Political archaeology amid Jerusalem tensions
Israel's new National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir made a brief visit to al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem on Jan. 3, flanked by a heavy security detail and a fellow Orthodox Jewish worshipper—eliciting immediate outrage from both the Palestinian leadership and the Jewish state's own allies. The Palestinian Authority called the move "an unprecedented provocation," with Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh accusing Ben-Gvir of staging the visit as part of an agenda to turn the site "into a Jewish temple." He called on Palestinians to "confront the raids into al-Aqsa mosque." Hamas warned that Israel is approaching a "red line."
EU doubles down on asylum double standards
More than 1.1 million refugees and asylum seekers have entered Germany this year—outpacing the 890,000 that arrived during the Mediterranean migration crisis in 2015. Back then, the vast majority were Syrians. This year, around one million of those who have entered are Ukrainians, although Syrians, Afghans, and others continue to arrive. For Ukrainians, the EU Commission this week extended the Temporary Protection Directive—first activated in March, and allowing them to live, work, and access services throughout the EU. Some 4.2 million Ukrainians have registered under the directive, which is now valid until March 2024. Meanwhile, the EU is pursuing much less welcoming policies for asylum seekers and migrants from other parts of the world. These include the the Dublin Regulation, that since 2003 has required asylum seekers to apply for protection in the member state they first entered—often prolonging perilous journeys to reach sanctuary beyond countries with harsh immigration policies, such as Poland and Hungary.
Erdogan invokes burning of Smyrna
Amid rising tensions between NATO allies Turkey and Greece, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan explicitly invoked the burning of Smyrna at the end of the Greco-Turkish War. "We have only one word to tell Greece: Do not forget Izmir," Erdogan said in a speech early last month, using the Turkish name for the coastal city that was the scene of atrocities targeting the substantial Greek populace after it was taken by Turkish forces in September 1922. "We may come suddenly one night," Erdogan added, using his oft-repeated phrase when he warned of launching an operation into neighboring Syria.
'Absurd' trial of Lesvos migrant helpers
The Greek trial of 24 aid volunteers accused of people-smuggling got off to a shambolic false start on Nov. 18. The defendants were members of Emergency Response Center International (ECRI), an NGO that performed rescue activities in the Aegean Sea and provided humanitarian assistance to people in Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesvos between 2016 and 2018. Human rights groups say the accusations are part of a broader trend of governments across Europe criminalizing people providing humanitarian assistance to asylum-seekers and migrants. They have called on Greece to drop the charges, describing the case as "absurd."
Greece urged to end pushback of asylum seekers
In a May 3 statement, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights urged the Greek government to end its practice of illegal "pushbacks" of asylum seekers at both the land and the sea borders with Turkey. Commissioner Dunja Mijatovic said she had "received a number of consistent and credible allegations concerning acts of the Greek Coast Guard to prevent boats carrying migrants reaching the Greek islands." Following reports of verbal and physical abuse inflicted on migrants being pushed back to Turkey, she indicated that acts of the Greek state may be in breach of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, on prohibition of torture. (Jurist)
Greece: Golden Dawn ruled 'criminal organization'
After a trial that lasted more than five years, a court in Greece on Oct. 7 ruled that the far-right Golden Dawn political party is a criminal organization. The party, founded in the 1980s by Nikos Michaloliakos, came to prominence in 2012 when it gained 21 seats in parliamentary elections. The party's politics are openly xenophobic and anti-Semitic, using the slogan "Blood, honor, Golden Dawn!"—adapted from the Hitler Youth slogan "Blood and honor." After the election, party members broke into the homes of Egyptian immigrant fishermen in the port of Perama, brutally beating them with clubs and iron rods. A year after the election, party members murdered Pavlos Fyssas, a Greek anti-fascist musician. In 2016, the party endorsed Donald Trump for US president, hailing him as a "true patriot" who will "not accept illegal immigrants in the USA."
Greece: violent 'pushbacks' of asylum seekers
Documentation is mounting of Greek authorities carrying out violent "pushbacks" of asylum-seekers and migrants at the country's land and sea borders with Turkey. The practice violates EU and international law, but in the past four months human rights groups and media outlets have documented an uptick in its use at the Greece-Turkey land border. Rights groups have also documented the abandonment of asylum-seekers in "floating tents" without any means of propulsion in the Aegean Sea, and masked men sabotaging boats carrying asylum-seekers. The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has urged Greece to investigate.
EU court rules three countries violated asylum deal
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.
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