Hungary to arm new ‘border hunters’ after six-month crash course

Hungarian border hunter recruits take oath during a swearing in ceremony in Budapest, Hungary, March 7, 2017. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh

By Krisztina Than

BARCS, Hungary (Reuters) – Sandor Jankovics is proud to be joining Hungary’s new “border hunter” force after a six-month crash course to help police and army units keep out migrants, part of a security clamp down that has raised human rights concerns.

Hungary’s southern border with Serbia and Croatia marks the external edge of the European Union’s Schengen zone of passport-free travel. Hundreds of thousands of migrants have entered Hungary via its southern frontier since 2015, though most have moved on westward to more prosperous parts of the EU.

The migrant flow has ebbed greatly since Hungary erected a fence along the southern boundary and the EU struck a deal with Turkey 18 months ago that curbed migration from that country into neighboring Europe.

But nationalist Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who on Tuesday described mainly Muslim migrants as a “Trojan horse for terrorism”, has cited the risk of a new influx from the Balkans and is beefing up his country’s defense.

This week Hungary also passed a law to detain migrants in camps along its border, a step the United Nations said violates EU humanitarian law and will have a “terrible physical and psychological impact” on asylum seekers.

Jankovic, 26, who quit his job as a laborer in nearby Austria last year, will start “border hunter” duty along with almost 1,000 other volunteers within three months.

He is one of dozens undergoing fast-track training at Barcs, a border crossing with fellow EU country Croatia.

Barcs witnessed the apex of the migration crisis in September 2015 when many thousands fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East flooded into Hungary after having passed through Croatia from Serbia.

Now Barcs is eerily quiet, with only a few passing trucks being spot-checked by police. Orban’s security plan focuses on the border with Serbia since Croatia has beefed up its boundary with its Balkan neighbor since 2015.

Jankovics said he had never met a migrant, but looks forward to training patrols and to his deployment with great pride since he had always aspired to becoming a police officer.

CRASH COURSE IN SECURITY

“We will be sent to the stretch of border where we will be needed,” he said. He will get a monthly gross salary of 220,000 forints (£614), well above the minimum of 161,000 forints guaranteed by Hungary for those with secondary education.

Recruits, who must be between 18 and 55 years old, are given training similar to police and learn other skills such as guarding a border fence, detaining large groups of migrants and tracking their paths.

Some multicultural studies are part of the program.

“Initially we started to learn about the major religions of the world, who believes in what,” Jankovics said.

Like police officers, border hunters will carry pistols with live ammunition, batons, pepper spray and handcuffs, and will also be equipped with night-vision goggles if needed.

“The defense of Hungary is the most important for us,” said Adrienn Heronyanyi, 23, a recruit who previously worked in catering.

Hungarian police aim to recruit up to 3,000 border hunters. Recruiting is continuous, including in secondary schools.

In the classroom, the new recruits assemble their pistols at the order of their officer within seconds. In the afternoon, they learn judo skills and moves to handcuff people.

Asked under what conditions border hunters could use force against migrants, regional police chief Attila Piros said the rules were the same as for police – to “break resistance” but only as a last resort.

He said any force must be proportionate and justified. “One of the most important things in this six-month training that we teach as law but in fact has moral and ethical foundations is that criminals are human beings, everybody has human rights.”

MIGRANT “STORM” HAS NOT DIED – ORBAN

At a swearing-in ceremony of border hunters in Budapest on Tuesday, Orban, whose anti-immigrant policies have gone down well with voters, said Hungary had to act to defend itself.

“The storm has not died, it has only subsided temporarily,” he said. “There are still millions waiting to set out on their journey in the hope of a better life (in Europe).”

In addition to the razor-wire border barrier, the government has begun installing a second line of “smart fence” along the Serbian border. Border police said they had detained over 100 illegal migrants in the past 30 days.

Nils Muiznieks, the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, voiced alarm at Hungary’s migrant detention plan.

“Automatically depriving all asylum seekers of their liberty would be in clear violation of Hungary’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights,” he said on Wednesday.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said its teams in Serbia were treating a growing number of migrants who reported being beaten and stomped on by Hungarian border guards who intercepted them.

Orban’s government has denied mistreating migrants. His office said eight cases of alleged mistreatment had been investigated but in none “was it proven that refugees had been harmed by border personnel”.

Reuters could not independently verify reports of abuses.

(Reporting by Krisztina Than; editing by Mark Heinrich)

Merkel wants Germany to get refugees into workforce faster

Refugees show their skills in metal processing works during a media tour at a workshop for refugees organized by German industrial group Siemens in Berlin, Germany,

By Georgina Prodhan and Andreas Rinke

FRANKFURT/BERLIN (Reuters) – Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday that Germany needed “viable solutions” to integrate refugees into the workforce faster after she met blue-chip companies that have hired just over 100 refugees since around a million arrived last year.

Merkel, her popularity undermined by her open-door policy, summoned the bosses of some of Germany’s biggest companies to Berlin on Wednesday to account for their lack of action and exchange ideas about how they can do better.

Many of the companies contend that a lack of German-language skills, the inability of most refugees to prove any qualifications and uncertainty about their permission to stay in the country mean there is little they can do in the short term.

Merkel told rbb-inforadio that if needed, special provisions could be developed to speed up the integration of refugees into the workforce, but she acknowledged this would still take time.

“Many are in integration courses or waiting to get on them. So I think we will need to show some patience, but must be ready at any time to develop viable solutions,” she said.

A participant at the meeting with Merkel said company executives from DAX firms and small businesses discussed their opinions for 2-1/2 hours and came to the conclusion: “We want to do this”. When talking about the refugee influx, Merkel frequently says: “Wir schaffen das” or “we can do this”.

The meeting spurred some firms to announce more action to help get refugees into the workforce.

Deutsche Bahn [DBN.UL] boss Ruediger Grube said IT would offer 150 extra places in qualification programs for refugees, Volkswagen said it was working with Kiron, a non-profit start-up, to help refugees start a university degree, Thyssenkrupp announced around 150 extra training positions and Daimler announced 50, the source said.

“Wir Zusammen” or “We Together”, an integration initiative of German companies, said much had been achieved to support the arrival of the newcomers but now they had to turn their attention to integrating them into the workforce.

“Now it’s about motivating those companies that are not yet active,” it said in a statement after the summit.

A survey by Reuters of the 30 companies in Germany’s stock index last week found they could point to just 63 refugee hires in total.

Of those, 50 were employed by Deutsche Post DH, which said it applied a “pragmatic approach” and deployed the refugees to sort and deliver letters and parcels.

“Given that around 80 percent of asylum seekers are not highly qualified and may not yet have a high level of German proficiency, we have primarily offered jobs that do not require technical skills or a considerable amount of interaction in German,” a company spokesman said by email.

Deutsche Post’s Chief Executive Frank Appel said on Wednesday the company had now hired more refugees, taking its total to 102.

Several of the 27 firms who responded said they considered it discriminatory to ask about applicants’ migration history, so they did not know whether they employed refugees or how many.

What is clear is that early optimism that the wave of migrants might boost economic growth and help ease a skills shortage in Germany – where the working-age population is projected to shrink by 6 million people by 2030 – is evaporating.

“The employment of refugees is no solution for the skills shortage,” industrial group Thyssenkrupp’s Chief Executive Heinrich Hiesinger said earlier this month.

APPRENTICESHIP BARRIERS

Most large German companies, especially those in manufacturing, prefer to hire through structured apprenticeship programs, in which they train young people for up to four years for highly skilled and sometimes company-specific jobs.

But the recent arrivals from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere are mainly ill-prepared for such training, they say.

The DAX-listed companies surveyed by Reuters were able to identify about 200 apprentices in this or last year’s intake. Many will have been through months of pre-training especially designed for migrants by large companies, such as engineering group Siemens, Mercedes maker Daimler, or automotive technology firm Continental.

Two Syrian interns visited by Reuters at a Siemens power-plant construction site in April applied for apprenticeships, but could not immediately be accepted because they are still in the process of proving their school-leaving qualifications. One is meantime doing temporary work in IT and the other taking German classes.

It is simply too soon to expect large numbers of refugees to have been hired yet, most German companies say.

“Our experience is that it takes a minimum of 18 months for a well-trained refugee to go through the asylum procedure and learn German at an adequate level in order to apply for a job,” said a spokeswoman for Deutsche Telekom.

(Additional reporting by Caroline Copley, Michelle Martin, Paul Carrel, Andreas Rinke and Markus Wacket in Berlin, Jan Schwartz in Hamburg, Matthias Inverardi in Duesseldorf and Harro ten Wolde, Ludwig Burger, Edward Taylor and Tina Bellon in Frankfurt; editing by Ralph Boulton)

ISIS Recruits 400 Children Since January

ISIS has recruited at least 400 children since the start of the year and has given them military training and indoctrination into their extremist brand of Islam.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the children were recruited near schools and mosques where ISIS has carried out killings and punishments on people who do not live up to their extremist ideology.  In many cases, the children go with the terrorists over their objections of their parents.

One boy is believed to be the half-brother of Mohamed Merah, who killed three soldiers, a Rabbi and three Jewish children in France in 2012.

“They use children because it is easy to brainwash them. They can build these children into what they want, they stop them from going to school and send them to IS schools instead,” said Rami Abdulrahman, head of the British-based Observatory.

The group said that ISIS has had children carry out beheadings and executions as a way to show them the “power” of ISIS.  The children are also being used as informants after being returned to their families.  They report on actions within their communities to the ISIS leadership.