Connect with us

Eastern Europe

Syrians Not Seeking, Syrians Not Welcome: Refugees and the Caspian Region

Published

on

The primary point of interest here is why Syrians are fleeing their nation and where they are going. The primary reason they are fleeing is relatively obvious: Syria is currently being torn apart by war and its citizens want to be free of the violence, destruction and general unrest.

But with increased pressure being placed on western states to accept a larger number of refugees, a secondary reason now also exists. There is a segment of the population fleeing in the hopes of upgrading their quality of life, despite not having been affected, or having been very negligibly affected, by the violence in Syria. In some cases the ‘refugees’ have yet to be displaced at all. The more interesting point of interest here is where Syrian refugees are going. The Syrian refugees have largely settled in nations along immediate borders such as Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. There has also been a coalition of support from European and Eastern nations that have accepted large numbers of refugees. One group of nations, however, is notably rejecting support and has remained almost entirely refugee free: the Caspian states. These states are all geographically located very close to Syria and to date have either failed to accept any refugees or have accepted a trivial amount. In contrast, a nation such as Canada, literally on the other side of the world, has done more in the past month to support refugees than the entire Caspian region has since the conflict began.

Geography is the most easily justifiable reason for refugees to choose a nation to emigrate to. It is easier, logistically speaking, to take in refugees from one country to another if the countries are bordering each other. In the case of the Syrian conflict this is best exemplified by Turkey. Since the conflict began, it has taken in over 2 million Syrian refugees, nearly twice as many as the next highest, Lebanon. However, other nations that either directly or very closely border Syria have failed to take on any refugees. The most readily apparent Caspian state to fit the bill is Iran. To date they have accepted zero confirmed refugees despite being the closest state in the Caspian to Syria. Russia and Azerbaijan would be the next closest Caspian states to border with Syria, though there is a small nation in between (Georgia and Armenia respectively). Similar to Iran, Azerbaijan and Russia have taken in zero refugees. What may be occurring in this case is ‘opportunity asylum.’ Meaning that by having to travel through one nation to reach another, which is necessary to reach any of the Caspian states, refugees may receive asylum from the first nation they cross before reaching the second. Most refugees will accept guaranteed asylum in a nation rather than take their chances at the next one. This theory receives some support from the number of refugees in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq, but doesn’t explain why western nations significantly further away are accepting larger numbers of refugees while the much closer Caspian states continue to accept none. Thus, there must be other factors at play outside of geography and opportunity asylum.

Politics always plays a significant role with refugees. This does not appear to be the issue in the Caspian region, however, as all five nations of the Caspian have policies in place to deal with the intake of refugees, be it from Syria or anywhere else. The history of refugee intake in the Caspian is not one decorated with successes, however. Azerbaijan has the most visibly negative track record for refugees, as its own citizens have historically at times fled from the nation to become refugees elsewhere, primarily in Armenia. Every other state in the Caspian, however, has accepted refugees at one time or another. Iran in particular boasts by far the most impressive track record for refugee intake in the region. They have hosted the largest population of refugees in the world since 1979 and an Iranian, Sadruddin Aga Khan, assumed the position of High Commissioner for Refugees on behalf of the UN from 1965 to 1977. Thus, there is precedent within the Caspian region for accepting refugees. So there must be other factors at play outside of politics keeping Syrians from finding asylum in the Caspian.

Social concerns and persecution have played the largest role in keeping Syrians out of the Caspian region. Despite the fact that all Caspian nations have refugee policies in place there are some significant social concerns when accepting asylum in a foreign nation. Will that nation treat you well? Will they respect your customs, culture, or religion? Will they temporarily house and feed you until a more permanent solution materializes? Does the possibility of permanent citizenship and naturalization exist? These are important questions for a refugee to consider when fleeing any nation, particularly Syria, as there are currently many other options available. The policies may be in place formally but Caspian states have been notoriously difficult for refugees seeking asylum. Numerous human rights groups have been particularly critical of Russia’s refugee policies. There have been multiple reports citing concerns with everything from detention centers to impossibly tight deadlines to submit refugee applications, which could then deny them refugee status if not completed on time. Perhaps of greatest concern is the fact that Russia does not prohibit the return of refugees to their home country, which therefore does not guarantee asylum and is inconsistent with international norms. In Iran, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan there have been numerous reports of refugees experiencing human rights violations and racism. Combine that with general poverty for refugees in these nations and none of the states are particularly appealing options for seeking asylum. This therefore begs perhaps a rhetorical question: why would a refugee flee from persecution and violence in Syria only to arrive in a Caspian state and be persecuted more?

The fact of the matter is that Syrian refugees are not being accepted into the Caspian region largely because they do not want to claim asylum in the Caspian states. There are other contributing factors in geography and policy but ultimately when other nations with a better track record in economy, human rights and historical refugee acceptance exist as asylum options, then there is no reason to choose a lesser Caspian state. Though to be fair to refugees, the Caspian nations certainly are not encouraging Syrians to come and claim asylum either. In fact, the very opposite is occurring, as states like Russia have explicitly stated they will not be accepting any.

Finally, there could be an element of public image at play as well. If Syrians claim asylum in the Caspian and are persecuted shortly thereafter, an immense amount of critical attention and involvement from the UN and global community could be drawn. It could very well cause a state to suffer embarrassment or even sanction. Rather than potentially suffer this embarrassment on the international stage, the Caspian states have de facto closed their borders knowing it would be near impossible to guarantee that Syrian refugees would remain free of persecution in the host nations. The chance of this changing before the Syrian conflict ends is virtually zero and thus the Caspian will remain free of Syrian refugees for the foreseeable future.

Continue Reading
Comments

Eastern Europe

Unhappy Iran Battles for Lost Influence in South Caucasus

Published

on

Events that might not matter elsewhere in the world matter quite a lot in the South Caucasus. Given a recent history of conflict, with all the bad feelings that generates, plus outside powers playing geostrategic games, and its growing importance as an energy corridor between Europe and Central Asia, the region is vulnerable. 

This has been worsened by the two-year-long Western absence of engagement. In 2020, Europe and the U.S. were barely involved as the second Nagorno-Karabakh war broke out between Armenia and Azerbaijan, leaving about 7,000 dead. With tensions now on the rise between Azerbaijan and Iran, Western uninterest is again evident, even though this might have wider ramifications for future re-alignment in the South Caucasus. 

The drumbeat of Iranian activity against Azerbaijan has been consistent in recent months. Iran is getting increasingly edgy about Israel’s presence in the South Caucasus — hardly surprising given Israel’s painfully well-targeted assassination and computer hacking campaigns against nuclear staff and facilities — and especially its growing security and military ties with Azerbaijan, with whom Iran shares a 765km (430 mile) border. Iran has also voiced concern about the presence in the region of Turkish-backed Syrian mercenaries, who were used as Azeri assault troops last year.  

Much of the anger has been played out in military exercises. The Azeri military has been busy since its victory, exercising near the strategic Lachin corridor which connects the separatist region to Armenia, and in the Caspian Sea, where it has jointly exercised with Turkish personnel. Iran, in turn, sent units to the border region this month for drills of an unstated scale. 

This week, the Azeri and Iranian foreign ministers agreed to dial down the rhetoric amid much talk of mutual understanding. Whether that involved promises regarding the Israeli presence or a pledge by Iran to abandon a newly promised road to Armenia was not stated. 

Iran’s behavior is a recognition of the long-term strategic changes caused by the Armenian defeat last year. Iran has been sidelined. Its diplomatic initiatives have failed, and it has been unwelcome in post-conflict discussions. 

It is true that Iran was never a dominant power in the South Caucasus. Unlike Russia or Turkey, the traditional power brokers, it has not had a true ally. Iran was certainly part of the calculus for states in the region, but it was not feared, like Russia or Turkey. And yet, the South Caucasus represents an area of key influence, based on millennia of close political and cultural contacts. 

Seen in this light, it is unsurprising that Iran ratcheted up tensions with Azerbaijan. Firstly, this reasserted the involvement of the Islamic Republic in the geopolitics of the South Caucasus. It was also a thinly-veiled warning to Turkey that its growing ambitions and presence in the region are seen as a threat. In Iran’s view, Turkey’s key role as an enabler of Azeri irridentism is unmistakable. 

Turkish involvement has disrupted the foundations of the South Caucasian status quo established in the 1990s. To expect Turkey to become a major power there is an overstretch, but it nevertheless worries Iran. For example, the recent Caspian Sea exercises between Azerbaijan and Turkey appear to run counter to a 2018 agreement among the sea’s littoral states stipulating no external military involvement. 

The Caspian Sea has always been regarded by Iranians as an exclusive zone shared first with the Russian Empire, later the Soviets, and presently the Russian Federation. Other littoral states play a minor role. This makes Turkish moves in the basin and the recent improvement of ties between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan an unpleasant development for Iran — fewer barriers to the Trans-Caspian Pipeline threatens the Islamic Republic’s ability to block the project.  

This is where Iranian views align almost squarely with the Kremlin’s. Both fear Turkish progress and new energy routes. The new Iranian leadership might now lean strongly toward Russia. With Russia’s backing, opposition to Turkey would become more serious; Iran’s foreign minister said this month that his country was seeking a “big jump” in relations with Russia. 

The fact is that the region is increasingly fractured and is being pulled in different directions by the greater powers around it. This state of affairs essentially dooms the prospects of pan-regional peace and cooperation initiatives. Take the latest effort by Russia and Turkey to introduce a 3+3 platform with Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, as well as Iran. Beyond excluding the West, disagreements will eventually preclude any meaningful progress. There is no unity of purpose between the six states and there are profound disagreements. 

Thus, trouble will at some point recur between Iran and Azerbaijan, and by extension Turkey. Given the current situation, and Iran’s visible discontent, it is likely it will take some kind of initiative lest it loses completely its position to Turkey and Russia. 

Author’s note: first published in cepa

Continue Reading

Eastern Europe

Right-wing extremist soldiers pose threat to Lithuania

Published

on

It is no secret that Lithuania has become a victim of German army’s radicalization. Could this country count on its partners further or foreign military criminals threaten locals?

It is well known that Germany is one of the largest provider of troops in NATO. There are about 600 German troops in Lithuania, leading a Nato battlegroup. According to Lithuanian authorities, Lithuania needs their support to train national military and to protect NATO’s Central and Northern European member states on NATO’s eastern flank.

Two sides of the same coin should be mentioned when we look at foreign troops in Lithuania.

Though Russian threat fortunately remains hypothetical, foreign soldiers deployed in the country cause serious trouble. Thus, the German defence minister admitted that reported this year cases of racist and sexual abuse in a German platoon based in Lithuania was unacceptable.

Members of the platoon allegedly filmed an incident of sexual assault against another soldier and sang anti-Semitic songs. Later more allegations emerged of sexual and racial abuse in the platoon, including soldiers singing a song to mark Adolf Hitler’s birthday on 20 April this year.

It turned out that German media report that far-right abuses among the Lithuania-based troops had already surfaced last year. In one case, a soldier allegedly racially abused a non-white fellow soldier. In another case, four German soldiers smoking outside a Lithuanian barracks made animal noises when a black soldier walked past.

Lithuania’s Defence Minister Arvydas Anušauskas said later that the investigation was carried out by Germany and that Lithuania was not privy to its details. The more so, Lithuania is not privy to its details even now. “We are not being informed about the details of the investigation. […] The Lithuanian military is not involved in the investigation, nor can it be,” Anušauskas told reporters, stressing that Germany was in charge of the matter.

Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer, German defence minister, said that these misdeeds would be severely prosecuted and punished. Time has passed, and the details are not still known.

It should be said Germany has for years struggled to modernize its military as it becomes more involved in Nato operations. Nevertheless problems existed and have not been solved yet. According to the annual report on the state of the Bundeswehr made in 2020 by Hans-Peter Bartel, then armed forces commissioner for the German Bundestag, Germany’s army “has too little materiel, too few personnel and too much bureaucracy despite a big budget increase.” Mr Bartels’ report made clear that the Bundeswehr continues to be plagued by deep-seated problems. Recruitment remains a key problem. Mr Bartels said 20,000 army posts remained unfilled, and last year the number of newly recruited soldiers stood at just over 20,000, 3,000 fewer than in 2017. The other problem is radicalization of the armed forces.

Apparently, moral requirements for those wishing to serve in the German army have been reduced. Federal Volunteer Military Service Candidate must be subjected to a thorough medical examination. Desirable to play sports, have a driver’s license and be able to eliminate minor malfunctions in the motor, to speak at least one foreign language, have experience of communicating with representatives of other nationalities, be initiative and independent. After the general the interview follows the establishment of the candidate’s suitability for service in certain types of armed forces, taking into account his wishes. Further candidate passes a test on a computer. He will be asked if he wants study a foreign language and attend courses, then serve in German French, German-Dutch formations or institutions NATO.

So, any strong and healthy person could be admitted, even though he or she could adhere to far-right views or even belong to neo-Nazi groups. Such persons served in Lithuania and, probably, serve now and pose a real threat to Lithuanian military, local population. Neo-Nazism leads to cultivating racial inequalities. The main goal of the neo-Nazis is to cause disorder and chaos in the country, as well as to take over the army and security organs. Lithuanian authorities should fully realize this threat and do not turn a blind eye to the criminal behaviour of foreign military in Lithuania. There is no room to excessive loyalty in this case.

Continue Reading

Eastern Europe

Lithuanian foreign policy: Image is everything

Published

on

It seems as if Lithuanian government takes care of its image in the eyes of EU and NATO partners much more than of its population. Over the past year Lithuania managed to quarrel with such important for its economy states like China and Belarus, condemned Hungary for the ban on the distribution of images of LGBT relationships among minors, Latvia and Estonia for refusing to completely cut energy from Belarus. Judging by the actions of the authorities, Lithuania has few tools to achieve its political goals. So, it failed to find a compromise and to maintain mutually beneficial relations with economic partners and neighbours. The authorities decided to achieve the desired results by demanding from EU and NATO member states various sanctions for those countries that, in their opinion, are misbehaving.

Calling for sanctions and demonstrating its “enduring political will”, Lithuania exposed the welfare of its own population. Thus, district heating prices will surge by around 30 percent on average across Lithuania.

The more so, prices for biofuels, which make up 70 percent of heat production on average, are now about 40 higher than last year, Taparauskas, a member of the National Energy Regulatory Council (VERT) said.

“Such a huge jump in prices at such a tense time could threaten a social crisis and an even greater increase in tensions in society. We believe that the state must take responsibility for managing rising prices, especially given the situation of the most vulnerable members of society and the potential consequences for them. All the more so as companies such as Ignitis or Vilnius heating networks “has not only financial resources, but also a certain duty again,” sums up Lukas Tamulynas, the chairman of the LSDP Momentum Vilnius movement.

It should be said, that according to the Lithuanian Department of Statistics, prices for consumer goods and services have been rising for the eighth month in a row. According to the latest figures, the annual inflation rate is five percent.

Earlier it became known that in 2020 every fifth inhabitant of Lithuania was below the poverty risk line.

Pensioners are considered one of the most vulnerable groups in Lithuania. In 2019, Lithuania was included in the top five EU anti-leaders in terms of poverty risk for pensioners. The share of people over 65 at risk of poverty was 18.7 percent.

In such situation sanctions imposed on neighbouring countries which tightly connected to Lithuanian economy and directly influence the welfare of people in Lithuania are at least damaging. The more so, according Vladimir Andreichenko, the speaker of the House of Representatives of the Belarus parliament, “the unification of the economic potentials of Minsk and Moscow would be a good response to sanctions.” It turned out that Lithuania itself makes its opponents stronger. Such counter-productiveness is obvious to everyone in Lithuania except for its authorities.

Continue Reading

Publications

Latest

Intelligence2 hours ago

A More Diverse Force: The Need for Diversity in the U.S. Intelligence Community

As part of a hiring initiative meant to attract new and diverse hires, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) released a...

Tourism4 hours ago

UNWTO and NEOM Launch ‘Tourism Experiences of the Future’ Challenge

The ‘Tourism Experiences of the Future’ challenge will source innovative ideas and disruptive business models related to the tourism needs...

East Asia6 hours ago

Shared Territorial Concern, Opposition to US Intervention Prompt Russia’s Support to China on Taiwan Question

The situation around the island of Taiwan is raising concerns not only in Chinese mainland, Taiwan island or in the...

New Social Compact8 hours ago

KP’s Education Reforms – Heading Towards Right Path

The first word revealed in the holy Quran was “Iqra” which means “to read”. This first verse of Holy Quran...

EU Politics10 hours ago

EU and Qatar sign landmark aviation agreement

The European Union and the State of Qatar today signed a comprehensive air transport agreement, upgrading rules and standards for...

EU Politics12 hours ago

Sakharov Prize 2021: the finalists

The 2021 finalists for the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought are Afghan women, Jeanine Áñez and Alexei...

Americas14 hours ago

How terrible the consequences of the Cold War can be

After World War II, the conflict over superiority between the United States and the Soviet Union began. The US-led NATO...

Trending