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Wednesday 26 October 2016

Mobile migrants and the billion-euro money trail

A paradigm shift in global forced displacement, a new bloc in the EU, the dangers of 'bourgeois' golf in Caracas and the rise of Castro's colonel son

Published 21/06/2015 | 02:30

A Syrian refugee child plays in front of their makeshift shelter near a truck close to the Turkish border post of Akcakale, province of Sanliurfa, earlier this week
A Syrian refugee child plays in front of their makeshift shelter near a truck close to the Turkish border post of Akcakale, province of Sanliurfa, earlier this week

Almost 60 million people worldwide were forcibly uprooted by conflict and persecution at the end of last year, the highest ever recorded number, the UN refugee agency said last week.

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More than half of those displaced from crises including Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia were children, UNHCR said in its annual 'Global Trends Report'.

In 2014, an average of 42,500 people became refugees, asylum seekers, or internally displaced every day, representing a four-fold increase in just four years, the aid agency said.

"We are witnessing a paradigm change, an unchecked slide into an era in which the scale of global forced displacement as well as the response required is now clearly dwarfing anything seen before," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres in a statement.

UNHCR said Syria, where conflict has raged since 2011, was the world's biggest source of internally displaced people and refugees.

There were 7.6 million displaced people in Syria by the end of last year and almost four million Syrian refugees, mainly living in the neighbouring countries of Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders and far-right leaders from Italy, Austria and Belgium finally combined to form a common bloc in the European Parliament on Tuesday, a year after a Eurosceptic surge in EU elections.

Splits among parties opposed to the EU and mass immigration, which won 12pc of seats last May, saw the UK Independence Party form one alliance, but Le Pen's French National Front (FN) and Wilders's Dutch Freedom Party (PVV) was short of members needed to qualify for powers and funding that come with bloc status.

A key hurdle was a need to include lawmakers from seven EU states. Le Pen, who will lead the new Europe of Nations and Freedom bloc, said that the hurdle was now overcome with the involvement of two Poles and British member Janice Atkinson, who was expelled from UKIP over an expenses scandal in March.

"The European Union is working to destroy the nation and we are here to defend our people," Le Pen, whose group will feature 39 of the chamber's 751 members told a news conference. Wilders said the bloc would fight the "Islamisation" of Europe.

UKIP's Nigel Farage, leader of the 45-strong Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFDD) bloc which includes Beppe Grillo's Italian 5-Star Movement, has rejected past overtures from Le Pen and Wilders, citing notably the FN's historical anti-Semitism.

Despite vocal minority groups, the bulk of European legislation is passed by coalitions of big mainstream blocs.

Migrant workers in Europe sent home almost $110bn last year and the main destinations were other European countries, receiving more than a third of the total sum, a United Nations agency report showed on Monday.

Most of the remittances flowed from wealthier European countries to poorer ones, it said, despite a big influx of African and Middle Eastern migrants into Europe. More than 600,000 people sought refugee status in Europe last year and more than 100,000 have arrived by boat alone so far in 2015.

Europe has only 10pc of the world's population but 20pc of all migrant workers and makes 25pc of all remittances, the International Fund for Agriculture and Development (IFAD) said in its report, titled 'Sending Money Home: European Flows and Markets'.

IFAD's report said 26 European countries had a per capita annual GDP above $20,000 and so are considered countries where migrants go to work, while 19 are below, and are recipients of $36.5bn in remittances, mostly from Europe.

The report, which is based on World Bank data, said 10 European Union countries are among those that receive remittances, including Hungary, Poland and Romania. Russia, which is classified as a European country, not an Asian one, is the top "sender" country in the region.

Large numbers of people from former Soviet republics ranging from Moldova to Tajikistan have found work in Russian cities.

"European migrant remittances supported 150 million people around the world last year, which is the population of France and Germany combined," IFAD's president, Kanayo Nwanze, told reporters.

Elsewhere, a dispute has been teed off between Switzerland's ambassador to Venezuela and a neighbouring elite golf club after a banner appeared at the diplomat's residence warning that golf balls injuring or killing anyone inside would violate the Vienna Convention.

The large placard, located on the residence's fence near the third of the Caracas Country Club's 18 holes, begins by explaining that the residence is considered Swiss territory.

"Launching balls into this residence is a danger to whoever is within Swiss territory and a violation of the Vienna Convention if a golf ball injures or kills anyone on Swiss soil."

The private Caracas Country Club itself is one of Venezuela's most elite hangouts. It was derided by late President Hugo Chavez, who described golf as a "bourgeois" sport.

Cuban President Raul Castro's son has emerged as one of his father's closest aides, taking on an increasingly important role reminiscent of the one Raul used to play for his older brother, Fidel Castro.

Alejandro Castro Espin (49) is a colonel in Cuba's interior ministry and was until recently a little-seen figure. As his father has moved to improve relations with the United States after decades of hostility, however, his son has been right by his side.

When Raul Castro (84) met US President Barack Obama in a historic encounter at a regional summit in Panama in April, Alejandro Castro Espin was part of the small group in the room. It was unknown what role the son may have played in the 18 months of secret negotiations leading up to the announcement of detente by both presidents last December.

"Clearly Raul is grooming him for more responsibilities, probably higher office and/or rank," said Brian Latell, a former CIA analyst who has closely followed the Castros for decades.

Still, it seems extremely unlikely that Castro Espin is being prepared to take over for his father. Cuba experts see no sign the Castro brothers plan to hand power to any of their children.

"Raul is determined, as his elder brother is, that this isn't going to look like a monarchy," said Hal Klepak, a Canadian historian living in Havana who has written two books on Cuba's military.

Sunday Independent

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