Europe As Eldorado, The Risks Of Enticing Migrants

Some 1500 refugees land in Naples in a Doctors Without Borders rescue ship
Some 1500 refugees land in Naples in a Doctors Without Borders rescue ship

PARIS — When the migrant crisis started spinning out of control in the summer of 2015, a deep fracture appeared inside the European Union, between countries willing to open their doors and countries ready to erect walls to block the flow of incoming migrants. The tension culminated in late September of that year, when the EU broke with its longstanding tradition of consensus to force through a mandatory relocation plan for 120,000 migrants, despite opposition from four countries.

Despite its staggering low numbers (more than 1 million migrants arrived in Germany alone that year), the plan can hardly be described as successful, with only 21,000 people effectively relocated. Even among the countries that approved the plan, Reuters writes that "many ... have also dragged their feet." But rather than demanding that these countries keep their word, the European Commission decided instead to take the others to court. The decision Tuesday to open a legal case against three of the four rebel nations — Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic (Slovakia was let off the hook) — was immediately rejected by all three countries.

Nearly two years after the crisis jarred the continent, EU authorities appear driven more by ideology and the will to sanction populist governments than a search for pragmatic and forward-looking politics.

The reality is that the still ongoing migrant crisis has largely changed in nature. In 2015, most people were entering the EU in Greece via Turkey, having fled war-torn countries like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, the vast majority of migrants come from poor sub-Saharan African countries and cross the Mediterranean from militia-controlled Libya to Italy. And they're currently entering the peninsula in record numbers.

Asylum seekers fleeing war generally hope to return to their countries when the situation there allows it. But economic migration is a different matter altogether.

An African "bomb," writes Le Figaro " risks exploding at any moment with its lot of human misery and political repercussions." In 2050, it writes, Africa will have doubled its population to reach 2.5 billion inhabitants, and "there's little chance that economic growth will catch up with its demographics."

In an alarming editorial, the Paris-based newspaper urges Europe "not to present to the neighboring continent the enticement of an eldorado without limits nor borders." With unemployment, poverty, and indeed immigration already an issue in many EU countries, fueling the rise of far-right parties across the continent, nobody can seriously claim that Europe has the means to welcome millions more, no matter how destitute they might be.

A similar case was made by German journalist Klaus Geiger this week in Die Welt: "The hope for a better life in Europe is understandable. But it should not be nourished," he says, noting that "approximately 6.6 million migrants ... stand at Europe's gates hoping to enter."

A moral case can also be made in favor of a more restrictive migration policy, and Geiger makes it well. Not only do "open borders endanger human lives," as "refugees board rickety dinghies and drown by the thousands in the Mediterranean because they are attracted by the opportunities in Europe." But it also forces the migrants to uproot themselves, to leave their families and everything they cherish behind while often depriving their countries of the development opportunities they represent.

A policy that is both more effective, and more ethical, would deal with the causes of this new migration problem and not merely the consequences.The plan unveiled on Monday by German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the G20 Africa Summit in Berlin, which paves the way for economic reform and private sector investment to bring business and jobs to Africa, seems to be one step in the right direction. It is telling that Merkel was the face two years ago of the open-arms, humanitarian approach to the refugee crisis. Some may say she's playing politics ahead of national elections next fall. She may also simply have realized that the most humanitarian solution also includes some strict limits.

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Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.

"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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