Fortifying ‚Fortress Europe‘: Lampedusa, Lithuania, Hungary, Western Balkans and Cyprus in Focus

Written by | Tuesday, July 19th, 2022

LAMPEDUSA —- “There are 2,100 people amassed in the Lampedusa reception centre”, former mayor Giusi Nicolini wrote on 8 July on her Twitter and Facebook accounts. “Even women (4 are pregnant), children, the sick and in need of care sleep on the floor, where they also eat, among the garbage. The beds are fewer than 200,” Nicolini added, giving a reminder of this reality as she posted pictures and a video revealing grim living conditions at the fenced-off hotspot camp where migrants are held upon arriving on the island. “These could be pictures of #Libya. But no, it’s #Italy,” she stressed. Her expose hit a raw nerve, prompting reactions from politicians of all colors, government pledges to fix the problem, and heaps of media coverage. Numbers inside the hotspot swelled up last week because regular transfers between Lampedusa and mainland Sicily were suspended due to rough sea weather, while arrivals from North Africa continued. According to the interior ministry, just under 31,000 sea migrants landed in Italy in the year to date, as of 12 July, and about 14,000 came to Lampedusa. Arrivals are up from the same period of 2021, when they totaled about 24,000, but are a far cry from the peaks of 2015-2016.
LITHUANIA —- The EU Warsaw-based border agency Frontex ended border surveillance operations in Lithuania from 13 July and has implied a desire to return to Hungary. The move follows a ruling by the European Court of Justice against Lithuania in late June. The court faulted Lithuania’s legislation, which allowed for mass detention and stymied asylum requests. The case primarily dealt with migrants trying to enter Lithuania irregularly from Belarus in November 2021. But Aija Kalnaja, Frontex’s acting executive director, said the withdrawal decision was not linked to the court ruling and it’s because “we need to shift personnel from quieter areas to the Central Med.“ And the agency’s press services said it was a request by the Lithuanians to reduce the number of Frontex officers deployed in the country as the situation at the border with Belarus has stabilized. Amnesty International has said Lithuania had arbitrarily detained thousands of people in militarized centers. To that end, Kalnaja is now proposing the agency get more involved in EU states where violations are taking place, such as in Hungary that has faced an increased migration pressure on its borders. There are hopes that a larger Frontex presence could help ensure fundamental rights violations don’t take place.
WESTERN BALKANS —- EU states are in talks on potential visa bans on right-wing extremists in the Western Balkans, amid fears that Russian propaganda is stirring up new threats. The confidential talks that were held by a counter-terrorism cell in the EU Council on Thursday (14 July) included “a discussion on the effectiveness of bans on some extremist subjects in the countries of the Western Balkans”, according to an internal EU memo. “Many far-right movements in the Western Balkans have a strong aversion towards NATO and the European Union,” the memo, drafted by the new Czech EU presidency. “One reason for the increasing distrust towards the West is the strong relationship Russia has built up with the Orthodox Christian populations in the region. Russia presents itself as the protector of certain nations in particular, but also of Orthodox Christian groups in the Western Balkans,” it said. While EU concerns centered on jihadist foreign fighters returning to the region from the Middle East a few years ago, the war in Ukraine has seen “some local followers of the far-right left to fight in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, most probably on the Russian side,“ the Czech memo warns.
CYPRUS —- Four people, including the former president of the Cyprus Parliament, have been charged with corruption over a cash-for-passports scandal exposed in an Al Jazeera documentary, The Cyprus Papers Undercover, released in October 2020. They are due to stand trial in the capital, Nicosia, on 12 September after the island’s attorney general has filed five counts of conspiracy to defraud the state and untoward influence over public officials. Cyprus authorities said the charges were related both to Al Jazeera’s investigation, and the findings of a 2021 board of inquiry prompted by the exposé. In the documentary, all four men told undercover reporters posing as representatives of a fictitious wealthy Chinese criminal that they were willing to help the criminal obtain a Cypriot passport and become a citizen of the European Union – for a price. EU passports are much-coveted documents for people from Asia, the Middle East and countries like Russia and Ukraine. As an EU citizen, a Cyprus passport-holder is free to live, work and travel in the 27 EU member states and enjoy visa-free access to more than 170 countries.

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