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Are Germany and the EU prepared for a new influx of refugees?

Thousands are stranded on the Greek-Turkish border. Some have drawn parallels to the 2015 crisis but both Berlin and Brussels reject the comparison. DW breaks down what’s changed since then, and where problems remain.

Thousands of migrants and refugees have gathered at the Turkish-Greek border, desperate to make it into the European Union. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called on Europe to share the migrant “burden.” Some now are drawing parallels to the 2015 migrant influx, saying the past few weeks have felt like deja vu — but whether the EU is any better prepared than it was five years ago remains to be seen.

What happened in 2015?

At the height of the refugee crisis in 2015 and 2016, Germany took in around 1 million asylum-seekers — many fleeing conflicts in countries like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan and who were looking for safety in Europe.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel sought to rally the country with the phrase: “We can do this” (“Wir schaffen das”).  Thousands of volunteers nationwide stepped up to support the new arrivals — but the rallying cry rang hollow to border authorities and local officials who were swamped and felt unsupported.

“The problem in 2015 was that the countries in southern Europe simply waved through unregistered refugees and sent them in the direction of northern Europe,” Heiko Teggatz, the head of the federal police union, told DW. “That shouldn’t have happened.”

The authorities who registered the new arrivals and took on their cases lacked not only personnel, but key equipment. As recently as 2017, nearly 40% of the immigration offices in Germany lacked technical equipment used for identification — with many names incorrectly spelled in the system and fingerprints attributed to the wrong person.

Much of the work fell to Germany’s nearly 11,000 municipalities, who were responsible for housing as well as integrating the new arrivals. Due to a lack of space, many asylum-seekers were placed in makeshift centers built from shipping containers, or housed in gymnasiums.

“From the perspective of the municipalities, a situation like the one in 2015 should not be repeated,” Alexander Handschuh, the spokesperson for the German Association of Towns and Municipalities, said. “That would lead to an overload.”

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What’s changed in Germany since then?

Although many stepped up to help during the crisis in 2015, the arrival of refugees and the bureaucratic chaos that ensued also fed into the rise of right-wing populism in Germany. In 2017, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) garnered enough support to enter the German parliament for the first time after campaigning on an anti-immigration platform.

Five years later, Merkel stands by her decision and says it was necessary to avert a humanitarian crisis, but she also says that “mistakes” were made in the way it way handled.

New systems and personnel have helped Germany’s towns and municipalities become better prepared to handle new arrivals — up to a certain point. Cross-border cooperation within the EU has also improved, including the creation of a central data bank which stores the fingerprints of asylum-seekers.

The German government has also since pushed for increased security at the country’s borders, with around 3,000 to 5,000 officers. Teggatz told DW that the police powers have also been expanded so that officers are also now allowed to use pepper spray and water cannons to deter “unauthorized border crossings.”

Infografik Flüchtlingsrouten nach Europa EN

Where does the EU stand?

Politically, things have taken a turn to the right. Efforts to come up with an EU-wide asylum policy have failed, with countries including Hungary and Poland rejecting efforts to distribute migrants equally among member states. “Hot spotarrival points in Greece and Italy remain under pressure, with authorities there arguing that they’ve been left alone by Brussels.

An EU project following the developments over the past few years came to the conclusion that in response to the situation in 2015, governments enacted “very restrictive measures” to discourage migrants and refugees.

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“Nothing has really changed for the better since 2015,” Professor Sabine Hess, one of the project leaders and a cultural anthropologist at the University of Göttingen, told DW.

Hess noted that politicians have only been able to come up with ideas on bolstering the borders “instead of thinking about the global problems that cause people to flee.”

What is the EU-Turkey refugee accord and is it still active?

In a bid to prevent another wave of migration into Europe, the EU and Turkey signed a deal in 2016 to regulate the flow of migrants. Under the agreement, Turkey agreed to prevent human traffickers from sending refugees to the EU and to take back Syrian refugees who arrived in Greece.

In exchange, Brussels agreed that for every Syrian refugee sent back to Turkey, another would be resettled in the bloc. The EU also agreed to provide Ankara with financial assistance and speed up EU accession talks, as well as loosening visa requirements and extending the customs union.

Under the deal, migrant arrivals in the EU dropped off significantly compared to the situation in 2015 and in 2016.

Since then, the EU has either already paid or has budgeted around €6 billion ($6.7 billion) in financial aid and projects for the around 3.6 million Syrian refugees who are being hosted by Turkey. Ankara has regularly complained that the EU has not held up its part of the bargain, and that payments have been slow. Due to concerns about rule of law in Turkey, the EU has also not yet followed through on membership talks or loosening visa requirements.

When Erdogan announced his country’s borders with the EU were open over the weekend, many viewed the move as a signal that the deal was off.

However, both Germany and the EU said this week that they continue to operate under the assumption that the deal with Turkey is still being implemented — although they’ve strongly criticized the move.

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Both France and Austria have slammed Turkey for “blackmailing” the EU, while Merkel said it was “completely unacceptable” that Turkey is using refugees as political pawns.

What role is Frontex playing?

Since the mass arrival of asylum-seekers in 2015, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency — or Frontex — has played an increasingly important role in the EU’s refugee policies.

“After the crisis of 2015, a pool of officers for rapid intervention was created, and that’s the pool we’re drawing on right now to deploy in Greece — both at the sea border and at the land border,” Frontex spokesperson Ewa Moncure told DW.

This week, Greece requested additional support from Frontex, which helps member states patrol the external borders of the European Schengen Area.

The German government said this week that it will send 20 additional officers to support Greek authorities at the border as well as an amphibious helicopter. There are currently 60 German federal police officers taking part in Frontex operations in Greece.

Frontex is also building up its own standing corps after a new regulation went into effect in 2019, with the agency getting a massive budget boost amounting to €1.6 billion ($1.7 billion) in the coming year.

“We are still using the old mechanism that is used for the rapid deployment — but in the future that will be more flexible,” Moncure said.

Source: DW

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Djibouti rolls out COVID-19 vaccinations for migrants

IOM is supporting Djibouti’s Ministry of Health in its vaccination roll-out in the different regions of the country. Photo: IOM/Amanda Nero (2017)

Djibouti – Migrants in Djibouti are being vaccinated against COVID-19 for the first time, as the International Organization for Migration (IOM) works with the Government to support the national immunization effort.

Since the start of the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out globally, IOM has been advocating for the inclusion of migrants and Djibouti is one of the first countries in the region to initiate a campaign for them. Around 70 migrants have received jabs since the vaccination drive began on 12 October and it will continue till at least the end of the year.

The move is a crucial step towards protecting and safeguarding migrants across the East and Horn of Africa region, since Djibouti is one of the main transit countries for tens of thousands of migrants who attempt to leave the continent each year to find work, mainly in the Gulf countries.

More than 112,000 migrants passed through Djibouti in 2020 according to IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix, despite the reduced mobility caused by the pandemic.

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The country is also a destination for thousands of stranded migrants, and those fleeing the conflict in Yemen. They often travel and live in overcrowded and makeshift settings, which disproportionately exposes them to COVID-19 and other health risks. Migrants also often have little access to COVID-19 prevention tools, such as reliable information, masks, sanitizer, clean water, and access to health services.

Migrants in Djibouti are receiving the vaccine at the Migration Response Centre (MRC) in Obock, one of several in the region where those in difficulty are assisted with shelter, food and health care, among other services. Nearly 1,000 migrants have sought and received support at the MRC in Obock, in the first half of this year.

“We’ve called on the local population, including migrants, to actively participate in the vaccination drive and reminded them that the vaccine is still the most effective way to protect yourself and those around you,” said the mayor of Obock, Abdoulmalik Mohamed Banoita.

IOM is also working to counter hesitancy and misconceptions around immunization, by conducting sensitization sessions in various languages.

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“The inclusion of migrants in the vaccine roll-out shows the Government of Djibouti’s commitment to include some of the countries’ most vulnerable people in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Stéphanie Daviot, IOM’s Chief of Mission in the country.

“We are grateful to the Government for its commitment and partnership with IOM to provide assistance of this nature to migrants and help reduce the spread and impact of this disease.”

Djibouti has had more than 13,100 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and over 170 people have died since the start of the pandemic. Earlier this month IOM, the Ministry of Health, and other technical partners, launched an accelerated vaccination campaign with the objective of vaccinating 25 per cent of Djibouti’s population of about 1 million people. This target includes vulnerable population groups such as migrants and refugees.

The hope is that with the inclusion of migrants and communities on the move in the vaccine roll-out, the number of cases and negative impact of COVID-19 will be reduced.

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IOM is supporting the Ministry of Health in its vaccination roll-out in the different regions of the country within the framework of the East and Horn of Africa COVID-19 Strategic Response and Recovery Plan for 2021 and with funding from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) of the US Department of State.

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IOM resumes voluntary humanitarian return assistance flights from Libya after months of suspension

Migrants headed for the Gambian capital Banjul board a plane at Misrata International Airport after IOM’s Voluntary Humanitarian Return flights resumed from Libya. Photo: Moayad Zaghdani/IOM Libya

Tripoli – The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has resumed humanitarian flights from Libya after receiving clearance from the Government of National Unity and has safely returned a group of stranded Gambian migrants who are among thousands of others waiting to go home through IOM’s Voluntary Humanitarian Return (VHR) programme.

Thursday’s flight, carrying 127 people (117 men,  five women, five children) from Misrata airport to the Gambian capital of Banjul, marked the first since 8 August when all humanitarian flights were suspended by the Ministry of Interior. The returnees included migrants who had been detained in overcrowded detention centres and waiting for months to go back to their home countries.

“More than 10,000 migrants in Libya have requested IOM’s Voluntary Humanitarian Return Assistance and have been waiting for months to return home,” said Federico Soda, IOM Libya Chief of Mission. “It is extremely significant that the government has lifted the suspension because IOM’s VHR programme is critical for migrants who want to leave Libya and return home in a safe, legal and dignified manner and rebuild their lives.”

The return process is also supported by the countries of origin with whom the pre-departure work in Libya is closely coordinated along with the arrival of their nationals in the capitals. Before departure, the returning migrants had health checks and were given pre-departure transportation assistance, counselling services and protection screening. They also received personal protective equipment and took COVID-19 tests before boarding.

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Libya has long been an important transit and destination country for migrants arriving from different parts of Africa. Many become stranded in the country with limited options to return home. Since 2015, more than 53,000 migrants have returned from Libya through the VHR programme, which is funded by the European Union under the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration and through the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Migration Fund.

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IOM assists over 10,800 Haitians returned from the US, Mexico and Caribbean in past month

Port-au-Prince –The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has given post-arrival assistance to a total of 10,831 Haitian migrants returned over the past month from the United States, Mexico, Cuba, The Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands, or returned by the Coast Guard.

At the two main reception points Port-au-Prince Toussaint Louverture Airport and the Cap-Haïtien International Airport, returnees receive hot meals, juice and water, hygiene kits and pocket money, while IOM protection teams conduct rapid screenings to identify vulnerable returnees and offer medical and psychosocial support. Returnees can contact relatives by phones at their disposal, while IOM’s 8840 free hotline remains open for feedback and questions.

Details about IOM’s Response here.

IOM supports the National Office for Migration (ONM) with the coordination and provision of post-arrival assistance, including the registration process and referrals to specialized services. Haiti’s Ministry of Health and Population (MSPP), supported by the World Health Organization (WHO), performs rapid COVID-19 tests upon arrival.

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“The on-arrival reception activities conducted in the past month are the result of a coordinated effort between the Government of Haiti, IOM and all partners,” said Giuseppe Loprete, IOM’s Chief of Mission in Haiti.

“Migrants returned to Haiti need immediate assistance, as many of them have been out of the country for years, while others only recently attempted to leave due to the (14 August) earthquake. IOM remains committed to supporting all of them in returning home, joining their families or resettling in Haiti while the root causes are identified and addressed by governments in the region.”

Adult men represent 61 per cent of the total number of returnees, while women make up 23 per cent  and children 16 per cent. Among those returned specifically from the US, adult men also represent the majority (56 per cent), especially among those arriving to Cap-Haïtien (74 per cent).

Most of those returned from the US who were assisted by IOM had been living in Latin American countries for several years before starting their journey towards the US. Over a quarter of the children returned were born outside Haiti and acquired a foreign nationality, mostly Chilean and Brazilian.

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Among the 1,789 children returned, 15 unaccompanied migrant children were travelling by sea to the US or Caribbean islands when they were identified and sent back to Haiti. Family reunification has been possible through IOM’s collaboration with Haiti’s Institute of Social Welfare and Research (IBESR).

Some returnees – particularly those travelling by sea – had started their journeys in recent years motivated by various factors, such as lack of income or job opportunities, insufficient access to services, the August earthquake, insecurity, and political instability.

The precarious conditions that Haitian migrants face while transiting the region, particularly in the Darien Gap, make them vulnerable to protection risks, including gender-based violence, trafficking in persons, migrant smuggling and other forms of abuse or violence, now exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 100,000 people have made the perilous jungle crossing this year.

The assistance for Haitian returnees is currently funded by USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance and the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO).

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