By Lukas Ma

Staff Writer

Moving freely in Europe, from one country to another, is for many such a natural habit that it comes close to driving around in your neighbourhood. Whether it is a quick weekend break to Barcelona or just skiing in the Alps for a day, no police force will wait at the border to check visas. European integration, in terms of free movement, has become such a fostered concept that many cannot think how their lives would look without it. As a result, approximately 1.7 million people travel across European borders every day to go to work. However, in 2015 these uncomplicated mass movements of people turned into a problem when hundreds of thousands of migrants tried to reach Europe. Once these migrants got access to the Schengen Area, the region in which European countries eliminated border controls, they did not encounter any checks to prevent them from traveling to northern Europe. As more and more people streamed into Europe, the government of Hungary was the first to close its borders again, even going so far as to build a fence along its border to Serbia. Slovenia, Austria, Norway, Denmark and Germany have also adopted Hungary’s reintroduction of border controls. This could pose a serious threat not only to easy traveling, but especially to a core principle of the European Union: free movement of people.

In order to understand the legal framework of free movement, one has to look at its origin. In 1985, Belgium, The Netherlands, Luxemburg, France and Germany signed the Schengen Agreement, which abolished general border checks between the signatory states. In 1990, Schengen II was signed, creating a single external border, establishing a common immigration and visa policy, and allowing for the free movement of persons, as we know it today. The second agreement also includes the Schengen Information System (SIS), a joint database for police forces of the different countries to use in order to enhance cooperation and coordination, safeguard security, and chase criminals transnationally. In total, the Schengen Area consists of 26 countries, including the four non-EU members: Iceland, Lichtenstein, Switzerland and Norway. Since the Schengen cooperation became EU law under the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1997, all new member states that join the European Union must agree to the terms of the Schengen Agreement. Therefore, new members of the European Union, such as Bulgaria, Romania and Cyprus, have to adopt the Schengen Agreement at a later point in time, once they fulfil the formal requirements. The requirements lie mainly in the ability to secure its external border to non-Schengen countries. The only exempt EU members are the United Kingdom and Ireland, both of which agreed to collaboration with SIS, but opted out of the rest of the agreement, which includes the elimination of borders.

In September 2015, several Schengen countries temporarily abandoned the agreement and decided to re-establish control of their borders, defending their actions by citing the agreement’s clauses for exceptional cases. Their justifications for re-establishing border controls were based on the migration crisis in Europe and the terrorist attacks in Paris, Brussels and the Thalys train from Amsterdam to Paris, all of which were made possible by the unchecked border crossings. Unilateral decisions to return to border controls are in accordance with the Schengen rules, which stipulate exceptions for cases of public order or national security, allow for a suspension of the agreement that can last for 10 days, with a possibility to extend the period up to two months. In foreseeable situations, such as a new influx of refugees, an extension of up to six months can be requested, with the ability to renew for a maximum of 30 days. In “exceptional circumstances [that] put the overall functioning of the area without internal border control at risk”, an up to two-year continuation under Article 26 of the Schengen Borders Code can be invoked[1].

Although the legal exceptions granted by the Schengen Agreement give signatory countries the freedom to react in emergency situations, in the context of the current migration crisis, these exceptions could pose a threat to the agreement itself. As the war in Syria continues, refugees will continue to try to make their way to Europe, placing further political pressure on the liberty of free movement. Greece, the first European country through which the migration flow heads, is logistically incapable of coping with the thousands of migrants coming into the country. Under the Dublin Regulation approved in 2013, every migrant must be registered in the Schengen country that they set foot in first. However in the last year, many immigrants continued to northern Europe without their fingerprints being recorded in the country of first entrance. This violation provoked a lot of criticism from EU member states; individual governments reacted by pulling the emergency brake and closing their internal borders, which slowed down their own migration flows, but also created problems for transit countries that kept their borders open. As a direct result of the closures, thousands of stranded migrants have been forced to find alternative travel routes to the most popular destinations, Germany and Sweden.

These short sighted and uncoordinated solutions to counter the migration crisis have no potential to resolve the issue. Instead, they have delayed the flow of migrants and undermined the Schengen Agreement. If the fence building continues, Schengen will not be possible anymore, as all the member states rely on the countries with external borders to protect the community from illegal immigration. If the trust and willingness to cooperate disappears, then unilateral actions will be introduced, which will undermine the concept of a common immigration policy entirely. The only way to save the free movement of people in Europe is to secure the external borders of the Schengen Area, such as those of Greece. A joint European solution can solve the influx problem of migrants and assure that Schengen can be fully reinstalled.

Otherwise, the consequences of losing the Schengen agreement could be severe, not only for the individual European citizen who would no longer be able to travel without a passport, but also for the European economy and European Integration. The European Single Market is heavily reliant on the Agreement, which makes the fast transportation of goods between Schengen countries possible. On average, in member states, an individual saves 20 minutes of travel time when visiting another country because of the elimination of border controls. A reintroduction of border controls would take Europe back to the 1980s, when the crossings were full of lorries waiting to continue their journey. Since the lorry drivers’ waiting hours are included in their working hours, the transportation costs of perishable goods would rise again, as well as those of all other imported goods from other European countries. In addition to this, the travel time for individuals would rise, leading to negative effects on tourism in Europe. Overall predictions of the potential economic losses, projected by the Institute for Economic Research and the think thank France Stratégie, range from 26billion € to 100billion € per year for the Schengen countries.

Aside from the negative economic impact, the disintegration of Schengen would be an abandonment of European Integration. The free movement of people is one of the core principles the European project stands for, and its loss would be fatal. A surrender of free movement would be a blow for a further way to make European Unification complete. In addition, it would empower the anti-European right wing movements that take the finance crisis, the migration crisis and the terrorist’s attacks as evidence of the Union’s failure and as reason to go back to independent nation-states. It is time for Europeans to recollect the conception of the European Union, to remember that it’s founding ideas and principles were based on more than the convenience of faster travel journeys. At its origin, the EU was established to unify a scattered landscape of countries through an emphasis on a shared identity and sense of trust, something embodied by the Schengen Agreement’s principle of free movement and something which should be protected today.

[1] http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?qid=1414687415278&uri=CELEX:02006R0562-20131126


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By Summer Bales
Staff Writer

In Cologne, Germany the year 2015 ended with an incident of mass sexual assaults, highlighting a need for greater international focus on formulating a working plan for the migrant crisis in Europe. Amidst the New Year’s Eve festivities, hundreds of men gathered in Cologne’s main train station; the congregation soon escalated into a chaotic frenzy in which several women were sexually assaulted. Ninety women came forth to report being attacked (Shubert). The horrific violation of women’s rights incited fear across Germany, and the public called for justice against the attackers. Additionally, the circumstance brought implications of Arab refugees threatening national security to the forefront of political discussion.

In their reports, the women recounted being groped, robbed, and even raped as they passed through throngs of drunken men. They described their attackers as men appearing to be of mainly “North African and Arab origin.” While crossing the central plaza in the train station, the women were suddenly surrounded by onslaughts of drunken men armed with fireworks. These attacks in Cologne were a brutal violation of the bodies and human rights of these women. Equally troubling was the surprising lack of police presence, leaving the victims unprotected (Chambers).

The preliminary response to these sexual assaults was underwhelming. Authorities were initially reluctant to publicly address the incident, and a majority of media outlets failed to cover the disturbing violence until days afterward. Anticipation of public outrage may have been the reason behind the media’s reluctance to divulge the accounts of the violence in Cologne. This delivered a hazy and inadequate public understanding of what had occurred, which has become only slightly clearer in the weeks after the women were attacked. As new information continues to be brought forward, a clearer representation of the disturbing night is being reached. Along with more information comes the troubling implications that public responses to these attacks may hold for the mounting migrant crisis and growing xenophobic sentiment across receiving countries (The Associated Press).

About one week after the attacks, Germany’s Interior Ministry identified thirty-one suspects as “nine Algerians, eight Moroccans, four Syrians, five Iranians, an Iraqi, a Serb, an American and two Germans,” who committed crimes of theft, violence, and sexual assault. Out of the thirty-one suspects, eighteen were confirmed to have applied for asylum in Germany (Smale). The labeling of the suspects as “asylum-seeking Arabs” in the national media inadvertently links immigrants to crime in the eyes of opposition groups, providing them with the fuel to provoke xenophobic sentiments. An unanticipated consequence of a national media focus on the Cologne attacks could be a political setback for advocates lobbying to open national borders. The situation had potential to inflame an already heated debate over the refugee crisis in Germany—a dispute being mirrored across the world.

As a result of the attacks, German political leaders may face increased pressure to readdress national security while managing a migrant crisis that has shown no indication of relenting. The significance of the Cologne attacks extends to a building division, caused by the perceived clash between Western and Islamic culture, a false perception that continues to be propagated by Germany’s far right anti-immigration groups (Yardley).

The concept of a morally backward population that is incapable of assimilating into European society is a narrative that Muslims have outspokenly tried to dispel, and anti-immigration groups have leapt on in Germany and around Europe. Muslims in Germany have spoken out against the attacks, through media outlets such as The New York Times, despite fearing backlash. Days after the attacks, right-winged extremists led an “Anti-Islamization” demonstration in Leipzig. Members of Austria’s Freedom Party are advocating closing their borders to refugees in the wake of the unrest caused by the Cologne attacks. These are just some of the examples that reflect the reverberation of the attacks in Germany across Europe’s political sphere (Yardley).

In the wake of the attacks in Cologne, German leaders are faced with the task of detaching these increasingly xenophobic sentiments from the need to address the pressing refugee crisis. The burgeoning issues regarding immigration policy and xenophobic sentiments, that have been silenced for so long, have finally burst into political discussion. The need for direct attention to the disentanglement of these issues is echoed by Alexander Betts, director of the Refugee Studies Center at Oxford. “That the great fear is the fear of Islam,” says Betts, as he explains that the reluctance to address the “elephant in the room” is creating a void being filled by anti-immigration groups, who are able to voice their ‘concerns’ without being refuted. However, the Cologne attacks have presented a situation will prove too significant to ignore; it is already being discussed frankly and openly in the German political sphere (Yardley).

In response, political leaders in Germany have begun to publicly address the situation and assess the validity of cultural and religious implications in relation to immigration decisions. One such response, given by German Justice Minister Heiko Maas, has already warned against diminishing the complex immigration debate to a correlation between refugees and sexual assault. Rather, he pushes the public and opposition groups to evaluate the facts of the situation rather than harboring and perpetuating irrational fears of threat to national and personal security. These fears have the dangerous potential to develop into lasting prejudices, that could cloud the immigration discourse and prevent refugees from receiving the help they need (Shubert).

The migrant crisis has by no means reached a resolution; over one million refugees entered Germany last year, many coming from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Neighboring nations in the Middle East have accepted a majority of the refugees, stretching population capacities and putting political pressure on Europe to assist the remaining millions of displaced individuals. In the face of unceasing flows of refugee and asylum seekers, the response to the sexual attacks in Cologne is crucial in establishing a precedent for handling crime without condemning the millions of others seeking refuge. The shock of the Cologne attacks forces a decision that policy makers, leaders, and individuals must address: whether these instances of violence will stoke the fear of outsiders into separatism, or if the building divisions between perceptions of cultures will be disseminated.

Works Cited

Betts, Alexander, and Paul Collier. “Help Refugees Help Themselves.” Foreign Affairs. The Council of Foreign Relations, Dec. 2015. Web. 15 Jan. 2016.

Chambers, Madeline. “Germans Shaken By Mass Attacks On Women In Cologne At New Year.” The World Post. The Huffington Post and Berggruen Institute, 5 Jan. 2016. Web. 12 Jan. 2016.

“Cologne Attacks: Germans Left Feeling Vulnerable.” BBC News. BBC News, 10 Jan. 2016. Web. 15 Jan. 2016.

Higgins, Andrew. “Norway Offers Migrants a Lesson in How to Treat Women.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 19 Dec. 2015. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.

Shubert, Atika, Tiim Hume, and Carol Jordan. “Cologne: Reports of New Year’s Sex Assaults in Cologne Fuel German Migrant Debate.” CNN. CNN, 6 Jan. 2016. Web. 12 Jan. 2016.

Smale, Alison, Victor Homola, and Katarina Johannsen. “18 Asylum Seekers Are Tied to Attacks on Women in Germany.” New York Times. N.p., 9 Jan. 2016. Web. 12 Jan. 2016.

The Associated Press. “German Muslims Condemn Cologne Attacks, Fear Consequences.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 06 Jan. 2016. Web. 20 Jan. 2016.

Yardley, Jim. “Sexual Attacks Widen Divisions in European Migrant Crisis.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 13 Jan. 2016. Web. 20 Jan. 2016.

Image by Jannik Nitz

The Lady: Assessing Aung San Suu Kyi’s Commitment to Democracy in Burma

By Ariana Criste
Staff Writer

The National League for Democracy (NLD), a political party in the Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar led by Aung San Suu Kyi, swept the polls in the mid-November elections–the first open election in Myanmar since the nineteen nineties. This election is a historical landmark for Myanmar, which was previously under the leadership of an authoritarian military junta. A momentous and long overdue victory, these elections mark the beginning of the transition away from the iron grip of the ousted military junta to the promising future of the NLD.

Aung San, Myanmar’s champion of democracy, spent fifteen years under house arrest and was only released five years ago. She is a Nobel Peace Laureate and has drawn praise domestically and internationally for her grace and poise during her fifteen years under house arrest, which she underwent for her involvement as a protest leader in protests against the military junta. As perhaps the most famed political prisoner in the world with a streak of defiance, many look to The Lady, as she is commonly referred to, in hopes that she will address and find solutions to the communal violence and ethnic tensions that Myanmar is facing right now.

Indeed, ethnic conflict within the country is at a critical point. The ethno-religious minority that is native to the Rakhine state of Myanmar, the Rohingyas, willingly face unsafe conditions to flee by boat for neighboring countries in hopes that they will be welcomed and gain some sort of recognition from these countries. Since 2012, tens of thousands of Rohingyas have been killed in communal violence fueled by anti-Muslim sentiments and carried out by the majority group of Burmese Buddhists, including extremist Buddhist Nationalists in the country. Amnesty International has referred to the Rohingya people as “the most persecuted refugees in the world,” and they are a stateless people who are disenfranchised. As a result of this marginalization, tens of thousands of Rohingyas have decided to flee their home to seek better conditions elsewhere.

Aung San’s silence on the plight of the Rohingyas has drawn international criticism. In the past, The Lady has rejected the view that the crimes against the Rohingya constitute ethnic cleansing. She has also said to not “forget that violence has been committed by both sides,” and told international media to not “exaggerate” the situation. The only Rohingya-related issue that she has taken a stance upon is the two-child policy that some provinces in Myanmar implemented for Rohingyas that she believes are discriminatory.

The forecast for Rohingyas under the NLD does not seem optimistic. Aung San’s silence echoes the majority opinion that the Rohingya are Bengali immigrants or foreign aliens. Much of the base of support for the NLD comes from the Buddhist extremists that are carrying out the attacks against the Rohingya population.

For what are likely reasons of political expedience, it is unlikely that Aung San or the NLD will address the Rohingya issue. They are navigating a post-authoritarian political landscape where the military stills plays an active role in politics and will hold seats in the government even after the transition between parties occurs. If they showed active support for the Rohingyas or other Muslim ethnic minorities, it is likely that the loss of perceived political legitimacy would play into the interests of the military.

The NLD is walking a narrow line as it tries to move forward with the transition towards democratization in Myanmar. External forces are vying to hasten or slow this transition. Political actors, some domestic and some international, have varied expectations for the party. The NLD must balance outcries from NGOs about the Rohingya crisis, especially considering the media attention on the issue right now. They also have to deal with external imposition of ideals of democracy from the West and from investors in the state who may not have a complete idea of the situation domestically, and who have expressed discontent with the pace that Myanmar is democratizing at. They must maintain political legitimacy against a military regime that actively tries to detract from the legitimacy of their leadership. To do this requires the NLD to narrowly maintain viewpoints and policies that do not alienate their political base, much of which holds very anti-Muslim sentiments.

In this light it is unlikely that, under Aung San, the Rohingya peoples will see their cause furthered. While this provides hardly any consolation, it is also unlikely that violence from an institutionalized, state-led level will worsen. It is very probable that the state of Myanmar’s transition to democracy will be a positive force in the lives of the Rohingyas and other ethnic or religious minorities in the state. All of Myanmar will see tangible benefits from the transition to democracy from the previously brutal military government, and the NLD will likely lessen the active oppression on the populace that was experienced under the previous government. As state corruption and brutality decrease, the Rohingyas should experience marked improvement in their situation. This prediction must be taken with a degree of reservation, however, because it is unlikely that they will gain true state recognition and rights in the near future. This is not politically feasible in the current climate, which is why noted human rights champion Aung San and the NLD are avoiding the issue. It seems that, for this marginalized and persecuted group, the National League of Democracy under Aung San will not be a shining beacon of human rights advancement. Still, with Myanmar’s slow path of democratization, the Rohingyas can expect gradual increases in their rights and privileges and, hopefully, integration and acceptance into Burmese society.

Image by Rob Beschizza