African migrants stranded on a boat. Photo: Getty
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"Shameful consequences?": Europe contemplates Australian response to African migrants

Will the EU's contemplation of Australia's "solution" to the migration crisis, denying all those rescued at sea the right to settle, end in "shameful consequences"?

When European leaders meet today, they are contemplating a radical overall of the treatment of questions of refugees and migrants. A military approach, which envisages naval vessels halting the exodus from Africa, is being considered.

No longer will anyone – men, women or children – be able to set sail from Libya with any hope of finding sanctuary in Europe.

This was confirmed by the British Secretary of State for Defence, Michael Fallon, who told the Andrew Marr programme: “we have to break the link between rescuing people from the Mediterranean and settlement because they [the migrants and refugees] will keep coming if they think they will be settled.”

Fallon complained that smugglers are phoning the Italian coast guard in advance and informing that their human cargo is settling sail and where to find their vessel.

Until now, anyone rescued by naval vessels at sea has been transported to Italy or Greece and put ashore. Fallon and his European colleagues believe this must end.

The EU agenda for the meeting says consideration being given to:

  • relocation/resettlement
     
  • return/ readmission/reintegration
     
  • cooperation with countries of origin and transit policy

Human rights activists fear something much more dramatic is being considered.

There are real concerns that the distinction between economic migrants (who can be returned) from refugees (who must be given sanctuary under international law) will be maintained in terms of this new policy.

Médecins Sans Frontières has issued a statement warning of what it calls “the shameful consequences of EU member states ignoring their humanitarian duty”. MSF says that the European leaders have to “radically rethink their policies” so that they can offer “safe and legal ways for people to seek refuge and asylum in Europe”.

 

The Australian model

This new approach appears to mirror the Australian policy, which denies all those rescued at sea the right to settle in the country.

The Australians ensure that no one who attempts to arrive in the country without permission can remain. They are held in a series of offshore detention facilities on Nauru and Manus island.

If fully implemented this approach would mean establishing enclaves along the North African coast or detention centres in countries as diverse as Niger, Egypt, Turkey or Lebanon. There are suggestions of establishing a major holding centre in Italy.

The basis for the EU’s response was laid out in a 700-page plan, which has yet to be made public.

 

Refugees, not economic migrants

The recent media coverage of the situation in Calais, where thousands of Africans and Syrians are attempting to board lorries and cars to reach Britain, suggests that everyone is an economic migrant.

Amnesty International says this is simply incorrect.

Steven Symonds, Amnesty’s refugee expert, points to remarks by David Cameron earlier this month, when the Prime Minister accepted that this is not always the case. Cameron put down the flood of migrants to: “the combination of the failed states and criminal gangs in North Africa  driving desperate migrants across the Mediterranean in the hope of reaching our shores”.

“This is right,” says Symonds. “These people are being pushed – they have been driven from their homes and are not trying to come to Europe to find a land of milk and honey.”

Amnesty would like to see Britain joining other EU nations in accepting its share of refugees. But this is unlikely to happen.

The latest indication from the EU summit is that as few as 5,000 people will be accepted as refugees. The rest will simply be repatriated. How the EU will return thousands to a state with a human rights record as notorious as Eritrea has yet to be spelled out.

Martin Plaut is a fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London. With Paul Holden, he is the author of Who Rules South Africa?

Gerald Wiener
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From the Kindertransport to Dolly the Sheep: a New Statesman subscriber's story

Gerald Wiener's life has now been turned into a biography. 

In 1997, Gerald Wiener, an animal geneticist, gathered with a group of friends in Edinburgh to celebrate the cloning of Dolly the sheep by one of his former colleagues. He was a respected scientist, who had contributed to the developments in research which led to this ground-breaking development – and a New Statesman reader.

It could have been very different. Gerald was born Horst, on 25 April 1926, to a German Jewish family. Raised in Berlin by his mother, Luise, he grew up under the shadow of the Nazi regime. He was forced out of his school, and left increasingly alone as friends and family fled to the United States and Britain. After Kristallnacht, when Nazis looted and vandalised Jewish-owned businesses, his mother was desperate for her son to escape. She managed to get him included in the last-ditch organised rescue of German Jewish children, which became known as the Kindertransport. At twelve, Wiener arrived in the UK, alone.

For many years, Wiener did not talk much about his past in Germany. Instead, he embraced a new life as a British schoolboy, and later travelled the world as a scientist. But when he met his second wife, the teacher and writer Margaret Dunlop, she began noting down some of his stories. Eventually she encouraged him to share so many details it has become a book: Goodbye Berlin: the biography of Gerald Wiener.

“I was moved by some of the stories, like his mother putting him on a train in Berlin,” Dunlop tells me when I call the couple at their home in Inverness. “I thought - what a terrible thing.”

“I rejected Germany totally for a long, long time,” Wiener, now 91, says. His mother, with whom he was reunited after she also managed to escape to Britain, threw herself into a wartime career as a nurse. “I had one friend from my school days in Berlin, and he was more like a sort of brother to me, but they also left Germany way behind.”

It was during this period of his life that Wiener first picked up a New Statesman. He spent the war years in Oxford, mentored by the Spooner cousins Rosemary and Ruth, related to William Spooner, who gave his name to the speech error.

Then, in the 1960s, his work took him to Germany, where he met fellow researchers. “They all detested the Hitler years,” he recalls. “I started feeling they are no different to me. I no longer felt bitter about Germany.” 

Still, the Nazis' atrocities had left Wiener almost completely without family. He lost his grandfather, aunt and uncle in the Holocaust. His paternal family fled to the United States. By the time Wiener found them again when taking up a fellowship to study in the US in 1956, his father, who survived the concentration camps, had died of a heart attack.

The next decades were spent patching his family together, and also reclaiming a connection to Germany. Wiener’s half brothers, who were born in Shanghai continue to visit. His American nephew, who works in the music industry, has a German girlfriend and lives in Berlin.

Wiener, too, went back to Berlin. In the early 1990s, the city invited former refugees to visit the city, all expenses paid. With some reservations, Wiener and Dunlop took up the offer. “It was quite exciting to go and see places that had been in my childhood,” he says. He also found the old people's home his grandfather had sought refuge in, before being taken by the Nazis.

Meanwhile, his career was taking him around the world, from India to North Korea. His belief in academic collaboration helped to build the momentum for the Roslin Institute, whose scientists eventually cloned the sheep known as Dolly. 

Wiener, who votes Liberal Democrat, wanted to remain in the EU, and he feels “very angry” that 48 per cent of voters have been ignored.

He adds: “I would be surprised if there was a single university or college who was in favour of Brexit.”

As for another of the great challenges of the present, the refugee crisis, Wiener feels a deep empathy for those living in wartorn regions. “Obviously I feel very, very sympathetic to refugees from more or less wherever,” he says. He sees the current German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, who acted decisively on this matter, as “a bit of a beacon”. At the same time, he believes that in order to fully integrate, refugees must make learning English a priority. “When I go down the street, and I hear people who still don’t speak English, that is the one thing that upsets me,” he says.

If Wiener, a successful scientist, is an example of how Britain can benefit by continuing to offer sanctuary to the world’s desperate, there is, however, a dark undertone to his integration. As a teenager, he knew there was no way back to the Berlin of his childhood. “There was no young generation,” he says of that time. “There was no future.”

Goodbye Berlin is published by Birlinn Books.

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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