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Executive Summary for April 25th

We review the latest refugee-related issues, including German chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to a Turkish refugee camp and backing for “safe zones” in Syria, the Italian Mafia’s “war on migrants” in Palermo and the rise in detention of migrants at the Mexican border.

Published on April 25, 2016 Read time Approx. 4 minutes

Angela Merkel Pushes for ‘Safe Zones’ in Syria

German chancellor Angela Merkel visited one of Turkey’s crowded refugee camps and announced that Germany would back Turkey’s push to establish “safe zones” in Syria’s border areas so that refugees might find shelter in the war-torn country.

During her visit this weekend to the camp in Gaziantep, a southeastern city on the border with Syria, she said “I have always in my talks with the [Turkey’s] prime minister pleaded in favor of creating so-called safe zones, zones in which we can provide assurance and security guarantees and that has to be of the utmost immediate importance. Also, in our negotiations for a cease-fire, such areas or zones can be easily identified along the Turkey–Syria border,” Merkel said.

European Union Council president Donald Tusk, E.U. deputy commissioner Frans Timmermans and Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu joined Merkel in her visit to the Nizip 1 camp, which houses roughly 10,000 of the 2.7 million refugees in Turkey.

The proposed security zones would extend from the border between Jarablous on the western bank of the Euphrates river and the city of Azaz, and would only be created once the area were cleared of ISIS fighters. “Safe zones” in Syria would stem the flow of refugees to Turkey, where many hope eventually to reach and apply for asylum in Europe.

Merkel also commended Turkey for issuing work permits to many Syrian refugees, calling it a “very brave step.” However, the German chancellor was criticized for failing to mention the closed border crossing in Gaziantep, currently preventing thousands of Syrians from fleeing renewed fighting in Syria.

“Instead of touring a sanitized refugee camp, E.U. leaders should look over the top of Turkey’s new border wall to see the tens of thousands of war-weary Syrian refugees blocked on the other side,” Judith Sunderland of Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Germany announced Monday that the number of migrants from North African countries seeking asylum in Germany dropped from 3,300 in January to 480 last month, according to a report made by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) to the German parliament.

Sicilian Mafia Declares ‘War’ On Migrants

The Mafia bosses running Palermo, a southern Italian port-city, are cracking down on the thousands of migrants reaching its shores.

Police commissioner Guido Longo said the Mafia is engaging in “unprecedented aggression and bullying” toward migrants.

Southern Italy has become a hub for African migrants hoping to flee war or find a better life in Europe. The influx has increased in the past months since the route to the Balkans was closed, forcing migrants to find alternative paths to Europe. The island is now receiving up to 1,000 migrants every day.

“Palermo is no longer an Italian town. It is no longer European. You can walk in the city and feel like you’re in Istanbul or Beirut,” Mayor Leoluca Orlando told MailOnline. “The Mafia has not understood that the city has changed. We are now a city of immigrants, and the Mafia bosses no longer sit in the mayor’s chair.”

Two weeks ago, the mafia was accused of shooting a Gambian migrant in a drive-by attack. Yusapha Susso, 21, survived the attack, but many in Palermo feared that this was a sign of more violence to come for the island.

“It is the beginning of a war between the Mafia and the migrants,” 46-year-old former social worker Giovanni Zinna told the U.K.’s Daily Star. “It is going to get worse. I am scared. There will be more migrants, more friction, more attacks.”

In the first three months of this year, immigration to Italy has gone up by almost 90 percent. The majority of migrants are coming from African countries, particularly nations in which conflict has erupted over the last year.

Earlier this month, the military advisor to the U.N. special representative for Libya warned that as many as 250,000 migrants could reach Italy’s shores by the end of the year if the crisis in Libya persists.

Detention at the Mexican Border on the Rise

The number of migrants detained at the Mexican border increased 28 percent over the last month, according to United States Border Patrol.

Last month, 33,335 people were detained trying to illegally cross the border into the U.S. This is more than 7,000 more people detained than in February, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The majority of migrants who cross through the southern American borders are fleeing violence and poverty in Mexico and Central American countries. For the 2016 fiscal year,Border Patrol has documented nearly 10,000 unaccompanied minors fleeing Guatemala, more than 7,000 fleeing El Salvador and at least 4,000 who have fled Honduras.

“The Department of Homeland Security continues to closely monitor current migration trends and is working aggressively to address underlying causes and deter future increases in unauthorized migration, while ensuring that those with legitimate humanitarian claims are afforded the opportunity to seek protection,” officials said in a statement. “We also continue to support broader regional efforts to address the humanitarian situation in Central America.”

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