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Italy gives Libya four patrol boats to help fight illegal immigration
Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti (2L) and Libyan Defence Minister of the UN-backed Government of National Accord, Al-Mahdi Al-Barghathi (L). Photo: Mahmud Turkia/AFP
08:14 CEST+02:00
Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti on Monday handed over to the Libyan coastguard four patrol boats repaired in Italy as part of cooperation in the fight against illegal immigration.

The crews were trained in Italy "to monitor Libyan territorial waters...and contribute, together with Italy and Europe, to security in the Mediterranean", Minniti said in remarks translated into Arabic.

A Libyan naval officer told AFP the vessels had been due for delivery in 2014, but this date was pushed back because of violence and instability in the North African country.

Libya has long been a stepping stone for migrants seeking a better life in Europe. People smugglers have stepped up their lucrative business in the chaos which has engulfed the country since its 2011 revolution.

Minniti said on Monday another six patrol boats would be handed over to Libya soon after the training of the crews.

Libya's authorities have complained about lacking the means to deal with the floods of migrants who try crossing the Mediterranean in makeshift boats.

Italy registered nearly 42,500 migrant arrivals by sea by mid-April, 97 percent of them from Libya, Minniti said in a joint letter written with his German counterpart to the European Commission.

In the letter dated May 11th, which AFP obtained a copy of on Sunday, Minniti and Thomas de Maiziere said they "are convinced that we all must do more" to "prevent that hundreds of thousands of people once again risk their lives in Libya and on the Mediterranean Sea in the hands of smugglers."

Last year, a record 181,000 migrants reached Italy, 90 percent of them from Libya.

During his brief visit on Monday to Tripoli, Minniti also held talks with Government of National Unity head Fayez al-Sarraj on fighting illegal immigration.

READ MORE: The changing face of the Mediterranean migrant crisisThe changing face of the Mediterranean migrant crisis
Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP


One of Italy's largest migrant centres was mafia-run, say police

File photo of an anti-mafia police officer taking part in a previous raid. Photo:Roberto Salamone/AFP
16:50 CEST+02:00
One of Italy's largest migrant reception centres was in the hands of a mafia clan for ten years, police said on Monday.

A police operation in the early hours of the morning led to 68 arrests, many of whom belonged to the Arena clan, part of the powerful Calabria-based 'Ndrangheta mafia. 

The clan reportedly made millions through its involvement in the running of a reception centre for migrants in Isola di Capo Rizzuto, Calabria - one of the largest in the country.

"Over 500 agents overnight arrested 68 people... accused of mafia association, extortion, carrying illegal weapons, fraud, embezzlement to the detriment of the state, (and) theft," police in Catanzaro said in a statement.

Their investigation revealed "that the clan controlled, for profit, the management of the reception centre" at Isola di Capo Rizzuto - which has held up to 1,500 migrants at a time - and had been doing so for over a decade.

The entrance to the centre. Photo: Revol Web/Flickr

Police arrested Leonardo Sacco, head of the Catholic Misericordia association which officially runs the centre. The 35-year-old has boasted of links to high-powered political figures.

Local priest Edoardo Scordio was also detained in the sting, according to Italian media reports.

Police believe that it was thanks to Sacco that the clan won contracts for supplying catering and other services to the centre, allowing it to syphon of millions of euros of EU funding destined for the migrants' care.

It also provided food services to the reception centre on Lampedusa, the Italian island which for several years was the frontline of the migrant humanitarian crisis, the biggest influx in Europe since World War II.

'Ghost' migrants');">

The head of the country's anti-mafia commission, Rosy Bindi, said the sting was "an important result in the fight against the 'Ndrangheta and the infiltration of mafia in the management of migrants".

About 175,000 people are currently living in reception centres, where the state provides food, clothing, Italian lessons, psychological support, health care and a small amount of pocket money.

Italy's finance ministry has estimated the 2017 budget for migrant reception at three billion euros ($3.3 billion), depending on how many people are rescued in the Mediterranean and brought to the country.

More than 45,000 people have arrived so far this year, a 44 percent increase from the same period in 2016.

The Calabrian centre had long been on the authorities' radar: In 2015 Italy's L'Espresso magazine published an investigative report alleging that managers at the camp were stealing funds earmarked for migrants and making money by starving them.

The Crotone prefecture said in 2014 that it appeared the official number of people recorded at the centre was grossly inflated, with management pocketing funds from the state for "ghost" migrants.

L'Espresso said it had got hold of a police report putting the figure at over 10,000 euros a day.

A health inspection in 2013 revealed that asylum seekers were being given miserly portions of out-of-date food, and that the centre was illegally hosting 70 unaccompanied minors who went barefoot and slept in a hangar with only two toilets.

The Arena clan hit the headlines in 2012 after police seized assets from them worth 350 million euros, including one of Europe's largest wind farms.


by Martin Plaut

Norway Eritrea

There is fresh pressure on the Norwegian authorities to halt illegal tax collection by the Eritrean government from members of the exile community.

Norway  closed the Eritrean embassy in October 2013, following a strong warning from the Norwegian Parliament - or Storting - to halt these activities. But despite this the pressure on the Eritrean diaspora to send money to the Eritrean regime has continued, via the Eritrean 'Information Office.'

All Eritreans living abroad are faced with demands to pay a tax of 2%  on all of their income to the government of President Isaias Afwerki.

This tax collection has taken place despite the UN Security Council calling on all member states to halt this tax collection by passing resolution 2023, which was unanimously adopted on 5 December 2011.

First in the United States (2007) and Canada (2013) and Norway (2013), then the UK (2014) and the Netherlands (2017) the international community took action against the Eritrean regime for its extortion of funds from its nationals living abroad.

Despite this, the tax collection continues.

A group - 'Mothers for Peace' - has now handed in a dossier of fresh information to the Norwegian police giving evidence about this extortion. Their dossier is below. It has been translated using Google translate.


Review of the business of Eritrean Information Office at 4 Karl Johansgt.

With owners - including the Eritrean embassy in Stockholm and employees for financial crime and other offenses.

Background information:

The name of this business has varied from year to year from "Eritrean Embassy", "Eritrean Interest Office", Eritrean Information Society "and the like. We think this is a way to hide your business. In the following we use the denomination office which is the Eritrean office in Karl Johansgate 4 in Oslo.

The office has no agreements with the Norwegian state and is a private and political department for PFDJ's operations in Norway. PFDJ is the only legal party in Eritrea, but at the same time it has associations around Norway and owns this office in Oslo. They have connections to the Eritrean Embassy in Stockholm, which is the right embassy for Norwegian Eritreans.

In other words, the office is in close contact with the regime in Eritrea. According to the UN Human Rights Council, the regime wants control over the Eritrean diaspora, including the 20,000 Eritreans living in Norway. The control is achieved by criticizing the dictatorship and ensuring that 2% tax on all income in Norway is paid to the regime in Eritrea (see UN Appendix 3).

The youth wing of the party is Young PFDJ, which has an office with the PFDJ office in Karl Johansgt. It is one of Oslo's most expensive rental rooms. The tax money collected is controlled by and forwarded to a regime. A UN report believes that PFDJ commits crimes against humanity. 5000 escape every month. Thousands die in the Mediterranean and some come to Norway and meet an office in Oslo that requires them for tax! It is in this context that this matter must be incorporated into. The least we can demand is that Norwegian laws are followed.

1.    The basis for the notification is the following four points that we believe violate Norwegian law:

Illegally registered "public" Eritrean office at 4 Karl Johansgt.

A) The office has for over 30 years - from approx. 1986 until Oct. 2016, has been run as an Eritrean embassy in Oslo without the approval or permission of the Norwegian authorities. The office has driven tax collection from Eritrean residents in Norway. This has been in violation of the Foreign Affairs Committee, see Appendix 1. The Office took no note of this strong statement by the Storting in 2012 and continued to conduct illegal embassy and economic activities. The office has been mentioned several times in the Storting context (Question Time) as a private office without legal agreements with Norwegian authorities. Nevertheless, the office continued with public tax collection and other economic activities. This is a violation of Norwegian law. Former Foreign Minister Jonas Gard Støre and current Foreign Minister Børge Brende have pointed out from the Storting's speeches and must have consequences.

B) Illegal activities are still run even after the "embassy" was closed October. 2016.We can provide documentation of this claim. This is a breach of Norwegian law as in pt.1a. And also shows no respect for our government's decision.

2.    Illegal economic activities without payment of taxes and fees.

A) The "Embassy" has created and operated the illegal collection of 2% tax from Norwegian citizens living in Norway without agreement with the Norwegian authorities. In Finansavisen, Waldo acknowledges that he accepts money / tax in Norwegian bank account and forwards the amounts to the Eritrean Embassy in Stockholm. See Appendix 2. How have these big money amounts been processed by Oslo Office? What remuneration received the receipts?

B) The "Embassy" has undertaken transactions from Norway to Eritrea and obtained official documents from Eritrea to eriters in Norway against economic opposition.

C) Payments to the office show no information without the child no. Or amount on individual transactions. See Appendix 3

D) The Office has broken and violates laws and regulations in connection with the Accounting Act, Authorizations, Authorizations, to operate all the different payments. There is no registration of fees or accounting / or approval of the accounts. See Appendix 4

E) No payment of taxes and fees in Norway for financial transactions and services.

Point. 1 and 2 violate the Establishment Act, the Purchasing Act, the Tax Act and the Accounting Act.

3.    Refugee espionage.

The Office exercises control and pressure against the Eritrean diaspora in Norway.

When registering at the Oslo office, the authorities of Eritrea know who have fled from military service and the like. This puts their families in Eritrea at risk of reprisals.

A) It is known that an injunction letter must be written by those who come to the contest where they admit to have fled and admit that they will receive punishment if they return to Eritrea. This reveals Eritrean refugees for Eritrean authorities who can punish them / push them in Norway.

B) The office in Oslo cooperates with agents in Norwegian cities that receive the 2% tax. If possible, these agents should be investigated at the same time as the office to secure proof and get a complete picture of the illegal activity.

C) An office in the office will, in all likelihood, reveal unlawful control of Eritrean associations and Eritrean orthodox churches who collaborate with the regime in Eritrea in secret. The aim is to suppress eriters in Norway by opposing the opposition and that the diaspora pushes in a number of ways to pay 2% tax.

We believe this office has violated section 91a of the Criminal Code:

"Anyone who, in secret or in illegal means for the benefit of a foreign state, seeks to gather information about political or personal circumstances if communication to another state that he knows or ought to understand may harm Norway's interests or endanger the lives, health, liberty or property of individuals, Or contributing to this, be punished by booklet or jail for up to 2 years. "

In order to obtain evidence in such cases, search and telephone wrecking must be initiated. There are 20,000 Norwegian Eritreans living in fear of being declared to Eritrea's Eritrean authorities. That's not how it should be.

4.    Political cooperation with Norwegian authorities.

(A) Eritreans seeking asylum have been instructed by the UDI to go to this unofficial private office for the purpose of obtaining Eritrean passports and the like to document Eritrean Citizenship. This practice continues after the Secretary of State's office stopped in October. 2016. This despite the fact that the Minister of Justice considers the office to be private. There is no agreement between UD's rejection of an Eritrean public office in Norway and UDI's claim to asylum seekers to go to this private office to be registered, have to pay taxes and so few papers on their eritual identity. See Appendix 1.

B) This illegal office has caused many Norwegian-eriters large illegal payments an illegal activity that has not yet been stopped. Appendix 3

C) UDI exposes asylum seekers at risk and exposes the asylum seeker's family in Eritrea to the risk of reprisals in Eritrea when they are referred to this office and must disclose all information about who they are and why they fled from Eritrea.

5.    The Eritrean Embassy in Stockholm continues violations

We also want to report to the Eritrean Embassy in Stockholm to be responsible for collecting taxes and charges against Norwegians on Norwegian soil for decades after decades from Norwegian citizens with and without Norwegian passports. We believe this embassy is responsible for the office of Karl Johansgt. 4 and that they command the tasks of the Norwegian office. Even after the reinstatement and demand for closure of tax and tax operations in the autumn of 2016, the embassy in Stockholm has contributed to the continued illegal taxation activities from the Oslo office.

Against this background, we ask that the case be investigated and prosecuted. We also refer to Finansavisen, where Foreign Minister Brende calls for notification.

We will, at the police's request, provide witnesses and documentation.

Receipts on payment of tax before October 2016 when the office had no agreement with the state any foreign minister pointed out. Receipts on payment of tax after October 2016 after the Foreign Minister demanded that the office tax and tax business be terminated:

Witnesses: Norwegian Eritreans who have paid taxes before and after Oct. 2016. UDI staff who have sent and send Eritrean asylum seekers to an unofficially erratic office.


Hilde W. Heimdal

Leader of "Mothers of Peace"


16 November 2016

BBC Broadcasting HouseImage caption The World Service has been called the jewel in the BBC crown

The BBC World Service will launch 11 new language services as part of its biggest expansion "since the 1940s", the corporation has announced.

The expansion is a result of the funding boost announced by the UK government last year.

The new languages will be Afaan Oromo, Amharic, Gujarati, Igbo, Korean, Marathi, Pidgin, Punjabi, Telugu, Tigrinya, and Yoruba.

The first new services are expected to launch in 2017.


African languages:

  • Afaan Oromo: Language of Ethiopia's biggest ethnic group
  • Amharic: Ethiopia's official language
  • Tigrinya: The main working language of Eritrea, along with Arabic. Also spoken in Ethiopia
  • Igbo: An official Nigerian language. Also spoken in Equatorial Guinea
  • Yoruba: Spoken in south-western Nigeria and some other parts of West Africa, especially Benin and Togo
  • Pidgin: A creole version of English widely spoken in southern Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea

Pidgin - West African lingua franca

Asian languages:

  • Gujarati: Native to the Indian state of Gujarat but found around the Indian subcontinent and the world
  • Marathi: From the Indian state of Maharashtra, including India's commercial capital Mumbai
  • Telugu: Huge numbers of speakers, like many Indian languages, primarily in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana
  • Punjabi: One of the world's most populous languages, it is widely-spoken in Pakistan and parts of India
  • Korean: Spoken in North and South though the dialects have diverged. Pop culture slang and foreign loan words are notably more common in the South
line break

"This is a historic day for the BBC, as we announce the biggest expansion of the World Service since the 1940s," said BBC director general Tony Hall.

"The BBC World Service is a jewel in the crown - for the BBC and for Britain.

"As we move towards our centenary, my vision is of a confident, outward-looking BBC which brings the best of our independent, impartial journalism and world-class entertainment to half a billion people around the world.

"Today is a key step towards that aim."

'Relevant as ever'

The plans include the expansion of digital services to offer more mobile and video content and a greater social media presence.

On Wednesday the BBC launches a full digital service in Thai, following the success of a Facebook-only "pop-up" service launched in 2014.

Other expansion plans include:

  • extended news bulletins in Russian, with regionalised versions for surrounding countries
  • enhanced television services across Africa, including more then 30 new TV programmes for partner broadcasters across sub-Saharan Africa
  • new regional programming from BBC Arabic
  • short-wave and medium-wave radio programmes aimed at audiences in the Korean peninsula, plus online and social media content
  • investment in World Service English, with new programmes, more original journalism, and a broader agenda

BBC World Service expansion




new languages

  • 12 new or expanded daily TV and digital bulletins

  • 40 languages covered after expansion

  • 500m people reached by 2022 - double the current number

  • 1,300 new jobs, mostly non-UK

Getty Images

Fran Unsworth, the BBC's World Service director, said: "Through war, revolution and global change, people around the world have relied on the World Service for independent, trusted, impartial news.

"As an independent broadcaster, we remain as relevant as ever in the 21st Century, when in many places there is not more free expression, but less.

"Today's announcement is about transforming the World Service by investing for the future.

"We must follow our audience, who consume the news in changing ways; an increasing number of people are watching the World Service on TV, and many services are now digital-only.

"We will be able to speed up our digital transformation, especially for younger audiences, and we will continue to invest in video news bulletins.

"What will not change is our commitment to independent, impartial journalism."

The new language services mean the BBC World Service will be available in 40 languages, including English.

Lord Hall has set a target for the BBC to reach 500 million people worldwide by its centenary in 2022.


by Martin Plaut


In August 2006, while I was working for the BBC, I received reports that aid provided to Eritrea by the European Union (EU) was being sold by the Eritrean government, and the proceeds used for government work programmes.

The European Commission's ambassador to Eritrea, Geert Heikens, explained in a BBC  interview that he had attempted to discuss this abuse with the authorities, but to no avail. He said he had written endless letters to the government, but had received no reply.

The ambassador pointed out that Eritrea was not a democracy and this kind of behaviour was symptomatic of its lack of transparency.

Ambassador Heikens was recalled by the EU and has now explained what took place, in the email below.


I found the article Martin wrote for the BBC, August 2006, about the EC food aid for Eritrea. In this email I will try to reconstruct the events based upon my memories.


In 2005 the EC donated for an amount of 3 million Euros food aid to Eritrea. The ship delivered the wheat in 2005 in the harbour or Massawa. See photo enclosed.



In the agreement between the EC and Eritrea it was stated that the aid should be made available freely to a target group to be agreed between the EU and Eritrea. Examples of target groups were e.g. children, nursing mothers, elderly persons. The food was stored in warehouses in Eritrea, most of it, if not all, in Asmara.


After almost a year the food aid was still in warehouses, while one could see hungry people in the streets of Asmara. Requests to talk and agree upon the target group remained unanswered.


At a morning, May - June 2006 I was informed that bags with the EU logo containing our food aid were sold in the market, in the streets of Asmara and perhaps also in other places. My wife who walked every morning with a friend and our dog through Asmara discovered the bags.


I contacted and reported this discovery to HQ in Brussels. After consultations I contacted the Eritrean government, the EU National Authorising Officer (NAO), the official counterpart for EU development aid with the ACP (Africa, Caribbean, Pacific), Dr Woldai.


However, I did not get an answer. Requests for a meeting were neither answered.


At a certain moment Martin heard from our problems and asked for a telephone interview. I agreed and early August I believe we spoke by telephone and I explained the situation and the history. When the subject EU Food Aid was finished Martin asked me if he could ask some questions on the situation in Eritrea. I agreed.


Without remembering the whole and exact exchanges I remember I said something like ...... well however you look at the situation,  you cannot call it a democracy, it is a dictatorship under President Issaias. For the exact wording see the article of Martin.


That evening we, Rita and I, were watching BBC world service and in the moving bottom line we could read the text EC ambassador calls Issaias a dictator, or a text with similar meaning.


A few days later I was called for a meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a meeting with the NAO, minister of national development,  Dr Woldai.


I acknowledged that I have used the words as written in the article.  The MFA just took note of what I said. With the NAO the exchanges evolved into a discussion about democracy.


In detail I reported both meetings to Brussels HQ, both DG Development and DG AIDCO.


After some exchanges Brussels decided to call me back for consultations. In Brussels we had a long exchange after which it was decided to call me back, ending my assignment to Eritrea and offer me another posting.

I did not return to Asmara. Rita, whose diplomatic visa was expired, received a tourist visa and could go back to Asmara in December 2006 for a few days to arrange the removal. She could say farewell to the staff of the EU Delegation and some colleagues and friends and read a message from me for the staff of the Delegation.


Deaths and rescues continue in the Med as rescuers fight accusations of trafficking links
File photo of migrants being rescued from a sinking dinghy. Photo: AFP
15:58 CEST+02:00
Rescuers in the Mediterranean raced Friday to the aid of more than 20 migrant dinghies in distress as the debate in Italy over privately-funded aid ships intensified and the death toll at sea ticked steadily upwards.

"There are over 20 boats in difficulty off Libya and an already tense situation has worsened with people in the water," said Mathilde Auvillain, communicator officer for SOS Mediterranee.

Charities Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and Save the Children were taking part in a senate meeting in a bid to clear the air after weeks of speculation over whether some of the rescue vessels may have links to traffickers in Libya.

NGOs have fiercely denied claims of collusion with smugglers made by Sicilian prosecutor Carmelo Zuccaro, who has suggested they are worsening Europe's worst migrant crisis since World War II - but also admitted he has no proof.

"We are under political attack, probably because we are giving a voice to those we save at sea, and pointing the finger at Europe for its failure to respond" to the crisis, said MSF search and rescue coordinator Michele Trainiti.

'Never too soon'

The MFS boat Vos Prudence disembarked six bodies recovered from the Mediterranean in the port of Catania Friday morning, five of whom were young women of African origin aged between 16 and 35.

"We think they were in the water for around a week, we can't be more specific because of the advanced state of decomposition of the bodies," MSF nurse Elena Zandanel, 33, told AFP.

The furore has been stoked by the populist Five Star Movement and anti-immigrant Northern League, whose leader Matteo Salvini said this week that the rescues were little more than "a financial and commercial operation".

Zuccaro appealed on Wednesday for more resources to expand his investigation, including intercepting the satellite calls made by traffickers, saying European Border Agency Frontex had intelligence of contact between NGOs and smugglers.

A Frontex spokesperson in Warsaw said Frontex had never accused the NGOs. "They want more resources, the resources should be used to save those risking their lives at sea," said Trainiti.
"Frontex has said there is no proof linking us to traffickers, as has (anti-smuggling operation) EU Navfor med and the (Sicilian) prosecutor of Siracusa", he said.

He also rubbished Zuccaro's suggestion the NGO boats were intervening to rescue people before they needed help.

"There's never a 'too soon' when you speak of rescues. According to the rules of the sea, as soon as one of these dinghies leaves land it is a vessel in distress, because it has over ten times the number of people it could legally carry.

"It doesn't need to send a distress signal, it doesn't need to call for help, the law of the sea says it is a boat that needs assistance, full stop".

'Entire families raped'

The flimsy dinghies used by traffickers are launched from the North African coast with an average of 122 passengers crammed aboard.

More than 1,000 people have died or are missing feared drowned on the central Mediterranean crossing so far this year.

The debate - which saw Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni wade in Thursday to hail the NGOs - is distracting from the real issue, the chaotic situation in Libya which is forcing ever larger numbers of people to flee across the sea, Trainiti said.

"We are very worried the situation will get worse with the summer and good weather. The situation in Libya becomes more critical by the day, there are stories of prolonged violence, torture and rape, including the rape of entire families".

Giancarlo Perego, director of the Migrantes foundation, said it was "right that prosecutors and the judiciary be vigilant and take note of the current situation in the Mediterranean, so that migrants are not victims twice over".

"But indistinct political fire on the nine NGOs operating in the Mediterranean to save lives using the resources of banking and private foundations, of civil society, is hypocritical and shameful."

By Ella Ide with Fanny Carrier in Rome

READ ALSO: The changing face of the Mediterranean migrant crisisThe changing face of the Mediterranean migrant crisis

Photo: AFP


Photo: U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

U.S. President Trump speaking with Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of Homeland Security John F. Kelly (file photo).

Uganda and Ethiopia will be the biggest losers in the region in the US President Donald Trump administration proposal to do away with all funding through the development assistance account, instead channelling these monies towards economic assistance.

According to a State Department budget document seen by The EastAfrican, the 2017/18 budget proposes a 30.8 per cent cut to overall foreign aid. In Africa, Washington is looking at saving $777.1 million from the proposed budget cuts prepared early this month.

Within the region, while Somalia will get an increase in funding of about $36.1 million, Ethiopia will suffer the biggest cut at $132.1 million followed by Uganda at $67.8 million. Rwanda and Tanzania will suffer a cut of $50.7 million each while Kenya will see a funding cut of $11.78 million, South Sudan $10.6 million and Burundi $9.4 million.

The proposed budget data also shows that Kenya, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda will continue to receive economic support aid of $201 million with only South Sudan seeing an increase of $10.6 million. It is only Burundi and the African Union that have seen this support -- at $1.65 million -- withdrawn completely.

The US uses the economic assistance fund to promote economic and political stability where it has strategic interests. The fund has been used in anti-extremism funding, improvements to judicial processes and training to the private sector in economic development.

The proposed measures will do away with development aid across the region. Tanzania and Ethiopia will be the biggest losers as they have annually received more than $96 million from Washington as development aid. Kenya will also have to plug the $83 million cut, as will Uganda at $58 million and Rwanda at $49 million. Burundi, Somalia and South Sudan do not receive any development aid from the US.

Data from the non-profit Security Assistance Monitor shows that Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Nigeria were among the top five countries to receive the most aid from the US in the past two years.

Tanzania is expected to take a hit, as it has struggled to fill the gaps left after aid was withheld, affecting its budgets over the past two years. It was the first African country to qualify for US development funding under the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), bagging more than $700 million for its energy and road projects.

In February, Finance Minister Philip Mpango sounded the alarm over missed targets for the 2016/17 budget, revealing that the government had only met 37 per cent of the development budget by then.

Last month, at the signing of a five-year $199.74 million grant agreement with the European Union, Permanent Secretary for Finance James Dotto said that the government had a working relationship with Western donors that would see the funding tap reopened.

Interestingly, this was one of the major deals Tanzania had bagged in recent times since the freezing of aid three years ago following the $443.2 million Tegeta Escrow scandal.

Last month, President Trump proposed massive cuts in allocations to the United Nations and America's aid agency USAid in his new budget. In the budget proposal, titled "America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again," President Trump planned to increase military spending by $54 billion by reducing allocations to other areas.

The budget for the State Department would be cut by $10.9 billion (28 per cent), from the current $38 billion, to $27.1 billion. He has also proposed to end the $28.2 million funding to the African Development Foundation, a US agency that gives grants of up to $250,000 to communities and small businesses in sub-Saharan Africa.



Police order dozens of migrants to move from Milan station
Police surround migrants at Milan's central train station. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP
08:56 CEST+02:00
Dozens of migrants were on Tuesday ordered by police to leave a square by Milan's train station where they had been camping out for months.

Police used sniffer dogs, horses, and helicopters to clear the area, taking the migrants to local police stations to be formally identified. Metro entrances were closed during the two-hour operation at the central square.

Around 60 people had been moved on by the end of the day, according to local media reports, with the raid dividing local politicians.

The Democratic Party's regional councillor for social policy, Pierfrancesco Majorini, said he was in favour of "targeted, continuous, and silent interventions", adding: "We'll wait to see what the results of such an operation are".

"The verification of the condition and status of asylum seekers must always be accompanied by respect for human rights," stressed Majorino.

The leader of Italy's far-right, anti-immigration Northern League party, Matteo Salvini, welcomed the raid.

In a Facebook Live video, Salvini recorded the police operation, which he described as "a beautiful raid" and "a bit of cleaning up".

"Thank God, the police and the Carabinieri!" he said. "We don't need these people."

The broadcast was interrupted by a member of the public who accused Salvini and the Northern League of "neo-Nazism", adding "You always say what the problem is but never give a solution - you're anti-immigrants".

To this, Salvini said that 'regular' immigrants were welcome, but that he was against "clandestine immigrants and drug dealers". 

Italy has been on the front line of the migrant crisis, receiving tens of thousands of migrants who make the perilous journey over sea to its southern coast. High numbers of people have ended up in Milan, both as a result of being relocated from reception centres across the country, and after being turned back from the borders with Switzerland, France and Austria.

Local charities have mobilized to accommodate the newcomers including the Jewish community which has accommodated 70 refugees each night at the Holocaust Memorial, near the station. However, in August last year, city authorities said there were more people than beds as migrant numbers reached an all-time high, a problem which continued into autumn and winter.

Overcrowded conditions in migrant centres leave children particularly vulnerable, a Council of Europe report warned earlier this year.

READ ALSO: Italy unveils plan to better integrate fewer migrantsItaly unveils plan to better integrate fewer migrants
Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP



The Local

Italian police bust neo-Nazi group who targeted foreigners
Some of the propaganda material found in the gang's caravan hideout. Photo: Carabinieri La Spezia
12:59 CEST+02:00
Italy's police on Monday dismantled a neo-Nazi group which had targeted migrants in a series of escalating raids lasting more than two years.

The gang of six are suspected of several arson attacks across La Spezia in northern Italy, and are believed to have carried out nighttime raids targeting migrants.

Police discovered knives, other blade weapons, and instructions for creating explosives in the group's caravan hideaway when busted the cell early on Monday morning. They also found a large stash of neo-Nazi propaganda, including two swastika flags.

Six people, all aged in their early 20's, were identified and now face investigation for various crimes including arson, criminal damage, and racial violence.

For around two years, the group had carried out nighttime raids over a two-year period, targeting migrants as well as Catholic charity Caritas, which has been active in assisting migrants across the country.

They are suspected to be behind two arson attacks on Caritas containers used to collect second-hand clothes to be given to migrants, as well as several acts of vandalism, including damage to plaques commemmorating Italian partisans and the daubing of swastikas on the walls of a local Democratic Party office. The latter incident, dating back to May 2016, kicked off the investigation.

Police also said they believe the group may have carried out acts of violence against migrants which went unreported, as its members discussed attacks on migrants in a WhatsApp group which they also used to attract new recruits.


How is Sweden tackling its integration challenge?

Wednesday, 03 May 2017 21:43 Written by

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How is Sweden tackling its integration challenge?
Asylum seekers learning Swedish at Swedish For Immigrants classes. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT
12:26 CEST+02:00
Sweden has received some 280,000 asylum applications since 2014, a significant number for a country of 10 million people. Integrating all of those granted asylum into Swedish society is a big task, so just who exactly is responsible for trying to make that happen? What is being done to pull it off, and what are some of the challenges as well as opportunities created along the way? In the first of our Sweden In Focus series, The Local attempts to answer those questions.

How best to approach asylum policy is arguably the most polarizing issue in Sweden of recent years. It is certainly one of the most important on a political level, exemplified in the rise of the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats. After first entering parliament in the 2010 election with 5.7 percent of votes, they went on to claim almost 13 percent in the 2014 election, and have polled as high as 21 percent since.

The pertinence of the issue can also be seen in the marked change in discourse from the more mainstream parties. That has meant the abandonment of Sweden’s "open door" attitude towards asylum seekers and the introduction of border controls designed to keep numbers down. Reports of crime and religious extremism in inner-city suburbs, where the foreign-born population is often high, have gained enough attention that even the country's Social Democrat Prime Minister felt obliged to give a speech on the matter last summer.

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Sweden granted protection to 69,350 people last year alone – so the subject is clearly not going to go away. Instead, the question of how best to integrate the newcomers will likely be one of the key points of debate in the 2018 Swedish election.

Asylum seekers at Malmö's Hyllie station during the peak of the refugee crisis in 2015. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

But what is integration in the first place? Depending on who you ask, the definition can vary. Is a person integrated if they have a home, a job and pay taxes, or is it about something more? Perhaps it's about accepting the social norms of a society?

The Swedish Government department with the prime responsibility for integration is the employment ministry, led by Minister for Employment and Integration Ylva Johansson. In a meeting at the ministry's head office in central Stockholm, Johansson's press secretary Natalie Sial explains their definition of integration:

"For the Red-Green government and Social Democrat leadership, integration means people coming to Sweden being given the right conditions to establish themselves within and become a part of Swedish society."

"It's about having respect for basic Swedish values – you have both rights and duties here – and also having the right opportunities to establish yourself in Swedish society. The chance to learn the language, start working for example," she adds.

READ ALSO: More about our new Sweden In Focus series

The key to newcomers being able to establish themselves within Swedish society is access to employment, the employment ministry believes, after which the process of integration starts to move forward. That explains why the Swedish government handed the overarching responsibility for integration to this department in the first place.

Employment and Integration Minister Ylva Johansson. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

But it's not going to be easy. Figures from Sweden's Public Employment Agency (Arbetsförmedlingen) show that as of March 2017, the unemployment rate among Sweden's foreign-born population was 22.2 percent, compared to 4.1 percent among Sweden-born citizens. The rate is even higher in areas judged by police to be "particularly vulnerable".

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With many of the people who sought asylum in Sweden during the peak of the refugee crisis in 2015 only now being given their residence permits, the challenge of trying to get them into work is only just beginning. And it's important to understand that those asylum seekers are not a homogeneous group.

Their degree of work experience and education varies from person to person just like any other group of people, which also means the chances of finding work will vary. The Public Employment Agency's attempt to solve that conundrum is the Introduction Programme (Etableringsuppdraget), a plan tailored according to each individual.

So while one newcomer to the country may need further education in order to have the best chance of success in Sweden, another may require work experience. The goal is to best meet each person's needs on an individual level – complicated, but also something Sweden believes will create the best possibility of integrating in the long term.

"The idea is that when the programme is finished the person can then go on to work or pursue further education. And it's important to point out that it's work or studying, because going straight into work isn't always best for a person if they don't have an education suitable for Sweden, which a large section of the people who came here recently don't have," Fredrik Möller from the Public Employment Agency’s Integration and Establishment Department tells The Local.

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"It's very important for those people to get a good education, because in the long term if they don't have that they won't be an established part of society or a stable part of the labour market. On the other hand, there are people who came with a very high level of education and have worked in advanced jobs like being a surgeon or a teacher. For them, it's important to try and reduce the time before they start working as much as possible," he adds.

As such, there is a different programme designed specifically for those newcomers with a good degree of previous skills or education – the "fast track" (snabbspår) programme. Created in collaboration between the employment ministry, employers and unions, the fast track programme delivers work experience and training which, when completed, should make it easier for a Swedish employer to accurately weigh up whether a new arrival is suitable for a job.

This graph charts the total number of people registered in the Introduction Programme. Note the sharp rise in 2016 and 2017 as more people were granted residence permits. Photo: Arbetsförmedlingen

With the majority of people who sought asylum in Sweden from 2015 onwards only now entering the Public Employment Agency's jurisdiction, just how successful these programmes are will be seen in the long term. It's no secret that long waiting times are a reality of Swedish life – not only for asylum seekers – but when it comes to that group in particular, making the best possible use of their time from the day they first arrive in the country is another key to helping their chances of integrating, the employment ministry's Sial emphasises.

"We've made it so that – with the help of civil society organizations who have been given economic resources to offer language education – people can already start to learn Swedish when they're in an asylum centre. We've also started mapping skills, so that people can easily register what their work experience is as early as possible," she says.

Language issues are a major factor in the time it takes for a newcomer to Sweden integrating into the country's labour market, according to Professor Pieter Bevelander, an integration expert from the Malmö Institute of Migration, Diversity and Welfare. On a comparative level Sweden is performing fairly well, he points out, but it could still take as long as a decade for the majority of that group to be integrated.

"The available evidence in Sweden suggests between five and ten years to achieve up to a 60-70 percent employment level. The time is due to language learning, as well as other specific knowledge needed to get a job according to education. Compared to our neighbouring countries of Denmark and Norway, Sweden is mostly doing a bit better in labour market integration of refugees though. It's doing quite well so far, and certainly not worse than its neighbours," he says.

Plenty is being done in Sweden to try to aid the side of integration linked to employment, but what about less quantifiable questions of culture and social norms which some would argue are equally important?

It's those things that Mustafa Panshiri focuses on in his work. A former police officer, he recently quit his job to focus full-time on travelling around Sweden and speaking to lone refugee children (more than 37,500 have come to Sweden since 2015) about the process of adapting to their new country. In his opinion, helping the kids to get a proper understanding of Swedish values is vital if they are going to integrate.

"A job is important of course, but integration is also to do with respecting Swedish society's values and rules. What I focus on is what it means for someone who comes from Afghanistan for example to enter a democratic society. How can that transition impact a person's view of life? How can the ideas they bring with them collide with ideas in Sweden? I try to find a common ground between the kids and Swedish society," he tells The Local.

Mustafa Panshiri. Photo: Mustafa Panshiri

Panshiri understands the process better than most. Originally from Afghanistan, he came to Sweden when he was 11, and he tries to tap into his personal experience when helping kids from a similar background who have arrived today.

"In my meetings with the kids I go back and think 'what was weird for me when I came to Sweden?' and start from there. In our conversations I notice it's the same questions they have," he explains.

Being a relatable figure also helps.

"When I walk into the room I look like the kids, speak the same language as them. And you know, when we speak about these things – things we take as a given here in Sweden like equality of the sexes, for example – it can be a challenge for them. But that reduces to some degree when they speak with me. I can say to them 'I made that journey'."

READ ALSO: 'Integration is about more than a job'

In Panshiri's opinion, Sweden has in the past been guilty of not properly addressing the cultural challenges for newcomers. On his Creative Integration (Kreativ Integration) Facebook page, the ex-police officer tries to illustrate the reality of the integration process for these young people – both the positive stories he encounters on a daily basis, and the problems that also arise.

So while there are tales of triumph and inspiring encounters with youngsters, there are also honest accounts of conversations with kids who at first found it difficult to grasp concepts like freedom of expression, only eventually coming round to the idea after a dialogue was created. Integration is sometimes not possible without an initial degree of friction, he argues.

"This subject is very polarized at the moment. On one side there's Donald Trump and Fox News talking about Sweden from afar, and on the other politicians in Sweden saying there's no problem. I try to show that the truth can be found somewhere in the middle, we have to work towards that," he says emphatically.


Another person who dedicates time to helping younger refugees with a big challenge in adapting to Sweden is Mohammad Arvan. An actor by trade who moved from Iran to Sweden when he was six, every Wednesday he holds a class in Örebro where asylum seekers can receive advice on how to interact with women according to Swedish social norms. 

That's not a trivial subject, Arvan believes, as the home cultures of people who sought asylum in Sweden can sometimes be significantly different to that of their new home when it comes to gender norms.

"The class started because one day one of the refugee kids from Afghanistan asked me about the subject," he recalls.

"I think it's good that someone explains these things. They have no idea about it. That's why you see so many stories of things happening at concerts and swimming pools where refugee kids are said to be involved," he adds. 

With that, Arvan is referring to stories from 2016 of groping among young people at music festivals in Sweden, where newspapers like Dagens Nyheter alleged the perpetrators were young refugee males

"They ask me stuff like 'if someone is standing at a bar, how should I go forward and speak with her?' Or it could be on the street, in the shops, wherever. How do you start a conversation? Most people think I'm doing a good thing by teaching people how life is here in Sweden."

Mohammad Arvan. Photo: Mohammad Arvan

For most of us it is probably difficult to grasp the confusion that may be caused for a youngster who, after months or maybe years of fleeing from a troubled country, is then thrust into a culture completely different to theirs, where the social norms and habits are not the ones they are accustomed to from back home.

One of the most innovative attempts to tackle that tricky side of integration for youngsters is Youmo, a recently launched website from Sweden's Youth Guidance Centres (UMOs). Available in the four most commonly spoken languages by new refugee kids in Sweden – Dari, Somalian, Tigrinya and Arabic – as well as English and simple Swedish, the goal is to answer questions they may have about a broad range of subjects, from sexuality to mental health, gender equality and even friendship.

Many of them have fled countries where these subjects are not discussed to a great extent, and as such, Youmo could be the first time they are given vital information.

"We started out with an analysis of what people need to feel secure and strengthen their self-esteem in order to become a part of their new society in a good way. Young people are in many cases keen to become a part of their new country and understand the context, culture and rules," Youmo project leader Lotta Nordh Rubulis details to The Local at their office in Södermalm, Stockholm.

A screenshot from the Youmo website. Photo: Youmo

Putting the site together has been an extensive process. Texts were written in Swedish, translated, then cross-checked by a further translator, and also examined by people who are experts in the areas the texts address. On top of that, young asylum seekers were then asked to check the texts to make sure the language has a style that other youngsters would engage with. No stone was left unturned in trying to maximize the possibility of kids actually going on to use the site after its launch.

Some of the most popular pages so far are those with information about making friends in Sweden. Something that could be a big factor for the youngsters one day integrating into Swedish society.

"We can already see from the few statistics we have that exactly those pages about meeting new friends have been really popular. It's a really important issue: it can often be that someone comes here and perhaps lives in a home and is isolated from other Swedish kids as the home is a bit further out of town. So they're very interested in learning how you go about forming friendships," Nordh Rubulis explains.

"Many of them have also lived a very gender segregated life and perhaps never had a friend from the opposite sex. It's exciting to see (them learning about that)."

It is hoped that Youmo can ultimately provide reliable answers for the youngsters to both serious questions but also more everyday things in Sweden that they are curious about, and therefore help them to integrate.

The challenges of integrating thousands of newcomers into Swedish society are clearly many then, but what about the opportunities it could also create? One of those is the possibility of providing more blue-collar people to employ, with the Swedish ranks in that category almost exhausted, the Public Employment Agency's Möller explains.

"If you look at the labour market, the pool of Sweden-born working class labour is almost empty. So as a result, we have to try and equip the newcomers to the country as best as possible to take the jobs that are available there."

Indeed, the agency's director general Mikael Sjöberg recently predicted that Sweden needs as much as 64,000 immigrants annually if it wants to prevent labour shortages from hampering economic growth, in part because the native birth rate is currently too low.

The Public Employment Agency office on Tunnelgatan in Stockholm. Photo: Emma-Sofia Olsson/SvD/TT

Research suggests that if Sweden can integrate its newcomers into the labour market then it could lead to improved economic growth. A 2016 report by four researchers at Stockholm University into immigration's impact on Sweden's economic development points out that while 15 years ago, Sweden faced the demographic challenge of a population weighted heavily towards those in the 65 plus age bracket, migration between 2000 and 2015 comprised largely of people aged 15-39 means the country's age structure is changing.

"Overall, the results suggest a relatively bright future for Sweden as 15 years of high net immigration have led to an increasing working age population, providing the necessary conditions for significantly faster economic growth than an alternative scenario with lower net immigration," the report states in its conclusions.

That's a point that the Employment Ministry's Sial was also keen to highlight:

"We have big ambitions. We don't just want people to work, we need it. In the past there was talk of the generational shift in Sweden. But most of those who have come in recent years are under 40, so it's a very young population. If we get the matching process between people and jobs to work, it'll be a big opportunity for Sweden. But it's important we get it right."

And that last part is the key. Botch the process of trying to integrate newcomers, and Sweden will not only have wasted money and resources, but it may also further the political fragmentation in the country and increase poverty and crime. Get it right, and in the long run, Sweden could solve some of its big challenges.

READ ALSO: Could a new political climate be on the horizon in Sweden?

It's a complicated issue, but it's clear that a lot of people, both on a national as well as a local, more individual, level are investing their time and energy to try to make it work.