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20 November 2021, Saturday | NIAS Europe Daily Brief #48

UK and France sign agreement to prevent migration

Rotterdam witnesses violent protests; Belarusian President accepts on allowing migrants to enter Poland; Six Armenian soldiers killed in border clashes

By Vaishnavi Iyer

UK and France sign agreement to prevent migration
On 14 November, around 1,185 migrants arrived in the UK, crossing the English Channel in boats and kayaks. The arrival marked the highest single-day crossing record. The Home Office termed the new number crossings "unacceptable." Whitehall sources accused France of "losing control of the situation". 

On 15 November, France retaliated against British comments on migration, stating: "we don't have any lessons to take from the British." He stated that, despite the British government's desire to blame the French, the French government is effectively managing the migrant issue in Calais and Dunkirk. On 16 November, France cleared the Dunkirk camps, clearing 1500 migrants and 35 people smugglers. The French police said that: "663 people had already been transported on 23 buses to a shelter." The actions have been described by French officials as an attempt to "shelter" refugees over the winter months.

France is expected to take the EU presidency next year. Politically, the issue of migrants would be important for Macron since far-right conservative parties would prefer to debate the issue during elections. Given Eric Zemmour's rising popularity, the issue of managing migration is crucial for French politics. With around 22,000 migrant crossings in the English Channel this year, Macron states: "We have the British, who oscillate between partnership and provocation. We need to further strengthen collaboration". He mentioned that the system must be addressed efficiently in case of illegal migrations.

The British response has been blatantly shifting the blame for migrant mismanagement to France. Home Secretary of Britain, Priti Patel made aggressive remarks at the French incompetence of controlling the migrants at the border. She said: "I think it's fair to say they are overwhelmed," and that EU open borders are to blame for the "mass migration crisis" in the UK. She added the country's possible decline in finance allocated to maintain and provide for migrants. The French government assured Patel of employing enhanced technology at the northern beaches to make migration unviable. 

Gerald Darmanin, France's interior minister, highlighted a change in data privacy and protection laws that would enable the government to monitor borders with drones and other surveillance systems. The law is also expected to facilitate a driving plate recognition system to detect unloading boats for migrants. 

Issues at large
First the number and nature of daily crossings. Over this year, nearly 23,000 people have reached the UK via France. Around 98 percent of migrants reaching the UK apply for asylum.The UK government has introduced a plan for immigration to dissolve criminal gangs that enable cross-channel migration. It has firmly maintained that migration journeys would soon be made unviable. Third, a humanitarian perspective. As the countries push back against the migrants, they remain stranded between borders facing European winters, sexual abuse, and health hazards. The head of the Immigration Service Union in the UK mentioned that migrants slept on concrete floors, and more than 490 migrants shared two portable toilets for 24 hours. The UK regularly employs patrol dogs and carbon dioxide systems to detect the breathing of migrants in hiding. Most practices followed to restrict migrations are harsh and discriminatory.

In perspective
First, a European pattern. The EU has clarified for years that it will not allow migrants or refugees to cross its borders. This allows countries on the perimeter the ability to utilize refugees as "pawns". The EU has made concessions to Libya, Sudan, and Turkey to prevent refugees from entering Europe. This often entails grave human rights violations against refugees in order to deter them. The system broke this year. Second, prevention of border entry. International law recognizes the right to seek asylum and the provision of an asylum option. The EU has made the journey more inaccessible, curtailing rescue and search operations and humanitarian aid.Third, the difference with Belarus. Refugee numbers have lowered by two-thirds since 2015. However, the global crisis still remains. The EU has merely succeeded in transferring the crisis to poorer and more autocratic countries on its perimeter, thereby absolving itself of legal responsibility and the burden of having to confront the significant human cost of its policies. The crisis has been exploited by dictators and right-wing parties that have made use of the situation to promote their anti-establishment and anti-immigration ideologies.

Joseph Lee, "Number of migrants crossing Channel to UK tops 1,000 in new daily record," BBC, 12 November 2021

Rajeev Syal, Kim Willsher and Jedidajah Otte, "UK and France reach agreement to 'prevent 100% of Channel crossings'," The Guardian, 15 November 2021

"France clears Dunkirk migrant camp amid UK tensions," BBC, 17 November 2021

Peter Walker and Kim Willsher, "No 10 downplays migrant row after Macron laments British 'provocation'," The Guardian, 19 November 2021

By Joeana Cera Matthews and Padmashree Anandhan

The BBC interview: Belarusian President accepts on allowing migrants to enter Poland
On 19 November, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko told BBC in an exclusive interview that it was "absolutely possible" for his forces to have helped the migrants enter Poland but denied inviting them into Belarus. He stated in the interview "I told them I'm not going to detain migrants on the border, hold them at the border, and if they keep coming from now on I still won't stop them, because they're not coming to my country, they're going to yours." In the past few months, many migrants from the middle east have been entering into the EU via Belarus. The president has been condemned by the EU, the US and NATO for allowing the migrants crossing. Opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya who was forcefully sent out of Belarus after victory has accused the BBC. She said "the BBC interview provided Mr Lukashenko with "a platform for lies and propaganda." (Steve Rosenberg, "Belarus's Lukashenko tells BBC: We may have helped migrants into EU," BBC, 20 November 2021)

Six Armenian soldiers killed in border clashes
On 19 November, the Armenian Defense Ministry announced the death of six Armenian soldiers after border clashes escalated with Azerbaijan. The deaths were reported to have occurred on 16 November. The ministry added that the Azerbaijani soldiers had opened fire at the borders which was retaliated with a return fire from the Armenians. Azerbaijan, on the other hand, have accused Armenia of having bombed their villages. The escalation of tensions follow a ceasefire supervised by Russia that was reached on 16 November. Azerbaijan had also declared the death of seven of its soldiers on the same day. The EU foreign affairs spokesperson Peter Stano expressed his concern over the border situation, saying: "(he was) deeply concerned over the recent violence along the Armenia-Azerbaijani border, which has regrettably led to loss of life." ("Armenia reports 6 soldiers killed in clashes with Azerbaijan," Deutsche Welle, 19 November 2021)

Saakashvili ends hunger strike
On 20 November, jailed ex-President ended his seven-week hunger strike. This follows a deterioration in his health. He had been prisoned on charges of abusing power. The hunger strike had been initiated as a retaliatory measure on his apparently 'political' arrest on 01 October. After the declaration of ending his 50-day hunger strike, Saakashvili's personal doctor Nokoloz Kipshidze said: "Saakashvili formally called off his hunger strike right after he was transferred to the Gori military hospital." ("Georgia: Jailed ex-President Saakashvili ends 7-week hunger strike," Deutsche Welle, 20 November 2021)

Rotterdam: Lockdown protesters turn violent
On 19 November, a demonstration against the new restrictions imposed by the government on access to indoor venues was witnessed in Rotterdam. The demonstration took a violent turn with protesters setting fire to vehicles and engaging with the police force. According to the police, seven have been wounded while 12 were arrested due to the clash. They said: "We fired warning shots and there were also direct shots fired because the situation was life-threatening." Police personnels have also been reported as being wounded in the clash. Local political party Leefbar Rotterdam responded to the incident via Twitter, tweeting: "Rotterdam is a city where you can disagree with things that happen but violence is never, never, the solution." ("Rotterdam shaken by riots over planned coronavirus curbs," Deutsche Welle, 19 November 2021)

Putin President warns the West on presence of NATO's arms in Ukraine
On 19 November, the White House and Russia connected on a call to discuss de-escalating the tensions that had risen in Ukraine. The US expressed its concerns over Russian military activities and military buildup towards Ukraine. Before the call Russian President Vladimir Putin asked the West "not to cross its red lines too lightly." He later said it was a response to the "provocative actions" taken by NATO as it has been deploying its arms inside Ukraine as a protective measure. ("White House calls on Russia to de-escalate tensions with Ukraine," Reuters, 19 November 2021)

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