed to have two children. The limit was raised three children beginning in 2021, but the average Chinese woman has only 1.3 children.

China is building fences on its southern borders with Burma, Laos, and Vietnam. China’s Southern Great Wall is ostensibly designed to prevent the spread of covid, but local residents who used to cross the border to work or trade complain that border walls interfere age-old migration patterns. Some covid-precautions reduce trade, including the practice of sanitizing containers at the Burma-Chinese border, holding them for several days, and then transferring the containers to Chinese trucks for transport within China.

China has one of the world’s most unequal economies. The richest 10 percent of Chinese control almost 70 percent of Chinese wealth, while the poorest 50 percent share six percent. China has more billionaires than the United States, India and Germany combined, while the poorest 40 percent of Chinese residents have incomes of $150 a month or less.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine led to speculation that China might take similar actions to reclaim Taiwan, which declared independence in 1949. Taiwan has 24 million residents and a US security guarantee that might deter China, which has a larger and more diversified economy than Russia. China has a million active-duty troops, ten times the Taiwanese armed forces, but would have to invade across 100 miles of water.

India. Over 45 percent of Indians are employed in agriculture. The agricultural share of employment rose as covid-inspired urban lockdowns sent migrant workers back to their villages. About half of working-age Indians are in the labor force, a low labor force participation rate.

Delhi is projected to surpass Tokyo as the world’s largest city by 2030. Delhi has 19 million residents, but the surrounding National Capital Region has 30 million to 60 million people, depending on whether suburban cities such as Gurgaon and Noida are included.

The NCR region contains seven of the 10 cities with the worst air quality, and where 70 percent of workers have informal jobs. People and businesses build housing and shops first, and the NCR government later decides what is authorized and what must be torn down.

Seafarers say that they have been tricked by Indian recruiters into forced labor on Iranian ships. Young Indians seeking experience often pay recruiters for seafaring jobs, and when they are sent to Iran rather than Dubai at the last minute, some feel compelled to go in order to repay recruitment debts. Once in Iran, the Indians say they are given food and accommodation but no wages.

Sri Lanka. The Rajapaksa family, which has governed Sri Lanka most of the 21st century, took on debt in a bid to turn the island off the coast of India into the next Singapore. There was no economic take off, but the debt burden led to inflation, power cuts, and shortages of fuel and food. A flawed effort to convert Sri Lanka’s agriculture to organic stopped fertilizer imports and reduced rice production, prompting protests and a state of emergency as the government sought a bailout from the IMF.

Japan. Japan has the highest share of people over 65 in its population; a quarter of residents are 65 or older. Japan also has the highest share of people with dementia, over four percent and rising, raising questions about how to deal with those who are losing the ability to care for themselves.

Some communities are using trackers in phones or wallets that allow persons with dementia who live alone to be tracked. In most cases, caregivers request the approval of a doctor to begin tracking a person, which allows police to monitor the person’s movements. In some cities, far more parents tracked their children rather than the elderly.

The seven-million member Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo) got its first female leader in October 2021, infusing new energy in the struggle for gender equality during the spring 2022 shunto or spring offensive for higher wages. Unions represent a sixth of Japanese workers, down from a third in the 1970s. The share of Japanese workers who are non-regular, meaning they are not guaranteed lifetime jobs, is 21 million or over a third of the 56 million-strong labor force. Almost half of those with non-regular jobs are women.

ANZ. Australia reopened to international visitors February 21, 2022, after 94 percent of residents 16 and older were fully vaccinated. Australia, with 25 million people and fewer than 3,000 deaths from covid in two years, endured lockdowns in Melbourne and other cities and restrictions on both internal and international travel aimed at keeping covid at bay. China is the largest source of tourists, sending 1.3 million visitors in 2019.

Serb tennis pro Novak Djokovic was denied entry into Australia in January 2022 despite a medical exemption from the country’s vaccine mandate. PM Scott Morrison, who is seeking re-election in May 2022, was not sympathetic, noting that “rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders.” Morrison was Australia’s immigration minister in 2013-14 when boats carrying asylum seekers from Indonesia were not allowed to land in Australia. Djokovic was eventually deported from Australia for not being vaccinated.

Australia’s east coast experienced flooding in February-March 2022, as once-in-a-century floods overwhelmed some communities. Climate change is exacerbating natural disasters, including massive bush fires in 2019-20 and flooding in New South Wales and Queensland in February-March 2021, the same areas that flooded again in 2022.

Farmers complained of too few harvest workers in February-March 2022, prompting the government to offer to refund the A$495 fee for working holidaymaker (WHMs) visas for those who arrive before April 2022 and fill farm jobs. WHMs who work on farms at least three months in their first year are entitled to remain in Australia and work in nonfarm jobs in urban areas a second year, and those who work at least six months in ag during their second year can stay a third year and work anywhere. WHMs could work three full years for one farm employer.

Australia in 2020-2021 produced 6.6 million tons of horticultural commodities worth A$15 billion. The leading fruit exports are table grapes and citrus, which together account for almost three-fourths of Australia’s fruit exports.

Farmers can hire migrant workers as WHMs or as guest workers admitted under the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility and the new Australian ag visa program that brings guest workers from southeast Asian countries. There were about 50,000 WHMs employed in agriculture in 2021-22, up to 20,000 PALM workers, and there may be 10,000 Asians from the 10 ASEAN countries admitted with ag visas, setting the stage for competition between Asian and Pacific Island countries to send migrant farm workers to Australia.

The ag visa program allows employers to request: (1) visas of up to nine months to fill seasonal jobs and; (2) visas for workers who will be employed for one to four years. Employers who are accredited for the PALM program can seek ag visas, as can those who are certified as in compliance by third parties. In all cases, employers must be certified by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) to bring guest workers into the country.

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