Brexit: What’s in Store for Next PM Theresa May?

(The Home Secretary and soon-to-be Prime Minister Theresa May)

It’s official.

Theresa May will be the next British prime minister. Following the departure of Andrea Leadsom from the Tory leadership race, May is poised to take over the reins from Cameron, who announced his intention to step down following the disastrous Brexit referendum vote that has plunged Europe and world markets into turmoil.

May’s task to extricate Great Britain from the European Union is no small matter. A first for the multi-national body since its foundation in 1958, one of its members will withdraw using Article 50, the legislative tool that British authorities will need to formally trigger in order to follow through with Brexit.

Those wises, however may have changed a bit over the past few weeks. As we discussed on The Tap, many British voters began regretting their decision to vote ‘no’ almost immediately after polling for the referendum ended. Talks of independence and unification are buzzing in Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively, both of which voted to stay within the EU.

Enter Theresa May, the UK’s home secretary and soon-to-be prime minister. This Wednesday, Cameron will formally end his tenure, beginning the next chapter of the Brexit saga as May navigates the way forward as Prime Minister.

Since her entry into the British political scene as a parliamentarian in 1997, May has operated as a social liberal within her party, supporting equal pay for women and backing gay marriage. She strikes a much harsher line on immigration, for which she initiated draconian rules during her tenure as home secretary that have hurt the British economy and unduly burdened LGBTQ refugees.

May supported the ‘remain’ camp during the referendum, though in an halfhearted fashion. British political insiders consider this a deliberate strategy to position herself as a palatable leader for both the pro- and anti-Brexit camps within the party.

And make no mistake about it, she has every intention of following through with British voters’ shocking decision to leave the EU.

“Brexit means Brexit,” May has repeatedly said. In an interview with the BBC, she remarked that “as prime minister, I will make sure we will leave the European Union,” stating further that there will be “no attempts to remain inside the EU.”

She also maintains that Britain does not need to trigger Article 50 immediately. Pro-Brexit leaders are interested in delaying the process in order to negotiate the best deal possible to keep access to the EU market.

For its part, the EU has no interest in making things easy for Britain as it does not wish to send the message to other nations within the bloc – including struggling members such as Greece – that leaving is good idea with minimal consequences.

This could amount to a politically impossible position for May. As the drama over Brexit continues, we’ll see what path she takes from the current place of ambiguity and uncertainly she currently occupies.

Syrian Refugees: Europe Struggles to Cope

(A Hungarian police officer stands in front of Syrian refugees made to disembark a train en route to Germany)

Tensions are mounting in Europe, where tens of thousands of Syrian refugees have sought stability and security after fleeing their home country, which is embroiled in an ongoing civil war fought amongst a dizzying array of factions.

On Monday, French authorities cleared a highly publicized refugee camp in Calais – a town situated on the English Channel in the north of France.

The camp in Calais – pejoratively known as “the jungle” and housing an estimated 4,000 migrants from across the Middle East and Africa – was torn down following a court order that denied an appeal filed by nonprofit organizations that sought to stay the order. While many of the residences inside the camp were destroyed, the order prevented the demolition of religious centers, schools, and medical facilities set up in the area.

One photo taken of the eviction shows a camp resident holding a sign that reads “we are not terrorists so don’t destroy our homes” as he flees a water canon deployed by French authorities against migrants protesting the camp’s demolition.

The government’s decision to destroy the camp essentially kicks the can down the road, as European governments continue to drag their feet on a united and comprehensive plan to deal with the refugee influx.

Many migrants – especially young refugees – have already moved to a camp located in Dunkirk, which nonprofits say has even worse conditions and poses a serious sanitation emergency with about one toilet for every 100 refugees. Mathieu Balthazard – an aid worker with Médecins Sans Frontières, one of the non-governmental organizations working to help refugees – remarked on the makeshift community in Dunkirk:

It is truly exceptional to see a camp like this. I have seen a camp in Ethiopia which had mud like this, but here it is worse: there is less organization. It is becoming more and more shocking every day.

While many refugees have been accepted by EU member countries, there are a number of signs that individual governments are at the breaking point. Sweden – famed for its strong humanitarian position and open border policy for refugees – has enacted identity checks on trains and border crossings and has announced plans to stop accepting new refugees. Austria has introduced border controls. Italy and Greece – cash-strapped EU member states that have borne the brunt of the crisis – received more than 110,000 refugees in the first two months of 2016 alone.

Outside of logistical issues posed by what some analysts are calling the greatest displacement of people since WWII, the influx of Syrian refugees has stoked racial tension, with far-right nationalist politics on the ascent across Europe. In Germany, there have been more than 200 arson attacks on refugee centers, raising eyebrows in a country that – in acknowledgement of its role in the Holocaust – has long boasted a strong track record on tolerance and the respect of human rights.

While governments struggle to muster a unified response to the crisis, there are many organizations and individuals stepping up to ensure that migrants stuck in this tortuous limbo receive bare necessities including food, shelter, clothing, and medical care. Charity Navigator has a list of vetted, highly credible organizations working to ease the plight of Syrian migrants. A number of US organizations are stepping up as well, accepting donations to help provide basic needs assistance and educational opportunities for children caught up in the crisis.

Migrant Crisis Calls for Bold Philanthropic Action

Europe was rocked by tragedy on August 28, when Austrian authorities found 71 dead refugees inside the back of a truck that had passed from Hungry into Austria. The truck was abandoned two days earlier, but the degree of decomposition of the bodies indicates that the migrants may have suffocated and died even before August 26. Authorities believe the victims to be Syrian refugees.

This tragic event was just one of many over the last month that has illuminated how pressing and massive the global refugee crisis is, as well as the problems facing EU member nations. Increasingly complex trafficking schemes are emerging to meet the demand of refugees, who are entering southern Europe at an unprecedented rate. Indeed, analysts are calling the crisis the single largest movement of people through Europe since World War II.

As Key Elements Group LLC has previously covered, the migrant crisis in Europe poses profound questions. The traditionally open-border mentality of many European nations is dissolving under economic strain and populist backlash – evident with the emergence of nativist, anti-immigrant and (in several nations) fascist political parties. What course that is both humane and politically feasible is possible? What role does philanthropy play in alleviating the suffering of migrants and helping host nations cope?

Over 72 hours at the end of August, cash-strapped Greece rescued over 2,500 migrants making the risky Mediterranean crossing between Turkey and the Greek archipelagos. Since June 1, approximately 142,000 migrants have entered Greece by sea, a number that amounts to nearly 13 percent of the Greek population. While migrants enter through several different points along Europe’s southern boarder – including Italy and Spain – Greece bears the brunt of the influx, a situation exacerbated by its fraught financial and political crises.

After entering Greece, many migrants pass into Macedonia, move through the Balkans and try to make it into wealthier European countries. The stress, difficulty, and complex social circumstances revolving around this system emerged on August 21 when Macedonian riot police fired stun grenades near a border crossing, causing a brief period of chaos and fear.

In the absence of meaningful public funding to address the crisis, philanthropic Greek citizens are stepping forward and offering what support they can – even while  tensions rise and some Greeks are losing patience. On the island of Lesbos, islanders have formed a nonprofit relief organization called Angalia – or “Hug” – that provides basic needs support to migrants rescued off the island’s shore. Yet balancing their own responsibilities (as well as the turmoil of their country’s political and economic systems), volunteers can only do so much, as one Lesbos resident and organizer for Angalia recently told the Wall Street Journal.

Fleeing the convoluted and violent civil war in their own country, many Syrians are effectively stateless, and require an immense and fully international assistance in order to regain a semblance or order and stability in their lives. As the Economist recently suggested, greater EU investment in refugee processing centers in Greece is a logical first step. Authorities will also probably have to expand current plans to resettle around 22,000 migrants. In order to break through the bureaucratic morass that prevents swift action on these sensitive and contentious issues, authorities should also invest in nonprofit initiatives that strive to assist and acclimate refugees entering Europe. This situation calls for a holistic, multi-lateral approach that integrates philanthropic relief across the entire geographic migrant route from Syria to Germany.

Nonprofit and NGO relief organizations are incapable of preventing the rising tension between refugee communities and Middle Eastern host countries such Jordan and Turkey. With increasingly hostile natives and crowded conditions, experts expect the situation in Europe to get even worse as people begin traveling north in the hope of better living conditions. Without bold action now, it may be difficult for future solutions to include the humanity and comprehensive assistance that the refugees deserve.

Migrants in Greece Face Inhumane Detention, Organized Hate

[This is part 2 in a 2 part series on migrants in Europe]

In our previous installment on Europe’s migrant crisis, we explored the April 9 disaster that claimed hundreds of lives. A boat carrying an estimated 900 people capsized, drowning hundreds. The catastrophe occurred following the discontinuation of Italy’s operation Mare Nostrum, which balanced border enforcement with humanitarian aid, and was responsible for saving thousands of migrant lives. A new European Union-led operation – fronted by the union’s border control agency Frontex – has since taken over, with a significantly smaller budget, fewer personnel and boats, and a singular focus of enforcing border security over humanitarian aid.

EU foreign and interior ministers met in an emergency session following the April 9 incident – termed a “massacre” by the UNHCR – to hash out new guidelines for the union’s policy in the Mediterranean. Critics have called several of the measures – including plans to sink smugglers’ boats – a militarization of policy, ill-suited for dealing with the growing number of desperate refugees planning to enter Europe. The plan additionally calls for an increased budget, as well as a resettlement plan that would offer asylum to some refugees across the EU’s 28 member nations.

Yet another European nation that has been in the news – albeit for different reasons – is coping with a spike of migrants: Greece. 

While Italy and Spain – two other top destinations for migrants trying to enter Europe – are struggling economically, Greece is in particularly dire straits. The nation’s sovereign debt crisis is an ongoing source of consternation for EU and IMF officials. The media is rife with talks of default and of a potential “Grexit” from the European Union – which would imperil the very premise of the union’s mission and identity.

With Greece’s cash-strapped government and its population disaffected with bailout-mandated austerity and ridicule from the international media, the nation’s economic and social environment is not equipped to adequately and humanely deal with the influx of migrants.

Mainstream politicians across the European continent have kept a weary eye on populist, anti-immigrant groups popping up throughout the union. Among the most virulent and hateful of these groups is Greece’s Golden Dawn – a neo-nazi group with its own paramilitary that has been implicated in a number of assaults and murders. Benefitting from the economic downturn and the heterogenization of European society, Golden Dawn and other extreme right-wing parties are providing a frightening, hateful, and ultimately very dangerous outlet for people who feel helpless.

While its leadership has since been charged with operating a criminal organization (the trial was recently postponed) and its electoral popularity has shrunk, the relative success of Golden Dawn in attracting a base of support nonetheless reflects the disastrous consequences of underfunded, non-holistic, and piecemeal approaches to the continent’s inter-related migrant and domestic social crises.

Detained migrants live in squalid, dehumanizing environments that fuel the demeaning and racist perceptions propagated by groups like Golden Dawn. From exacerbated health to diminished life prospects and social standing, migrants’ living conditions – generated through government neglect, inhumane policy, and underfunding -  ultimately make the process of otherization easier for hate groups.

As Doctors without Borders/Medicines Sans Frontieres (MSF) has noted, many migrants face indefinite detention with little to no medical care, often kept in unsanitary and confined environments. The organization has provided care for some migrants who have been detained for over six years, evidence of a policy that permits Greek authorities to let migrants languish until they volunteer to head back to their nation of origin. Many of these migrants, of course, are refugees, and simply do not have the option to self-deport. Invisible Suffering – an MSF report six years in the making – details a number of disorders plaguing detainees, including upper respiratory tract infections, gastrointestinal diseases, anxiety, depression, and psychosomatic disorders.

Solving the migrant crisis while improving migrants’ living condition will not be easy, especially in a county whose citizens are reeling from economic insecurity and many of whom are dependent on charitable social services such as soup kitchens (indeed, one of the ways that Golden Dawn appealed for support was by offering food and other forms of social assistance to struggling Greeks). Nonetheless, it is often necessary to step back and see the interconnectedness of seemingly disparate social issues. By exploring the ways in which the plight of migrants, struggling Greeks, and hateful political ideologies are part of the same puzzle, NGOs, government officials, and aid works can begin to construct new and nuanced strategies for ameliorating these issues.

Disaster in the Mediterranean: A Growing Refugee Crisis

[This is part 1 in a 2 part series on migrants in Europe]

Tragedy struck on Sunday, April 9 in the Mediterranean, in an event that may prove to be the worst refugee disaster in decades.

A ship carrying up to 900 refugees capsized after passengers swarmed to one side of the ramshackle boat to get the attention of a Portuguese merchant vessel. The traffickers allegedly kept many of the refugees locked in the lower decks, meaning that many of the victims’ bodies remain at the bottom of the Mediterranean. Italian authorities have arrested two individuals – survivors from the disaster – on charges of human trafficking. The sinking coincided with a similiar yet unrelated incident off the coast of Greece, where a makeshift raft carrying refugees crashed ashore, killing several passengers.

Human rights and government officials have swiftly condemned the underfunded and understaffed European Union rescue efforts. Many commentators argue that current EU policy is woefully insufficient for grappling with migrant issues. While the overall increase in attempted crossings is up only slightly from the same period last year, deaths have increased tenfold.

Operation Triton – the European Union’s current search-and-rescue program – is a watered down version of its predecessor, Italy’s unilaterally-operated Mare Nostrum. The EU’s program has less jurisdiction and operating power than Mare Nostrum, a program that was generally lauded as an efficient and life-saving enterprise shouldered by the already cash-strapped Italy. The funding for Operation Triton comes from EU member nations.

The current refugee crisis stems from a number of ongoing problems in the Middle East and Africa. From the civil war in Syria to repression in Eritrea, many refigures are fleeing violence and political conflict. As Sofia, an Eritrean refugee, explained to the Guardian, the dangers of the sea voyage are worth it: “In Eritrea you’re even afraid to talk to your family. The person next to me . . . could be a spy, and they are looking at what you are doing. People disappear every day.” While Syrians and Eritreans represent the two largest ethnic groups of refugees, still many others are simply trying to get a foothold in Europe to escape poverty endemic to sub-Saharan Africa.

Crossing attempts are abetted by sectarian conflict in Libya. The country’s instability has given smugglers and human traffickers a virtual carte blanche for operating out of Libyan ports. Though a big business in Libya, migrant smuggling networks stretch along the horn of Africa, encapsulating multiple countries and affecting refugees of many different nationalities. In Libya alone, there may be anywhere between 500,000 to a million people ready to make the treacherous voyage.

Nonprofits have stepped in, calling world attention to the complex issues at hand. Save the Children is offering migrants advice on the southern shores of Europe. Its leadership has also appealed to EU foreign ministers, who are meeting this week to come up with impactful solutions to the crisis, to “increase the number of Syrian refugees being resettled in Europe through legal channels, according to the criteria and needs identified by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.”

Other small groups are bringing philanthropists, humanitarians, and security professionals together to provide rescue services. Migrant Offshore Aid Station was founded by former Maltese military professionals, and has come to the aid of 3,000 refugees in distress off the shores of the island nation Malta. But these efforts simply aren’t on the scale necessary to deal with the hundreds of thousands of vulnerable persons poised to make the arduous, potentially fatal attempt at crossing the Mediterranean. 

While the myriad issues that contribute to the crisis may seem daunting, a comprehensive, unified response is needed immediately. Not only do migrants risk their lives during the voyage,  but they also face violence in their host countries. Migrants awaiting the opportunity to cross in Libya face beatings and rape. In Greece, an ongoing economic crisis and a large influx of migrants have created a social environment in which a resurgent neo-Nazi party has risen, with an uptick in paramilitary violence and xenophobic attacks.

In our next installment, we will look at the plight faced by migrants in southern Europe, breaking down the issues and exploring how nonprofits are involved. 

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