The United Nations is now estimating at least 850,000 people are expected to cross the Mediterranean this year and next, seeking refuge in Europe to escape violence and unrest in Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, sub-Saharan Africa and other regions. Already 366,000 people have arrived in Europe this year. Earlier today, the president of the European Commission called on European Union member states to accept a total of 160,000 asylum seekers from war-torn countries. We speak to Annette Groth, member of the German Parliament and spokeswoman for human rights for the Left Party. She just returned last week from a trip to Hungary, where she saw thousands of migrants stranded at the Budapest train station. “What is the root for this massive migration?” Groth asks. “It is war, it is terror, and it is the former US government who is accountable for it.”
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
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JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The United Nations is now estimating at least 850,000 people are expected to cross the Mediterranean this year and next, seeking refuge in Europe to escape violence and unrest in Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and sub-Saharan Africa and other regions. Three hundred sixty-six thousand people have already arrived in Europe this year. On Monday, a single-day record of 7,000 Syrian refugees arrived in the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia. Earlier today, the president of the European Commission called on the member states of the European Union to accept a total of 160,000 asylum seekers from war-torn countries. Jean-Claude Juncker made the remarks during the State of the European Union speech in Strasbourg, France.
JEAN–CLAUDE JUNCKER: I’m not talking about 40,000. I’m not talking about 120,000. It’s 160,000. That’s the number Europeans have to take in charge and have to take in their arms. And I really hope that this time everyone will be on board. No poems, no rhetorics. Action is what is needed for the time.
AMY GOODMAN: Under the European Commission proposal, quotas would be set for all 22 nations across Europe to take in refugees. Germany, which supports quotas, has already said it can accept half a million refugees each year. Many other European nations, including Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland, have opposed a compulsory system. On Tuesday, leaders from nearly 60 countries met in Paris to address measures to aid the rapidly growing number of people fleeing to Europe. UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres called the European asylum system, quote, “extremely dysfunctional” and “completely chaotic.” He called on the rest of the world’s leaders to do more to help those seeking asylum.
ANTÓNIO GUTERRES: There are no reasons to be optimistic about forced displacement in the world. The Syria crisis is not the only one. It is, of course, the biggest one and the one that is closer to the European borders. But either the world increase its capacity to improve prevention and to more effectively solve conflicts, or I think that the refugee problem is going to go on increasing in the years to come.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, approximately 2,500 people are believed to have died or gone missing trying to reach Europe so far this year. Just over a week ago, 37 people died when a boat capsized off the Libyan coast. This came just days after another boat capsized off the Libyan coast, killing more than 200 people. Around the same time, 71 refugees were found dead in an abandoned truck on the main highway between Budapest and Vienna, the victims of negligence by the smugglers they entrusted to bring them to safety. And the world was stunned as images of one of the youngest victims of the migrant crisis, three-year-old Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi, went viral. Photographs show the boy’s body washed up on a Turkish beach after his boat sank in the Mediterranean. His family was attempting to reach Canada when they drowned in the Mediterranean Sea.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, today we’ll spend much of the hour discussing the migrant crisis with policymakers, volunteers and organizers. We’re going first to Stuttgart, Germany, where we’re joined by Democracy Now! video stream by Annette Groth. She is a member of the German Parliament, spokesperson for human rights for the Left Party. Annette just returned last week from a trip to Hungary, where she saw thousands of migrants stranded at the Budapest train station.
Welcome to Democracy Now! Can you talk about what you saw and what, Annette Groth, you think needs to happen?
ANNETTE GROTH: Well, I saw really horrible pictures – I mean, families, many, many families, lying there on the ground, babies on the ground, hardly any water, hardly no toilets, no sanitation, no medical service. It was really appalling. And I’m glad that some of the people I met there made it to Germany. I am in contact with several of them. And I hope that every German, you know, will warmly welcome them, because they deserve it. They have such a horror story behind them. And so, I only appeal to every person in the world: Please welcome refugees.
The thing is, I listen carefully to the news. I mean, what is the root for this massive migration? It is war, it is terror, and it is the former US government who is accountable for it, and the NATO state governments. I’m very sorry to say so, but it is the truth. It was Bush who invaded Iraq. It was Bush – then Libya, destroying Libya, then Syria. Now Saudi Arabia, with the help of German weapons, is invading Yemen. This is the next country, you know, where we will receive refugees. The whole area of the Middle East is a zone by war and terror, so therefore people are leaving their countries.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Annette Groth, the whole issue of the migrants, once they get to Europe, being able to be transported to the country that they’d like to ultimately get to, what – your assessment of the different reactions of various member states of the European Union and this whole issue of our seeing them trekking through one country after another in these makeshift camps?
ANNETTE GROTH: Well, I mean, I perfectly understand that the refugees rush from Greece. I mean, you know that we are forcing them on the boats. They risk their lives, because there is no legal access to European member states or European countries. So they have to take the illegal way, unfortunately, which is very risky. So, they are landing in the islands, in the Greek islands. Then they’re being transported to Thessaloniki, for instance, take the bus or march up to the border, where I was before I went to Budapest, in Idomeni, close to – at the border to Macedonia. And they want to cross Macedonia, Serbia, before, you know, the fence, which Hungary is building between, on the border between Serbia and Hungary, will be completed. And most likely this will be the case next week.
So, and I ask myself, “What is going to happen then?” Because nobody wants to stay in Serbia nor in Hungary. And Hungary is a very, very hostile environment, therefore I am really against setting up a quota system for refugees, because they should choose the countries where they want to go to. I wouldn’t go to Hungary. The camps there are terrible. It is not human. I met a family with a little baby. They were in such a camp for two days, handcuffed, and then no water, no food and nothing. I mean, this is not Europe. We are really – we are not safeguarding human rights, European values, as our politicians always say it. But it is horror. So, therefore – and nobody wants to go to Poland either.
So, people want to go to Sweden, to Germany, some to Belgium, because many, many Syrians have family members in our countries. There are many, many Syrians living in Germany. I met – you know, somebody had a sister here, somebody had a two-years-old son here, because she gave it away to her sister. He has no residence permit, and the mother is now in Berlin, and so on. So, yes, this is what we need to do. We are obliged by international law and by the Geneva Protocol to accommodate and to receive peoples in distress, in need.
AMY GOODMAN: Annette Groth, you are a member of the German Parliament, and you have made a link between the massive refugee catastrophe that’s now unfolding and arms sales, German arms sales, US arms sales. Can you explain?
ANNETTE GROTH: Well, I mean, it is our arms, you know, which are also killing and destroying these countries. My constituency is Lake Constance, which is in the southern part of Germany, where is all the arms industry of Germany located. It is a very affluent region. And you know Germany is the third biggest weapons exporter, and we have very good relations, to a fault, with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and despite massive protest – and my party always protests, like the good peace movement. We are still – our government is still delivering arms to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is also supporting IS, the jihadists. What is this? I mean, we are rather stupid to do so. So, therefore, it is the arms business – arms export should be stopped immediately. I mean, I say there are more arms in the Middle East region than bread. And I remember a discussion with ambassadors from this region about three years ago, and he looked at us, other parliamentarians, as well, and he said, “It is time that the West collects the weapons you have brought us.” Very, very true, and very simple [inaudible].
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Annette, I’d like to ask you about the response in Germany. Chancellor Merkel has been among the leaders of opening up the country to – your country, to a large percentage of the refugees that are coming and to also – to earmark billions of dollars in financial aid. But at the same time, there is a still strong and growing right-wing movement in Germany, as in many other European countries, that is anti-immigrant. Could you talk about what’s been happening with this right-wing movement?
ANNETTE GROTH: Yes, this is not a new phenomenon. But with the increasing, let’s say, arrival of refugees and increasing, let’s say – or high unemployment rate, etc., etc., particularly, I must say, in East Germany, but we have also these attacks in West Germany – I don’t to deny that at all. I am very, very concerned about this. And really, I hope that the police is now much more prosecuting the Nazis than they did before. You know, the leftists, as the radical lefts are called, were always under scrutiny, you may say, and our secret service, you know, made the extreme left, as they call it, as the worst enemy for the government, for the state, whereas the growing Nazi movement was completely neglected. And this is now – you know, now we see the result.
I mean, I must say I feel so ashamed. If my friends, who are now here in – not far from Stuttgart, is a family of 16 persons. The head of the family is a medical doctor. I met them at the station in Hungary. If, you know, they – something would happen to them because some Nazi right-wing gangster would throw something into their house now, because they are now in a sports hall, it would be so terrible for me. And I don’t understand. I think these people should really – you know, put in prison for many years. I have no – how to say – pardon for them. And I think our secret service, and as well as police, they need to carefully watch the Nazis, growing Nazi movement, here in Germany, and if something is happening, they should be really heavily penalized.
AMY GOODMAN: You just came from Hungary. There are reports there an Internet television channel associated with Hungary’s far-right Jobbik party fired a camera operator after images of her kicking and tripping migrants spread across social networks. She was captured on video tripping a migrant fleeing from the police at a makeshift relocation camp a hundred yards from the Serbian border. But it is not just about her. The bishop, the Roman Catholic prelate in southern Hungary, cited the chant of Muslims fleeing war in the Middle East, “Allahu Akbar,” saying, “They’re not refugees. This is an invasion,” supporting the Hungarian prime minister’s position on preventing refugees from coming in. Annette Groth, your response?
ANNETTE GROTH: Yeah, I saw it on my Facebook and on the social media, as well. I was shocked. If I had been there, I guess I would have slammed her in her face. And I am glad if that is true that she was immediately fired. But concerning the bishop, I must say I am shocked. My father was a pastor. I am really, you know, a church person with this background. And I closely follow the pope’s saying, and he just said every Catholic priest and, say, church should accommodate at least two refugees in their houses, because most of these priests have big houses. I found this rather remarkable. But this, what the bishop in Hungary said now, this is complete – it is un-Christian, for me. And he should be immediately expelled. He should lose his bishopcy, whatever the name is. And I –
AMY GOODMAN: Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian prime minister, said, “Migration from Muslim lands undermines efforts to keep Europe Christian.”
ANNETTE GROTH: That is not a Christian saying. I mean, he is very un-Christian, I would say. It is just the opposite what I believe is Christian. Look at the Bible. We should give, you know, the poorest persons everything we have and share it, and so on and so on. I cannot say now, out of my hands, exactly the part of the Bible where it is, but I was brought up in this sense, and for me this is crystal clear. Wherever I see injustice, racism, poverty, whatever, I need to help. This is the human attitude, I think. And I met lots of people thinking like me in Hungary, Macedonia, Greece and in Serbia. It is actually the local population supporting the refugees, because the governments are failing, and the EU, as well. It’s a big shame. And the church, I must say, including my own one, I missed really loud statements, you know, requesting Mrs. Merkel, for instance, open the border. There was silence last week. I mean, I called up several politicians, including, for instance, one colleague of mine, Liberal Party in Switzerland. She’s like me, member of the Council of Europe. When I saw this in Budapest, I said we have to do something about it. And luckily – [coughs] sorry, I got a bad flu in Hungary. So whatever made Merkel open the borders then, I don’t know. But it would have been an explosion. This is what I said. And when I was there, I was the only politician. There were many, many journalists. And like, they felt like me, appalling. They were shocked. So – and Hungary is not a government based on human rights. There are the quotations made behind one of the co-founders of the Fidesz party, you know, [inaudible]: “They are enemies, they should be sent into the sea,” and so on and so on. No outcry in Europe. I once mentioned that in plenary in the Council of Europe. They stare at me. Silence. Shocking silence.
AMY GOODMAN: Annette Groth, I want to thank you for being us, member of the German Parliament, spokeswoman for human rights for the Left Party, joining us from Stuttgart, Germany. She has just returned from Hungary, where she saw thousands of migrants stranded at the Budapest train station. When we come back, we’re going to Vienna, we’re going to London, and we’re going to be right here in the United States, looking at the various countries’ policies around refugees. Our guest in London just wrote a piece in The New York Times headlined “Open Up, Europe! Let Migrants In.” Stay with us.