Spain’s new foreign minister, José Manuel Albares, is flying to the United Kingdom on Wednesday on his first trip since taking up the portfolio in mid-July. Albares, who has replaced Arancha González Laya as part of a sweeping Cabinet reshuffle by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, will have to deal with negative reaction by the UK government and Gibraltar over the European Commission’s draft proposal to start negotiations with the UK on the subject of the British Overseas Territory.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has said that the mandate, approved by the EU executive on Tuesday, “directly conflicts” with an earlier framework agreed on December 31 by Spain and the UK for the future relationship between the EU and Gibraltar, which is located at the southern tip of the Iberian peninsula and has been a recurring source of friction between Spain and Britain.
Raab also said that the European Commission’s draft mandate “seeks to undermine the UK’s sovereignty” over the overseas territory and cannot form a basis for negotiations about the future relationship between the EU and Gibraltar, which was left out of the Brexit deal, meaning that a separate agreement is required. In the Brexit referendum of 2016, Gibraltarians overwhelmingly voted to remain in the EU.
Speaking along the same lines, Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said that in light of the current draft, there is “no possibility for this forming the basis for an agreement.”
A major sticking point is the fact that the mandate only talks about Spanish officers performing border controls at Gibraltar’s entry points, without mentioning the presence of the European agency Frontex, which had been a requirement made by the UK and Gibraltar. Diplomatic sources explained that legally, Spain would at all times be the legal guarantor of those border controls even if it had support from the European agency.
“External border control and surveillance would take place at Gibraltar port, airport and waters carried out by Spain applying the relevant EU rules,” reads the Commission document. “Spanish border guards would have all necessary powers to perform border controls and surveillance.”
Spain would also be in charge of issuing visas. This means that citizens of the UK and third countries wishing to enter Gibraltar would need a visa extended by Spanish authorities. “UK nationals other than those resident in Gibraltar at the time of signature of the agreement would be treated as third country nationals for the purposes of entry and stay in Gibraltar,” reads the draft mandate.
Movement of people and goods
Maintaining smooth circulation between Gibraltar and the neighboring, economically depressed Spanish area of Campo de Gibraltar, home to many cross-border workers, has been a priority for both sides since the UK voted to leave the EU.
In practice, land border checks would be removed and Gibraltar would become part of Schengen, an area of 26 European countries that have abolished border controls, under Spain’s exclusive responsibility: residents of Gibraltar could freely move around Schengen territory for 90 days in any six-month period. The UK is not a part of Schengen.
The negotiating mandate approved by the Commission on Tuesday, which should lead to a UK-EU treaty before the end of the year, seeks to “remove physical barriers to the circulation of persons and goods [between Gibraltar and Spain] to contribute to shared prosperity within the region.”
The document also notes that the EU may unilaterally reinstate physical barriers and controls on the movement of goods in the event of a serious breach of terms by the UK. This clause reflects the Commission’s distrust at a time when British authorities are questioning the Northern Ireland agreement that prevented a hard Brexit.
The mandate also underscores that any agreement reached by the parties will not affect the UK and Spanish positions regarding sovereignty over Gibraltar, which was ceded to Britain in 1713 during the War of Spanish Succession, although disputes over sovereignty and jurisdiction issues remain to this day.
English version by Susana Urra.
Norway killings ‘appeared to be’ Islamist ‘terrorism’
Wednesday’s murders “appeared … to be an act of terrorism” Norway’s ‘PST’ intelligence service said Thursday, noting that the killer, Danish national Espen Andersen, had been a “known” threat. Andersen was a Muslim convert and extremist, but might also have had psychiatric problems, Norwegian police said. Norway’s terrorism-threat level was “moderate”, the PST added, while monitoring the risk of “follow-up actions, revenge actions” by either “extreme Islamists” or “right-wing extremists”.
UN quizzed over role in prison-like island camp for Rohingya refugees | Global development
The UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) is facing questions over whether it is helping to detain Rohingya refugees in prison-like conditions by providing services on a controversial island camp.
Over the past year, Bangladesh has relocated almost 20,000 refugees to Bhasan Char, an island formed of silt deposits in the Bay of Bengal thought to be vulnerable to cyclones, which the refugees are unable to leave.
About 700 refugees have reportedly attempted to flee the island but Bangladesh hopes that the UNHCR’s cooperation will ensure better services for the refugees and is now planning to increase the island’s population by 80,000 over the next three months.
Refugees International, a global advocacy organisation, said there were “serious questions” about whether it was safe and possible to move such numbers to the island from the Cox’s Bazar refugee camps, which are the world’s largest, hosting about 890,000 refugees.
“Most concerning is whether any relocations of Rohingya refugees to the island will be truly voluntary, evidenced by the fact that hundreds of refugees relocated there have already tried to flee,” said Daniel Sullivan, Refugees International’s senior advocate for human rights.
“As Refugees International has warned in the past, failure to properly assess conditions and inform refugees about the move will result in policies more akin to detention than refuge.”
The Geneva-based Global Detention Project tweeted: “In signing a new memorandum of understanding with the Bangladesh government, is the UNHCR assisting in the detention of Rohingya refugees on Bhasan Char island? Are refugees free to move on and off the island? Are they moving there truly voluntarily?”
Human Rights Watch reported in June that the government had misled refugees about conditions on the island and that some had been relocated without informed consent. It also reported that, despite promises from the government of good living conditions, they did not have access to work or education and were unable to leave.
In May, during a visit by senior UNHCR officials to inspect the island, thousands of refugees defied orders to remain in their shelters to protest at the living conditions. The UNHCR later said it was “deeply concerned” that refugees were injured during the protest.
A Rohingya teacher living in the Cox’s Bazar camps said they opposed the UNHCR’s cooperation with the government because they did not believe the island was fit to live on.
“There is not any freedom for the Rohingya people in Bhasan Char. People who have gone there thought life would be comfortable for them, as the government said they would be provided with everything they need,” said the teacher, who did not want to be named for fear of repercussions. “There is a lady in Bhasan Char – she sometimes talks with her mother and I heard from her mother that people in Bhasan Char are living as if in prison there.
“At least the government could consider free movement for the people who are in Bhasan Char, so they could travel to see their relatives.”
A leaked copy of the agreement offers no guarantee that refugees will be able to move freely to the mainland, Reuters reported on Friday.
Bangladesh has justified relocating refugees to the island by arguing that conditions are better than the overcrowded camps in Cox’s Bazar, which have witnessed devastating floods and fires this year.
The UN said, after the agreement with the government was announced last weekend, that its presence on Bhasan Char would “help support the refugees to lead decent lives on the island” by ensuring protection, education, healthcare and livelihoods.
Former UNHCR official Jeff Crisp questioned why the agreement between Bangladesh and UNHCR had not been published and whether it failed to ensure freedom of movement for the refugees, which could amount to it becoming a prison island.
He also questioned what the long-term plan was for the island, as little progress had been made towards ensuring the Rohingya can return safely to Myanmar, which several generations of refugees have fled after repeated military operations.
“I don’t know what strategy the Bangladeshi government is working on. What is the endgame? Do they assume people can live happily on Bhasan Char?” said Crisp. “They’re talking about 80,000 moving in the next three months. Are that number of people going to volunteer to go and, if they do, can you move that many people and give proper attention to settling them properly?”
China’s Xi to snub UK climate summit
Chinese prime minister Xi Jinping will not personally attend the ‘COP26’ climate summit in Scotland, UK prime minister Boris Johnson has been informed, British newspaper The Times reported Thursday. The no-show might mean China would not submit a ‘nationally defined contribution’ (NDC) on CO2-cuts either, British officials feared. Just half of the world’s ‘G20’ wealthiest countries have filed NDCs so far, amid a supply crunch in oil and gas markets.
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