The World Today for March 24, 2017


Closing the Door

A year and a half after Europe’s refugee crisis began, the question of what to do with the staggering amount of people still camped out on the continent remains, even as more continue to attempt the journey –aid workers fear as many as 200 migrants may have drowned off the coast of Libya Thursday.

In contrast to the open-door policies declared at the onset of the crisis, many European governments are seeking to reverse resettlement efforts for the more than 1 million people who crossed the Mediterranean or hiked through the Balkans to reach Europe.

The EU voted in 2015 to distribute refugees arriving in Italy and Greece among all member states. But only 8 percent of the proposed 160,000 have been resettled since then. The deal reached by the EU and Turkey last year to send new arrivals to Turkey is in jeopardy, but holding.

That’s left tens of thousands stranded in overcrowded and squalid refugee camps in Greece, where refugees have accepted the permanence of a limbo they had initially thought would be temporary, the New York Times reported.

Perhaps the greatest resistance to resettlement comes from Eastern and Central European countries.

More than 400,000 migrants passed through Hungary in 2015, prompting the culturally homogenous nation to erect a border fence with neighboring Serbia. Reports of human rights violations perpetrated by Hungarian police were rife.

After granting 425 asylum requests last year, Hungary recently adopted new rules allowing police to detain asylum seekers in shipping containers at the border, a move which Amnesty International has called a “flagrant violation of international law.”

The track record of Western European countries isn’t much better.

In Calais, France, the closing of the refugee camp known as “the Jungle” has left refugees in a more desperate situation than when they arrived, the Guardian opined.

The city’s conservative mayor recently signed an order banning gatherings around the site of the former camp, a popular food distribution point.

In the UK, lawmakers held a narrow vote decreeing a cap of 350 on the number of refugee children to resettle. That’s only 10 percent of what refugee groups had been hoping for and a sliver of the 8,000 unaccompanied minors granted refuge in the UK last year.

Germany, a nation which has taken in more than a million asylum seekers since 2015, is also closing its doors. The country denied roughly half of the 700,000 asylum applications it received last year. Deportations this year are expected to increase, Reuters reported.

Migration is becoming a big issue in the run-up to elections in France and Germany later this year.

At the same time, migrant crossings from North Africa and elsewhere show signs of increasing.

Those two developments are on track to bump up against each other starting this spring with unknown consequences. But one thing is certain: Refugees living in tents in Greece, Serbia and elsewhere won’t get out of limbo anytime soon.


‘State Terrorism’

A prominent Russian critic of President Vladimir Putin who’d fled to Ukraine last year was gunned down in broad daylight in downtown Kiev at the same time as a fire broke out and munitions exploded at a Ukrainian Army ammunition depot in the eastern part of the country.

Ukraine’s President Petro O. Poroshenko said it was “no accident” that former Russian lawmaker Denis N. Voronenkov was killed at the same time as the ammunition depot explosion, the New York Times reported. He blamed the Russian government for “an act of state terrorism.”

A former member of the Russian parliament, Voronenkov moved to Ukraine last year, claiming that he and his wife were fleeing political persecution. However, the Russian authorities accused them of corruption and said they had left to avoid prosecution.

Voronenkov had promised to testify for the prosecution in a criminal case against Ukraine’s former Russia-aligned president, Viktor F. Yanukovych, and to provide information about the machinations behind Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

A spokesman for Putin called allegations of Russian involvement in the killing “absurd.”

Putting the Squeeze On

The US and 13 other members of the Organization of American States warned Venezuela to follow through with elections and release alleged political prisoners or it may see its membership in the regional bloc suspended.

“We reiterate that inclusive and effective dialogue is the right path to achieve lasting solutions to the challenges faced by the Venezuelan people,” the United States, Mexico, Canada, Brazil and other important regional players said in a statement that presented suspending Venezuela’s membership as a last resort, Reuters reported.

Its economic crisis and resulting shortages of food and medicine have garnered more press coverage. But Venezuela has also jailed around 100 government opponents that activists and human rights groups say are political prisoners, blocked a drive for a referendum to recall President Nicolas Maduro and delayed elections for state governorships that were supposed to be held in December.

Separately, Colombia announced that Maduro had agreed to withdraw troops from Colombia’s side of the two countries’ border, which is an area of tension due to smuggling.

Antwerp Attack Thwarted

Belgian authorities thwarted an attacker who tried to drive over pedestrians on a crowded street in Antwerp, even as an investigation continues into the identity and motivations of the perpetrator of a similar attack in London a day earlier – for which the Islamic State claimed responsibility.

Withholding his full name according to standard procedure, Belgian prosecutors identified the suspect as Mohamed R. – a 39-year-old French resident of North African ancestry. They said a rifle and several knives were found in the vehicle he used in the Antwerp attack, CNN reported.

The suspect allegedly sped through a shopping area, forcing pedestrians to dive out of the way, and raced through a red light to avoid pursuit. But the police stopped him before anyone was injured.

Separately, UK authorities identified the man who drove over pedestrians and killed a policeman with a knife in London Wednesday as a 52-year-old British citizen named Khalid Masood. Though he had a criminal record, he was not on Britain’s terror watch list.


Planetary Injustice

Pluto’s demotion from planet to “dwarf planet” a decade ago was a joke to some.

But to others in the scientific community, the loss of our solar system’s ninth planet is an injustice that must be righted.

Now, a team of six scientists from institutions across the United States have launched a campaign to restore Pluto to planethood by broadening the astronomical classifications of what makes a planet.

They argue that geological properties – like shape and surface feature – should play a part in determining whether or not a celestial body is a planet, as these characteristics are a primary interest of planetary scientists.

That definition would do more than restore Pluto to its former glory.

It would also make 110 other bodies in the solar system, including Earth’s moon, a full planet along with Pluto, wrote Reuters.

Opening up a debate could benefit other parties as well, scientists said.

“There’s a teachable moment here for the public in terms of scientific literacy and in terms of how scientists do science,” one researcher told Reuters. “And that is not by saying, ‘Let’s agree on one thing.’ That’s not science at all.”

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