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E.U. proposes immigration deal that would require countries to take a share of asylum seekers or assist in deportations

But the proposal nods at the political divisions within the bloc and is full of concessions to hard-line nations that have resisted accepting migrants, even with flows down more than tenfold from the peak.

“We all have to step up,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said as she unveiled the package in Brussels. “It is now time to rise to the challenge to manage migration jointly.”

The proposal, which was drawn up by the European Commission, the E.U.’s bureaucratic arm, still must be approved by the leaders of the 27 E.U. member nations, who routinely demand changes to such plans.

Recent European history is full of dead-on-arrival migration plans, but some analysts said Wednesday that this one comes at a time of slightly increased cooperation. Far-right parties, though still relevant, have lost some momentum in recent years. Data from Germany, which opened its doors widely and controversially in 2015, paints an encouraging picture of how refugees can integrate.

Leaders are also operating with a fresh reminder of Europe’s grave problems. A fire this month razed the continent’s largest, most notorious camp for asylum seekers, on the Greek island of Lesbos. About 10,000 people from the destroyed Moria camp now live in a hastily built tent camp on the island.

“In a way, it’s a key moment. If this migration pact doesn’t work, it’s the last roll of the dice,” said Andrew Geddes, director of the Migration Policy Center at the European University Institute in Florence. “Europe will have tried and tried again.”

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, who has been critical of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door refugee policy in the past, described the plan as a “fresh start” and called on other European countries to do their bit.

“There is currently no functioning European migration policy,” he said. “The events in Moria recently made this clear to us.”

This plan differs from an earlier, failed European attempt — drawn up in the aftermath of the 2015 crisis — that called for countries to host asylum seekers based on a quota system. In this instance, countries can still volunteer to host people.

But they also have other, far different options. Notably, they can opt to sponsor the deportation of rejected asylum seekers, essentially taking responsibility for shepherding the onerous process. If a sponsor country is unable to return the migrant, it would then have to host him or her.

The option could be more appealing to countries such as Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Austria, which revolted against the quota idea and are traditionally the least welcoming to migrants.

But advocates for migrants’ rights, as well as some politicians, accused the European Union of twisting its values by offering deportation as an alternative to hosting asylum seekers. Guy Verhofstadt, a Belgian member of the European Parliament, said on Twitter that the European Union could not afford to base its policies on “extremism” in Hungary and Poland.

Judith Sunderland, acting deputy director of the Europe and Central Asia division at Human Rights Watch, said that entrusting countries such as Hungary to care for would-be deportees was like “asking the school bully to walk the kid home.”

“It’s this lowest-common-denominator approach, satisfying everybody at least a little bit,” Sunderland said of the plan.

A spokesman for Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban was noncommittal in his response to the plan Wednesday, saying in a statement that “we should form alliances with countries of origin, so that they are able to provide proper living standards and ensure that their people do not have to leave their homelands,” a suggestion that echoes in the proposal.

“Hungary does not support obligatory distribution,” wrote the spokesman, Zoltan Kovacs, stopping short of endorsing the plan.

European Commission leaders said deportations were another way to ensure that the broader migration system was running smoothly, without bottlenecks.

The heightened focus on deportations is a response to changes in who has been arriving. Whereas in earlier years many were fleeing war-torn Syria — and almost universally earning protection in Europe — a growing number now are deemed economic migrants, not eligible for legal status. In one of the documents released Wednesday, the European Commission noted that the share of migrants coming from countries with low recognition rates for legal protection has risen from 13 percent in 2015 to 55 percent in 2018.

Groups that deal with migrants expressed concern Wednesday that some of Europe’s proposals, such as an attempt to fast-track deportations, could lead to increased detention, rights abuses and the mistaken return of at-risk people.

The plan calls for fast-track border procedures in which people with “low chances” for asylum are rapidly screened.

“They will have their return decision very quickly, and they will be returned,” said the European commissioner for home affairs, Ylva Johansson. “I think this will have people think twice before paying a lot of money to smugglers and before risking their lives going into these dangerous boats.”

Europe has struggled to carry out deportations, despite numerous pledges to improve numbers. Only about a third of people who are given deportation orders are actually sent to their home countries. Countries in the Middle East and Africa, from where most migrants to Europe originate, have been reluctant to accept returns. In some cases, their economies rely on remittances from workers in wealthier countries. Countries also feel that Europe has not done enough to offer legal pathways for their citizens to come on student or work visas.

Hanne Beirens, director of the Migration Policy Institute Europe in Brussels, said it was a “blemish” on Europe that the continent has had such a hard time overhauling its migration system, even as the level of arrivals has become far more manageable. Even now, humanitarian rescue boats in the Mediterranean are often stuck for days as countries squabble over whether to accept the boat at port — and what to do with the migrants who arrive.

“We can’t be seen as scrambling and not knowing what to do when even a small boat arrives,” Beirens said. “If you look at the numbers now, they are manageable. This is something the E.U. should be able to manage. But because of the deep distrust of member states to make even the slightest move that could be seen as weakness, we have a very stalled process.”

Birnbaum reported from Riga, Latvia. Loveday Morris in Berlin contributed to this report.

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Greek police move thousands of asylum seekers displaced by fire to new camp – National

A Greek police operation is underway on the island of Lesbos to move thousands of migrants and refugees left homeless after a fire destroyed their overcrowded camp into a new facility on the island.

Police said Thursday morning’s operation included 70 female police officers who were approaching asylum-seekers with the aim of persuading them to move to the new camp in the island’s Kara Tepe area. No violence was reported as the operation began.

Read more:
Thousands of asylum seekers left homeless after fire at refugee camp in Greece

The notoriously squalid Moria camp burned down last week in fires that Greek authorities said were deliberately set by a small group of the camp’s inhabitants angered by lockdown restrictions imposed after a coronavirus outbreak.

The blazes have left more than 1,200 people in need of emergency shelter. The vast majority have been sleeping rough by the side of a road leading from Moria to the island capital of Mytilene, erecting makeshift shelters made of sheets, blankets, reeds and cardboard.

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Fire destroys Greece’s largest refugee camp

Fire destroys Greece’s largest refugee camp

The new camp consists of large family tents erected in a field by the sea. By Wednesday night, it had a capacity of around 8,000 people, according to the UN refugee agency, but only around 1,100 mostly vulnerable people had entered.

New arrivals are tested for the coronavirus, registered and assigned a tent.

“This is an operation for the protection of public health and with a clear humanitarian content,” the police said in a statement.

Read more:
Thousands flee fires at migrant camp in Greece amid coronavirus lockdown

Six Afghans, including two minors, were arrested on suspicion of causing last week’s fires at Moria. The blazes broke out after isolation orders were issued during a generalized camp lockdown, when 35 people tested positive for the coronavirus.

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Moria had a capacity of just over 2,700 people, but more than 12,500 people had been living in and around it when it burned down. The camp and its squalid conditions were held up by critics as a symbol of Europe’s failed migration policies.

© 2020 The Canadian Press

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‘We are hiring big time’: Calgary tech companies join forces to attract job seekers – Calgary

A Calgary-based group of tech companies held a hiring fair downtown on Saturday to help get the word out that the technology sector needs skilled workers.

Jason Moore was working as a geologist in Calgary for the past eight years until September when he was laid off.

“I left on good terms. They treated me very fairly but it was more just a side effect of what all of Alberta is going through at this time,” Moore said.

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Moore is one of the hundreds of people who attended the first Tech West Collective hiring expo on Saturday. He now considers himself lucky. Moore is learning the world of coding and discovering a passion he never knew he had.

“I think one of the great things about coding is you get to build stuff, and you get to see if it works right away. It’s like the mouse pushing the button and you get the pellet,” Moore said with a laugh.

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Online tool launched to help oil and gas workers find jobs in Calgary’s tech sector

The Tech West Collective is a group of Calgary tech companies that have teamed up to help fill vacant positions.

“We are feeling a talent gap. Now we want to build up the talent pool,” said Tech West Collective organizer Kat Lesperance.

Lesperance works at Showpass, a Calgary-based tech company that provides ticketing solutions for event organizers. Showpass and Avanti Software are two of the seven members of the collective.

“We are hiring big time,” said David Owen Cord, Avanti Software co-CEO.

He said the company is looking for people of all backgrounds — not just tech-related positions.

“It’s been interesting because of the negative headlines here in Calgary and the layoffs that are going on but we are having a very different reality in the business we live in every day. One of our biggest challenges is actually filling the open spots that we are trying to hire for,” Owen Cord said.

Part of the problem is a lack of people with tech skills.

EvolveU is a non-profit educational institution that is helping job hunters transform their careers to adapt to the rapidly changing digital economy.

“There’s so much opportunity right now that people don’t even know about. That’s exciting for me and it’s exciting to watch the students go through the transformation,” said Jen Morrison, program manager with EvolveU, at the job fair on Saturday.

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Calgary working to attract tech talent

Members of the Tech West Collective said it’s time for tech companies to stop poaching talent from each other and get the word out that Calgary’s economy goes beyond oil and gas. Those transitioning from the energy industry said the job hunt in the tech world is more encouraging.

“There [are] more jobs than would be for my old profession. It’s not that they’re handing them out, but there definitely does seem to be more excitement and more opportunity and a desire for more people to enter this industry,” Moore said, adding that he’s taking courses at EvolveU.

According to Calgary Economic Development, the city has over 2,000 open tech jobs.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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