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Russia has been recruiting foreign migrants detained at its border with Finland for military service in Ukraine, as evidenced by several cases reported by the BBC. This practice involves coercing individuals in pre-deportation detention centers to sign contracts for army service. While this tactic is not new, the numbers increased significantly as foreign migrants arrived at Russia’s border with Finland. Finland temporarily closed its Russian border crossings, accusing Moscow of using migrants as part of a destabilization campaign after Finland joined NATO.

In the past three weeks, 236 people in Karelia, one of the three Russian regions bordering Finland, were arrested for staying in Russia without valid visas. The pattern was similar in the other two border regions of Leningrad and Murmansk. Migrants, including a Somali man identified as Awad, detained for immigration violations, were approached by military representatives and offered a job in the Russian army, promising good pay, medical care, and permission to stay in Russia upon completing a one-year army contract.

The influx of migrants at Finland’s border led to accusations that Russia encouraged the surge, bypassing visa checks and organizing the distribution of bicycles for migrants. Awad, who had arrived in Russia in mid-July and attempted to enter Poland via Belarus, hired a taxi in November to reach the Finnish border. After being detained, he and others were pressured to sign army contracts to avoid deportation.

The report mentions an Iraqi man facing deportation who claimed he was also pressured to sign an army contract due to the danger he faced in Iraq. According to a representative from the Somali community in Belarus, at least 60 Somali nationals in Russian detention centers were approached by military recruiters, with some reportedly agreeing to sign contracts with the Russian army.

Awad and his group realized they were being sent to fight in Ukraine when they reached a military camp at the border. Despite threats of long prison sentences, the detainees demanded the annulment of their contracts. Some received letters confirming the cancellation, but they remain in the military camp. Awad insists he was deceived and did not fully understand the contract, emphasizing that he is an asylum seeker, not a soldier. The BBC has sought comment from the Russian interior ministry regarding the allegations.

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Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo has accused Russia of aiding migrants in entering Finland illegally, alleging that some have received assistance from Russian border guards. The number of unauthorized crossings has increased this week, with around 89 incidents recorded in two days, compared to 91 in the preceding four months. Finnish officials reveal that migrants, including individuals from Iraq, Yemen, and Syria, are arriving legally in Russia but lack authorization to enter Finland, an EU member state.

Colonel Matti Pitkaniitty of the Finnish border guard noted a change in Russian policy, asserting that Russian guards traditionally prevented people without proper documents from reaching the Finnish border. The migrants are exploiting an agreement allowing cycling across the border, prompting Finland to recently ban bicycle crossings. Most activity is concentrated around the Nuijamaa and Vaalimaa border crossings in south-eastern Finland. Prime Minister Orpo claimed that Russian authorities are facilitating these illegal crossings, emphasizing the assistance provided by border guards.

In 2021, a significant number of migrants from the Middle East and Africa entered EU member states Poland and Lithuania by flying to Belarus, a close Russian ally. The EU accused Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko of using migration as a tool of “hybrid warfare” to destabilize the bloc. Colonel Pitkaniitty, while acknowledging the manageable current numbers, stated that Finnish authorities are prepared to react if crossings increase.

Interior Minister Mari Rantanen announced plans to enhance border security, emphasizing the government’s commitment to addressing the situation. Colonel Pitkaniitty noted that the route into the EU via Russia is considered safer than other options, such as crossing the Mediterranean by sea. He expressed concern that word of this route’s safety might attract more migrants, potentially leading to a rapid increase in numbers, emphasizing the unpredictability of when the opportunity might end.

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In an unprecedented turn of events in Paris this weekend, a significant demonstration took place in response to the Israel-Hamas conflict, drawing representatives from major political parties. Notably, the far right, including Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella of the National Rally, participated, while the far left, led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon of France Unbowed, boycotted the event, citing it as a gathering for supporters of the Gaza massacre.

This shift is symbolic, considering historical political dynamics in France. Traditionally, the far right was ostracized due to its perceived anti-Republican views, especially on Jewish issues. The far left, on the other hand, despite criticism, remained part of the broader political spectrum. However, the current scenario reflects a shake-up in the political landscape.

The contemporary far right in France, now labeled as “hard right” or “national right,” has shifted focus from past anti-Semitic stances to prioritize issues such as immigration, insecurity, and Islamism, aligning with some Jewish perspectives. Meanwhile, the far left interprets the Gaza conflict through an anti-colonial lens, emphasizing solidarity with the oppressed against perceived superpower aggression.

This unusual alignment sees a party with a history of Holocaust denial, like the National Rally, supporting French Jews openly. Conversely, a party built on human rights and equality, like France Unbowed, faces accusations of antisemitism for not condemning Hamas as a terrorist organization.

While nuances exist, the overall trend shows the National Rally under Marine Le Pen successfully integrating into the mainstream, while France Unbowed under Jean-Luc Mélenchon appears to be distancing itself. Opinion polls reinforce this, with Marine Le Pen leading in presidential election polls, while Mélenchon’s support has declined.

Serge Klarsfeld, a prominent figure in the fight against antisemitism in France, acknowledges the irony. He appreciates the far right’s departure from antisemitism, seeing it align with Republican values, yet expresses sadness over the far left’s perceived abandonment of efforts to combat antisemitism.

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In order to draw qualified individuals to its labour market, the German government has agreed to loosen its immigration regulations. The cabinet wants a points system a la Canada to hire people who speak German or possess the necessary qualifications.

Europe’s largest economy, Germany, requires an additional 400,000 foreign workers annually, according to analysts. According to Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, the changes will result in “the most modern immigration law in Europe.”

Conservative opposition leader Friedrich Merz criticised the measures, claiming that Germany was underutilizing its potential and had more than two million unemployed people.

He claimed that while it already benefited from the EU’s commitment to freedom of movement, individuals did not want to relocate there because “the paperwork is horrendous, the taxes are too expensive.” The workforce in Germany is getting older and there are shortages in the IT, healthcare, and construction industries. Hubertus Heil, the minister of labour, estimated that by 2035, seven million skilled workers will be required.

According to Rainer Dulger of the BDA employers’ confederation, “We need people who will help us to retain our success in this country.” The three-party coalition in power seeks to enact a “opportunity card,” based on a points system, which would be used to evaluate non-EU candidates by taking into account things like education and linguistic proficiency.

The process for recognising foreign qualifications would be simplified and unskilled workers would also be allowed in to fill certain sectors.

The suggestions may not be presented to the Bundestag, the German parliament, for several months, but Robert Habeck, the minister of economics, said there is now a pressing need to address the issue: “We have been aware of the impending demographic issue for years, but not enough has been done.”

The proposed immigration reforms follow closely on the heels of ideas to speed up the citizenship process for immigrants living in Germany. Chancellor Olaf Scholz stated that certain persons might be allowed to become citizens after only three years as opposed to up to eight.

The proposed law would further shorten the five-year waiting period for applicants who can demonstrate integration and German language proficiency.

Additionally, the government intends to amend the constitution to permit dual citizenship, which is currently virtually prohibited in Germany.

This week, Mr. Scholz claimed that immigrants “are bringing Germany ahead” and that Germany had transformed into “a land of hope” for those seeking to start new lives.

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