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Recently, OSCE chairman and Austrian foreign minister Sebastian Kurz stated that at the moment there is a need to create centers for refugees outside the European Union. He named some possible locations, where they would be protected and where they would be returned when attempted to illegally enter the EU member states. Sebastian Kurtz stressed that it does not matter where such centers will be located. He proposed to place them on the territory of Georgia, the Western Balkans or in Egypt. In fact, such a position is not new in the EU. The Union had previously agreed on such a "barrier" with Turkey.
But this statement from the OSCE Chairmanship was made shortly after the EU's approval of the visa-free regime for the citizens of Georgia, and on the eve of Ukraine’s receiving visa-free status, it still gave rise to bad thoughts. The Refugee Center is a budgetary institution that provides temporary residence and ensures the integration of foreigners into society. If the Georgian authorities say yes, refugees from countries of the Middle East and Africa, engulfed by the flames of military conflicts, Islamic extremism and the economic crisis, might find themselves in this country. As the Ambassador of Georgia to Austria Konstantyn Zaldastanishvili noted, the officials of the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs informed that Sebastian Kurz "simply" mentioned Georgia and did not have anything concrete in mind about the establishment of refugee centers in the South Caucasus republic. However, for a long time there has been talk of a certain deal between the EU and the countries of Eastern Europe, which wish to receive a cherished visa-free travel.
Fee for visa-free travel?
Whatever Foreign Ministry of Austria said to the Georgian side, nothing simply happens in the diplomacy. Any public statement by diplomatic workers has a purpose. With his resonant statement, OSCE Chairman Sebastian Kurz decided to check the reaction of the authorities of the EU's closest partners on the prospect of creating refugee centers on their territory. Apparently, the EU is looking for some ways of mitigating the consequences of the migration crisis. As an option, EU could negotiate with some third countries and persuade them to host the refugees. The refugee problem is an important “headache” for Brussels.
According to the agency for the external border security of Frontex, last year, 364 thousand refugees crossed the maritime borders of the EU, in 2015 this figure grew to more than a million. In Germany, there are about half a million refugees, in Sweden - 156.4 thousand. Austria is experiencing migration crisis too, it hosted over 100 thousand refugees in 2015-16. Austrian Defense Minister Wolfgang Sobotka, long before the idea of Sebastian Kurz, proposed to ban the reception of refugees on the territory of European countries and create centers for their placement abroad.
In order to reduce the influx of refugees to European countries, last year, Brussels reached an agreement with Ankara on their deployment in Turkey. According to these agreements, all "illegal migrants" arriving in Greece (the EU member state) through the Aegean Sea, after March 20, 2016 automatically must return to Turkey. Today, about 3 million refugees live in Turkey. During 2016-18, EU intends to allocate 6 billion euros to the Turkish government for the maintenance of refugee camps. However, relations between the EU and Turkey have been rather complicated lately. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to open borders for refugees seeking to enter Europe in response to the freezing of the negotiations on Turkey's membership in the EU.
Georgia is a reserve option for the EU, if Turkey refuses to accept the refugees. The EU decided to gently probe (dealing with humanitarian issues in the field of European security) the possibility of housing refugees in the territory of the South Caucasian republic. Georgia is a member of the Eastern Partnership, it should be called an image of a "showcase" of European reforms in the post-Soviet space, and has recently received a visa-free regime. Georgia is convenient to use to create refugee centers due to the geographical location of the country. Theoretically, it is possible to redirect refugees from Turkey to Georgia and allocate funds from the EU budget for their maintenance.
Implications for Georgia
The Georgian side cautiously reacted to the words of Sebastian Kurz. Georgian Ambassador to Austria Konstantyn Zaldastanishvili said that the issue of establishing refugee centers on Georgian territory was not discussed during the recent visit of the Austrian Foreign Minister to Georgia. Sebastian Kurz should be aware that the Georgian government has not solved the problem of internally displaced persons (as a result of Russian-sponsored military conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia). About 260 thousand people became forced migrants from Abkhazia, about 40 thousand people came from South Ossetia. A considerable part of these people could not arrange their life in a new place.
The establishment of centers for refugees in Georgia, a small state with 3.9 million population, might lead to an aggravation of the terrorist threat. According to UNHCR, 54% of all refugees come from Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia. The terrorist organizations ISIS, "Al-Qaeda", "Al-Shabash", "Taliban" are active there. Among the total number of refugees in Turkey, about 2.5 million people are from the conflict zone in Syria. Islamic extremists could arrange terrorist acts in Georgian cities to press on the international community. As the bitter experience of Europe and Turkey shows, along with the refugees, Islamic extremists infiltrate the receiving countries, whose victims are civilians. In the first half of 2016, 209 people died from the hands of the terrorists in Turkey, and 143 people in the EU.
In Georgia, there are underpinnings for taking root by the Islamic. Georgians are overwhelmingly Orthodox Christians. At the same time, about 9.9% of the population professes Islam. These are separate groups of ethnic Georgians, who live near Turkey, as well as Azerbaijanis, Lezgins, Meskhetian Turks and Kists (Georgian Chechens). There are about 12 thousand Kists in Georgia. And they live in the Akhmeta municipality (Kakheti), which borders on Russian Chechnya and Dagestan. Under the guise of refugees, Islamic extremists might seep into Georgia and begin recruiting among Georgian Muslims. This practice has been used in the EU. About 900 citizens of Germany, France, and Britain went to fight on the side of ISIS. Today the late so-called "military minister" of ISIS Abu Umar al-Shishani was a citizen of Georgia (Tarkhan Batirashvili), a former sergeant of the Georgian army, whose mother was a Muslim-kist. In 2010, he was sent to prison for illegal possession of weapons. He has accepted Wahhabism there. After his release, he went to fight in Syria and Iraq as a mercenary. Wahhabism was also accepted by his brothers Tengiz and Tamaz Batirashvili, who were Christians since their birth.
European experience shows that incidents of sexual violence by refugees are possible in Georgia, for which the rule of law and a civilized way of life are alien. The European society was shocked by 500 cases of sexual violence of women on New Year's Eve in Cologne. There has been an increase in right-wing radical sentiment among Europeans, who are arranging pogroms of refugee centers. In Germany, 665 attacks on refugee centers in 2016 have been recorded. Despite the hospitality and tolerance towards the ethno-religious minorities, in the historical memory of the Georgian conservative and patriarchal society, the events of bloody defensive wars with the Muslims of Sassanid Iran and the Ottoman Empire have not yet erased. In Georgia, there is a custom of blood feud. Nobody will tolerate the outrage of refugees from the Middle East and Africa, if at least one drop of Georgian blood is spilled. The pogroms of refugee centers in Germany may seem like a tip of the iceberg. Right-wing radical sentiment has recently intensified in Georgia. As a result of the past parliamentary elections, 6 places in the Georgian parliament were taken by the chauvinist anti-Western and anti-Turkish "Alliance of Patriots of Georgia" David Tarkhan-Mouravi. Georgian chauvinists will use Muslim refugees to form an image of an internal enemy in order to rally different layers of Georgian society around themselves and expand the electoral base.
The establishment of centers for refugees in the territory of Georgia may negatively affect the prospects of restoring the territorial integrity of the country. Russia has negatively perceived the statement of Sebastian Kurz. In the opinion of Franz Klintsevich, First Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council Committee on Defense and Security, the establishment of centers for the reception of refugees in Georgia affects the interests of Russia's national security.
Russia is afraid of a terrorist threat from Islamic extremists that can seep through the Russian-Georgian border to the North Caucasus, where Islamic extremism is not a new phenomenon. If refugees are still deployed in Georgia, Moscow will hamper the negotiation process on the return of Abkhazia and South Ossetia to the legal field of Tbilisi. The Russian occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia will be justified as a measure to protect separatists from the threat posed by Islamic extremists.
Unwanted precedent for Ukraine
If Georgia agrees (or if it is forced to) establish refugee centers on its territory, then the EU may think about making a similar proposal to Ukraine and other countries of the Eastern Partnership (Ukraine, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, and Belarus). It is undesirable if the EU forces Ukraine to create refugee centers on its territory in order to speed up the provision of visa-free regime for Ukrainian citizens and new tranches of financial assistance and loans from Western donors.
Ukraine already has experience of cooperation with the EU in the field of migration. Within the framework of the agreement on readmission between Ukraine and the EU, ratified in 2010, there is a mechanism for the return of illegal migrants to the territory of Ukraine, which used to come to the EU countries. This problem has been given enough attention before the Russian aggression. For example, in 2011, Ukraine deported 13 thousand illegal immigrants under the agreement on readmission and spent about 255.5 million UAH on their temporary maintenance. Ukraine can become a "settler" of refugees from European countries.
European officials are primarily concerned with resolving the migration crisis in the interests of the internal security of the EU member states and reducing the flow of refugees. For this, all methods are good, including shifting responsibility to the third countries.