Friday, June 19, 2015

Notes on the emergent western Balkan route of migrants

The Guardian was one news source of more than a few to report on Hungary's plans to build a fence along its border with Serbia to keep out migrants coming from Serbia.

Hungary has ordered the closure of the EU country’s border with Serbia and the construction of a fence along the frontier to keep out migrants, the foreign minister said.

“The Hungarian government has instructed the interior ministry to physically close the border with Serbia,” Péter Szijjártó told reporters on Wednesday.

He said the ministry had been ordered to “begin preparation work for a four-metre-high fence along the length of Hungary’s 175km [110-mile] border with Serbia.”

[. . .]

Serbia is not yet a member of the European Union, though it has started accession talks, while Hungary is part of the European Union’s passport-free Schengen zone. This means that, once in Hungary, migrants can easily travel onwards to other countries in the zone.

Last year, Hungary received more migrants per capita than any other EU country apart from Sweden, with the number shooting up to almost 43,000 people from just 2,000 in 2012.

These migrants, it should be noted, are not migrants from Serbia. Substantial numbers of Serbians have moved north into Hungary, ethnic Hungarians from the Serbian border province of Vojvodina and otherwise, but their migration is not as politically controversial as others'. Most of these migrants, rather, are coming from outside of Europe, making use of a land corridor stretching from the Greek border to the Hungarian to try to get into the Schengen zone.

The western Balkans route has become prominent only recently, a consequence of other routes becoming more difficult and perhaps also of new regional crises in the eastern Mediterranean. Data from Frontex notes the surge.

The irregular migration trends in the Western Balkans region underwent rapid changes following the introduction of visa-free travel within the European Union. In just four years, the region transitioned from being largely a source country for irregular migration to mostly a transit area of irregular migrants from Greece.

In 2012, nationals from the Western Balkans were increasingly found abusing various forms of legal travel, detected either during border checks or while already in the European Union. The misuse of international protection provisions in Member States and Schengen Associated Countries was by far the most prevalent. In 2012, there were almost 33 000 asylum applications submitted by citizens of the five newly visa-exempt Western Balkan countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia and former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia), or 53% more than in 2011. The number was the highest since the introduction of visa–free travel in the region and accounted for 12% of the total number of asylum applications in the European Union. Other abuses of legal travel channels were linked to overstay in the European Union. More precisely, there were roughly a fifth more detections of Western Balkans’ nationals illegally staying in Member States countries – this group included mainly Kosovars, Serbs and Albanians. The latter group was also the most commonly detected nationality using document fraud to illegally enter the European Union/Schengen area from a third country in 2012. Almost one fifth of all detections were linked to the Albanian nationality, largely using counterfeit entry/exit stamps intended to hide overstay.

The year 2013 witnessed an unprecedented increase in the migratory flow at the Hungarian-Serbian border. During this period, almost 20 000 migrants illegally crossed the Hungarian-Serbian border section and nearly all of them applied for asylum after crossing. The nationalities reflected the dual typology of this route and included residents of Kosovo, Serbian nationals but also Pakistani, Afghan, Algerian Moroccan nationals as well as sub-Saharan Africans, many of whom had been living in Greece prior to travel.

In all, detected illegal entries on this route have risen from 3090 in 2009 to 43 360 in 2014.

This route has started to acquire press coverage. Glen Johnson's report of the 22nd of April in The National ("Migrants exploited every step of the way on Balkans route to Europe"), Karin Schmidt Martinez's report at, or Simona Sikimic's Middle East Eye article "From Syria to Serbia: The migrants' Balkan backdoor". The below illustration of the western Balkans route comes from Sikimic's excellent piece.

The most affecting article I've come across is an Associated Press article by Dalton Bennett and Shawn Pogatchnik, published in Canada's National Post as "European dreams become nightmares: Africans seeking new life make epic trek through Balkans’ back door". The two followed a group of migrants, mainly Francophone Africans, on a nightmarish trek north through the former Yugoslavia. This is strongly recommended reading.

The walls are sweating in the safe house in Thessaloniki, Greece, a windowless basement apartment with no furnishings, two bedrooms and a camp-style cooker on the floor. It’s the end of February, and an African smuggler has brought 45 clients to this base camp to escort them on off-road paths through Macedonia to Serbia. Among the group are 11 women, including two with 10-month-old children.

The smuggler, a former soldier, agreed to allow an AP journalist to accompany them on condition he not be identified because what he’s doing is illegal.
He goes from migrant to migrant, checking their readiness for the journey to Serbia. By car, it would take less than five hours. On foot, it’s an estimated 10 days.

When some giggle at his questions, he sets a stern tone: “Shut up. This isn’t a joke once you’re out there. If you think it’s funny, I’ll send you back to Athens.”

He’s taken three other groups on the route, and charges those on this trip a wide range of prices, depending on their ability to pay but averaging around $500. Discounts apply if they help him keep the others supplied and disciplined. Kids go free.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

On the upcoming ethnic cleansing of supposed Haitians from the Dominican Republic

Haiti has been mentioned here at Demography Matters a few times. In January 2010 after the devastating earthquake, for instance, I described the evolution and prospects of the substantial Haitian diaspora and also explained why a quixotic offer by the Senegalese president to resettle Haitians in Africa was not likely to lead anywhere, June 2010 mentioning that French-using Haiti was major source of immigrants to Québec and then in December 2011 noting how a migration of Haitian professionals to post-colonial Congo in the 1960s seems to have been the key movement that introduced HIV/AIDS to the Atlantic world. The Dominican Republic has come up more rarely, in 2006 and in 2009 being mentioned as a Caribbean Hispanophone society that has consistently seen more rapid population growth than once-dominant Cuba. As far as I can tell, the long and entangled history that has led, via migration from low-income Haiti to the middle-income Dominican Republic, to a population of Haitian origin in the latter country amounting well over a million people has never come up here.

It's coming up now. As The Guardian's Sibylla Brodzinsky reports, a new citizenship law is set to strip hundreds of thousands of these people of their citizenship in Dominican Republic, rendering them liable to deportation from the land of their birth and statelessness.

[Yesenia Originé] was born in the Dominican city of San Pedro de Macorís to Haitian parents. But because she has no papers to prove it, she, like thousands of other people of Haitian descent in the Dominican Republic, risks being rounded up and deported to the neighboring country.

Many people in Originé’s situation are fearing the worst ahead of the Wednesday deadline for an estimated 500,000 undocumented persons living in the Dominican Republic to register with government authorities. The country’s authorities have reportedly lined up a fleet of buses and established processing centers on the border with Haiti, prompting widespread fears of mass roundups of Dominicans of Haitian descent.

“If they send me there, I don’t know what I’ll do,” says 22-year-old Originé who lives in a batey – a company town for sugarcane workers – in the south-west of the Dominican Republic.

A 2013 court ruling stripped children of Haitian migrants their citizenship retroactively to 1930, leaving tens of thousands of Dominican-born people of Haitian descent stateless. International outrage over the ruling led the Dominican government to pass a law last year that allows people born to undocumented foreign parents, whose birth was never registered in the Dominican Republic, to request residency permits as foreigners. After two years they can apply for naturalisation.

However many have actively resisted registering as foreigners because they say they are Dominican by birth and deserve all the rights that come with it – for example a naturalised citizen cannot run for high office.

Abby Philipp at the Washington Post went into more detail about the racism motivating this denationalization. Following the once Spanish Dominican Republic's separation from formerly French Haiti, the young republic set out to define its national identity in direct contrast to that of its neighbour. This meant, among other things, strong anti-black and anti-Haitian racism that culminated at least in the 20th century in an act of genocide.

There was a time when that split between the two countries was drawn with blood; the 1937 Parsley Massacre is widely regarded as a turning point in Haitian-Dominican relations. The slaughter, carried out by Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo, targeted Haitians along with Dominicans who looked dark enough to be Haitian -- or whose inability to roll the "r" in perejil, the Spanish word for parsley, gave them away.

The Dajabón River, which serves as the northernmost part of the international border between the two countries, had "risen to new heights on blood alone," wrote Haitian American author Edwidge Danticat.

"The massacre cemented Haitians into a long-term subversive outsider incompatible with what it means to be Dominicans," according to Border of Lights, an organization that commemorated the 75th anniversary of the massacre in 2012.
[. . .]
Cassandre Theano, a legal officer at the New York-based Open Society Foundations, said the comparisons between the Dominican government's actions and the denationalization of Jews in Nazi Germany are justified.

"We've called it as such because there are definitely linkages," she told The Washington Post this week. "You don't want to look a few years back and say, 'This is what was happening and I didn't call it.' "

Julia Harrington Ready, also of the Open Society Foundations, is right to call this ethnic cleansing.

The potential consequences of this for the two nations of Hispaniola, and for the wider region, cannot be understated. Even if this population at risk of mass deportation actually was Haitian, even five years after the earthquake Haiti is in no position to handle hundreds of thousands of deportees. For the Dominican Republic, meanwhile, I would be willing to bet that whatever nationalists might think they would gain in terms of a homeland rid of these people will be outweighed by the actual losses experienced. (Getting rid of large chunks of your workforce generally does not do good things for the economy.) Meanwhile, this ethnic cleansing will be certain to produce substantial numbers of people who will likely need resettlement outside of these region, just like other ethnic cleansings in the recent past.

This is not good. This is really not good at all. Be alarmed, readers. Maybe we can do something to prevent this catastrophe.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Four Al Jazeera links on migration

I've been sitting on four news articles from Al Jazeera for some time. More original content will be coming tonight, but I wanted to get these out first.

In "Cuban migration surges after thaw in US-Cuba relations", Al Jazeera reports that attempts at migration from Cuba to the United States have surged despite the improvement in relations. This makes sense, with all the new incentives to migrate, between the prospect of easier movement between the island and the major destination of its emigrants and the risk that Cubans might lose their special status.

Elizabeth Braw reported, meanwhile, on the surge in unaccompanied child migrants and refugees in Sweden from conflict areas. Attracted by Swedish generosity and apparently not facing serous opposition, their numbers are on the rise.

Alice Su observes, meanwhile, that the continuing legacies of the devastating Hamas war with Israel on top of deep poverty are starting to make mass emigration a thinkable possibility for the people of the Gaza Strip. With no opportunities at home and a rapidly growing workforce, what else is there to do?

Desperation is also the theme of Hamza Mohamed's report from Somaliland. Even though that unrecognized state is far more stable than the rest of Somalia, again, young Somalilanders see no option but to flee.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

On saving the American Community Survey from the fate of Canada's long-form census

I have used the tag "census" here at Demography Matters a fair bit. Most of the posts relate to the abolition of the abolition of Canada's long-form census after the 2011 federal election was won with a majority by the Conservatives, following a needless din raised by them while they were a minority. Without providing convincing reasons, the Canadian government forced Statistics Canada to abandon a statistical tool that generated vital information. This, as I noted in 2014 and again observed earlier this year, caused measurable harm to Canadians by denying us the information about ourselves that we need to plan.

On Wednesday, I went to The Atlantic and discovered that the American Community Survey is facing similar challenges. Russell Berman's "Republicans Try to Rein in the Census Bureau" tells a story all too familiar to me.

Republicans have long argued that such questions are too intrusive for a mandatory survey, and for the second year in a row, House-passed spending legislation would effectively make it voluntary by prohibiting the government from enforcing criminal penalties—which can reach $5,000—against people who refuse to participate in the ACS. To its opponents, the survey is yet another front in the privacy wars, and their arguments echo the complaints about government spying in the name of national security.

“This survey is another example of unnecessary and completely unwarranted government intrusion,” wrote Representative Ted Poe in a recent op-ed. “The federal government has no right to force Americans to divulge such private information, especially information that they are uncomfortable giving away.” Poe, a conservative former judge who represents the Houston suburbs,​ wrote the amendment that House Republicans included in the annual spending bill that covers the Census Bureau. While Democrats in the Senate successfully blocked it in previous years, the provision may stand a stronger chance now that Republicans run the upper chamber. President Obama has threatened to veto the legislation, in part because of the ACS amendment and deep cuts to funding for the 2020 Census.

Senator James Lankford, an Oklahoma Republican in his first term, said he’s concerned not only about the questions on the ACS but also with the methods the Census Bureau uses to make sure they get answered. Recipients are first mailed a survey that notes, in all capital letters on the envelope, that responses are mandatory. If they don’t send it back, government officials follow up with phone calls and house visits. Lankford told me that constituents have complained to him that after they told a census official they would not participate in the survey, the official sat in his car outside the house, waited for him to leave for work, and then returned to ask his wife to answer the questions. Poe has accused the government of similar “harassment” in Texas. “It’s just really odd,” Lankford said. “It comes across as just a really intrusive way to conduct a survey.” In response to the concerns, the Census Bureau is testing out a gentler approach without the bolded warnings, but according to Science, officials have said that when they have used less aggressive methods in the past, response rates dropped significantly.

A quick look at the Census Bureau’s website reveals an extensive effort to overcome skepticism, and resistance, to many of the questions on the American Community Survey. In addition to pamphlets outlining the history of the questionnaire, the website includes documents that explain why the survey asks each question, how long the question has been asked as part of the Census, and how federal, state, and local governments (as well as the private sector) use the information they gather. So why do they ask about toilets? “We ask questions about kitchen and plumbing facilities because federal and local governments need this information to allocate funding for housing subsidies and other programs that help American families afford decent, safe, and sanitary housing,” the Bureau says. Plumbing and kitchen questions first appeared on the Census “long form” in 1940. Without the toilet question, the government might not know that even in 2015, there are nearly 2 million Americans in rural communities without indoor plumbing, said Phil Sparks, co-director of The Census Project, a nonprofit advocacy consortium. “It’s irreplaceable,” Sparks said. “There is no option B for that data.”

More, much more, is at the website of The Atlantic.

Do not let them do it. Seriously. The United States needs that information badly in order to function. How can any government formulate policies intended to deal with the issues of the communities and individuals it governs and represents without knowing the first thing about them? This, I fear, is the strongly anti-democratic motive underlying too much of this anti-ACS sentiment. Modify it if you need to, but do not undermine it. Americans, your country will be the worse for it.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Some migration-related news links

  • Al Jazeera has hosted a few interesting articles exploring different kinds of migration. Alia Malek's "Daughters of Diaspora: two Algerian sisters, one in Texas, one in Paris" looks at the experiences of two Algerian sisters, one immigrating to France and the other to the United States, in the very different enviroments of their two adopted countries. Alia Malek's "Shaped by the decisions their mothers made, two cousins grapple with assimilation in both the U.S. and France" notes the substantial flight of ethnic Armenians from Syria to their ethnic homeland, quite possibly the largest post-Soviet migration to Armenia since the end of the Soviet Union. Anna Nigmatulina's "Brazil’s urban Indians confront city life head on, with headdress off" examines how Brazilian indigenous peoples fare in the cities of Brazil, while "Charity offers hope to Mexico's Mixtec elderly" by John Holman looks at how elderly Mixtec left to themselves by younger generations of migrants cope.
  • Portugal, meanwhile, remains a country of migrations. Bloomberg's Henrique Almeida and Joao Lima "Portuguese With No Pay From Oil Bust in Africa Go Home to No Job" describe how many Portguese emigrants to Angola have been forced to return in the aftermath of the end of the Angolan oil boom, while Raphael Minder's "Azorean Diaspora Can’t Resist the Powerful Pull of Home" in The New York Times looks at how Azorean migrants and their descendants in North America relate to their ancestral archipelago.
  • Vice's Maurice Chammah described in " Why Are Nigerians Flocking to Work in Texas Prisons?"
  • a remarkable story of chain migration, from West Africa to Texas, driven by employment opportunities in Texan prisons.

    Thursday, June 04, 2015

    Some assorted blog links

    While I'm assembling some original material, I thought I'd point readers to some population-related blog links that appeared on my RSS feed in the past month or so.
    • Considering the Mediterranean migration crisis, Crooked Timber featured one essay arguing that European restrictionism is culpable for deaths, while the New APPS Blog praised the bravery of migrants.
    • The Dragon's Tales noted that immigration from China and India to the United States has surpassed that from Mexico.
    • The Everyday Sociology Blog considered, in the wake of the Nepali earthquake, the ill-regulated international market in birth surrogacy.
    • Kieran Healy noted how popular estimates of the composition of the American population are frequently quite wrong, going back to the errors of popular wisdom.
    • The Power and the Money's Noel Maurer noted that rates of childlessness among American women with post-graduate educations has plummeted. More discussion at the blog.
    • The Russian Demographics Blog had a whole slew of interesting posts, including looks at the changing composition of migrants from Russia and changing destinations and volumes of flows to and from the country, along with examinations of problematic data on HIV/AIDS in Russia and an old forecast of the epidemic.
    • Window on Eurasia reported on how one Muslim commentator in Russia thinks Russian Muslims should respond to the prospects of a Muslim majority in Russia. (I find it unlikely, and of note mainly as a case study of crude demographic boosterism.).

    If you've suggestions as to new blogs I should follow, please, submit them--and any especially interesting posts--in the comments.