“Border control officers are exposed to strong migratory pressures.”
That’s a quote from Georgi Kostov, the head of the interior ministry for Bulgaria where an Afghan man was shot and killed on Thursday, marking the first fatal shooting in Europe’s worsening migrant crisis.
Bulgarian border guards claim a warning shot ricocheted and injured the man. He later died. Draw your own conclusions.
The official line from Bulgaria was this: “We are deeply shocked and regret the fatal incident. We are convinced that barriers, fences and police forces cannot solve the problems of people who are in a desperate situation.”
That’s a nice sentiment, but not everyone shares it and one person who is certainly not intent on adopting an open door policy to refugees fleeing the war-torn Middle East is Hungarian PM Viktor Orban who, as we’ve documented extensively, has gone to great lengths to close his country’s borders with razor wire fencing and protect those fences with water cannons, tear gas, and rubber bullets.
Here’s a quote from an interview Orban gave today which pretty much sums things up as far as he’s concerned:
“Spiritually, Islam was never part of Europe. It's the rulebook of another world.”
Make no mistake, the back and forth Balkan border battles between the states that are on the frontlines of the crisis have been raging for months, as Serbia, Croatia, and Slovenia attempt to negotiate how to cope with Hungary's hardline approach. Orban's move to wall-off his country's border with Serbia triggered an influx of asylum seekers into Croatia (remember, everyone's trying to get to Germany), but Slovenia's unwillingness to serve as a kind of migrant superhighway steered refugees right back into Hungary and so now, Orban is closing the border with Croatia. Here's how we put it late last month:
Once it became clear that Hungary was fully prepared to turn its border with Serbia into a warm April night in Baltimore in order to defend Europe’s “Christian heritage” (to quote Orban), refugees simply rerouted through Croatia. Serbia has facilitated this noting that it simply does not have the resources to accommodate the migrants and even if it did, they do not want to settle in Serbia in the first place. Once Slovenia said it wouldn’t be a part of a migrant "corridor" to Germany, the stage was set for migrants to zigzag from Hungary’s border with Serbia into Croatia, and then back into Hungary.
And here's more from Bloomberg on Orban's reaction after the EU failed to come to an agreement on closing off Greece to asylum seekers:
Hungary will seal its border with Croatia from midnight on Friday, expanding one of the European Union’s toughest set of measures to stem the influx of refugees, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said in Budapest.
"This is the second-best option," Szijjarto told reporters. "The best option, setting up an EU force to defend Greece’s external borders, was rejected in Brussels yesterday."
An EU summit on Thursday failed to reach a final agreement on recruiting Turkey to help control the flow of refugees as Russia’s bombing campaign in Syria threatens to push more people to seek safety. The bloc’s leaders also made little progress on how to redesign the system of distributing immigrants, forming an EU border-guard corps or on ensuring arrivals are properly processed.
Hungary has extended an existing barbed-wire fence on its border with Serbia to cover its frontier with Croatia. Prime Minister Viktor Orban warned this week that his government would complete the barrier if EU leaders fail to agree on closing the Greek border, the main entry point for Syrian and other Middle Eastern refugees into the 28-nation bloc.
Meanwhile, in Germany, Angela Merkel is beginning to feel the heat as lawmakers and party loyalists become increasingly impatient with the hundreds of thousands of migrants streaming into the country. More, from AFP:
Germany's Angela Merkel is used to owning the room when she speaks to her party faithful, but the mood turned hostile when she defended her open-door refugee policy this week.
In a heated atmosphere, some of the 1,000-odd members at the meeting warned of a "national disaster" and demanded shuttering the borders as Germany expects up to one million migrants this year.
"Stop the refugee chaos -- save German culture + values -- dethrone Merkel," read a banner at the congress late Wednesday in the eastern state of Saxony, the home base for the anti-foreigner PEGIDA movement.
Managing the refugee crisis has turned into Merkel's greatest domestic political challenge since she took power almost 10 years ago, in November 2005.
Long valued by the electorate for her level-headed leadership amid the eurozone turmoil, Merkel has scared many with her welcoming stance amid a growing sentiment that the boat is full.
"The chancellor is walking on thin ice," judged the conservative daily Die Welt, pointing to a "growing gap" between Merkel and the base of her centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU) who demand she stem the record influx.
"The chancellor believes the nation can manage the crisis, but this belief is rapidly vanishing in the country," said the newspaper.
On Sunday, she jets off to Turkey to discuss with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan how to slow the inflow sparked by war and upheaval across the Middle East and North Africa, with almost 600,000 people arriving in Europe so far this year.
On the home front, Merkel has bravely insisted "we can do it", recalling US President Barack Obama's campaign rallying cry of "Yes we can".
But many Germans -- who in the summer greeted refugees at railway stations -- are losing faith as thousands keep coming daily and improvised refugee centres are bursting at the seams, including tent cities exposed to below-zero temperatures as winter approaches.
And here are two headlines which betray how desperate the situation is becoming:
- SHOULD GERMANY, SLOVENIA CLOSE BORDERS, CROATIA WILL TOO: PUSIC
- MERKEL CALLS ON EASTERN EUROPE TO SHOW SOLIDARITY OF REFUGEES
In short, there is now a very real threat that a cascading series of border closures will completely block the Balkan route (not to mention destroy Schengen forever) leading directly to i) possibly violent confrontations between migrants and border police, and ii) a dramatic shift in the people flow through Libya, which would mark a kind of "out of the frying pan and into the fire" scenario for Syrian refugees.
As for those who have already made it to Germany and other EU countries where they intend to settle, we reiterate our warning that anti-migrant sentiment could end up creating a dangerous bout of scapegoating xenophobia and on that note, we close with the following excerpt from Bloomberg:
In another sign of backlash in the region, Czech President Milos Zeman said migrants from Muslim countries won’t respect local laws and will follow sharia, Novinky.cz news website reported.
“Adulterous women will be stoned; thieves will have their hands chopped off,” Zeman said while meeting employees of a butcher shop in eastern Czech Republic, Novinky said.