Category: Conflict

Dresden university sheltered migrants despite hostile anti-Muslim sentiments

Dresden – It is not always easy to welcome migrants, especially from war-torn, Muslim-majority countries, in a stronghold city of Germany’s xenophobic movement.

“It’s a difficult situation. We have a minority of people who are against refugees, but a very loud one. That’s part of the reality,” Hans Georg Krauthäuser, the vice rector for academic and international affairs at Dresden University of Technology (TUD) told a group of international journalists that the German Academic Research Service (DAAD) facilitated to tour around the university campus earlier this year.

The capital of eastern German state of Saxony, Dresden is home to the Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West, known by its German acronym Pegida. The anti-immigration and anti-Islam movement held its rallies every Monday since October 2014 in the square called Theatherplatz in front of the Semperoper, Dresden’s historic opera house. At most, the rallies gathered roughly 20,000 protesters, according to media reports.

“This is not good for an international city of science like Dresden,” Krauthäuser added.

After all, Dresden hosts dozens of research facilities and institutions with a roster of international researchers. They are run by all four major German research organizations; the Helmholtz Association, the Max Planck Society, the Leibniz Association and Europe’s largest organization for application-oriented research, the Fraunhofer Society. Together with TUD as one of the top technical universities in Germany, they make Dresden as one of the three hotspots in the eastern German research and innovation system along with Jena and Berlin.

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The communication acoustics lab of Dresden University of Technology. Photo copyright: DAAD/Robert Lohse

Michael Fristch, chair of business dynamics, innovation and economic change at the Friedrich Schiller University Jena in neighboring state of Thuringia, acknowledged that East Germany may not be very friendly to foreigners.

“It’s a legacy of the socialist system,” he said.

However, it didn’t stop TUD to launch a refugee aid program that started in August 2015 by setting up three refugee camps on its campus. Managed by the German Red Cross, the camps hosted a total of 1,220 residents from August to October 2015. By March, the program hosted 300 almost all-male residents, with 66 percent of whom were from Iraq and Syria.

According to Eurocities, the network of major European cities, Dresden welcomed 5,500 people from crisis areas by October 2015. But in contrast to Pegida’s strong sentiments against migrants, the city administration welcomed them with open arms.

In a statement provided to Eurocities website, Dresden mayor Dirk Hilbert said the city wanted to welcome asylum seekers professionally and socially with good-structured programs to avoid them feeling of being sidelined.

TUD picked up the speed to integrate them by organizing activities such as German language courses, winter clothes collections or additional security service, with the help of 600 registered volunteers including students.

For teaching in the language courses, students can get credit points similar to those they would get from an internship, Krauthäuser said.

Tatiana Sandoval-Guzman, a Mexican biologist at the university’s Center for Regenerative Therapies who participated in the program, said they started sewing class for women and kids corner for children.

“We plan to have scientific activities for various age groups of children, despite the language barrier,” she said.

Ulrike Mikolasch, TUD’s refugee aid coordinator said the university offered a limited space for refugees to attend courses free of charge. There were 34 guest students, including 20 from Syria who mostly attended technical and economic studies.

“The main problem is language and other skills that they need to start the course, not the documents,” Krauthäuser said.

Locals also mobilized actions to provide assistance such as introduction to the German language for migrants with the support of more than 80 initiatives. A group of local volunteers were spotted on a spring Friday afternoon teaching German to migrants in a corner of the modern art museum Albertinum near the opera house.

“Integration in the job market or in the education system is one of the most successful ways to integrate into our society. Unemployment, lack of training and no knowledge of the German language have the opposite effect,” Hilbert said.

The city administration and TUD’s efforts to welcome refugees reflected findings of a June 2015 survey by the university that showed most of the locals polled had open attitude towards asylum seekers and only 12 percent agreed with Pegida, while 60.1 percent disagreed. Most of them or 78.6 percent also rejected the idea to prohibit Muslim migrants.

On a larger scale, the first-ever Refugees Welcome Index that global rights group Amnesty International released on May 19 also ranks Germany as the second most welcoming country for refugees after China.

The index was based on people’s willingness to let refugees live in their countries, towns, neighborhoods and homes. It surveyed more than 27,000 respondents in 27 countries worldwide, including a national sample of 1,001 respondents in Germany, who were interviewed by phone on February 4-8, 2016 and found that 96 percent Germans said they would accept refugees into their country.

“The survey shows people say they are willing to go to astonishing lengths to make refugees welcome. It also shows how anti-refugee political rhetoric is out of kilter with public opinion,” the report said.

Data from the European Union’s statistics agency, Eurostat, showed Germany has the highest number of first-time asylum applicants registered during the first quarter of 2016, with almost 175,000 applicants or 61 percent of EU’s total. It also had the largest share of pending applicants within the bloc by end of March with 473,000 applicants or 47 percent.

Compared with the population of each member state, Germany had the highest rate of registered applicants during the first quarter 2016, with 2,155 applicants per million inhabitants. The top two countries of the applicants’ citizenship were Syria and Iraq, with 88,515 and 25,550 asylum seekers respectively.

The migrant influx was forecasted to positively impact on the local and regional economy. The EU first assessed the macroeconomic impact on the influx in its autumn 2015 economic forecast released in November last year. It estimated the flow of migrants could boost the region’s gross domestic products of 0.2 to 0.3 percent by 2020 through public spending on matters related to migrant inflows. It expected more positive impact on growth in the medium term when migrants integrate into the labor supply.

The International Monetary Fund said in a May 9 report that Germany could boost its economy if it speeds up structural reforms “by broadening the labor market participation of refugees, women and older workers” and set up new policies as the basis for refugees to integrate into its labor market.

The European Commission’s winter and spring 2016 forecasts also said Germany’s increased public spending to host and integrate asylum seekers would support growth to its moderate economic activity.

But for the university, economic growth was not the reason they welcomed the migrants. TUD’s Krauthäuser said it was understandable migrants who fled wars in their countries wanted to come to “a rich and free country” like Germany.

“If you are a refugee, where would you go? You want to live in peace. It’s quite obvious,” he said.

“We have to help those people just because they need help, not because it is good for the German economy,” Krauthäuser added.

It’s Complicated: Indonesia keen on China’s investments despite fishing disputes

The open confrontation between Indonesia and China in Indonesia’s fish-rich Natuna area and subsequent coolness between the two countries belies President Joko Widodo’s moves to establish closer ties with Beijing during the first months of his presidency, which began in October of 2014.

The president’s first international visit was to Beijing, followed with his full pledge to join the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), causing some nationalists at home to point to Indonesia’s “independent and active” foreign policy manifesto, telling Jokowi that although Indonesia needs investment from China, the second largest economy in the world, he should keep his distance.

Jokowi’s political opponents have raised the issue of incoming thousands of Chinese workers reported to be illegally working in Indonesia after the president signed many investment agreement with China. Antipathy to those workers has made headlines in influential Jakarta media for months.

The public was also shocked by Jokowi’s sudden decision to adopt Chinese technology instead of the long-planned Japanese equipment for Indonesia’s first high-speed railway line connecting the capital city Jakarta and Bandung in west Java.

The line is planned to span 42 kilometers from Jakarta to Bandung and is expected to be completed by 2019, at the time when Jokowi is expected to be seeking re-election.

The Ministry of Transport said the holding company PT Kereta Cepat Indonesia China (KCIC), had moved so fast that it hadn’t even obtained a business license for public railway infrastructure, urging them to work fast on the papers to get the project going.

Former transportation Minister Ignasius Jonan refused to grant instant permits to the project, saying that his ministry is taking extra precautions since the Chinese loan has a tenure of 50 years and the government wants all assets to be in good condition when they are eventually handed over to the government.

Ignasius Jonan was one of several ministers that Jokowi replaced during the July 27 cabinet reshuffle.

In the meantime, Indonesian navy and Chinese vessels and coast guards are bumping to each other many times around the Indonesian territory off the Natuna island, causing clear irritation in Jakarta.

The latest incidents involved the MV Kwang Fey 10078 and Han Tan Cou 19038 vessels, which were reported to have been fishing illegally in Natuna waters near the Riau Islands.

A Chinese Coast Guard vessel forcibly rescued MV Kwang Fey 10078 by pushing it back into Chinese waters, taking it away from a patrol boat from the Indonesian Maritime and Fisheries Monitoring Task Force that was escorting the boat after apprehending it.

After the latest incident and several diplomatic notes sent to Beijing, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said Indonesia wants to maintain good relations with China but will not negotiate over violations of Indonesia’s sovereignty and jurisdiction on the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and the continental shelf.

“We have a good relationship with China. We will strive to maintain our good relations along with international laws,” Marsudi told journalists at the State Palace after the incidents took place.

Jokowi then took several of his ministers for a “quick cabinet meeting” on board of Indonesia’s warship to send signals to Beijing that Indonesia is serious in defending its sovereignty.

These incidents add tensions between China and its neighbors the Asean member countries, as China has sought to assert its control in the region with its self-claimed nine-dashed line which take Chinese ownership almost to the doorsteps of several of the littoral countries.

China claims most of the South China Sea, which includes overlapping claims by Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.

Will Indonesia add to these tensions, and how should Indonesia react to the perceived “muscle flexing” by Beijing?

“I think Indonesia is only attempting to maintain its strategic positions vis-a-vis China,” Yeremia Lalisang, a scholar from the University of Indonesia, told The Parrot.

“On the one hand, Indonesia has to reflect its commitment to international law, so there is no reason for the Indonesian government not to push China to respect it. However, it cannot be ignored that China is now the world’s second largest economy, and it’s also clear that Jokowi’s presidency has mainly focused on the efforts to revive Indonesia’s national economic development. So, it seems Jakarta clearly understands that cooperative relations with China could contribute positively to the attainment of such a goal.”

The public and policymakers “should not only take the partial understanding of China’s muscle flexing, because then we will lose the opportunity for cooperation’s in other fields,” he added.

Today, Indonesia’s US$44 billion annual trade with China remains strong and first quarter investments from Beijing experienced a 400 percent increase from last year. However, China’s 14 percent realization rate on its investment pledges is much smaller than Japan and South Korea’s 70 percent realization rate.

 

 

Indonesia vows to continue sea crackdown despite row with China

Indonesia will not relent in its crackdown on illegal fishing, the country’s foreign minister said, after China protested the shooting at its fishing boats by the Indonesian navy. Continue reading “Indonesia vows to continue sea crackdown despite row with China”

Mixed views on whether Indonesia should join Saudi-led alliance to fight terrorism

Indonesia says it has yet to decide whether to join a military alliance led by Saudi Arabia to combat terrorism, as observers weigh in on the merit of taking part in the initiative.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir said Indonesia would have to learn the terms of reference and modalities before agreeing to such an international alliance.

“Saudi Arabia can’t show us the terms of reference yet,” Arrmanatha said at a press briefing on Wednesday

“We need to learn the modalities to determine whether they are in line with our foreign policy,” he added.

Hamdan Basyar, a Middle East expert from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, said there should be no harm for Indonesia to join the initiative because of its purpose to combat militant armed groups.

“We should join for the sake of tackling violent groups like ISIS. It would create a sense of togetherness in this cause,” he said.

The head ofthe Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI)’s international relations and cooperation department, Muhyiddin Junaidi, said Indonesia should not join the alliance,  which gathers 34 Muslim and Muslim-majority countries.

He said there were indications that the initiative was meant to target a certain group and given that there are ongoing tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which is not a member.

Muhyiddin, who also heads the same department in Indonesia’s second largest Muslim organization Muhammadiyah, said Indonesia should stick to its free and active foreign policy.

“We should refrain from taking sides in a dispute,” Muhyiddin said, adding that the Indonesian people should also understand that the conflict in the Middle East has nothing to do with Shia and Sunni rivalry.

Hamdan said that the perception that the Middle East conflict stemmed from the Shia and Sunni conflict may have caused Indonesia’s reluctance to join the cooperation.

He added that it would be irrelevant to tie it with the geopolitical rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabis, and this was not the cause why Iran is not included on the list.

“It’s more about jostling for dominance in the Middle East,” Hamdan said.

The Saudi Arabia Foreign Ministry said in a press release on 15 December that the 34 Middle Eastern and African countries listed in the statement have decided to form a military alliance led by Saudi Arabia to combat terrorism and they would establish an operational center based in Riyadh to coordinate and to fight terrorism.

“More than ten other Islamic countries have expressed their support for this alliance and will take the necessary measures in this regard, including Indonesia,” the statement said.

“We were surprised because the invitation was not to form a military alliance,” Arrmanatha said.

He acknowledged that Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi was contacted by her Saudi counterpart Adel Al-Jubeir and talked about joint cooperation, but Retno stressed the need for further discussions before Indonesia could  agree on any cooperation.

“I think all countries support efforts to fight extremism though they may have their own ways to do it,” Arrmanatha said.

Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama confronts extremists with Nusantara Islam

Speaking to a Javanese gamelan soundtrack, Muslim cleric Mustofa Bisri implores: “We invite others to join us in launching a mental revolution.” Continue reading “Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama confronts extremists with Nusantara Islam”

Aceh fishermen rescue 370 boat people

Jakarta – More than 370 migrants and asylum seekers were rescued off Aceh province early Wednesday,  an  official said.

Fishermen brought the dehydrated and hungry boat people ashore from two vessels after midnight, said Khairul Nova, the chief of the search and rescue agency in the town of Langsa.

“They were very weak,” Khairul said, adding that those rescued included men, women and children.

The rescue came despite calls by the military for fishermen not to help migrant boats reach the country’s shores unless they are sinking or their boats stall.

“Our intelligence indicates there’s a new modus operandi: They threw people overboard so that they will be saved by fishermen” Armed Forces spokesman Fuad Basya said.

“So we urge the fishermen not to take the refugees and evacuate them, unless they are sinking or the engine of their boat stalls,” he said.

Fuad said it was the military’s duty to safeguard the country’s territorial sovereignty.

“We can’t allow people to enter with documents, unless there’s approval from the Foreign Ministry,” he said.

The latest arrivals brought to nearly 1,800 the number of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants rescued off Aceh this month.

Photo: IRIN
Photo: IRIN

Before the latest influx, Indonesia was already sheltering nearly 12,000 refugees and asylum seekers from 40 countries, said Foreign Ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir.

Only 500 asylum seekers were resettled to a third country every year after the verification of their refugee status, he said.

“We have shouldered our share of responsiblity and it’s a burden,” said Arrmanatha said.

“This problem must be solved in a comprehensive way involving the source, transit and destination countries,” he said.

“It is a complex problem because not only does it involves people seeking asylum, but also people-smuggling and human trafficking.”

Foreign ministers of Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand were meeting Wednesday near Kuala Lumpur to discuss the problem.