tv Focus on Europe PBS September 5, 2016 6:30pm-7:01pm PDT
michelle: hello and welcome to "focus on europe." it's described as the greatest crisis the european union has ever known. it's changing the eu's relationship with its neighbours and creating deep divisions from within. the refugee crisis. today we're bringing you a very special programme taking a look at europe one year after german chancellor angela merkel opened the way for refugees and migrants to reach a safe haven in europe. ♪ the summer of 2015. hundreds of thousands of
refugees fled to europe. many countries closed their borders. it was a trial by fire for a united europe. but the german chancellor called for solidarity. >> we've done so much, we can do this. michelle: we have more on that coming up in the programme. but first to the mediterranean. because of its long mediterranean coastline, italy has overtaken greece as europe's migration frontline. since the implementation of the eu-turkey refugee deal, the harrowing images of migrants attempting to reach greece have been replaced by those of people hoping to get to italy. record numbers of migrants have drowned in the mediterranean over the past year. the men and women of frontex, the eu border control agency, have saved 70,000 lives so far and hope to make the border stronger. reporter: on board the siem pilot. the norwegian ship has been sailing between italy and libya for months. it's part of the frontex operation securing the eu
external borders. but the crew has its hands full rescuing refugees. >> if the boats have problems, they can't swim so they'll drown. so it's good to do the rescue and get them on board. it's not our job to judge what will happen later or why they came. reporter: the ship's deck can accomodate around 1000 refugees. the mediterranean is relatively calm in the summer, and more and more people try to make it to europe by sea. tens of thousands have been rescued this year. human traffickers load people onto tiny boats in libya and send out distress signals hoping that frontex will pick up the refugees. the siem pilot is called into action today. the italian coast guard reports an emergency off the coast of libya. >> there are 8 to 10 rubber boats that are in distress in a
ten nautical mile circle. we know for sure that an italian coast guard ship, the dattillo, is going down here also. there's also a civilian ship like this, which works or the oil industry in libya, is also at sea. reporter: a short time later, the dattillo approaches the norwegians with 1000 people on board. but there are even more refugees. the dattilo wasn't big enough, so the civilian oil ship asso also had to pick up several hundred people. the refugees aboard the asso need to be transfered to the siem pilot. that isn't as easy as it may sound. on deck, police officer espen oustorp hands out weapon to the crew. libyan waters are considered dangerous. the refugees represent a slight risk. >> we're now close to the libyan shoreline. we need protection, for the rubber boats too, in case
there's a threat on board the boats. reporter: the crew also have to protect themselves against infectious diseases and don rubber suits and face masks. the norwegians spend the first two hours bringing aboard women and children. at the end of this humanitarian shuttle service, 125 adults and seven girls have been transferred to the siem pilot. among them are two babies. they all have to be disinfected. reporter: >> after that we give them a number and they move forward to their registration table. there we write down the number and their belongings and whcih country they're from. and if they're under sixteen, we also try to write down the age. reporter: many of the refugees are dehydrated and exhausted.
then it's the men's turn. they make up the largest group of refugees. like the women and children, they have nothing but the clothes on their backs -- no valuables, identification papers or even shoes. the norwegian police officers collect as much information as they can. >> where are you going? >> i don't know. >> sweden, germany? >> germany. >> france? >> no, not france! germany. >> where do you come from? >> cameroon. reporter: almost all of the men come from sub-saharan africa, many of them are from countries affected by civil wars. conditions in liberia drove this man and his son to risk the dangerous sea passage from africa to europe.
>> are you alone with this kid? >> yes. >> you're the father? >> yes. >> ok, you come with me, you will have your own section. >> because of the ebola sickness, my wife was sick, she was prenant actually. we were stigmatized. there was provocation everywhere. people said, you have ebola. that's why i left my country. reporter: the final refugees reach the siem pilot just before nightfall. every square meter on deck is occupied. the entire ship is full of rescued people, and everyone is relieved that the operation was a success. the crew worked flat out for twelve hours. their mission has pushed them to their limits. >> it was a very long day. we never had so many migrants on the boat before. i don't know what time it is. i'm very proud of the guys. we did a very nice job, i think.
reporter: more than a thousand refugees from 22 countries were rescued. they're now headed to a camp on the italian mainland. they're the lucky ones. many refugees suffer fates that are far worse. michelle: when german chancellor angela merkel said, we can do this, the world responded with a range of emotions. from outrage at what some viewed as an imposition, to others saying she should receive the nobel prize for peace. as an american, it gave me butterflies, as it was reminiscent of another world leader, full of hope of uniting a divided society. such as when president barack obama said yes we can. but more and more countries in europe are saying "no we can't" to merkel. reporter: at the peak of her power in europe, angela merkel found herself caught up in a political storm.
in the summer of 2015, a growing number of migrants crossed the serbian-hungarian border. thousands got stranded in budapest, but hundreds of thousands were determined to make it to germany. the german chancellor opened her country's borders on humanitarian grounds. > a now iconic phrase, and one that initially earned her praise the world over. but then -- >> in some countries of central and eastern europe there was a fear and an anger about how little they had been consulted before she decided to open the borders and let immigrants and refugees in. reporter: merkel called for solidarity, and for the refugees to be fairly distributed across europe. countries like hungary refused. prime minister viktor orbán prepared for a fully-fledged power struggle. the germans tried forcing the issue by demanding a vote in a dramatic meeting of interior ministers in brussels.
a majority ended up deciding in favor of limited refugee quotas, but this did not change the situation on the ground. most migrants continued to get stuck in greek camps. >> heads of state, ministers come here, decide, this is what we're going to do. and then they go home and it's actually not happening and i think that's a huge issue for the european union. we have to do what we decide together otherwise the whole credibility and the stability and power of the construction is gone. reporter: which is exactly what happened. a number of countries started to rebel against merkel's policy. austria and the balkan states closed their borders. in interviews merkel was undeterred. but she was a largely isolated figure, and effectively the border closures were helping her. she now put all her efforts into a deal with turkey, to prevent refugees from illegally getting to europe in the first place. and it worked, for some time at let.
the numbers of migrants arriving at the greek coast dropped dramatically. but europe remains deeply divided. has merkel pushed the eu to the brink with her "welcome policy"? >> well i really think it goes too far that assessment. the refugee crisis would have been there even without merkel, so the impulse and the reflex to respond to it on a european level is and with a european strategy i think is still the right one. reporter: but it can't be implemented. the political storm might have passed for now. the differences in europe remain, however, not least over that appeal. >> we can do it. reporter: the storm could re-emerge at any time. michelle: we have seen how
refugees risk their lives to come to europe by crossing the mediterranean, but the next part of the journez is also fraught with challenges. migrants would then try to reach western europe on the so-called balkan route. that is, until hungary effectively closed it by building a massive 175-kilometre-long razor wire fence. and a new law allows authorities to deport anyone caught inside hungary within 8km of the fence. it seems hungary has built a legal fence in addition to its physical one. reporter: surrounded by steel and razor wire fencing, thousands of refugees are literally lining up on the border between hungary and serbia to get into the european union. this is the röszke border crossing. the area is heavily guarded. soldiers patrol around the clock. the media are not welcome. a police officer immediately orders us to switch off our camera.
so we move on and film these refugees who have made it through and can now apply for asylum in hungary. it's normally a basic human rght in the eu, but here it's a privilege, accorded to only 15 people a day. a few meters away, on the serbian side of the fence, some 800 refugees are holding out, living in horrendous conditions. they've been waiting in the so-called transit zone for weeks. one of them is 37 year old haif from afghanistan. >> we live in this tent. our tent is dirty. reporter: he takes us around the camp and tells us about his journey. like many here, he fled from afghanistan to escape the attacks of the taliban. his wife and children are living in hiding back in afghanistan. he was on the road for 6 months, and now he's stuck here. >> i don't have a bedroom, i don't have a shower, i don't
have good food, we don't have water, we have big problems in this camp. reporter: new refugees are constantly arriving. so haif believes the waiting time at the border will get longer. in desperation, some people, like these young guys from afghanistan, have sought to get over the fence illegally. >> we got over the fences into hungary. there were 30 of us. hundred metres beyond the fence, 15 got arrested. the rest ran for 4 hours but were chased by a helicopter. we were all arrested and immediately deported. reporter: hungary has actually passed a new law to legitimize this procedure. it defines an eight kilometre zone behind the hungarian border. if refugees are caught there, they're simply sent back to the transit zone. border officials say this is completely legal and in keeping with eu regulations.
>> hungary is abiding by european and international norms. the right to asylum is being granted to these people. everyone who wants to apply for asylum can do so in the transit zone. they just have to go through the border opening provided and apply for asylum there. reporter: human rights activists say this is just a sham. that it's not about controlling the flow of refugees but about minimizing the number who come. >> if the government can provide 36 million euros for the heavily armed military units patrolling here along the border, but doesn't have enough money to take in these people in suitable number, then you have to ask yourself where the government's priorities lie. reporter: back to the border
crossing at rözske. after weeks of waiting, thenall. they're now allowed to enter the transit area and apply for aslyum in hungary. >> of course i'm relieved but it's still terrible that the border has been closed. many refugees are stuck in serbia and macedonia, many women and children are suffering in these terrible camps, especially with the heat. reporter: many young men are suffering too, like 21 year old sedek, who was previously arrested and deported. they can expect a much longer waiting time -- at least 200 days. too long, he says. >> i'm going to try to get into hungary again illegally. the hungarian police didn't take my fingerprints, they just photographed me. it's difficult but i have no
other choice. but first i'm going to belgrade, there's no space left here. reporter: in belgrade, he wants to look out for people traffickers who can smuggle him over the border. his friend haif gives him food for the journey, but doesn't want to go with him. >> so i think after 50 day inshallah i will go hungary. reporter: then he wants his wife and childrn to join him. and like nearly everyone here, he hopes to move on to western europe and germany some day. michelle: while countries like hungary are resistant to accepting refugees, portugal has made it clear it's ready and willing to resettle about 10,000 of them. so far, only a few hundred have come. officials blame lack of awareness.
when a migrant thinks of europe, countries like germany, france or the united kingdom tend to spring to mind. portugal, because of its size and location, is less well known. but while the people in small towns like penela are welcoming, their motives aren't entirely altruistic. reporter: social worker nataliya bekh is happy to see every refugee. she works with migrants in the small town of penela, two hours north of lisbon. the town is home to 6,000 residents, including 20 refugees. they're housed in modern apartments. and nataliya says there's plenty of room for more. >> portugal could take in more refugees, but unfortunately not many come. reporter: among those she's helping are belal, hawa and samia from sudan. previously they didn't know anything about portugal and had no plans to come here.
>> my family said no we are not going to portugal. but then on the list we come. because there was no choice. reporter: it's the european authorities who decide where the refugees end up. portugal says it's willing to take in over 10,000, more than twice the number originally agreed with the eu. nataliya believes that was a good decision, because portugal has the lowest birth rate in the eu. and, many young portuguese are leaving to find work abroad. >> if portugal doesn't take in migrants, we'll only have half the workforce left in ten years. so we need the refugees. in a way they could effectively replace the people who are leaving. reporter: the town of penela is
also shrinking. and so many locals are pleased to see the refugees. >> they could help bring a bit more life back to penela. there are so many houses just standing empty, it's sad! reporter: the local authorities are proud of their town's pioneering role. penela was the first to take in refugees. but in total only 500 have come to portugal so far under the eu's redistribution program. >> i just don't understand it quite honestly. we're ready to take in refugees. we have space, institutions and organizations to take care of them. bureaucracy is the problem, as always. reporter: nataliya also believes the eu's distribution system isn't working. and it's refugees like belal who are suffering as a result.
after a long wait he's finally made it. he's now doing an internship at a supermarket in penela. >> there is a lot of refugees in other european countries like germany so they are full enough so they can't expect more and more. so portugal is empty. reporter: nataliya knows what it's like to be a migrant. she and her husband are originally from ukraine. they came to portugal illegally. she worked as an au pair and then studied administrative law. now at the age of 47 she's planning to earn a phd. >> many people here in portugal helped me when i first came. they gave me the sense that i could be useful and that i could help other people too.
reporter: she arrived in portugal 13 years ago and now feels at home here. she's fully integrated into society. she wants the same for the refugees in penela and everywhere. michelle: it might seem like the past year has been dominated by images of despair and suffering. but there are also many new opportunities. one young man who fled his native syria for germany has an unusual talent, he's able to play one of the world's oldest instruments, the oud. his passion for music and his desire for a new life in a peaceful place have brought him further than he ever could have dreamed. reporter: thabet azzawi likes to come to the river elbe to clear his head. he's settled into his new home in germany, but he's still plagued by memories of the war back in syria and his journey through yemen.
>> the war was very dramatic, but the malaria and dengue fever were actually worse than war. it is the most hurtful thing in my life i had experienced just to see a man dying, bleeding his life and i cannot do anything, because we don't have the medications. reporter: without his music, thabet says he doesn't think he would have made it. playing the oud gives him strength. he spends two hours a day practising the traditional arabic instrument. he originally left syria in such a hurry he had to leave his instrument behind, but then went back to his home city of deir ez-zor just to get it. >> there was a fight between the regime and al-qaida. so they changed the route somehow,it was a route in the desert.
so i went back, i was able to get into the city. then i got out my baby. i waited about ten days more then i got out my instrument and i flee to lebanon again, then from lebanon to yemen. reporter: the oud has also helped thabet azzawi find friends, here in dresden and beyond. since he's so talented, he's made quite a name for himself and gained many contacts. earlier this year he was even offered a contract to record with british music star sting. thabet joined the famous singer and bass player in his studio for a recording session. >> he was very modest, he is very humble. and he said, okay, let's just have fun.
>> they wanted some authentic improvisations i suppose. some sounds, what i can give to the song itself, not their vision of it, but what i could maybe bring into this new song. so i went crazy and i just played my heart out. reporter: thabet is almost as passionate about learning german. he takes language lessons five days a week. he says german is more difficult than english but easier than arabic. he studied medicine in syria and wants to resume his studies here, so he'll need to be fluent in german. thabet came to dresden a year ago, just a few weeks before chancellor angela merkel made her famous statement "wir schaffen das!" -- we can do it. >> some others could share my idea, that we are now part of this "wir" and we could help to
make it "schaffen", to schaffen, that would be really great. so we could really make these words a reality, a long reality, not just a temporary one. reporter: thabet azzawi certainly plans to do his part. as a musician and later as a doctor. he thinks that's a perfect combination. michelle: the optimist in me wants to believe, like tabed, that merkel's words can be a reality. was she being too optimisitic? what do you think? let us know by getting in touch on facebook, email or twitter. thank you for watching. in the meantime it's goodbye from me and the whole team. [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org]