Austria plans to end measures allowing migrants from Hungary and move ‘towards normality’

admin   •   September 7, 2015   •   2365

A migrant family from Syria walks along rail tracks as they arrive to a collection point in the village of Roszke in Hungary after crossing the border from Serbia, September 6, 2015. REFILE-CLARIFYING BYLINE . REUTERS/MARKO DJURICA

Austria said on Sunday it planned to end emergency measures that have allowed thousands of refugees stranded in Hungary into Austria and Germany since Saturday and move step by step “towards normality”.

Austria had suspended its random border checks after photographs of a Syrian toddler lying dead on a Turkish beach showed Europeans the horror faced by those desperate enough to travel illegally into the heart of Europe, which is deeply divided over how to cope.

After 71 people suffocated in the back of a truck abandoned on an Austrian highway en route from Hungary, and as thousands headed from Budapest towards Austria on foot, Vienna had agreed with Germany to waive rules requiring refugees to register an asylum claim in the first EU country they reach.

Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann said that decision was being revised following “intensive talks” with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and a telephone call with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, bitterly opposed to the waiver.

“We have always said this is an emergency situation in which we must act quickly and humanely. We have helped more than 12,000 people in an acute situation,” Faymann said.

“Now we have to move step by step away from emergency measures towards normality, in conformity with the law and dignity.”

Hungary laid on over 100 buses to the border on Saturday night after Austria said it had agreed to the emergency measures, to the relief of thousands of migrants and refugees stranded in Budapest after traveling through the Balkans and Greece, many of them fleeing civil war in Syria.

Others set off from a station to make the 170-km (110-mile) journey on foot. A platforms filled up again on Sunday.

Germany has said it expects to receive 800,000 refugees and migrants this year, and urged other EU members to open their doors. It decided to free up additional three billion euros ($3.35 billion) for federal states and municipalities to help cope with the influx, a joint statement by the ruling coalition said.

‘IT’S GETTING TIGHT’

At the station in Munich, state capital of Bavaria, a few dozen well-wishers turned up to cheer the new arrivals. Those who stopped to speak told of weeks of arduous travel by land and sea. Some seemed intimidated by the welcoming applause.

The president of the Upper Bavarian government, Christoph Hillenbrand, said he expected 13,000 migrants to reach the city on Sunday, up from a previous estimate of 11,000, following 6,800 arrivals on Saturday. Hillenbrand, adding that 11,000 could arrive on Monday, said Munich was running out of capacity.

Authorities there were using a disused car showroom and a railway logistics center as makeshift camps, and were adding a further 1,000 beds to 2,300 already set up at the city’s international trade fair ground. About 4,000 people were sent to other German states.

“It’s getting tight,” Hillenbrand told reporters at the train station.

Merkel’s decision to allow the influx has caused a rift in her conservative bloc, with her Bavarian allies saying she had pushed ahead without consulting the federal state administrations dealing with the problem on the ground.

The political rift is greater across Europe, with Hungary’s Orban accusing Berlin of encouraging the influx.

“As long as Austria and Germany don’t say clearly that they won’t take in any more migrants, several million new immigrants will come to Europe,” he told Austrian broadcaster ORF.

Orban has portrayed the crisis as a defense of Europe’s prosperity, identity and “Christian values” against a tide of mainly Muslim migrants. French far-right leader Marine Le Pen accused Germany of looking to lower wages and hire “slaves”.

Hungary, the main entry point for migrants into Europe’s borderless Schengen zone, plans to seal its southern frontier with a new, high fence by Sept. 15.

The United States came under pressure to do more to help. David Miliband, head of the International Rescue Committee and a former British foreign secretary, called on Washington to bring out “the kind of leadership America has shown on these kind of issues” in the past.

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected a call by opposition leader Isaac Herzog to give refuge to Syrian refugees, saying the country was too small to take them in.

Gulf states Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have come under criticism for officially taking in zero refugees.

Some EU states say the focus should be on tackling the violence in the Middle East that has caused so many to flee.

British Prime Minister David Cameron wants to hold a vote in parliament in early October to allow it to join air strikes by a U.S.-led coalition on Islamic State in Syria, London’s Sunday Times said, and Le Monde reported that France was also considering joining.

SYMPATHY

In Budapest’s Keleti station, migrants and refugees followed handwritten signs in Arabic directing them to trains to Hegyeshalom on the Austrian border, and volunteers handed out food and clothing.

On the frontier, long lines of people, many wrapped in blankets or sleeping bags and carrying sleeping children, got off buses on the Hungarian side and walked across into Austria.

“We’re happy. We’ll go to Germany,” said a Syrian who gave his name as Mohammed.

But on Hungary’s border with Serbia, there were reports that people had spent the night in the rain without food or shelter.

“While Europe rejoiced in happy images from Austria and Germany yesterday, refugees crossing into Hungary right now see a very different picture – riot police and a cold hard ground to sleep on,” Amnesty International researcher Barbora Cernusakova said in a statement.

The numbers in Europe are small compared to the almost 4 million refugees in Syria’s neighbors Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, and Pope Francis called for every European church parish and religious community to take in one migrant family each.

But a poll in the French newspaper Aujourd’hui en France showed 55 percent of French people opposed to softening rules on granting refugee status.

European leaders are due to expand their list of “safe” countries to which migrants looking for a better life but not in fear of life and limb can be returned.

DANGEROUS CROSSING

The flow of people risking the dangerous journey on flimsy boats across the Mediterranean shows no sign of abating, as they flee the four-year-old civil war in Syria that has killed about 250,000 civilians, and wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa.

On the Greek island of Lesbos, about 500 Afghans protesting at lengthy identification procedures scuffled with police. A ferry took 1,744 migrants and refugees to Athens from Lesbos on Sunday and another one with 2,500 on board was expected later in the day, the coast guard said.

A record 50,000 people hit Greek shores in July alone, and were ferried from islands unable to cope to the mainland. There, a government in financial crisis is keen to dispatch them into Macedonia, from where they enter Serbia and then Hungary.

More than 2,000 refugees have died at sea in the Mediterranean so far this year. The Cypriot coast guard on Sunday picked up 114 Syrian refugees who were adrift in a fishing boat.

(Additional reporting by Michael Nienaber in Berlin, Georgina Prodhan in Munich,; Balazs Koranyi in Budapest, Francois Murphy and Angelika Gruber in Vienna,; Sybille de la Hamaide in Paris, Isla Binnie in Rome, Yannis Behrakis at Greek-Macedonian border, and Maayan Lubell in Jeruslaem; Writing by Anna Willard and Robin Pomeroy; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Phil Berlowitz and Nick Macfie)

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Hontiveros presents more revelations on human trafficking, pastillas scheme in Senate hearing

Marje Pelayo   •   March 17, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — Senator Risa Hontiveros recently disclosed a revelation from three Filipinas who claimed to be victims of human trafficking and were allowed to proceed to Syria despite the ban.

According to one of the victims named ‘Alice,’ her agent known as ‘Ana’ paid some immigration personnel at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

‘Alice’ claimed agents pay P50,000 pesos for each Filipino to proceed to Syria.

“Sa immigration may binabayaran si Ana na mga tao don. Isa sa sasalubong sa iyo sa gate, iba pa iyong nasa may counter number 1,” Alice narrated.

“Marami akong beses na kasama ng agent ko sa Luneta naroon din po yung immigration para kunin ang bayad,” she added.

‘Alice’ said she was abused by the bodyguard of her employer who happened to be a relative of the Syrian President.

“Five months ko dito nakaranas ako ng pananakit dahil nagpaalam ako na uuwi ako kaya nagalit sila. Sinaktan ako saka yung nung pangalawa, 2020, sinaktan ulit ako dahil nabasa nila yung mga e-mail ko,” Alice said of her experiences in Syria.

“Kinuha nila kasi tumatawag ang Embassy sa kanila na humihingi ako ng tulong. Tinatadyakan yung tagiliran ko, sampal, sabunot, kaladkad,” she added.

In a Tweet, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Locsin lauded Hontiveros’ initiative to help the victims.

“Great job, Risa. We need that. We cannot afford to relax or let any abuse pass because it is too much trouble to fix,” Locsin said.
Locsin said he will ask the Charge D’ Affaires in Damascus to join in the Senate hearing.

Hontiveros said this modern-day slavery should stop as well as the modus operandi inside the Bureau of Immigration (BI) such as this ‘outbound pastillas.’

The controversy on the so-called ‘pastillas scheme’ made headlines last year which exposed some immigration officers getting bribe for letting Chinese nationals into the country without going through proper immigration procedures.

“Katulad ng ginawa namin sa mga naunang nabunyag na mga sindikato at mga krimen na ginagawa sa loob ng BI kasabwat ang travel agents at aalamin namin kung kasabwat ng mga recruiter,” Hontiveros argued.

“Babalik kami kay Commissioner Morente — sir! Kailan niyo ba titigilin ito?” she asked.

For his part, Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said the agency is in full support of the Senate hearing on human trafficking and corruption in BI.

He assures that those responsible for this issue will be given due action.

“We fully support the investigation of the good Senator Hontiveros and the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality on the trafficking of Filipinas,” Morente said.

“As proven in the past, we will not hesitate to put to justice any immigration personnel implicated in trafficking schemes,” he noted adding that the BI already suspended and charged around 86 immigration personnel for being involved in illegal practices.

In a message to UNTV News, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he will coordinate with Hontiveros on the matter and he will activate the Department of Justice (DOJ) Anti Human Trafficking Unit to investigate as well.

In February this year, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) repatriated 13 Filipinas who were trafficked to Syria. MNP (with reports from Harlene Delgado)

Hontiveros wants Senate probe into alleged trafficking of Filipino women in Syria

Robie de Guzman   •   February 2, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Risa Hontiveros on Tuesday called on the Senate to launch an inquiry into the reported human trafficking of Filipino women allegedly recruited to work in the United Arab Emirates but were trafficked to Syria to work as domestic helpers without their consent.

In filing Senate Resolution No. 631, Hontiveros said it is imperative for the Senate to probe the reported trafficking of Filipino women to uncover those behind what she calls “supply chain of abuse.”

“Ang sakit sa puso na sa gitna ng isang matinding krisis sa buong mundo, ang mga kababayan natin ay patuloy na inaabuso. The issue of human trafficking of our women is not new, and putting an end to this practice is long overdue,” she said in a statement.

While the Philippine government, through the Department of Foreign Affairs, has already committed to repatriate the remaining trafficked Filipino women in Syria, Hontiveros said that a probe is necessary “to better understand the human trafficking ‘supply chain’ in order to craft more effective legislation to prosecute offenders and protect our women and children.”

The Washington Post earlier carried a story exposing the plight of Filipino women who were allegedly trafficked to Syria.

In her resolution, Hontiveros noted that 12 women recruited in the Philippines were told that they would be working in Dubai but ended up being locked up inside a dormitory upon their arrival.

She said the abuse carried on until their 30-day tourist visas expired and they could no longer seek legal employment in United Arab Emirates.

“These women were physically abused and threatened the moment they expressed objection to being taken to Syria,” she said.

“Isa lang ito sa mga kwento ng napakaraming Pilipina na matagal nang nagiging biktima ng trafficking sa ibang bansa. Ngunit sa gitna ng pandemya, mas lalala ang sitwasyon nila,” she added.

The resolution also seeks to investigate the gendered dimensions of human trafficking in the Philippines, where an overwhelming majority of victims are women and girls because of their vulnerability, economic disadvantage, and the increased global demand for sexual services and domestic servitude.

“Dahil na rin sa kakulangan ng oportunidad sa Pilipinas, nagiging mas bulnerable ang ating kababaihan sa trafficking. The pandemic will only drive many families further into poverty, making many members, especially women, more at risk of exploitation and abuse,” she said.

DOLE tracks down recruitment agencies that sold Filipinos in Syria

Marje Pelayo   •   January 29, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine government has vowed to bring home a group of Filipino migrant workers who were tricked into working in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) only to be trafficked to Syria.

Officials are also tracking their recruitment agencies.

In line with this, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has launched an investigation into the matter.

It was prompted by a report published earlier this week in the American news site Washington Post about at least 35 Filipinos who were recruited to work in the UAE but instead were sold to Syrian servitude and subject to abuse.

Some of those interviewed by the daily said they arrived in the UAE on 30-day tourist visas.

They claimed that the recruitment agencies which brought them to the Gulf locked them up until their visas expired and were then were sold for $8,000 to $10,000 and taken to Syria.

Those who managed to escape sought refuge at the Philippine mission in Damascus. 

“Marami sa ating mga kababayan na sumusugal, may mga backdoor. Iyong iba galing sa Mindanao dadaan sa Palawan. Galing Palawan pupunta ng Malaysia, sa Sarawak. Then from Malaysia, they’d go to Dubai,” Bello said.

Secretary Bello added that they will track the recruiters of these Filipinos.

“Kapag nalaman namin kung ano ang agency (nila) na iyon ay tiyak na either we will cancel their franchise or even sue them for illegal recruitment,” he assured.

Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said he is sending a team from Manila to replace some Embassy staff in Syria and investigation on alleged ‘poor treatment’ of Filipinos in government-owned shelters is now being investigated.

Locsin assured that the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) would send home all distressed Filipinos awaiting repatriation in Syria.

He stressed that the ban of Filipino workers to Syria remains in effect and thus those who are responsible for the trafficking of the said Filipinos will definitely be held accountable.

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