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The “Moria and our new European way of life” Edition

The “Moria and our new European way of life” Edition
By Weekly Focus (beta archive) • Issue #4 • View online
This newsletter was part of the beta version of n-ost’s Weekly Focus and originally published on September 30, 2020. 

Dear cross-border friends,
After our continent’s largest refugee camp in Moria caught fire and thousands of asylum seekers were left stranded on the streets, Europeans were forced to once again face the reality that they have been ignoring for the last four years. Instead of actively building up a humane asylum system, EU governments, paralysed by a fear of the right-wing populists among them, are simply ignoring and outsourcing the ongoing humanitarian crisis on our borders.
But instead of using the opportunity for a resolute restart, the European Commission’s New Migration and Asylum Pact has hit a new rock bottom. We are witnessing the official outcome of a tectonic shift in which Orwell-style “Newspeak” is reframing solidarity, human rights are simply a bargaining chip, and foxes are left to guard the henhouse: Welcome to our new “European Way of Life.”
Christian-Zsolt Varga, this week’s editorial coordinator
This week's editorial team from Berlin, Athens, Novi Sad, Warsaw and Pécs
This week's editorial team from Berlin, Athens, Novi Sad, Warsaw and Pécs
🇪🇺 Our new European way of life
Official website of the European Comission (screenshot)
Official website of the European Comission (screenshot)
Governments like that of Viktor Orbán’s in Hungary live quite well from their uncompromising approach to the issue of refugees. But instead of sanctioning the position of the Visegrad states (plus Austria), the European Commission is now protecting them from criticism: “No one’s concerns are more legitimate than the others. They all deserve to be recognized, acknowledged and addressed,“ said Margaritis Schinas, Commissioner for the Promotion of the European Way of Life, at the presentation of the long-awaited new migration pact.
The results include the so-called “Return Sponsorships”. A modern rebranding of an old ploy enabling EU states that do not want to accept refugees to instead show their solidarity by deporting rejected asylum seekers to their countries of origin. 
In the past, European “solidarity” was an attempt to distribute the burden of taking in refugees as evenly as possible. However, in this sudden reversal, solidarity now also means sharing the burden of deportation. A remarkably embarrassing political shift. Suddenly, populists’ “concerns“ about alleged alienation and their willingness to violate human rights are as legitimate as concerns about protecting human rights. 
The Commission complains that only one third of asylum seekers rejected each year are also deported, giving the impression that the new “sponsorships” would solve this lack. This is nonsense. The burdens of deportations have long been collectivized on a European level: For years, the EU border protection agency Frontex has been upgraded (Handelsblatt) to ensure that deportations can take place more rapidly and in ever larger numbers. 
But let’s assume that the model of “Return Sponsorships” can be implemented - and that Bulgarian police officers would be willing to travel to Valletta, for example, to bring rejected asylum seekers from there to Ghana: it is still highly doubtful that the very states that have been seeking confrontation with Brussels for years in order not to take in refugees will suddenly concern themselves with the rights of those rejected elsewhere. The systematic disenfranchisement of refugees is already built into the system.
Christian Jakob is a reporter and editor of the daily newspaper TAZ ("tageszeitung") in Berlin. In 2019 he published the book "Europe under Attack. The Internationale of the Right-Wing Populists"
Christian Jakob is a reporter and editor of the daily newspaper TAZ ("tageszeitung") in Berlin. In 2019 he published the book "Europe under Attack. The Internationale of the Right-Wing Populists"
🇬🇷 Number of the week
According to the Greek General Secretariat for Information and Communication 12,767 people were living inside the Moria refugee camp on the day of the fire on September 8th – more than four times the camp’s initial capacity of 2,880.
This is not an outlier, overall, the sites spread over five Aegean islands were packed with 23,575 refugees in facilities designed for just over 6,000: 4,791 people living in a site meant for just 684 in Samos; 3,603 crammed into a space for 1,104 in Chios; and 1,026 and 1,388 instead of 860 and 816, in Leros and Kos, respectively.
Originally, people were only supposed to stay for a couple of days in these “Reception and Identification Centers” (as the camps are still officially named). The turning point for their transformation into overcrowded camps with unbearable living conditions was the EU-Turkey Deal of 2016.
Since then, asylum seekers are forced to stay on the island until their application is processed. But many of the refugees I met in past weeks while reporting from Lesbos had been stranded there for 13, 15 or even 18 months; and still hadn’t had their asylum interviews.
No food and water, mothers cleaning their babies from bottled water, families sleeping rough: In the days after the fire, the world was shocked by the inhumane conditions in which the victims were left to live on European streets.
But, the truth is that for most of the refugees these conditions were not that different (The Guardian) from the days, weeks and months before. What they need now is not a new camp, but a solution for their future (Al Jazeera).
Stavros Malichudis is a reporter covering the "refugee crisis" for Greek non-profit Solomon (wearesolomon.com) and foreign media. In 2019, he was a fellow for the Balkan Fellowship of Journalistic Excellence.
Stavros Malichudis is a reporter covering the "refugee crisis" for Greek non-profit Solomon (wearesolomon.com) and foreign media. In 2019, he was a fellow for the Balkan Fellowship of Journalistic Excellence.
🇷🇸 The future of the Balkan Route
Refugees waiting to cross the border between Serbia and Hungary in 2015 (Photo: Sanja Kljajić)
Refugees waiting to cross the border between Serbia and Hungary in 2015 (Photo: Sanja Kljajić)
In trying to satisfy all EU members, Brussel is generating new trouble for countries on the so-called “Balkan route”. Serbia and other Balkan countries don’t have the capacity to close the route down completely, so the model of “Return Sponsorships” could soon make them the first and easiest deportation option.
“If you can’t deport them to the countries they originally came from, then you can deport them to the countries they entered from, and those are Balkan countries.” says Rados Djurovic from the Asylum Protection Center, a Serbian NGO providing legal and psychosocial aid to asylum seekers and refugees. “It will be easier for Hungary to deport migrants and refugees to Serbia, than to focus on final deportations to the home countries.”
Situated just on the border of the EU, Serbia will have to be a part of the EU’s external response, one way or another. So far, it has been playing the “good cop”, treating migrants and refugees rather nicely – but signs of a shift towards a more repressive approach are increasing rapidly. During the summer, Serbia silently started building a fence on the border with North Macedonia (RSE) and all of a sudden reports of violence (Twitter), rude treatment and push backs (Twitter) are becoming more frequent.
“Serbia is taking over Hungary’s role on the ground. We can see the same patterns of behavior”, says Djurovic. The EU officially denied (N1) having anything to do with Belgrade’s latest moves. But Djurovic is noticing that Serbia’s new strategy corresponds to the latest signals from Brussels. Serbia, as well as other countries on the Balkan Route (ecre) can shut down the route only in cooperation with the EU. “That is why Serbia, Albania, North Macedonia, maybe even Bosnia and Herzegovina, will have their place in this kind of plan“, says Djurovic.
Sanja Kljajić is a Serbian freelance journalist from Novi Sad.
Sanja Kljajić is a Serbian freelance journalist from Novi Sad.
🇷🇺 1 question to... Jacek Jaśkowiak
Jacek Jaśkowiak, 56, is the current mayor of the city of Poznań and a member of the Civic Platform political party.
Jacek Jaśkowiak, 56, is the current mayor of the city of Poznań and a member of the Civic Platform political party.
Mr. Jaśkowiak, what is your opinion on the migration pact announced by the European Commission, according to which member states who refuse to relocate refugees could instead take charge of their deportation?
I would prefer the position of the Commission to be different. But I am aware that forcing these countries to accept immigrants would only mobilize the electorate of parties like PiS, Fidesz, AfD and other political groups with nationalist tendencies and, as a result, strengthen them.
Either way, I will continue my efforts to help refugees – both those fleeing from war-affected regions and those from countries where citizens are persecuted for political reasons, such as Belarus (Weekly Focus), for example.
Following the tragedy in Moria, I asked the Minister of Foreign Affairs to organize a meeting in order to discuss how the city of Poznań could arrange support for a certain number of people and I am waiting for the answer. The implementation of such an undertaking is not possible without the support of the central PiS government.
If the new “Migration Pact” allows local governments to accept refugees directly, I will invite refugees to Poznań. This is what solidarity is about. We were also given help, including during the Second World War. Poles often refer to their Christian roots, and this is also an obligation. After all, sensitivity to human suffering, loving one’s neighbor is the essence of Christianity. I myself am an atheist, but my upbringing in the Catholic faith has influenced my value system.
Kaja Puto is a Polish freelance journalist with a focus on Eastern Europe, Southern Caucasus, migration and European issues.
Kaja Puto is a Polish freelance journalist with a focus on Eastern Europe, Southern Caucasus, migration and European issues.
🇭🇺 The infinite benefit of weaponizing migration
“We have to do everything to stop illegal migrants from dragging in and spreading the coronavirus. This is the only way to guarantee the safety of Hungarian people and the country.” Szilárd Németh, Secretary of State for Defence visits the Hungarian border fence on 17th September 2020 to blame illegal migrants for spreading the coronavirus. The reality: the number of new cases started to rise because of local outbreaks. (Source: https://www.facebook.com/nemeth.szilard.fidesz/photos/a.1436408453289546/2665080830422296/?type=3)
“We have to do everything to stop illegal migrants from dragging in and spreading the coronavirus. This is the only way to guarantee the safety of Hungarian people and the country.” Szilárd Németh, Secretary of State for Defence visits the Hungarian border fence on 17th September 2020 to blame illegal migrants for spreading the coronavirus. The reality: the number of new cases started to rise because of local outbreaks. (Source: https://www.facebook.com/nemeth.szilard.fidesz/photos/a.1436408453289546/2665080830422296/?type=3)
Like a true cult, Fidesz’s spin doctors easily incorporate new topics such as COVID-19 into their messaging. Already at the beginning of the pandemic, government officials and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán were connecting the virus with illegal migration and asylum seekers (euronews). 
If you are wondering why Hungary, one of the EU countries least affected by migration, is one of the toughest critics of any common agreement, then you just have to take a look into the inner workings of the government’s domestic propaganda machine.
The combination of “Brussels” and “illegal migrants” is an irresistible mix which has kept the Fidesz voter base together since 2015. Exploiting the so-called refugee crisis was Orbán’s best chance at a time when his approval ratings had hit an all time low.
But apparently fear mongering works, and works and works… And it is being brought to bear at all levels: from xenophobic billboard advertisements (Budapest Beacon) to the ongoing “state of crisis due to mass migration” (Balkan Insight)” which was extended this year for the 8th time since its introduction in 2015. 
It should come as no surprise that only a day after its announcement, the new proposal on EU migration policy was already being heavily criticized by V4 countries (euractiv) - accompanied by Slovenia and Austria. 
As long as these tactics work for Orbán and his party in Hungary, they will clearly not be interested in finding any solution on a European level. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Ervin Gűth is a freelance journalist and editor at the independent regional online portal szabadpecs.hu.
Ervin Gűth is a freelance journalist and editor at the independent regional online portal szabadpecs.hu.
4 "Newspeak" terms George Orwell could have used in "1984"
1. Εισβολή (“Invasion”)
The Greek government has just recently started repeatedly talking about an “invasion”, referring to the arrivals of asylum seekers crossing to the Greek islands from Turkey. On the one hand, this reference highlights Erdogan’s influence on this phenomenon; on the other hand, it legitimizes prohibited practices, such as the many reported pushbacks. The truth is, however, that the current numbers of sea arrivals are significantly lower than in previous years.
2. Idegenrendészet (“Alien policing”)
The devil is in the details, they say, and the Hungarian government has always had an eye for these things. Demagogic wordplays and indirect anti-semitic connotations are used on a day-to-day basis but renaming whole institutions in order to deliver the wanted message takes this strategy to a whole new level. This is what happened to the former “Immigration and Asylum Office”. In 2019, it was not only renamed but also subordinated to the police as the “National Directorate-General for Alien Policing”.
3. Abschiebepatenschaften (“Return Sponsorships”)
The German word “Patenschaften” is normally associated with supporting children in need, protecting endangered animals or planting trees through donations or other means. Now it has been connected to the latest idea of “European solidarity” by Ursula von der Leyen. This highly cynical word creation describes the mechanism for EU states that do not want to accept refugees and instead should show their “solidarity” by deporting rejected asylum seekers to their countries of origin. 
4. “Uchodźcy z Ukrainy (“Refugees from Ukraine”)
Representatives from PiS often repeat that Poland should not be forced to accept refugees from Syria and North Africa as it faces a huge influx of refugees from neighbouring Ukraine (Politico). But even if many Ukrainians decided to emigrate because of the Russian-Ukrainian war, the vast majority of them don’t have formal refugee status. And inviting a cheap labour force without providing them with any substantial rights (Open Democracy) has nothing to do with help and solidarity.
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