Idomeni, March 2016
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Idomeni, March 2016
Interesting to watch how European leaders and diplomats are careful to avoid using the word “refugee” when it comes to the Aegean interdiction they are planning and hope to have fully operational by March 7. The word always used is “migrant.”
Also, they talk not about interdiction but “rescue” — they want to rescue “migrants”, not stop them going to Europe. Although that is what they will do, plucking them from the seas and depositing them back in Turkey.
And then, of course, the whole operation is about stopping “illegal migration” and combating “human traffickers” not about blocking Syrian and Iraqi war refugees. Perish the thought.
From my latest VOA report — you can find it here: “The refugee crisis roiling Europe presents a win-win opportunity for Islamic State (IS) extremists, says international terrorism research consultancy TRAC.
By hiding among thousands of asylum-seekers, the Islamist militants can expand their operational presence in Europe, the consortium of analysts warned in a briefing released Thursday.
And if any of their infiltrated members are caught, the backlash could help radicalize disaffected European Muslims.
Despite fears that IS is exploiting the refugee crisis to infiltrate Europe by disguising members as asylum-seekers, only six cases have so far been reported. Analysts, however, say the apparently meager numbers shouldn’t be a cause for relief or a source of complacency — a point echoed by European intelligence officials who VOA spoke to on condition of anonymity.
Mustafa is not unusual among the refugee fathers, husbands and sons placing their lives in the hands of people smugglers and making the short, but dangerous, sea crossing alone from Turkey to Greece, and then enduring a long and uncertain slog on land up through the Balkans or Hungary via Austria to Germany.
He has been watching the television news showing Hungarian and Macedonian border guards beating refugees, and has heard stories from relatives who have made it to Europe of running the gauntlet of brutal traffickers and getting robbed on the road.
The images and stories have confirmed his view that the trip is not one his daughter should share.
According to the U.N. refugee agency, the majority of those from the Mideast streaming into Europe are men, prompting some anti-immigrant and anti-Islam campaigners to argue that the continent is not facing a simple refugee crisis, but a migration designed to Islamize Europe.
At far right rallies in Germany, that imbalance is highlighted by anti-immigrant speakers and protesters alike as clear evidence that the migration crisis in Europe is a jihadist plot that will end up changing the face of European culture.
For my full report on how Europe’s far right is inflaming nativist sentiments click here.
In the immediate wake of the Iran nuclear deal there was a flurry of diplomacy involving Washington, Moscow and Tehran with talk that the time might be right to hammer out an agreement to end Syria’s four-year-long civil war. But with renewed commitments from Iran and Russia to shore up President Bashar al-Assad there seems no end in sight for the ruinous war of attrition that has left an estimated 240,000 people dead.
No one is budging their hard-held positions inside or outside Syria, despite the recognition by most parties involved that defeating the extremists of the Islamic State should be among the highest priorities — and that is unlikely to happen while the civil war rages.
For the West the mounting refugee crisis roiling Europe has added urgency to the search for some kind of resolution to the barbaric conflict.
Read my full VOA dispatch here.
Middle East Institute just published a long piece by me on the possible demographic impact on Lebanon from the Syrian refugee crisis. There are a million refugees in Lebanon now — that’s nearly a 25 percent boost in the population of the country. It would be like the U.S. having to absorb 78 million refugees in a two-year-period. Another million could flow into Lebanon by year’s end.
Demography shapes politics, especially in Lebanon. See my article here.
Bekaa Valley, Lebanon.
Bewildered, exhausted, fearful and grieving for family and friends dead in the 27-month-long civil war, Syrian refugees remain bitter about the lack of Western intervention and are skeptical that President Obama’s decision to arm the rebels will come to much and be able to swing the war decisively.
Many now say all they want is the conflict to end, even if that means a negotiated settlement with President Bashar al-Assad. Some worry what Syria will be like if he does fall and fear the influence of political Islam and the Al Qaeda-affilate Al Nusra.
See my VOA report here.