LIVE BLOG: Refugee crisis in Europe

#Refugees

MEE brings you the latest news as the refugee crisis in Europe reaches a fever pitch

MEE staff's picture
Last update: 
December 9 Dec 2017 03:56 UTC
Topics: 
  • 4 suspects arrested in connection to trafficking, drowning of 12 Syrian migrants, including Aylan Kurdi
  • Migrants and refugees pulled of Austria-bound train near Serbian border; police try to put passengers in buses to go to refugee camps
  • Conservative MPs urge UK government to resettle more refugees in country 
  • Drowned child who became face of migrant crisis identified as Aylan Kurdi, allegedly from Kobane in Syria
  • More than 200,000 people sign petition in UK calling for country to accept more refugees

Canada denies turning away Aylan Kurdi's family

Canada on Thursday denied it had received an asylum request from the family of Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian refugee child who has become a symbol of Europe's migrant crisis after his little body washed up on a Turkish beach.

Relatives said the Canadian immigration department rejected their application in June, forcing them to leave Turkey on a smugglers’ boat that sank, drowning three-year-old Aylan with his mother, brother and at least nine other refugees.

But the Kurdi family’s story was denied by the immigration ministry - and by the boy's aunt, the source of the media report, who has since clarified her comments.

"There was no record of an application received for Mr. Abdullah Kurdi (the toddler's father) and his family," said a ministry statement. It said an application had been received for Abdullah's brother Mohammed, but "was returned as it was incomplete".

"Canada did not offer citizenship to Mr. Abdullah Kurdi," which was also reported, the ministry said.

US under pressure to accept more Syrian refugees

As the world watches drowned refugees wash up on Europe's beaches, the United States is also under pressure to do more to help the desperate victims of Syria's civil war.

Since fighting erupted in 2011 the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has recommended 17,000 Syrians for resettlement in the United States. By the end of this month, it will have accepted around 1,800.

Washington has promised to do more if it can, but Syrian refugees - even those screened and approved by the UNHCR in crowded camps - are subject to stringent, and lengthy, US security checks.

Larry Yungk, senior resettlement officer with UNHCR, said the United States was working hard to interview and process Syrian refugees but the resettlement process is not fast.

"In recent years additional security measures mean resettlement that once took 9 to 12 months, now typically takes 18 months or longer," he told AFP.

Police pepper spray refugees attempting to enter Hungary

Video emerged on Thursday of police officers pepper spraying a group of Syrian refugees attempting to cross into Hungary from Serbia in the night on 30 August.

After a group of migrants - men, women and young children - pleaded with the guards to let them pass, they began to walk towards the barbed wire fence at the border, a New York Times video shows.

A woman and her 18-month-old child then led the way as the group headed towards the fence. When they came within inches of the border police, they were sprayed in the eyes.

Chaos ensued, and the refugees coughed and screamed in pain as they ran back to the Serbian side of the border.

“My little love can’t open his eyes,” the mother of the 18-month-old told the Times reporters at the scene. “He gestured for me to come before he sprayed me and my baby, the low-life."

Later, the police got into a car and drove away. Then the refugees headed back towards the border fence.

Hungarian police have not responded to the Times' request for comment.

Britain's David Cameron vows to take in more Syrian refugees

Prime Minister David Cameron gave in to pressure at home and abroad on Thursday and promised to fulfil Britain's "moral responsibilities" to accept a bigger share of Syrian refugees.

Cameron said he had been "deeply moved" by images of three-year-old Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi, who was found dead on a Turkish beach, but he stopped short of making any new commitments.

"We do care," Cameron told reporters.

He said Britain would keep the number of refugees it accepts "under review" although he added: "There isn't a solution that's simply about taking people, it's got to be a comprehensive solution".

According to the Guardian newspaper, Cameron is prepared to accept thousands Syrians living in refugee camps on the border with their country, not the ones that have made it to Europe.

"Cameron remains convinced that accepting large number of Syrian refugees who are already in Europe will make the crisis worse and encourage more chaos," the Guardian stated.

The numbers of Syrian refugees, funding, and their planned location are still being debated on by the government, the newspaper added.

Cameron's announcement comes as a direct contrast to chancellor George Osbourne's comments earlier in the day, who blamed the Islamic State for killing Aylan Kurdi.

“We know there is not a simple answer to this crisis," he said. "What you need to do is first of all tackle ISIS [Islamic State] and the criminal gangs who killed that boy.”

Britain has accepted 216 Syrian refugees under a special government scheme over the past year and around 5,000 Syrians have been granted asylum since the conflict there broke out in 201-far fewer than countries like France, Germany and Sweden.

A petition to parliament urging Britain to accept more refugees has garnered nearly 250,000 signatures, while campaign group Avaaz said that  2,000 Britons had volunteered to host refugee families.

Jeremy Corbyn calls for more humanitarianism in refugee debate

UK Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn has called for people to change how they are talking about Europe's refugee crisis.

Speaking at a hustings hosted by Sky on Thursday evening, the Islington North MP emphasised the scale of the problem.

"Look at the legacy of the Iraq war, of the refugee flows all across the region, more displaced people than at any time in human recorded history," he said.

"There’s a human crisis in North Africa, there’s a human crisis of people dying in the Mediterranean, there’s a human crisis of people now in Hungary trying to get on a train in order to get to a place of safety.

Can we have less of this language about swarms and insects and a bit more language about humanitarianism?"

The UK has been castigated for having taken in fewer than 200 Syrian refugees, in a conflict that has displaced more than 6.5 million people out of a population of 22 million. 

English football teams to raise 'Refugees Welcome' banners at home games

Inspired by support and offers of practical help from fans across Germany in recent weeks, Aston Villa and Swindon Town fans became the first in England to say they planned to hold aloft such banners amid attempts to coordinate support via social media.

The organisers of a campaign on Facebook and Twitter (@RefugeesEFL) said they had been directly inspired by the images in Germany.
 
“The German fans using “Refugees Welcome” banners was a big inspiration,” said Deena Nakeeb, who is organising the Facebook campaign. “It’s not just the imagery behind manly blokes holding banners supporting an issue which is so poignant at the moment, it’s the fact we as the British public are showing solidarity.”

Bayern Munich football club to set up 'training camp' for refugees

German football giants Bayern Munich announced that they will open a 'training camp' in the upcoming weeks, which will provide homeless refugees with German classes, meals, and football equipment.

The Bavarian five-time European champions will also donate €1million (£735,000) towards refugee integration projects from money earned from a friendly match earlier this summer.

Set up through the youth department at the club, the training camp is aimed at the children and adolescents of refugees to give them a "determined rhythm of work".

"We at FC Bayern consider it our socio-political responsibility to help displaced and needy children, women and men, supporting and assisting them in Germany," said chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge in a statement on the club's website.

Bayern, who have won the German league title 25 times, will also highlight the current refugee crisis in their next home match against FC Augsburg.

Players will enter holding the hands of one German child and one refugee, to symbolise the nationwide integration that the club hopes to encourage.

 

UN agency: Over 3 thousand refugees crossed Macedonian border in 24 hours

The United Nations' refugee agency Thursday estimated that around 3,500 refugees crossed into Macedonia from Greece in the past 24 hours.

According to the data from UNHCR, the refugees were transported in five trains from the Macedonian border town of Gevgelija to the northern town of Tabanovce on the Serbian border.

Refugees are crossing into Macedonia in groups under tight police control and then sent to reception centers where they are processed.

Melita Sunjic, spokeswoman for the UNHCR in the Western Balkans, on Tuesday issued a warning that nearly 7,000 refugees were expected to cross the Greek-Macedonian border this weekend.

"We heard from our colleagues in Greece that this weekend about 150 busses will get here. This means more than seven thousand people. So, we need to be prepared. Since the beginning of the crisis the number of refugees increases to double. Now we have about 3,000-3,200 refugees a day," said Sunjic.

The teams of the Red Cross, the UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in Macedonia provide the necessary assistance for the refugees waiting to be transferred by trains.

Europe refugee crisis 'unprecedented': EU

Europe is facing an "unprecedented humanitarian and political crisis" as it struggles with the huge influx of refugees, the European Commission's vice-president Frans Timmermans said on Thursday.

"We must find European responses to a problem that cannot be resolved by countries individually," Timmermans said ahead of talks with Greek Prime Minister Vassiliki Thanou on a crisis that has seen more than 230,000 people land on Greek shores this year.

AFP

Canadian minister suspends re-election campaign over Syrian asylum rejection

Conservative Canadian Immigration Minister Chris Alexander suspended his re-election campaign on Thursday reportedly after discovering that the family of drowned Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi had been refused an asylum application in Canada in June.

“The tragic photo of young Aylan Kurdi and the news of the death of his brother and mother broke hearts around the world,” Alexander said in a statement Thursday morning. “Like all Canadians, I was deeply saddened by that image and of many other images of the plight of the Syrian and Iraqi migrants fleeing persecution at the hands of ISIS.

"I am meeting with officials to ascertain both the facts of the case of the Kurdi family and to receive an update on the migrant crisis.”

Elections are set to be held in Canada in October.

Germany and France agree to support 'binding quotas' for refugees

AFP:

Germany and France have agreed that the European Union, facing a slew of migrant crises, should impose binding quotas on the numbers member states take in, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday.

"I spoke this morning with the French president, and the French-German position, which will transmit to the European institutions, is that we agree that ... we need binding quotas within the European Union to share the burden. That is the principle of solidarity," Merkel told reporters during a visit in the Swiss capital.

Libya coastguard rescues over 100 migrants

AFP:

Libya's coastguards said they rescued more than 100 African migrants on an overloaded rubber dinghy bound for Europe that was about to sink off the coast of Tripoli on Thursday.

"We rescued 104 African migrants, including 14 women. Most of them were from Sierra Leone and Nigeria," Lieutenant Mohamad Dandi of the Tripoli coastguard told AFP.

He said the rescue operation took place shortly after midnight at a distance of seven nautical miles off Garabulli, 50 kilometres east of the Libyan capital.

The migrants were on a Zodiac built to carry up to 35 people and the boat was about to start sinking because of a puncture when the coastguards intervened, he said.

The migrants were seen disembarking at a naval station in Tripoli.

Turkey arrests 4 suspected of trafficking Aylan Kurdi

Turkish authorities arrested four suspected human traffickers over the deaths of 12 Syrian migrant, including 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi, in two boat sinkings on Wednesday, the Dogan News Agency reports.

The four, all Syrian nationals aged between 30 and 41, are accused of "causing the death of more than one person" and "trafficking migrants", the Dogan news agency reported.

They are to appear in court later today. 

Peter Bouckaert: Why I shared Aylan Kurdi's photo

Peter Bouckaert, Emergency Director at Human Rights Watch, explained to Middle East Eye why he shared the now infamous photo of drown Syrian child Aylan Kurdi:

Some say the picture is too offensive to share online or print in our newspapers. But what I find offensive is that drowned children are washing up on our shorelines, when more could have been done to prevent their deaths.

It was not an easy decision to share a brutal image of a drowned child. But I care about these children as much as my own. Maybe if Europe’s leaders did too, they would try to stem this ghastly spectacle. 

- See more at: http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/dispatches-why-i-shared-horrific-ph...

"Some say the picture is too offensive to share online or print in our newspapers. But what I find offensive is that drowned children are washing up on our shorelines, when more could have been done to prevent their deaths."

"It was not an easy decision to share a brutal image of a drowned child. But I care about these children as much as my own. Maybe if Europe’s leaders did too, they would try to stem this ghastly spectacle."

Migrants, refugees refusing to get off Austria-bound train

Several hundred migrants and refugees are refusing to get off a train in Hungary and be taken to a refugee camp, according to AFP.

The migrants had thought the train would take them to near the Austrian border, but it stopped at Bicske near one of Hungary's four main camps.

Many of the migrants protested, shouting "Germany! Germany!" and holding placards saying "Help" and "SOS".

Sky News released harrowing footage of a man pulling his family on to a train tracks:

Infographic: Syrian refugee resettlement in region and Europe



Hungarian PM: Refugees threaten Europe's 'Christian values'

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has warned that refugees who threatened to "overrun" Europe would undermine the continent's "Christian values".

"We must not forget that those who are coming in have been brought up under a different religion and represent a profoundly different culture," he wrote in the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

"The majority are not Christians but Muslims. That is an important question because Europe and European culture have Christian roots.

"Or is it not already, and in itself, alarming that Europe's Christian culture is barely able to uphold Europe's own Christian values?"

Erdogan: EU has created 'migrant cemetery' in Mediterranean

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused the EU of turning the Mediterranean into a "migrant cemetery".

"European countries, which turned the Mediterranean Sea - the cradle of ancient civilisations - into a migrant cemetery are party to the crime that takes place when each refugee loses their life," he said in a speech in Ankara on Thursday.

 

UK chancellor says Britain 'playing a leading role' in refugee crisis

After reportedly saying he was "very distressed" by the photos that have circulated of Aylan Kurdi's body, UK Chancellor George Osborne suggested to Sky News on Thursday that smugglers and ISIS had killed the 3-year-old:

"We've got to break up the criminal gangs who traffick in people and led to that boy's death. We've got to defeat ISIS which is the thing they are fleeing. We've got to make sure that the aid is going there to help those families. Britain contributes a billion pounds and will go on contributing. And we've got to go on taking genuine refugees, real asylum seekers. We've taken 5,000 from the Syrian conflict. We'll go on taking more. Keep it under review. Britain is playing a leading role and it will continue to do so."

People pulled off Austria-bound train, near refugee camps

A Hungarian train bound for towns near the Austrian border with several hundred migrants and refugees onboard was stopped near one of the country's four main refugee camps and the migrants taken off, state news agency MTI reported.

The train stopped at Bicske, around 40 km west of Budapest, and police took the migrants and refugees off and directed them onto buses to take them to the nearby camp, MTI reported from the scene. 

AFP estimated there were around 200-300 migrants on board.

Train with migrants leaves Budapest for Austrian border

AFP:

A train carrying between 200 and 300 migrants left Budapest's main international train station on Thursday and headed toward the Austrian border, after authorities reopened the station, an AFP reporter said.

The train was due to split, with three carriages due to travel to Szonbathely and the rest to Sopron, both near Hungary's western border with Austria. 

The part going to Sopron was packed with people standing in the corridors. It was unclear whether the trains would arrive at their intended destinations.

On Tuesday Hungarian authorities stopped migrants taking trains to Austria and Germany after thousands travelled to these countries.

The next day, it closed Budapest's Keleti station to migrants, leaving some 2,000 people stranded and leading to a tense standoff with demonstrations and scuffles.

Then early Thursday the station was fully re-opened and hundreds of people stormed inside, cramming into trains. Hungarian Railways said however that there would be no trains going to western Europe.

 

French PM: Urgent, Europe-wide action required

French Prime Minsiter Manuel Valls has tweeted a photo of Aylan Kurdi and called for urgent action across the EU.

EU President: Fair distribution of 100,000 refugees needed

EU President Donald Tusk on Thursday called on EU states to take on 100,000 refugees, to reduce pressure on frontline countries.

"Accepting more refugees is an important gesture of real solidarity. Fair distribution of at least 100,000 refugees among the EU states is what in fact we need today," Tusk told a press conference with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

He added mild praise for Hungary's approach to the crisis saying that "not everyone is a fan of Hungary's action but one thing is clear, Hungary took action to protect EU borders" but warned that it would be "unforgivable if Europe split into advocates of containment symbolised by Hungary's fence and advocates of full openness."

Images of Abdullah Kurdi, father of drowned toddler

File pic.twitter.com/5s7RuY41ZT

Conservative UK MPs ratchet pressure up on Cameron

After UK Prime Minister David Cameron said last night that taking in more people is not the answer to the EU’s refugee crisis, which involves many Syrians, Conservative MPs are putting pressure on the country to take in more.

Since Syria's civil war started in 2011, the UK has focused on offering humanitarian aid rather than taking in large numbers of refugees for resettlement.

The UK has taken in at little under 4,200 refugees, most of whom came to the UK independently and then claimed asylum. Another 187 were relocated as part of the UK's Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme, launched in 2014.

“We cannot be the generation that fails this test of humanity,” tweeted Nicola Blackwood, MP for Oxford West and Abingdon. “We must do all we can.”

Tom Tugendhat, MP for Tonbridge, Edenbridge and Malling, told the Press Association: "I've spoken to many in west Kent who want us to do more and I agree with them. Our common humanity demands action at home and abroad."

Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, also tweeted her thoughts:

 

Gulf states criticised for taking 'zero' refugees from Syria

Among mounting international outrage over the spiralling refugee crisis in Europe, much of the anger has been directed towards the Arab Gulf states, who so far have taken in few or no refugees from Syria.

The countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) - Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, United Arab Emirates - have, according to Amnesty International, “offered zero resettlement places to Syrian refugees.”

Numerous cartoons have circulated social media criticising the inactivity of the Gulf states over the crisis, many using the image of drowned toddler Aylan Kurdi:

 



 

 

 

 

File pic.twitter.com/fWp4fA4GXV



 

Aylan Kurdi is not from Kobane, say sources

Sources in Kobane say that widely-circulated reports about the young boy identified as Aylan Kurdi, whose lifeless body was found on the shores of Bodrum, Turkey, being from the north Syrian Kurdish region are incorrect. 

“Not a single family in Kobane claims to be connected or know the young boy," said head of the Journalists Office in Kobane Mustafa Bali. “Kobane maintains very strong social connections and community links; families across the villages all know each other well."

"As far as we locals know, the boy is not from here,” he added. “The reporters who’ve written about the boy are not from here [Kobane] and it is more likely their reports about the boy being from Kobane are incorrect." 

Many Syrians as well as other refugees from across the region make the journey across the Aegean Sea from the Turkish borders to Greece. Bali believes Aylan might have been from anywhere across Syria or elsewhere.

Several Arabic media reports have suggested that the boy is a Palestinian. 

Bali believes that journalists have used the name Kobane in their reports of the incident to attract media attention.

“Using Kobane as a name and saying the boy is a Kurd attracts a lot of media attention because our fight with IS,” said Bali. 

EU President: Divide between 'east and the west of the EU'

European Union President Donald Tusk on Thursday said that division between eastern and western EU member states were complicating efforts to resolve the EU's migrant crisi.

"There is a divide...between the east and the west of the EU. Some member states are thinking about containing the wave of migration, symbolised by the Hungarian (border) fence," Tusk said, speaking to a conference of EU ambassadors.

"Others want solidarity in advocating a so-called obligatory basis for quotas. The key challenge is to find for them all a common, yet ambitious, denominator," he said prior to talks with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

He added that he was "working with leaders to build a new consensus among governments on the EU response."

"The first goal to ensure people in need of international protection receive it. Second, we must gain more control of mass population flows."

Hungarian PM: Migrant crisis is a 'German problem'

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Thursday insisted the migrant crisis was a German problem, not a European one as he defended his government's handling of thousands of refugees flooding into his country, shortly after hundreds of refugees and migrants stormed a train at Budapest's reopened main international railway station, which has become a flashpoint for people trying to head to western Europe via Hungary.

"The problem is not a European problem, the problem is a German problem," Orban told a press conference with European Parliament President Martin Schulz in Brussels.

"Nobody wants to stay in Hungary, neither in Slovakia, nor Poland, nor Estonia. All want to go to Germany. Our job is just to register them."

"We have clear cut regulations at the European level," he added. "German Chancellor (Angela Merkel)...said yesterday that nobody could leave Hungary without being registered."