The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled April 2 that Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic failed to uphold their obligations regarding refugee quotas as required by law. The countries could face financial penalties for their actions. In 2015 EU leaders established a refugee relocation program in response to the large numbers of asylum-seekers from war-torn Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East. EU countries were supposed to apportion a share of asylum-seekers among those that arrived in Greece and Italy. Poland and the Czech Republic, according to the ECJ, "failed to fulfill their obligations under European Union law" by not accepting the number of refugees they had promised.
A total of 12 inmates have been killed in prison riots across Italy, triggered by emergency restrictions imposed in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The riots began March 8 in response to regulation changes that include the suspension of family visits. Uprisings have been reported from the facilities at Modena, near Bologna; Rieti, outside Rome; Poggioreale in Naples; Foggia in Apulia; and Palermo, Sicily. In Modena's Santa Ana prison, fires were started and guards taken hostage. Soldiers and Carabinieri surrounded the facility to prevent inmates from escaping. Relatives of the inmates have also staged demonstrations outside the prisons. Protests and riots have been reported at a total of 27 prisons across Italy.
Refugees have become political pawns in a power play between the EU, Greece and Turkey. Turkey abrogated its deal with the European Union to contain refugees within its borders, as a means of pressuring the EU to support its military campaign in Syria. Dramatic scenes ensued at the land and sea borders between Greece and Turkey: Greek police tear-gassing and pushing back crowds of asylum-seekers at a northern border crossing; the Hellenic Coast Guard firing warning shots at a dinghy full of asylum-seekers in the Aegean Sea; angry protesters preventing another group in a dinghy from disembarking in the port on the island of Lesvos. Amid all this came a timely reminder of what can happen when people feel compelled to attempt ever more dangerous journeys. The UN migration agency, IOM, announced that the drowning of 91 people off the coast of Libya last month and other recent fatalities had taken the toll in the Mediterranean Sea since 2014 above 20,000.
Ukrainian lawmakers from the ruling party this week proposed resuming the water supply to the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula, leading to public outrage. After Russia's 2014 seizure and unilateral annexation of Crimea, Ukraine ceased supplying water to the arid peninsula. Before the occupation, water was supplied from the Ukrainian mainland through the North Crimean Canal. Today, a dam blocks the canal on the de facto border with Ukraine's Kherson Oblast. The shortage of water has hurt Crimean agriculture and industry, although most households rely on local wells. MPs from the ruling Servant of the People party proposed either selling the water to Crimea or using it to leverage a withdrawal of Russian military forces from the conflicted Donbas region in Ukraine's east. But Refat Chubarov, the Crimean Tatar leader who was exiled from the peninsula by Russia after the take-over, responded that any agreement to supply water to Crimea, regardless of the conditions, would be a betrayal of the 500,000 Tatars living in the peninsula. (EuroMaidan Press)
The Italian Senate voted Feb. 12 to lift former Interior Minister Matteo Salvini's parliamentary immunity over his treatment of asylum seekers. Under Italian law, Salvini had immunity from criminal prosecution over actions he had taken while serving in the cabinet. But, at the request of prosecutors in Catania, Sicily, the Senate voted 152-76 to strip Salvini of his immunity, thus formally authorizing prosecutors to press charges against him for his decision to refuse entry to approximately 131 asylum-seeking migrants last July.
The only Crimean Tatar TV channel is facing a new threat to its existence—this time not from the Russian occupiers of Crimea, but the Ukrainian authorities. A dramatic cut in state funding for ATR TV has coincided with Kiev's decision to drop Tatar-language services on the state network UATV in favor of a new Russian-language channel to be broadcast into rebel-held territory in Ukraine's heavily Russophone east. ATR deputy director Ayder Muzhdabaev reported Jan. 17 that the station has reduced production of its own programming by 90% due to underfunding. He said that of the 35 million hryvnia allocated to the station in Ukraine's 2019 budget, only 15 million had actually been received.
Activists in Ukraine are protesting a judicial ruling they say defers accountability in the massacre of scores of protesters during the Maidan Square occupation of 2014, popularly known as "Heaven's Hundred." Five ex-officers of the Berkut, the former regime's now-disbanded political police, faced charges of killing 48 protesters and wounding 80 others during the February 2014 repression. Another 21 sought in the violence, also members of the Berkut's elite Black Company, managed to escape to Russia after the fall of the Viktor Yanukovich regime later that month, and some are now believed to have been incorporated into paramilitary groups by the Vladimir Putin government. The five were ordered released from custody by the Kyiv Court of Appeals on Dec. 28—among the 200 prisoners freed in a swap between the Ukrainian authorities and Russia-backed separatists in the eastern Donbas region. Their release was protested in an open letter to President Volodymyr Zelensky by the group Families of the Heaven's Hundred Heores, who asserted that it violates international law. Lawyers for the families went on a 13-day hunger strike in November in protest of the cases being dropped for the impending swap.
Russia's Interior Ministry has announced that "Cossacks" will be deployed, together with the de facto police, in patrolling occupied Crimea, as well as in "carrying out anti-drug measures and educational work with young people." So-called "Cossacks" were used, together with other paramilitaries, during the annexation of the peninsula in 2014 to carry out violence and brutality that Russia did not want attributed to official security fources, and the group Human Rights in Ukraine believes there are strong grounds for fearing that a similar role is planned again, and that "educational work" means propaganda for the Russian military.