TIME European Union

Italy to End Naval Operation That Rescued Thousands of Migrants

U.K says it will not support future EU rescue missions, because they encourage migrants to attempt crossing from North Africa

An Italian search-and-rescue operation of migrants attempting to reach Europe by sea is due to end this week, after rescuing around 150,000 people over the past year.

The ‘Mare Nostrum’ operation, which involves a large part of the country’s navy and rescued on average 400 migrants a day, was launched after a boat disaster off the Italian island of Lampedusa last October killed more than 360 migrants.

The operation has since been deemed unsustainable by Italian authorities. In spite of the efforts of Mare Nostrum, around 2,500 people have drowned or gone missing in the Mediterranean this year alone.

Border officials from European Union countries are meeting in Brussels on Tuesday to discuss how best to regulate the flow of migrants trying to reach Europe from North Africa. Ministers across the E.U. have acknowledged the matter’s importance, but have questioned the effectiveness of expensive search-and-rescue operations.

The U.K.’s Foreign Office minister, Lady Anelay, announced Oct.15 that Britain will not be supporting any future search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean, saying that they “create an unintended ‘pull factor’, encouraging more migrants to attempt the dangerous sea crossing and thereby leading to more tragic and unnecessary deaths.” Anelay said the most effective way to tackle the problem “is to focus our attention on countries of origin and transit, as well as taking steps to fight the people smugglers who wilfully put lives at risk by packing migrants into unseaworthy boats.”

The U.K. does not plan to take part in the new “Operation Triton” being launched by the European Frontex border agency on Nov. 1. This joint EU operation will not include search-and-rescue plans but focuses on border protection, involving patrols within 30 miles of the Italian coast. Frontex spokeswoman Isabella Cooper told the BBC: “We only have a few vessels and a few aircraft. The Mediterranean Sea is over 2.5 million square kilometres large – it is virtually impossible to have a full overview of what is happening at sea.”

Human rights groups like Amnesty International and refugee organizations have criticized the new plans. Michael Diedring, Secretary-General of the European Council on Refugees, told the BBC that the EU should fundamentally change its approach to the problem by offering more safe and legal channels for migrants. “There are almost no safe and legal means to access European soil to file an asylum claim, for example.”

U.K. Refugee Council chief executive Maurice Wren agreed, telling The Guardian that “the world is in the grip of the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War. People fleeing atrocities will not stop coming if we stop throwing them life rings.” He warned that withdrawing help would only lead to more people that “needlessly and shamefully dying on Europe’s doorstep.”

Read more: Shining a Light on the Plight of Europe’s Migrants, From Rome to Brussels

 

TIME climate change

E.U. Sets Plan to Cut Greenhouse-Gas Emissions

European heads of state and government (from back left) Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Loefven, Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar, Portuguese Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (from front left) European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev, French President Francois Hollande, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso talk before a family photo during a European Union summit at the EU headquarters in Brussels on Oct 23, 2014.
European heads of state and government (from back left) Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Loefven, Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar, Portuguese Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (from front left) European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev, French President Francois Hollande, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso talk before a family photo during a European Union summit at the EU headquarters in Brussels on Oct 23, 2014. JOHN THYS—AFP/Getty Images

Europe sets climate change goals to be met by 2030

Leaders in Europe have agreed that 28 nations will cut greenhouse gas emissions to at least 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. The deal comes a year ahead of international climate negotiations next year and is designed to set an example for the rest of the world.

The European Union finalized the deal after hours of debate among leaders. They have also vowed that renewable energy will meet at least 27 percent of European countries’ needs and that energy efficiency will increase by a minimum of 27% in the next 16 years.

 

TIME Spain

Surreal Scene of Migrants Atop Spanish Border Fence

A golfer hits a tee shot as African migrants sit atop a border fence during an attempt to cross into Spanish territories between Morocco and Spain's north African enclave of Melilla
A golfer swings as African migrants sit atop a fence during an attempt to cross from Morocco into the Spanish enclave of Melilla on Oct. 22, 2014. José Palazón—Reuters

The fence is often the scene of would-be border-jumpers aiming to reach Europe

Among the top issues this year for European countries along the Mediterranean has been how to handle the flow of migrants from Africa and the Middle East who seek a better life within their borders. Tens of thousands of refugees and migrants journeyed across perilous routes throughout the year, and in thousands of cases met death before land. Others have attempted to cross into one of the two Spanish enclaves, Melilla and Ceuta, that border Morocco.

The latter scene played out again on Oct. 22, and was captured in a picture at the border fence surrounding Melilla that later went viral online. Eleven men are seen sitting atop the fence as a police officer approaches — and as two women play golf below. One is in mid-swing while the other is turned toward the group.

José Palazón, an activist with a migrant-rights group, spotted the men above the golf course and thought it was “a good moment to take a photo that was a bit more symbolic,” he told El Pais. “The photo reflects the situation really well — the differences that exist here and all the ugliness that is happening here.”

Spain’s interior ministry said about 200 people tried to scale the fence that day, according to the Associated Press. About 20 successfully crossed, while another 70 stayed on top of the fence for hours.

TIME sweden

Sweden Will Be Among First European Countries to Recognize Palestinian State

From left: Stefan Löfven and Per Westerberg in Stockholm on Sept. 18, 2014.
From left: Stefan Löfven and Per Westerberg in Stockholm on Sept. 18, 2014. Lindahl Bjorn—Aftonbladet/Zuma Press

Prime Minister of Sweden Stefan Lofven announced Friday that his new center-left government will recognize the state of Palestine, making his country among the first in Europe to do so.

“The conflict between Israel and Palestine can only be solved with a two-state solution, negotiated in accordance with international law,” said Löfven during his inaugural address in parliament. “A two-state solution requires mutual recognition and a will to peaceful co-existence. Sweden will therefore recognize the state of Palestine.”

No European Union country has recognized Palestine as a member; EU countries Hungary, Poland and Slovakia only did so before they joined the bloc, according to Reuters. In 2012, the United Nations overwhelmingly voted in favor of Palestinian statehood despite opposition from Israel and the United States.

The negotiations between Israel and Palestine for a two-state solution—creating a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem and using established borders in the West Bank and Gaza—have sputtered despite efforts by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

[Reuters]

TIME U.K.

U.K. Edges Toward Departure from European Union

Prime Minister David Cameron walks with Mayor of London and Parliamentary candidate Boris Johnson at the Conservative party conference on Sept. 29, 2014 in Birmingham, England.
Prime Minister David Cameron walks with Mayor of London and Parliamentary candidate Boris Johnson at the Conservative party conference on Sept. 29, 2014 in Birmingham, England. Peter Macdiarmid—Getty Images

As Britain's Conservative Party holds its last party conference ahead of May's general elections, the Euroskeptic message looks like a winning one

It’s hard to imagine anything more insular than a British party political conference—except, perhaps, for an island.

The ruling Conservative Party is currently meeting in the U.K.’s second largest city, Birmingham, but delegates tightly ringed by security and focused on the narrow issue of how to win the next election may as well be on a coral atoll for all the connection they have with the wider world.

Events in Hong Kong go unremarked. U.K. participation in the military campaign against ISIS barely merits a mention. A lone protestor standing beyond the crowd barriers bellowed rage against Britain’s fresh involvement in Iraq for hours Monday, but his words whispered in the convention center like distant waves. Even so, events on this artificial island may yet carry global significance. Britain is getting ever closer to the brink of leaving the European Union.

That is the probable outcome if the Conservatives win the U.K. general election next May, as they have pledged to allow Britain’s increasingly Euroskeptic population a referendum on whether to stay or go. Polls suggest a sizeable majority would vote to leave the E.U. under the current terms of membership.

Admittedly a Conservative victory is far from a sure thing in 2015. The Labour Party enjoys a lead of several points in most opinion polls and the Conservatives, in coalition with the Liberal Democrats since 2010, should expect to be punished by voters for implementing painful austerity policies that have reduced the budget deficit (but not by as much as they promised). But even though Labour may look like the likelier winner, it doesn’t act like it. Neither party members nor the wider public have faith in the current Labour leader Ed Miliband, who capped a lackluster conference last week by forgetting key chunks of the speech that should have energized his troops and instead demoralized them.

In truth all three mainstream parties are suffering from a loss of connection with the public — voters feel they’re untrustworthy, and incapable of championing Britain, whatever form that might take. This disenchantment is fostering the rise across Britain of populist parties that promise a new, more honest mode of politics and more localism. In Scotland this means the Scottish National Party strengthening largely at the expense of Labour, which will struggle to retain its 41 Westminster seats there at the coming election.

But in England, it is the anti-immigration, Euroskeptic United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) that has been attracting support on the back of its strident views, which it calls “unashamedly patriotic”. The party’s manifesto not only calls for departure from the European Union, but also restrictions on the numbers of immigrants entering the country, less foreign aid, and priority in the allocation of social housing given to “people whose parents and grandparents were born locally”.

It’s a message that appeals to many who might otherwise be inclined to vote for the Conservative party. The eastwards expansion of the E.U. was enthusiastically supported by past Conservative governments, because they thought a larger union might be less inclined to move towards federalism and consequent impingements on British sovereignty. But enlargement has increased the pool of E.U. citizens entitled to work in the U.K, and fostered resentment among conservative voters, as the British economy struggles to recover from the economic slump. UKIP has capitalized on that resentment; two Conservative MPs have recently defected to UKIP and more are rumored to be considering jumping ship.

“The biggest issue on the doorstep is immigration,” says Phillip Lee, the Conservative MP for Bracknell, west of London, “but this is also related to Europe.” His constituents would like to see an Australian-style points system applied to jobseekers from abroad, he says. That’s a policy UKIP already proposes for all immigrants, whether they come from the E.U. or further afield.

Even so, the Conservatives are better positioned than Labour—which opposes giving Britons a vote on E.U. membership—to fight UKIP on its own turf. Prime Minister David Cameron’s post-Scottish referendum promise of “English Votes for English Laws” plays to demands for more local control, while his party is ramming the message home at every opportunity during its conference that only a Conservative government will deliver an in-out referendum on the E.U. It will doubtless be a pivotal passage in Cameron’s keynote address to delegates tomorrow.

Cameron first made the offer partly in an effort to hold together a fractious party that has a long history of falling out over Europe. But his official position—that he wants Britain to remain in the E.U., but on renegotiated better terms—also happens to be his real preference, not least because many British businesses worry that an E.U. exit will load costs and obstacles on to their European operations. His ideal is to retain the advantages of E.U. membership while shielding Britain against moves to closer E.U. integration precipitated by the euro zone crisis. But in a BBC interview this morning, Cameron made clear that he wouldn’t be too upset if Britain left the E.U. entirely. The sales pitch being rolled out in Birmingham is clear: vote UKIP, get Labour, lose the chance of a referendum.

Despite what the polls say, many Conservatives believe this is a winning formula, and they could well be right. But the same urges the Conservatives would be tapping to win election victory would inevitably still be in play if and when Britons voted on their relationship with Europe. An exit would mean a period of extended turbulence for Britain and for the E.U., used to British intransigence but also used to Britain as a counterbalance to German muscle and French protectionism. The rest of the E.U. hopes Britain stays put, and so does Washington, which still often looks to the U.K. as a bridge to Europe.

British politicians hear these voices but their message, like the shouts of the man outside the Conservative Party conference, are muffled. This island nation with its parochial politics could well be headed for greater insularity.

TIME Scotland

Scotland’s Vote Signals Big Change for the U.K. — and Europe

The U.K. has survived, but the surge in support for independence means that almost half of Scotland has been left disappointed. Although voters opted for reform rather than revolution, the referendum unleashed a process of transformation set to extend far beyond Scotland's borders

At 7.30 am on Sept. 19, the Prime Minister of the still united United Kingdom appeared on the doorstep of 10 Downing Street. “The people of Scotland have spoken. It is a clear result,” said David Cameron, and it was: 55% in favor of the union against 45% for Scottish independence. “They have kept our country of four nations together. Like millions of other people, I am delighted.”

But the Conservative Party leader didn’t stop there. Ahead of the referendum, the three main parties in Westminster — Cameron’s Conservatives, their Liberal-Democrat coalition partners, and the opposition Labour Party — had joined together to make a series of pledges to Scottish voters. In return for Scotland’s fealty to the union, there would be a fast-tracked process to ensure a further devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament on tax, spending and welfare. And the formula by which public spending is allocated by the U.K. Treasury to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would remain unchanged. In other words, Scotland’s population of 5.2 million would continue to enjoy public spending that is $2,671 higher per person than in England. (The Guardian offers an explainer here about how and why the formula disadvantages the English.)

With Scotland now secure within the union, Cameron — pink cheeked and bright eyed despite a sleepless night — issued a fresh pledge, of “a balanced settlement — fair to people in Scotland and importantly to everyone in England, Wales and Northern Ireland as well.”

How might such a settlement be possible with Scots getting more from the public purse than their counterparts South of the border? The answer, as prominent members of his own party have already pointed out, is that it might not be.

But Cameron’s vision of fairness revolves not around funding mechanisms but British constitutional arrangements. “Just as Scotland will vote separately in the Scottish Parliament on their issues of tax, spending and welfare so too England, as well as Wales and Northern Ireland, should be able to vote on these issues and all this must take place in tandem with, and at the same pace as, the settlement for Scotland,” he said.

At first glance this appears a political masterstroke. The U.K. faces a general election in May 2015, with polls showing a lead for the Labour Party. Cameron’s move not only seizes the initiative — putting him firmly at the helm of a Big Idea to make Great Britain greater — but it potentially damages his rivals too. The Conservatives are deeply unpopular in Scotland and hold only one Westminster seat there. Labour, by contrast, has 41 Scottish MPs. If those Labour MPs were no longer able to vote on English-only issues, a Labour majority at a general election could count for nothing on day-to-day votes in the House of Commons.

The promise of English devolution also steals thunder from a party that in many respects poses a greater threat to the Conservatives than Labour: the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), which campaigns on greater rights for English voters and also channels many of the sentiments that were in play in Scotland. UKIP appeals to voters who believe that the best way to protect self-interest against the sorts of global forces that saw subprime mortgage lending in the U.S. trigger a series of financial and economic crises across the world is to repudiate big alliances in favor of more localism. In May, UKIP gained more votes than the Conservatives and Labour in the elections to the European Parliament — the first time in British modern history a national poll was lost by both of the largest parties.

Though UKIP snatched votes from both parties, the Conservatives have most to fear, because UKIP’s strongly euroskeptic, anti-immigration line not only appeals to many traditional Tory voters but has also opened splits in the Conservative Party. It was in an effort to hold his party together that Cameron in January 2013 suddenly promised an in-out referendum on the U.K.’s membership of the European Union before the end of 2017. This is a promise Cameron can only keep by winning the forthcoming general election.

His gambit in the aftermath of the Scottish referendum appears to bring that prospect closer. But that depends on his being able to match grand words with grander deeds.

One reason the U.K. system enshrines so many obvious unfairnesses it that any change to the system requires the consent of that system. Cameron needs to find consensus in both the House of Commons and House of Lords and among political parties that will understand only too well how the deal he is proposing could damage them. There is also the problem that in fixing one unfairness, it’s easy accidentally to create another.

Whatever happens, it now seems likelier that U.K. voters will eventually get a say on E.U. membership. Either Cameron will prevail in his audacious bid to overhaul Britain’s democracy, providing a fillip to Tory chances, or — and more likely — the spectacle of the three main parties squabbling among themselves will deliver a fresh boost to UKIP, in turn pushing mainstream parties to become more euroskeptic. As Scotland has just demonstrated, increasing numbers of people believe smaller is better. The Scottish referendum may have strengthened one union but it has quite possibly weakened another.

TIME Ukraine

Ukraine Grants Amnesty and More Autonomy to Separatist Regions

Ukraine
People dressed in old Soviet uniforms attend a parade in the town of Luhansk, eastern Ukraine, on Sept. 14, 2014 Darko Vojinovic — AP

Rebel areas will be given "special status" for at least three years

As Ukrainians celebrated the passage of an agreement to deepen ties with the European Union on Tuesday, the country’s parliament approved legislation giving greater political autonomy to pro-Moscow regions in the country’s east.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko claimed the move would protect the “sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence” of Ukraine following the signing of a tenuous cease-fire earlier this month that has largely quelled most, but not all, of the fighting in the country.

In accordance with the new law, rebel-held territory in Donetsk and Luhansk will receive “special status” for at least a three-year period, granting wider political autonomy from Kiev.

Also on Tuesday, the legislature pushed through a bill offering sweeping amnesty to rebels in the Donbass region; however, the legislation exempts individuals who may have participated grave crimes, such as the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, according to Voice of America.

Pro-Moscow separatists, who have been fighting a five-month insurgency against Kiev that has killed at least 3,000 people, remained wary of the resolutions.

“We will translate [the autonomy bill] into Russian, study it and give our opinion,” Alexander Zakharchenko, the leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, told pro-Kremlin news outlet RIA Novosti.

Zakharchenko’s deputy voiced even harsher skepticism.

“This is nonsense when the [parliament] of Ukraine passes bills not for Ukraine, but for Donbass,” said Andrei Purgin. “We have our own parliament for this purpose.”

Meanwhile in Washington, officials at the Pentagon said large numbers of Russian troops had begun to move back across the border, but remain poised to keep pressure firmly on Kiev.

“Those forces are close enough to be quickly brought back to bear if required,” General Philip Breedlove, commander of U.S. European Command, told reporters in Washington.

TIME European Union

Feminism Comes to the Forefront of Swedish Politics

A look inside one of the world's first feminist parties to be elected to power

Sweden is already known for its progressive policies, but on Sept. 14, this Scandinavian country could be among the first in the world to elect a feminist party to its Parliament.

Feministiskt Initiativ a left-leaning and antiracist political party that was founded in 2005 — has gained popularity in recent months: polls show the party close to or passing the 4% bar needed to obtain seats in Stockholm’s Parliament. If the left-leaning parties with the Swedish Social Democratic Party in the lead secure enough votes and the feminists get 4%, they will likely help form the next government.

With its slogan “Out with the racists, in with the feminists,” the party has broadened traditional feminist values to also fight discrimination on the basis of race, sexual identity and physical disabilities. The party has grown from about 1,500 members in January to more than 17,000 members in July, said Gudrun Schyman, party leader and one of the founders of Feministiskt Initiativ.

“We haven’t reached the goals when it comes to gender equality,” Schyman said. “There has been a myth that we are so advanced, that we have come so far in Sweden that we don’t have to talk about it, we don’t have to do anything.”

While Sweden ranks No. 4 in the 2013 Global Gender Gap Index, which measures equality in the areas of economics, politics, education and health, 95% of Swedish top leaders in listed companies are men. Recent studies also show that Swedish women have 85% of men’s wages and 66% of their pensions.

Sweden is also known for its groundbreaking laws on maternity and paternity leave. But the feminist say that more reforms are needed to make parental leave equal and they propose it should be individualized to fit all kinds of families, including transgender and same-sex ones. While parents are entitled to 480 days of paid leave and the days can be split between parents, a 2012 study shows that dads took only 24% of the total leave.

Schyman, 66, says that the feminist party’s success is due to a carefully crafted door-to-door campaign: during the pas 12 months, Schyman visited every Swedish home where the host pledged to gather a crowd of at least 25 people. During the two-hour-long meetings, Schyman would talk about the growing racism in Swedish society, the need for better pensions and equal pay. The party also plans to set up an Equality Ministry as a permanent government organ. These talking points resonated strongly with a group of Swedish society — where 16% of the population is foreign-born, a higher percentage than in the U.S. — that feels alienated by more established parties.

Feminist Initiativ also gained attention by riding a wave of antiracist feelings that have emerged after increasingly anti-immigration parties, like Sverigedemokraterna, began to gain seats in the national parliament in the 2010 election.

Feministiskt Initiativ has also had success in European politics. In May, the feminists got 5.3% of the Swedes’ votes and a Roma woman, Soraya Post, was welcomed as the first member of a feminist party to sit in the European Parliament.

Schyman believes her party can spur a movement throughout Scandinavia and Europe: she hopes that by 2019, the year of the next European Parliament elections, there will be enough feminist voters in other European countries to form a European feminist-party group. Poland, Germany, France and Italy are among countries that already have organized feminist parties in their individual states.

Yasmine Ergas, director of the gender and public-policy specialization at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University in New York City, says it makes sense that a feminist party has so much support in Sweden.

“The most important thing is to have the ability to mobilize consent,” Ergas said. “There must be a degree of consent in the society about the idea that women rights needs further approach and I think Sweden has that.”

But Feministiskt Initiativ has been criticized for being a populist party or for attracting voters with easy slogans that aren’t backed by financially sounded policy plans. Ebba Busch Thor and Mikael Oscarsson, members of the conservative party Kristdemokraterna, wrote in an opinion piece in the Swedish newspaper Upsala Nya Tidning that the feminist party has “totalitarian features” and that the party “proposes expenses of hundreds of millions Swedish krona without any kind of financial strategy.”

Among the propositions in the feminist party’s economic plan is a reduction of the workday from eight to six hours. Such reform would cost the Swedish government up to $1.6 billion during a 10-year-long transition period, according to data published by the feminist party. In addition, the feminists propose free public transport, extensive efforts to stop domestic violence and an equality fund of $2 billion to speed up the equal-pay process. These reforms will largely be funded by increased taxes but also by measures such as reduction of funding to the Swedish military.

“When the welfare system is not working, it affects women very much,” Schyman said, ”and we think it’s quite normal that you take responsibility for this all of you no matter if you are rich or not and if you have a lot of money you can pay some more tax.”

Recent polls seem to side with Feminist Initiativ, pointing to a likely change in government from the current right-wing coalition Alliansen toward a government led by the Social Democrats and the Green Party. To get a majority in the parliament, the next administration is likely to cooperate with the feminists, and last week Schyman went public with her intent to back the Social Democrat leader Stefan Lofven as Prime Minister if they pass the 4% bar in the elections on Sunday.

This summer, during the political rally in Almedalen park in the city of Visby, the feminists rallied the crowds at St. Karin’s ruin, a desolated church from the 14th century. Their “antiracist celebration” was held the same day as Jimmie Akesson, party leader of anti-immigrant party Sverigedemokraterna spoke in front of the crowds a couple of hundreds of meters away.

Hundreds of supporters — donning pink balloons and clothing, the color of the party — came to rally in favor of Feministiskt Initiativ. The renowned Swedish rapper Behrang Miri also performed to a crowd of hundreds.

“We have the possibility to show that it is possible to get these ideas going in the Parliament and in people’s minds,” said Bengt Ortegren, 68, member and volunteer at Feministiskt Initiativ. “I think that is the most important really that there will be new processes going in people’s minds. “

For him, violence against women was one of the main reasons to join the party. “In all the world there is a lot of violence and oppression against women and that is a big issue,” he said. “Perhaps the biggest.”

TIME Western Sahara

There’s a New Terrorist Threat Emerging in Western Sahara, and the World Isn’t Paying Attention

A man flashes a v-sign as soldiers from
A man flashes a V sign as soldiers from the proindependence Polisario Front parade during a ceremony marking the 35th anniversary of the proclamation of independence of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic in the Western Saharan village of Tifariti on Feb. 27, 2011 Dominique Faget—AFP/Getty Images

For 39 years, exiled Sahrawis have watched their homeland being stripped of its resources with the West's complicity. Now, they could feed into the latest wave of Islamic extremism in North Africa

When the Sahrawi refugees of North Africa drink tea, they make each successive cup sweeter than the last. The first cup, they explain, is bitter like life, the second sweet like love. The third one is sweeter still, they say — like death.

If that’s a rather mournful thing to say about the simple pleasure of drinking a warm beverage, it’s because these refugees are a mournful people. They are former soldiers, or the children of former soldiers, from one of the world’s forgotten conflicts: the Western Sahara war. For decades, about 100,000 of them have languished in camps for the displaced, waiting to fight anew in a struggle that never picks up, and killing nothing more besides time.

North Africa has become ever more volatile since the Arab Spring, run through by militant Islamist outfits and Latin American drug cartels. The Algerian group al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has established footholds in Mali, Niger and Mauritania, and recently staged its deadliest attack in Tunisia. Ansar al-Sharia has filled the power vacuum in several parts of Libya after Muammar Gaddafi’s downfall, and Morocco has, in recent weeks, raised its security alert because of the fear that terrorist fighters will return from Syria and Iraq. Boko Haram and al-Shabaab are extending their reach from the west and the east. And on Wednesday, U.S. President Barack Obama announced an annual $110 million investment to counteract the increasing terrorist threat across the African continent.

Stuck in the middle of this vortex are the Sahrawis. The next lot of extremists could easily arise among them.

A territory about the size of the U.K. stretched out along the Atlantic, between Morocco and Mauritania, Western Sahara is often called “Africa’s last colony,” since it never gained independence when Spain decamped in 1975 — 91 years after seizing it in 1884. Instead, Morocco invaded and fought a 16-year-long war against a Sahrawi army of independence, known as the Polisario Front. When the war ended, the Sahrawis were left with the arid easternmost part of the territory, and half of the population fled to six refugee camps on the Algerian side of the border. Morocco took territory along the seaboard. To defend it, the Moroccans built a fortified barricade half the length of China’s Great Wall, and laid before it an estimated 9 million mines.

The U.N. called for a referendum on self-determination for the Sahrawis in 1991, but since Morocco had moved in hundreds of thousands of its nationals into its part of Western Sahara, the sides couldn’t agree on the electoral rolls. The Sahrawis have since rejected an offer of autonomy within the Moroccan nation and remain keen for the U.N.-backed poll.

Morocco has meanwhile consolidated power over the territory it occupies, while the Sahrawis nurture the embryo of their would-be state — the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) — among the refugee camps in Algeria. SADR is currently recognized by 46 nations — its most vocal supporter being Algeria, which has a long-standing enmity against Morocco — and is a full member of the African Union. But because of strong Western support for Morocco — it is seen as the most stable state in the area and a bulwark against terrorism — the dream of an independent homeland seems ever more like a mirage.

That has bred a good deal of resentment. In 2012, three Spanish aid workers were abducted in the camps, and over the following year several dozen Sahrawis were reported to have taken part in the militant Islamist advances in Mali. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned of the risk that: “fighting in Mali could spill over into the neighboring countries and contribute to radicalizing the Western Saharan refugee camps.”

J. Peter Pham, director of the Washington, D.C.–based think tank Atlantic Council’s Africa Center, believes that is already happened. “The disconcerting fact is that because these camps are closed, there needs to be at least tacit approval on the part of those responsible to permit infiltration and exfiltration,” he tells TIME. “Whether that’s because of policy or corruption, I don’t know.”

In October 2012, Polisario reportedly set up a counterterrorism squad to protect the camps, but Pham views this initiative with skepticism. “In a way, it’s like breeding vermin and then setting up pest control,” he says. “The ongoing maintenance of a phantom state that will never exist creates the climate for extremism.”

According to Pham, Polisario should accept the offer of autonomy, because an independent state would not be viable. “The last thing Africa needs is another failed state, and that’s exactly what Western Sahara would become if Morocco left,” he says. “There are no real natural resources which can be commercially exploited, it would never be viable by itself. An independent Western Sahara would be an even bigger breeding ground for terrorists.”

That, of course, is not how the Sahrawis or their supporters see it. There is a possibility of offshore oil, and phosphates, fish and arable land are already being exploited in the occupied territory in violation of international law — and with Western connivance. In 2011, a major fishing agreement between Morocco and the European Union was scrapped, partly because fishing in Western Saharan waters was thought controversial, but in December 2013 it was surprisingly renewed. The new agreement talks about benefits to the “local population,” but makes no specific mention of the Sahrawis.

“The E.U.’s interpretation of the legal opinion is preposterous,” Hans Corell, former legal counsel of the U.N. and the author of its legal opinion on Western Sahara’s resources, tells TIME. “It is utterly embarrassing that the international community has been unable to solve this conflict. Since Morocco is able to capitalize in Western Sahara, there will be no incentive at all to change the situation.”

Neither are the E.U. or the U.N. providing any mechanism for humanitarian monitoring in the territory. The U.N. has had a peacekeeping force in Western Sahara since 1991, but it’s the only such operation in the world lacking a mandate to monitor human rights, because of an annual French veto in the Security Council. Isabella Lovin is one of several members of the European Parliament who have tried both officially and unofficially to enter Western Sahara to take soundings among the Sahrawis, but she’s been both denied and deported.

“If neither the U.N. nor the E.U. are allowed to monitor in Western Sahara, how can human rights ever be guaranteed?” Lovin asks.

Protests are commonplace in the occupied territory, but they are invariably broken up by police, since any questioning of Morocco’s claims to Western Sahara is punishable with prison terms. Activists are commonly prosecuted on trumped-up charges such as assaulting a policeman or planning riots. The binding evidence is often a written testimony, supposedly made by the defendant during extended pretrial detention without access to legal counsel. Because of the lack of monitoring, it is often impossible to tell whether these statements are true, false or coerced.

“These trials are the most blatant violations of human rights and end up in people being locked up for years,” Eric Goldstein, Human Rights Watch’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director, tells TIME. “Police beating demonstrators, however, is a weekly ritual.”

Some rights activists worry that the protests, beatings and trials will escalate now, as oil companies off the Western Saharan coast intensify their exploration. In 2005, Norway’s Government Pension Fund, the world’s largest sovereign-wealth fund, started divesting in Kerr-McGee, because their operations in Western Sahara constituted an “unacceptable risk for contributing to other particularly serious violations of fundamental ethical norms.” However, Kerr-McGee’s American partners Kosmos Energy, continued the enterprise.

Currently, Kosmos Energy has a drilling ship on its way to the region. Mohamed Alouat is one of many Sahrawis who have protested against Kosmos’ plans. A video from June 10 purportedly shows him taking to the streets with a poster that says the oil is Sahrawi, before a policeman assaults him with a razor blade.

“They beat my mother so she fainted,” Alouat says. “This all happened to me now because I held a poster against Kosmos. Where are our rights?”

Even though it is still some way from actual oil production, Kosmos Energy has gone out of its way to publicly promise that “local populations” will benefit from any discovery. “We believe that economic development of the territory can and should proceed in parallel with the U.N. mediation process,” a Kosmos spokesperson tells TIME. “In fact, some experts believe a discovery may be the catalyst to lead a resolution of the conflict.” The energy company adds that it is in the process of engaging with a range of local stakeholders, “including Sahrawis.”

Erik Hagen, chair of Western Sahara Resource Watch, disagrees.

“If oil is struck, the Sahrawi future is forever ruined,” he says. “Morocco is the only country in the region that doesn’t produce oil, it is completely unthinkable that they would seek a solution with the Sahrawi if they make a discovery.”

That, of course, would only stoke frustration in the refugee camps. “Militant groups are operating in the camps and their influence is growing,” says the Atlantic Council’s Pham. That could make Africa’s last colony its newest terrorist hotbed.

TIME europe

Europe Considers Getting Tough on Russia After Plane Disaster

A man looks at the wreckage of passenger plane Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 on July 18, 2014 in Grabovka, Ukraine.
A man looks at the wreckage of passenger plane Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 on July 18, 2014 in Grabovka, Ukraine. Brendan Hoffman—Getty Images

European leaders have been reluctant to impose heavy sanctions on Russia. That may now change

Correction appended, July 18 2014

With Europeans reeling at the calamitous downing of a Malaysia Airlines jet on Thursday, European politicians have already begun debating whether they have fallen short in applying pressure on the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin. European leaders have for months tiptoed around imposing muscular sanctions against Moscow for arming Ukraine’s separatists as they try to protect the continent’s deep economic ties with Russia. The Obama Administration has taken a harder line, this week introducing a tough new round of sanctions against Russian individuals and companies. European leaders have thus far tried to give diplomatic negotiations with Putin a chance to work, while approving some of the sanctions the U.S. has implemented.

President Barack Obama on Friday called the shootdown “an outrage of unspeakable proportions,” and said at least one American had died in the crash. And at the U.N., U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power outlined evidence pointing to Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine as having launched the missile, possibly from the arsenal recently supplied by Moscow. Like Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, she ruled out any possibility that Ukraine’s military had been responsible, as Putin has claimed. With Russia emerging as a likely culprit in the disaster, European leaders are now doing some soul-searching and discussing what their next steps should be.

It could take weeks or months for investigators to prove who exactly fired the missile that appears to have taken down MH17 over eastern Ukraine at an altitude of 30,000 feet, killing all 298 passengers and crew, most of them Dutch.. But the lack of firm answers hardly matters: The calls for tougher action against Russia have come swiftly, even before investigators have reached the wreckage strewn across a rural area of Ukraine near the border with Russia. “The time for illusions is over, the illusions that we can bring Russia over in a diplomatic way, that is finished,” Karl-Georg Wellmann, a German member of parliament from the ruling Christian Democrat party, told TIME on Friday. “Russia is leading a hot war in eastern Ukraine, delivering artillery, tanks, anti-aircraft missiles,” he said. “This is not a game, it is a reality.”

Since Putin sent the Russian military into Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula more than four months ago – then annexed it – the U.S. and Europe have differed over how to punish Moscow for violating international agreements that have held since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

So far, E.U. sanctions include freezing assets and banning travel of those officials deemed to have been directly involved in the Crimea operation and in backing armed militia in eastern Ukraine. The 28 E.U. countries have split over how tough the sanctions should be, with Scandinavian countries and former Soviet allies like Poland wanting stiff action, while southern European countries like Italy and Spain are balking at the hit on their own economies that action might bring.

But Europe has not — as yet — imposed sanctions that might cause real pain to Russia’s economy, or its own. Such sanctions might include blocking Russian companies from using E.U. banks or stopping European technology from being used in Russia’s critical oil and gas industries. French officials have resisted calls from Baltic states to cancel a €1.2-billion ($1.6 billion) deal to sell two Mistral-class amphibious warships to Russia. In fact, Russian seamen arrived in the French port of Saint-Nazaire just last month to begin training on the vessels, the first of which is due for delivery in October. With Thursday’s tragedy, E.U. leaders might now ratchet up the pressure on French President François Hollande to reconsider. German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters on Berlin that by contrast to the French deal, Germany had scrapped a lucrative deal to build a shooting center in Russia.

On Wednesday — just one day before the airline disaster — Obama announced the new round of American sanctions against Russia, targeting a much broader network of government officials and business leaders and freezing the assets of key Russian companies, including the giant energy firm Rosneft, with which E.U. countries have billions of dollars worth of contracts. In Brussels, E.U. leaders voted to tighten European sanctions as well, but failed to name the companies, instead giving European technocrats until the end of July to draw up the list.

But with Europeans counting their dead, politicians predict more focused action against Russia, especially if investigators confirm the claims by U.S., E.U. and Ukrainian officials that the rebels are to blame. “The climate for further measures against the Russian leadership will be different after this,” says Joris Voorhoeve, an advisor to the Dutch Foreign Ministry on peace and security issues, and a former Defense Minister. “If it is proven that the missile is of Russian origin and if it was not just a serious and bad mistake by the Ukraine government, which is not very likely, I think the position of the Netherlands government will be for further sanctions against Russia,” he said by phone from the Dutch capital The Hague on Friday. “There is general distrust of Putin and the circle around him.”

Correction: The original version of this story misrepresented Ambassador Samantha Power’s comments about the origin of the missile that brought down Flight 17.

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