Hungary

Cracks In Schengen As Europe Builds Walls Against Migrants

From Hungary to Switzerland, fortifications are rising in the heart of Europe, where the once-heralded borderless zone is being diminished by the day.

Cracks In Schengen As Europe Builds Walls Against Migrants
Marie Maurisse, Maryline Baumard, Joëlle Stolz, Alain Salles

GENEVA — The Hungarian government announced plans earlier this month to build a 175-kilometer-long, four-meter-tall barrier along its border with Serbia. Ostensibly for protection, the project is yet another barricade built at the edges of the European Union, where the foundations of the borderless Schengen Area are weakening by the day.

Faced with the growing difficulty of leaving Greece by sea or air, migrants are choosing the long land route through the Balkan peninsula to reach the Schengen Area. As we near its 30th anniversary, tensions between member states are intensifying. In France, Austria and Switzerland, the specter of closing borders to keep out migrants is rearing its ugly head.

A quarter-century after the fall of the Iron Curtain, Hungary wants to rebuild a physical frontier with Serbia, this time to block access to the EU for thousands of northward-bound asylum seekers. Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto declared that his government would launch technical and diplomatic preparations for the erection of a fence spanning the Serb-Hungarian border between the Hungarian cities of Mohacs and Szeged. (Late Monday, Hungary's parliament approved the plans for the giant barrier.)

The border is one of the last open land routes left in the peninsula, where refugees fleeing the Middle East wars and southern Europe's failing economies make their way through Greece, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Kosovo and Serbia to reach the holy grail of Schengen. EU border surveillance agency Frontex reported 43,360 illegal border crossings in the Balkans in 2014, up from 6,400 in 2012. An alarming 50,000 have been recorded since January of this year, half from Kosovo alone.

With a population of just under 10 million, Hungary is finding itself on another frontline of the EU's burgeoning humanitarian crisis. The number of asylum seekers in Hungary grew to over 50,000 last year, a figure already surpassed in the first half of 2015.

"The EU is still looking for a solution, but Hungary can't keep waiting anymore," says Szijjarto. He notes that Budapest isn't violating any international agreements and that there is ample precedent for similar barriers to guard against illegal immigration.

"I'm shocked and surprised," Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic says of the Hungarian plan. He resents Budapest's decision not to consult Belgrade before opting to build the fence. "We count on discussing these issues with our partners in the EU," Vukic says. Hungary was among the countries most hostile to the European Commission's proposal to distribute 40,000 refugees currently in Greece and Italy among the bloc's 28 members.

Walls are futile

Seeking to counter the rising popularity of the extreme-right Jobbik party, the government of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban recently released a controversial survey to its citizens that associated immigration with terrorism. Budapest also used public funds to embark on an extensive poster campaign to promote the survey, a move that attracted criticism from the European parliament. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) responded with its own campaign highlighting Hungary's ability to absorb asylum seekers and the economic benefits of their integration.

"Walls have never been useful, and they're easy to get around," says Yves Pascouau of the Jacques Delors Institute. In Greece, the flood of migrants that used to cross the Evros river along the Turkish border has stopped since Athens constructed a barricade. But the refugees set their sights elsewhere and the influx resumed, this time on the Greek isles closest to the Turkish coast, where they continue their arduous journey through the Balkans.

Further to the west, Italy has been enduring a considerable inflow of refugees for the past two years. Rome is increasingly on a collision course with its neighbors in France, Austria and Switzerland, who are growing increasingly tempted to close their borders with Italy to incoming migrants. Hundreds of refugees are stranded at the Franco-Italian border near Ventimiglia, putting strain on the countries' relations.

"What's happening in Ventimiglia evokes the events of 2011, when the diplomatic spat between France and Italy led to a modification of the Schengen agreement that allowed for the provisional re-establishment of border controls," Pascouau explains. "This has to relate to specific criteria, such as the disruption of public order, and I'm not sure that this condition has been satisfied this time around. But I also don't think the European Commission will request the European Court of Justice to rule if France's actions violated EU rules."

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve notes that France didn't close the border. "People are still crossing it," he says. "Actually, we are sending people back to Italy, which is legal under European law." He cites the Dublin Regulation, which requires asylum seekers to remain in the first European country in which they arrive, a heavy burden primarily shouldered by Italy and Greece.

Austria announced on June 13 that it would suspend all asylum requests and begin placing border controls along its frontier with Italy. Switzerland, which isn't an EU member but is part of the Schengen Area, is similarly alarmed by the migrant crisis. Three days after the Austrian announcement, the Swiss declared that the number of refugees crossing into the alpine nation from Italy was "exceptionally high." Over the course of just two days, 350 people entered the country from the Chiasso crossing, causing a bottleneck at the border.

Switzerland isn't equipped for the growing tide of "claimants," as Bern calls them. In 2014, 23,765 people submitted asylum requests in a country with fewer than 2,000 places in its official refugee centers. Almost half of the requests came from people in the Italian-speaking part of the country, in the canton of Ticino. The government planned to build 5,000 extra rooms for refugees but ran into fierce opposition from the cantons.

Enough is enough

To deal with the influx, Swiss authorities have imposed a hierarchical system to prioritize certain asylum requests over others. Consideration of requests from Eritrean refugees, who comprise the vast majority of new arrivals, has been suspended. Due to the urgency of the situation, the state secretary for migration increased the number of beds available in "public shelters," or bunkers. Generally located underground, the bunkers have been around since a 1963 law mandated their construction for every new building to protect people in case of an emergency. The decision to house the migrants in the shelters sparked demonstrations by the left, with protesters brandishing the slogan "no bunkers, no deportation."

According to the Swiss People's Party, the country's largest, "enough is enough." The populist outfit is demanding the suspension of the asylum law for at least a year. With parliament currently debating a bill that would expedite the application process for refugees, it remains to be seen which direction Switzerland, and Europe, will take.

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January 22-23

  • Navalny saga & Putin’s intentions
  • COVID’s toll on teenage girls
  • A 50-year-old book fee finally gets paid
  • … and much more!

🎲 BUT FIRST, A NEWS QUIZ!

What do you remember from the news this week?

1. Which two words did U.S. President Joe Biden use about possible scenarios in the Russia-Ukraine standoff that upset authorities in Kyiv?

2. What started to mysteriously appear on signs, statues and monuments across Adelaide, Australia?

3. What cult movie did U.S. rocker Meat Loaf, who died Friday at age 74, star in?

4. What news story have we summed up here in emoji form? 🇬🇧 👱 💬 💼 ❌ 🥳 🦠

[Answers at the bottom of this newsletter]

⬇️  STARTER

Toxic geopolitics: More than ever, we need more women world leaders

The world is watching the Russian-Ukrainian border. Russian President Vladimir Putin threatening an invasion finds an ally in Iran’s Ebrahim Raisi, united against their common enemy: the United States. Back in Washington, U.S. President Joe Biden — marking his first year in power with painfully low approval rates (higher only than Donald Trump’s) — sends his Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, to Kyiv to reassure President Volodymyr Zelensky who worries that France’s Emmanuel Macron might undermine Ukraine. And we haven’t even mentioned Xi Jinping!

It’s an endless theater of world leaders beating their respective chests — and they have exactly one thing in common: they’re all men. It’s by now a decades-old question, but worth asking again: What would happen if women, and not men, were running the world? Would there be less conflict, more prosperity? More humanity?

In 2018, the World Economic Forum released a study that showed that “only 4% of signatories to peace agreements between 1992 and 2011 were women, and only 9% of the negotiators.” The report shows that in several conflict zones in the world in recent decades, citing Liberia, Northern Ireland and Colombia, women have been instrumental in achieving peace.

In Colombia, where 20% of peace negotiators for the 2016 peace treaty were women, Ingrid Betancourt, herself a victim of the 50-year conflict, has announced her candidacy for the May presidential elections. Differently from previous bids, where she focused on fighting environmental abuses and corruption, Betancourt now is putting gender issues at the center of her political agenda. Bogota daily El Espectador questions whether the former hostage will be able to ride this important political wave, with feminist movements flexing their muscle around the region demanding more rights.

In Italy, next week’s elections for the head of state are monopolized by infamously misogynous former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is hoping to be elected for the seven-year, honorary function. There is no official candidacy, but Berlusconi’s name and that of current Prime Minister Mario Draghi are the two getting the most attention. Italian feminist writer and intellectual Dacia Maraini writes in La Stampa that, yes, the very fact of electing a female president will be progress for the country — and by the way, there are plenty of women qualifed for the job.

There was also a woman politician making the news this week for actually getting elected: Maltese conservative politician Roberta Metsola, became the new European Parliament President after the death of Italy’s David Sassoli. And yet the election of the first female president of the EU’s legislature since Nicole Fontaine in 2001 has been widely criticized by female politicians — primarily for Metsola’s stance against abortion rights. "I think it is a terrible sign for women's rights everywhere in Europe," French left-wing member of the European Parliament Manon Aubry told Deutsche Welle.

The women who have risen to power in history (Margaret Thatcher, anyone?) don’t necessarily make the case that gender is the silver bullet to fix politics. Still, after watching all the toxic masculinity on the world stage this past week, we can rightfully demand fewer men.

Irene Caselli

🎭  5 CULTURE THINGS TO KNOW

• Record-breaking online concert of Mahler’s “Symphony of a Thousand”: More than 100 musicians from around the world will take part today in a performance of Mahler’s epic 8th symphony consisting of 1,200 elements, including a double chorus, children’s choir, a full orchestra and an organ. The event is a culmination of a year of work; all artists recorded their parts in isolation besides the children’s choir. Tickets can be purchased here.

Yearly Japanese festival will set a mountain on fire: Today, the grassy hillside of Mount Wakakusayama in Japan will go up in flames as fireworks go off in the background as part of celebrations for Wakakusa Yamayak. The origin of the festival isn’t totally clear, but might relate to border conflicts between the great temples in the region or to ward off wild boars.

• New insights into antiquities taken by the Nazis: Scholars are looking into how German forces during World War II looted artifacts such as on the Greek island of Crete. Nazi officials pillaged these valuables for their own personal gain, but many were also destroyed, which is why researchers around the world are hoping to gain greater insight into this often overlooked aspect of German occupation.

Exhibition of Beirut’s restored artwork: The Beirut Museum of Art has inaugurated the exhibition “Lift” featuring 17 paintings by Lebanese artists that had been damaged by the port explosion in 2020, and have since been restored as a result of a UNESCO initiative.

The world’s first vegan violin tunes up: Berries, pears and spring water are just some of the natural ingredients relied on for the construction of the instrument by English violin-maker Padraig O'Dubhlaoidh. Traditionally, animal parts like horsehair, hooves, horns and bones are used, especially to glue pieces together. The £8,000 instrument is sure to be music to some animal lover’s ears.

🇷🇺  NAVALNY SAGA & PUTIN’S INTENTIONS


One year ago anti-corruption lawyer and politician Alexei Navalny was detained in Russia, marking the effective end of domestic opposition to Russian president Vladimir Putin. In the time since, more than half of the former coordinators of Navalny's headquarters fled Russia. Even Navalny's name is forbidden: Putin never says his name, calling him "this citizen."

At the same time, Navalny’s imprisonment and the de facto end of the opposition have changed Russia. The fear of persecution, the lack of alternatives and the total censorship and propaganda have caused Putin's ratings consistently downward.

An aging leader with no successors, no enemies and dwindling popular support is finding it increasingly difficult to explain why he must continue to rule forever. In such a situation, there’s nothing quite like an external threat to fuel the raison d’être of the authoritarian regime. In Putin’s eyes, the perfect threat right now is NATO expansion, and the perfect enemy is its neighbor Ukraine and its attempts to join the military alliance. Whether Russia's president is ready to engage in a real war is the great unknown, but its aggressive and uncompromising foreign policy — like his disposing of Alexei Navalny — is the latest legitimization of his increasingly absolutist rule now into its third decade.

Read the full story: What The Alexei Navalny Saga Tells Us About Putin’s Intentions On Ukraine

🇨🇴  FROM HOSTAGE TO POTENTIAL HEAD OF STATE


Íngrid Betancourt spent more than six years as a prisoner of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) terror group in Colombia, an experience that is sure to play a role in her recently announced presidential campaign. Betancourt, who is 60, is running as part of the Verde Oxígeno and is the only woman in the Centro Esperanza Coalition (CCE), a centrist alliance.

Betancourt could be a boost for the coalition and embody its goals of transforming, overcoming polarization and, as its name indicates, giving hope to Colombia. In particular, the centrist candidate who in the past has been largely focused on anti-corruption and environmental protection, has said she will make women’s rights a cornerstone of her campaign.

Read the full story: Ingrid Betancourt, A Hostage Heroine Reinvented As Feminist For President

♀️ 😔  YOUNG WOMEN FACE THE BRUNT OF THE COVID-19 MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS


A growing number of studies around the world show that COVID-19 and lockdown restrictions have prompted a disproportionate increase in mental health illness among teen girls. These include rising suicide rates among adolescent females in the United States, Germany and Spain and a higher prevalence of anxiety and eating disorders in Israel. But why are women being disproportionately impacted?

There’s a range of reasons. In India, for example, young women had increased difficulty accessing education resources when schools went online and shared a disproportionate burden of household tasks as opposed to their male peers. Around the world, social media also played a significant role; without access to in-person socialization and hobbies, young people spent more time online, often comparing themselves to others, impacting feelings of self-worth. The situation is particularly dire given the challenges of accessing mental health support resources during the pandemic.

Read the full story: Why The COVID-19 Mental Health Crisis Is Hitting Teenage Girls The Hardest

💡  BRIGHT IDEA


Norwegian mobility company Podbike has announced that Frikar, its four-wheeled enclosed electric bike, will soon hit bike lanes on home turf. The futuristic-looking vehicle does require the user to pedal, which powers a generator and drive-by-wire system that keep the Frikar running — with a speed limited to 25 km/h.

#️⃣ TRENDING

“Mãe De Bolsonaro” is the top query on Twitter in Brazil, after news that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s mother Olinda Bonturi Bolsonaro had died at age 94.

😄📚 SMILE OF THE WEEK

Photo of the new President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola

New President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola

Philipp Von Ditfurth/ZUMA


London’s legendary bookshop Waterstones Gower Street tweeted a photo of a letter from an anonymous user confessing to having forgotten to pay for their books some 48 years ago. Owing approximately £100 ($136), adjusted for inflation, they had sent through £120 ($163) to make up for their tardiness. Touched by the kind gesture, the bookshop reciprocated by donating the money to the largest children’s reading charity in the United Kingdom.

👉   OTHERWISE ...

Dottoré! is a weekly column on Worldcrunch.com by Mariateresa Fichele, a psychiatrist and writer based in Naples, Italy. Read more about the series here.

Bucket of tears

I’ve been thinking and thinking about a patient of mine since yesterday. His name is Giovanni.

Psychiatrists, you might not know, are quite often asked the same unanswerable question: "Why does one become insane?”

When I was younger, I searched and searched for an answer, losing myself in scientific explanations about synapses, neurons and neurotransmitters.

By the end of my studies, I’d realized that the only thing that was clear was that I’d been clutching at straws to justify my work and give it a semblance of scientific dignity. In the years since, I’ve forced myself, in defiance of the authority of my position, to reply with a laconic but honest: "Sorry, but I don't know."

So when Giovanni asked me that same question, he was not happy at all with my answer. “Dottoré, how’s it possible that you don't understand why I became crazy?”

When he tried to ask me again one day, I tried a different response:

"Giová, do you cry?"

"No. Why?"

"Imagine that the tears that you don't shed, that you force yourself not to shed, because that's what you've been taught to do, all end up inside your heart. The heart is an organ that pumps blood, which brings nourishment and oxygen to the whole body. But over time those diverted tears accumulate to the point that the heart begins to pump them instead of your blood. Slowly your body becomes sick, but the part that suffers the most is your brain. Because tears don't contain oxygen and nourishment, just sadness."

I expected a reaction to this fanciful explanation, but instead Giovanni kept quiet and eventually left.

The next time I saw him, he said: "Dottoré, I've thought about it. I know you told me about the tears to make me feel better, but maybe you’re right. Because sometimes I feel that I have a lake, more than a heart. But it takes a very powerful pump to pump out all that water, and my heart alone cannot do it. And now that you've explained to me how I became crazy, can you also tell me if I'll ever get better?"

"Do you want another story or do you want the truth?”

"This time, I’d rather have the truth!”

"The answer is always the same then. I'm sorry, Giová, but I don't know this either. But I can tell you one thing for sure. I'll help you slowly, slowly with just a bucket. Because the truth is, not even I have that pump."

⏩  LOOKING AHEAD

• Italy's parliament will convene Monday to begin the process of voting for a new president to succeed Sergio Mattarella for a seven-year term.

• Qualification games for the 2022 FIFA World Cup will be held from Jan. 27 to Feb. 2 for South, North and Central America as well as Asia. Argentina’s national team will not be able to rely on superstar Lionel Messi, still recovering from COVID-19.

• Next Thursday will mark 100 years since Nellie Bly died. The American journalist is known for her record-breaking 72-day trip around the world in 1889, inspired by Jules Vernes’ book Around the World in Eighty Days


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