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Immigration Inundation


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Just as the U.S. has become inundated by illegal border crossings, so has Europe been inundated by illegal immigrants and asylum seekers. Here on Full Measure, we’ve reported on the resulting financial stress and culture clashes from Denmark to Greece. In Great Britain, officials are calling the current wave an “invasion” and describing many illegal immigrants as “criminals.” Today, we’re off to Europe to take stock.

This refugee center in Berlin, Germany is housed in an old hospital complex.

Sharyl: Where are they coming in from?

Sascha Langenbach / Berlin's State Office for Refugee Affairs: Well the asylum seekers arrive here, mostly from Moldova — Republic of Moldova — which is a neighboring state to Ukraine; Georgia, which is also a neighbor of Russia; and then Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, African countries, like Sudan, Ethiopia. The whole world.

Sascha Langenbach is with Berlin’s State Office for Refugee Affairs. He says new arrivals stay here a few nights waiting to be interviewed. Everyone gets x-rayed for tuberculosis, an issue especially with people from Eastern Europe.

Langenbach: In 2015, Berlin counted 79,000 asylum-seekers, most of them from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq, and 55,000 stayed here for good. The year after, we counted 17,000. That was in 2016, until the Balkany route was closed.

Sharyl: What's the Balkany route?

Langenbach: The Balkany route is the way most refugees usually took coming from Iraq or Afghanistan, Syria, via Turkey, then across the Mediterranean via boat, to Greece. And then they took cars or vans, or they even marched the whole way through the Balkany countries, like Greece, Macedonia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Serbia, until they reached Western Europe.

In 2019, I saw the refugee crisis from the Greek perspective after boarding a Greek Coast Guard ship for this Full Measure report:

(September 2019) Right now we’re in Greek waters. But back there where those lights are, that’s Turkey. At its closest point, it’s just a couple of miles away from Greece. And we’re sitting in a hot spot for picking up refugees.

Sharyl: How many immigrants would you estimate you've picked up?

Captain: Thousands.

Sharyl: Thousands?

The smuggling pipeline is so well-established and predictable, the captain tells me they know exactly where to go and when.

Captain: More or less we’ll have 100, 150 people per night.

Sharyl: Tonight you think we'll have 150 people?

Captain: Yes. Every night. The last three weeks is like that.

Captain: Welcome to Europe.

Sailor: No, go to the side. Easy, easy, easy.

There are more children and babies than either men or women. More than 50 people stuffed in a raft made for nine to 12.

Today, more than three years after that report, ongoing tension. An all-time record 45,000-plus people — mostly Albanian Muslims — entered Britain illegally last year by crossing the English Channel in small boats.

On my visit to London last summer, I talked about the crisis with conservative Member of Parliament Mark Francois.

Mark Francois: Well, we have a particular issue with cross-channel migrants who are being people-trafficked for profit across the English Channel from France to Britain. The people who purvey this trade, who profit from it, are utterly heartless, and it's a form of moral blackmail. And I don't think we should be morally blackmailed by anyone. We have arranged with Rwanda to take those migrants where they can be processed and their claims for asylum can be properly examined.

That policy — to send refugees to Rwanda in Central Africa — drew harsh criticism from liberal Member of Parliament Steven Bonnar.

Steven Bonnar: We see policies like the Rwanda policy. I believe that to be an inhumane policy. We are sending some of the world's most desolate and vulnerable people to our country, where we know there is human rights concerns.

In December, London’s High Court ruled the Rwanda strategy is legal. That same month, Britain’s newest prime minister announced aggressive measures to combat illegal immigration, including fast-tracked return of thousands of Albanians.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (December 13, 2022): But if you enter the UK illegally you should not be able to remain here. Instead, you will be detained and swiftly returned either to your home country or to a safe country where your asylum claim will be considered.

Meantime, in Berlin, they continue to work to keep their arms open.

Sharyl: How many people approximately are coming in week-to-week or day-to-day now here?

Langenbach: Over the first six months, in 2022, we counted about 5,000 people.

Sharyl: You can handle that much?

Langenbach: We can handle that much. And it’s very hard to stop migration at all, no matter how high the fences are, no matter how big the walls are. And in Berlin especially, we do have some history with walls. We try to be friendly to people in need, but we are not naive. That's why we also go through a registration process. We check their documents. We ask where people come from, what their purpose of their visit is here or their application. Friendly, but not naive.

Sharyl (on-camera): In Berlin, there are so many refugees from Ukraine, a whole separate center at an old airport was opened to exclusively process them.

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