"#guertelstr - Refugees resist on roof @ Berlin" by Montecruz Foto. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Germany’s intake of Ukrainian refugees surpasses Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq migrant crisis

Over one million Ukrainians entered Germany in 2022, surpassing in one year the total number of refugees taken in from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq during the 2014-2016 refugee crisis. Concerns have grown over the government’s ability to handle such a large and sudden influx of refugees, with local governments demanding more funds to help accommodate them. The German federal government has already pledged €2.75 billion to support state, city, and municipal authorities; but in a refugee summit on Thursday between state and federal officials the Interior Ministry refused to grant more financial aid, despite looming housing shortages in cities.

Since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Germany and the rest of Europe have welcomed an unprecedented number of refugees. The last time Europe took in refugees on a similar scale was during the peak of the 2014-2016 European migrant crisis, which caused both logistical and political strain for countries. Germany took a leading role in welcoming Middle Eastern refugees under then-Chancellor Angela Merkel. Although Merkel received international praise for her efforts, the move cost her politically at home and saw the rise of the far-right, anti-immigration Alternative für Deutschland party. 

Germany has so far weathered the current crisis. However, while public opinion and the political consensus remain in favour of admitting Ukrainian refugees, support has fallen and strained state governments have called for limits on refugee intake. Germany’s economic integration of Ukrainians has lagged behind other European nations. Under 20% of refugees have entered the German workforce compared to 60% in Poland, where nearly 14,000 businesses were started by Ukrainians in 2022. Germany and Poland, who have taken on the vast majority of Ukrainians, have also criticised other European governments for not shouldering enough of the burden. Though monthly arrivals have dropped significantly since their peak in March 2022, for as long as the war continues Europe will have to contend with another refugee crisis.

Trump faces first challenger for Republican presidential candidate, Nikki Haley

On Tuesday Nikki Haley became the first Republican to officially challenge Donald Trump for the Republican presidential nomination. Formerly the governor of South Carolina from 2011 to 2017, then appointed US ambassador to the UN by Trump, Nikki Haley emerged relatively unscathed from serving under the former president by the time she stepped down in 2018.

Over time Haley’s views on Trump have differed, initially opposing Trump’s 2016 presidential candidacy, then endorsing him at the general election. Haley criticised Trump in the wake of the January 6 2021 attacks on the Capitol in Washington D.C., though later that year she pledged not to challenge him for the 2024 presidential nomination.

Haley’s entry comes as Republicans gear up for a tense presidential primary, as senior Republicans that see Trump as an electoral liability clash with Trump’s large grassroots support within the Republican Party. In recent weeks top Republican donors have spoken out against the former president, promising not to back him and pledging support for other candidates. While only Trump and Haley have officially declared their candidacies, a large field of candidates are expected to run, including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Trump’s Vice President Mike Pence, and Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

While Republicans begin to squabble with each other, Biden has increasingly signalled his desire to run for a second term in 2024, with no opposition from his Democratic Party. After a set of historically good midterm election results for Biden, the Democrats and many Republicans have concluded that Trump represents not a boon but a burden for his party. Yet, polling of Republican Party members still show Trump with a sizeable lead over his rivals. Despite growing opposition within his party, it appears that Trump is not willing to go down without a fight.

Moldova unsettled by threat of Russian coup

Moldova’s parliament has approved the formation of a pro-western government led by the new prime minister, Dorin Recean, amid continuing economic turmoil and allegations of Russian meddling. The Moldovan intelligence service reported last week that it had identified “subversive activities”, after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Kyiv had intercepted a “plan for the destruction of Moldova” by Russian intelligence. The new prime minister, Recean, was nominated by President Maia Sandu to replace Natalia Gavrilita, whose government resigned last week amid a series of crises in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. President Sandu accused Russia of plotting to violently overthrow the country’s pro-European leadership in order to stop Moldova from joining the European Union and to use it in the war against Ukraine. 

Moldova, a country of 2.6 million people neighbouring Romania and Ukraine, received EU candidate status in the summer of 2022, but over the past year has been faced with numerous anti-government protests. Sandu made her comments after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s statement and days after the country’s government resigned, but protests continue as the public fears the threat to their security. 

Riots in Nigeria over cash shortages

Rioters have attacked bank ATMs and blocked roads in three Nigerian cities as anger spilled on the streets over a scarcity of cash, just a week before the country’s general election. Nigeria has been struggling with a shortage in physical cash since the central bank began to swap old bills of the local naira currency for new ones, leading to a shortage of banknotes.

Banks have limited access to cash for withdrawals because of a scarcity of the new notes, and some businesses refuse to accept the old naira, causing huge queues, angering customers, and disrupting businesses.The inaccessibility of banknotes resulted in another rounds of protests in many states of Nigeria including Oyo, Ekiti, Delta, Abuja, and Edo where five protesters who stormed the Central Bank office in Benin City were killed. 

Apart from the protests, the hard stand and disregard for court order has since led to a standoff between President Buhari and the Central Bank of Nigeria on one hand, and Nigerian state governors on the other. However, the spokesperson for the Lagos police command, Benjamin Hundeyin, said in a tweet on Friday that in some areas “Free movement of vehicles and people fully restored. Our officers and men are still on ground to prevent any breakdown of law and order”.

Bashar Al-Assad opens routes for earthquake aid into Syria

The UN has recently accepted the decision of Bashar Al-Assad, the Syrian President, to open aid crossings which would allow aid from Turkey to reach the northwest region of Syria. Following a meeting held in Damascus between President Assad and UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths, it was announced that two crossing points, Bab Al-Salam and Al Ra’ee, from Turkey into Syria would be opened for a period of three months.

The death toll in northwestern Syria has reached over 4,400 deaths and roughly 7,600 injuries following a 7.8 magnitude earthquake which struck neighbouring southern Turkey on 6 February. The damage done to the city of Aleppo is widespread, with tens of thousands seeking refuge in churches, parks, and public spaces. The hospitals are overwhelmed, lacking space, medicines, and medical equipment. The Al-Razi hospital has reported that the hospitals have no space, unable to discharge patients once they are treated as they have nowhere to go.

However, whilst the UN has increasingly found itself under pressure to get aid into the region, it has been met with some opposition. The White Helmets, a volunteer rescue group, has spoken out against the UN’s decision to allow the Syrian President to make such decisions over aid deliveries. Speaking to Reuters news agency, the leader of The White Helmets, Raed al Saleha, announced that the decision was “shocking and we are at a loss at how the UN is behaving”. Formed to help victims of the Syrian civil war, the White Helmets reaction to the UN’s decision is based on their decision to listen to Bashar Al-Assad. The Assad regime has been accused of committing various atrocities throughout the Syrian civil war, with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, reporting that there were “reasonable grounds” to believe the Syrian government had been using banned chemical weapons.

Tunisia crackdowns on dissent, arresting opposition leader and critical radio host

Working to stamp out dissent, a recent increase in detentions in Tunisia marks a shift towards a more draconian form of governance under President Kais Saied. Cracking down on opposition figures and the media, the Tunisian police have arrested ten influential public figures since Saturday. One of these figures was Noureddine Bhiri, a leading official of the biggest opposition party in Tunisia, the Ennahdha Party. An outspoken critic of Saied, Bhiri was arrested after police raided his home. Having already been held for two months of the previous year, following accusations of aiding Islamist fighters in their efforts to reach Syria, the detention of Bhiri reflects this shift towards increased state repression.

Amongst those arrested was also Noureddine Boutar, the head of radio station Mosaique FM. While the majority of state-run broadcasters stopped granting airtime to critics of the President, Saied has continued to air criticism. Boutar was arrested following a search of his home. Such arrests have led to questions of whether or not Tunisia is returning to an authoritarian form of government. The US, UN and Germany have all expressed their concern over the blow these arrests have dealt to the democratic gains Tunisia has made since the Arab Spring. Volker Turk, the UN commissioner for human rights, has announced his concern over the conspiratorial nature of the accusations made against those arrested.

Having assumed power in July 2021, following his closure of parliament, dismissal of the government, and move to rule by decree, Saied launched a reform program intended to give the country a new constitution and revised political system. Saied remarked that the radical nature of his actions had been essential to save the country from the chaos threatening to enshroud it, but the recent increase in the repression of dissent has seen Saied use all of his available resources to silence anyone who dares oppose him. Labelling this a “witch-hunt”, Amna Guellali, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, has expressed that Saied’s actions are a reflection of his “absolutist agenda”.