Reopening the floodgates
Turkey allows refugees to illegally cross into Greece amid spat between the countries
Refugees clutched the ground and hugged one another as at least one child cried openly after their inflatable dinghy arrived at the Greek island of Lesbos from Turkey at the end of February.
Thousands of migrants have tried to enter Greece from Turkey since President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered the Turkish coast guard and border officials not to stop people from illegally crossing into Europe last week. Many are trying to dash across the border crossing at Pazarkule, Turkey, as Greek guards fire tear gas to stop them. Others board dinghies to cross the fast-flowing Evros River that divides the two countries. Still others take the oversea route to Lesbos.
Under a 2016 deal with the European Union, Turkey received aid in return for stopping migrants from illegally entering Greece. But after 50 Turkish soldiers died in Idlib in northern Syria, where the Russian-backed Syrian army is trying to regain control, Erdogan said he needed more help from the EU. The latest unrest in Syria has displaced an additional 1 million people.
In a joint statement, EU ministers recognized “the increased migratory burden and risks Turkey is facing” but also denounced “Turkey’s use of migratory pressure for political purposes.”
Turkish government spokesman Ibrahim Kalin denied the country was imposing diplomatic pressure. “Our objective by opening the doors was not to create an artificial crisis, to place political pressure, or to serve our interests,” he said, noting Turkey’s capacity “has a limit.”
More than 1,700 migrants leaving Turkey have landed on Lesbos and other Greek islands since last week. About 20,000 asylum-seekers live in overcrowded camps on Lesbos. Already, one 4-year-old Syrian boy drowned at sea when an inflatable dinghy with 48 people on board capsized off the island.
At least one migrant died and five others sustained injuries after Greek soldiers fired on them, Turkey said. Greece has denied the accusations. On Thursday, Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said the country will deploy 1,000 officers from the special forces unit from its police force “to prevent the pushbacks.”
Moses Kamaras, a 34-year-old Sierra Leonean, told The Guardian he spent six months waiting in the Turkish capital of Istanbul before arriving at Lesbos. “Our engine was really weak, we were in the boat for four hours, and all the time I thought, what if I die?” he said. “I had waited a long time for this day.”
Last week, Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said the country would transfer migrants who arrived on its territory illegally after March 1 to the northern city of Serres. “Our aim is to return them to their countries,” he said, sparking criticism from rights groups. Before the latest influx, Greek islanders on Lesbos and Chios had already protested the government’s plan to build new migrant detention camps. They opposed the refugee influx and called on the Greek mainland to host the migrants instead.
The European Union lauded Greece for acting as “the shield” of Europe’s external borders. Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, promised to support the country with $780 million in financial aid for migration management. She also ordered the deployment of an additional 100 border guards and equipment from the EU border agency Frontex.
Sinan Ulgen, chairman of the Istanbul-based think tank EDAM, acknowledged Turkey is bearing the consequences of a larger conflict. He called on Western nations to push for humanitarian intervention in Idlib, calling the situation there a crisis “unrivaled in its severity since the Yugoslav wars.”
The legislature of Myanmar, also known as Burma, on Tuesday blocked proposed amendments to reduce the military’s role in politics.
Existing law gives the military a quarter of seats in the Assembly of the Union and allows it to appoint the ministers of defense, border, and home affairs. The constitutional amendments, presented by State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, would have reduced the number of military officials in the assembly over 15 years and scrapped a section that called the defense services commander the “supreme commander of all armed forces.”
The military’s influence in politics came under international criticism during the 2017 crackdown on the Rohingya minority group in Rakhine state. This week, the military filed a defamation lawsuit against Reuters news agency for its report on the death of two Rakhine women under military fire in January. —O.O.
Several Muslims tortured and beat a Pakistani Christian to death last week after he rinsed himself in a well owned by a Muslim landlord. Saleem Masih, 22, had been working in agricultural fields in Bhagiyana village.
“They abused and tortured [Saleem] for ‘polluting’ the Muslims’ water,” his uncle, Waris Masih, told International Christian Concern. “They got aggressive because a ‘Choora’ dared to make their water unclean. They claimed this would make their entire crop filthy.”
“Choora” is an insult indicating the uncleanliness of Christians. The attackers tortured Maish for two hours. He died in a hospital three days later.
Several Muslim and Christian leaders condemned Masih’s murder. “We still want to live in peace,” Muslim community leader Mian Muhammad Abbas said. “This village and country belong to every citizen, and we are sad for Saleem Masih.” —Julia A. Seymour
The U.S. State Department last week honored 12 recipients from around the world with the annual International Women of Courage award.
The women included Susanna Koh, the wife of Malaysian Pastor Raymond Koh, who went missing in 2017 and was likely abducted by state agents. Koh continues to advocate for her husband and other religious minorities who disappeared under similar circumstances despite multiple death threats.
Also honored was Claire Ouedraogo, a Burkina Faso native who has advocated for an end to female genital mutilation and worked to empower rural women through vocational training and access to microcredit. At the ceremony, First Lady Melania Trump called the women’s actions in the face of risk inspirational. “These are the faces of true heroism,” she said. —O.O.
Last week, health workers in the Democratic Republic of Congo danced and sang while discharging Masiko, the last known Ebola patient in the country.
The World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed the patient’s release from a hospital in the northeastern town of Beni but said health workers were still monitoring 46 people who came in contact with her. Officials must wait 42 days after the last case before declaring the end of the outbreak. All aspects of the Ebola response will remain in place until then so any new cases can receive treatment quickly. Since the outbreak began in August 2018, health officials have recorded 2,264 deaths. —O.O.
German authorities last week raided the homes of 12 people they suspect of forming a far-right group to target immigrants and foreigners.
The suspects, who ranged in age from 19 to 57, allegedly founded a group called Aryan Circle Germany in July in the northern town of Bad Segeberg. Germany has seen a spike in far-right attacks in the past year. Last month, authorities detained 12 suspects planning to target mosques in 10 states. Days later, a 43-year-old suspect killed nine people in a mass shooting in the Frankfurt suburb of Hanau. —O.O.
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