TIME migrants

Hungary’s Border Fence Isn’t Stopping Desperate Syrian Migrants

Migrant crisis
Yuri Kozyrev—NOOR for TIME A Syrian family prepares to turn themselves into a Hungarian detention facility for migrants arriving in the European Union in Roszke, Hungary on Aug. 29, 2015.

Hungary wants to impose prison terms against refugees who sneak across the border on their way to the E.U. They're still coming

The smuggler’s asking price was high—about $800—but that didn’t seem to bother Tarek al Saleh, a 23-year-old refugee from Syria. Nor was he much concerned about the risk of getting robbed and left for dead, as many other Syrian migrants have been this year while making their way to Europe. The gamble was worth it, he said, as long as the human trafficker showed him the way into Hungary, his gateway into the European Union—and steered him clear of any Hungarian police.

“He knows where police stand,” al Saleh said of his Serbian smuggler. “He knows where to go.” They had agreed to meet at sundown on Saturday in the Serbian village of Horgos, just a couple of miles south of the E.U. border, and walk north through the corn and sunflower fields. His final destination, he said, was the Netherlands, where he hoped to meet up with a family friend. But he’d be racing against the clock to get there through Eastern Europe.

On Saturday night, when al Saleh reached the northern edge of Serbia, soldiers in neighboring Hungary finished erecting a razor-wire fence along the Serbian border, which had previously been open and unguarded for anyone trying to walk into the E.U. Later this week, the Hungarian parliament is set to reinforce that fence with legal penalties. The right-wing government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban wants to make it a criminal offense to cross the border illegally, punishable by up to three years in prison.

“We are going to communicate to them: ‘Don’t come to Hungary,’” says Zoltan Kovacs, the government’s chief spokesman. “’Illegal border crossing is a crime. Do not attempt it, or you are going to be arrested.’”

Currently, Hungarian authorities have no right to arrest the migrants crossing into the E.U. illegally, even as their numbers have peaked at more than 3,000 per day, at the end of last week. The tide of refugees, mostly coming from conflict zones in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, has been part of the largest mass migration into Europe since World War II, and Hungary has already registered around 140,000 migrants so far this year, triple the number who arrived during the first eight months of 2014. Most of them have little interest in remaining in Hungary, but they have to pass through the country to reach the more prosperous states of Europe, often Germany, which expects to receive an unprecedented 800,000 applications for asylum this year, quadruple the number Germany registered in 2014. As a result, says Kovacs, “the whole system is overwhelmed.”

But for the moment, the Hungarian border fence is doing nothing to hinder the migrants’ arrival. Quite the opposite—its construction seems to have triggered a massive rush to reach the E.U. before Hungary shuts the gates. Thousands of people, nearly all identifying themselves to police as Syrian, kept streaming through the gaps in the fence through the weekend, leaving a trail of debris along the railroad tracks that they have used to guide their way north: empty bottles of baby powder, diapers, hand sanitizer, worn-out shoes, used blankets, apple rinds and peach pits. On Saturday night, a full and yellow moon rose to light their way, and local farmers came onto the road in northern Serbia to sell the migrants water, cigarettes and candy bars.

“They seem to be decent people,” said Zoltan Wass, a Serbian citizen who grows grapes and plums on a patch of land along the railroad. Even though the migrants have been picking fruit from his property without permission, he added, “We feel for them, maybe because we know what it’s like to run away from war.”

During the Balkan wars of the 1990s, Hungary was also on the receiving end of waves of refugees, mainly Serbs, Croats and Bosnians fleeing the slaughter. While the Balkan nations suffered through Europe’s first war since World War II, the Hungarians remember the discomfort of accommodating tens of thousands of their less fortunate neighbors. That may help explain why most Hungarians—more than 60%, according to a nationwide poll conducted in July–support the construction of the fence to keep out migrants from Syria and Afghanistan, lands that are far more culturally foreign to them than the nearby Balkans. But that doesn’t mean such measures will work.

Ghafek Aiad Alsaho, another Syrian in his mid-twenties who is trying to flee his country’s civil war, had been living in a Turkish refugee camp for nine months before he heard in July that Hungary was planning to seal its southern border. The news made him realize that it was time to make the journey of more than a thousand miles—through Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia and into the E.U.—because he felt he may not get another chance. His hometown of Deir ez-Zour, in eastern Syria, is under siege from the militant group known as Islamic State, and he has no intention of going back there. “It’s a one-way trip for me,” he says.

On Saturday, when he arrived at the Hungarian border with Serbia, he knew better than to walk through the gaps in the fence and risk getting caught by the Hungarian police. Under E.U. law, a migrant can only apply for asylum in the E.U. country that first registers his arrival. So most migrants try desperately to avoid being registered by the police before they reach the country where they want to stay.

Alsaho is no exeption. His dream is to make it all the way to Norway—whose citizens are among the wealthiest in Europe— before turning himself in to Norwegian authorities to be registered as an asylum seeker. That meant he would need to travel the length of Europe without getting caught by police. So when night fell over Hungary, he scurried underneath the barbed wire and made a run for it. “It was just me, the forest and the moon,” he says.

But the police were quick to catch him. More than two thousand Hungarian officers have been deployed in recent weeks to help patrol the border with Serbia, and several of them chased Alsaho down and, he says, roughed him up before taking him by bus with other migrants to be registered in a processing camp near the town of Roszke. Arriving there at dawn on Sunday, he stuck his head out of the window of the idling police bus to speak with a reporter. “I’ll be out of here in three days,” he promised in nearly perfect English. “And then I’ll move on.”

That determination was typical of the Syrians at Europe’s doorstep. Their homeland has become an inferno that shows no signs of abating—in four years, half the country has been killed, displaced or forced to flee. Many of them have no homes to which they could return. Even if Hungary’s parliament criminalizes the crossing of its border fence this week and starts putting Syrian migrants in prison, they likely to find another way in, even at the risk of using human traffickers who have little regard for their safety.

Waiting for his smuggler to arrive in the shade of a hackberry tree on Saturday afternoon, al Saleh said he knew of the horrific deaths of 71 migrants whose bodies were discovered inside a refrigerated truck last week in Austria. But the risks of being trafficked across the illegal crossing of a border in Hungary were tame, he added, compared to the dangers he faced in his hometown of Aleppo. With much of that city destroyed amid fighting between the Syrian government and rebel forces, his parents took up a collection among their neighbors and friends so that he could make it to Holland to continue his studies in medical engineering. “They are waiting for me to call,” he says. And no fence is going to stop him.

TIME europe

The European Union Has Called for Emergency Talks on the Refugee Crisis

Transit zone for migrants at Budapest Keleti railway station
Arpad Kurucz—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images Migrants camp in a transit zone at Keleti railway station in Budapest, Hungary on August 30, 2015.

Talks will be attended by Interior Ministers from each of the union's 28 member states

The European Union is calling emergency talks to discuss a solution to its rapidly escalating refugee and migrant crisis, which it says has attained “unprecedented proportions.”

The E.U. leadership announced that the talks will be held on Sept. 14 and be attended by Interior Ministers from each of the union’s 28 member states, the BBC reports.

More than 300,000 refugees and migrants have arrived in Europe since January — primarily from the Middle East and Africa — already surpassing the total number for all of 2014.

More than 2,500 of those have died making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea, with 200 missing and feared dead after a boat capsized off the coast of Libya on Thursday, and 71 bodies found in a truck abandoned by the roadside in Austria, only the latest in an increasing number of fatal incidents.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was “horrified and heartbroken” by last week’s deaths, and called for a “collective political response” to the crisis.

The talks in two weeks will touch upon measures against trafficking, return policies and internal co-operation, among other topics, according to the BBC.

Germany, France and the U.K. have all suggested the determination of a list of “safe countries of origin,” thereby enabling the immediate repatriation of at least a portion of the arrivals. Germany announced on Saturday that it would allow migrants from Syria — whose continued civil war is a major contributor to the European influx — to seek and obtain asylum.

TIME Germany

Germany Will Allow Syrian Refugees to Stay and Apply for Asylum

Migrants Seeking Asylum Arrive In Berlin
Sean Gallup—Getty Images A young migrant boy from Syria blows soap bubbles as other migrants seeking asylum in Germany wait to register at the Central Registration Office for Asylum Seekers in Berlin on Aug. 27, 2015.

The new rule comes as Germany is witnessing a surge in attacks on refugee shelters

In a move that will affect tens of thousands, Germany will now allow Syrian refugees to stay and apply for asylum instead of deporting them back to their country of arrival.

The Washington Post reports the country has decided to suspend a European Union rule, called the the Dublin Regulation, which says refugees are supposed to stay in the first European country of arrival until their asylum claims are processed. This rule places an unequal burden on Southern European countries like Greece and Italy, which are amongst the easiest to reach by boat from across the Mediterranean. Both Italy and Greece have faced unprecedented levels of migrant inflow this past year.

Under the new policy, even if the refugees first arrive in Greece or Italy but travel northwards to Germany, they will not be deported back to their first country of contact.

Germany appears to be the only EU country to suspend the Dublin Regulation so far.“This is only the one that we are aware of among the member states at this moment,” the European Commission said.

German chancellor Angela Merkel recently called the migrant crisis a bigger challenge for the EU than the Greek debt. The new rule comes at a time when Germany is witnessing a surge in refugee shelter attacks.

This decision it seems was well received by the Syrian community, as evidenced by the outpouring of love notes and messages for Merkel on social media.

 

TIME Poland

Nazi ‘Gold Train’ May Have Been Found in Poland

Poland Nazi Train gold
AP The potential site where a Nazi gold train is believed to be hidden, near the city of Walbrzych, Poland, on Aug. 28, 2015.

Treasure hunters have been searching for the train for decades

A mythical German train filled with gold and gems has been detected by ground-penetrating radar in Poland. The so-called “gold train” is thought to have gone missing close to the city of Walbrzych, Poland in 1945. It was lost in the underground tunnels where German soldiers transported goods around the country during World War II.

A Pole and a German recently told authorities that they had found the armored train in one of the tunnels, the Associated Press reports. A radar image of the train shown to the Polish deputy culture minister seemed to confirm the train’s existence. He said he was “more than 99% certain that this train exists.”

The process of searching for the exact location of the train is expected to take weeks. According to the deputy culture minister, a man who claimed to have helped load the gold train said on his deathbed that the vehicle was laced with explosives as a security measure.

[AP]

Read next: German Chancellor’s Name Is Now Slang for ‘To Do Nothing’

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TIME Germany

German Chancellor’s Name Is Now Slang for ‘To Do Nothing’

"Merkeln" now means "to do nothing"
Reynaldo Paganelli—Rey Paganelli/Sipa USA German Chancellor Angela Merkel at an Aug. 28 press conference.

Some Germans have coined the verb "merkeln" to mean "to do nothing"

German youth have given Chancellor Angela Merkel’s name a new meaning: “to do nothing.”

Out of frustration with her silence on social and domestic issues, some Germans have coined the term “merkeln” — which the German dictionary publisher Langenscheidt defines as “to do nothing, make no decisions, issue no statements,” NPR reports.

“Merkeln” is one of 30 words in contention for Langenscheidt’s “Youth Word of the Year” title. As of press time, the political verb was in first place, with 34% of the vote.

The word’s usage reflects the belief that Merkel does not speak up on issues until she can gauge widespread political opinion. Most recently, when neo-Nazis protested refugees entering Germany this weekend, her delayed words sparked the hashtags #Merkelschweigt (“Merkel remains silent”) and #Merkelsagwas (“Merkel, say something”) on Twitter.

[NPR]

TIME Germany

Germany’s Social Democrat Party Has Been Hit With a Bomb Threat Over Its Stance on Refugees

The threat is a reflection of growing tension in the country over the influx of asylum seekers

Members of Germany’s Social Democrat Party (SPD) were forced to evacuate their headquarters in Berlin on Tuesday following a bomb threat and hundreds of racist emails and phone calls.

The party, a member of Germany’s ruling coalition, said the threatening emails began pouring in since its chairman Sigmar Gabriel visited the eastern town of Heidenau on Monday, where violent protests have erupted over the arrival of about 250 refugees, reports Reuters.

Gabriel, who is also Germany’s Vice Chancellor, denounced the antirefugee demonstrations after far-right protesters attacked police, who were escorting asylum seekers to a local shelter over the weekend.

“They think of themselves as defenders of the real Germany. In truth they are the most un-German people I can think of,” he told reporters.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also condemned the protests, reports Agence France-Presse. She is due to visit Heidenau Wednesday and plans to meet with refugees and aid workers at a local asylum seeker shelter.

Nothing suspicious was found at the SPD headquarters, but the party said the threats were a “political act.”

The racist emails are evidence of an antirefugee sentiment among a small number of Germans as thousands of asylum seekers fleeing war and persecution in Africa and the Middle East enter the country. Germany is expecting to receive 800,000 asylum seekers this year — four times higher than in 2014.

On Tuesday, a suspected arson attack destroyed a school sports hall in the town of Nauen, west of Berlin, that was intended as a temporary shelter for refugees. Police say the fire at the hall was started deliberately, reports the BBC. No one was injured.

The blaze is the latest in a string of attacks against refugees and asylum centers in Germany this year.

TIME Greece

Why Snap Elections In Greece Are Smart Bet For Teflon Tsipras

The politician of twists and turns has broken most of his campaign promises. But he'll still likely win when polls are held next month

It’s one of the most basic rules of electoral politics—keep your campaign promises or you will lose the support of your voters—but Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has deftly managed to skirt that rule. On Thursday, when he announced that he will resign and call snap elections for September 20, Tsipras wagered that voters would stay behind him regardless of the fact that he has failed to keep most of his core campaign pledges. And he is probably right.

At the end of July—after he had abandoned hopes of shielding the Greek welfare state from further cuts and austerity measures—Tsipras’ approval rating was still at a comfortable 60% in all the major polls. Even now he is comfortably ahead of any other political leader in the country, and his move on Thursday to call elections is intended to lock in that support.

He’s going to need it. Under the terms of the bailout deal that Tsipras secured this week, Greece will receive around $95.2 billion in foreign loans in order to avoid bankruptcy over the next three years. But as a condition of providing this lifeline, Greece’s troika of creditors—the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund—insisted on a new set of painful reforms for the Greek economy.

Those reforms will give Greek voters plenty of reasons to resent their government. They will see tax hikes, pension reductions and deep cuts to their health and social welfare systems. For many Greeks this will feel like a betrayal, because they elected Tsipras in January on a promise to avoid exactly these types of measures. His radical left-wing political party, Syriza, had based its campaign on a pledge to end austerity and preserve the social safety net. Instead, Tsirpas accepted some of the harshest bailout terms Greece has ever faced from its creditors.

That has resulted in a mutiny within his party. About a dozen of its more radical leftists announced last week that they would split off to form a new anti-bailout movement. “The fight against the new [bailout] Memorandum starts now, by mobilizing people in every corner of the country,” said the statement from Panagiotos Lafazanis, the leader of the far-left wing of the Syriza party.

But even if their splinter group takes some votes away from Syriza, it will not be enough to challenge the party’s lead in the polls. At the end of last month, Syriza’s approval numbers were above 40%, far ahead of the closest challenger, and at this point, that popularity seems to derive much more from the party’s leader than its anti-austerity bona fides.

Throughout his seven months of intense negotiations with the creditors, Tsipras has channeled the Greek sense of victimhood to blame the troika for all of his failures at the negotiating table. He blamed the troika for forcing Greece to close its banks at the end of June in order to save them from running out of money. He blamed Germany for trying to push Greece out of the European currency union. After each failure to win concessions from the troika, he went on TV to convince the Greek public that he had done the best he could. And it always seemed to work. “We know that no one is behind Tsipras pulling his strings,” said Julie Bagietakou, a social worker in Athens, even after her Prime Minister failed to win any debt relief for Greece in July. “We trust him to do what’s right for the people.”

For her, as for many Greeks, Tsipras’s appeal came from being a new face in Greek politics, not beholden to the establishment parties that had ruled the country for decades before he came to power in January. One irony of his tenure is that Tsipras has increasingly relied on these establishment parties in parliament in recent weeks to approve the new bailout deal even when his own Syriza comrades refused to vote for it.

Those dissenters are now set to break away from the party and go it alone, leaving Tsipras to drift ever further toward the mainstream center-left of Greek politics. After the snap elections, he may need to form a coalition with some of the establishment forces that he claimed to despise less than a year ago. It would be yet another U-turn in a premiership defined by little else. But his core supporters will likely forgive him, as they have so many times already in his short time in office.

TIME Greece

Germany Approves 3rd Greek Bailout Despite IMF Misgivings

Bundestag Votes On Third Greece Aid Package
Adam Berry—Getty Images Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Vice Chancellor and Economy and Energy Minister Sigmar Gabrie and German Chancellor Angela Merkel attend a meeting of the Bundestag, in Berlin, on Aug. 19, 2015.

Feared revolt against Merkel’s leadership fails to materialize

Greece’s new €86 billion ($91 billion) bailout plan won the crucial approval of lawmakers in Germany Wednesday, bringing the new rescue package a big step closer despite the lack of a formal commitment so far from the International Monetary Fund to share the burden.

In Berlin, a total of 454 lawmakers voted in favour of the package — Greece’s third in the last five years — while 113 voted against and 18 abstained. The surge in dissent by members of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s own party, predicted ahead of time by some, failed to materialize.

The size of the ‘No’ vote was slightly smaller than when the Bundestag last month voted to allow Berlin to start negotiating on the third bailout. On that occasion, 119 lawmakers voted ‘No’. However, that number may understate the true degree of dissent as nearly 50 lawmakers didn’t show up due to vacations and, possibly, the wish to avoid the wrath of the party whips if they voted against Merkel’s leadership.

Parliaments in Spain, Austria and Estonia had already approved the package Tuesday. The Netherlands, another country that has been openly hostile to lending Greece more money this year, is still debating the bailout in parliament and is expected to approve it, despite the government coalition only having a one-seat majority.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble told parliament it would be “irresponsible” not to give Athens another chance after a comprehensive reversal of its earlier policy of opposing the ‘tough love’ of bailout funds in return for reforms.

Schäuble said he was convinced the IMF would join the bailout after its first review, slated for October. He has until then to orchestrate a major reversal of his own policy by granting Greece what the IMF terms “substantial debt relief” to make its debt burden sustainable. The IMF is refusing to join the bailout until the Eurozone takes that step.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME World

Quadruplets Born to 65-Year-Old Woman Will Leave Hospital

GERMANY-FAMILY-UKRAINE-OFFBEAT
Tobias Schwarz—AFP/Getty Images Director of the neonatology clinic of Berlin's charite Christoph Buehrer (L) and Director of the maternity clinic of Berlin's charite Wolfgang Henrich attend a press conference on the premature births of quadruplets by a 65-year-old German woman in Berlin on May 27, 2015.

The quadruplets were born prematurely, but are now healthy and doing well

(BERLIN) — Doctors in Germany say quadruplets born prematurely three months ago to a 65-year-old woman are doing well and can leave a Berlin hospital soon.

Charite hospital said Tuesday that the babies all weigh more than 2.5 kilograms (88 ounces) and should be able to go home this month. The quadruplets are a girl named Neeta and three boys named Dries, Bence and Fjonn, who were delivered during the 26th week of pregnancy by cesarean section on May 19.

Mother Annegret Raunigk is believed to be the oldest woman to have ever delivered quadruplets.

The retired schoolteacher already has 13 other children aged 10 to 44 from five fathers. She traveled abroad to have donated, fertilized eggs implanted, a procedure that’s illegal in Germany.

TIME World

Teen Finds Gold Bar While Swimming in a Lake in Germany

The photo released on Aug. 12, 2015 shows a gold bar that was found by a teenager when swimming in a lake near Berchtesgaden, Germany.
Polizeipraesidium Oberbayern Sued/AP A gold bar tha found by a teenager when swimming in a lake near Berchtesgaden, Germany.

No one has any idea where the bar came from

(BERLIN) — A teenager has made an unexpected find while swimming in a lake in the German Alps: a 500-gram (17.6-ounce) bar of gold.

Police said Wednesday that they are still trying to figure out where the bar comes from and how it got into the Koenigssee lake, a popular tourist destination near Berchtesgaden on the border with Austria.

The 16-year-old girl, who was on vacation, found it around 2 meters (6 ½ feet) under the surface on Friday and handed it in to police.

Divers on Tuesday carried out a thorough search of the area around where the bar was found, but didn’t find any more gold or other valuables.

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