Sep 12, 2019

Axios World

By Dave Lawler
Dave Lawler

I'm back! Thanks to all of you for reading and to my brilliant colleagues Shane and Zach who steered the ship so ably while I was off in Italy and Spain.

  • Tonight's international journey is a brisk 1,595 words (6 minutes).
  • Could someone in your life use some global smart brevity? Tell them to sign up, and I'd love your tips and feedback:
1 big thing: In search of safe havens

A Rohingya refugee in Bangladesh. Photo: Munir Uz Zaman/AFP/Getty Images

The world hasn’t seen such staggering numbers of people fleeing violence, persecution and desperation since World War II — and countries that had offered safe harbor are beginning to turn them away.

Driving the news: The U.S. has declined to offer Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Bahamians in the wake of Hurricane Dorian, a particularly stark manifestation of the Trump administration’s efforts to close America’s borders to nearly all refugees and asylum-seekers.

  • At an Axios event this morning, acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services chief Ken Cuccinelli said he opposed offering TPS to any additional countries until courts allow Trump to end protections for other groups, like Salvadorans.
  • The administration is also expected to soon cut the number of refugees the U.S. accepts for the fourth time, Axios’ Stef Kight reports.

The big picture: The vast majority of displaced people flee not to wealthy Western countries, but to their neighbors. It’s there that efforts to curb protections are most acutely felt.

Turkey hosts more refugees than any other country. As the Syrian civil war raged, the country took “extraordinary” steps to facilitate the arrival of more than 3 million Syrians, says Hardin Lang of Refugees International.

  • “Now, as the Turkish economy is beginning to do quite poorly, you see anti-Syrian sentiment on the rise, and you see [President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan pivoting in that direction,” he says.
  • Some Syrians have already been sent back into an active war zone in Idlib, Lang says. Others are being forced to move out of cities like Istanbul and into rural areas. Some have been intimidated by officials or fined for working without permits.
  • Lebanon has also reportedly deported thousands of Syrian refugees, and resentment is growing in Jordan and Egypt as well.

Bangladesh was praised for taking in nearly 1 million Rohingya people who fled ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. Two years later, patience is growing thin.

  • “Limits on Internet and cellphone service imposed this month, along with curbs on aid agencies, offer some of the clearest signs that Bangladesh is growing tired of the camps in its impoverished southeast and is looking for ways to nudge the Rohingya back to Myanmar without resorting to force,” the Washington Post reports.
  • Efforts to get Rohingya refugees to return voluntarily have gone nowhere. The dangers at home won't abate soon.
  • Zoom out: That’s true of most of the prolonged crises driving the spike in global refugee numbers. Just 3% of displaced people returned home last year, according to the UN.

Colombia has taken in about 1.4 million Venezuelans fleeing a deepening political and economic crisis, a number that continues to grow. 

  • As other neighbors — Peru, Ecuador, Brazil — make it more difficult for Venezuelans to enter, the burden on Colombia will only increase, says Lang, who just returned from Bogotá.
  • “The real danger here is that Colombia gets to a tipping point at some point and decides to change their policy. And if they do that, the Venezuelans will have nowhere to go,” he says.
2. This isn't going away
Expand chart
Data: UNHCR; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

The international community should be supporting host countries like Colombia, argues Nazanin Ash of the International Rescue Committee.

  • "We should be saying, 'Thank you for providing refuge ... thank you for allowing them to access your education system, thank you for providing them opportunities to work and reducing their dependency on international aid.'"
  • Ash says wealthy countries should show solidarity, and provide financing to offset the costs to host countries of extending services to refugees.
  • “That’s not what’s happening," she continues. "Humanitarian financing is being cut, and even worse, countries that used to symbolize humanitarian leadership are now shutting their doors.”

What to watch: The crises driving the global spike in displacement show few signs of abating. And what Ash calls the "global retreat from humanitarian obligations" continues.

The bottom line: “Neighboring countries tend to bear the brunt of this,” says Lang, of Refugees International. “Convincing those countries — Jordan, Turkey, Uganda, Kenya, Colombia — to continue to carry that burden when we are in the process of closing asylum space inside the United States ... it removes all moral authority.”

3. Israel denies spying on White House

Netanyahu and Trump at the White House. Photo: Jabin Botsford/Washington Post via Getty

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today denied a Politico report that U.S. intelligence agencies believe Israel planted devices near the White House intended to intercept cellphone communications.

Why it matters: The report highlights a rift between the two allies, as Israeli officials strenuously deny that such spying took place while Politico reports that "former [U.S.] officials with deep experience dealing with intelligence matters scoff at the Israeli claim,” Axios contributor Barak Ravid writes:

  • Israeli officials are wondering amongst themselves why such an accusation would be brought up at the current time.
  • Politico reports that the devices were "likely intended" to spy on President Trump and his top aides, citing a former official.
  • The report also states that "the Trump administration took no action to punish or even privately scold the Israeli government" after U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Israel was likely behind the planted devices.

The state of play: Netanyahu saw the report while he was on a plane heading to Sochi for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and his office issued a statement minutes later calling the report and the accusations "a blatant lie."

What to watch: Netanyahu’s political future is in the balance as Israel goes to the polls on Tuesday. Much more on that in Monday’s newsletter.

Go deeper: Bolton's ouster a blow for Netanyahu

4. China: Rust belt blues

Empty streets and vacant buildings in Dandong, China. Photo: Zhang Peng/LightRocket via Getty Images

Chinese megacities like Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen are capturing the world's attention with their glittering skylines, Fortune 500 firms and outsized wealth, but the country also has hundreds of shrinking, forgotten cities, Axios' Erica Pandey reports.

Background: In the Mao era, China opened massive state-owned steel plants and coal mines in the northeast of the country to jump-start the economy. For the next 4 decades, the materials and energy coming out of that region fueled China's rise, helping build its gargantuan cities.

  • But as China's economy started to modernize and shift away from heavy industry toward services, the plants, which were sucking government money, were downsized, putting millions out of work.
  • Now, the government is investing in its own Silicon Valley — coastal cities like Shenzhen and Hangzhou — and the industrial centers are getting left behind.

Today, many of the shrinking cities in northeastern China are full of quiet streets and empty shops, as more and more young people go to the megacities to find work delivering packages or waiting tables.

  • Among the people who are still there, "you’re beginning to see opioid addictions," says Nathan Attrill, a scholar at Australian National University who studies the region. "There’s a depression settling in that there is no future."

What to watch: "China is obsessed with social stability, so when you have a lot of unemployed workers in one place that really worries them," Attrill says. So far, no plan to re-energize the northeast has worked. "They’ve had to revitalize their revitalization plan twice since 2003."

  • And the government may soon have to deal with more rust belts as factories in other parts of the country shut down. "Chinese officials are already talking about the regions around Shanghai and Guangdong going through their own deindustrialization," Attrill says.
5. Three takes on Bolton's ouster

Bolton with his bag packed, on a trip to Nashville last May. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

President Trump announced John Bolton's departure on Tuesday, then derided him yesterday as "Mr. Tough Guy" and insisted he'd been fired.

Susan Glasser, in the New Yorker:

  • "Bolton has been widely and accurately reported to disagree with key aspects of Trump’s policies toward Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, North Korea, Russia, Ukraine, and Venezuela."
  • "He was feuding with Trump’s other advisers. He had all but dismantled the traditional national-security process, and he was on such hostile terms with the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, that the two largely communicated ... through intermediaries."
  • "Trump will now become the only President ever to have had four national-security advisers in three years, but he might as well consider not having one at all."

Frances Brown, for Axios Expert Voices:

  • "Traditionally, the national security adviser has coordinated foreign policy across the government and developed policy options for the president. Bolton, however, rejected these functions in favor of a more public-facing and solitary role — often dispensing with interdepartmental meetings and leaving the parts of the U.S. foreign policy machinery out of sync."
  • "Trump could return the position of national security adviser to its more conventional role, restoring a measure of order to the foreign policy process. Alternatively, he could select a candidate who shares his 'disruptor-in-chief' instincts or hails from the television commentariat."

Trump, on Twitter today:

  • "In fact, my views on Venezuela, and especially Cuba, were far stronger than those of John Bolton. He was holding me back!"
6. The cost of an Airbnb

Sunset in Granada, Spain. Photo: Yours Truly

I spent the past week hopping between Airbnbs in southern Spain. As a traveler, it was a wonderful, convenient, affordable experience.

The flip side: I found myself wondering how the surge in short-term apartment rentals affected locals. Thankfully, there’s been some good reporting on just that topic.

“The rise of short-term lets has affected cities across southern Europe, and has been blamed for driving up property prices and hollowing out economies in some of the world’s cultural capitals by promoting tourism above all else,” Aleksandra Wisniewska writes in the FT.

  • “Fabiola Mancinelli, anthropologist at the University of Barcelona … says that in Barcelona and other Mediterranean cities, gentrification happens alongside ‘touristification’: long-term residents are replaced by temporary ones. ‘It takes away the soul of the place and the social tissue that makes that place alive.’”
  • “But platforms such as Airbnb and HomeAway have brought significant international investment to countries that, since 2012, have been recovering from the eurozone crisis.”
  • Luís Araújo, president of Turismo de Portugal, says: “Airbnb is an answer to a demand from tourists. Not having an answer is not being a competitive destination.”
7. Stories we're watching

Children play before a mural of Robert Mugabe in Harare, Zimbabwe, a day after the freedom fighter turned dictator's death. Photo: Tafadzwa Ufumeli/Getty Images

  1. Trump delays tariff hikes on Chinese goods
  2. Expert Voices: Critical window for U.S.-China trade deal closing
  3. Expert Voices: Western tech giants adapt strategies to compete in India
  4. Trudeau triggers election for Oct. 21
  5. U.K. ambassador who resigned over Trump critiques made a Lord
  6. What we know about India’s lunar lander
  7. Team USA's loss is global basketball's gain
“I don’t like it when the criticism comes from under the table. They smile at you and show their teeth and then they stab you in the back."
— Pope Francis, on criticism from conservative clerics, particularly in the U.S. He said he's "not afraid of schisms" within the church.
Dave Lawler