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Western Press Review: Migrating Kurds Cause European Angst; Israel Copes With Political Turmoil

  • Don Hill



Prague, 6 January 1998 (RFE/RL) -- An influx of Kurds from Iraq and Turkey is roiling Italy and its European neighbors. And Israel's government survives a political crisis -- for now. These two issues attract the bulk of Western press commentary and analysis.

NEW YORK TIMES: Kurdish refugees has again focused European attention on the war between Kurdish rebels and the Turkish army

Stephen Kinzer in Istanbul sums up the Kurdish question in a news analysis today in The New York Times as follows: "A surge of Kurdish refugees fleeing aboard rusty boats from Turkey to Italy has again focused European attention on the 13-year-old war between Kurdish rebels and the Turkish army, one of the world's longest-lasting and most intractable civil conflicts."

The New York Times correspondent writes: "The Italian government, influenced by human rights advocates in governing parties and the Catholic Church, has welcomed the Kurds with a warmth that Turkey finds disconcerting." He says: "Other European governments have joined Italy in urging that Turkey re-examine its policy toward the Kurdish rebels. Their concern stems in part from fear that if Kurds are granted refugee status in Italy, they will seek to travel from there to other countries. Italy is one of nine European Union nations in the so-called Schengen group, which has abolished most controls on immigration within the group."

FINANCIAL TIMES: There has been mounting concern at a sharp rise in the influx of Kurds

The German government yesterday urged Italy, Greece and Turkey to tighten border controls to block Kurdish migration. The British newspaper Financial Times carries today a staff-written news analysis noting that all member nations of the Schengen group of states with mutually open borders have a stake in the issue. The writers say: "Italy has counted as a member of the Schengen group since October and is eliminating its border controls, while Greece participates in the group's system of information exchange. Italian government ministers defended themselves against the German criticisms. The interior minister, Giorgio Napolitano, was quoted in Italian newspapers as saying that police had expelled about 38,000 clandestine immigrants to Italy in 1997 alone.

They write: "Although officials in Bonn yesterday distanced themselves from reports that 10,000 Kurds were preparing to sail for Italy on their way to Germany, there has been mounting concern at a sharp rise in the influx of Kurds and the involvement of organized crime syndicates in moving them."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: There is now intense pressure on Schengen members to use border controls

In London today, The Daily Telegraph says in an unsigned commentary that the migration constitutes a political crisis. The commentary says: "With thousands of Kurdish refugees now on the move, the weakness of a fortress Europe that is only as strong as its weakest outpost has been cruelly exposed."

The newspaper says: "But there is now intense pressure on Schengen members to use border controls to defend their interests. Bonn fears Italy, which joined the Schengen group in October, might become a transit point for refugees trying to get to Germany."

FINANCIAL TIMES: The Schengen agreement is not quite what it seems

But the Schengen agreement never has achieved its promised check-free pan-European travel, The Financial Times points out today in a news analysis from Brussels by Emma Tucker. She writes: "Ever since a group of European Union countries agreed to abolish internal border checks, the prospect of a refugee influx has sent nervous ripples through them." Tucker writes: "But anyone planning a paperless trek across Europe should think again. The Schengen agreement is not quite what it seems."

The writer says that a number of countries have failed to convince their neighbors that their borders are sufficiently secure to support full open-border implementation.

DIE WELT: A few hundred Kurds fleeing was all it took to completely muddle the strategy of Austria's government

Carl Gustaf Strohm cites the Austrian-Italian border as a case in point that the "dream of Schengen" -- a Europe without internal frontiers -- remains just a dream. Commenting today in Germany's Die Welt, Strohm writes: "Punctually at the beginning of the new year, Austrian Interior Minister Karl Schlogl ordered renewed strong measures to guard the border with Italy. Passport controls between the two countries had only been lifted a short time ago, in accordance with the European Union's Schengen agreement, which foresees the ultimate dismantling of all border controls between EU member states. The arrival in southern Italy of a few hundred Kurds fleeing from the civil war in their homeland was all it took to completely muddle the political and policing strategy of Austria's Social Democrat-led coalition government. And, incidentally, considerably damage relations with Rome."

He writes: "Widespread here is the suspicion that the Italians are encouraging the Kurds and other refugee seekers landing there to head north to Germany. (Also) it is unclear how the refugees could have boarded the ship, and how the ship could have sailed out of a Turkish port, without the knowledge and at least tacit approval of officials in Turkey."

HANDELSBLATT: Italian officials have been lax in imposing border controls

Michael Bergius in Brussels comments that Italian officials are unnecessarily lax in controlling Kurd refugees. He says: "There is no doubt that Italian officials in the past months have been lax in imposing (border) controls, notably long before the latest wave of refugees. Kurdish applicants (for asylum) neither were registered properly and checked - which is the custom in Germany -- nor taken into custody to be deported. In fact, those who arrived in south Italy frequently had the way to the northern EU states smoothed out for them without even a shoulder shrug. This could be interpreted as a humane gesture, but it doesn't accord with good procedures for solidarity within Schengen membership. The government in Rome must require officials to undertake some organizational measures to supervise their borders."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: The Turks blame this latest incident on the Europeans

Wolfgang Gunter Lerch comments in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that there is enough blame for everyone in the Kurdish dilemma. He writes: "The Turks blame this latest incident on the Europeans. They have not only encouraged the Kurds to rebel but also to take flight. In actual fact, liberal Europe must bear the consequences of the crisis both in Turkey and in other regions which cannot be resolved on a political level. For years, people have held the Turkish authorities responsible. Now there is an attempt to settle the conflict by political means. (Turkish) Prime Minister (Mesut) Yilmaz expresses this wish repeatedly. Whether he means it seriously, or whether he is trying to placate his critics both in and outside Turkey is questionable."

TIMES: Mr Netanyahu is expected to face another crisis

Commentary and analysis today in leading Western newspapers looks beyond the stated cause of Israel's budget crisis, a confrontation between conservatives and advocates of social spending, to the intractable, and continuing confrontation between Israeli hawks and doves. The Times of London carries today an analysis by Ross Dunn, who writes: "Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, survived against the odds yesterday by securing the passage of his budget despite a reduced parliamentary majority."

Dunn writes: "Despite the successful passage of the budget, Mr Netanyahu is expected to face another crisis almost immediately over commitments under the peace accords to transfer more land in the West Bank to Palestinian self-rule. Mr Netanyahu has failed to secure Cabinet agreement on the scale of further troop withdrawals. Prominent Israeli political analysts believe that Mr Netanyahu knows his days are numbered and he is already preparing for the next election campaign."

WASHINGTON POST: The broader interest lies in a government to revive failing negotiations

The Washington Post editorializes today: "A budget argument is given top credit for the resignation of David Levy from Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet in Israel and for his removal of his five-seat Gesher bloc from Prime Minister Netanyahu's now-razor-thin parliamentary majority. The broader interest in this infighting, however, lies in its potential to give Israel a government readier ideologically and politically to revive failing negotiations with the Palestinian possibilities of diplomatic initiative either by a struggling Netanyahu or by a government that may yet emerge from new elections."

NEW YORK TIMES: Netanyahu's margin for political survival has become even more precarious

The New York Times says in an editorial today that Netanyahu should return to his campaign promise to seek peace with security, or he should give way to a leader who will. The editorial says: "With the loss of Levy, the Israeli Cabinet's leading dove, and the five parliamentary votes he controls, Netanyahu's margin for political survival has become even more precarious, and more dependent on right-wing and religious parties, than it has been for the past 19 crisis-prone months. (He) was elected prime minister on a platform of peace with security. That elusive combination is still what most Israelis want. If he cannot deliver it with his current Cabinet allies, he should look to the voters to provide him or the rival Labor Party with a broader political base."
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