Tag Archives | Middle East

Europe Spurred to Action on Mediterranean Migration

Tunisian coast sign

A sign on the Tunisian coast. Credit Flickr user noborder network.

On Sunday, April 19th, a boat carrying as many as 950 people capsized in the Libyan waters south of Italy, focusing international attention on the problem of illegal immigration and human trafficking in the Mediterranean. An estimated 800 people drowned in this latest incident, where eyewitnesses stated that hundreds had been locked under the deck of the ship, with no chance of escape. But this shocking tragedy, while it may be the worst to date,  is only a fraction of the much larger death toll that has resulted from attempted migration across the Mediterranean, which has reached 1,727 so far in 2015.

The individuals risking their lives to reach Europe through the Mediterranean do so for many, valid, reasons. They flee their home countries to escape war, poverty, or political persecution that has erupted in many African and Middle-Eastern states since the Arab uprisings of 2011. This type of migration is known as “irregular migration,” which involves foreign nationals living in countries in which they do not have a legal status, or foreign nationals working illegally in a country in which they do have a legal status. But, sadly, due to the horrendous and dangerous conditions on many of the boats that carry these migrants, many of them never reach their destination. Migrants often pay large sums of money to owners of vessels to carry them across the sea. However, the vessels are often not equipped to carry the amount of people that are placed on board. This leads to dangerous conditions and wreckage, whereby thousands of migrants have lost their lives in the past several years.

In a special meeting of the European Council on April 23rd, the Council discussed this growing problem and action that could be taken to save lives in the Mediterranean. The President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, urged the Council to take action.

“Saving the lives of innocent people is the number one priority. But saving lives is not just about rescuing people at sea. It is also about stopping the smugglers and addressing irregular migration,” the President urged.

At this special meeting the Council released a statement that included several key promises. The first is to strengthen the EU presence at sea, by tripling the financial support for search and rescue operations. The second objective is to pursue the traffickers themselves, through existing international legal channels.  Thirdly, the Council vowed to prevent illegal migration by working with the countries from which the migrants flee in attempts to solve some of the problems that lead to the illegal migration. And lastly, the Council agreed to strengthen cooperation within European Union member states to comply with the Common European Asylum System, which is based on the 1951 Geneva Convention on the protection of refugees, and attempts to maintain a common European policy on protecting those asylum seekers who are fleeing violence in their home countries.

The European Council’s action on this issue is hugely important to finding an end to the tragic loss of life that is happening in the Mediterranean. But the UN is also recognizing that the problem is a global issue of human rights, and is taking action of several fronts as well. The UN Refugee Agency has been assisting those who are rescued at sea or attempting to make the journey to pursue asylum status, but this often means taking the refugees to detention centers where conditions are very poor. In an April 19th press statement, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres stressed that finding a solution to the problem will involve not only helping those who are seeking asylum, but attempting to “address the root causes” of the migration that’s happening in the Mediterranean.

Find more information about this issue with the resources below.

Web Resources

OECD Factbook 2014: Economic, Environmental and Social Statistics: Migration and employment DOI:10.1787/factbook-2014-8-en

European Union – Clandestino – Database on Irregular Migration

UN Refugee Agency

CBS News – Death in the Mediterranean

Scholarly Articles (Available through UIUC Online Journals and Databases)

Battaini-Dragoni, Gabriella. 2002. “The Distinctive Role of the Council of Europe in Migration Management: The Case of the Euro-Mediterranean Region.”European Journal Of Migration & Law 4, no. 4: 1-497. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed April 30, 2015).

Mountz, A., & Loyd, J. M. (2014). Constructing the Mediterranean Region: Obscuring Violence in the Bordering of Europe’s Migration “Crises”. ACME: An International E-Journal For Critical Geographies, 13(2), 173-195.

Raeymaekers, T. (2014). Introduction Europe’s Bleeding Border and the Mediterranean as a Relational Space. ACME: An International E-Journal For Critical Geographies, 13(2), 163-172.

Books (Available through UIUC Libraries)

Lazaridis, Gabriella (2010). Security, insecurity, and migration in EuropeBurlington, VT : Ashgate.

Tapia, Stéphane de. (2008). The Euro-Mediterranean migration systemStrasbourg : Council of Europe Pub.

Kneebone, Susan,, Stevens, Dallal,Baldassar, Loretta. (Eds.) (2014). Refugee protection and the role of law :conflicting identitiesNew York, NY : Routledge, 2014.

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Upcoming Teach In – The Islamic State and the Implosion of Syria and Iraq: Whither the Middle East?

Teach-In — The Islamic State and the Implosion of Syria and Iraq: Whither the Middle East?

Thursday, October 2

4:00 – 5:15 PM

Bevier 180

UPDATE: The video for the Teach-In is now available!

Sponsored by: Program in Arms Control, Disarmament, and International Security (ACDIS), Center for Global Studies, and Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies.

Panelists will include:

  • Jamsheed Choksy, Indiana University
  • Carol Choksy, Indiana University
  • Paul Diehl, University of Illinois
  • Dr. Zaher Sahloul, Syrian American Medical Society

Moderator:

  • Edward Kolodziej, University of Illinois

In preparation for this event, this blog post will summarize some important information about the terrorist group known as the Islamic State.

Origins of ISIS

The terrorist group known as ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) traces its origins from the early 2000s, when Abu Musab al Zarqawi, a Jordanian militant, founded the Sunni Muslim extremist group Tawhid wa al-Jihad (Unity and Jihad).  This group later became a splinter group of al-Qaeda in Iraq, and became well-known for its ruthlessness.  After Al-Zarqawi was killed in a U.S. airstrike in 2006, a new leader, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, took control of the terrorist group and changed its name to ISI (Islamic State in Iraq).  At this point ISI was still affiliated with al-Qaeda.  During the period of U.S. troop surges in Iraq in 2006-2007, ISIS was considerably weakened but not completely wiped out.  In 2010 Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi took control of the group.

Expansion

The anti-government uprising in Syria during 2011-2013 presented itself as an opportunity for ISI to expand, and the group moved into Syria by taking over the Syrian group al-Nusra, renaming itself ISIS.  Al-Qaeda leadership opposed this expansion, which led to ISIS’s break from al-Qaeda in 2013.  As U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq in 2013, ISIS increased its violent endeavors in the country.  In January of 2014, ISIS fighters overtook the Iraqi cities of Fallujah and Ramadi.  In June the group made further advances in Iraq, capturing the second-largest city of Iraq, Mosul, as well as Tikrit.  At this point ISIS declared itself “the Caliphate.”  During the summer of 2014, ISIS shocked the world with graphic videos of mass executions of captured soldiers.  ISIS has continued to use social media outlets as mediums for displaying their brutality, releasing execution videos of two American journalists and one British humanitarian worker in August and September.

Crisis of the Yazidi People

In the late summer of 2014, ISIS fighters began targeting Iraqi Yazidis, a Kurdish ethno-religious community in Northern Iraq, in efforts to rid the country of non-Islamic peoples.  In early August, ISIS advanced on the town of Sinjar which held tens of thousands of Yazidi people, some of which had already fled from other towns.  The Yazidis, along with some Shiite Muslims, were forced to flee the city into the neighboring mountains.  As many as 40,000 people became stranded in the mountains, besieged by ISIS forces and faced with extremely high temperatures and dehydration in the rough mountain terrain.  At this point President Obama authorized airstrikes against ISIS to help these stranded people flee to safety in Iraqi Kurdistan.

The airstrikes as well as aid from Syrian Kurdish fighters have allowed for the escape of 20,000 to 30,000 people from the mountains surrounding Sinjar. While a majority of those stranded have escaped, thousands more remain in peril and face imprisonment, slavery, or death at the hands of ISIS forces.  On September 24, the BBC reported that more than 3,000 Yazidi women and children have been captured and are  being trafficked for sex.  Iraqi Yazidi politician, Vian Dakheel, stated, “We’re a minority here and there’s no strong lobby to support us.” She explained that support from foreign governments was essential to rescuing the thousands of individuals still in the hands of the extremist group.

What the Islamic State Wants

The goal of the Islamic State is to establish a caliphate, which according to Islamic Law is a religious state ruled by a single leader who holds absolute political and religious rule.  The current leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, claims to be this leader, or “caliph,” declaring himself, “leader of Muslims everywhere.” But ISIS subscribes to a brutal extremist version of Sunni Islam, and the group is intolerant of any religious groups which contradict its beliefs.  ISIS seized the profitable oil fields of central Iraq in 2014, and subsequently has an estimated $2 billion in assets, which makes it currently the world’s wealthiest militant group.  ISIS’s sizeable assets, as well as the seizure of weapons and supplies from Iraqi and Syrian forces, make the group extremely well-armed as well.

Foreign Intervention

In August of 2014, President Obama sent a small number of American troops into Iraq to assist Iraqi forces in fighting ISIS.  The U.S. has also undertaken an airstrike campaign against ISIS forces in Iraq and Syria.  Part of the U.S. campaign against ISIS includes a humanitarian effort to assist the ethnic and religious communities in Iraq and Syria that are in threat of persecution.  The U.S. is joined by France, Saudia Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, and Jordan in airstrike operations against ISIS.  The United Kingdom has also been involved, primarily in Northern Iraq, in humanitarian efforts.  Germany and Italy have also committed to providing humanitarian support to the region.  Albania, Croatia, and the Czech Republic have assisted by supplying weapons to Kurdish forces in Northern Iraq.  In a speech on September 24th before the United Nations, President Obama called for the world to assist in the military efforts against ISIS. Meanwhile, the UN has declared the crisis in Iraq a “Level 3 Emergency,” calling upon the nations of the world to assist with the growing humanitarian crises in Iraq and Syria.

Learn more about ISIS by attending the Teach-In, and with the sources below:

News Resources from Around the World

Hindustan Times – The Rise of ISIS terror – a timeline

CNN – ISIS Fast Facts

BBC News –  Iraq crisis: Desperate plight of refugees near Dohuk

The Independent –  Where does Isis get its money from? US steps up the battle to find out

BBC News – Islamic State crisis: Yazidi anger at Iraq’s forgotten people

Al Jazeera – ISIL’s war just went global – Group calls for attacks on US and allies wherever they are – a declaration of war and a defining moment of this conflict

Web Resources

Institute for the Study of War – Timely updates on the situation in Iraq and Syria.

Vox – Things about Isis you need to know

Tracking Terrorism – Islamic State of Iraq and ash Sham / Islamic State (Islamic State of Iraq, ISIS or ISIL, IS)

Scholarly Articles (Available through UIUC Online Journals and Databases)

Cragin, R. Kim. (2014). A RECENT HISTORY OF AL-QA’IDA. The Historical
Journal, 57, pp 803-824.

Hogger, Henry. (2014). SYRIA: HOPE OR DESPAIR? Asian Affairs,
45:1, 1-8.

Phillips, Andrew. (2014). The Islamic State’s challenge to international order.
Australian Journal of International Affairs, 68:5, 495-498.

Books at UIUC Libraries

Celso, Anthony. (2014). Al-Qaeda’s Post-9/11 Devolution: The Failed Jihadist Struggle Against the Near and Far EnemyLondon : Bloomsbury Publishing.

Feldman, Noah. (2010). The Fall and Rise of the Islamic StatePrinceton : Princeton University Press.

Gottlieb, Stuart. (Eds.) (2014). Debating terrorism and counterterrorism: conflicting perspectives on causes, contexts, and responsesLos Angeles : Sage.

Lappin, Yaakov. (2011). Virtual caliphate: exposing the Islamist state on the internetDulles, Va. : Potomac Books.

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