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Headlines 12 February, 2016

Headlines 5 February, 2016

News from UK, Sweden & Germany - Week 5

Headlines 29 January, 2016

Refugee Crisis - Week 4

International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Headlines 12 February, 2016

UK: 'Islamophobia' in Guernsey behind no refugees decision

"Islamophobia" among Guernsey's residents was partly behind the island's decision not to accept refugees, its chief minister has said.

6/2/2016- Jonathan Le Tocq said "negativity" would make it difficult to guarantee the safety of any Syrian refugees on the island. Though most people on the island had shown compassion, he said, there was a danger others would be unwelcoming. Aid worker Eddie Parks branded the minister's comments "disgraceful". It was an "awful awful commentary" on Guernsey, Mr Parks, a former journalist, said. The island had an "amazing reputation" for accepting "other people coming in from outside" going back to the mid-19th Century, he added. Mr Le Tocq's comments followed the announcement that Guernsey would not accept Syrian refugees as part of the UK's Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme. Jersey has already confirmed that it will not take in any Syrian refugees.

Mr Le Tocq said: "There's certainly a lot of Islamophobia and negativity that's been around and that would entail that it would be difficult for us to ensure that [the refugees] would find the sorts of security and stability here in Guernsey, were they to be resettled here, in the same way as they are, say, in other parts of the UK." He said "that vulnerability", along with concerns about infrastructure, was one of the reasons why the Policy Council had decided not to accept refugees. But he said he was particularly disappointed with that decision. The Guernsey Overseas Aid Commission has donated £90,000 to charities working to help people involved in the refugee crisis.
© BBC News

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Headlines 5 February, 2016

European media face new scrutiny of reporting on immigration and crime

Sexual assaults in Cologne, Germany, have put pressure on media to report more aggressively, but some worry they may tip too far.

5/2/2016- The headlines would not have been so blunt just a few months ago:
"Every fifth prison inmate in Saxony is a foreigner," the German newspaper Dresdner Morgen announced, making a point it might not have stressed even a few months ago. "If there was an opinion corridor [a range of acceptable public opinions], it has now been thoroughly demolished," noted a columnist in the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter.

The mass sexual harassment and pickpocketing that took place on New Year's Eve in Cologne, Germany, has changed the tone of reporting on immigrant-related issues. As news of the attacks spread days later, so too did awareness that both police and media had been reluctant to connect the crimes with the "North African" and "foreign-looking" men described as the perpetrators, out of fear of fanning xenophobic flames. Soon, other instances emerged – in Sweden, Germany, and elsewhere – of covered-up criminality alleged to have involved refugees and other immigrants from outside Europe. And the media's willfully blind eye resulted in exactly the opposite of what they were hoping for: a more immigrant-hostile debate, and distrust in the police and media.

Now, the public – and media – in the two countries that host the largest numbers of refugees in Europe are struggling with a difficult balancing act: How do you report and respond to crimes among the new arrivals without providing fuel for the anti-immigrant, far-right movement that wants to keep them all out? "Sometimes we, Swedish news media, have been too cautious in daring to publish suspected criminals' nationality," says Lars Joel Eriksson, editor-in-chief of Skånska Dagbladet, the local newspaper in Malmö, the main gateway to Sweden for refugees. "Now the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction."

The Need To Report
Following the Cologne incidents, it emerged that dozens of girls had been groped or worse at last year’s "We are STHLM" festival in Stockholm, many by Afghans, but that police had covered up the incidents for fear of appearing racist. As bad, says Sebastian, a student in Malmö, is that such incidents happened on several occasions without the public learning about it. (Because the debate is so heated, Sebastian asked that his last name not be used.) “OK, there are fights and pickpockets at festivals,” he says. “But the job of the media is to report about it. Otherwise, what’s the point of news media?” The criticism has yielded results – for good or ill. In Sweden, news media have begun reporting on crimes by immigrants with surprising intensity. And with Germany’s famous carnivals coming up, the country’s leading tabloid, Bild, recently made grim predictions: “Migrant masses attacking women! A horror vision. That’s why [the police] is launching its biggest operation ever for the carnival in Frankfurt.”

The high-brow weekly Die Zeit asked last month, “Who is the Arab man?” It went on to explain that “those who are in favor of refugees must also face the problems refugees bring. Therefore we also have to talk about Arab sexism.” "There seems to have been some self-examination among Swedish journalists, and there has been more reporting about problems connected to the refugee crisis," says Ivar Alpi, an editorial writer at Svenska Dagbladet, a leading national newspaper in Sweden. "Even though most newspapers are good at deflecting the blame, some of the criticism has gotten through."

Going Too Far?
While some say that the shift from no coverage to ubiquitous reporting is a positive – “The plug has been pulled on the PC [politically correct] censorship after the events in Cologne,” a user recently wrote on Flashback, a forum popular among Swedes on the far right, others worry it has spun out of control. Hannah, a student who also requested her surname not be used, worries that people may be going to far. “Of course it’s not a good thing that media don’t report on certain crimes," she says. "But now that it’s emerging that immigrants may have committed certain crimes, there’s enormous interest in some parts of society. That frightens me. It’s as if the events are being used as a bat in what seems like a completely different debate.”

The coverage of immigrants’ sexual harassment of women has almost turned into a proxy for the debate on immigration that liberal countries such as Sweden and Germany haven’t had. Tommy Möller, a professor of political science at Stockholm University, says that “recent events have made things easier for people who oppose immigration. The [far-right] Sweden Democrats don’t need to say a thing. They’ll barely need to run an election campaign next time.” Like the Sweden Democrats, Germany’s far-right AfD party is reaping the benefits of the alleged concealment. A recent poll by the Allensbach Institute shows the party doubling its support since September last year, to 7 percent.

Introspection
The fallout has led to introspection among members of the media, as they try to find a balance between useful and incendiary disclosure of criminals' ethnicity and nationality. “The intention [of not disclosing the Cologne perpetrators’ immigrant identity] may be good: not to feed xenophobia," wrote journalist and former politician Susanne Gaschke in a commentary for German newspaper Welt am Sonntag. "But the strategy of solicitous concealment is not very promising. 60 percent of our citizens now consider the number of refugees too high.” “Of course it would not be right to announce following every crime if it was committed by a refugee or migrant,” says Hans-Christian Ströbele, one of the grand old men of German politics. Though he is a vocal supporter of immigration, he argues that for authorities and the media to remain credible, they should disclose perpetra-tors’ ethnic background. “We mustn’t make a taboo of suspects' background. That just leads to allegations of political correctness.”

Mr. Eriksson of Skånska Dagbladet argues that "we need to be as close to the truth as possible, and that cases of not disclosing somebody's ethnicity should be the exception. But we have to be careful not to contribute to rumors." Frank Thewes, a journalist with the national German news magazine Focus, says it's "a fine line" between acceptable and unacceptable mention of ethnicity. "What we've seen is that properly used political correctness is a protection against false generalizations, but exaggerated political correctness creates taboos," he says. "If police find that a particular crime is committed by perpetrators from the North African region, then I think we should report it that way, because that's an important piece of information. But stating, 'North Africans are habitual robbers' or 'North Africans are dangerous' would be wrong and racist."
© The Christian Science Monitor

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Greece: Scuffles break out over construction of migrant center on Kos

5/2/2016- Scuffles broke out on Friday on the Greek island of Kos between police and a small group of residents protesting against the construction of a registration and reception center for migrants, police officials said. Police used tear gas to disperse the residents, who attempted to block the construction saying a "hotspot" would hurt tourism, the island's main source of income. Greece authorities are struggling to manage an increasing flow of migrants arriving on the country's islands, while still navigating an exit from one of the worst debt crises in decades. "About 100 people tried to enter the facilities under construction, and we fired teargas," one of the Police officials said.

The main gateway to Europe for more than a million refugees and migrants from war-torn countries, Greece has been criticized for delays in building five large, EU-assisted reception centers - called hotspots - on its islands. Athens says that most of the facilities will be operational by mid-February, but argues that its request for EU support has only been partially met and that it largely hinges on Turkey stemming the migrant flow from its coast. Last week, the Commission warned Greece it could face more border controls with other states of the free-travel Schengen zone in May, if it does not fix "serious deficiencies" in its management of the area's external frontier.

French and German interior ministers discussed the country's progress with their Greek counterpart and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in Athens on Friday and promised to send staff reinforcements and coast guard vessels to help Greece. "We must find European solutions or everything we have been building for decades will be destroyed in a year," German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said after the meeting.
© Reuters

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Dutch public prosecutor to appeal against Mein Kampf ruling, wants ban upheld

5/2/2016- The public prosecution department said on Friday it is to appeal against a decision by judges in Amsterdam to clear an antique shop owner of disseminating hatred by putting copies of Mein Kampf on sale. Michiel van Eyck, who runs the Totalitarian Art Gallery in Amsterdam, had his copies seized and had to appear in court after the Jewish Netherlands Foundation lodged a complaint in October 2013. He was acquitted at a second hearing on Monday. The sale of Mein Kampf is officially forbidden in the Netherlands and the public prosecution had sought a €1,000 fine.

Free speech
The appeal court said on Monday that sentencing Van Eyck would contravene the right to free speech. In addition the book, which has played a prominent role in history, is freely available on internet. Van Eyck said he had sold Hitler’s memoir as an historical artefact alongside busts of other 20th-century leaders such as Lenin and Churchill. ‘I don’t just sell Mein Kampf, but Anne Frank’s diary too – anything that is of historical relevance.’ The ban on Mein Kampf in Germany was lifted at the start of this year. When a new edition went on sale on January 8 all 4,000 copies were snapped up within hours.
© The Dutch News

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Netherlands: Hague PVV city councillor defends “obliterate Islam” video

4/2/2016- PVV city councillor in The Hague Willie Dillie is defending a hate-film about Islam she shared on Twitter and Facebook earlier this week. She believes that “Islam may be obliterated”. “That is the position of our party”, she said in response to angry politicians and Twitter users. “Just like he video I am talking about the religion and not about the people”, Dillie said to newspaper AD. The video shows images of ISIS beheadings and cattle in a pool of blood, while a parody of John Lennon’s Imagine plays. “Imagine there’s no Islam.” The controversy mainly surrounds the last part of the video, which states “send it back to hell” followed by a photo of an exploding atomic bomb. The Islamic party Partij van de Eenheid wants the Hague city council to publicly distance itself from Dillie and is looking into whether legal action is possible. “We also saw this kind of hate propaganda in the 30’s against Jews.” Dillie doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about. “How blind can you be to the beam in your own eye”, she said to the newspaper.
© The NL Times

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Dutch refugee policy is one of the toughest in Europe

4/2/2016- The Netherlands has one of the toughest refugee policies within Europe, the Volkskrant says on Thursday, based on a report by the justice ministry’s research department WODC. Refugees are less likely to be given a residency permit in the Netherlands than in Germany, Belgium or Sweden, the paper says. It is the first time that differences in EU admittance procedures have been investigated. ‘The fear that the Netherlands is more relaxed than other countries is unfounded,’ researcher Arjen Leerkes told the paper.

Syria
The report shows that the Netherlands approved 70% of the refugee applications made in the first nine months of last year, compared with a EU average of 47%. In 2014, the figures were 67% to 45%. But more refugees in the Netherlands come from countries where they are likely to be granted asylum, the WODC said. Last year, 32% of the refugees who came to Holland were from Syria, compared with 19% in the EU as a whole. And 91% of them go on to become official refugees. Corrected for country of origin, just 35% of refugee requests in the Netherlands are honoured. Bulgaria is the most generous, with a 51% acceptance rate and Greece the toughest. Athens recognises just 24% of asylum seekers as refugees. Junior justice minister Klaas Dijkhoff said in a reaction to the report he would like to see harmonisation of EU refugee procedures.
© The Dutch News

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Netherlands: Wilders predicts a ‘revolt’ if PVV is not in next coalition

3/2/2016- PVV leader Geert Wilders has told broadcaster Nos he thinks there would a national rebellion if his party is kept out of any future coalition government. The PVV is currently the biggest party in the opinion polls, with support of between 22% and 27% of voters, followed by the VVD and Christian Democrats. However, the other parties have all said they will not work with Wilders to form a coalition government after the 2017 general election. ‘My call is, was and remains that other political parties will have to work with the PVV,’ Wilders told Nos. ‘No one will be able to explain why if that does not happen. I think the public will rebel.’ Wilders went on to say that he hopes any rebellion would be democratic and without violence, Nos reports.

Vienna
The anti-immigration campaigner made a similar statement on Friday after a meeting with other anti-EU parties in Milan. ‘If I am the biggest and the other politicians won’t work with me, then the people will not accept that,’ the NRC quoted him as saying. ‘Then there will be a revolt. We won’t let that happen.’ Wilders would not comment on which parties he considered it possible to form a coalition with. ‘All I have said is that a coalition with the VVD led by Mark Rutte is unlikely seeing as we have been a successful opponent for years,’ Wilders told Nos.

Quite mad
All the big Dutch parties have ruled out forming a coalition with the PVV. Party leaders were also unimpressed by Wilders’ Milan statement. VVD parliamentary party leader Halbe Zijlstra said the comment was ‘quite mad’, while D66 leader Alexander Pechtold said it was ‘100% populism’. ‘Wilders picks fights with everyone,’ said CDA leader Sybrand Buma. ‘If you look at what he has said about us in the past, it does not exactly make you want to work with him.’ The next general election will take place in spring 2017.
© The Dutch News

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Netherlands: Activist on trial for ‘too many gays’ comments

1/2/2016- A campaigner for a fringe republican party in Amsterdam is back in court on Monday for stating during a political meeting that he wanted to see fewer gay men and women in the capital. Delano Felter, of the Republikeinse Moderne Partij, has been found not guilty of inciting hatred and discrimination at several court hearings already but now the case has been referred back to the appeal court for a new ruling. The comments were made by Felter in 2010 during an election meeting and were recorded by local broadcaster AT5. ‘The homosexual is becoming too dominant,’ Felter is quoted as saying by the Telegraaf. ‘We have to deal with a very aggressive homosexual group here. They have to go. People of a different sexual persuasion should bugger off. We want a heterosexual city.’

Rulings
So far, lower courts have ruled that Felter’s comments were not directed at all gay people. This meant Felter was not insulting or discriminating against all gay people and had therefore not committed a criminal act. In addition, European law allows a large amount of leeway during political debate and for politicians to make ‘insulting, shocking or uneasy’ statements to make a point, lower court judges said. However, High Court judges said in December 2014 that the case should be referred back to the appeal court for a new hearing. That will now take place on Monday. Legal experts told RTL that the case could be significant for the trial of anti-Islam campaigner Geert Wilders, who goes on trial this spring charged with inciting hatred and discrimination for leading his supporters in an anti-Moroccan chant. Wilders has said his comments targeted a specific group of ‘Moroccan criminals’.

UPDATE: The former politician Delano Felter has been convicted by the court to a fine of 1000 euro of which half is conditionally.
© The Dutch News

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EU plans to class volunteers who rescue refugees as "traffickers"

3/2/2016- An exceptionally broad proposal before the Council of the EU lumps the traffickers who cram refugees into unsafe boats with the volunteers and NGOs who rescue drowning refugees when those boats sink. Under the proposal, volunteers who were not formally registered would be engaged in "smuggling" and liable to criminal penalties. As is common with this sort of thing, the bureaucratic language of a managed, professionalized process is serving as cover for hostile, authoritarian actions against volunteers on the ground. Taking action against traffickers is a good idea, but deliberately or not, the Council's poor wordsmithing presents a real, physical danger to volunteers who are risking everything to save the lives of people who are being victimized by the traffickers. There's a Change.org petition to the Council to improve rescue operations and go back to the drawing board on its language here.

The seemingly cooperative and voluntary process presented to the UNHCR meeting of NGOs in Mytilene is in stark contrast to registering, identifcation, "certification", evaluation and the "continuous coordination and control of the action of the NGOs and independent volunteers" set out above in the official Government Gazette.
Mo "The medical station at Eftalou has been attacked for the third time (post Philippa Kempson 30 January 2016). Will the people who did this be punished? Or just those offering humanitarian help on the beaches?" and a second post: "Last night the medical tent in Eftalou was attacked for the third time this week but this time they finished the job and burnt it to the ground!!!!!!"

Refugee crisis: Council proposals on migrant smuggling would criminalise humanitarian assistance by civil society, local people and volunteers [Statewatch]

Scrap plans to criminalise refugee rescue operations [Hekate Papadaki/Change.org]
© Boing Boing

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Meet the European Corporations Profiting From the Misery of Refugees

Many Europeans have responded by offering humanitarian help. But for some others, the refugees represent an opportunity to make money.

2/2/2016- The miseries of the Syrian and Afghan wars and the dictatorship in Eritrea have come to Europe in the form of refugees. Last year, more than a million refugees escaped civil war, terrorism and repression by packing their bags and making the arduous trek across land and sea. The majority came from civil war-wracked Syria, though many came from other countries, too. Many Europeans have responded by offering humanitarian help. But for some others, the refugees represent an opportunity to make money. Across the European Union, private contractors have received cash from European governments to meet the overwhelming challenge of detaining, policing and processing the refugees. The refugee crisis means profit for these contractors. And in some cases, these corporations have abused refugees. Private companies run facilities and security for refugees in Europe, though there are also state-run shelters. And there are also arms companies, which are capitalizing on the crisis by hawking weapons and surveillance equipment to countries trying to keep refugees out or police them.

Writing in the Independent, journalist Antony Loewenstein, author of the book, Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe, explained that for corporations in the refugee business, “There’s no financial incentive for the firm to provide the best training, healthcare, food or mental health...Politically, the arrangement also suits both the company and the government, blaming the other when something inevitably goes wrong. Publicly run detention centres and prisons are hardly utopian and remain replete with problems— but at least there’s one level of public accountability.” The most prominent case of refugee abuse occurred in Germany. In September 2014, the German media published images of two private security guards harming refugees at a shelter in Burbach, located in the western part of the country.

In one photograph, two guards are seen pinning a handcuffed refugee from Algeria underfoot. In a separate video, guards forced a refugee to sit on a mattress covered in vomit. “Lay down in your vomit and go to sleep,” one guard is heard saying. Many observers compared the incidents to Abu Ghraib, when American soldiers were photographed torturing Iraqi detainees. One of the guards who abused refugees at the shelter had a neo-Nazi tattoo, according to Der Spiegel. That the guard had neo-Nazi sympathies is a reflection of a broad problem, the newspaper reported. In Brandenburg, German authorities estimated that one out of every 10 right-wing extremists works for a security company. The company that ran the shelter in Burbach is European Homecare, which contracted out security to a separate company, SKI. Despite the fact that European Homecare, which runs about 100 shelters, oversaw the shelter where the abuse occurred, it was awarded a 207,000 euro contract—about $225,000—to run another shelter in Lower Saxony, a neighboring state. European Homecare’s contract for the shelter in Burbach was revoked.

Elsewhere in Germany, hotel operators are getting cash from the state to house asylum seekers. But in some hotels, like one in Oberursel highlighted by Der Spiegel, services like hot water and toilets are scant. And then there’s the money paid to companies like Air Berlin PLC, which made $350,000 in 2014 for operating the flights that deported asylum seekers, according to the Wall Street Journal. In neighboring Austria, European Homecare gave up its contract to run a refugee shelter three years ago. A Swiss company, ORS, took over the Traiskirchen refugee center. That company rakes in at least $100 million a year, and its profits will likely increase because of the refugee crisis. But it doesn't run the center in Austria well. The United Nations said conditions there were “beneath human dignity”; in a facility meant to host 1,800 people, 4,500 were being housed. Over 2,000 people were forced to sleep outside, having to deal with rainstorms and heat waves without beds or shelter.

Alev Korun, an opposition lawmaker from the Green Party in Austria, said the country was copying the American model of privatized prisons. “That's not my wish because we all know the negative examples of all the things that are happening in American prisons,” he told Global Post. “Handing the care of refugees over to a private company, that's a huge mistake.” When refugees began to go to Eastern Europe in a bid to reach the more prosperous Western countries, Hungary cracked down hard. Its prime minister, Viktor Orban, said, “I think we have a right to decide that we do not want a large number of Muslim people in our country.” He put that harsh rhetoric into action by deploying the army at the border and authorized them to shoot rubber bullets at refugees. The government also quickly moved to build a wall, complete with razor wire, at its border with Serbia. Hungary turned to private contractors to build the barrier, and some residents claimed the contracts went to Orban’s cronies. Eventually, Orban turned the project over to the military.

Britain has accepted far fewer refugees from Syria than Germany. Since June 2015, the country has taken in only 166 Syrian refugees. In 2014, the UK received 31,000 asylum applications, and granted the status to 41 percent of people. Britain relies heavily on private contractors, which run seven out of 11 immigrant detention facilities. Some of the corporations that run the centers have been accused of abusing refugees. LGBT asylum seekers told VICE News in 2014 that they faced “homophobic abuse and sexual harass-ment” in detention centers run by GEO Group. Five men have died at the facility since 2000, three of whom hung themselves. GEO Group is not the only private contractor linked to sexual abuse. Yarl Wood, the largest detention center for female asylum seekers, is run by Serco, a private company awarded an estimated $100 million contract in 2014 by the government. That contract was given despite reports that a male guard had sexually assaulted a detainee.

G4S, a British company, is another giant in the global security industry, and it too has repeatedly abused refugees. The most famous case occurred in 2010, when Jimmy Mubenga, an Angolan refugee, died on a plane deporting him. G4S guards were responsible for restraining him, and at one point Mubenga said he could not breathe because of excessive restraint. None of the three guards were found guilty of manslaughter. Apart from private security and detention companies, weapons companies are also making money from the crisis. European defense contractors like Airbus, Finmeccanica and Thales have been awarded much of the estimated $244 million going toward building up what’s known as Fortress Europe, Fortune Magazine reported. Fortress Europe is the name given to the system of drones, satellite surveillance and border patrolling robots meant to police and keep refugees from entering Europe. Military contractors are developing the technology bought by European states to beef up border controls.

The refugee crisis has no end in sight. The Syrian civil war, which has produced millions of refugees fleeing the Assad regime and the Islamic State, continues to grind on. Human misery is bound to increase, and the European corporations tasked with keeping people out or policing refugees once they’re inside are bound to cash in. For these private contractors, the refugee crisis is good for business.
© Alternet

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In Europe, empathy for refugees fades

The latest tragedy is met with little more than a collective shrug.

2/2/2016- Five months ago, a 3-year-old Syrian boy’s corpse on a Turkish beach galvanized public action for refugees. Now, strikingly similar images are generating little more than a collective shrug. It’s partly about timing, circumstance and the exceptional power of last September’s photos of Aylan Kurdi. But it’s also because sensitivities are growing dull. Boats arrive on Europe’s shores daily, or sink on the way – like the one that capsized off Turkey’s coast Saturday, killing at least 37 people including babies and other young children. Images from the latest tragedy, including the bodies of children, failed to generate the same level of shock. Fears – that refugees will stage extremist attacks or molest women – threaten to displace compassion. And Europe has yet to find the magic solution to its migrant dilemma.

“The public seems to be kind of immunized. They don’t want to see it anymore,” said Melissa Fleming, spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Some are rebelling against the numbness. Greek soccer players held a sit-in solidarity protest after the latest refugee drownings. Artist Ai Weiwei, wanting kinder migrant policies, re-enacted Aylan’s death. The photos of Aylan weren’t the first or last to document the fatal risk that families take to flee Syria’s war for something better in Europe. But his lifeless, tidily-dressed body – first face-down on the sand, later in the arms of a police officer – captured the collective imagination like no other. In an era when images are ubiquitous and fleeting, it stood out. Unusually, he was quickly identified and found to have relatives in Canada, which helped his story go global. “People react very strongly to individual stories,” Fleming said. “It was a single boy on the beach, looking like my son, my little brother, in a sleeping position.” The image became shorthand for the refugee crisis and government inaction.

It triggered soul-searching on a global and personal level, and volunteers from Britain to Greece showed up to feed and shelter new arrivals. On a policy level, its impact was mixed. It prompted an initial groundswell of pressure on leaders to act, but the European Union’s 28 states remain divided over how many refugees to take in, and how generously. Since then, two Islamic extremists mixed in with refugees and joined European-born radicals staging deadly attacks in Paris. A string of robberies and sexual assaults in the German city of Cologne are blamed largely on migrants. European far-right parties have capitalized on the refugee wave. Then another ship capsized off Turkey’s coast Saturday en route to Greece. Babies and other young children were among the 37 dead. The response has been more muted, though the horrors were not. As the boat struck rocks, migrants wailed, witness Gulcan Durdu said Sunday, a day after the disaster. “I will never stop hearing those cries,” Durdu said.

“They died screaming.”
Images of child victims encapsulated the drama. In one, a boy about Aylan’s age is lying on a rocky shore, a pacifier attached to his clothing with a plastic chain, a hat with a pompon on his small head. In another, a Turkish policeman readies an older boy for a body bag. But the new images saw marginal coverage in France, Germany, the Nordic countries and Poland. They drew little attention in Italy – but the country has no shortage of its own heartbreaking scenes on its shores and at sea.
© The Associated Press

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Czech court convicts neo-Nazis as an organized group for the first time in history (Analysis)

1/2/2016- Over the past three years we have regularly reported on the case of neo-Nazis from the Czech faction of the Blood & Honour organization who have been indicted for that activity (see here, here and here). This analysis is a summary of the development of this case so far, which has just produced its first verdict: Most of those indicted have been convicted as members of an organized group. What's worse? When the pawns of these groups set families on fire in their homes at night, or when their boss publicly, regularly encourages such attacks throughout the country? The answer to that question was deliberated for an entire year by the Regional Court in Plzeň. Ultimately the court decided that it is worse to directly participate in a violent action.

In mid-December of last year a first instance verdict was handed down in the case of the Czech branch of the international neo-Nazi group Blood & Honour. If that verdict survives the appeal proceeding at the High Court in Prague, it may become a precedent. The verdict represents the very first time a Czech court has convicted neo-Nazis as an organized group in connection with a serious violent crime. Such a result was not delivered by the verdict in the case of the arson attack in Vítkov in April 2009, nor has it ever been achieved for any other group attack committed by neo-Nazis in the past.

There have been quite a few of those attacks for the courts to rule on. Let's recall, for example, the neo-Nazi group who hunted Romani people in the town of Písek in 1993, which ended with the drowning of the young Tibor Danihel, or the "hot autumn" of 2009. At that time a group from South Bohemia calling itself "White Justice" brutally raged for hours through the center of the town of Benešov, injuring a skateboarder whom they considered an "anarchist" so severely that he lost his spleen. In the town of Havířov, a group of young neo-Nazis drove around to various neighborhoods in cars and persecuted local Romani people there, almost killing one youth.

Before that, during the "battle of Janov" in the town of Litvínov in November 2008, dozens of police officers were injured. All of these were demonstrably organized events - but detectives did not succeed in catching the organizers, i.e., none of those who established, promoted or supported the groups organizing these actions. When the Regional Court in Plzeň anounced in October to those involved in the proceedings that the verdict would be announced in December, it warned them that it might take hours to read the whole thing. That is exactly how it turned out.

The verdict
Even though the main crime - the arson attack in the West Bohemian town of Aš in February 2012 - was demonstrably perpetrated by just two men, a total of nine persons from various parts of the country were charged and subsequently prosecuted, most of them for establishing, promoting and supporting a neo-Nazis group by producing or selling clothing or music promoting Nazism. According to the Regional State Prosecutor overseeing the investigation by the Organized Crime Detection Unit, the organized group had already been under intense surveillance before the attack. The prosecutor said, however, that never managed to demonstrate that the group directed the arson attack.

Three of the defendants were sentenced to prison without the possibility of parole by Plzeň Regional Court Judge Martin Kantor. Those convicted of reckless endangerment in connection with attempted murder by arson were Tomáš Kopecký (25 years old), and Michal P. (35 years old), both from Aš, and were sentenced to six years and nine months in a maximum-security prison. Jan B. of Prague (25 years old), the alleged boss of the organized group, whom the court believes established and led it, was sentenced to three years and eight months. The other defendants, with one exception, were given suspended sentences, either for their active membership in the group or for supporting it.

The verdict has yet to take effect, but it requires two of them to pay compensation to the owners of buildings in the town of Mariánské Lázně which they spray-painted with Nazi symbols during another nighttime action. Petr H., the owner of an advertising firm in Sokolov, who according to the prosecutor was commissioned by Jan B. to produce items with Nazi and racist motifs and symbols and delivered them to him, has been fully acquitted. Only a small amount of goods delivered were at issue. The judge said it had not been sufficiently proven which slogans were on the t-shirts supplied to Jan B.

Both of the arsonists in the case had faced maximum sentences of 20 years or the possibility of extraordinary sentencing. Those longer prison sentences, however, seemed too much to the court. The defendants, in the judge's view, had committed their crime during a certain phase of their lives when they had neo-Nazi tendencies. That phase allegedly did not last long, and according to the court the defendants today have abandoned such positions. As the judge summarized, the defendants have distanced themselves from a dangerous ideology and are properly employed, so their imprisonment should just be a punishment, not a "social execution". On the other hand, the defendants did mutually agree to perform the crime, carefully prepared for it, and then executed their plan.

After ascertaining that the fire they started had been immediately put out by the tenants of the building and that therefore no great harm had occurred to anyone, the defendants expressed their dissatisfaction with the outcome through SMS messages. The judge said that the punishment that has now been handed down is significantly beneath the lawful sentencing limit permitted for these crimes. Since the defendants had committed a crime that requires a minimum five-year prison sentence, the court could not conditionally postpone their sentencing. What, though, does criminal membership in an organized group mean?

Only four defendants were ultimately convicted as members of an organized group. They were Jan B.; his common-law wife Petra L., who participated in writing articles for the group's website and personally maintained contact with the Aš branch; and Tomáš Kopecký and Bohuslav M. both of Aš, who the court said committed the nighttime "spray-painting" action together, paid or collected membership fees, and sent articles they had authored to the organization's website (which were never published). The other defendants knew about the organization, actively supported it, and communicated with the group leader. However, because their activities did not go beyond what constitutes a regular ideologically-colored friendship, they could not be considered members of the organized group.

As we have noted, the verdict has not yet taken effect. Kopecký's legal representative appealed it on the sport, while the attorneys for the other defendants and the prosecutor are still deciding whether to appeal, as is the attorney-in-fact for the victims, so the case will be reviewed by the High Court in Prague as well.

Three final notes
What is interesting about this verdict is that the attempted murder was, according to the court, only perpetrated against those in the ground-floor apartments of the residential hotel as the defendants presumed there were more people living there. This means that the victimized children, who at the time all lived on the upper floors of the building for the most part, could not be considered victims as far as the court was concerned, and therefore cannot seek compensation, including two-year-old Veronika M., who demonstrably inhaled smoke from the blaze and during the following day went into febrile convulsions that required several days of hospitalization.

It is also unusual that the arson attack constitutes two crimes, both attempted murder and reckless endangerment. During the reading of the verdict, the 2009 arson attack in Vítkov and its assessment by the courts was also mentioned. When one of the defense attorneys objected that "nothing happened in Aš, after all", the judge responded by saying that it was "only thanks to God" that more fatal consequences had not occurred there. Just as in the assessment of Vítkov, the court here believed the Aš perpetrators' intentions were "indirect" - that means that while they did not directly want to kill anyone, they were aware that their behavior might cause someone's death and did nothing to prevent such an outcome.
© Romea.

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Europol: Over 10,000 migrant children missing

1/2/2016- Over 10,000 unaccompanied migrant children have disappeared in Europe, the EU police agency Europol said Sunday, fearing many have been whisked into sex trafficking rings or the slave trade. Europol's press office confirmed to AFP the figures published in British newspaper The Observer, adding that they covered the last 18-24 months. The agency's chief of staff Brian Donald said the vulnerable children had disappeared from the system after registering with state authorities following their arrival in Europe. "It's not unreasonable to say that we're looking at 10,000-plus children," Donald said, adding that 5,000 had disappeared in Italy alone. "Not all of them will be criminally exploited; some might have been passed on to family members. We just don't know where they are, what they're doing or whom they are with." Donald said there was evidence of a "criminal infrastructure" established over the last 18 months to exploit the migrant flow.

The Observer reported that Europol found evidence of links between smuggling rings bringing people into the EU and human trafficking gangs exploiting migrants for sex and slavery. "There are prisons in Germany and Hungary where the vast majority of people arrested and placed there are in relation to criminal activity surrounding the migrant crisis," Donald said. Over one million migrants and refugees, many fleeing the Syria conflict, crossed into Europe last year. "Whether they are registered or not, we’re talking about 270,000 children," Donald told the paper. "Not all of those are unaccompanied, but we also have evidence that a large proportion might be," he said, adding that the 10,000 is likely to be a conservative estimate. He said many of the children are "visible", and not "spirited away and held in the middle of forests".
- 'Most vulnerable group' -
Raffaela Milano, Save the Children's Italy-Europe programme director, said that "unaccompanied minors who travel without adults are the most vulnerable group of the migratory flow". "Many minors, in fact, make themselves 'invisible' to the authorities to enable them to continue their journey in Europe, for fear of being sent back," she said. The UN children's agency UNICEF also voiced alarm and urged European countries to do more to protect migrant children who are on their own. "We urgently call for a plan within Europe for unaccompanied and separated children covering family reunification, relocation and other alternatives so that children do not end up being abused and exploited by smugglers and traffickers," it said in a statement. Many children arrive first on the Greek islands before making the journey to relatives across Europe.

Laura Pappa, president of the Greek charity Meta-Action, a group accompanying children who travel without relatives, said they "face a destiny that is worse than that of the rest of migrants waiting to be relocated". She said they often have to wait for around seven months to be reunited with relatives, and that procedures can be slow and complicated. "There are some people that present themselves as uncles and take the children. It's not easy in this mess to cross check the identity of the 'uncle'." Pappa said the group has helped 3,000 children reach family, but that it "is not enough".

- Escalating tensions -
Britain is one country that has said it will take in migrant or refugee children who have been separated from their parents. Despite the constant risk of death and deportation, migrants continue to stream into Europe, risking their lives to escape poverty, repression and conflict. Many children are among the refugees and migrants who have lost their lives making the perilous crossing in the Mediterranean. In the latest tragedy, the Turkish coastguard recovered the bodies of women and children were washed up on a beach after their boat sank, leaving at least 37 people dead. Tensions are escalating across the continent over the increasing numbers of migrants, with many right-wing groups calling for more immigration restrictions and tighter borders. On Saturday, Swedish police said dozens of masked men believed to belong to neo-Nazi gangs gathered in Stockholm and handed out leaflets calling for attacks against young migrants. And anti-fascist and far-right protesters clashed in a southern German town where unknown assailants threw a hand grenade into a refugee shelter on Friday, as the country scrambles to integrate the over one million asylum seekers it welcomed last year.
© AFP

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France: Provocative survey shows French hostility for Muslims

A contentious survey in France that concluded the French are largely intolerant towards the country's Muslim and Jewish communities has ruffled feathers after featuring questions such as "how would you feel if your daughter married a Muslim?"

1/2/2016- "How would you feel if your daughter married a black person? A Jew? A Muslim?" Questions like these appeared in a new survey that was commissioned by the Jewish Foundation of France on the topic of "living together" in France. The survey, carried out by Ipsos over 18 months from July 2014 and then published on Sunday by French weekly Le Journal de Dimanche (JDD) comes at a time of heightened tensions following the terror attacks on 2015. The responses suggested, not for the first time, that France appears to be ill at ease with its diversity, in particular the presence of Europe's largest Muslim community.

'Muslims responsible for poor integration?'
Almost 90 percent of respondents blamed poor Muslim immigration on the Muslims themselves, claiming that it was their fault for "refusing to be open to society". In fact, 27 percent of respondents thought the majority of Muslims were "poorly integrated" in the first place. A total of 53 percent responded that they would be "annoyed" to see a woman covering her face with a veil in public, an act which was banned in France over five years ago. When asked how they'd respond if their daughter married a Muslim, 56 percent said they would "react badly". The survey also proved uncomfortable reading for France's Jewish community, with old clichés showing no sign of dying out.

Some 56 percent of respondents said they believed the typical Jew is richer than the average French person, and 60 percent said that the Jewish community was partly responsible for the rise in anti-Semitism. Thirteen percent also said that were too many Jews in France. The survey also revealed a collective pessimism among respondents when it came to France in general. Some 79 percent of people said they thought France was "on the decline", with 61 percent saying the future looks "murky". 54 percent of respondents said immigration did not "enrich" France, while 30 percent of people said "a racist reaction can be justified". Around two thirds of respondents said that "you can't trust most people in daily life".

'An odious poll'
But almost as controversial as the results was the poll itself, which saw over 1,000 random people interviewed, with their results blended in with those of several hundred members of the Jewish and Muslim communities. The polling method was the main source of controversy for both its choice of questions and the fact that the pollsters sought out Jews and Muslims to respond. Ariel Goldmann, the president of the Jewish organization behind the study, admitted to hesitating before publishing the survey, but said it was intended to "help fight prejudice". "This study is neither accusatory or generalist. It is more of a measure of the ills that plague us as French people," he said. Others took to social media to point the finger at what at least one user called a "shameful" poll.

Gérald Darmanin, the mayor of Tourcoing in northern France, questioned why the survey was ever published. "Being a Muslim, a Jew, or a Catholic is a belief - not a 'type' of person," he wrote on Twitter. Nathalie Goulet, the senator vice-chairwoman of the foreign affairs committee, called on the minister of justice to launch an investigation into the newspaper that published the survey, which she referred to as "odious". Her tweet, below, includes a shot of the response to the question: "In the past year, have you personally been faced with problems (such as insults or aggression) from the following groups?" The response column then lists north Africans, Roma, Muslims, Catholics, Jews, and Asians.

France has seen a troubling rise in attacks on Muslims, Jews, and churches in the past year. Hate crimes against Muslims tripled last year alone, while anti-Semitic assaults remained at an already "high level", and attacks on Christian sites rose by a fifth, French officials announced last month. While the method may have been questionable it's not the first poll to suggest that France has any issue with Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. In April last year, the french government decided urgent steps needed to be taken and launched a plan to fight "intolerable" racism in the country. "Racism, anti-Semitism, hatred of Muslims, of foreigners, homophobia are increasing in an intolerable manner," said PM Manuel Valls at the time.

Valls's plan came just two months after a damning report from the human rights watchdog The Council of Europe which concluded that the French public are becoming more racist and more intolerant towards minorities.
© The Local - France

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Finland PM Sipila halts plan to host refugees

Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipila has put on hold a plan to open his country home to a family of asylum seekers, apparently for security reasons.

1/2/2016- The cabinet security chief told Finnish media that Mr Sipila's offer last September had made the house "too public" for any family to stay there. The prime minister had said everyone should "look in the mirror and ask how we can help" new arrivals in Finland. However, anti-immigrant sentiment has hardened in recent months. One report by Iltalehti newspaper said there were concerns that the arrival of asylum seekers at the house in Kempele in northern Finland would attract anti-immigration protesters. Some 32,000 people applied for asylum in Finland in 2015, double the expected number, and the Finnish government has predicted 20,000 will be deported. Mr Sipila said on Sunday that his offer still stood and once the security situation improved then a family would be able to move in.

Other Nordic countries, Sweden, Norway and Denmark, have all tightened restrictions on asylum seekers in recent weeks. MPs in Denmark last week backed a proposal to delay family reunions and enable police to seize valuables worth more than 10,000 kroner (1,340 euros; £1,000) from refugees to cover housing and food costs. More than a million irregular migrants and refugees crossed into the European Union in 2015, mainly via Austria into Germany, and the size of the influx has prompted increasing concern about how they will be integrated.

'Rules and values'
Austria announced last month that it would place a cap on the number of asylum claims at 1.5% of the country's population over the next four years. The government said the number of asylum claims would be limited to 37,500 in 2016, falling annually to 25,000 in 2019. Defence Minister Hans Peter Doskozil said on Sunday that at least 50,000 people, who had either failed in their asylum applications or withdrawn them, would be deported by 2019. Austria and Germany hope to expand an EU list of "safe" countries, whose citizens have little chance of securing asylum, to include Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.

Germany, which took in more than 1.1 million asylum seekers last year, is looking at cutting benefits for new arrivals who do not try to integrate into society. Most refugees in Germany are from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Labour Minister Andrea Nahles, from the left-of-centre SPD party, told Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that "whoever comes here to seek refuge and begin a new life must adhere to our rules and values". She said they would be expected to take language courses and adhere to German values.

'Temporary status'
Anti-immigrant sentiment has increased in Germany too, since the New Year's Eve sex attacks on women in several cities including Cologne and Hamburg. Police blamed the hundreds of attacks outside Cologne station on men of North African or Arab appearance. According to one opinion poll, support for Chancellor Angela Merkel's centre-right CDU and Bavarian CSU ally has fallen to 34%, the lowest rating since 2012. At the weekend, Mrs Merkel told a party meeting that refugees would be expected to return to their home countries once there was peace in Syria and so-called Islamic State had been defeated in Iraq. ""We need... to say to people that this is a temporary residential status," she said.
© BBC News

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Danish high court upholds ex-MP’s racism conviction

The Eastern High Court on Monday convicted Mogens Camre of racism for comparing Muslims to Hitler.

1/2/2016- The Eastern High Court found Mogens Camre, a 79-year-old former MP and MEP for the Danish People’s Party and current member of the Gladsaxe city council, guilty of racism on Tuesday and slapped him with an 8,000 kroner fine. The court thus upheld a previous ruling by the Glostrup City Court. Camre called the high court's ruling "completely unfair" and "grotesque". "This is an expression of the limitations of Danish mental freedom and a genuflection to the immigrant culture," Camre told broadcaster DR. The two convictions stem from a tweet Camre wrote in in July 2014 that compared Muslims to Adolf Hitler. "Regarding the Jews' situation in Europe: The Muslims are continuing where Hitler left off. Only the same treatment Hitler received will change the situation,” he wrote in the now-deleted tweet.

Two separate individuals filed racism charges against Camre after his tweet garnered national attention. Camre disputed the lower court’s August ruling, arguing that his controversial tweet was due to the popular social media platform’s 140-character limit. “I can only say that to express myself in a precise way would have taken more than 140 keystrokes. That is the problem,” he said in court, according to broadcaster DR. The Eastern High Court did not buy that argument and told Camre on Monday to pay the fine. Camre attempted to clarify his controversial June 2014 tweet with a subsequent post which said that “forces in the Islamic world who threaten non-Muslims should be fought like Saddam Hussein, Bin Laden and Gadaffi were”. Danish People’s Party leadership said that Camre’s racism conviction would not affect his standing in the party.

Camre previously compared Muslims to Nazis in a 2009 Dutch TV interview. “The German soldiers in our streets behaved better than the Muslim boys – much better, they were well disciplined,” he said in a clip that can be viewed here. In 2003, Camre was charged with racism for saying that all Western countries have been infiltrated by Muslims planning to take over, and in 2005 he was reported to police for blaming Denmark’s low birth rate on the “immigrant burden” and for saying that “immigrants in Denmark as a whole do not contribute anything at all to society.”
© The Local - Denmark

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Austria: Young Nazi sympathisers found guilty

Three young people have been found guilty of engaging in Nazi activities after they drew Nazi tattoos and posted photos of them online.

5/2/2016- A 20-year-old, who was found to have a German war flag used by the Nazis and portraits of Nazi Socialists in his room, was sentenced by a youth court in Salzburg to 19 months in prison, three months unconditional. He and a 19-year-old accomplice were found guilty of using a pin and eyeliner to tattoo a hand-sized swastika onto someone's chest and then posting the photos online. In addition to the tattooing, the 20-year-old was also accused of shouting Nazi slogans out of his window and singing the song 'Polaken-Tango' by the banned neo-Nazi rock group Landser in front of his brother and his brother's girlfriend. He was arrested after his brother called the police, who found him in his room wrapped in the war flag and surrounded by photos of prominent Nazis.

"I now know this is nonsense"
He told the court that he regretted his actions, which took place in August 2011 when he was 15-years-old, and that he had now changed. Pleading guilty, he said: "I now know that this is nonsense." He was charged separately for his Facebook account, where he also posted pictures of himself making Nazi salutes, which he told judge Bettina Maxones-Kurkowski he had done to “show others that he belongs here”. A 24-year-old, who was inspired by the 20-year-old, received a suspended seven year sentence for also tattooing himself with Nazi symbols, including engraving the number 18, the numerical symbol of Adolf Hitler's initials, onto his upper arm. The 19-year-old received a conditional sentence of one month.
© The Local - Austria

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Austria to deport 50,000 asylum seekers by 2019

The Austrian government aims to deport 50,000 failed asylum seekers by the end of 2019.

1/2/2016- The plan was made public over the weekend, as various European countries attempt to curb immigration by adopting more restrictive policies, including Sweden‘s plan to expel up to 80,000 asylum seekers. In January Austria’s government said that it would seek to cap the number of asylum seekers at 37,500 in 2016, compared to the 90,000 claims it received last year. "We are already among the countries with the most expulsions," Austria‘s Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner told the Austria Press Agency (APA). "But we will step up the pace and will increase the upward trend," she added. The plan includes financial incentives for people to leave Austria, as well as an expanded list of safe countries whose citizens are unlikely to be granted refugee status. In the future asylum applications for people from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Georgia, Mongolia and Gambia will be decided within ten days. An asylum seeker who leaves the country voluntarily within three months will receive €500, and those who leave within six months will get €250. Last year Austria deported 8,365 failed asylum seekers and under the new plan this number will increase to 12,500 a year. Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said that the new deportation measures were “important, but even more important is to end our open door policy and not let so many refugees into the country in future”.
© The Local - Austria

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Italian anti-gay marriage protest draws tens of thousands

31/1/2016- Tens of thousands of Italians staged a mass rally in Rome’s Circus Maximus on Saturday to urge the government to drop legislation that offers homosexual couples legal recognition and limited adoption rights. The much-contested bill was presented to parliament last week and is due to be voted on in February, but the government itself is deeply divided over the issue and opponents are hopeful they can sink it, as they have done it the past. Trains and buses ferried in protesters from around Italy to take part in the event, staged in Ancient Rome’s famed chariot racing stadium. But while organisers had been hoping to attract one million people and authorities had prepared for 500,000, journalists at the scene estimated the numbers to be in the tens of thousands. Official numbers were not immediately available.

“We want the whole law to be withdrawn, no ifs and no buts,” said one of the organisers, Simone Pillon, sporting a red bow tie. He took particular offence at a clause in the law which would let gays adopt the biological children of their partner. Critics say this would encourage surrogacy, which is outlawed in Italy. “We cannot let children pay for the desires or caprices of adults. Children need to have a father and a mother,” said Pillon. Showing how polarised the nation is, Saturday’s rally came a week after thousands of people took to the streets of Italy to demand that the “civil union” bill, which relates to both homosexual and heterosexual couples, be approved.

Church Influence
Italy is the last major country in Western Europe that has not offered rights or recognition to same-sex couples and has been criticised regularly by the European Court of Justice for failing to act. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi promised to pass a law by the end of last year but has faced fiercer opposition over this from within coalition ranks than any of his other reform plans. Several government officials, including many from the small New Centre Right party (NCD), took part in Saturday’s demonstration, while others cheered it on from the sidelines. “I fully adhere to the aims of this gathering,” Interior Minister Angelino Alfano, who is also the head of the NCD, wrote on Twitter, underscoring the difficulties Renzi faces in trying to secure a majority in parliament.

Italy is a heavily Roman Catholic country and although the church’s influence has waned over the years, it remains a formidable social force. The Italian Bishops Conference has come out firmly against the bill and many of the banners on display had overt religious overtones. A week ago Pope Francis issued a strong reminder of the church’s opposition to gay marriage, saying that the traditional family was "the family God wants". Some protesters echoed his view. "I am a grandfather and this law goes against God and goes against the bible," said Franco Pantuso, 71, a retired waiter from the central city of L’Aquila who had came to Rome especially. "Our children and grandchildren must be protected." Latest opinion polls say that 70 percent of Italians believe that same sex couples should be granted legal protection, such as inheritance rights. However, only some 24 percent think that any adoption rights should be granted to gay couples.
© France 24.

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Almost 40 Dead After Migrant Boat Sinks Off Turkey

Turkish coastguard says 37 killed, among them babies and young children, and 75 rescued after boat tips over en route to Greek island of Lesbos.

31/1/2016- Ten children were among at least 37 migrants who drowned in the Aegean Sea after their boat capsized as they attempted the crossing from Turkey to Greece. Turkish coastguards rescued 75 others from the sea near the resort of Ayvacik on Saturday, according to the official Anadolou news agency. They had been trying to reach the Greek island of Lesbos. Images of dead children on a beach on Saturday recalled the photo of three-year-old Alan Kurdi lying face down on a Turkish beach last year. The agency has identified the survivors as natives of Afghanistan, Syria and Myanmar. “We are sad. At least 20 friends are still missing,” one weeping survivor told an AFP photographer at the scene.

A private Turkish news agency, Dogan, reported that police had arrested a Turkish man suspected of being the smuggler who organised the ill-fated crossing. Turkey, which is hosting at least 2.5 million refugees from Syria’s civil war, has become the main launchpad for migrants fleeing war, persecution and poverty. “January has been the deadliest month so far for drownings between Turkey and Greece,” Peter Bouckaert, the emergencies director at Human Rights Watch, told Associated Press. “Almost every day, more drown on this dangerous journey. “It is deeply disturbing that after all those solemn pledges when Aylan Kurdi drowned, these latest drownings were barely mentioned in the media. “We have chosen to look away.”

A Turkish government official said that by the late afternoon rescuers had recovered bodies trapped inside the wreckage of the 17m (56ft) boat, which sank shortly after departing from the shore near the Aegean resort of Ayvacik, raising the death toll to 37. Saim Eskioglu, deputy governor for the coastal Çanakkale province that includes Ayvacik, said the boat “hit rocks soon after it left the coast.” “There were around 10 children among the dead,” Eskioglu said. “Four of them, unfortunately, were babies about one or two years old. We are deeply saddened.”

Ankara struck a deal with the EU in November to halt the flow of refugees, in return for €3bn (£2.3bn) in financial assistance to help improve the refugees’ conditions. Neither the deal nor the winter conditions appear to have deterred the migrants, who continue to pay people smugglers thousands for the risky crossing in overloaded boats. Lesbos has become one of the most popular gateways into the European Union. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said this week that 45,361 migrants had arrived in Greece by sea so far this year, 31 times more than for all of January 2015. About 90% of the arrivals were from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, it added.
© The Guardian

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Ireland: Anti-Islamic group Pegida to be launched at Dublin rally

Launch on February 6th designed to coincide with anti-Islam protests across Europe.

30/1/2016- Anti-Islamisation group Pegida, which was founded in Germany, will formally announce an Irish branch at a protest rally in Dublin next weekend. It is among a series of Europe-wide demonstrations against the growth of Islam in Europe. Peter O’Loughlin of Identity Ireland confirmed that Pegida Ireland would be unveiled at a rally on February 6th in Dublin. He said Ireland would become the 15th country to establish a branch of the organisation. “Pegida [Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident, in German] is making international headlines,” Mr O’Loughlin said. “It is giving the people of Europe a chance to speak out and have a voice against the absolutely disastrous policies of the EU and of the German government and the various puppet governments around Europe.”

Mr O’Loughlin, who will be running for Identity Ireland in Cork North Central, was speaking at a press conference where he introduced Pegida UK co-ordinator and former English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson. Mr Robinson said he was delighted to have an opportunity to warn people in Ireland about the dangers of radical Islam. He said Ireland should look to Britain to see the mistakes made by allowing in large numbers of Muslims who fail to integrate. “We have polarised communities, we have segregated communities, we have Islamic ghettoes – we have an epidemic of jihad rape gangs targeting English girls . . . these are the realities which are on their way to Ireland.”

Mr Robinson, whose mother is from Dublin, said when he founded the English Defence League six years ago, British politicians said he was extremist; now they recognised the dangers posed by radical Islam. “The majority of the world accepts this mindset – which we called Isis and which is a literal interpretation of Islam – is a danger to us all. You have a population of 4.5 million people, you cannot sustain open borders, you have to close your borders as does the rest of Europe.” Mr O’Loughlin, who won 930 votes for Identity Ireland in the Carlow-Kilkenny byelection last year, signed a pledge committing Identity Ireland to join anti-migration organisation Fortress Europe before Dan Ó Loinsigh read a statement on behalf of Pegida Ireland. He claimed Identity Ireland has 400 members in Ireland.

“Despite the obvious chaos engulfing Europe, our liberal leaders bury their heads in the sand and their outright refusal to engage in practicality or common sense is nothing short of treasonous,” he said. “We hope to give the Irish people the opportunity to voice their concerns in a peaceful, proactive manner against mass migration, EU economic madness and Islamic extremism.”
© The Irish Times.

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News from UK, Sweden & Germany - Week 5

German far-right's language is close to that of Nazis, Gabriel says

5/2/2016- Germany's far-right, led by the rising anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, is using language similar to that deployed by Hitler's Nazis, Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said on Friday. Support for the AfD has jumped amid deepening public unease over Chancellor Angela Merkel's open-door policy for refugees from Syria and else-where after some 1.1 million migrants came to Germany last year. "Those who accuse democratically elected politicians of treason, call them 'parties of the system' and menace journalists as 'lying press' - they are very close to the language of the enemies of democracy, the Nazis of the '20s and '30s," Gabriel said. He was speaking in Berlin at an event to promote integration - the hot popular issue in Germany. Concern over the refugee influx has hurt support for Merkel and fueled the AfD's rise.

The AfD has grown in tandem with support for other far-right groups, such as the anti-Islam PEGIDA movement, which has held regular rallies in protest at the increase in refugee numbers. Last year, dozens of protesters shouted at Merkel and waved placards with the slogan "traitor" - adopted by PEGIDA - when she visited an eastern German town where anti-refugee protests had erupted into violence. Gabriel said on Sunday Germany's domestic intelligence agency (BfV) should monitor the AfD after the party's leader, Frauke Petry, suggested that German police be given powers to use firearms against illegal migrants. "There is a political force that is trying to develop itself into the parliamentary arm of these racist arguments," Gabriel said on Friday, with reference to an increased number of attacks on foreigners in Germany.

A poll on Wednesday showed support for the AfD up three points at 12 percent, cementing its position as Germany's third largest party, behind Merkel's conservatives and Gabriel's Social Democrats, who govern in a coalition.
© Reuters

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German police should shoot refugees, says leader of AfD party

Officers must 'use firearms if necessary', claims Frauke Petry

1/2/2016- German border police should shoot at refugees entering the country illegally, the head of far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD) has said. Frauke Petry’s remarks have been condemned by politicians and a police union chief, who said firing at refugees would be a suspension of the rule of law. Officers must "use firearms if necessary" to “prevent illegal border crossings", Ms Petry told the regional newspaper Mannheimer Morgen in an interview. "Armed force is there as a last resort", said Ms Petry, according to a translation by Reuters. "No policeman wants to fire on a refugee and I don't want that either." But "police must stop refugees entering German soil", she said. She called for more checks at external EU borders, agreements with neighbouring Austria and "border security systems" to curb the influx of refugees.

A recent poll showed 11 per cent support for AfD, which would make the eurosceptic, right-wing populist party the third strongest in the country. The comments have been strongly condemned by the head of the police union GdP. "No policeman would be ready to fire" at refugees, Joerg Radek said. "We have already seen that over the course of German history and we don't ever want to go down that road again." Mrs Petry's remarks were also described as "an unacceptable mobilisation of public opinion against refugees", by Social Democratic Party (SDP) chairman Thomas Oppermann. “The last German politician who condoned the shooting of refugees was Erich Honecker”, he said, referring to the Communist East German leader and mastermind of the Berlin Wall. Green party politician Konstantin von Notz said Petry’s remarks were "irresponsible" and condoned "extreme right-wing terrorism", amid a spate of attacks on refugee centres in the country.

Ms Petry's comments come as Angela Merkel said that Syrian refugees would be expected to return home when the conflict in the region is over. "We need...to say to people that this is a temporary residential status and we expect that, once there is peace in Syria again, once IS has been defeated in Iraq, that you go back to your home country", Ms Merkel said at a Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party meeting. Ms Merkel has been under pressure to end her open-door refugee policy. More than 1.1 million refugees entered Germany in 2015.
© The Independent

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Germany: Fake 'brothel vouchers' for refugees stir far-right hatred

Right-wing social media groups have been sharing pictures of alleged “free brothel vouchers" given to refugees. But the coupons are well-known fakes.

3/2/2016- Photos of the “brothel passes” have been shared on right-wing sites, showing coupon-like slips of paper declaring a “free ticket for a one-time complimentary bordello visit” from various social services offices. "I find this crazy," wrote one member of the Facebook group called PEGIDA + Official Fan Group on Monday. But as the German-language anti-Internet abuse initiative Mimikama reported recently, these tickets are fakes that have been popping up as a hoax for years. One pass allegedly from Bavaria’s Social Services Office states that the coupon is non-transferrable and valid Mondays through Fridays as well as on Christian holidays between 9am and 4pm. But the state of Bavaria does not have a centralized social services office. According to Mimikama, such passes have been showing up on humour sites like Lachschon.de since at least 2011 - long before the refugee crisis. The group also found that similar faux-tickets were circulating as far back as the 1980s, as mentioned in a book published in 1989.
© The Local - Germany

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Germany: Far-right party accidentally call to 'deport Germans first'

Germany’s far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) shot themselves in the foot while campaigning for elections in western Germany, apparently calling for Germans to be deported from the country en masse.

3/2/2016- “Systematically Deport!’ screamed the party’s campaign poster for state elections in Rhineland-Palatinate, before adding ‘our nation first.’ On social media users were falling over themselves to laugh at the NPD for their apparent suggestion that Germans should be the first to be put on planes with a one-way ticket out of the Bundesrepublik (Federal Republic). On the NPD’s own Facebook site users wrote “Deport your own people first? How stupid can you be?” “Treason! All your posturing and now you want to deport your own people. I must say I’m bitterly disappointed - if only I'd know earlier”, one user deadpanned. “At last you guys want to go, but please as far away as possible… Saturn would be my recommendation,” another wrote.

The NPD obviously didn’t see the funny side, responding to the barbs by commenting “It’s our duty to stop that [Germans being deported] happening. Go to your multicultural park and let yourselves get raped.' But by the early afternoon on Wednesday the party had removed the mistake from its Facebook page. State elections are coming up in Rhineland-Palatinate on March 13th, with the Social Democrats' quarter-century hold on power in the western state under threat from Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Party. The NPD, who as an extremist party are under surveillance by Germany's internal security services, are very unlikely to pass the 5 percent threshold needed to win representation in the parliament. Five years ago they won only 1.1 percent of the vote.
© The Local - Germany

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Germany: Refugees reloaded - Lessons from approach to Bosnian war

20 years ago, war forced some 350,000 refugees from Bosnia-Herzegovina to flee to Germany. Today, many more war refugees are arriving, but policies toward them remain the same.

2/2/2016- The current refugee situation is nothing new for Germany. Similar - if not exactly the same - debates were argued 20 years ago. After uttering and repeating her oft-cited mantra, "We can do it," Chancellor Merkel began to walk back on her statement a few days ago, saying that Germany is providing most refugees with temporary protection and that she expects Syrian and Iraqi refugees to return home when the war is over.

Refugees as 'temporary guests'
This problematic debate comes at an inopportune time, and reminds one of the 90s after the Bosnian War, says Bernd Mesovic, deputy director of the German human rights organization Pro Asyl, speaking of Merkel's comments. Mesovic emphasizes that the current debate endangers the chartered rights of refugees to be recognized as such, and instead degrade them to the status of "temporary guests" - as was the case with refugees from former Yugoslavia. This does not facilitate integration. "Germany acted differently than other European countries at the time. Bosnian refugees, with few exceptions, were denied refugee status and were instead given temporary protection status. The ink was barely dry on the 1995 Dayton Peace Accord when they were told, 'so you were under protection, now there is peace, get on back home as soon as possible,'" remembers Mesovic.

And things happened as soon as possible because each refugee entering the country was clearly informed that German policy was that they would be "officially tolerated" during their stay, nothing more. By autumn 1998, 250,000 of the 350,000 Bosnians that had come to Germany had left, according to a progress report prepared by then Commissioner for Refugees, Dietmar Schlee, and presented in September of that year. This exodus was based on an agreement on incremental repatriations signed by Germany and Bosnia-Herzegovina in late 1996.

'Second banishment'
Bernd Mesovic says that the German government could learn from the mistakes it made at the time. Back then, he says, no one checked to see if individuals had been persecuted, tortured or raped. So much pressure was put on these people to leave that they often had no choice but to emigrate to third countries. Most no longer had a home to return to in Bosnia, and felt unsafe in the country after the war. Mesovic finds it shameful the USA and Canada offered these people a chance to start a new life, rather than Germany and the other European countries. Mesovic recalls that at the time many Bosnians said that it was like a "second banishment." Despite the total lack of any chance of putting down roots, many Bosnians were well integrated in German society by the end of their stay. Many refugees had relatives or friends who vouched for them, who took them into their homes, even found them jobs. Their children went to school, and in most cases quickly learned German.

"If, in the end, one would have avoided the pain that gripped the tens of thousands that emigrated to America between 1996 and 1999, and the many who were stuck here with traumatic illnesses, the torture victims, then I would say that the integration would have been a success. However, the wrangling over people who were still supposed to repatriate pushed some of them into difficult psychological situations. And I think it is they who were the victims of those policies," says Mesovic, emphasizing that is important to avoid creating exactly the same kind of victims among refugees from Syria and Iraq.

From refugee to model immigrant
If peace ever returns to those regions, Bernd Mesovic believes that many refugees will return home, as was the case with the former Yugoslavia. However, he says that there will no doubt be many who have every reason to think twice before returning to a place where they might be persecuted, or even tortured. Nevertheless, the future is uncertain, and that is why it is important to pursue integration as quickly as possible. By doing so, one could avoid the detour that many former Yugoslavian refugees have been forced to take because of the mistakes made by German politicians in the 1990s: Many of the children that came here at the time, that learned such good German and spent their formative years here, have returned to Germany as students, highly-qualified engineers or medical specialists in recent years - the kind of model immigrants that Berlin so desperately wants.
© The Deutsche Welle.

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Germany: A master plan for integration

A project team with representatives from Germany's federal and state governments are working on an integration plan for refugees, to be published in the spring. So far, no concrete measures have been put forward.

30/1/2016- The list of demands is long. Although no details about the integration plan have been revealed, migration experts already have specific ideas about how refugees and immigrants can be integrated into German society. The psychologist and author Ahmad Mansour insists that integration is a job for professionals and that it would be wrong to leave the responsibility to volunteers. Teachers and social workers should receive better training in this area. They should know more about Islam and be able to come up with solutions for cases of youth radicalization. Values like democracy, freedom of speech and human rights must be added to school curricula. Mansour also believes that questioning Islamic principles must be permitted. Phenomena like the negative image of women, radicalization, honor killings and anti-Semitism must clearly be condemned but without having to marginalize Muslims.

Lucrative investment program
Olaf Kleist, a migration researcher at the German University of Osnabrück and Britain's Oxford University, cites four points that must be part of the integration plan: housing construction, education, work and civil society. These aspects must be connected to each other, he told Deutsche Welle in an interview. "Accommodating refugees is a great challenge. Yet it is also a chance for urban renewal." The same can be said for education. Schools and universities should react to the changed situation. Kleist highlighted the role of civil society and said, "The numerous initiatives that already exist need more support." Various foundations and associations also face new tasks. Kleist views integration as a great program which requires investment. He expects that in the long term, Germany's economy will benefit from the outcome.

Effective distribution of funds
Education will play a key part. There are still many deficits in schools, concludes the Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration (SVR). "For years, education policy has recognized the fact that children from an immigrant background have fewer education opportunities," stated the director of the council, Cornelia Schu. School funding procedures have rarely considered the needs of individual schools to compensate for specific disadvantages. "Our analyses show that just under half of the German states systematically distribute funding to individual schools so they can, for example, offer language support to students with an immigrant background," Schu said. Yet in 2007, the German states had already pledged to provide targeted support measures. Individual school needs must be calculated thoroughly to ensure that funding supports the demands. Social data and the ratio of students with an immigrant background must be also be taken into account, said Schu.

Opportunities for stagnating regions
Wolfgang Kaschuba, director of the Berlin Institute for Empirical Research on Integration and Migration (BIM), encourages the development of a master plan for integration. Kaschuba also speaks of the previously mentioned four points: housing, language acquisition, education and work. It is important to develop models that have a promising future. He also rejects the use of a certain type of language in politics. "The flood is not as great as politicians make it out to be. Five years ago, when we were discussing demographic changes, we would have been pleased to have received a million people at once. Now they're here," Kaschuba said. In Germany, there is an urban-rural gap, he says. In rural regions, more than a million apartments are vacant. This could amount to a win-win situation for shrinking regions, said Kaschuba. The researcher hopes that public administration will discard its departmentalized thinking.

Jewish organizations concerned
Jewish organizations are also carefully monitoring the German government's proposals for an integration plan. They fear a surge in anti-Semitism in Germany. "A call for democratic values ​​and prevention with regard to anti-Semitism must be put on the agenda," urged Deidre Berger, director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) in Berlin. "High-ranking political representatives on federal, state and local levels must put measures in place to allow for a successful integration of refugees." None of this information is actually new: back in 2007 and 2012, politicians and experts had already developed a "national action plan for integration." Evidently, this plan no longer meets current require-ments.
© The Deutsche Welle.

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Sweden: Stockholm special squad to stop far-right mobs

A special police force has been set up to stop violence by vigilante groups on the streets of Stockholm, after a weekend march saw a mob of up to a hundred masked men beating young immigrants.

2/2/2016- A total of 14 people are being held on suspicions ranging from plotting assault to attacking police officers following Friday's mass violence. Police have linked the incidents to an anti-immigration protest held on Saturday, at which a number of people also reported they had been assaulted. "It's important to get a picture of what happened and who the various actors are. Is it a trend or a one-off incident?" commanding officer Christer Birgersson told the TT news wire. He would not reveal how many officers would be part of the special force, which will move around central parts of Stockholm to areas where they suspect that mobs may strike. Meanwhile, police are taking a closer look at the weekend violence to help prevent future incidents. Birgersson said that they are investigating information that some of the attackers were linked to football hooligan groups and others to far-right extremism organizations.

Officers are also trying to track down the young refugees believed to be victims of the assaults, none of whom have reported the alleged attacks to the police. "We have video footage that we're looking at to see if we can spot any crimes being committed. If we do we will try to find both perpetrators and injured parties," said Birgersson. Friday's march was the most extreme reaction seen so far to the murder last week of social worker Alexandra Mezher, and saw vigilantes claiming they were acting to "protect Swedish women". According to Aftonbladet newspaper, men were distributing leaflets on Friday evening with the slogan “It’s enough now!” which threatened to give “the North African street children who are roaming around” the “punishment they deserve.”

On Saturday at least three people were arrested for assaulting counter-demonstrators after members of neo-Nazi groups and hooligans gathered in the capital's central Norrmalm-storg square to take part in an anti-immigration demonstration. However, ordinary Swedes were quick to distance themselves from the violence and the protest, with a social media hashtag campaign called #inteerkvinna (#notyourwoman) trending after women posted pictures of themselves on Twitter alongside messages saying "not in my name".
© The Local - Sweden

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Swedish Women Tell Racists I'm Not Your Woman

Swedes are hitting back following a series of far-right violent marches over the weekend which targeted asylum seekers and migrants.

1/2/2016- Swedes took to social media to hit back after violent far-right groups attacking refugee youths in Stockholm over the weekend handed out flyers and posted online messages claiming they acted to protect “Swedish women”. The hashtag #inteerkvinna (#notyourwoman) was trending in Sweden on Sunday, with women posting pictures of themselves on Twitter alongside messages saying “not in my name”. “I'm not your woman. I don't want your protection. You're the ones making me scared, worried, angry and sad,” tweeted one. “No racist will use me as an alibi to commit their acts of violence,” wrote another. The campaign came in response to a series of violent weekend incidents in the Swedish capital which began on Friday evening when gangs of up to a hundred masked men marched through the city, beating up non-Swedes and handing out leaflets threatening further attacks.

The march, the most extreme reaction seen so far to the murder last week of social worker Alexandra Mezher, has been linked to football gangs and far-right groups. According to Aftonbladet newspaper, men were distributing leaflets on Friday evening with the slogan “It’s enough now!” which threatened to give “the North African street children who are roaming around” the “punishment they deserve.” On Saturday there were also reports of violence linked to an anti-immigration protest in Stockholm, where at least three people were arrested for assaulting counter-demonstrators after members of neo-Nazi groups and hooligans gathered in the capital's central Norrmalmstorg square. Meanwhile, refugee teenagers living in the city's 16 homes for teens and underage asylum seekers arriving in Sweden alone without their parents were told to stay inside following the violence.

“It's of course sad that we have to do this. But it's still important that we put the young people's safety first,” Alexandra Göransson, social services manager in Stockholm, told the Expressen newspaper. After Friday's attack the Swedish Resistance Movement, a neo-Nazi group, issued a statement claiming that the groups had “cleaned up criminal immigrants from North Africa that are housed in the area around the central station”. “Swedish men and women deserve security in their daily lives and we therefore urge all others who see problems to follow in our footsteps, both in Stockholm and in other locations around the country.”
© The Local - Sweden

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Swedish mob who attacked migrant children revealed as Neo-Nazi football hooligans

A masked Swedish hate mob who carried out a brutal mass attack on migrant children have revealed themselves as gang of local sports hooligans.

1/2/2016- About 200 masked men stormed Stockholm's main train station on Friday night, battering anyone who was not obviously Swedish-looking. They fled when police arrived to confront them. Officers said they were targeting lone children. The black-clad horde handed out leaflets during their rampage, which they said was revenge for the murder of 22-year-old aid worker Alexandra Mezher. Miss Mezher was a volunteer at a Swedish refugee children’s centre. She was allegedly stabbed to death by a 15-year-old Somalian boy. The group's leaflet said: "Two hundred Swedish men gathered to take a stand against the north African ‘street children’ who are running rampage in and around the capital’s central station.

“Police have clearly showed that they lack the means to stop their progress and we see no other way than to hand down the punishment they deserve ourselves. “The justice system has left walk over and the contract of society is therefore broken – it is now every Swedish man’s duty to defend our public spaces against the imported criminality.” In the immediate aftermath of the rampage, it was not clear who was responsible, though police believed that hooligan gangs were involved. And on Monday, a member of one of the shadowy organisations - with parallels to British football 'firms' - confessed they were involved.

An anonymous member of Djurgårdens said he knew his group were to blame. The man, who denied participating himself, said they teamed up with the rival Firman Boys gang, linked to the AIK football club. Such an alliance, the man claimed, has not taken place for 23 years since a battle royale with English hooligans. He said: "This is something that we have talked about for a long time. "We feel the police are not doing their job. Our wives, girlfriends and daughters cannot feel safe in the centre parts of Stockholm during the night. "We feel that this is shameful for a country like Sweden and wanted to make a statement that it is not OK."
© The Express

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Sweden: Masked marchers beat immigrants in Stockholm

A gang of up to a hundred black-clad masked men marched in central Stockholm on Friday evening, singling out and beating up immigrants, and handing out leaflets threatening further violent attacks against unaccompanied refugee youth.

30/1/2016- The march, the most extreme reaction seen so far to the murder on Monday of social worker Alexandra Mezher, has been linked to football gangs and far-right groups. It was followed on Saturday morning by a demonstration at the nearby Norrmalms Torg organised by the anti-immigration Sweden Democrat party, which called for the government to resign over its handling of the refugee crisis.  According to Aftonbladet newspaper, men were distributing leaflets on Friday evening with the slogan “It’s enough now!” which threatened to give “the North African street children who are roaming around” the “punishment they deserve.”  “They were scattering leaflets which had the intention to incite people to carry out crimes,” Stockholm police confirmed on its website.

By 9pm, three people had been arrested, one for punching a plain-clothes policeman, and another for carrying brass knuckledusters, although all three had been released by Saturday morning. “We have been able to link them to hooligan gangs for Stockholm football teams,” Fredrik Nylén from the Stockholm Police told Aftonbladet newspaper. A witness told the newspaper that he had seen a group of the men beating people who appeared to have a foreign background in the middle of Stockholm’s busy central Sergels torg square. “They came from Drottninggatan [Stockholm's main shopping street] and walked down toward the square and began to turn on immigrants,” a witness told Aftonbladet. “I saw maybe three people who got beaten. I was quite scared so I left.”

Police on Saturday morning would not confirm whether any of the marchers had assaulted immigrants. After the attack the Swedish Resistance Movement, a neo-Nazi group, issued a statement claiming that the groups had “cleaned up criminal immigrants from North Africa that are housed in the area around the central station”. “These criminal immigrants,” the post continued,”have robbed and molested Swedes for a long time.” “Police have clearly shown that they lack the means to stave off their rampage, and we now see no other alternative than to ourselves hand out the punishments they deserve,” the text of the leaflet, published on the group’s website, read. “Swedish men and women deserve security in their daily lives and we therefore urge all others who see problems to follow in our footsteps, both in Stockholm and in other locations around the country.”
© The Local - Sweden

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UK: Ex- Ukip candidate and Pegida UK leader: 'Muslims should not hold political power'

He spoke as Pegida UK prepared for its first official march in Birmingham

5/2/2016- A former Ukip candidate who now heads anti-immigration group Pegida UK has said Muslims should “not hold political power” in Britain. Paul Weston, who will be leading a march through Birmingham on Saturday, also described all asylum seekers as “migrant invaders” and claimed “there is no such thing as a Syrian refugee”. He was speaking to LBC radio as the station’s correspondent Tom Swarbrick followed Pegida UK around Europe, where the group’s different factions are staging mass protests. “I don’t want Muslims in areas of political power because they put Islam as their primary allegiance,” Mr Weston added.

He will be joined in Birmingham by Tommy Robinson, who founded far-right group the English Defence League (EDL) but left in 2013 after claiming he was concerned by the “dangers of far-right extremism”. But the activist – real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon – has resurfaced at Pegida rallies in Germany and has now risen back to prominence as part of the group’s UK offshoot. Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West) started in Dresden in October 2014, staging thousands-strong rallies that sparked counter protests and condemnation from the highest levels of German government. Angela Merkel urged citizens to reject “hatred in their hearts” and one politician described the group as “Nazis in pinstripes”. Numbers turning out for its demonstrations dwindled early last year but the intensifying refugee crisis, which saw Germany take in 1.1 million asylum seekers in 2015, breathed new life into the movement.

Supporters going under the Pegida UK banner have been vastly outnumbered by counter-demonstrations in the past and were ridiculed in December after the man named their new leader, former soldier Tim Scott, struggled to elaborate on the “truth” about radical Islam in the UK. He quit hours after the “car crash” interview and was released by Mr Weston, who stood as a Ukip Parliamentary candidate in 2010 before leaving for the now-defunct British Freedom Party, and then founding Liberty GB. Standing as an MP for the far-right party in Luton South, he polled just 158 votes in last year’s general election and announced his appointment to lead Pegida UK on 4 January. The group is staging a “silent walk” through Birmingham on Saturday in opposition to the “silencing of British people” and the “rising influence of radical Islam”. It has banned supporters from covering their faces, chanting, carrying flags and banners from other groups, alcohol and “violence” in an apparent attempt to prevent the clashes with counter-demonstrators and police seen at previous demonstrations.
© The Independent

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UK: Racism in universities: 'There is a sense your face doesn't fit'

New research shines a light on the insidious racism that blights higher education in the UK.

4/2/2016- Covert racism and discrimination persist in the UK’s colleges and universities, according to new film, Witness, commissioned by the University and College Union (UCU). The project, initiated by the UCU Black Members’ Standing Committee, chronicles the experiences of the union’s black members. Gurnham Singh, a lecturer in social work, explains: “There is a massive abundance of what are called micro-aggressions … it’s like death by a thousand cuts. When you experience them all the time, those micro-agressions have a cumulative effect.” Kirsten Forkert, a lecturer in media theory, says: “There is an assumption in higher education that it is already a progressive workplace and problems like racism don’t exist. So when you try to raise this issue the response is: ‘We don’t have to deal with issues like that.’” She adds that that job insecurity and casualisation present more of a worry for ethnic minority staff. “There is a sense that your face doesn’t fit,” she says.

Gargi Bhattacharyya, professor of sociology, says it is “very difficult for staff in further and higher education to explicitly talk about racism at work”. Josephine Kwhali raises the issue of supposedly unconscious bias. “I don’t think some of it is unconscious, I think that’s a get out clause,” she says. “After years of anti-racist debates, policies, strategies, universities banging on about increasing diversity ... if it still is unconscious, there really is something worrying about what it will take for the unconscious to become conscious.” The UCU, which is holding a day of action against workplace racism on 10 February, has also released the results of a survey of more than 600 black members, which found that although direct discrimination on the basis of colour is rare, more insidious forms of racism are commonplace. The results show that black staff are less likely to take up high-grade posts than white colleagues, and are more vulnerable to the stresses caused by bullying at work.

The latest figures from the Runnymede Trust show that the overwhelming majority of professors – 92% – are white, with just 15 black academics in senior management roles across the entire British university system. One respondent to the UCU survey wrote: “Black and minority ethnic staff, who are often more qualified than their counterparts, are often bypassed through indirect action or behaviours.” Meanwhile, seven out of ten respondents reported that they were sometimes or often subject to bullying and harassment from managers. One said: “In the past 15 months my line manager has threatened me with disciplinary action on four occasions and started a grievance against me once. None of his threats have been taken up by the institution, which also refused the grievance. At our last staff meeting he referred to me as ‘unprofessional’”. When asked to rank the best measures to challenge racism, “effective sanctions against perpetrators” was the preferred option, followed by “improved support for black staff”, and “better training for senior staff”.
Watch the film in full
© The Guardian

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UK: gang broke into Asian family's home screaming 'We are going to kill you Isis scum'

Three members of the family were at their home off Langworthy Road in Salford when the gang smashed the patio windows and burst in on Wednesday night.

4/2/2016- Masked gunmen broke into the home of an Asian family and screamed: “We are going to kill you. Isis scum.” Three members of the family were at home in Fairbrook Drive, off Langworthy Road, in Salford, when a gang smashed the patio windows. Three men wearing masks, and armed with a gun, a meat cleaver and a knife burst into the property at about 10pm on Wednesday night. The gang did not ask for cash or jewelry after making the racist threat. It is understood police are still investigating whether anything could have been taken. After the terrifying incident the family went to stay with relatives elsewhere in Greater Manchester.

Greater Manchester Police are treating it as a targeted attack. In a statement GMP said:"Shortly before 10pm on Wednesday 3 February 2015 police were called to reports of a break-in at a home on Fairbrook Drive in Langworthy, Salford. "Officers attended and found that three men had smashed through the rear doors armed with a gun, a meat cleaver and a knife and threatened and racially abused the three occupants. "No one was injured and nothing was stolen." Detective Sergeant Ben Cottam from GMP's Salford Division said: "This was an incredibly distressing incident for the victims. We have specialist support officers working with them through this stressful time and we will try to establish what happened.

"This is being treated as a racially motivated hate crime. "We are appealing to anyone who may have seen anything or have any information to get in touch with police on 101, or the the independent charity Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111." Local ward councillor, John Warmisham, said: “This is an appalling incident and will not be tolerated in Salford. “It appears it was purely a nasty racist attack – but at a level I have never heard of before. “Apparently the family have been targeted for racial abuse before.” Coun Warmisham added: “There are not that many Asian families in the Langworthy ward, but we do have a number of Arab and foreign students who live in area while attending Salford University. “I would urge anyone who has information to contact the police.”
© The Manchester Evening News.

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UK: 2015 sees fall from record rate of antisemitic hate crimes

Despite large fall compared to 2014, last year third-worst since Community Services Trust began monitoring hate crimes against Jews 30 years ago

4/2/2016- Antisemitic hate incidents in the UK fell by 22% in 2015, but the annual total was still the third highest recorded, new figures show. The Community Security Trust, which has monitored antisemitism in the UK for more than 30 years, recorded 924 incidents last year. This included 86 violent assaults – an increase of 6% on 2014. There were 685 inci-dents of abusive behaviour which includes verbal abuse, graffiti, and abuse on social media. More than half the incidents of abusive behaviour were targeted at Jews going about their daily business in public places, the CST said. Sixty-five incidents of damage and desecration to Jewish property were recorded. Three-quarters of all attacks were recorded in London and Manchester, home to the two largest Jewish communities in the UK. There was a record high of 1,179 antisemitic incidents in 2014, which the CST attributed to reactions to the war in Gaza in July and August of that year. The second highest year was 2009, when there was also a war in Gaza. “In contrast, there was no similar ‘trigger’ event in 2015 to explain the relatively high annual total,” said the CST.

David Delew, the trust’s chief executive, welcomed the fall in the annual total but said it was less than hoped for. “The number of antisemitic incidents remains unacceptably high,” he said. Home secretary Theresa May said: “We must challenge antisemitism wherever we find it – just as we must challenge all forms of ethnic and religious hatred and combat extremism … While a fall in antisemitic incidents should be welcomed, there are still too many cases.” Shadow home secretary Andy Burnham warned against complacency, saying: “Antisemitism is repugnant, unacceptable and scars our society.” Political action was needed to tackle the roots of prejudice and hatred, he added. Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, said security was still a serious concern for Jews in the UK. “Antisemitic hate crime remains unacceptably high and more must be done to ensure that the Jewish community can live without fear of abuse or attack … These figures demand action from our leaders.”
© The Guardian

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UK: Kick It Out release brochure about reporting anti-Semitism in football

3/2/2016- Football anti-discrimination group Kick It Out has released a brochure providing information on how the Jewish community can report anti-Semitism in football. The eight-page publication, entitled ‘Playing the game: Reporting antisemitism in football’, has been created in partnership with the Community Security Trust (CST) and Maccabi GB. Roisin Wood, Director of Kick It Out, said: “Kick It Out has been at the forefront of raising awareness on anti-Semitism and the negative effects it has on the Jewish community within football.” The brochure can be downloaded at the Kick It Out website:  http://www.kickitout.org/playing-the-game-reporting-antisemitism-in-football/
© Jewish News UK

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UK: Neo-Nazi National Front targetting Scottish schools for recruitment

31/1/2016- The National Front has started a recruitment campaign for young members outside schools in Scotland – but admitted to “disappointing” feedback. The neo-nazi organisation targeted pupils in Aberdeen earlier this month, by trying to hand out copies of its youth magazine, Bulldog. The National Front (NF) says it has asked members to carry out a similar exercise at unspecified schools in Dundee and Glasgow. Dundee City Council said it has alerted all head teachers of secondary schools in the area and is monitoring the situation. According to an NF Facebook posting, three of its Scottish members – two males and one female – went to the streets near Aberdeen Grammar in January and spoke to youngsters who had just left school after sitting exams. It said the party chairman had decided pupils older than 16-years-old, rather than 14-year-olds, should be targeted after “telephone calls from concerned parents”.

The posting added: “We must admit that some of the feedback was disappointing but it was a worthwhile exercise. “The majority of the youngsters said they had no interest at all in politics but would listen to what was said. “On a positive note one lad said he would take copies for his friends and he would let us know what they thought about Bulldog.” The Sunday Herald attempted to contact the National Front (NF) by phone and email, but did not receive a response. The UK leader of the NF is Dave MacDonald, from Aberdeen, who quit the BNP as he did not think it was right-wing enough. Last year he won a seat on Garthdee community council after securing just 18 votes. A spokesman for Aberdeen Anti-Fascist Alliance, said it was a multi-cultural city due to the influences such as the international oil industry, with children from all over the world attending its schools.

He said: “The National Front’s knuckle-dragging racist bile is going to get them absolutely nowhere. “The NF is the last bastion of unashamed 1970s style racism. They are an embarrassment and they are such a tiny minority. “The schoolkids should not have to put up with that walking to school, parents should be able to let their kids walk to school without having to face that and the staff shouldn’t have to walk past that.” He added: "It is important people don't get the idea that Aberdeen is some sort of hotbed of racism, because it is not. "Some people might argue that these people should just be ignored, but they need to be countered now before it gets any further. "Aberdeen has a proud history of opposing fascism, racism and discrimination and these people have no place in 21st Century Scotland."

An image of the front page of Bulldog magazine, which was relaunched last year and is described as the official magazine for the Young National Front, bears the headline “White Youth Unite” and states it is campaigning against “our once Great Britain becoming a Muslim nation” and the “European Union Super-State”. Other postings on the Facebook site include a link to a story of survival from Auschwitz concentration camp with the comment “Fairytale time again!”. Dr Paul Jackson, a senior lecturer in modern history at Northampton University, who specialises in research into the post-war far right in Britain, said it appeared the NF was returning to tactics of the 1970s and 1980s in trying to attract “disaffected” youth as members. He said it was quite a significant move, which should be considered in light of recent debates around radicalisation of young people by Islamic State (IS).

“This sort of stuff is seen as very small-scale and a nuisance, but if this were Muslims trying to target other Muslims with some IS related material then it would be a much, much bigger issue," he said. “I think it is quite serious - even though they are rather amateurish in many ways, the National Front is trying to draw people in and target schools in particular.” Jackson said the NF was one of many small groups on the extreme-far right in Britain, but also had a very strong neo-Nazi agenda. But he added: “Broadly speaking it is one of the more extreme ones as it has that neo-Nazi identification quite openly within it. “If the BNP and the National Front were competing against each other in an election, the National Front candidate would probably make play out of being the more hardline and more extreme than the ‘softer’ BNP figure.”

Both Aberdeen and Glasgow City Council declined to make any comment. A spokesman for Dundee City Council said: “We have briefed the head teachers of all nine secondary schools in the city to make them aware of this information and have been working closely with our colleagues in Police Scotland. “We have received no reports of any incidents of this type in Dundee, but we are monitoring the situation closely.”
© The Herald Scotland

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UK: 'Visit my mosque' day bids to tackle Islamophobia

30/1/2016- Mosques across Britain are planning to open their doors to the public in a bid to counter negative stereotypes about Muslims next week, against a backdrop of rising Islamophobia. Organised by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), more than 80 mosques will participate in the "Visit my mosque" day on February 7 in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. "It's an opportunity for Muslims in the UK to put themselves out there and reach out to their local neighbours," an MCB spokesman told Al Jazeera. "The day will allow for people to meet face-to-face, get to know each other and tackle misconceptions." Visitors of all faiths and none can visit one of the participating mosques, where they will be welcomed to ask questions, go on guided tours and have tea and snacks with volunteers and those who run the place of worship.

There are at least 2.7 million Muslims in Britain, or less than 5 percent of the 64 million-strong population. Around half of British Muslims are born in the UK. "We hope that the achievement will be that people of different faiths, and those with none, will better understand us, and we will be more integrated with everybody," Abdul Majid, chairman of the participating Camberley Mosque, told Al Jazeera. Typically around 300 people usually attend Friday prayers at his mosque in Surrey, in the southeast of England. "We live in a small town, so we don't have many problems in this area. But there has been some misunderstanding in the media about Muslims, and this is the whole reason we are doing this day - to foster understanding." Across the country, there have been more cases of Islamophobia following attacks in Paris last November, which left 130 people dead. The November attacks were claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group, triggering a backlash against Muslim minorities from France and Britain to the US.

Earlier in January, France held a similar open-door event to encourage integration. According to figures by the Metropolitan Police, which is responsible for Greater London, there has been a sharp rise in Islamophobic crime. In December 2015, the force recorded some 158 offences across the capital, where the victim was known or perceived to be Muslim, more than three times as December 2014 when there were 50 Islamaphobic crimes. "I've been in situations where people swear at me because I'm a Muslim," Fatima Manjra, a volunteer at the Darul Arqam Mosque in Leicester, told Al Jazeera. "I was just driving home from work one day, and some people cursed, calling me a f------ 'raghead'. I was on my own, I had to stay calm."

Darul Arqam Mosque is another mosque taking part in the event next Sunday. "I didn't report it [the incident]. I didn't know if it was worth reporting at the time...we're not safe from this [Islamophobia]." Last year was the first time a national open-door event was held in Britain. Then, only 20 or so mosques participated. "It's incredibly important right now, given the negative attention Muslims receive in the media," said Manjra. "If you open a building up and show its social value, people will see that we are normal people just trying to get by. I hope people will see that there is nothing that we are hiding."
© Al Jazeera

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UK: ‘Neo-Nazi gangs paint blood swastikas’ at violent clash with anti-fascists in Dover

Windscreen smashed, swastika daubed on side of coach and one man arrested before protests that are expected to cause disruption

30/1/2016- One man has been arrested and a number of coaches damaged in a clash between fascist and anti-fascist protesters who stopped at the same motorway services on their way to opposing demonstrations in Dover. At least one windscreen was smashed and a swastika was daubed on the side of a coach, allegedly in blood, after rightwingers attacked using sticks and debris found around the car park of the service station. Anindya Bhattacharyya, 44, from Whitechapel in east London, who was travelling with the anti-fascist group, said he was away from the coaches and inside the service station when violence erupted. “The service station staff bolted the doors and through the windows we could see a large group of fascists,” he said. “They were wearing Combat 18 T-shirts and one had an Enoch Powell T-shirt.

“They were running at the anti-fascist demonstrators and there was some argy-bargy, things were chucked back and forth. And then the anti-fascists went back to their coaches and the group of fascists basically tooled up with bits of wood and bins. “They attacked one of our coaches and smashed up the windows and one of them came and daubed a swastika in blood on the side of one of the coaches.” After the police arrived the rightwing demonstrators were taken away from the area, Bhattacharyya said. He and the rest of the anti-fascist demonstrators, who had all travelled from London, were kept on their coaches, surrounded by a police cordon. A spokesman for Kent police said: “We were called at 10.51am to a report of a disturbance at the junction 8 services on the M20. A number of coaches have been damaged in the incident and officers are currently at the scene carrying out inquiries. One man has been arrested on suspicion of possessing an offensive weapon.”

Groups of fascists and anti-fascists from across the country are set to gather in Dover for opposing demonstrations over immigration on Saturday afternoon. Far-right protesters opposed to migration plan to march from Dover Priory station, and anti-fascists have vowed to stop them. It is believed alternative demo routes are planned in the event that the main route is blocked. Dover has been the scene of an ongoing standoff between anti-fascists and rightwing groups led by a resurgent National Front, according to Duncan Cahill of Hope Not Hate, an anti-racist organisation. “There have been a few demos down in Dover where the far-right and anti-fascists have had clashes,” he said. “What we have today and for the past few months is massive call-outs by just about every Nazi group in the country and everyone involved in anti-fascism has gone down there today for what looks like a massive punch-up.”

Kent police have warned Dover residents to expect disruption and delays on local and main roads throughout the day. The force said in a statement: “It is anticipated that these demonstrations will attract larger numbers than recent protests and there will be extra police officers in the town whose main role will be to facilitate a peaceful protest, to maintain public safety and to minimise the impact on local people going about their daily business.”
© The Guardian

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UK: Arrests made as Britain First march makes its way through Dewsbury

30/1/2016- Arrests have been made at a Britain First demonstration in Dewsbury, as more than 100 supporters and opposing factions took to the streets of the West Yorkshire town. The far-right anti-immigration party marched from the town's main train station to the town hall, under the guidance of a heavy police presence. The right-wing nationalist group was separated from anti-fascist campaigners who had come to protest at the group's presence. West Yorkshire Police imposed restrictions on the protest forcing the group to change Britain First's route and barred them from holding placards marked, "No More Mosques". The right-wing group says that they campaign against "the scourge of hate preachers, extremism, terrorism, halal slaughter, FGM, child brides, radicalisation, 'Trojan Horse' infiltration of our schools, grooming gangs, and Sharia courts". The organisation, headed by Jayda Fransen and Paul Golding, had previously marched in Bury Park, Luton, where they have also begun so-called 'Christian patrols'. Dewsbury has a considerable Muslim population, with many residents of Indian or Pakistani descent. Golding told Sputnik News, a news agency owned and operated by the Russian government: "Dewsbury is the 'Islamist capital' of Britain and has produced many terrorists and Isis volunteers. We are going to Dewsbury, the beating heart of UK terrorism, to make a stand."

Skirmishes in Dover
The Dewsbury protest came as skirmishes broke out at a service station in Dover between anti-fascists and right-wing groups. Anti-fascist activists claimed that their coach windscreen was smashed by their rivals and a swastika was daubed in blood on the side of their vehicle at a Maidstone service station. A counter demonstration was arranged by group called We Are Dewsbury who said in a statement: "We urge members of the local and neighbouring communities and further afield to come and show their support by standing up against fascists and racists such as Britain First and others who seek to divide our communities." Britain First, which was founded by Scottish anti-abortion campaigner and former BNP fundraiser, Jim Dowson, claims to be defending "traditional British Christian values" in the UK. Golding has often used religious rhetoric to drum up support.

Paula Sheriff the MP for Dewsbury said: "I'm really disappointed that Britain First has come to our town. But we are tough and they won't beat us. We're a town that has got incre-dible diversity and we live in fantastic harmony." In an interview with IBTimes UK, Fransen insisted her group "did not spread hate" and said it was undeterred by the criticism following the Luton "patrol". The 29-year-old, who is the only female figurehead of a right-wing movement in the UK, instead suggested UK towns would see an unprecedented level of action by Britain First this year. She said: "In recent months, our group has grown enormously, with membership swelling by the thousands. We now have Britain First brigades across the country and it's common knowledge our social media reach is bigger than any other political party. "People can expect a large amount of action for 2016, it's going to be our year. We have so much planned and there are now so many people in our group at an activist level. Our country and Europe is heading for a civil war. Our leaders have sold us out and the way to save us is to head for the streets."
© The International Business Times - UK

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Britain First Denounced By Every Major Christian Denomination In The UK

30/1/2016- Britain First has been denounced by every major Christian denomination in the UK, The Huffington Post UK can reveal today, a week after the far-right group held a so-called 'Christian patrol' targeting Muslims in Luton. Representatives of 14 churches and Christian groups have variously described the political party as "extremist", "self-serving" and "blasphemous" and condemned its actions as "hi-jacking the name of Jesus Christ to justify hatred and spread fear". Britain First claim to be defenders of "traditional British Christian values" and Leader Paul Golding has regularly invoked religious rhetoric to justify their actions.

In an interview in 2014, he said: "This is a Christian country, whether it's our legal system, our system of government, all our historical figures, Churchill, Nelson, Cromwell, Elizabeth... all of them are Christian. This country is built on Christianity, and we do take it very seriously. "People think of Jesus as some tree-hugging, sandal-wearing liberal, which is not the case. "[In the Bible] Jesus Christ uses physical violence at times, like in the temple in Jerusalem, when he physically attacked people who were trading in the temple grounds, and it says in the Bible he came to bring a sword, not to bring peace." Golding has been linked to Christian fundamentalists in the past such as Britain First founder, Jim Dowson, and he used to be treasurer for the Northern Ireland-based Protestant Coalition.

Unfortunately for Golding, none of the organisations approached by The Huffington Post UK, which represent the overwhelming majority of the country's 33.2 million Christians, agree. Their comments are listed in full below. Groups ranging from the Church of England to the Evangelical Alliance has distanced themselves from the far-right political party. A spokesman for the Evangelical Alliance said: "Let's get this straight. Britain First do not speak for Christians. Their message of hate is entirely at odds with the Christian faith." The universal condemnation - unprecedented against a political party in recent times - comes after a controversial march staged by Britain First in Luton last weekend. The so-called "Christian Patrol" saw the group march through what they labelled an "Islamist hotspot", handing out leaflets and arguing with local Muslims.

In a heavily-edited video released on its Facebook page, deputy leader, Jayda Fransen, can be heard shouting: "Britain is our country, not your country, it's a Christian country." The patrol, which consisted of around 15 Britain First members, was widely condemned. Tell Mama, a project which records anti-Muslim crimes, said it was carried out in an "intimidating" fashion aimed at "inflaming" tensions. On Saturday, the group are carrying out another march in Dewsbury. In its 'Statement of Principles" Britain First claim to be "committed to maintaining and strengthening Christianity as the foundation of our society and culture". But these comments from the Christian groups now clearly undermine much of the ethos driving the far right party. As well as the Churches, a number of prominent Christian organisations, including CARE and the Fellowship of Reconciliation, also condemned Britain First.

The Church of England
The Bishop of Bedford, the Rt Revd Richard Atkinson, OBE said: "Christ said, 'Blessed are the peacemakers.' The actions of Britain First in Luton this weekend are not those of peacemakers. They are deeply provocative, self-fulfilling, self-serving and not recognisably actions motivated by Christian faith. "When local churches, including the churches in Bury Park, parade through the town at Easter carrying crosses marking the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ which Easter celebrates, they are met with warmth and respect. "Local people of goodwill in all parts of Luton from the churches and other faith communities work together, live together, laugh together and build a future in which people live well together. They have built up strong and resilient relationships of friendship and service to the community, not least through Luton Council of Faiths and through co-operation in programmes such a ‘Near Neighbours,’ a national initiative which recently chose to celebrate the awarding of its 1000th grant to help transform communities in Luton. "Living well together embraces that compassion and concern for our fellow human beings that bridges difference. We know it when we see it and it is much evident in Luton. "I, the churches, members of other faith communities and all people of goodwill continue to support one another as agents of peace in Luton."

The Catholic Church
Rev. Dr. Damian Howard S.J., speaking for the Catholic Church in England and Wales, said: "It's extremely painful for any Christian when the name of Jesus Christ is hijacked to justify hatred and to spread fear and mistrust. It is actually a kind of blasphemy. "His is always the path of peace and reconciliation, of self-sacrifice and costly love, including for the stranger. I have no idea whether the members of Britain First seriously try to practice the Christian faith or regularly go to Church, though I have my doubts. "But I have no hesitation in denouncing their crude and divisive tactics as totally contrary to the true spirit of Christian love. Catholics and others will follow the spiritual leadership of Pope Francis who encourages us all to welcome the stranger and to set out on the path of dialogue with people of other religions."

The Baptist Church
Stephen Keyworth, Faith and Society Team Leader at the Baptist Union of Great Britain, said: "Britain First doesn’t speak for Christians, and a divisive street patrol like this doesn’t represent gospel values. "The Baptist calling is primarily to make Jesus known, but we also have a deep-rooted value of the freedom of belief. "To this end, we seek to build good and meaningful relationships with people of other faiths and none, that together we may live in harmony and enrich one another."

The Methodist Church
Paul Morrison, Policy Advisor for the Methodist Church in Great Britain, said: "The Methodist Church believes that racism is a denial of the Christian gospel. We are deeply saddened when Christianity and the cross are abused to serve such extremist agenda. "We value good relations with our Muslim brothers and sisters and recognise that our lives are enriched by them. "Our thoughts and prayers are with those who have been intimidated or made feel unsafe by racist marches."

The Presbyterian Church
Rev. Darren Moore of the Chelmsford Presbyterian Church, said: "Although I strongly believe that anyone has the right to speak in public on sensitive issues, from a Christian perspective there are two things I am hugely uncomfortable with from the video footage: "Firstly, method: in the Bible (Colossians 4:6, 1 Peter 3:15) Christians are told to always speak with grace, gentleness and respect. Our message may well offend, but we don’t seek offence. "Secondly, connecting Christianity with any state. Jesus said: his kingdom is not of this earth. True, our heritage is built on Christianity, but 'I’m British therefore a Christian' is damaging to the church.'"

Evangelical Alliance
Dr David Landrum, director of advocacy at the Evangelical Alliance, said: "Let's get this straight. Britain First do not speak for Christians. Their message of hate is entirely at odds with the Christian faith, and their self-styled 'Christian patrols' are very much at odds with the healing effect of the gospel. "So, I can speak with confidence for many when I say 'not in my name."

The Quaker Church
Paul Parker, Recording Clerk of Quakers in Britain said: "Quakers in Britain do not support any group who incite violence or disrespect."

Jehovah's Witnesses
Andrew Schofield of the Public Information Desk for Jehovah’s Witnesses, said: "While we do not have any comment on the specific group you mention or the issues raised in the article you sent, we have a well-established viewpoint toward other religions and cultures. We follow the Bible’s advice to 'respect everyone'—regardless of their religious beliefs. (1 Peter 2:17, Today’s English Version) "For example, in some countries there are hundreds of thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Even so, we don’t try to pressure politicians or lawmakers into restricting or banning the work of other religious groups. "Nor do we campaign to have laws passed that would impose our moral and religious convictions on the general community. Instead, we extend to others the same tolerance that we appreciate receiving from them."

Fellowship of Reconciliation
Emma Anthony, of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, said: "For Christians, the cross is a symbol of hope and unity, not of division and hatred. "As the apostle Paul said in his letter to the Galatians, There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave[a] nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galations 3:28. "I don’t believe that Jesus had the same idea of countries as Britain First does. Christianity transcends borders, so it’s incompatible with ideas about nation states. Christians should be knocking down walls, not building them up. "Britain First do not represent Christians values, particularly those most core to our faith like nonviolence and love in action. "Jesus told us to be proud of our faith. We go on marches. We take part in noisy displays of civil disobedience to bring about systemic change. But it’s for things like nuclear disarmament, rather than to threaten our neighbours and stir up racial hatred. "There is no place in Christianity for any kind of prejudice, be that racism, sexism, homophobia, class discrimination or any other form of oppression."

The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement
Tracey Byrne, Chief Executive of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, said: "Britain First’s wilful mis-reading of the Christian faith – a faith based on tolerance, compassion and welcome for the stranger – would be ironic were it not for the very real damage their rhetoric causes. "This is nothing more than incitement to hatred, and as a Christian I condemn it in the strongest possible terms. "I’m ashamed and angry that these people would so distort not just the Christian gospel but the Islamic faith too, and that they incite others to do likewise. "People need to know they’re not acting in my name, or in the name of the God I meet in the person of Jesus Christ. It’s heartening that the good people of Luton, of all faith, are standing together and speaking out; that’s the kind of community, and country, I want to be part of.

Progressive Christianity Network
Revd Adrian Alker, Chair of the Progressive Christianity Network Britain: "Religious fundamentalism from any faith which asserts that it alone knows the will of God leads, as we have seen, both internationally and in our own country to antagonism, hatred and violence between different sections of our communities. "The faiths of Christianity, Islam and Judaism all speak of a God of love and compassion. I am sure that the Jesus I seek to follow would be appalled at the activities of "Britain First'. "PCN Britain understands that treating our fellow human beings with love and compassion is our first duty to God. Carrying the Cross of Christ means walking with Him on the path of love and reconciliation."

The Christian Institute
Colin Hart, Director of The Christian Institute, said: "The central principles of this group enshrine beliefs which completely contradict the Christian faith. "Paul Golding has a long-standing association with the BNP and this is apparent in this latest obnoxious episode. "As Christians we think it is vital to be able to speak out about our faith and its place in society, but when we do so it is in a thoughtful and considered manner. "Real Christians want to speak the truth in love, not to antagonise or intimidate those around them."

Christian Action Research & Education
CARE Chief Executive Nola Leach said: “As Christians we want to speak out about what we believe but we are concerned to do so graciously and wisely.“To go out looking to provoke and offend others is entirely needless but also decidedly unchristian.“In a free country we support freedom of expression and people must be free to say what they believe.“But true Christianity, while bold and counter-cultural never aims to incite violence or deliberately antagonise others.”

Since its formation in 2011 by former BNP member, Jim Dowson, the group has become a dominant force in social media, attracting nearly 1,300,000 Facebook likes fans and even broadcasting its own news bulletins. Golding took over leadership in 2014 after Dawson left in protest over the group's mosque invasions. It has been embroiled in a number of controversies, including repeatedly exploiting the image of murdered soldier Lee Rigby against his family's wishes. Most recently the group has used the European migrant crisis and the spread of the so-called Islamic State to launch attacks on refugees and Muslims as well as calling for a ban on Islam in the UK. This decision was taken at a 'national conference' held in the wake of the Paris terror attacks where they also voted to make it an act of "treason" to implement any policy that led to significant "numbers of foreigners entering the country"; withdraw from the United Nations; ban the media from using the word "racism", and abolish the BBC.
Golding has announced he intends to stand in the London Mayoral elections and claimed they would hang their adversaries

A selection of their statement of principles include...
3. Britain First is committed to preserving our ancestral ethnic and cultural heritage, traditions, customs and values. We oppose the colonisation of our homeland through immigration and support the maintenance of the indigenous British people as the demographic majority within our own homeland. Britain First is committed to maintaining and strengthening Christianity as the foundation of our society and culture.
5. Britain First stands opposed to all alien and destructive political or religious doctrines, including Marxism, Liberalism, Fascism, National Socialism, Political Correctness, Euro Federalism and Islam. Britain First is a movement of British nationalism, patriotism and democracy.

A selection of their policies include...
EDUCATION
– We will implement a “back to basics” scheme in education focusing on discipline and traditional teaching methods (e.g maths, English and technical skills)
– The reintroduction of grammar schools;
– The reintroduction of competitive sports and Christian assemblies;

DEMOCRACY
– Introduce a “Democracy & Freedom Bill” that makes it a criminal offence (that carries a prison sentence) to refuse services to constituted political parties and their office holders.
– Introduce a total ban on the word “racism” in the media. The word “racism” has for too long been a weapon to undermine debate and to suppress discussion on important matters of nationhood, immigration and political correctness.

SPENDING
– Scrap the entire “foreign aid” budget;
– Scrap all expenditure relating to immigration, such as translation costs, benefits etc;
– Halt all further payments to the European Union;

Britain First has been contacted for comment but has so far failed to respond.
© The Huffington Post - UK

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Headlines 29 January, 2016

European far-right, nationalist parties meet in Milan

29/1/2016- Sharing the stage with leaders of other European populist parties, French far-right leader Marine Le Pen said Friday that Europe's nationalist parties are ready to step in and clean up when European structures fail under current immigration and monetary policies. Le Pen spoke at the end of the first meeting of the Europe of Nations and Freedom group within the European Parliament, which was formed last summer. The 36-member parliamentary group is the smallest in the European Parliament, but includes some parties gaining strength in the polls in their home countries. At a news conference, Le Pen along with populist leaders from host Italy, the Netherlands and Austria expressed their common view that Europe's borders must be closed to mass migration from the Middle East and Africa and said that sovereignty over such policies must be restored to nations. They cited both the threat of terrorism and the strain on budgets.

Outside, several hundred students peacefully protested the presence of a gathering they saw as racist. "European structures that were poorly constructed are crumbling every-where," Le Pen said. "But I have to say to European citizens that they have nothing to fear in the end of this ancient world. To the contrary, they can hope for the return of the nations and their freedom." Also attending the Milan event Thursday and Friday were leaders of nationalist parties from the United Kingdom, Belgium, Poland, Romania, and the Czech Republic. Le Pen said the parties represented on the stage in Milan "are part of the future" and expressed a conviction that they won't always be relegated to the opposition. She also said a decision by Italian officials to cover ancient statues depicting nude figures in deference to the visiting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was "ridiculous."
© The Associated Press

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Serbian Activist Faces Court for Commemorating Srebrenica

Anita Mitic, a rights activist who was charged with breaking Serbia’s public gatherings law, claims the case against her is another example of the authorities’ policy of Srebrenica genocide denial.

28/1/2016- When she started writing posts on Facebook calling on people to join an impromptu commemoration in the Serbian capital last July 10 to mark the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacres, Mitic - director of the Belgrade-based Youth Initiative for Human Rights, YIHR - could not have imagined that several months later she would be accused of breaking the law. All she wanted to do, she said, was to pay tribute to more than 7,000 Bosniak men and boys from Srebrenica who were killed by Bosnian Serb forces in July 1995. “They cannot ban us from commemorating genocide, we will not remain silent about that,” she wrote on Facebook at the time.

Mitic was one of the organisers of a planned event called #sedamhiljada, which aimed to symbolically gather 7,000 people - representing the approximate number of Srebrenica deaths - outside the parliament building in Belgrade last year. But then Serbian interior minister Nebojsa Stefanovic banned rallies scheduled for the 20th anniversary of the massacres on July 11, citing security risks. Stefanovic said he had to take action to “guarantee peace and security” because many right-wing groups were seeking to hold gatherings at the same time - including war crimes defendant and nationalist party leader Vojislav Seselj. Mitic was among around 200 people who decided to defy the ban and hold their candle-lit commemoration anyway, the evening before - sparking a counter-protest by right-wingers who sand nationalist songs and carried banners with the slogan “Stop lying about Srebrenica”.

Last week, Mitic was charged with a misdemeanour by the interior ministry, which alleges that she broke the law by organising a public gathering without previously alerting the authorities. She is now awaiting the first court hearing in the case against her on February 3, when she expects to find out whether the charges will be dismissed or not. “The YIHR is now preparing an action for February 3 under the name ‘It’s not her, it’s me’, aimed at gathering people who also called on other people to gather on July 10, to show their dissatisfaction with this misdemeanour charge,” Mitic told BIRN. The complaint against Mitic says she was responsible for people attending the Srebrenica commemoration as she was the one who was urging them via Facebook to join the event.

But she claims that she was far from the only one. “My Facebook post was shared dozens of times. Besides, lots of my friends and other organisations were calling on people via Facebook in the same way,” she explained. Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic attended the main anniversary commemoration at the Srebrenica in Bosnia on July 11, where he was attacked by some of the mourners and forced to flee. But Mitic sees the fact that she was charged for commemorating the same anniversary as a sign of official hypocrisy. “It is proof that the Serbian PM can go to the Srebrenica genocide commemoration, but that Belgrade cannot have anything to do with it. It means that recognising the Srebrenica genocide victims and holding people accountable is not permitted in Belgrade,” she said.

Despite international courts’ verdicts, Serbia refuses to recognise the Srebrenica massacres as genocide, even though Vucic went to the official commemoration. The fact that the word ‘genocide’ was put in quotation marks in the misdemeanour charge she received is another sign of the Serbian authorities continuing policy of denial, Mitic said.

A bright spot in the darkness
Shortly after Mitic received the misdemeanour charge, the Human Rights House in downtown Belgrade had its windows broke in an attack - an incident she sees as “just a reflection of the real situation in society”. “None of the state officials even bother to sincerely support the work of civil society. Some newspapers conduct a very brutal campaign against the non-governmental sector,” she said. Mitic argued that state officials have effectively encouraged such campaigns against rights NGOs. “We are only respected when the government needs us so it looks better, while in all other situations, we are their enemies,” she explained. The only recent “bright spot” in working with state institutions, Mitic said, was the forthcoming establishment of a cross-Balkans youth cooperation office aimed at improving the strained relations between the various countries in the region.

As well as civil society activists from across the region, there are representatives from ministries in the working group which is considering how to set up the youth cooperation office. “The group is currently conceptualising how the office would function and the first results of their work are expected in March, while the office should officially be set up during the next Western Balkans Summit in Paris in summer,” she explained. The idea to form a regional youth cooperation office was put forward by several NGOs including the YIHR, and is based on the experiences of the Franco-German Youth Office, which was established in 1963 to foster relations between young people in the two countries in an attempt to heal divisions caused by World War II. Leaders from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia signed a declaration on establishing the youth office during the Western Balkans Summit in Vienna last August.

The fact that lots of young people are participating in and supporting the initiative shows there is a huge need among the region’s youth to communicate with each other, Mitic said. “If this office is established and if it works properly, then we will have a chance to raise a completely different generation of young people that will be more courageous, more determined; a generation that will be able to create a country for all of us to live in, where people do not get misdemeanour charges for organising commemorations of the Srebrenica genocide in Belgrade,” she concluded optimistically.
© Balkan Insight

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Balkan States ‘Face Persistent Human Rights Problems’

Inadequate war crimes prosecutions, discrimination against minorities and poor protection of refugees were persistent problems in the Balkans in 2015, said a report by Human Rights Watch.

27/1/2016- Governments in the Western Balkans should focus on improving human rights protection, especially for asylum-seekers and Roma, but also seek to improve media freedom and prosecute more war crimes, campaign group Human Rights Watch said in its annual report published on Wednesday. “Western Balkans governments that aspire to European Union membership need to do a better job of living up to their human rights obligations,” said Lydia Gall, Western Balkans and Eastern Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch. “That includes effective accountability for war crimes, combating discrimination against minorities, and ensuring access to protection and humane treatment for asylum seekers and migrants,” she added.

In its 659-page ‘World Report 2016’, Human Rights Watch said that the spread of terrorist attacks beyond the Middle East and the huge flows of refugees spawned by repression and conflict led many governments to curtail rights in misguided efforts to protect their security. Human Rights Watch criticised Croatia for its treatment of refugees transiting the country on their way to Western Europe. “Croatia struggled to meet asylum seekers’ and migrants’ basic needs and at times closed border crossings from Serbia and restricted entry at its borders to certain nationalities,” the report said. The rights group also highlighted what it said was limited progress in war crimes accountability in national courts in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Kosovo. War crimes prosecutors in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia are underfunded and lack sufficient capacity to deal with cases, it argued.

“The Bosnian government remained slow to implement the national war crimes strategy, adopted in 2008 to improve the prosecution of domestic war crimes. Prosecutors still lack sufficient capacity and funding, particularly at the district and cantonal levels,” the report said. “Few high-ranking former military and civilian personnel implicated in serious wartime abuses have been held to account in Serbian courts,” it added, saying that Serbia also still has “weak witness protection mechanisms”. Kosovo’s judicial system was criticised for inefficiency and manipulation by politicians. “The administration of justice is slow, lacking accountability of judicial officials, and that judicial structures continue to be prone to political interference,” report notes.

According to the report, the Kosovo authorities at central and local levels also did not do enough to facilitate the return and reintegration of refugees and internally displaced people, mainly Serbs, who were expelled after 1999 conflict. Twenty years after the Dayton peace agreement in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the country remains divided and beset by “political sclerosis”, the report said. No progress was made in implementing two European Court of Human Rights judgments, from 2009 and 2013, requiring Bosnia and Herzegovina to amend its discriminatory constitution, which denies members of minority groups the ability to run for high political office, it noted.

Other human rights issues in the Western Balkans highlighted in the report include a hostile climate for media and persistent discrimination against Roma people. Discrimination against Roma in access to healthcare and education continued to be a problem in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Kosovo, and Roma remained vulnerable to forced and arbitrary evictions, Human Rights Watch said. Progress in implementing strategies in Kosovo to integrate Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian minority groups and assist people forced to return there from Western Europe was limited, it added. The report also said that LGBT groups continued to face harassment and intimidation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Kosovo.

Media Freedom at Risk
According to the Human Rights Watch report, journalists in the Western Balkans continued to face threats and intimidation. Local and national political authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina interfere with journalists’ work, subjecting some media outlets to bogus financial and other inspections, the report said. Journalists in Serbia face attacks, threats, harassment, intimidation, lawsuits, and political and other interference, it added. The report also noted that the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) came under criticism in January and February from Serbian government officials, including Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, who accused BIRN staff of being liars and the organisation of receiving money from the European Union i order to discredit the Serbian government. The criticism followed an investigative piece in BIRN alleging official mismanagement. Several pro-government news outlets then engaged in a month-long smear campaign against BIRN and its journalists, prompting condemnation by the European Commission and international media freedom groups.
© Balkan Insight

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Hitler is alive and well and living online

Adolf Hitler is alive and well and living online, Israeli students have said.

27/1/2016- A vast exhibit of posts, pictures and plaudits have been compiled and revealed by Israeli Students Combating Anti-Semitism (ISCA), with campaigners seeking to highlight “a little known issue”. The work analyses social media platforms, websites, blogs and online merchandise, with researchers warning that “glorifying Hitler is a widespread trend on the internet”. Students said that many sites go further, “drawing a complete outline of Hitler’s ideology, interpreting his thought and presenting him as a visionary”.

Examples of Hitler’s presence online include image and video libraries, podcasts, articles and news pages, with neo-Nazis given a wealth of ammunition, including references and contacts. In one religious blog, Hitler is called “a good Christian man who cared deeply about his race and followed the example of Christ… it is not the Holocaust deniers who are a danger to truth and freedom, it is the Christ deniers”. Another site, called www.expeltheparasite.com, which also honours Hitler, starts by quoting Napolean Bonaparte as saying: “The evils of the Jews do not stem from individuals, but from the fundamental nature of this people.”

The students also highlight several website selling “Hitler souvenirs” and argue that these are often confused with websites selling Second World War military memorabilia sought by genuine collectors. Others urge site visitors to buy Nazi products “to support free speech”. YouTube’s policy is deemed “quite strict”, and while Facebook is acknowledged for removing offensive sites when they are flagged, Twitter’s policy was seen as “more liberal,” meaning that there is “more racist, anti-Semitic and Hitler-glorifying content on this social network”. Concluding, ISCA researchers say that “70 years after his death, Hitler is still alive online. Thanks to his supporters, both Hitler and his ideology are omnipresent. Much more has to be done.”

© Jewish News UK

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Czech extremists' activity on the rise- Int.Min.

27/1/2016- Extremists staged 323 events in the Czech Republic in 2015, which is 44 more than the year before and they mainly focused on migration, according to the latest report on extremism that the Interior Ministry's security policy section released yesterday. Representatives of the ultra right and populists tried to attract new followers by abusing migration issues, the report says. On the contrary, the number of extremist crimes decreased year-on-year by 26 to 175 in 2015. According to data from quarterly reports on extremism, leftist extremists organised 144 events, rightist extremists 119 and populists held 60. The speeches delivered at demonstrations did not much change throughout the whole year. "The main mobilising topic was the migrant wave in all cases. The ultra right and populists entities considered it an opportunity to win over supporters," the Interior Ministry says in its report for the last quarter of 2015.

However, ultra-right followers also more and more expressed support for the policy of Russia and its President Vladimir Putin. The report from the last quarter of 2015 points to the demonstration in support of President Milos Zeman held in Prague -Albertov on November 17, the national holiday marking the student protests against the Nazi occupation in 1939 and the Communist regime in 1989. Some 2000 people took part in the rally, including representatives of foreign anti-immigration movements, such as Pegida from Dresden, Germany, and the English Defence League from Britain, which served as a role model for the platform We Do Not Want Islam in the Czech Republic, transformed into the current Bloc against Islam, as well as the paramilitary group Czechoslovak Reserve Soldiers. They also participated in the subsequent demonstration of National Democracy that resulted in a protest march to the Government Office and brawls with the police.

The role of the extremist Workers' Party of Social Justice (DSSS) continued to stagnate on the ultra-right scene. Its position was being assumed by National Democracy, the ministry said. "National Democrats, as a relatively new Czech extra-parliamentary entity, have relied on their links to the extremist scene not being broadly known to the public yet," the report writes. The neo-Nazi stream is also stagnating within the ultra-right wing and this part of the political spectrum is approaching populists. Exactly National Democracy stands for this trend. The ultra-left scene is dominated by the anarchist movement that, on the contrary, focused on volunteering, public fund-rasing campaigns in aid to refugees and protests against their opponents.

Out of anti-Islam and anti-immigration groupings, the Block against Islam, closely cooperated with the Dawn-National Coalition party, played the most important role.
Last year, the police succeeded in clarifying 114 out of 175 extremist criminal cases. The most frequent crime in this group was support for and promotion of move-ments aiming to suppress human rights and freedoms (100 cases). A total of 154 perpetrators committed extremist crimes.
© The Prague Daily Monitor

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Bosnian Judiciary to Consider Hijab Ban

Judicial institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina are to discuss whether their employees should be allowed to display religious symbols at work - a move that sparked anger among Muslim leaders.

25/1/2016- Muslim leaders and Bosniak politicians have reacted angrily after the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council (HJPC), which oversees much of the country’s judiciary, told judicial institutions to review whether to allow their employees to wear religious symbols such as the Muslim hijab. "The HJPC hasn’t banned the use of religious symbols, rather it has pointed out that the heads of judicial institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina should give specific attention to the issue of prohibiting the wearing of any religious symbol by employees of judicial institutions," HJPC spokesperson Marjana Popovic told BIRN. "The HJPC hasn't taken any decision on this topic but has drawn attention to the articles of the Law on Courts in the two entities of the country and the code of judiciary ethics, which prohibit the expression of any political, religious or ethnic affiliation by employees of these structures," she said.

The leader of Bosnia’s Islamic Community, Husein Kavazovic, reacted angrily to the proposal, which has been depicted by media as an attack on Muslim women who wear the veil or hijab. "It's a racist and illegal measure," Kavazovic said in a letter to the HJPC. The country’s Law on Religious Freedom upholds people’s right to practice their faith in public places. "Everyone has the right to freedom of religion and belief [and] the freedom to publicly profess it," the law says. "At the same time, everyone has the right... publicly or privately - to manifest in any manner his religious feelings and beliefs by performing and observing religious obligations, respecting traditions and other religious activities," says article 4 of the legislation. This right can be limited only by law, "in accordance with international standards", and only when the authorities can prove that it might be necessary for reasons of "public security, health protection, public morality or to protect the rights and freedom of other people".

The HJCP's statement was also criticised by the Party of Democratic Action, SDA, which has the support of the majority of Bosniaks and Muslims in Bosnia and Herzegovina. "The HJCP, without any apparent reason, has decided to address the sensitive issue of restricting religious freedom in Bosnia and Herzegovina," the SDA said in a statement on its website. "The HJCP [has decided] to introduce this issue into state institutions through the back door, using resolutions and codes, and not through the law and a parliamentary debate, reducing the transparency of its work... and providing enough room for the manipulation of this issue," it added. The HJCP is to discuss the issue further next week, media reported.
© Balkan Insight

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UK: Man beaten with toaster in vicious attack ‘because he is gay’

A gay man who suffered life threatening injuries in a homophobic attack has spoken out about his harrowing ordeal.

29/1/2016- Odacilio Moran was discovered at his in London with bleeding on the brain, fractured facial bones, stab wounds in the buttocks and damage to his throat. His injuries were so severe that he was put in a medically-induced coma for 10 days. Police believed that the attack may have been carried out with a number of objects in the victim’s flat, including a toaster. Mr Moran had moved to London from Miami only two weeks before the assault took place. He met his attackers – Kamil Radkiewicz, 28, and 26-year-old Norbert Krzysztof Borysiewicz – outside Charing Cross station, where the pair invited him to go for a drink. Speaking to The Standard, Mr Moran – who was born in Venezuela – says that although his memory of the evening is hazy, he recalls the men suggesting they go somewhere else. “We ended up taking the train to East Ham, where we visited a park and they gave me more beer. After that I pretty much don’t remember anything.”

After his partner Tim Sheppard was unable to contact his boyfriend, he called the Mayfair shop where he works. A colleague went to Mr Moran’s flat and began banging on the window after spotting the victim on the bed. He had been unconscious for 36 hours. Radkiewicz pleaded guilty to attempted murder and was sentenced on November 26 to more than 16 years. Police have appealed for information regarding the whereabouts of 26-year-old Norbert Krzysztof Borysiewicz. “I would tell anyone who knows something that speaking to the police would be a great favour for humanity,” Mr Moran said. “What they did to me they’ll do it again. They’re troubled, evil people.” Doctors fear Mr Moran may have epilepsy brought on by his injuries, after he collapsed on a tube platform a couple of weeks ago. Although no motive was given for the attack, Mr Moran believes it was because he is gay. “I’ve always known in the back of my mind that homophobia was the main motivation.”

Anyone with information relating to the attack, or information on the whereabouts of 26-year-old Norbert Krzysztof Borysiewicz, can contact DC Paul Wright, at Richmond-upon-Thames CID on 020 8721 5840, or police on 101. Alternatively call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
© The Pink News

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UKIP former leader criticised for suggesting reading Bible in public may be illegal

A UKIP peer has been heavily criticised for asking if it will be illegal to read the Bible out loud in public.

28/1/2016- Lord Pearson of Rannoch, former leader of the UK Independence Party, submitted a question in the House of Lords asking if Christians are at risk of committing a hate-crime against Muslims by "preaching the divinity of Christ or by reading aloud sections of the Bible in public". The peer praised Cameron as "brave" for saying Jesus was the only son of God, because "this will not have gone down all that well with the Islamists".

In response, Home Office minister Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon rebuked him saying: "Bigotry has no place and any kind of hate, be it based on race, sexual orientation or religion, has no place in British society." He assured Pearson free speech would be protected and added: "Muslims also regard and revere the Prophet Jesus as a prophet of God." Pearson also received flak from the Bishop of Worcester who said comments phrased in this manner were "not conducive to building positive relations between faith communities, in particular with Muslim communities, as we are endeavouring to do in the Church at a time when Muslims are feeling unfairly stigmatised". He added: "Muslims, and people of all faiths, greatly enrich our society and make a significant contribution to the common good."

It is not the first time Lord Pearson has caused controversy with comments about Islam. In 2014 he was reported to the speaker of the Lords for suggesting the Qu'ran had inspired the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby on the streets of London. Pearson made the comments yesterday in a debate on the government's anti-extremism strategy in the House of Lords. The debate coincided with Holocaust Memorial Day and the release of new research showing hate crime in the UK had soared. Over a quarter of those questioned had witnessed a form of hate crime in the UK, with a fifth having seen abuse on the basis of religion.
© Christian Today

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UK: Muslims are 'not like us' and will NEVER fit in with society - ex equalities chief

Muslims are fundamentally different from Westerners and politicians should accept that they will NEVER fit in with mainstream British society, a former equalities chief has said.

27/1/2016- Trevor Philips, ex head of the much-maligned Equality and Human Rights Commission, has been blasted after claiming that Government efforts to integrate Muslim communities are "disrespectful" and should be stopped. The controversial equalities chief said Muslims "see the world differently from the rest of us" and should not be asked to change to fit in with Western society. But his remarks were attacked by faith campaigners, who said the assertion that Muslims are fundamentally different from others was dangerously incorrect and risked creating divisions. Mr Phillips, who has previously described multiculturalism as a "racket" and slammed the political correctness which stops people talking about race, made the controversial remarks at a meeting of the Policy Exchange think tank in Westminster.

According to the Times, he told the room: "Continuously pretending that a group is somehow eventually going to become like the rest of us is perhaps the deepest form of disrespect. "Because what you are essentially saying is the fact that they behave in a different way, some of which we may not like, is because they haven’t yet seen the light. It may be that they see the world differently to the rest of us." He added that people of certain backgrounds are not going to change their views "simply because we are constantly telling them that basically they should be like us". But his comments were blasted by Muslim campaign groups, who insisted the religion is compatible with British society.

A spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain said: "It assumes that Muslims are not equal, and not civilised enough to be part and parcel of British society, which they most certainly are." And Fiyaz Mughal, head of the Tell Mama charity which campaigns against Muslim hate crime, added: “It assumes that Muslims as a whole have views that are inherently different to other communities and that the ‘world view’ of Muslims is different to other communities. “There are Muslims fully integrated into our society that have a ‘world view’ no different to others and the only difference is they pray five times a day.” The controversy came after David Cameron launched a counter-terrorism initiative aimed at preventing extremism by putting on English classes for Muslim women. The Prime Minister said more needs to be done to stop young Britons travelling to join Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria, adding that he hoped Muslim women could be a moderating force for good.

Earlier this week Government equalities Tsar warned that hand-wringing liberals obsessed with political correctness and multiculturalism are failing crime victims. Louise Casey told the same meeting of Policy Exchange that she had been shocked by the attempted cover-up of the Rotherham grooming scandal, where as many as 1,600 children were abused, saying the official priority seemed to be "Tippexing the word 'Pakistani' off children's files in Rotherham".
© The Express

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UK: Putin is a human rights abusing oligarch (opinion)

For those of us who believe democracy and social justice are universal principles, it’s clear why we should express our solidarity with Russia’s embattled leftists
By Owen Jones
 

26/1/2016- A rightwing authoritarian leader who attacks civil liberties, stigmatises lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, indulges in chauvinistic nationalism, is in bed with rapacious oligarchs, and who is admired by the European and American hard right. Leftwing opposition to Vladimir Putin should be, well, kind of an obvious starting point. Now BBC One’s Panorama has broadcast allegations that the Russian leader has secretly amassed a vast fortune. However accurate, there is no question that Putin is close to oligarchs such as Roman Abramovich, who profited as post-Soviet Russia collapsed into economic chaos thanks to western-backed “shock therapy”. Last week, a British public inquiry concluded that ex-Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko was likely to have been murdered at the personal behest of Putin. We don’t know exactly who is behind all the murky killings of journalists in Russia, but we know that some of those critical of the government – like Anna Politkovskaya, who courageously opposed Putin’s war in Chechnya – met violent ends.

Putin has become something of an icon for a certain type of western rightwinger. Donald Trump is a fan: when Putin called the rightwing demagogue a “very colourful, talented person”, Trump called it a “great honour” and described Russia’s strongman as “a man highly respected within his own country and beyond”. When challenged on the alleged role of Moscow in the murder of journalists, Trump engaged in what is typically known as “whataboutery” (or the “look over there!” approach to debate), responding: “Our country does plenty of killing also.” Last year, a delegation of French rightwing MPs visited Russia to fight “disinformation from western media, and Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front which was given a multimillion-euro loan from a Russian bank – is a Putin fan. Our own Nigel Farage assailed opposition to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, suggesting Putin was “on our side” in the war against terrorism, while Ukip MEP Diane James celebrated him as a strong leader and for being “very nationalist”.

Sure, the west’s attitude towards Putin is hypocritical. When Putin prosecuted his savage war in Chechnya, there was none of the western outrage later meted out when the Russians annexed the Crimea. Bill Clinton once lavished Putin for having “enormous potential”; Tony Blair, meanwhile, continues to call for the west to work with Putin against Islamic fundamentalism and last year attended a Putin “vanity summit”. But for the left, opposition to Putin should go without saying. Those who claim the left as a whole is soft on Putin are disingenuous at best: as, indeed, this article illustrates. But why are some silent, or even indulgent? Firstly, some profess a fear that – by critiquing those who are already supposedly bete noires of the west – the left will provide cover for western military expansionism. We become cheerleaders for western foreign policy, in other words, feeding the demonisation of foreign foes that is a necessary precondition for conflict. Secondly, it is seen as hypocritical: look at, say, the calamities of Iraq or Libya. Should we not focus on what our governments get up to, rather than what foreigners get up to elsewhere, which is in any case well covered by the mainstream press and political elite?

Yes, there is something rather absurd about the baiting of the anti-war left for not protesting against, say, Putin or North Korea. The baiters are always free to organise their own demonstration (I would be happy to join), and protest movements can only realistically aspire to put pressure on governments at home, whether it be on domestic policies or alliances with human rights abusers abroad (whether that be, say, the head-chopping Saudi exporters of extremism, or Israel’s occupation of Palestine). In democracies, protests that echo the official line of governments are rare. If the west was actively cheering Putin on and arming him to the teeth, we might expect more vociferous opposition.

But for universalists – those of us who believe democracy, freedom, human rights and social justice are universal principles that all humans should enjoy, irrespective of who or where they are – that shouldn’t be good enough. We shouldn’t have to wait for a possible western-Russian alliance in, say, Syria to speak out. We should express our solidarity with Russia’s embattled democrats and leftists. We don’t have to choose between critiquing our own foreign policy and opposing unjust foreign governments. In a sense, critics of western foreign policy have more of a responsibility to speak out. While supporters of, for example, the Iraq calamity can be more easily batted away by Putin apologists, nobody can accuse people like me of hypocritically failing to critique western foreign policy. Russia is ruled by a human rights abusing, expansionist, oligarchic regime. The Russian people – and their neighbours – deserve better. And the western left is surely duty-bound to speak out.
© Comment is free - Guardian

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UK: Hate crimes against London Jewish & Muslim communities soar

Hate crimes against London’s Jewish community have surged to a record high, according to the Metropolitan Police.

25/1/2016- In the last 12 months 459 antiSemitic crimes were recorded by police in the capital compared with 406 in the same period the previous year. The disturbing rise is continuing a trend seen over the past few years. The 2015 figure is 13 per cent up on the previous year and 75 per cent higher than the 258 recorded in the 12 months to June 2013. The figures released on Holocaust Memorial Day showed almost half the incidents took place in the boroughs of Barnet and Hackney, home to most of London’s 250,000-strong Jewish population. The crimes include physical assaults, verbal abuse and criminal damage to Jewish property or buildings. Campaigners have blamed the rise on the Met’s failure to prosecute enough cases.

Scotland Yard said the increase was partly due to an increased willingness to come forward in the wake of anti-Semitic outrages in other countries, particularly France. The mass shootings in Paris that marred 2015 and the threat of similar attacks in London and elsewhere have led to the highest number of Jews emigrating to Israel. The Jewish Agency reported that 800 British Jews left the UK for Israel last year. In total 9,880 western European Jews, including 8,000 from France, moved to the country – the highest annual number ever. Responding to the rise of hate crime in London, Jonathan Sacerdoti of the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism said: “2014 saw the worst spike on record of antiSemitic incidents reported. But there was no corresponding spike in prosecutions. The figures for 2015 are even worse.

“It is clear that the police must enforce the law more strenuously to combat this. After the London riots we saw a concerted policy of increased and tighter law enforcement put in place. “First time offenders ended up in prison to send a clear message about what is acceptable. We now need firm enforcement in this area, too, sending the message that Britain does not give a free pass to anti-Semites.” There were 168 cases of anti-Semitism in 2015 where people were cautioned or charged, including 82 for harassment, 52 for criminal damage and eight for assault with injury. Similar figures for offences against Muslims in the capital showed they increased by 171 per cent following the Paris attacks last November. In the 12 months to December, the number of Islamophobic crimes recorded in London was 1,052 – 68.9 per cent higher than the 623 crimes that were recorded the previous year. But in November alone 163 Islamophobic offences were reported, compared with just 60 a year earlier.



Scotland Yard said it works closely with all faith groups to tackle the problem of racism. Commander Mak Chishty said: “We will not tolerate hate crime and take positive action to investigate all allegations, support victims and arrest offenders. “Victims of hate crime must be assured that they will be taken seriously by the police. “We are always seeking ways to increase reporting and we work with a number of third party reporting sites so that victims who feel unable to approach the police directly can report crime to non-police organisations and individuals. “Victims of crime can in addition now report online on the Met’s website. No one should suffer in silence, so please report hate crime to us as soon as possible so we can take the appropriate action.”
© The Express
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UK: 'Hitler was right' demo shocks British city

Neo-Nazis stage impromptu rally in Newcastle, England, featuring portrait of Hitler with provocative slogan.

25/1/2016- A group of neo-Nazis shocked passersby in Newcastle, northern England, with an impromptu rally featuring a banner with the words "Hitler was right" in front of a picture of the Nazi dictator's face. Some 20 activists from the far-right "National Action" group staged the Nazi flash mob, mirroring a tactic the extremists have used on several other occasions to gain attention. The group assembled in front of a World War Two monument in the city center, and proceeded to give Nazi salutes and chant racist slogans, as stunned passersby looked on. They held a large banner with the words "Refugees not welcome, Hitler was right," in an apparent attempt to capitalize on anti-immigrant sentiment triggered by a much-criticized open-door policy elsewhere in Europe.

According to the Jewish News, police who arrived at the scene shortly afterwards allowed it to continue as no laws were broken and it remained largely peaceful. However, footage from the event shows one Nazi thug assaulting a busker, who played his saxophone loudly in an apparent attempt to drown the fascists out. A police officer can be seen separating the two, but no arrests were made. British Jewish groups voiced their concern at the incident, and say they are monitoring the situation closely. "The sight of neo-Nazis openly spreading their hatred in such a public setting would have been distressing and threatening for anybody passing by, especially if they were Jewish or from any other minority," Community Security Trust (CST) spokesman Dave Rich told Jewish News. "We call on the Police to investigate whether any offences were committed and whether arrests are possible."

Late last year Newcastle was the scene of a 100-man neo-Nazi rally, dubbed the "White Man March," which saw nine people arrested for various offenses including incitement of racial hatred.
© Arutz Sheva

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Greece: Police puts ban in place for Golden Dawn’s Imia rally

29/1/2016- All public gatherings in central Athens have been banned for Saturday by the police due to fears of clashes at an event planned by neo-Nazi Golden Dawn to mark the anniversary of the 1996 Imia crisis, when Greece and Turkey almost went to war over the uninhabited islet. Police concerns about possible trouble at the annual rally were heightened by a clash between anarchists and a group of Germans, thought to be members of a far-right group who are in Athens to take part in Saturday’s event, in Monastiraki on Thursday night.A group of around 25 people attacked the 12 Germans as they ate at a taverna. The victims were taken to the hospital for treatment.
© The Kathimerini.

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Slovakia: Plan against intolerance not funded properly

It’s pointless to set out plans if we do not assign financial and human resources at ministries and other institutions, watchdogs say.

25/1/2016- Amid criticism of Prime Minister Robert Fico’s statements about refugees that were labelled cynical and possibly even criminal, the cabinet passed two documents combating discrimination and intolerance on January 13. Though the plans could be beneficial, the lack of a clear financing mechanism will make them difficult to implement, human rights watchdog groups say. Two plans, the action plan on preventing all forms of discrimination and the action plan to prevent racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and other forms of intolerance, were passed based on the nationwide Human Rights Protection Strategy that was adopted a year ago.

The Committee for the Prevention and Elimination of Racism, Xenophobia, Anti-Semitism, and Other Forms of Intolerance drafted the latter plan and it will also act as the control body to oversee the passing of the measures outlined in the document. NGOs who are members of the committee welcome the cabinet’s approval of the action plan. The plan aims for effective cooperation between the public offices and the non-profit sector, and defines areas where NGOs can play an active part, said Natália Tomeková from the Open Society Foundation (OSF), one of the NGOs involved in the committee. The adopted document, however, is a reduced version of the original draft, due to the lacking personnel capacities of the state and the NGOs and the assigned finances. “It is thus questionable to what extent the next government will perceive this plan as important and binding,” Tomeková told The Slovak Spectator.
Plan vs. politics

Even the current government displays almost daily what Tomeková called “schizophrenia”, meaning that formally the government passes documents to prevent intolerance, but its top representatives at the same time are its main propagators, she said. Zuzana Števulová from the non-governmental Human Rights League also believes that the top government officials do not identify themselves with the plan ideologically. “If the government was really serious about fighting intolerance, its main representatives wouldn’t publicly speak against religious and other minorities,” Števulová told The Slovak Spectator. This alludes to the rhetoric adopted by Fico towards the refugee crisis. Most recently his statement that Slovakia needs to prevent the creation of “a compact Muslim community” offended not only the Islamic Foundation in Slovakia but also attracted the attention of international media and provoked criticism at home.

Some lawyers addressed by The Slovak Spectator believe that some of Fico’s statements could be treated as a crime and the General Prosecutor’s Office is dealing with a criminal complaint an anonymous sender filed against Fico by e-mail. Števulová also criticised Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák who is a member of the committee that drafted the plan.“I don’t remember him ever attending at least one of its sessions,” she said.

Minister sees results
Kaliňák, who tabled the action plan, claims that any criticism of the government for its statements and stances is unrealistic and he insists that he is satisfied with the fight against intolerance. “We have very good results, and the level of tension in this sphere in Slovakia has been reduced,” he told Sme. Among other things, the approved document also criticises the current situation in Slovakia, stating that despite all legislative rules and non-legislative measures, the protection of life, health and dignity are “far from being ideal”.

Education is what the action plan lacks, according to Šarlota Pufflerová from the Citizen, Democracy, Responsibility (ODZ) watchdog. Even though the plan mentions education, that regards mainly people in the state administration. But the whole education system of the country should be more value-oriented, she said, “so that children could understand from early age what human rights are and that we should not violate them.” Pufflerová also misses a clear definition of how the plan will be financed. “It’s pointless to set out plans if we do not assign resources, financial as well as human, at ministries and other institutions,” she said.
© The Slovak Spectator.

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France: Getting to the Root of France's Muslim Dilemma (Analysis)

By Joe Parson

24/1/2016- The jihadist attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo signified the beginning of a new period of insecurity for France. Since those shots rang out a little over a year ago, France has been beset by threats, false alarms and more successful attacks. The latest of these, of course, took place in Paris itself, triggering the first nationwide state of emergency since 1961. Having been away for most of 2015, when I arrived back for the holidays I found the country had somehow changed. Disembarking at Charles Gaulle airport's oldest terminal, whimsically known as le Camembert for its roundness, I found the same futuristic, grimy moving walkways and familiar odor of the Paris metro. Much was the same, but then I noticed that the usual airport security was gone, replaced by military personnel patrolling with automatic rifles.

France's security alert system, Plan Vigipirate, was developed in the late 1970s, updated once in the mid-1990s and twice more in the early 2000s. It reached its highest level of alert (scarlet) after the March 2012 Toulouse and Montauban attacks. In January 2015, however, authorities created a new, higher level to reflect the perceived current danger. As I traveled through Paris and the rest of the country I saw these security measures in action on the city's metro and on the country's high-speed train, the Train à Grande Vitesse. Security checks have become much more common, and this has led to some delays. False alarms triggered by such things as suspicious packets of cookies on a Nantes tram or forgotten luggage have stopped trains across the country. Over the New Year holiday, the center of Paris was cordoned off and people were individually screened before being allowed to continue on foot. Even the Christmas market in Strasbourg, far from Paris, was blocked off to automobile traffic, and identification checks were mandatory.

Security measures in the wake of attacks have been made more complex — and politically volatile — by France's sizeable Muslim population. French Muslims themselves, especially immigrants, have become the focus of a great deal of scrutiny over the past year. In 2010, 4.8 million Muslims lived in France, the second-largest population in the European Union and the largest in proportion to population: 7.5 percent. This has led many on the far right to call for policies specifically limiting Muslim immigration. Opinions, however, are mixed — a 2015 Pew Research poll found that only 24 percent of the country held unfavorable views of Muslims. Popular perception of Islam has played a moderating role in the government's reaction while ensuring safety for all, including the French Muslim population.

Francophone Islam
The mixed public reaction to right-wing proposals to impose anti-Muslim measures is rooted in France's unique and longstanding relationship with Islam. First contact came as early as the eighth century, when the Muslim Umayyad Caliphate pushed north to take control of the Iberian Peninsula and southern France. But when these holdings fell back into French hands, the Islamic world mostly receded from French history. This lasted until 1609, when Spain began to expel the Moriscos, former Muslims who had converted to Christianity. Many of them transited through France to the city of Agde to be handed off to the Ottomans. This came during a period of French expansion in the Mediterranean basin. With the defeat of the Ottomans in 1571 at the Battle of Lepanto and their departure from the Mediterranean, France had begun to assert itself in the Maghreb, a region that consists roughly of Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania and Tunisia. At its peak, France's colonial holdings encompassed a huge swathe of North Africa, with Algeria functioning as an official part of France, with Tunisia and Morocco as protectorates.

As the colonial period wore on, the French military relied increasingly on units of local, primarily Muslim, levies. After completing their service, many of these Muslim veterans left the colonies for France and remained there, eventually gaining citizenship. Following World War II, France fought against nationalists in North Africa to try and hold on to its colonies. Although it had lost all of these by the 1960s, Paris has remained involved in Maghreb conflicts. Immigration from North Africa to France tracked the country's colonial history, spiking in the mid-20th century as the empire dissolved. With the fall of French North Africa, a group known as the Pied-Noir (French, mostly Christian descendants living in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia) fled in the aftermath of independence. Many young Pied-Noir men had moved to France during World War I but returned to the Maghreb. In 1962, when Algeria became independent, 800,000 Pied-Noir rapidly entered France, followed over the next decade by a further 150,000. In an effort to speed up integration, the French government granted them partial compensation for lost property.

Around the same time, local Muslim loyalists who had supported France in Algeria — collectively known as Harki — also left for France. Attitudes toward the Harki have varied. Charles de Gaulle vehemently opposed their resettlement, and, when the Harki remaining in independent Algeria were subject to persecution, Paris suppressed media coverage to maintain good relations, even going so far as to cover up murders. Today, however, the Harki are lionized as truly French "par le sang versé" — by spilled blood. In spite of the patriotic rhetoric, the Harki do not have an official comprehensive status in France, besides that of an unassimilated refugee group barred from traveling to Algeria. The Pied-Noir and the Harki arrived during a high-growth period known as "Les Trente Glorieuses," which lasted from 1945 to 1975, and their integration was somewhat easier because of this. Immigration continued apace after 1975, however, bolstered by the 1976 law allowing families of prior immigrants to settle in France.

Today, the legacy of France's relationship with the Muslim world is evidenced by the fact that everywhere in the country you meet people who are of foreign descent but as French as can be. My first landlord's parents, for example, emigrated from the Maghreb with practically nothing and now own several residential buildings. Success stories like these are not uncommon, and many of these people maintain only the loosest ties with the homeland of their parents or grandparents, much like Irish-, Italian- and German-Americans.

Freely Conforming
Immigration since the colonial period has made France the EU member state with the largest Muslim population by proportion. Although 7.5 percent of the population is still a small minority, the Muslim presence is magnified by the fact that most of France's Muslims are concentrated in a few areas. In keeping with French secular values, the government does not collect specific religious statistics, but the Central Bureau of Culture estimates the majority of Muslim immigrants have settled in Paris, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, Rhône-Alpes and Nord-Pas-de-Calais. Many French seem to regard Muslim immigrants as an undifferentiated whole — in spite of the longstanding special ties between France and North Africa and the fact that nearly 82 percent of French Muslims have origins in the Maghreb. And many Muslims categorize themselves as non-adherent, according to polls by the French Institute of Public Opinion.

But France does hold certain expectations when it comes to its North African Muslim immigrants — as it does for all new arrivals. Those who wish to integrate and function in French society must abide by the core values of "Liberty, Equality and Fraternity." In keeping with France's particular revolutionary — and nineteenth century — history, these are defined differently than I would have expected when compared with the United States. Liberty, for example, is associated more closely with collective liberty, not individual liberty. The freedom of a single person is often sacrificed in the interests of equality and fraternity, which are considered sacrosanct. This distinction is embodied by the constitutional principle of laïcité, essentially meaning secularism. This dictates that government institutions — and the public sphere — should be free of religious influence.

Although France has traditionally been Catholic, a high and growing proportion of the population is now atheist, and the overwhelming majority do not tie religion to morality or ethics. France's core values undergird the national schism over the wearing of headscarves in government schools. This controversy began in 1989 and raged through the 1990s, culminating in a national ban on headscarves and, later, on full-face coverings such as niqabs and burqas.

Today, immigrants to France are required to sign an "integration contract" before being granted a residence card. Although clearly aimed at Muslims and motivated by the headscarf controversies, the contract is required for all immigrants and I, a non-Muslim, was required to sign as well. The contract stipulates that men cannot repress women or engage in unsupported practices such as honor killing, facial covering or polygamy. It also requires that arrivals attend language classes as well as civics courses on French values that stress women's rights. Those later found not to be in compliance with the contract can then be required to undergo further training. Even though classes are officially for all immigrants, I was exempted and only required to attend history and civics lectures, not those on social welfare, values or language. Since the 2008 financial crisis, restrictions on immigration have become stricter, reflecting the strained economic circumstances and overwrought social services. This is the opposite of the thirty post-war years of prosperity when immigrants were welcomed to participate in the growing economy.

The national dialogue around French values and the longstanding role of many Muslim Maghreb immigrants have led many in France to feel deeply betrayed by the jihadist attacks of the past year. This is compounded by the fact that several of the attackers were French-born citizens, mostly second and third generation. In February 2016, the French government said it will explore options to remove the citizenship of dual-nationality persons convicted of terrorism. This is not without precedent — in 1848 the government passed measures to revoke the citizenship of individuals who rejected the abolition of slavery. Many supporters on the political right support this initiative, espousing the idea that "French citizenship is an honor, not a right." At the same time, the citizenship status of the attackers has undermined some of the anti-immigrant rhetoric coming from former President Nicolas Sarkozy and National Front leader Marine Le Pen against immigrants. Sarkozy in particular has lost a degree of public support. For its part, the French media has been careful to portray the attacks as isolated and unconnected, in spite of reports that several of the attackers were in communication with each other through Internet forums and social media.

Regardless of the outcome of upcoming political battles, the back-and-forth in France over Islam will continue for the foreseeable future as the country tries to square the risk of terrorism with its long history of integrating and accepting immigrants from the Muslim world.
© Stratfor

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Germany: Trying to strike a blow to right-wing populist party, Germany's left wounds itself

The lead-up to March elections in Germany is unusually dramatic, with center-left parties making big mistakes. Fearing the rise of populism, several politicians tried to boycott a far-right party. And it backfired.

25/1/2016- For over a year, Germany's leading parties have been losing a public relations battle to the far right. The latest loss - involving a failed attempt to boycott xenophobia and an utter lack of political savvy by the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens - begs the question whether these parties actually want to win state elections in March. It began in December. Looking ahead to state elections, Germany's southwestern public broadcaster - SWR - announced its plan for a live roundtable discussion with the leading candidates in Baden-Württemberg state to be held three days before the vote in mid-March. The broadcaster was considering whether to invite the candidate from the right-wing populist "Alternative für Deutschland" (Alternative for Germany or AfD). But the state premier, Winfried Kretschmann (Greens - pictured above), said if the AfD were there, then he wouldn't appear. Neither would his vice premier, Nils Schmid (SPD).

The fight didn't stop there. Soon, the state premier of neighboring Rhineland-Palatinate, Malu Dreyer, also found herself on the defensive against accusations of censorship, as did Saxony-Anhalt's public broadcaster MDR. Enter Rhineland-Palatinate's rival CDU candidate for state premier, Julia Klöckner: she boycotted the event in support of free speech, blasting the center-left for hypocrisy. Nearly one month later, Rhineland-Palatinate's popular incumbent, Dreyer, is showing signs of cracking under the strain, and her North Rhine-Westphalian counterpart, Hannelore Kraft - whose year can be summed up by crisis, police ineptitude and the New Year's Eve's assaults in Cologne (the state's largest city) - has also taken sides. According to a weekend survey by "Bild," roughly 53 percent of people asked want AfD to appear in the debate.

All the wrong moves
"You could say that it was a move in the wrong direction that possibly more or less had the opposite effect," Alexander Häusler, from the Research Unit for Right-Wing Extremism/Neo-Nazism at the University of Applied Sciences Düsseldorf, told DW. A euroskeptic party that emerged in 2013, the AfD is now seen by critics as an anti-political correctness, right-wing populist party with a xenophobic slant. For example, last year, an Afd politician from Thuringia, Björn Höcke, shouted "Three thousand years Europe! One thousand years Germany" at a demonstration.

He later denied in a nationally televised interview that his words were reminiscent of Adolf Hitler's "Thousand-Year Reich!" rallying cry. Its open support for the far-right National Front in France and the Austrian FPÖ also underscores the fact that it's "no ordinary party," Häusler says, refuting some AfD politicians' claims that they are being wrongly labeled based only on Höcke's quasi-Nazi rants. The election roundtable debacle "confirms their beliefs that here in Germany, politics rules the 'lying press' or 'lying media,' tells it what to do, and these politics exclude certain opinions," he says.

A new phenomenon
The mistake by the SPD - who are coalition partners with Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Socialist Union (CSU) - lies in its fear of losing the core votes of ordinary people, as the effects of the refugee crisis are felt. "These are developments that touch on real problems to some extent and are thus also the reason why right-wing populism has been able to gain ground in Europe, including among left-leaning voters," Häusler told DW. And while Germany has dealt with far-right parties since its rebirth in 1949, the AfD poses a new problem: a party that has established itself out of the refugee crisis, but that doesn't come from the right-wing extremism scene, as was the case with the far-right National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD).

A threat to Merkel?
Chancellor Merkel's center-right CDU and CSU have drifted toward the left since forming a coalition with the center-left SPD in 2013. That drift left a gap to their right, now filled with party-less voters taken with the AfD, which speaks to their fears of losing their high standard of living, losing their culture to Muslims and losing their political voice at a time when the coalition parties hold nearly 80 percent of seats in parliament. If projections prove true, the AfD could take roughly 10 percent of votes in Baden-Württemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saxony-Anhalt in the spring. That would mean not only the first major gains in western Germany states, but also representatives from the xenophobic party in half of the country's state parliaments.

It's too early to speculate about the 2017 elections, which will herald a fourth term for Frau Merkel, or her departure, Häusler says, noting that the media has lost sight of a telling characteristic of the AfD. "They present themselves as a political alternative capable of action in contrast with the so-called 'old parties.' The reality is exactly the other way around. This party is marked by considerable conflicts, quarreling and power games," he says. "The AfD is not capable of action in its current state and is only winning votes because its riding on the xenophobic ticket and because it's made its own unique selling point."
© The Deutsche Welle.

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German right wing AfD party reaches 10 percent in polls for first time

Alternative for Germany, a populist party known for its anti-migrant views, has seen its popularity grow in a recent poll. Many leaders have called for the party to be banned from televised debates.

24/1/2016- The German daily "Bild am Sonntag" reported on Sunday that the populist right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party has reached 10 percent for the first time in a recent poll. According to the article, 17 percent of men would vote for AfD while only 2 percent of women would do so. The Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the party of Chancellor Angela Merkel, saw its support fall by 2 percentage points to 36 percent. The Social Democrats (SPD), the CDU's coalition partner, came in at 25 percent.

No to barring AfD from debates
A majority of Germans, meanwhile, said they disagreed with the decision to bar the AfD from televised debates in the states of Baden-Württemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saxony-Anhalt. Of those polled, 53 percent of Germans polled said the party should be able to participate in the debates, while 34 percent said it shouldn't. The state premiere of Rhineland-Palatinate, Malu Deyer (SPD), refused to participate in a debate with the AfD, therefore putting pressure on regional broadcaster Südwestrundfunk to ban the party.
© The Deutsche Welle.

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Germany: Pegida meets with European allies in the Czech Republic

Germany's anti-immigration movement Pegida has signed a declaration with like-minded groups from 14 European countries, agreeing on joint protests in February. The associations warn of "Islam conquering Europe."

23/1/2016- The leading Pegida activist Tatjana Festerling criticized Berlin's policies while meeting representatives of several European anti-Islamic movements on Saturday. Germany was a cautionary tale for the EU, showing to other states what could go wrong when a country open its doors to migrants, Festerling said at the conference in Roztoky, near Prague. "(German Chancellor Angela) Merkel is growing a massive surplus of men in Germany," Festerling added, referring to the fact that most of the 1.1 million migrants arriving to Germany last year were male.

The Roztoky meeting was hosted by the Czech Usvit (Dawn) party and university lecturer Martin Konvicka, head of the local far-right group Bloc Against Islam. The anti-immigration groups from different EU states have agreed on international protests on February 6, dubbed the "Day of the European Patriots." The protests are to be held in Pegida's stronghold of Dresden as well as in Prague, Warsaw and other European cities. "Our basic message will be: Europeans won't give up Europe," Konvicka said in reference to the protests. The leader of Bloc Against Islam also accused political elites of "suicidal and stupid politics."

End of history
The representatives of the far-right movements signed a joint "Prague declaration," warning that the "history of Western civilization could soon come to an end through Islam conquering Europe." The English-language document also states that its creators "refuse to submit to the Central European Government" and consider it their duty to stand up against "political Islam, extreme Islamic regimes and their European collaborators."

Attack on 'blonde, white women'
The German Pegida movement gained popularity at the outset of the refugee crisis in 2014. The New Year's attacks in Cologne boosted anti-foreigner sentiment in Germany, with many right-wingers announcing their fears were vindicated by the sexual violence. At a recent Leipzig rally, Festerling decried the "sex jihad against women" and the "Asylum-Mummy Merkel." The Muslim refugees "started their wholesale terror attack against German women, against blonde, white women," she told the crowd. Festerling is facing several criminal charges in Germany, including the one for hate speech.
© The Deutsche Welle.

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Dutch MP stirs anger in anti-Islam'pepper spray' rally

23/1/2016- Tensions over Europe's migrant crisis bubbled over in a Dutch town Saturday as far-right politician Geert Wilders handed out fake pepper spray, saying women must defend themselves against Muslim men. Wilders, whose Freedom Party (PVV) only holds 12 seats currently in the 150-seat Dutch lower house, has seen his popularity soar on the back of the bitter refugee debate fuelling his desire of becoming the next prime minister. On Saturday following in the wake of the sexual attacks on women on New Year's Eve in Cologne, Wilders used a rally in the western Dutch town of Spijkenisse to again push his blunt message against what he calls an "Islamic invasion." "We must close the borders," Wilders said handing out fake pepper spray -- which is illegal in the Netherlands -- filled instead with red paint.

Women should be allowed to carry pepper spray, he said, to protect themselves against what he termed "Islamic testosterone bombs." But his radical rhetoric drew a counter demonstration from a few dozen women protestors who shouted out: "Wilders is racist, no feminist." About 10 women were arrested at the protest, Dutch media said. The Netherlands, a country of 17 million people, took in record numbers of asylum-seekers in 2015. About 54,000 of the one million refugees, who have travelled into Europe from the Middle East and Africa, have been registered here.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte warned this week the EU has only about two months to tackle the crisis before a new spike in refugees in the spring. "Let me be clear: the current numbers aren't sustainable. We are running out of time. We need a sharp reduction in the coming six to eight weeks," Rutte told the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France on Wednesday. Tensions have been simmering across the Netherlands as the government has sought to work with local provinces to find shelter for the thousands of refugees. Protests in some towns against planned refugee centres have flared into full-scale riots leading to arrests and some damage.

The Dutch daily Trouw Saturday said a leaked report had warned the number of refugees could hit 93,000 this year. With Rutte's ruling coalition under strain, the Trouw reported the cabinet was planning to meet with local provinces next month to draw up a plan for housing the newcomers. Elections are not due until 2017, but according to a poll collated by national broadcaster NOS if they were held today Wilders's PVV could grab 36 seats -- enough to put it in the driving seat for coalition talks.
© AFP

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Refugee Crisis - Week 4

ECRE strongly opposes legitimising push-backs by declaring Turkey a “safe third country”

29/1/2016- ECRE is concerned about the Dutch government’s proposal to return all those arriving in Greece back to Turkey without access to asylum procedures, in exchange for a large scale resettlement program. While the concrete modalities remain unclear, a key feature of the plan would reportedly be based on designating Turkey a “safe third country”. Returning asylum seekers from Greece to Turkey without prior individualised assessment of protection needs violates European and international law, as it essentially amounts to illegal pushbacks, which have been firmly condemned by the European Court of Human Rights. Even if a resettlement or humanitarian admission program is welcome in principle, this cannot be conditional on preventing people from seeking asylum in Europe.

Moreover, ECRE seriously questions whether Turkey could be indeed designated a “safe third country” for asylum seekers. Under Article 38 of the EU recast Asylum Procedures Directive the safe third country concept may only be applied where a number of safeguards are fulfilled, including respect for the principle of non-refoulement and the possibility to request and receive protection in accordance with the Geneva Refugee Convention. Turkey’s continued application of the geographical limitation to the scope of the Geneva Refugee Convention is problematic in this regard, as it means that only person coming from European countries can be recognised as Convention refugees in Turkey. Though the Law on Foreigners and International Protection provides for a status of “conditional refugee” to those coming from non-European countries, this status only allows a person to temporarily reside in Turkey, while awaiting for resettlement, while access to the labour market is not automatically guaranteed.

A range of sources, including the AIDA report on Turkey, provide evidence to the fact that the current conditions do no ensure guarantees that the fundamental rights of migrants and refugees are respected in practice in Turkey. First, while persons fleeing Syria are granted temporary protection status, Syrians have been at risk of refoulement and arbitrary detention without any legal basis. Amnesty International has reported that since September persons attempting to cross the Greek-Turkish land border have been detained, many herd onto buses and transported more than 1,000 kilometres to isolated detention centers where they have been held incommunicado. A Human Rights Watch report highlighted how Syrians are being denied entry to Turkey at the border and being pushed back to Syria.

Temporary protection beneficiaries do not have automatic access to shelter. Few are hosted in camps (“temporary accommodation centers”), while the vast majority currently resides in major cities without support. Access to the labour market for Syrians was formalised under the recent Decision taken in January 2016, but is yet to be ensured in practical terms. Constrained by language barriers and limited right to work, most asylum seekers and refugees live in precarious conditions, including over 700,000 Syrian refugee children who have no access to school.

Second, asylum seekers from other nationalities face a largely dysfunctional asylum system under Turkey’s international protection procedure. Iraqi nationals in particular face a complex procedural framework, some being registered as “international protection applicants” and others as “humanitarian residence holders”, without being properly informed of the differences between the two options. Despite recent reforms, the Directorate General for Migration Management is still in the early stages of building the necessary capacities to implement the Law on Foreigners and International Protection. Numerous barriers to state-funded legal aid, coupled with resource constraints on NGOs, leave asylum seekers without legal representation and advice.

Finally, in the context of EU-Turkey Action Plan, Turkey and the EU agreed on re-purposing five planned reception centres in Izmir, Kýrklareli, Gaziantep, Kayseri and Van to become pre-removal detention centres. Detention capacity is increasing substantially, while reception capacity for applicants – currently at a maximum of 100 places – has not. All this is taking place in an increasingly hostile climate for human rights protection in the country, for foreigners as well as the country’s own citizens.

ECRE welcomes any initiative that aims at creating additional channels for refugees to access protection in the EU in a safe and legal manner as this is much needed as one of the means to reduce the loss of life at the EU’s external borders. However, trading off the creation of a resettlement programme from Turkey against an institutionalised unlawful push back policy is unacceptable and provides no sustainable solution in the long term. Rather EU Member States should invest in comprehensive solutions that effectively address the root causes of the conflict and increase the protection space in the region and in Europe by upholding international and EU standards.
© The European Council on Refugees and Exiles

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EU: Timmermans blunders on migrant figures

28/1/2016- Fewer Syrians may be arriving in the EU compared to last year but a surge in Iraqis fleeing persecution casts doubt on recent statements by EU commission vice-president Frans Timmermans. Timmermans was quoted in Dutch media as saying some 60 percent of the arrivals in December come from countries where there is no conflict. "More than half of the people now arriving to Europe come from countries where you can assume they have no reason to apply for refugee status. More than half, 60 percent", Timmermans told Dutch media broadcaster NOS. However, recent figures provided by both the EU's border agency, Frontex, and the UN agency for refugees (UNHCR) paint a much more nuanced picture.

Frontex chief Fabrice Leggeri told this website on Wednesday (28 January) that "the trend is that there are fewer Syrian nationals". But the Warsaw-based agency notes that while the number of Syrians may have declined, the share of Iraqi monthly arrivals in Greece "increased over the last quarter to 25 percent in December, more than double the 11 percent in October and 12 percent in November". It also states that the average share of Afghans is between one quarter and one third of the total number of detected migrants at the border. The UNHCR noted a similar trend. Both the UNHCR and Frontex say Syrians accounted for around 39 percent of all arrivals in Greece in December. Iraqis and Afghans, it says, each represent around 24 percent of the mix, or just under 50 percent together.In other words, almost 90 percent the people who arrived by sea in the EU in December came from countries gripped by war or emerged from a wider regional conflict.

Fewer Syrians, more Iraqis
The UN agency says 42,000 Syrians arrived in Greece in December, down from 65,000 in November.However, it also found that many more Iraqis arrived in December (27,000) than in November (18,365).Afghans have a high chance of getting asylum in the EU while Iraqis and Syrians have more than a 75 percent chance.Leggeri said they arrived at their data by authenticating the individual backgrounds of the nationals.Some may claim to be Syrian but are not, he said.If the individual is not Syrian then Frontex assumes the person is an irregular migrant, unless a background check has been performed."When a person is not Syrian but, for instance, from Morocco, then we assume unless there is [a reason from their] individual background, that this person is not in need of protection," he said. Frontex says 39 percent of all migrants arriving in Greece in December declared they were from Syria. In November, it was 43 percent, compared to 51 percent in October.

'Lack of capacity'
On Tuesday, the EU Commission announced Greece had also "seriously neglected" its obligations to secure its external borders. The assessment followed spot checks by Frontex agents in early November for gaps in the Greek border. Authorities in Greece maintain that improvements have since been made in terms of registering and fingerprinting new arrivals since the November review. Over 42,000 arrived on the Greek islands since the start of the year. Leggeri said the agency was providing the Greeks with support to increase registration rates but noted there was still a "lack of capacity" and highlighted outstanding issues with Eurodac, the asylum fingerprint system. "Frontex agency has to provide the operational solidarity bearing in the mind that in the current system member states are responsible for the management of the external border," he said.
© The EUobserver

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EU commissioner: 60% of refugees are economic migrants

26/1/2016- More than half the asylum seekers coming to Europe are not fleeing from war and northern Africans in particular are leaving their home countries for economic reasons, the Netherlands’ European Commissioner has told Nos. Frans Timmermans, who is the commission’s first vice president, told the broadcaster in an interview: ‘More than half of the people now coming to Europe come from countries where you can assume they have no reason whatsoever to ask for refugee status. More than half, 60%.’

Support
In the main they are people from Morocco and Tunisia who want to travel to Europe via Turkey, Nos quoted him as saying. Timmermans bases his claim on the latest figures from European border agency Frontex which have not yet been officially published. Economic refugees should be returned as quickly as possible to make sure that support for people fleeing war is not damaged. If they could be sent back, it would make an enormous difference, the commissioner said. Timmermans also said that there is no proof bringing back border controls will help ease the situation but that they will do substantial economic damage. Closing borders, he said, is an enormous risk.

Border controls
On Monday, a number of European states asked the commission to prepare measures to allow them to prolong their newly-imposed border controls for up to two years. Dutch junior immigration minister Klaas Dijkhoff told reporters after an informal meeting of EU home affairs ministers in Amsterdam that ‘the current, existing deadlines to stop are not long enough to have the crisis resolved and have the countries disband their measures,’ EU Observer reported. Six member states, including Germany and Austria, have introduced border controls for up to six months.
© The Dutch News

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Mass expulsions ahead for Europe as migrant crisis grows

But sending refugees back is easier said than done. In 2014, EU nations returned less than 40 percent of the people who were ordered to be deported.

28/1/2016- Dazzled by an unprecedented wave of migration, Sweden on Thursday put into words an uncomfortable reality for Europe: If the continent isn't going to welcome more than 1 million people a year, it will have to deport large numbers of them to countries plagued by social unrest and abject poverty. Interior Minister Anders Ygeman said Sweden could send back 60,000 to 80,000 asylum seekers in the coming years. Even in a country with a long history of immigration, that would be a scale of expulsions unseen before. "The first step is to ensure voluntary returns," Mr. Ygeman told Swedish newspaper Dagens Industri. "But if we don't succeed, we need to have returns by coercion." The coercive part is where it gets uncomfortable. Packing unwilling migrants, even entire families, onto chartered airplanes bound for the Balkans, the Middle East, or Africa evokes images that clash with Europe's humanitarian ideals.

But the sharp rise of people seeking asylum in Europe last year almost certainly will also lead to much higher numbers of rejections and deportations. European Union officials have urged member countries to quickly send back those who don't qualify for asylum so that Europe's welcome can be focused on those who do, such as people fleeing the war in Syria. "People who do not have a right to stay in the European Union need to be returned home," said Natasha Bertaud, a spokeswoman for the EU's executive Commission. "This is a matter of credibility that we do return these people, because you don't want to give the impression of course that Europe is an open door," she said.

EU statistics show most of those rejected come from the Balkans including Albania and Kosovo, some of Europe's poorest countries. Many applicants running away from poverty in West Africa, Pakistan, and Bangladesh also are turned away. Even people from unstable countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia can't count on getting asylum unless they can prove they, personally, face grave risks at home. Frans Timmermans, the Commission's vice president, told Dutch TV station NOS this week that the majority of people seeking asylum in Europe are not refugees. "More than half, 60 percent, should have to return much more quickly. If we start with doing that, it would already make a huge difference," he said.

Sending them back is easier said than done. In 2014, EU nations returned less than 40 percent of the people who were ordered to be deported. Sometimes those seeking asylum go into hiding after receiving a negative decision. Sometimes their native country doesn't want them back. EU countries, including Sweden and Germany, have had some success sending people back to the Balkans on chartered flights. Of the 37,000 who returned from Germany on their own accord last year, all but about 5,000 were from the Balkans. "It's been more difficult with Iraq and Afghanistan," said Mikael Ribbenvik, director of operations at the Swedish Migration Agency. "The returns have worked during some periods, and not so well during others."

One of the biggest obstacles to sending people back is to obtain travel documents from their home countries. People routinely lose or even destroy their travel papers coming to Europe, creating confusion about where they are from. "Most countries in the world don't accept someone if [it] cannot be proved that it's one of their citizens," Mr. Ribbenvik said. Sweden has urged the EU and its Frontex border agency to help establish return agreements with the countries of origin. Frontex's budget for deporting people was significantly increased this year, allowing it to coordinate more flights and help countries prepare their own. Under UN rules, countries are supposed to offer protection to refugees fleeing war and persecution. But some European countries also offer protection to people deemed at risk of torture or the death penalty or who are suffering from an exceptionally serious disease.

"Obviously, there is currently a very heated debate in Europe on this issue," said Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for the UN secretary-general. "Our message continues to be the same – that refugees and migrants need to be treated with compassion, dignity, and with full respect of their rights for those who are refugees." Even for those who get a negative decision within months, it can take years before all appeals are exhausted and they are ordered to leave. Jawad Aref Hashemi, a 43-year-old Afghan who lived in Iran before traveling to Denmark to seek asylum, suggested he won't accept no for an answer. "If people are sent home, they will protest. How will they send us home? In big cars? We are not animals," he said. Abdi Xuseen, a 28-year-old Somali who also sought asylum in Denmark, said "people will hide" or go on hunger strikes if they are forced to leave Europe.

Statistics from the Swedish Migration Agency show 127,000 people have been ordered to leave the country since 2010. About 60,000 did so voluntarily, while 26,000 were depor-ted with coercion and 40,000 absconded. Authorities have little information on the latter group. Some are believed to have left the country, while others remain in Sweden ille-gally, at risk of being exploited in a black market economy. "There has to be noticeable consequences for companies that use illegal labor," Ygeman told Dagens Industri. "If there's a decent illegal labor market the incentive to stay in Sweden will be strong." More than 160,000 people applied for asylum in Sweden last year, the highest number in Europe relative to population size. Ygeman's estimate that 60,000 to 80,000 of them will have to leave was based on the current rejection rate of about 45 percent.
© The Christian Science Monitor

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Netherlands: Officials, experts criticise Dutch Greek island refugee ferry plan

28/1/2016- The Dutch plan to send asylum seekers who arrive on the Greek islands in small boats back to Turkey by ferry does not meet the UN treaty on the treatment of refugees, according to EU officials. A spokesman for European commission chairman Jean-Claude Juncker described the plan as ‘illegal’ and said that the ‘EU does not get involved in pushing refugees back’. Former European commissioner Karel De Gucht told Belgian radio the plan is ‘unrealistic’. In addition, Turkey does not meet the criteria as a safe country for all categories of refugees, the Dutch refugee organisation Vluchtelingenwerk said.

Mass grave
Stemming the surge in refugee numbers is a key part of the Dutch presidency of the EU which started at the beginning of this year. The plan was outlined by Labour party leader Diederik Samsom in an interview with the Volkskrant newspaper on Thursday morning. ‘The Aegean Sea has become a mass grave,’ Samsom told Radio 1. ‘Last year 3,700 people died. Millions of refugees are risking their lives to come here and we have to stop it.’ Samsom said it is likely the EU will agree to the plan and that the first ferries would leave in March or April. Migrants then arriving on Lesbos, Chios or Kos would be taken back to Turkey, where they had come from. Turkey, he said, is willing to accept them back on the condition that the EU allows in 150,000 to 200,000 refugees a year.

Shared costs
Talks have been ongoing with Turkey and it still has to amend a number of rules and improve its treatment of Syrian refugees, Samsom said. ‘It has to be a safe country,’ he said. ‘Much has improved in the past six months. Syrians can now work and go to school and they have more perspective. A few more changes and Turkey will be ready to make deals.’ A key group of some 10 EU countries must be willing to accept the refugees who are admitted to Europe. Those that don’t will have to contribute to the cost of the care, he said.
© The Dutch News

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Hungary PM Backs Bulgaria on Refugee Crisis

Hungarian leader Victor Orban and Bulgaria's Boyko Borissov are meeting on Friday in Sofia to discuss strengthening protection of the EU's external borders.

28/1/2016- Hungarian Prime Minister Orban arrives in Sofia on Thursday for a two-day visit, which was not announced in advance, to discuss the state of the EU's external borders. Yavor Siderov, adviser to Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister Meglena Kuneva, said Orban and Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov would “discuss the refugee crisis and the [passport-free] Schengen [zone]”. The Hungarian Prime Minister is well known for his hardline opposition to the German policy of letting in large numbers of refugees. His government was initially criticized for erecting a barbed-wired fence along Hungary's southern border to curb migration from the Balkans. Hungary is also among the Central European countries that oppose the European Commission’s quota system for relocation of asylum seekers.

Bulgaria is one of the few new EU members states that accepted the quota system and was trying to fulfill agreements made at EU level to manage the crisis. However, since the beginning of 2016, Bulgaria's position on the migration crisis has toughened, which explains the warming of relations with Hungary. In a speech to parliament on 13 January, Borissov said the EU's external borders should be shut immediately against new migrants and asylum seekers. Orban’s visit comes just a week after his Foreign Minister, Peter Szijjarto, met his Bulgarian colleague, Daniel Mitov, in Sofia and reaffirmed Hungary’s support for Bulgaria’s bid to joint the Schengen area. Szijjarto said Bulgaria had done more than many Schengen member states in guarding the external borders of the EU.

Bulgaria's Schengen bid has been on hold as some EU member states want to see more evidence of reforms before it joins the no-border zone. During a meeting with the Slovenian Prime Minister, Miro Cerar, on January 23, Orban suggested that a fence should be built along the Greek borders with Macedonia and Bulgaria. “If we are unable to protect the external borders of the European Union, however costly and arduous that effort may be, we ourselves will destroy the Schengen system,” Orban said. “Hungary supports Bulgaria’s entry into Schengen and Orban will not miss the opportunity to declare his support publicly,” Louisa Slavkova, Programme Manager in the European Council for Foreign Relations, told BIRN. She added that the visits of the Hungarian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister to Bulgaria are proof that the countries are closening relations.
© Balkan Insight

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Macedonia Hails Slovene Plan to Stop Migrants

Macedonia has welcomed Slovenia's plan for security on Macedonia's border with Greece to be increased in order to stem the flow of migrants moving towards Western Europe.

27/1/2016- Macedonia's Foreign Ministry told BIRN that the Slovenian initiative, which calls for greater EU support to reinforce the Macedonian border, was a good idea that would relieve pressure on the country, which lies right on the Western Balkan route taken by refugees and migrants. “Macedonia welcomes all initiatives for help and assistance coming from the EU. This crisis with migrants concerns us dearly and we are waiting to see how this plan will be put in effect,” the Foreign Ministry told BIRN. The Slovenian plan essentially envisages that most of the migrants who are now entering Greece would stay there. This would reduce pressure on Western Balkan countries that are on the refugee route and ultimately curb the flow of migrants to countries like Germany and Austria.

Amid criticism that Greece is failing to curb the flow of migrants to other EU countries, Brussels has confirmed that it is considering strengthening border controls in Macedonia. The European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, has backed the Slovenian plan to practically move the EU border for migrants from Greece to Macedonia. According to POLITICO news site, in a letter sent on Monday, Juncker gave clear support for the Slovenian initiative. “I welcome your suggestion,” Juncker wrote to Slovenia’s Prime Minister, Miro Cerar, assuring him that the Commission supported his plan for all EU countries to “provide assistance [to Macedonia] to support controls on the border with Greece through the secondment of police/law enforcement officers and the provision of equipment.” POLITICO says it saw a copy of the letter.

Juncker further wrote that since Macedonia was not an EU member state, EU countries would have to reach bilateral agreements with Skopje to be able to send their own police forces to the border. However, he also urged changing the rules that currently prevent the deployment of EU frontier, Frontex, officers outside EU territory. Germany, Austria and The Netherlands have recently strongly criticized Greece for not preventing the flow of migrants and have threatened to exclude Athens from the passport-free Schengen zone if it fails to do more to control its borders. The member states "gave a clear signal" that if they cannot stop the migrants from reaching Greece, they will consider helping Greece's neighbour, Macedonia, to better seal its border to slow the movement of migrants to other European countries, Dutch State Secretary Klaas Dijkhoff told a meeting of EU ministers in Amsterdam on Monday.

Despite the onset of winter, more than 2,000 people are still arriving in Greece daily, mostly through the sea route from Turkey, EU figures show. Athens is under pressure to register and keep those coming in. Macedonian police on Tuesday said that some 2.500 people entered Macedonia on their way towards Western European countries. However, Macedonia, now only lets in refugees from war-torn countries like Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, while keeping the others at bay.
© Balkan Insight

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Sweden and Denmark are not all warm welcomes and cuddly politics (opinion)

We in Britain have big misconceptions about our Nordic neighbours. The two are very different – and much less relaxed about immigration than we thought 
By Andrew Brown


28/1/2016- We seem to be in the middle of a huge re-evaluation of the image of Sweden and Denmark. Instead of being warm, cuddly countries that are progressive and welcoming, immigrants are running wild. And in response to this, policies are being managed by neo-Nazis. On the one hand there are stories of Denmark seizing asylum seekers’ cash and valuables. On the other, the Swedes, are apparently preparing mass deportations. The relationship between Sweden and Denmark is a complex one, involving some carefully nurtured differences. For much of their history Sweden was poorer, more militaristic, and less close to the civilisation of Germany and France. But in the 20th century this reversed: Denmark was invaded and occupied in the second world war, while Sweden prospered from its neutrality and allowed German troops to transit to fight in Norway and Finland.

The fertile farmland of Denmark turned out to be worth much less than the timber and ore of the immense Swedish back country, which provided the raw materials for engineering firms that grew into powerful multinationals. The Swedes came to look down on their neighbours, just as they looked down on the rest of the world generally; the Danes thought of the Swedes as pious, tight and smug. Within Sweden itself, the southern province of Skåne, which faces Denmark across the Sound, had an identity (and an accent) entirely distinct from Stockholm. All through the 50s and 60s, Sweden took in large numbers of Finnish immigrants looking for industrial work. In the 70s, it began to take in political refugees, at first Kurds and Latin Americans.

This never caught on in Denmark, but a generosity to refugees became part of Swedish self-image. It was never a wholly accurate part: when I moved there, in the mid-70s, I remember my then sister-in-law saying quite unselfconsciously that she could never imagine marrying a foreigner. I don’t think it occurred to her that I had done that myself when I married her sister. In those days, in any case, it seemed that Sweden and Denmark were blessed with wealth that would always provide for everyone. Both countries practised an authoritarian and egalitarian form of social democracy. Both were serious about the equality of women: one of the few parts of the British image of the two countries that is entirely accurate is the excellence of the childcare arrangements and the genuine widespread agreement that being a parent is one of the most important things anyone can do.

The strains first started towards the end of the 80s, when the money ran out for both economies. The ruling Social Democrats practised quite rigorous austerities – in many ways the Swedish Social Democrats are far to the right of the British Tories, just as Swedish Conservatives can seem far to the left of much of the Labour party in their concern for social cohesion. The economic crunch overlapped with a great rush of refugees from the Balkan war and the two together led to considerable tensions: there were riots in some provincial towns, and a deranged sniper (who had himself been mocked as a foreigner at school because his mother was German and his hair was dark) started shooting dark-skinned people at random in Stockholm.

That crisis passed, but the tensions only went under the surface. Refugee immigration continued, increasingly from the Middle East and Somalia. The new immigrants concen-trated in satellite towns built around the big cities in the 60s. They did worse at school and in the labour market. Official Sweden largely ignored the problem. At Lund University, later that decade, four young men from the backwoods of Skåne formed a plan to take over the Sweden Democrats, a moribund group with strong neo-Nazi sympathies, and turn it into a political party. All of the official parties shunned them. Meanwhile, in Denmark, anti-immigrant feeling had moved into mainstream politics and been embraced by the right and accepted as legitimate by the left. But the conservative party in Sweden was entirely neo-liberal and Stockholm based. It believed Swedish business needed immigrants, and despised the Sweden Democrats as fascist yokels as – actually, almost everyone in Stockholm did.

It became a matter of national pride among Swedes that they were not racist and had no problem with refugees, unlike the Danes. When this illusion burst last year, with the increasing popularity of the Sweden Democrats (now nudging 20% in the opinion polls) and the collapse of the overloaded system for processing refugees, the country entered its present period of anxiety and confusion. I think it’s certain that the mood will get much uglier, and find this prospect horribly distressing. The Danes, meanwhile, have long enjoyed predicting a horrible doom for Sweden. They are absolutely determined not to become a dumping ground for refugees that Sweden rejects. Hence the theatrical, deliberate nastiness of their policies towards asylum seekers today. However, before British readers get too smug, it is worth remembering that even the Danish government has a policy that is no stricter than our own. History will remember that both Danes and Swedes really did sincerely try to relieve the suffering of less fortunate countries.
© Comment is free - Guardian

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Denmark: Far right lead polls as Social Democrats suffer "tsunami"

29/1/2016- Denmark's far-right topped opinion polls Friday as the nation's once dominant Social Democrats crashed in popularity. The Dansk Folkeparti or Danish People Party - once the butt of jokes - was the biggest winner as voters deserted the old centre-left certainties. The poll, in the daily newspaper Politiken, put the Folkeparti on around a fifth of the vote, about the same as they got in last year's general election. But the Social Democrats lost a quarter of their support, plunging below 20 per cent in what one Politiken analysts referred to as a "negative tsunami". Denmark's Social Democrats are now polling even lower than their Scottish sister party, Labour, after their 2015 Tsunami. The reason for their decline: backing asylum policies seen as brutal in much of the rest of Europe. Politiken ran a cartoon showing Social Democrat leader Mette Frederiksen looking out of her window on a multi-cultural street with a red rose, symbol of her party, wilting in a jar.

Their fate comes after party MPs backed Denmark's highly controversial laws confiscating valuables from refugees. Human rights activists have denounced the move as degrading and inhumane. The Danish government says it is simply applying the same rules to migrants as to Danes who receive social benefits. But the row has propelled Denmark - usually seen as a bastion of Nordic tolerance and relaxed "hygge" cosiness - in to the international limelight. Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei this week withdraw his works from two museums in Denmark. Speaking of the new law, he said: "Basically it's an insult to human dignity to have that kind of policy." The world media poured scorn on Denmark, with one cartoon in The Guardian portraying Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen as a comedy Hitler. The Guardian wasn't the first do put some hair on Mr Rasmussen's lip. Last year Egyptian-born Danish stand-up comic Omar Marzouk did the same.
© The Herald Scotland

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Denmark Immigration Law Violates the Human Rights of Vulnerable Refugees

Human Rights First today called on the Obama Administration to urge Denmark to abandon the newly-passed immigration law that allows for the seizure of assets from refugees and prolongs the separation of refugee families, and to encourage all states to respect the human rights of refugees fleeing violence and persecution in search of safety.

27/1/2016- "Punishing refugee families—many who have already lost their homes and endured extreme trauma—by preventing families from reuniting for over three years and seizing their assets is the wrong approach. While many countries are facing challenges as they respond to the greatest refugee crisis since World War II, the United States should call on Denmark and all states to respect the basic human rights of refugees and to refrain from policies designed to deter refugees from fleeing to their countries,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer. "This approach sends a troubling message to the rest of the world and to the countries that are hosting millions of refugees. It is also a jarring reminder of the notorious seizures of the assets of Jewish people during the Holocaust, and is unworthy of countries that should stand for human rights and the protection of the persecuted."

According to news reports, the new Danish law allows the government to seize the assets of refugees who arrive in the country with total assets worth more than 10,000 kroner (approximately $1,450 USD). The seized assets will be used to help fund the cost of services provided to refugees. The Danish law also extends the waiting period for relatives of refugees in Denmark who would like to apply to be resettled in the country from one year to three years. Human Rights First notes that, according to a spokesperson, the new immigration law was initially proposed by the far-right Danish People’s Party (DF). This comes as far-right extremist and antisemitic parties in Europe have increased their political power in the past few years.

The world is facing the largest refugee crisis since World War II, with over 60 million people displaced. Over 4 million Syrians have fled their country due to conflict and persecution, and 7.6 million are displaced within Syria in need of humanitarian assistance. Many of these refugees have been stranded for years in neighboring countries where they cannot work or support their families, have little access to education, and lack the level of humanitarian assistance they need. Frontline states and key U.S. allies including Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan continue to host the majority of the approximately 4 million refugees who have fled Syria, struggling under the strain of hosting so many refugees.
© Human Rights First

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Danish parliament approves plan to seize assets from refugees

New law allows police to search asylum seekers to secure cash and valuables, as European leaders continue to call for sealing of Balkan borders

26/1/2016- European states have reacted in some of the most drastic ways yet to the continent’s biggest migration crisis since the second world war, with Denmark enacting a law that allows police to seize refugees’ assets. The vote in the Danish parliament on Tuesday, which followed similar moves in Switzerland and southern Germany, came as central European leaders amplified calls to seal the borders of the Balkans, a move that would risk trapping thousands of asylum seekers in Greece. Under the new Danish law, police will be allowed to search asylum seekers on arrival in the country and confiscate any non-essential items worth more than 10,000 kroner (£1,000) that have no sentimental value to their owner. The centre-right government said the procedure is intended to cover the cost of each asylum seeker’s treatment by the state, and mimics the handling of Danish citizens on welfare.

Elsewhere in Europe, the Czech and Slovakian prime ministers condemned Greece’s inability to prevent hundreds of thousands of refugees from moving onwards to northern European countries. They jointly called for increased border protection to block the passage of refugees from Greece, a day after EU interior ministers said they were willing to consider the suspension of the Schengen agreement that allows free passage between most EU countries. Robert Fico, the Slovakian prime minister, said: “There must be a backup plan, regardless of whether Greece stays in Schengen. We must find an effective border protection.” The idea outraged the Greek government, which must now consider the possibility of hundreds of thousands of refugees being unable to leave Greece, which is struggling with high unemployment and economic strife. 

Nikos Xydakis, Greece’s alternate foreign minister for EU affairs, called the idea “hysterical” and warned that it could lead to the fragmentation of Europe. “If every country raises a fence, we return to the cold war period and the iron curtain. This isn’t EU integration – this is EU fragmentation.” The Greek government faces calls to take tougher action to block the passage of the thousands of refugees arriving in Greece by boat every day, but Xydakis said the only way of stopping them would be to shoot them – an option that Greece was not willing to take, even if it meant being fenced in. “If Europe is to put Greece in a deep humanitarian crisis, let’s see it [happen],” he said in an interview with the Guardian on Tuesday. “We are in the sixth year of a depression and [have] unemployment of 25% … But if our colleagues and partners in the EU think that we have to let people drown or sink their boats, we can’t do that. Maybe we will suffer, but we will manage.”

Amid the disagreement, the UN said the prospects of Europe standing together to share the burden of the refugee crisis seemed ever more distant. Peter Sutherland, the UN secretary general’s special representative for international migration, said: “Day by day, the likelihood of a common European approach to the migrant crisis seems to be receding – and such a common approach is indispensable to finding any solutions.” The darkening mood was embodied by Denmark’s decision to seize refugee assets, a move that the UN described as concerning and regrettable. An academic specialist confirmed that Danes are expected to use their own income before claiming benefits, but pointed out that except on rare occasions, police do not have the right to search Danish welfare claimants. Rights campaigners have criticised the laws, which will also prevent refugees from applying to be reunited with their children for three years, and will only give war refugees from Syria one year of protection.

Earlier this month, Marcus Knuth, a government spokesman, told the Guardian that it was “ludicrous” to compare the new law to the treatment of Jews during the Holocaust, since similar laws apply to Danish citizens receiving benefits. “We’re simply applying the same rules we apply to Danish citizens who wish to take money from the Danish government,” he said.  But opponents of the law argue that while refugees can in general still expect to be treated humanely in Denmark, the legislation is ethically unsound. Pernille Skipper, a member of parliament and the legal affairs spokesperson for Enhedslisten, a leftwing Danish party, said: “Morally, it is a horrible way to treat people fleeing mass crimes, war, rapes. They are fleeing from war and how do we treat them? We take their jewellery.”

Asylum seekers in Denmark burst into tears when they heard the news that the law had passed. Jean Claude Mangomba, a 48-year-old English teacher and former army officer, fled Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo after he was arrested for supporting a priest who opposed the Congolese regime. “Most people are fleeing war, they are running away, and when they flee they take with them all that they can. That doesn’t make them wealthy or criminals,” he said. “And if they bring money with them, it will help Denmark. They will exchange the money into Danish kroner and spend it here. So why does the Danish government want to take this money away from them, take away their valuable objects? It makes no sense. “The new law is very bad, really they just want to send us back. I didn’t choose to come here, I came here suddenly, I fled, I was lucky to get out, I was desperate. “I have not seen my wife and three children for three years. With the new law, it will take many more years before I can see them again. I am losing hope. The asylum system here kills people slowly.”

Klaus Petersen, a professor at the Centre for Welfare State Research near Odense, confirmed that Danish welfare claimants have to give up their savings before they receive benefits – but not their valuables, unlike refugees. They will also not be searched, except in rare circumstances. “A Danish citizen could be searched in an extreme case if the municipality has a suspicion of fraud, but you need court permission to do so. For refugees, you would not need a court permission,” he said. A regional spokesman for the UN refugee agency, Zoran Stevanović, said: “Denmark has traditionally been an inspiration to others for setting human rights standards. However, rather than showing and providing solidarity and sanctuary, Denmark is focusing on developing and implementing individual and restrictive responses. UNHCR regrets that Denmark is introducing restrictions to its asylum policy rather than focusing on building and promoting a fair distribution of asylum seekers within all countries in the EU.

“The law introduces restrictive measures on asylum seekers that increasingly hinder their ability to apply for asylum in Denmark. We are particularly concerned by reduced social benefits and restricted access to family reunification. We are also concerned that refugees with temporary protection are only allowed to reside in Denmark for one year and yet are only able to apply for family reunification after three years.” Crying in the aftermath of the law’s implementation, Zohra, 21, from Afghanistan, said: “To refugees thinking of coming to Denmark, I would tell them: if there is any chance you can stay where you are, then don’t come here to Europe, especially to Denmark. The Danish government is making harder and harder rules for everyone. “People are not coming here just for fun, they have enormous problems at home. When I decided to flee Afghanistan, I didn’t chose a country to go to because it’s nice or rich, I just came here to be safe, to live. We have only a little money, but we need it to live, to start a new life with that money.”
© The Guardian

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UK: British contractor drops wristbands for refugees after outcry

25/1/2016- A government contractor has dropped a requirement for refugees in the Welsh city of Cardiff to wear coloured wristbands, following claims by refugee agencies that the practice was similar to the public identification of Jews in Nazi Germany. Jo Stevens, the Labour member of parliament for Cardiff Central, said an operations director of contractor Clearsprings Ready Homes told her the company would drop its use of the wristbands, which it had used to identify people entitled to food and other benefits. "But the wristband issue is not over," Stevens said on Twitter. "I've written to the government minister with a series of questions about how this was allowed to operate in the first place." The Welsh Refugee Council said it had raised the issue with the government after refugees complained that the wristbands made them easily identifiable in public and more likely to face discrimination and abuse. "It harks back to the Nazi regime with people being forced to wear a Star of David and stand out," said Hannah Wharf, the refugee council's policy officer. "It's absolutely appalling, it is treating people like lesser beings," Wharf said. "It is treating them like animals lining up to feed."

The controversy follows reports last week that another contractor, G4S, had painted many front doors red on houses provided to refugees in the north-eastern city of Middles-borough, making the occupants vulnerable to abuse by local residents. "It is outrageous that, in the space of a week, two incidents have emerged that demonstrate a careless attitude by government subcontractors to the safety and well-being of vulnerable asylum seekers," said Stephen Hale, chief executive of London-based Refugee Action. "Any measure by housing providers which stigmatizes or further isolates people who have already fled the horrors of war and persecution to seek safety in Britain has to be stopped," Hale said. G4S said there was "categorically no policy to house asylum seekers behind red doors," but it promised to "address the issue by repainting front doors in the area so that there is no predominant colour."
© DPA

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Greeks who saved thousands of refugees nominated for Nobel Peace Prize - petition gains 290,000 signatures

25/1/2016- A petition calling for nomination of Greek islanders, who help save thousands of refugees, for the Nobel Peace Prize gained over 293,000 signatures from around the world on Sunday. According to the recent data of the EU border agency Frontex, some 880,000 of refugees arrived in Greece in 2015, while the Greek islands of Lesbos, Chios and Samos saw the biggest number of people coming to their shores by sea. "Ordinary residents of Greek islands and other volunteers have been on the front lines of Europe's refugee crisis for months... For their compassion and courage, for treating those in danger with humanity, and for setting an example for the rest of the world to follow, we citizens from around the world, nominate these brave women and men for a Nobel Peace Prize," the petition named "Nobel Peace Prize for Greek Islanders" said.

The nomination deadline is February 1. Those interested in signing the petition may visit the Avaaz website here.

Europe is struggling to find a solution to a massive refugee crisis, with hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing conflict-torn countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Frontex detected over 1.83 million illegal border crossings in 2015, in contrast to some 283,000 in 2014.
© Signs of the Times

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Greece risks Schengen expulsion over migrant crisis

25/1/2016- Threats are mounting to expel Greece from the EU's border-free Schengen zone, as interior ministers meet on Monday (25 January) in Amsterdam to discuss extending border controls for two years. Austria’s interior minister, Johanna Mikl-Leitner, said on her way into the informal meeting in the Dutch city: “It's clear that that if we can't secure the Greek-Turkish border, the Schengen border will move to central Europe.” “We have to name things by name, everyone knows we need to secure borders,” she said, adding that Greece must act as soon as possible to protect the EU’s external borders. “It's a myth that Greece can't secure the borders. It has one of the largest navies in Europe,” she said, adding that she is “sure” Europe needs a common border and coastal guard. Luxembourg’s minister of internal security, Etienne Schneider, disagreed with his Austrian colleague, however. He said, on his way in, that “we need to preserve Schengen”, and that the recent Luxembourg EU presidency sent recommendations to individual member states on what they could do better.

Schengen 'existential threat'
The discussions come amid moves by Germany and Austria to tighten border checks, with German interior minister Thomas de Maiziere last week announcing indefinite controls. EU law limits internal border checks to six months, but they can be expanded to two years should Greece's external borders prove to pose an existential threat to the passport-free zone. With the German border check deadline approaching in May and expectations high that many more refugees will arrive in summer, talks of a Greek Schengen expulsion have resurfaced. Similar statements were made last year by Slovak prime minister Robert Fico. “We just cannot put up with a member country that has openly given up on safeguarding the Schengen area borders," he said at a parliamentary hearing in December. The central European nation is taking over the EU presidency in July and is pushing to launch a new EU border agency, which could post guards to the Greek external border even if Athens doesn’t want it.

Ongoing evaluation
The Greeks, for their part, face an almost insurmountable task given they have to patrol their many islands, while thousands continue to disembark from Turkey on a daily basis. Despite having asked other EU states for help, Athens has had to face the mass movement of refugees from Turkey mostly alone. So-called hotspots, an EU plan to screen, register, and identify arrivals on the islands, have largely failed as EU states lag far behind on pledges to send personnel and staff to help. Over 800,000 people arrived last year alone, with Greek islanders and local fisherman helping and rescuing thousands. In November, under pressure from EU governments, Athens agreed to also increase registrations.

Meanwhile, EU officials late last year were sent to spot check Greek border gaps as part of a Schengen evaluation report. The report, which will feed into whether or not to expel Greece from Schengen, has been kept under wraps from the public. An EU official told MEPs in the European Parliament civil liberties committee in December that the report would soon be submitted and adopted by the Schengen evaluation committee. Sources say the commission's report on Greece's inability to protect the external borders, which is needed to trigger the temporary expulsion of Greece from Schengen, is still in the making, and will be ready by the next EU summit, in mid-February.
© The EUobserver

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Slovakia: Former far-right party near power with tough migration stance

27/1/2016- Slovakia should reject quotas to share migrants around the European Union and prevent any large Muslim minority from taking root in the country, the most likely junior partner in the country's next government says. Andrej Danko and his conservative Slovak National Party (SNS) stand a strong chance of joining the govern-ment if leftist Prime Minister Robert Fico needs a coalition partner after Slovakia's general election on March 5. The SNS governed with him a decade ago when its xenophobic views against Roma and Hungarian minorities raised concern among European Socialists. After the SNS won no seats in the 2012 election, Danko has raised its support to near 10 percent with a more moderate tone, tax cut plans for small businesses, criticism of privatizations and a strong stance against immigration. Fico has echoed that position on migrants in recent months.

Attorney Danko, 41, told Reuters his party wanted the EU to better protect its borders against migrants, who he said were mostly young men fleeing problems rather trying to fix them. "They disrupt the EU's administrative system and pose a security threat. It does not matter they are unarmed, it is a mass incursion," he said in the interview on Monday. "There are 750,000 young men (in Europe) claiming to be persecuted at home (and) not thinking about how to liberate their mothers and wives," he said. More than 1 million migrants came to Europe last year, most heading to richer EU countries such as Germany.

Slovakia received only 169 asylum requests last year but has been assigned 802 migrants under the EU scheme. The government has filed a lawsuit against the quotas and said it wanted to accept only Christian immigrants. The anti-immigration stance finds an echo with voters in this largely Catholic country of 5.4 million. There are some 5,000 Muslims living in Slovakia. Danko said the party wanted to raise the bar for a religion to receive state funding to 50,000 members from 20,000 now, which would disqualify the Muslims for the visible future. SNS's popularity was falling before Danko took it over three years ago and expelled its far-right leader Jan Slota. Its rhetoric now does not stand out in Slovak politics. "I don't want SNS to be a xenophobic, racist and nationalist party but a proud patriotic party, even a republican party that will ... attract voters without adopting extremist positions," Danko said.
© Reuters

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Slovakia: After death of five children, int'l organisation calls on authorities to take action

26/1/2016- In the first week of 2016 two small Romani children died in Košice, Slovakia. Both the 6- and 4-month-old boys died in a segregated neighbourhood. Three more minors died last weekend in a Roma settlement in Lomnička village in Central Slovakia. Considering that these deaths were utterly preventable, the European Roma Rights Centre calls on Slovak authorities to take immediate action. Roma in Slovakia are often forced to live in unsafe, hazardous and unhealthy housing conditions. On the 1st and 3rd of January this year one child was burned to death and another froze to death in Mašličkovo, a Roma settlement on the outskirts of the Eastern-Slovakian city of Košice. The series of tragedies continued this weekend when three minors died after a wooden shack caught fire in a Roma settlement in Lomnička, Slovak media has reported.

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has affirmed that domestic authorities must “do all that could reasonably be expected of them to avoid a real and immediate risk to life of which they had or ought to have had knowledge.” The ECtHR has also stated that in circumstances where children are at risk because of the economic and social conditions of the families, the appropriate response is for States to provide support to allow the families to stay together and the children to be safe. The facts surrounding the death of these Romani children in Slovakia strongly suggest to us that authorities in Slovakia have violated their obligations.

“The authorities knew or ought to have known that lives were at risk and that they had a legal obligation to take action. These small children are the fatal casualties of more than two decades of discriminatory neglect in housing policies for marginalised Roma communities.” – says Đorđe Jovanović, ERRC Network and Research Director. The European Roma Rights Centre has published a letter of concern in which we call on the municipal, regional, and national authorities to work together as a matter of urgency to develop a sustainable solution. We demand that authorities take immediate action to ensure that Slovakia’s most vulnerable citizens have adequate shelter and safe living conditions to prevent further fatalities this winter.

Furthermore, we call upon the authorities to allocate resources and adhere to a fixed time frame to ensure that residents of Luník IX, the surrounding settlements and all Roma living in segregated housing conditions have access to adequate and safe housing. We urge the authorities to use European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) resources to implement integrated housing solutions for Roma.
The letter of concern has been sent to Mayor Richard Raši, Mayor of the City of Košice, Dr Peter Pollák, Government Proxy for the Roma Community, JUDr. Jana Dubovcová, Ombudsperson, JUDr. Zdenko Trebuľa, Head of the Košice Self-governing Region, Marcel Šaňa, Mayor of Luník IX and Prime Minister Robert Fico.
© European Roma Rights Center

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Migrants are desperate to get to Europe — just not France

24/1/2016-  From his freezing polythene and wooden shack on an icy verge in Calais’ migrant camp, Ahmed has a commanding view of the sparkling white containers the French government has provided for the growing population. The draught-proof, heated units are arranged in two-story rows in a graveled compound, complete with electricity and a green perimeter fence for security. Bunks are fitted with new mattresses and clean, crisp sheets. But Ahmed, who arrived in Calais’ so-called Jungle migrant camp after a year-long journey from his native Darfur region in Sudan, says he has no intention of accepting the government’s hospitality because he thinks there is a catch. “There is a problem with that place,” says the 28-year-old, stretching an arm and pointing to the containers about 20 yards away. “If I accept to go there, they will take my details and when I go to England, the authorities will tell me that I have to return to live in France.”

In 2015, more than 1m migrants from the Middle East and beyond poured across the EU borders to flee war and violence. But as Europe contends with its biggest refugee crisis since the second world war, it seems that hardly any of the migrants want to make France a home. In September last year, Europe’s second-biggest economy promised 24,000 places — on top of an earlier pledge of about 6,000 — as part of a special programme for migrants arriving in Greece or Italy from war-torn Eritrea, Iraq and Syria. Until last week, only 19 — all Eritreans, now living in Nantes — have been relocated. “That is very few, of course,” Pascal Brice, director-general of Ofpra, the public body responsible for asylum issues in France, admitted to the Financial Times. “They want to go to Germany mainly because of the economic situation there,” he said. “They are not very interested in other member states.”

Talk to most migrants already in France and they will tell you that one of the reasons they do not consider the country an option is that the language is tough to learn. But François Gemenne, a migration-studies researcher at France’s Sciences Po and the University of Liège in Belgium, argues that there are other factors at work. One of them is that France’s asylum application process is arduous — even with a reform last year, it takes at least 18 months to get a definitive answer and the success rate hovers at about 30 per cent. “The asylum system in France is totally bankrupt,” he concludes. To make things worse, the few migrants who apply for asylum in France are not allowed to work during the first nine months of their application, which is not the case in many other EU countries. More fundamentally, perhaps, migrants are well informed about France’s record-high unemployment rate — a constant thorn in the side of President François Hollande’s government.

Then there is the bad press. Some of that comes from the continuing rise of the far-right National Front in France, accompanied by its anti-immigration rhetoric. Another source of information comes from the human traffickers who organise the business of ferrying people from Africa, the Middle East and Asia into Europe. “Smugglers are like travel agents,” says Mr Gemenne. “The migrants are their victims and they are also captive to what they tell them to do.”  Philippe Mignonet, Calais’ deputy mayor, agrees. “The traffickers manipulate the migrants all the time,” he told the Financial Times this week. Mr Mignonet estimates that the migrant crisis netted human traffickers between €4bn-€5bn in profits in 2014 alone. “You can imagine that they are not prepared to stop their business,” he says. There are some exceptions to those wanting to leave France. Saber, a 25-year-old from Darfur, stands on a windy street corner in Nantes in western France outside the premises of an organisation he hopes will help him prepare his application for refugee status. “I think my journey has finally ended,” he says. “I am in a safe place now.”

Mohammed, a 23-year-old migrant also fleeing violence in Darfur, says that he arrived in Nantes last week after spending more than half a year in Calais trying to get to the UK. “It is too difficult to cross,” he says. “At this point, I think that France is my best option.” The difficulty of getting to the UK has lengthened migrants’ average stay in the Jungle, which, mixed with a deluge of support from French and English volunteers, has turned the camp into what is starting to look more like a town — albeit one from the Wild West. A year and a half ago, most of the living quarters consisted of flimsy nylon tents. Today, they are made of wood, many have glass windows and sturdy, insulated waterproof covers. Most of the structures along the main thoroughfares have morphed into businesses.

Moheb, a tall Afghani with jet black hair, green eyes and dense stubble that stretches towards his chest, works at the Hamid Karzai restaurant. On the menu today is chicken, mixed vegetables, spicy spinach with chick peas, various curries and a selection of puddings. He says that daily sales have sometimes reached €150. Down the road, a Kurd from Iraq has set up a barbers’ shop. Haircuts are €5. The Jungle now has its own bookstore, school, mosque, churches and a plethora of shops. There is even a hamam. But even with all these amenities, few migrants want to stay.

Matin Mohammed Arif Akbari, for one, can think of little beyond getting out of France. On this freezing morning, he stands next to a bucket of water he fetched the previous night that has turned to ice. The former member of Afghanistan’s army wears a pair of donated shoes like slippers because they are two sizes too small. He has already tried to cross into England more than a dozen times, and complains that it is almost impossible to slip through. Even so, he does not see a future in France. “There is no path to a job here,” he says. “In England, it’s easier to get papers and there is plenty of work.”
© The Financial Times.

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Has History Taught Us Anything About Refugees?(opinion)

By Daniel Raphael, Senior at Manhattanville College

25/1/2016- It has only been seven decades since the Holocaust and the exodus of Jewish refugees into Western Europe and North America. The images of the Holocaust, the images of one of the worst regimes in history still lives within the minds of many. Millions of Jews and 'social outcasts', were killed under this brutal regime, a regime influenced by a mixture of neo-nationalist ideology and a violent interpretation of religion. Jews had indeed been persecuted throughout the centuries, but the Holocaust is the most brutal example of this. This mass exodus of Jews escaping the clutches of the Nazis had few places to go, yet they were determined to search for a better life. Many of these Jews tried to reach North America and enter the United States and other perceived safe havens. The United States refused to settle the majority of these refugees for a variety of disturbing reasons, though perhaps most notably that Jews were communists and were bent on overthrowing the Capitalist system of the United States. This bizarre belief system equated Judaism with communism due to the founder of communism, Karl Marx, being Jewish himself.

Americans had an extremely negative perception of Jews, and very few wanted to resettle Jews in the United States. When polled in 1939 on the question of taking 10,000 refugee children from Germany, most of whom were Jewish, the vast majority of Americans opposed an influx of Jewish refugees. Only 30% of Americans polled were willing to accept Jewish children into the United States, German Jewish children who were being slaughtered by perhaps the most brutal regime in history.

In the 21st century we look back at the inaction of the United States to take Jewish refugees with horror, as indeed we should. There are millions of refugees from countries like Syria, Iraq and Eritrea who cannot return to their home country for fear of persecution. This is not including the countless economic migrants who are seeking a better life in the West, a diverse and wide group who pursue a noble good as well. These refugees are people whose livelihood has been destroyed by brutal governments like in Syria and Eritrea, and the world's most brutal manifestation of theocracy. These are people who have rejected the extreme interpretation of Islam preached by ISIS, Al Nusra, and other Jihadist groups controlling territory in Syria and Iraq (they also control a limited amount of territory in other countries like Yemen, Afghanistan and Lebanon.)

It is important to remember that no one is advocating for the United States to take all economic migrants, nor even all refugees. These are very different groups, with economic migrants coming from poorer countries whom they could theoretically live in without a security threat, while refugees cannot return or live in their home country without a fear of persecution. There are many economic migrants from Albania, Bosnia and Serbia, who seek economic opportunities better than what they have in their home country. That does not minimize their noble pursuit, yet we have to make a distinction between those whom very well may be killed if they refuse to leave their home country and those who seek better economic opportunities.

When politicians advocate for a religious test (which is anti-American, and easy for someone to lie on), they are forsaking the core tenants of this country. One of the most notable symbols of 'Americanism' the Statue of Liberty, has inscribed on it, "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore." Obviously there are limits on this phrase, as the United States just like any country has limits when taking refugees, yet to outright reject the symbolism of this American symbol is forsaking the core values of America. Many have taken a hard stance against refugees for fears that there will be terrorists embedded with the refugees, something that is likely true. To simply take over a million refugees without a secure vetting process would be dangerous, and could lead toward straining security systems. Germany has taken over one million refugees thus far, and we can see that while perhaps a noble goal it has had its consequences. It is almost important to note that there have been no terrorist attacks by refugees in Europe despite all the fear mongering, although there has been in Turkey, a nation whom has taken over two million refugees with little to no vetting process.

Beyond the fears of refugees, an immense fear of Muslims has recently taken hold by some Americans, particulary those in the far-right. No one is saying that there are not fundamentalist Muslims who do pose a security threat, yet to generalize about a diverse group is akin toward what Americans did in the 1940s with Jews in their fear of 'Jewish communism.' Recently leading Republican candidate Donald Trump claimed that American Muslims should wear badges to identify them, and that Muslim refugees are not welcome in the United States. He has also claimed that mosques should be closed period, without delving into what the different branches of Islam are. The fundamentalist Muslims we see committing violence come largely from a sect of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism, not from Shias, Sufis and Ahmadis. He has generalized all Muslims (a group of 1.6 billion) as fundamentalist Sunni Wahhabis, a relatively small group when compared toward the larger Muslim population.

No one is saying that we should let in three million refugees without proper vetting and cultural integration, for this would in fact cause immense problems. American culture is different than the culture that many of these refugees grew up in, and this fact will mean that refugees will take time to integrate. When president Obama encouraged congress to let in ten thousand refugees he received immense scrutiny, despite the fact that this is a very small number who could be feasibly integrated. Perhaps I am a tad biased being Jewish who most likely had members of my family die in concentration camps, but this rhetoric sounds almost identical to what was done to Jews not even a century ago. The fact that a leading Republican figure can get support when advocating discrimination against a diverse group of people and can get away with it is deeply disturbing, and it should be rejected by all Americans. It is not a question of faith or politics, rather it a question of what values should America emulate?
© The Huffington Post

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Germany: 'Hand grenade' hurled at refugee home

29/1/2016- An explosive device was hurled against a refugee home in the latest episode of anti-migrant violence in Germany, as the government moved to curtail the number of migrants entering by tightening asylum regulations. Police were hunting for suspects in the overnight incident in the south-western town of Villingen-Schwenningen. Authorities were alerted by residents who saw a man throwing an object against an outside fence. Local media reported it was a hand grenade with the pin removed, but which didn't go off. The premises was evacuated as a bomb squad disposed of the device. Regional police spokesman Thomas Kalmbach told AP "it was just luck" no one was injured. In recent months Germany has seen a number of xenophobic attacks amid increasing hostility towards the more than one million migrants and refugees that arrived in the past year.

On 28 January the government announced its coalition partners have agreed new plans to prolong the waiting period for refugee family reunions and to ease repatriations by desig-nating a number of North African countries as safe. Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said under new rules refugees who didn't face "immediate personal persecution" will have to wait two years before asking for relatives to join them. Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco are also to be deemed safe countries of origin in a move that is to speed up the legal process to send back failed applicants to those countries. Chancellor Angela Merkel is also due discuss the European response to the migrant crisis during talks with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in Berlin on 29 January. Renzi, who said it was "unacceptable" for Germany and France to lay out plans without involving his government, is expected to demand flexibility from the EU on Rome's finances in exchange for supporting a stalling €3bn (£2.2bn, $3.2bn) deal with Ankara to curb crossings from Turkey to Greece.
© The International Business Times - UK

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German Muslim soldier criticizes racism following Cologne attacks

Nariman Reinke, a German soldier of Moroccan origin, decided to take a stand against the Cologne assaults of New Year's Eve and the racism that followed. But she has received a decidedly mixed response.

26/1/2016- In the days after New Year's Eve, police reported that a series of sexual assaults and muggings had occurred around Cologne's central train station. They ultimately received hundreds of complaints and at one point believed that the attacks potentially involved up to 1,000 men of North African origin, primarily Moroccan. Hamburg and Stuttgart witnessed similar incidents, though on a smaller scale. The revelations shocked the German public, with calls to reduce the number of migrants to the country. Thirty-six-year-old Nariman Reinke, daughter of Moroccan parents and now a soldier with the German army, or Bundeswehr, decided to write a Facebook post about the incident. "People began making generalizations," Reinke told DW. "When rumors cropped up that there were some refugees among the offenders, the incident was completely mixed up with Germany's refugee policy. 'You brought the criminals in yourself,' they said. Islam preaches only crime. Then they spoke about Salafism in the same breath, about terror in the same breath. ... It was enough."

She even had to contend with people who accused her of not understanding the plight of the women who had been harassed. "Sexual harassment - against women, men or children- is bad," Reinke said. "I don't want anyone to experience this." Reinke's Facebook post begins with her saying she is a "German and a Muslim." She says she was "ashamed" and felt "sick" when she heard that there were several Moroccans among the men who harassed women in Cologne on December 31. "My parents worked very hard to establish themselves here ..." Reinke told DW. "I cringe when I hear these people who sexually assaulted women were from Morocco." Reinke said she also feels bad when she hears about a refugee home being attacked. "For me it is attempted murder ... because then people say, 'All Germans are Nazis.' And that makes me cringe too."

Reinke's message unleashed an outpouring of reactions. She said her supervisors at the Bundeswehr and her organization Deutscher Soldat, which volunteers for refugee causes, were very cooperative. "I did not realize that it had been shared so much," she said, adding that she was on holiday and looking for wedding dresses with her best friend who was getting married. "I had a lot of positive feedback, but also a lot of negative comments, many racist comments that had nothing to do with what I wrote," Reinke said. Reinke said the attacks would surely have long-term repercussions for foreigners and their children in Germany. "My brother likes keeping a beard, my husband too," she said. "They find it nice. But my brother was beaten up on the street because of the beard because those who did it thought he was a radical Islamist. He had to shave off his beard." Above all, she said, Germany must not begin denying help to persecuted people.
© The Deutsche Welle.

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Germany: Nuremberg planning to open country's first shelter for gay asylum seekers

25/1/2016- The southern German city of Nuremberg is planning to open what is expected to be the nation's first shelter for gay asylum seekers. Up to 10 gay and lesbian refugees are to be housed in an empty two-storey dwelling in the city centre, the operators of the accommodation, the city's gay community group Fliederlich said on Monday. Gay refugees were often discriminated and even physically attacked in asylum accommodation, Fliederlich said. It estimates that of the 8,000 refugees at present housed in Nuremberg, up to 600 are gay. Nuremberg city authorities are to meet the cost of the shelter, with the first refugees expected to move in the coming weeks. Similar accommodation for gay refugees is also planned for Berlin. Local authorities across Germany have been struggling to accommodate the influx of migrants into the country with the total number of newcomers entering the nation topping one million last year.
© The Daily Sabah

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Rural Germany an 'integration laboratory' for refugees

German villages and small towns could hold the key to socially integrating a mass influx of refugees who would in turn help revitalise dwindling rural populations, experts say.

25/1/2016- "The rural regions are a laboratory of integration," said Karl-Friedrich Thoene from the infrastructure and agriculture ministry of the eastern state of Thuringia. Unlike in densely populated big cities, "there can be no parallel societies in rural areas," he said. "The village community is the ideal chance for integration." The lower cost of living, cheaper rents and tight-knit communities in the countryside are main "factors of success" for integrating the newcomers, said Gudrun Kirchhoff, an expert on refugee issues at the German Institute of Urban Affairs. Social life in small communities is typically held together by clubs and associations in which most villagers take part, experts point out. Germany has taken in more than 1.5 million asylum seekers since 2014, from war-torn Syria to Balkan countries. On arrival, they are allocated accommodation across the country, with cities, towns and villages all expected to take their share.

Dwindling rural populations
Wolfgang Borst, mayor of the Bavarian village of Hofheim, population 5,000, is among those who see the influx as an opportunity. "We are very satisfied. We are gaining a lot more villagers," said Borst, who has long been concerned about Hofheim's dwindling population. Of four young Syrians living in Hofheim who have just obtained refugee status, "one will leave, the other three will stay," he said. Borst was speaking at the Grüne Woche (Green Week) agricultural fair in Berlin, which ran until January 24 and where the refugee issue was the subject of many round-table and panel discussions. Some regard the mass arrivals as a huge challenge, but others see it as a chance. And for the refugees themselves, frequently traumatized by the war and destruction they escaped, the peace and quiet of the open countryside can be a godsend.

Hofheim and six nearby communities have taken in a total of 224 migrants and housed them in 19 homes. Their joint "asylum support group" organizes German language courses, traffic safety classes and sporting activities. That is not to say that life in remote and isolated communities is free of problems. Dwellings are frequently far apart, public transport networks are threadbare and people often have to travel long distances to see a doctor or attend a language class. There are also entrenched social structures, very clear ideas about societal norms and often a "latent racism" and distrust of outsiders, said Kirchhoff. More prosaically, Internet connections are often slow and few supermarkets stock the staple foodstuffs that the refugees are used to.

Dismantling prejudice
Gransee, with a population of 4,000 and located 65 kilometres (40 miles) north of Berlin, has opened up a home with space for 80 refugees. "Initially, reactions were hostile," said Klaus Pölitz, co-founder of an initiative called 'Welcome to Gransee'. "Our aim was to prepare for their arrival and dismantle prejudice." When the first Serb family arrived in 2014, he and the mayor used Google Translate software to write a short welcome speech, much to the newcomers' bemusement, Pölitz remembered with a chuckle. While refugees are obliged to stay in their assigned accommodation during the asylum application process, they are free to move once they are given refugee status. And many choose to move to the cities, where more of their compatriots live or the employment prospects are better. Thoene argued that "we need incentives to persuade the migrants to stay" in rural areas.

Gerlinde Augustin, who heads the SDL institute for rural and land development in Augsburg, said care should be taken not to pit the interests of newcomers against those of native inhabitants. A local family who has waited for months for a kindergarten place, for example, may have little understanding if refugees are awarded a place straight away, she said. Timm Fuchs, of the German federation of towns and municipalities, argued that not every village should have to take in refugees, only those that are economically strong enough to cope.
© The Local - Germany

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Finland: The far-right groups ‘protecting women’ from asylum seekers

Finns create a anti-immigrant group called the Soldiers of Odin after reported cases of harassment against women, allegedly by migrants.

1/2/2016- On a frigid night in this industrial city, three local men pulled up to a curb in a beat-up van sporting the stars and bars of the American Confederacy (because, they said, they just liked the look of it). Soon, they joined a dozen other beefy vigilantes gathering on a sidewalk for their first patrol to keep “our women” safe. These are the Soldiers of Odin, a new far-right citizens group sprouting chapters across Finland. Its members are multiplying as this northern nation becomes a case study in the fear and suspicion gripping Europe after multiple sexual assaults allegedly committed by asylum seekers and others on New Year’s Eve. Those incidents, in cities across central and northern Europe, included hundreds of complaints of sexual harassment in Cologne, Germany, as well as 15 alleged sex-related crimes in the Finnish capital, Helsinki.

They have quickly altered the debate over a record wave of asylum seekers arriving in Europe from the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Fresh barriers to new migrants are going up from Sweden to Greece. Germany has announced moves meant to delay refugees from bringing in close family members for at least two years, and to reject and deport more asylum seekers arriving from North Africa. The Danish Parliament backed a measure allowing seizures of cash and valuables from migrants. Citing sexual harassment of women, some public pools and nightclubs in Germany have begun banning men who live in asylum shelters. Vigilante groups are taking to the streets. And Europeans are fretting on social media about an unfolding culture clash with the newcomers. Suddenly, many are asking an uncomfortable question: Do asylum seekers — more specifically, some of the men from conservative Muslim nations — pose an inherent threat to liberated and casually dressed Western women?

“These refugees do not respect our women,” said Ilkka, a 33-year-old sprinkler installer who would give only his first name. “I have four daughters, and they used to be safe in Finland. We need to do something about it.” Critics say the danger is vastly exaggerated, and they denounce the attacks as the work of a few bad characters. Yet even asylum seekers concede that some in their ranks have a steep learning curve to accept progressive Western European norms, especially regarding women. New reports of sex crimes suspected to have been committed by asylum seekers are now emerging in Finland, including several alleged rapes that predate the New Year’s Eve crime wave.

In neighboring Sweden, a 22-year-old female aid worker was stabbed to death last week by a 15-year-old migrant, authorities said. Her death sparked a fresh debate about the security threat posed by the newcomers, who include large numbers of young men traumatized by war. Just as worrying is a spate of hate crimes against asylum seekers, illustrating the new social tensions in European communities like Tampere. A city in south-central Finland bordered by miles of Christmas-tree forests, Tampere saw more than 4,000 asylum seekers, mostly from war-torn Iraq, arrive over the past six months.

In that time, there have been at least 50 incidents involving asylum seekers as either suspects or victims — including the alleged rape of a Finnish woman and the alleged stalking of a local teenage girl. Even foreign-born residents who have lived here for years say they have noticed a disturbing change. Abbas al-Arja — a 25-year-old former Iraqi boxer who moved to Finland in 2010 — said he intervened in the town center last month to stop two young Iraqi asylum seekers who were pushing themselves onto a Finnish woman who was “clearly uncomfortable.” “Some of them coming now have a lot to learn,” he said. “They do not understand a woman dressed like that.”

Yet after the recent stabbing of an asylum seeker by a group of Finnish men and a suspicious arson at a refugee center near Tampere, the newcomers are also more fearful. The new patrols by the Soldiers of Odin, Arja said, have only made the situation worse. “Now Muslim women are afraid to go in the streets because of the Soldiers of Odin,” Arja said. “What have we achieved? We are afraid of them, and they are afraid of us.” The concerns aren’t limited to Tampere. In recent weeks, sales of pepper spray have gone through the roof across Finland and Germany. New self-defense classes are popping up. In some German communities, sales of fake weapons are soaring.

In several German cities, including Bornheim, men from asylum shelters were banned last week from using public pools after female swimmers complained about harassment. In the city of Zwickau, asylum seekers allegedly ejaculated and defecated in a public pool, sparking a firestorm on social media. In addition to Denmark and Switzerland, two German states — Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg — say they are now reserving the right to seize cash and valuables from asylum seekers worth more than 750 euros ($818) to help defray the cost of care and benefits.

On Wednesday, the European Commission warned Greece that it could face suspension from the region’s passport-free travel zone — meaning possible checks on flights and ships arriving from the Mediterranean nation — if it does not do more to control and properly process migrants on the front lines of the refugee crisis. France, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Austria have imposed some new border checks, putting the future of Europe’s open borders at risk as nations seek ways to curb the flow of migrants. “We want to have a society again in which women and elderly people can move safely and freely in our streets,” the leader of Austria’s right-wing Freedom Party, Heinz-Christian Strache, said in January. “The misogyny and contempt we have seen unfortunately has Islamist roots . . . because it is directed against ‘infidel’ women who are often insulted as whores for not wearing a headscarf and a veil.”

In Helsinki, large numbers of male asylum seekers were hanging out one recent day at the central train station, the site of many of the New Year’s Eve incidents. Satu Eklund, a 28-year-old hairdresser who looked flustered before her commute home, said that one young man “who looked like a refugee” had grabbed her rear end and offered her a salacious grin only moments before. “No, I’m not scared, but I am mad,” she said. “I don’t have anything against the refugees, but we should be able to live in peace.” Helsinki police say there was an increase in rapes in the latter half of 2015, coinciding with a surge of 32,000 asylum seekers arriving in Finland. But the increase — 196 rapes in 2015, compared with 179 in 2014 — is statistically small.

Officials, while declining to offer more details, said asylum seekers or refugees are suspects in at least three rapes. But they added that it is too early to say whether the numbers constitute a trend. “We still need more specific information and analysis before we can say that there is a connection between the increase in rapes and sexual harassment cases and the increase in the number of refugees,” Helsinki Police Chief Lasse Aapio said. “But we need to be alert, and of course we are worried, because it’s obvious that we’re facing some changes in our society right now.” Police and national authorities are also worried about the rise of vigilante groups and citizen street patrols with names such as the Finnish Resistance. The Soldiers of Odin, whose name refers to the Nordic god of war and death, includes known neo-Nazis and followers with criminal records, as well as more typical men.

But the Soldiers’ first foray in Tampere recently proved less successful than they’d hoped. Moments after they hit the streets, a troop of protesters dressed as clowns and calling themselves the Loldiers of Odin (a play on the Internet shorthand for “laughing out loud”) ambushed the black-clad vigilantes. At one point, the clowns — most of them women — surrounded the men and taunted them by singing a local version of “Ring Around the Rosie.” “They are clowns, too, doing what they’re doing,” said one young protester, who, like the others, declined to give her name. “We are here to show tolerance, because these clowns,” she said, gesturing toward the men, “are the ones who are winning in Finland.”
© The Washington Post

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Finland: Helsinki police brace for anti-immigration and anti-racism demos

The anti-immigration group "Close the Borders" (Rajat kiinni) has planned a march in Helsinki to promote peace for women on Saturday. At the same time the anti-racism movement "No racism in my name" (Ei rasismia minun nimissäni) will take to the streets of the capital to protest racist speech and actions.

29/1/2016- Officials in Helsinki are expecting at least two demonstrations on the city streets come Saturday, as the anti-immigration group "Close the Borders" and the anti-racism collective "No racism in my name" converge on the capital for demonstrations. By Thursday evening roughly 100 supporters of "Close the Borders" had indicated on the group’s Facebook page that they would turn out for the planned march, due to begin at Narinkkatori in the city centre. Meanwhile a counter-demonstration planned by the "No racism in my name group" had amassed 900 participants on that group’s Facebook site. Helsinki police said that the required notifications had been made for both demonstrations. Officials would not speculate on how many people they expected to actually turn up for the popular protests. "As always with these kinds of events, it remains to be seen how many people will actually turn up," said chief inspector Seppo Kujala.

Police to take the necessary precautions
All the same, Kujala said police would be taking the necessary precautions. "Of course we will aim to be prepared in the event that everything doesn’t go smoothly. However in most cases people are quite properly expressing support for something that they feel to be right and don’t cause any major problems. There may be some isolated people or groups that the police then take care of," Kujala added. The Helsinki officer said that police will conduct resource planning when they have gathered sufficient information about the demon-strations. "We will be monitoring the situation right down to the very last and will be prepared with the required equipment and resources," he commented. Anti-immigration demonstrations have also been planned for this weekend in other cities such as Keuruu and Pori in western Finland. Last weekend Close the Borders organised an anti-immigration procession in Tampere.
© YLE News.

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Finland: Vigilante group highlights suspicion of migrants

23/1/2016- TAMPERE — On a frigid night in this industrial city, three born and bred local men pulled up to a curb in a beat-up van sporting the stars and bars of the American Confederacy (because, they say, they just liked the look of it). Soon, they joined a dozen other beefy vigilantes gathering on a sidewalk for their first patrol to keep “our women” safe. These are the men of the Soldiers of Odin, a far-right citizens group sprouting chapters across Finland. Its members are multiplying as this northern nation becomes a study of the fear and suspicion gripping Europe after asylum seekers were suspected of committing a series of sexual assaults on New Year's Eve.

Spread across cities in central and northern Europe, the attacks included almost 400 complaints of sexual harassment in Cologne, Germany, as well as 15 alleged sex-related crimes in the Finnish capital of Helsinki. Across Europe, the incidents are fast altering the debate over a record wave of would-be refugees from the Middle East, Africa and Asia, with fresh barriers to new migrants going up from Sweden to Greece. Citing sexual harassment of women, some public pools in Germany have begun banning male asylum seekers. Vigilante groups are taking to the streets.

Europeans are fretting in droves on social media about an unfolding culture clash with the newcomers. Suddenly, many are asking an uncomfortable question: Do asylum seekers — more specifically, some of the men from conservative Muslim nations — pose an inherent threat to liberated and casually dressed Western women? “These refugees do not respect our women,” said Ilkka, a 33-year-old sprinkler installer who would give only his first name. “I have four daughters, and they used to be safe in Finland. We need to do something about it.”

Critics say the danger is vastly exaggerated and denounce the attacks as the work of a few bad seeds. Yet asylum seekers concede that some in their ranks have a steep learning curve to accept progressive Western European norms, especially regarding women. And fresh reports of alleged sex crimes suspected to have been committed by asylum seekers are now emerging in Finland, including several alleged rapes that predate the New Year's Eve crime wave. Just as worrying, however, are a spat of hate crimes against asylum seekers, illustrating the new social tensions in European communities like Tampere. A largely white enclave in south-central Finland bordered by miles of Christmas-tree forests, Tampere saw more than 4,000 asylum seekers, mostly from war-torn Iraq, arrive over the past six months.

Since then, there have been at least 50 incidents involving asylum seekers as either suspects or victims - including one alleged rape of a Finnish woman as well as the alleged stalking of a local teenage girl. Even foreign-born residents who have lived here for years say they have noticed a disturbing change. Abbas al-Arja - a 25-year-old former Iraqi boxer who moved to Finland in 2010 - said he intervened in the town center last month to stop two young Iraqi asylum seekers who were pushing themselves onto a Finnish woman who was “clearly uncomfortable.” “Some of them coming now have a lot to learn,” he said. “They do not understand a woman dressed like that.”

Yet after a recent stabbing of an asylum seeker by a group of Finnish men, and a suspicious arson set at a refugee center near Tampere, the newcomers are also more fearful. The new patrols by the Soldiers of Odin, al-Arja said, have only made the situation worse. “Now Muslim women are afraid to go in the streets because of the Soldiers of Odin,” al-Arja said. “What have we achieved? We are afraid of them, and they are afraid of us.” Concerns aren't limited to Tampere. In recent weeks, sales of pepper spray have gone through the roof across Finland as well as Germany. New self-defense classes are popping up. In some German communities, sales of fake weapons are soaring. In several German cities, including Bornheim, male asylum seekers were banned last week from using public pools after female swimmers complained about harassment.

In Austria, the right-wing Freedom Party has latched on to the women's security issue, citing it as a primary motive for a total ban on new asylum seekers. On Wednesday, Austrian officials agreed to a controversial measure capping the number of asylum seekers this year at 37,500. In addition, no more than 90,000 would be permitted between 2017 and 2019. Officials said they were exploring legal options for what steps Vienna could take under European Union laws should those numbers be exceeded. As of Friday, Austrian officials also began new vetting procedures at the country's borders aimed at allowing fewer migrants. “We want to have a society again in which women and elderly people can move safely and freely in our streets,” Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache said last week. “The misogyny and contempt we have seen unfortunately has Islamist roots ... because it is directed against infidel women who are often insulted as whores for not wearing a headscarf and a veil.”

In Helsinki last week, large numbers of male asylum seekers were hanging out at the city's central train station, the site of many of the incidents on New Year's Eve. Satu Eklund, a 28-year-old hairdresser who looked flustered before her commute home, said that one young man “who looked like a refugee” had grabbed her rear end and offered her a salacious grin only moments before. “No, I'm not scared, but I am mad,” she said. “I don't have anything against the refugees, but we should be able to live in peace.” Helsinki police say that there has been an increase in rapes during the latter half of 2015, coinciding with a surge of 32,000 asylum seekers to Finland. But the increase — 196 rapes in 2015, compared with 179 in 2014 — remains statistically small. Officials, while declining to offer more details, say that asylum seekers or refugees are suspects in at least three rapes, and possibly more. But they added that it is too early to say whether the numbers constitute a trend.

“We still need more specific information and analysis before we can say that there is a connection between the increase in rapes and sexual harassment cases and the increase in the number of refugees,” Helsinki police Chief Lasse Aapio said. “But we need to be alert, and of course we are worried, because it's obvious that we're facing some changes in our society right now.” Police and national authorities are also worried, however, about the rise of vigilante groups and citizen street patrols with names such as the Finnish Resistance. The Soldiers of Odin, whose name is a reference to the Nordic god of war and death, includes known neo-Nazis as well as other followers with criminal records. Still others are Donald Trump-loving, European “good old boys” with an ax to grind. “I hope Trump wins,” Ilkka said. “Maybe he'd teach the European Union something.”

The Soldiers' first foray in Tampere last week, however, proved less successful than they had hoped. Within moments of hitting the streets, a troop of protesters dressed as clowns and calling themselves “the Loldiers of Odin” (a play on the Internet shorthand for “laughing out loud”) ambushed the black-clad vigilantes. At one point, the clowns — most of them women — surrounded the men and taunted them by singing a local version of “Ring Around the Rosie.” “They are clowns, too, doing what they're doing,” said one young protester, who like the others, declined to break character and give her name. “We are here to show tolerance because these clowns,” she said, gesturing toward the men, “are the ones who are winning in Finland.”
© The Washington Post

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Dutch Refugee centre attackers in court: ‘on our way soldiers, it’s war’

27/1/2016- A group of men who planned and carried out an attack on an emergency refugee centre should be given community service and suspended jail terms, the public prosecution department said on Wednesday. The 18 men, who range in age from 21 to 35, are accused of storming a sports centre in Woerden, near The Hague on October 9. Dressed in black and wearing balaclavas, they hurled eggs and fireworks at the building and tore down fences, chanting ‘go home’ and ‘not welcome’, news agency ANP reported. One guard said in a written statement he had ‘never felt so threatened’.

Social media
In total, 148 asylum seekers were living in the sports centre at the time and many were left shaken by the attack, the public prosecution department said. All 18 men are considered to be jointly responsible for the incident and are appearing before judges in groups of three. They had planned the attack in advance and kept in touch using social media such as What’sapp, the department said. ‘We’re going to let those typhoid monkeys know we are going to ruin their lives,’ one message said. ‘Death to Muslims’ and ‘On our way soldiers, its war’ were among other messages exchanged by the gang, according to the Volkskrant. Woerden’s mayor described the gang after the incident, which was the first major attack on a refugee centre since the sharp rise in numbers, as ‘sick’. Prime minister Mark Rutte also visited the centre the day after the attack and spoke to residents.

Riots
Meanwhile, the town of Geldermalsen, where anti-refugee protestors rioted and tried to storm the city hall last year, has now abandoned plans to establish an asylum seekers’ centre within its boundaries altogether. The town’s mayor Miranda de Vries told a meeting on Tuesday night that the council was wrong not to talk to residents first and apologised for its actions. Despite saying earlier that alternatives to the plan to house 1,500 refugees would be drawn up, no new concept will be put forward, local broadcaster Omroep Brabant said.
© The Dutch News

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Netherlands claimed more than Ł500,000 from refugees in four years

Working refugees have to hand over 75% of income to cover costs of living, and declare savings and valuables that may be liable for deductions.

25/1/2016- Refugees in the Netherlands have paid more than €700,000 (£530,000) over the past four years towards the cost of living in centres for asylum seekers, figures show. Plans in Denmark, Switzerland and Germany to seize cash and valuables from refugees to help pay for their accommodation have caused controversy recently. Under a regulation that has been in place since 2008, working refugees in the Netherlands have to hand over 75% of their income to cover the cost of food and living expenses. Asylum seekers are also required to declare any savings or valuables they bring into the country to the COA, the organisation that runs Dutch refugee centres. Deductions can be made if the holdings amount to more than €5,895 for an individual or €11,790 for a family. Personal possessions are included, though exceptions are made for items such as computers, mobile phones and wedding rings.

Figures compiled by the COA showed that refugees paid a total of €221,000 towards their upkeep in 2012, €178,000 in 2013 and €177,000 in 2014. The provisional figure for 2015 is €137,000, though this could rise as more contributions are collected. There are currently 47,500 refugees in the Netherlands, nearly twice as many as at the end of 2014 and three times the number in the previous year. Asylum seekers are entitled to work for up to 24 weeks a year once they have been in the country for six months. The COA did not have figures for how much was claimed from savings and possessions rather than income, but a spokesman told the media group Elsevier that earnings made up the bulk of the total. A spokeswoman for the Dutch Council for Refugees said: “It’s inappropriate to seize people’s personal possessions, but where people genuinely have the means it’s reasonable to bill them for their expenses.”

Other European countries have attracted criticism for plans to confiscate cash and valuables from refugees when they enter the country in order to pay for their upkeep. Denmark’s government wants to take any amount above 10,000 kroner (£1,000) in cash “to pay for their stay”, while two German states, Bavaria and Baden-Württemburg, plan to claim cash and possessions worth more than €750 and €350 respectively (£570 and £265). Switzerland requires refugees to hand over any amount above 1,000 francs (£690), though they can claim it back if they leave within seven months. Under the Dutch system, refugees are charged by the accommodation agency once they are housed, rather than by the immigration service on arrival. The deputy justice minister, Klaas Dijkhoff, told parliament last week that there were no plans to introduce Swiss-style measures. “We’ve organised it in a different way,” he said.

Local town halls have become the focus of protests by anti-immigration groups who have hurled bottles and fireworks outside council meetings, sent bullets in the post to officials and dumped severed pigs’ heads at sites of proposed refugee centres.
© The Guardian

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Dutch politician Wilders, says male refugees must be kept in ‘asylum camps’ to stop ‘sexual jihad’

Mr Wilders is expected to go to trial in March for inciting racial hatred after comments he made in a local election

23/1/2016- The far-right Dutch politician, Geert Wilders, has called for Islamic male refugees to be “locked up in asylum centres”, saying women needed to be protected from “testosterone bombs” waging “sexual jihad”. Mr Wilders, leader of the Freedom Party (PVV), made the comments in a party video in the wake of the New Year’s Eve sexual attacks in Cologne, Germany, in which a number of women were groped and robbed by a large group of men mainly of “Arab or North African origin”. In the video, Mr Wilders calls for the Netherlands to close its borders to “all asylum-seekers from Islamic countries”. “But as long as this doesn't happen," Mr Wilders says, "as long as our women are in danger from the Islamic testosterone bombs, I propose that we lock the male asylum seekers up in the asylum centres.”

Reports of a rise in sexual assault incidents across Europe, in major cities from Cologne to Stockholm, have been blamed by a number of politicians and campaign groups on the influx of migrants and refugees to the continent. However, Stefan Löfven, the prime minister of Sweden told CNBC on Wednesday: “Sexual harassment is not automatically binding to migration and immigration. We have had sexual harassment in Sweden for many, many years, unfortunately." The Netherlands took in a record number of asylum seekers in 2015, receiving more than 54,000 by the end of November, as Europe faces the worst migrant crisis since World War II.

Mr Wilders' anti-Islam, anti-immigration rhetoric has propelled him to the top of the Dutch polls. The country's next parliamentary elections are not due till 2017, however recent polls suggest PVV would win some 36 seats in the 150-seat Lower House if they were held now, according to public broadcaster NOS, AFP reports. The party currently occupies 12 seats in parliament. Mr Wilders is a controversial figure in Dutch politics. He has lived under 24-hour supervision since 2004 due to death threats and in 2011 was acquitted of hate speech, although he is expected to go to trial in March for inciting racial hatred after pledging in a local election to ensure there would be “fewer Moroccans” in the country.
The outspoken politician has previously caused outrage and protests in the Muslim world for a short, online film which showed verses of the Quran next to images of extreme violence and terrorism. Provoking further contention, the PVV handed out fake pepper spray or “resistance sprays” to women at a rally in the town in Spijkenisse on Saturday following Mr Wilder's video speech, the NL Times reports.
© The Independent

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Could the refugee crisis really break up the European Union?

More than a million migrants and refugees came to Europe last year, mostly via Turkey.

23/1/2016- Today’s 43 new deaths by drowning in the Aegean Sea brought Europe’s migration crisis sharply back into focus just as the French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, warned that unless the flow of refugees is better managed, it could cause the break-up of the European Union.

How serious is the refugee crisis?
More than a million migrants and refugees came to Europe last year, mostly via Turkey. Although winter was expected to slow the pace, 35,000 have arrived in the first three weeks of January, compared with 1,600 for the whole month last year.

How has the EU responded?
There have been many initiatives since last spring, and EU leaders have discussed the issue at six separate summits, but most measures have been inadequate or slow, or both. They
include relocation and resettlement efforts, a new border control police, and a deal with Turkey to stop refugees heading to Europe.

What went wrong with relocation?
The plan to relocate 160,000 people more evenly across the EU was immediately controversial, as eastern countries like Hungary pointed out that refugees wanted to go to Berlin, not Budapest. The results are pitiful: only 331 have been relocated since September. The plans to resettle refugees from outside Europe have not been much better: only 779 of the 5,331 due in 2015 had been effectively resettled.

What is being done to police the EU’s borders?
Last month, EU leaders backed plans for a European Border and Coast Guard, aimed mainly at Greece and Italy, where most refugees have landed. It would ensure asylum-seekers are screened and register before a decision is taken on whether they can stay. It will come too late for most leaders. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said: “We need to get a grip on this issue in the next six to eight weeks.”

Can Turkey help?
The EU signed a €3bn (£2.3bn) deal with Turkey aimed at stemming the flow. Turkey is hosting 2.2 million refugees from Syria, Iraq and other war zones. But EU finance ministers have yet to agree who should pay; EU officials complain Turkey is not playing its part and Ankara says the €3bn isn’t enough.

Does migration hurt Europe?
Economically, it is a boon: an IMF report on Wednesday said EU states that take in the most people will get the biggest windfall – worth an extra 1.1 per cent growth in Austria, Germany, and Sweden by 2020. Migrants may also fill the demographic shortfall from Europe’s shrinking population. The EU’s active labour force of 240 million would fall to 207 million by 2050, even if migration runs at the present level. If it halts, the workforce would shrink to 169 million.

Why did Germany open and then close its doors?
The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, earned world-wide praise for inviting Syrian refugees to come to her country. But a political backlash at home forced her to change tack, closing Germany’s borders. The mood has further soured after New Year’s Eve assaults on women in Cologne, blamed on Muslim migrants.

Will the crisis bring Europe’s borders back?
The passport-free Schengen zone across much of the EU is being severely tested. Six countries – Austria, Germany, France, Sweden, Denmark and non-EU member Norway – have reintroduced temporary border checks. The European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker warns dismantling Schengen would cost £2.3bn a year in lost business. The European Council President Donald Tusk says unless the EU makes progress in the next two months, Schengen could fail.

What about Greece, the weak link in the refugee trail?
Under EU rules, asylum-seekers must register in the first safe country they reach. But this “Dublin” regulation put huge administrative burdens on Greece and Italy, and is widely ignored: most refugees arrive on deserted beaches and travel by land to countries like Germany and Sweden. A rule change due in March may replace this with a quota system.

Would this mean more migrants come to Britain?
It’s unlikely to affect the relatively few asylum-seekers who enter the UK, which has no land border with Europe and retains border checks. Britain has an opt-out on asylum policy, so could choose not to apply it. Britain’s share of asylum claims has fallen to 3.5 per cent last year. But it would mean renegotiating the associated rules under which Britain returns 1,000 migrants a year to the country where they first arrived.

Could this all affect Britain’s renegotiation with the EU?
David Cameron aims to cut the number of EU citizens travelling to Britain to work, not asylum-seekers. But the crisis plays into the hands of those seeking the UK’s withdrawal.
© The Independent

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International Holocaust Remembrance Day

UN Secretary-General's remarks on International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust [as delivered]

27/1/2016- I am honoured to be with you on this solemn occasion.

Today we celebrate the liberation of the infamous Nazi extermination camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, and we reaffirm our commitment to the crucial work of Holocaust remembrance. For thousands of weakened and exhausted prisoners at Auschwitz-Birkenau, January 27th was a day of freedom – a reprieve from a certain death sentence for simply who they were. From that day forward, survivors have shared their stories of unimaginable atrocities – including haunting ones that I heard when I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau in 2013.

They remind us what happens when we allow inhumanity to prevail. They are living testaments of the power of the human spirit and the inherent dignity and worth of every person. All these years later, we still rely on the survivors to ensure we never forget and to reaffirm our faith in the resilience of humanity. On this day, we come together to amplify these voices across the world. We are also here to pay our respects to the 6 million Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust.

And we remember the millions of others -- prisoners of war, political dissidents, members of minority groups, such as Roma and Sinti, homosexuals, persons with disabilities, and so many more who were killed alongside them.

The Holocaust was a colossal crime.

The evidence is irrefutable. Those who deny it only perpetuate falsehoods and make a mockery of the pain. Yet today we continue to see hurtful efforts to question the reality and scale of the tragedy. I was profoundly disappointed to learn of another so-called “Holocaust cartoon contest” being planned this year in Iran. At this time of sectarian tensions, mutual respect must be foremost in our minds. Spreading hatred and toying with historical facts only leads down the dead-end of discord and danger.

This year, we focus on “the Holocaust and Human Dignity”.

We link Holocaust remembrance with the founding principles of the United Nations, as expressed in the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As we do, we are reminded of our shared obligation to assure everyone the right to live free from discrimination and with equal protection under the law. Today, with a rising tide of anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim bigotry and other forms of discrimination, we must do even more to defend these rights for people everywhere.

People worldwide – including millions fleeing war, persecution and deprivation – are the targets of discrimination and attacks. Violent extremism, sectarian tensions and hate-filled ideologies are on the march. Civilians are in the crosshairs.

International humanitarian law is being flouted on a global scale. The international community is failing to hold perpetrators to account. Today, we see actions of Da’esh that may amount to grave crimes against minority groups such as the Yazidis. And the conflict in Syria has generated the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. The village of Madaya has become a scene of shocking suffering. Tragically, Madaya is just one village in an arc of agony that extends throughout the country. Humanitarian conditions there and in other besieged and hard-to-reach areas are dire and getting ever worse. Yet the parties continue to deliberately deny access. They continue to cynically use food, water and medicine as bargaining chips. And girls and boys, women and men, pay the price.

Places that should offer safety -- schools, hospitals, houses of worship – are instead targets. I call on those who have influence over the Syrian parties to press for sustained and unimpeded humanitarian access throughout Syria. And I again remind all parties that starvation as a weapon of war and the deliberate targeting of civilians is a war crime. All those responsible must be held accountable. On this day, we recognize one of the most effective ways to stand up for human rights, fight xenophobia and prevent new genocides – and that is by educating new generations about the horrors of the Holocaust.

The Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme reaches out to students and educators across the world, and warns against the consequence of hatred and bigotry of all kinds. On this day of Holocaust remembrance, I urge everyone to denounce political and religious ideologies that set people against people. Let us rededicate ourselves to promoting the universal values of the United Nations, and working together for a world of peace, security, social progress and dignity for all.

Thank you.
© UN Secretary-General's office

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On IHRD, OSCE calls for increased education to counter intolerance

27/1/2016- “Today we commemorate the six million murdered European Jews, the Sinti and Roma, forced labourers, we commemorate the prisoners of war perished by starvation, the victims of euthanasia, the homosexuals and all those that defied the terror for religious and political motivations or simply for reasons of humanity,” said the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. “The darkest chapter of Germany’s history has marked our identity; it will remain linked to our country. There is no letting go of the past in history,” Steinmeier added. “We all have the responsibility to pass this commemoration on to future generations and to intensify education, dialogue and personal exchanges to this end.”

“This day urges us to remain aware of the burden borne by and fate of refugees today seeking shelter in Europe from persecution, hatred, war and terror,” the Chairperson-in-Office said. “And we also take seriously the concerns raised by the arrival of this large number of people. If Jews and people of different religions and beliefs cannot feel safe in Europe, none of us can feel safe.” Steinmeier emphasized that countering anti-Semitism is an important focus among the goals of the German OSCE Chairmanship in 2016. “Standing up against all forms of racism and discrimination remains a priority for us,” he said. “Germany has placed the promotion of tolerance and non-discrimination high on this year’s OSCE agenda.”

“As we mark the 71st anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, remembering the Holocaust is a fundamental part of the process of learning from our past to better shape our future,” said Michael Georg Link, Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). “However, remembrance alone is not sufficient: It should be accompanied by long-term educational projects that help societies effectively counter racism and intolerance, as well as effective efforts to ensure security for Jewish communities across the OSCE area.”

In parallel to its efforts to promote Holocaust remembrance, including educating about and remembering Roma and Sinti victims of the Nazi regime, ODIHR will soon begin implementing a three-year project to identify and respond to the security needs of Jewish communities, promote tolerance through education, and strengthen civil society through coalition-building activities.

“Paying tribute to the victims of the Holocaust is only the first step,” said Rabbi Andrew Baker, the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office on Combating Anti-Semitism. “It remains crucial, especially in light of recent anti-Semitic incidents that have left an increasing number of Jews uncertain about their future, that our efforts to counter anti-Semitism and promote tolerance and acceptance be stronger than ever.”

Today’s statement follows a 21 January session of the OSCE Permanent Council that focused on Holocaust remembrance as a joint task. State Secretary Szabolcs Takács of Hungary, which is this year chairing the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), and Ambassador Felix Klein, Special Representative of the German Federal Foreign Office for issues relating to Anti-Semitism and Holocaust Remembrance, addressed the permanent representatives from all OSCE participating States and Partners for Co-operation. They stressed that remembrance of the Holocaust provides a stark reminder of the duty to speak out against the denial of these grave crimes and to work for tolerance and non-discrimination in our societies.

ODIHR works actively to promote Holocaust remembrance and education. Moldova became the 28th OSCE participating State that observes 27 January as International Holocaust Remembrance Day when it formally adopted the day in November 2015. An overview of commemorative practices can be found on ODIHR's website at: www.osce.org/holocaustmemorialdays.
© The OSCE

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EU: Statement by High Rep./Vice-President Federica Mogherini on International Holocaust Remembrance Day

27/1/2016- The scar, the indelible scar that the Shoah has left across Europe, is and must forever be seared into our collective memory. As Eli Wiesel said, “to forget a Holocaust is to kill twice.” As time passes, we share a responsibility to remember the Shoah, to mourn its victims, to keep supporting the tireless engagement of the survivors in keeping the memory alive. It is not only a responsibility towards the Jewish people, it is a responsibility towards mankind, towards future generations, towards Europe itself. If we forget the dark history of our continent, we run the risk of underestimating how crucial it is to preserve peace, unity and diversity inside our continent.

We must be honest enough to admit that more than 70 years after the Shoah, anti-Semitism is still alive in our "civilized" European Union. As alive is the fear of diversity, the temptation to look for scapegoats in difficult times, instead of working at ways to make our times less difficult, for all. Our duty is to ensure that present and future generations are conscious of the roots of the Holocaust. Understanding evil, and how it so easily made its way into our own societies, is the first step to prevent evil from prevailing again.

We share, as European citizens and as EU institutions, the fears and concerns of so many European Jews. Our countries are duly stepping up security measures, but this is first and foremost a battle of hearts and minds against anti-Semitism and any kind of discrimination based on faith or ethnicity. While we commemorate the Shoah, we pay tribute to all the Righteous that did not surrender to fear and to the ideology of the time. They not only saved the lives of many, they kept hope alive that humanity can prevail. We need to learn from them in the difficult times we are living, and pass on to the next generations the memory of evil as well as the courage of humanity.
© the European External Action Service (EEAS)

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Combating Antisemitism should be everybody’s concern (joint press statement)

Today, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, anti-racism organisations call on both European political leaders and civil society to address the prevalence of Antisemitism in Europe. Showing a united front against all forms of racism in European society is essential in the current context.

27/1/2016- Events such as the deadly attacks against Jews in Paris and Copenhagen in 2015 have highlighted the urgency of tackling Antisemitism in Europe, as well as the need for constructive dialogue between communities. But violence and discrimination targeting Jews happens on a near-daily basis. Research by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) shows worrying trends when it comes to experiences of discrimination of Jews in the EU and fear of verbal or physical attacks, in particular in France, Belgium and Hungary. In 2015, antisemitic assaults remained at an already "high level" in France, with 806 recorded. In the United Kingdom, the number of reported antisemitic incidents increased by more than 50% compared to the previous year. Following a recent antisemitic attack in Marseille, France, Jewish organisations have been put in the terrible situation of debating whether their community members should stop wearing visible faith symbols in order to be safer. This is unacceptable.

Antisemitism often goes hand in hand with other forms of racism, including Islamophobia, anti-Gypsyism, Afrophobia and xenophobia. Common strategies for action to counter these forces and prevent old demons from rearing their heads again are therefore needed. In a context of growing mistrust, it is crucial to bring communities together into a partnership against hatred and build solidarity. Europe needs more non-Jews to stand up against Antisemitism, reduce bullying in schools and debunk myths about Jews.

EU Member States and the European Commission must also take concrete steps to prevent acts of hatred without stigmatising any community. Some key actions were identified at the EU Fundamental Rights Colloquium in October 2015, including strictly applying hate crime and anti-discrimination laws; combating hate speech and promoting counter-narratives; and empowering those active at local level to build a culture of respect, in particular through education. They now need to be implemented urgently.

European Network Against Racism (ENAR), Austrian Muslim Initiative, Black Activists Rising Against Cuts (BARAC UK), Collectif Contre l’Islamophobie en Belgique (CCIB), Centrum mot rasism, Conseil Représentatif des Associations Noires (CRAN), Central Council of German Sinti and Roma, EMISCO, European Roma Information Office (ERIO), Federation of European Muslim Youth and Student Organisations (FEMYSO), Open Republic Association against Anti-Semitism and Xenophobia - Otwarta Rzeczpospolita, Pan African Movement for Justice, Subjective Values Foundation.
© EUropean Network Against Racism

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It's urgent to take a strong stance against anti-Gypsyism (press release)

27/1/2016- On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, ERIO remembers the victims and survivors of the Nazi regime. We call for the safeguard of Europe’s diversity and for European and national leaders to take a strong stance against anti-Gypsyism. Read our full statement here.

Watch the DVD "The untold story: Roma and Sinti Holocaust" done for the MemoROM project. It includes 5 short videos with interviews with Sinti Holocaust survivors as well as with experts on the topic. Subtitles are available in several languages.
© ERIO (European Roma Information Office)

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Germany: Jewish cemetery vandalised on Holocaust Memorial Day

28/1/2016- Unknown persons have once again desecrated the Jewish cemetery in Kröpelin (district Rostock). A police spokesman said six grave stones were overturned in Rostock on Thursday. The perpetrators probably vandalized the cemetery at the otherwise closed area, on the evening of Remembrance for the Victims of National Socialism. Police are appealing for witnesses.  Similar acts of vandalism were perpetrated at the same cemetery in 2011, 2012 and 2013. In past attacks, gravestones were desecrated with far-right graffiti, including images of swastikas. The perpetrators were never caught.
Original source: http://www.ostsee-zeitung.de/Home
© Every Day Antisemitism

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Turkish EU minister commemorates Holocaust along with country’s chief rabbi

27/1/2016- Turkey’s EU minister has attended a ceremony marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day along with the country’s chief rabbi, while Ankara has voiced resolve in continuing its fight against anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia in a message to mark the day. “We have been unfortunately observing that anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and xenophobia, which we can define as an epidemic disease and which we see is on the rise in every part of the world, have had an impact on some marginal circles in our country from time to time. Regardless of the religious, ethnic and sectarian identity targeted, it is not possible for us to tolerate any discourse of hate,” EU Minister Volkan Bozkýr said Jan. 27 at a ceremony hosted at Ankara University.

Turkey’s chief rabbi, Ýshak Haleva, said at the same ceremony the Holocaust should not be forgotten in order to draw lessons for humanity. “Even if centuries pass, [the Holocaust] should be kept on the agenda, not in memories. It should be kept as topical so that humanity is able to comprehend that claiming one’s dignity is one of the foremost duties,” Haleva said. In a written statement released late on Jan. 26, the Turkish Foreign Ministry recalled that Jan. 27 had been chosen by the United Nations to commemorate victims of the Holocaust during World War II.

“We commemorate with respect millions of people who lost their lives in the Holocaust, which is one of the darkest and most painful eras in the history of humanity,” the ministry said. “As it has done so far, our country will continue to fulfill its responsibility to ensure such atrocities are not experienced again and will continue its fight with determination against phenomena, such as anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia, which have unfortunately been observed and strengthened,” the ministry said.

Six million Jews were murdered by Germany’s Nazi regime, along with 5 million non-Jews who were also killed. The anniversary, marked each year since 2005, falls on the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland by the Soviet army in 1945. One million people died at the camp. Noting that Turkey had been participating in activities of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance as an observer since 2008, the ministry said the country had been exerting efforts to raise awareness about the Holocaust.

Turkey has been holding ceremonies to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day since 2011 with the participation of high-level officials, the ministry said. During the event hosted at the Ankara University, the audience watched “The Liberation of Auschwitz” (Die Befreiung von Auschwitz), a documentary produced in 1986 to mark the 40th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz Concentration Camp. They also listened to the soundtrack of “Schindler’s List” (1993). Romania’s ambassador to Turkey, Radu Onofrei, and U.S. Ambassador John Bass also attended the ceremony, which ended with the lighting of candles.
© The Hurriyet Daily News

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The Holocaust started with words, not mass killings (analysis)

Today marks the 71st anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. While the Nazis are gone, it is still necessary to fight propaganda, write Irina Bokova and Sara Bloomfield

27/1/2016- In 1930s Germany, Nazi Party leaders understood the power of mass communication to disseminate hatred and anti-Semitism. “Propaganda,” Hitler wrote, “is a truly terrible weapon in the hands of an expert.” In their rise to power, the Nazis deployed sophisticated modern communications technologies, including radio and film, to win the battle of ideas — and thus to shape public opinion and behaviour — among a well-educated population in a fledgling democracy. The Nazis are gone but propaganda lives on, and its potential is deadlier than ever. As we commemorate the 71st anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau today, extremist groups around the globe wield new technologies to incite hatred and perpetrate new mass killings and genocides.

That’s why Unesco has decided to base this year’s International Day of Commemoration on the theme ‘From Words to Genocide: Anti-Semitic Propaganda and the Holocaust’. Unesco and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum are joining forces to present, at Unesco headquarters, the exhibit ‘State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda’. During the early 1930s, a period of severe economic distress, many Germans were willing to overlook the Nazis’ anti-Semitism, because they were attracted to other aspects of the party’s message. The Nazis knew this: In the run-up to the 1932 election, the party relied on the emerging field of public opinion research to probe the needs, hopes, and fears of blue- and white-collar workers, the middle class, women, farmers, and youth.

Accordingly, Nazi propagandists toned down anti-Semitic rhetoric and presented the party as the only political force capable of creating jobs and putting food on German tables. Likewise, they won over newly enfranchised women voters by portraying themselves as the defender of traditional German womanhood and the family. Hitler’s extreme nationalism resonated with many audiences, including young people who wanted to restore Germany’s lost territories and military might. Rabid anti-Semitism remained at the centre of the Nazi worldview. As soon as the party came to power, in 1933, it began to implement anti-Jewish policies. The Nazis eliminated alternative sources of information, burning books and arresting journalists as they prepared to advance their goal of establishing a united “Aryan” Europe.

In today’s interconnected world, individuals and non-state groups motivated by extremist ideologies can use the power of new technologies to shape attitudes and beliefs, and incite violence on a global scale. Since 2014, IS has disseminated more than 700 propaganda videos, tailored to various audiences, in all major languages, to maximize the reach and impact of its message. Nearly 50,000 Twitter accounts are propagating these vehicles of hatred, seeking to exploit ignorance, intolerance, and divisions within societies. Young people are being targeted for recruitment. Within the territories it controls, IS persecutes and kills individuals on religious and cultural grounds, with a recent report by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum concluding that the group has committed acts of genocide against the Yazidi minority population under its control.

Another worrisome trend is the increasingly sophisticated use of hate speech directed against minorities and migrants. Violent, exclusionary, and discriminatory rhetoric has returned to Europe — the land of the Holocaust. Extreme nationalists exploit the current refugee crisis, in a context of fear and deadly terrorist attacks, to gain large numbers of supporters. ‘State of Deception’ shows us how propaganda can have deadly consequences. The Holocaust began with words, not mass killings. We must remember how the poison of anti-Semitism and racism, projected through mass media and entire political, cultural, and educational systems, led a continent into violence and genocide.

Today, against the new propaganda of hatred, our challenge is to harness the power of new communication technologies to empower pluralism and human dignity for all, to combat anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. This new war for hearts and minds can be won only if we update and upgrade the tools of education, culture, science, and communication. Unesco was created 70 years ago for this purpose, and it leads a global programme for Holocaust education and genocide prevention, working with governments and teachers to instill this history in classrooms. Bombs and bullets alone cannot defeat political poison. We must also win the battle of ideas. Schools, museums, and the media must help young people develop critical thinking skills.

Intellectuals, artists, and public figures must highlight the danger of indifference toward groups espousing intolerance and exclusion. Political leaders should encourage social integration and mutual understanding. This is how we can pay tribute to the victims of the Holocaust — not only to lament the dead, but also to empower the living.
Sara Bloomfield is director of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. Irina Bokova is director general of Unesco.
© Project Syndicate

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Remember the Holocaust by fighting anti-Semitism (Column)

By M. Zuhdi Jasser and Thomas J. Reese

27/1/2016- As the United States and the world today mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the day of liberation in 1945 for Auschwitz, the largest Nazi killing factory in the death of six million Jews, we solemnly recall a troubled past but sadly face a challenging present. Anti-Semitism is surging, including in Europe, with threats, violence and vandalism against Jews. Last January, four Jewish men in Paris’ Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket were murdered, and an Israeli in Berlin was beaten. In February, a shooter attacked Copenhagen’s great synagogue. In March, a drunken mob assaulted a London synagogue. In November, anti-immigration demonstrators in the Polish city of Wroclaw burned effigies of orthodox Jews. In December, a Jewish cemetery in Sochaczew, Poland, was desecrated with Holocaust-denying graffiti and pro-Islamic State messages.

Today, the hatred fueling the Shoah is back and must be countered. In 2015, incidents led nearly 10,000 Jews, an all-time high, to leave Western Europe for Israel, with nearly 8,000 coming from France. From the Hyper Cacher shooting to the stabbing of a rabbi and two of his congregants in Marseilles to the wounding of 14 worshipers through a liquid poison attack at a Bonneuil-sur-Marn synagogue, 2015 was another grim year for French Jews. Last week, violence struck Marseilles’ Jews again, as a teenager attacked a Jewish teacher with a machete, prompting a Jewish leader to ask Jews not to wear skullcaps. In 2013, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights reported that one-third of European Jews polled said they had stopped wearing religious garb or symbols for fear of attack.

Meeting last week with European Jewish Congress officials, Russian President Vladimir Putin publicly, and perhaps cynically, invited European Jews to resettle in Russia. But Russia hardly is immune from this virus. In 2014, the Russian Jewish Congress reported a spike in anti-Semitism. Despite a decline last year, disturbing incidents occurred. In June, a previously vandalized Jewish kindergarten in Volgograd again was targeted. In July, a gunman shot Sergei Ustinov, the founder of a Moscow Jewish museum, and fled, with police deeming anti-Semitism a possible motive. In September, Semyon Tykman, a teacher in a Chassidic high school, went on trial in the city of Ekaterinburg. He faces a possible four-year sentence in a labor colony for “incitement of hatred” for discussing the Holocaust, the first trial of a religious Jew under Russia’s notorious extremism laws.

What is driving the violence and bigotry? A variety of toxic political ideologies and movements historically have scapegoated Jews for any number of social ills. Today, anti-Semitism largely combines two factors — extremists claiming to act in Islam’s name and a neo-Nazi movement targeting Muslims and Jews. Several factors complicate efforts against the hatred. Some officials remain reticent to spotlight assailants’ religious or ideological motives. Studies show widespread negative feelings toward Jews. Some of this prejudice results in condemnations of Israel which, rather than highlighting specific policies, deem Israel’s existence evil — the new anti-Semitism. Finally, as documented by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, on which we serve, some nations and political parties support religious restrictions against Jews as well as Muslims and other minorities. At least four countries — Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland — ban kosher slaughter. Norway and Germany have seen attempts to ban infant male circumcision.
There are even political parties in Greece, Hungary, Ukraine and elsewhere with platforms denying the Holocaust. It is time to root out the haters’ motives, which means owning up fully to radicalization problems, religious or political. It is time to confront again anti-Semitism’s ancient legacy. It is time to reaffirm religious freedom by relaxing restrictions on both Jewish and Muslim religious practices. To its credit, Europe’s largest human rights body, the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe, has stood strongly against anti-Semitism. Last month, the European Commission appointed Katharina von Schnurbein as the continent’s first coordinator in combating anti-Semitism. France and other countries have increased security in Jewish neighborhoods and religious sites.

No one initiative can defeat anti-Semitism. But these and other actions together can make a difference. As we commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day, we hope that Europe and its people, as well as nations around the world, will redouble their efforts against this scourge.
M. Zuhdi Jasser is a Vice Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). Thomas J. Reese, S.J., is a USCIRF Commissioner.
© US Commission on International Religious Freedom

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Remembering the people of the Holocaust

On International Holocaust Memorial Day, Gavriel Savit urges all of us to consider the people, the individual human beings, behind the horrifying figure of six million - the number of Jews murdered during the Holocaust.

27/1/2016- Today is International Holocaust Memorial Day.
Tomorrow, my book, Anna and the Swallow Man, which takes place in Poland during the second world war, will be released in the UK, and because there’s some overlap between the subject matter of my book and the horrific events that we remember today, I’ve been asked to share my thoughts on the occasion. I’ll try.

Here’s what I think:

Certain words and concepts are frankly unavoidable when we come to consider the Holocaust:
Ghetto.
Concentration camp.
Gas chamber.

They’re familiar. We know what to envision when we hear or read those words. We know how to feel.

Perhaps the most immediate association for me, the first word or phrase that I think of among that range is this one: six million.

Six million. For me, the number of Jews murdered during the Holocaust is so indelibly bound up in association with that event that I can’t manage to hear the number mentioned - no matter what the specific context - without a momentary, familiar, almost banal flash of horror.
Six million.
Gas chamber.
Concentration camp.
Ghetto.

There they are, those words and concepts, familiar, like old photographs hung on the wall of the long, gently curving, circular corridor of the year.

We arrive before them each Holocaust Memorial Day.

We pause. We doff our hats. We pay our respects.

And this is, of course, proper. This is what the name of the day invites us to do - after all, the word memorial brings to mind huge stone monoliths, obelisks, triumphal arches. If individuals are implicated here at all, it’s only in their capacity as chiselled names in the marble - singular, each, but alike in their neat rows and columns, cut into the stone in precisely the same orderly roman capitals.

Uniformed, almost.

But this grand, formalised method of remembering, this ritual pausing to bow the head in front of the memorial - I think this is, in some ways, at odds with six million. Remember - six million is not the complete thought: it’s six million individual human beings. They weren’t monolithic. They weren’t uniform. They were people- many, many, many, many people - and people have a way of being themselves.

Consider: if you woke just before the midnight that divides International Holocaust Memorial Day from its preceding neighbour, and, upon the stroke of 12, you began to devote one successive second - one single, bare, tiny, fleeting, stupid second - to thinking of an individual casualty of the Holocaust, you would reach the day’s closing midnight, twenty-four full hours later, without having come anywhere near to completing the task. Even if we give only a second of our time to each person, we can’t reach them all today. We simply can’t. It’s impossible.

It’s for precisely this reason that I think it’s so important to try.

And so I invite you now: let’s try not to think of the same old words and phrases and images we always call to mind - the barbed wire, the yellow star, the Arbeit macht frei - instead, let’s try to think of human beings. Individuals.

There were six million of them.

It stands to reason that some must’ve shared a name. How many Rachel Cohens? How many Moshe ben Dovids?

Some of them must’ve woken in the morning thinking that they wouldn’t live out the day, and some of them must’ve been right. Do you think, in the final moments, as the muzzle of the pistol was raised or the room filled up with gas, that it was any comfort to have known? To have been right?

I’ll bet for some, weirdly, it was.

Someone must’ve argued with her husband in the morning as she set off to do her errands - her shopping, her visiting, her walk around the neighbourhood. Someone must’ve wished she had said something different, kinder, softer, the last time she saw him, even if she was still mad.

And some of them must’ve laughed. There must’ve been some who were so frightened and confused and uncomfortable that they cracked jokes to their neighbour in order to release the tension. There’s always one wise guy in the group, isn’t there? Waiting in the line for death, there, or hopping down from a train car for the last time, someone must’ve made a stupid joke; there were, after all, six million opportunities.

By the same token, there must’ve been some real jerks among the slaughtered, some people who you wouldn’t have wanted to spend 20 minutes in conversation with - just not nice people. There had to have been. Because there were so many. And they were people.

Who was hungry? Many, I’m sure.
Who was uncomfortably full? There must’ve been some.
Who had a song stuck in her head?
Who had just remembered something he’d forgotten to do?
How many needed to use the toilet?
How many died among friends?
How many among strangers?
How many never saw it coming, distracted by the beauty of the day?

Because days were still beautiful, during the Holocaust, sometimes. The sun still rose and shone and set, every single day, as it did yesterday, will do tomorrow, and does here, now, today.

 


And so today, this International Holocaust Memorial Day, do me this favour, if you would - find one moment, one common, ordinary moment of human experience in which to think this thought:

How many were doing this thing that I do here in this moment?

How many were exactly as I am now?

© The Guardian
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Serbia: Legal framework to provide justice to Jewish community - PM

In a statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day, Aleksandar Vucic said Serbia will fight "always and consistently against fascism and fascist tendencies."

27/1/2016- The country will do so in the hope that Treblinka, Auschwitz and Jasenovac will never be forgotten, the prime minister has been quoted by the government website. "International Holocaust Remembrance Day is officially observed by entire Serbia, by its institutions and citizens. In a time when the darkest pages of modern human history were being written, our Serbian people was among those that were to be exterminated from the face of the earth," Vucic stated, adding:

We bow to the victims of all other nations, especially the Jews, who went through the ordeal of the most tragic dimensions. "Because of this, Serbia today informs the domestic and international public that it will pass a legal framework and that, after many years, it will provide justice to the Jewish community for the horrors experienced by the Jewish families who lost their successors. Serbia will fight always and consistently against fascism and fascist tendencies in the hope that Treblinka, Auschwitz and Jasenovac will never be forgotten, nor the most terrible crimes committed by the German Nazis and Croatian Ustashas," stated the prime minister.
© B92

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Malta: Members of Parliament observe minute of silence on IHRD

27/1/2016- Members of Parliament observed a minute of silence today 27 January, International Holocaust Remembrance Day. This silence followed speeches given by Minister for Foreign Affairs, George Vella and Tonio Fenech, speaking for the opposition, as well as a reaction by the Speaker, Anglu Farrugia. Foreign Minister George Vella echoed President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca in saying that young people need to be made aware of the appalling events 71 years ago. Dr Vella reiterated that this was an event forever etched in the history of the world, and its lessons should never be forgotten. He also spoke of the dangers of an absolute power, resulting in lack of questioning from the people, in spite of how wrong the orders given were.

The Minister mentioned the atrocities in Rwanda, the Balkans and Syria as events which happened since the holocaust, albeit not on the same scale. Minister Vella also spoke of the two million desperate people locked in Palestine, after having himself seen the tunnels supposedly dug by the Palestinians, calling them "symptoms of desperation". Dr Vella pointed out that we must address the issue of intolerance at a very young age, making sure that children grow in an environment of tolerance and respect. This was undoubtedly said in the context of the cultural change which is currently happening in Malta with a new focus on different cultures and religions.

MP for the opposition, Tonio Fenech, started by pointing out that, clearly, the lessons from the holocaust weren't actually learnt. After 71 years of the liberation of Auschwitz, there are still global exterminations happening. Mr Fenech spoke of Cambodia, Darfur and Rwanda with specific mention of Isis and Boko Haram as well. Social media, according to Mr Fenech, is now being used as a tool to spread xenophobia now more than ever becoming an effective tool that was missing 71 years. He commented that "freedom of speech, however important, should not be allowed to destroy even more fundamental rights, including the right to live in peace, security and respect." Speaker, Anglu Farrugia, echoed the sentiments of the Dr Vella and Mr Fenech mentioning Isis and antisemitism. "Hatred needs to be countered by respect", he concluded.
© The Malta Independent

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UK:Cameron announces the location of permanent Holocaust memorial

Prime Minister David Cameron announced that the UK Holocaust memorial will be in Victoria Tower Gardens, next to the Houses of Parliament.

27/1/2016- The Prime Minister David Cameron has today (27 January 2016) announced that the national memorial to the Holocaust will be built in the iconic Victoria Tower Gardens, next to the Houses of Parliament in Westminster. The work to build a striking and prominent national memorial delivers one of the key recommendations of the Prime Minister’s Holocaust Commission last year. It is being taken forward by the cross-party backed UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation (UKHMF), chaired by Sir Peter Bazalgette. Board members include Alex Salmond MP, Lord Andrew Feldman, Ed Balls and Liberal Democrat Peer Lord Alliance. An international design competition will be launched in the coming weeks and the memorial will be built by the end of 2017. Plans for an associated world-class learning centre to challenge prejudice in all its forms, will also be announced in the coming months.

The Prime Minister’s Holocaust Commission last year produced a report looking at how the country should ensure that the memory of the Holocaust is preserved and that the lessons it teachers are never forgotten. Along with a new National Memorial, its recommendations included a world class learning centre, a focus on promoting and furthering Holocaust education and a programme to record and preserve the testimony of Holocaust survivors.

Speaking at the start of Prime Minister’s Questions today, Prime Minister David Cameron said:
I know the whole House will want to join me in marking Holocaust Memorial Day. It is right our whole country should stand together to remember the darkest hour of humanity. Last year, on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, I said we would build a striking national memorial in London to show the importance Britain places on preserving the memory of the Holocaust. Today I can tell the House this memorial will be built in Victoria Tower Gardens. It will stand beside Parliament as a permanent statement of our values as a nation and will be something for our children to visit for generations to come. I’m grateful to all those who have made this possible and who have given this work the cross-party status it so profoundly deserves.

Chair of the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation, Sir Peter Bazalgette said:
The task of the Holocaust Memorial Foundation was to find a site that would allow a striking, prominent and iconic memorial to be built. There is nowhere better to achieve this than beside Parliament. I stood there with a Holocaust survivor earlier this week and I will never forget his reaction when I told him of our plans. It demonstrated how we are doing the right thing for Britain’s Holocaust survivors in preserving the memory of humanity’s darkest hour. But just as importantly, we’re doing the right thing for our country by creating a permanent reminder of the need to fight hatred and prejudice in all its forms.

The Chief Rabbi said:
The historic announcement today, of the establishment of a permanent memorial to the Holocaust, next to Parliament, at the very heart of British democracy, will be warmly received by the Jewish community. Indeed, it sends the strongest possible message on behalf of the whole country, that the lessons of the Holocaust will forever form a part of our national consciousness and that the legacy of survivors will be secured for posterity.

Alex Salmond MP said:
It’s absolutely right there should be a permanent and iconic national memorial next to Parliament. This should be a catalyst for further commemoration and education on the Holocaust across the whole of the United Kingdom. I’m proud to be involved with this work and hope that I will be able to add a particularly Scottish dimension to how the Holocaust is marked and remembered as part of the overall project.

Ed Balls said:
One year ago, the Prime Minister’s Holocaust Commission called for a striking and prominent new national memorial. Today we begin to realise that ambition, pledging a truly iconic landmark in Westminster. It’s so important that when children come to Parliament and learn about the history of our great democracy and all that we stand for as a nation, they will also be able to learn about and remember what happened when racism, antisemitism and hatred was left unchecked and allowed to flourish.

Karen Pollock, Chief Executive of Holocaust Educational Trust said:
Twenty eight years ago when the Holocaust Educational Trust was founded, we may have hoped but would never have believed that Holocaust education and commemoration would have become so firmly embedded in this country – this memorial, which will be right in the heart of our democracy, sends a clear message about the determination of Britain to ensure the legacy of the Holocaust for generations to come. With education comes remembrance – this special place will give people somewhere to remember and reflect. When we no longer have survivors among us, this memorial will help to ensure that their experiences are never forgotten.

Olivia Marks-Woldman, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, said:
The UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation shares our goal, to extend the reach and impact of Holocaust commemoration, in order to ensure that as a nation we never forget. Holocaust Memorial Day is the central focus for Holocaust remembrance in the UK and it is fitting that these announcements have been made today. As we come together at over 3,600 events across the country, we have a chance to reflect on what has happened in the past and ensure we carry these lessons into a better future. A memorial in the heart of Westminster will add to the work already being done, and ensure a lasting commitment to Holocaust commemoration in the UK.

Communities Secretary Greg Clark said:
The new Holocaust memorial, at the heart of Westminster, will offer the nation the opportunity to pause and reflect, to ensure this and future generations learn the lessons of the atrocities that were perpetrated on humanity. It will also be a constant reminder of the need to challenge hatred wherever and whenever it occurs, to help ensure it can never happen again.
© UK Government Announcements

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UK: Police to mark Holocaust Memorial Day

Dyfed-Powys Police headquarters is to fly its flag at half-mast to mark Holocaust Memorial Day.

25/1/2016- Holocaust Memorial Day, on January 27, each year remembers those who lost their lives in the holocaust during World War Two. The theme for this year’s event is “Don’t stand by.” In addition to the lowering of its flag, Dyfed-Powys Police has circulated further information on the day to all staff and officers and literature has been dispatched to all stations. Deputy Chief Constable Liane James said: “It is important that we remember such tragic events and honour the survivors. "Hate crimes can be frightening and can leave victims feeling vulnerable and insecure. “We all need to take the responsibility and challenge hate crime, ensuring that we do not stand by when we see prejudice and discrimination being committed.”

A spokesman for Dyfed-Powys Police said: "Anti-Semitism, racism and hate crime have not gone away. "And every one of us can make a difference in our own communities. "We can all challenge prejudice and discrimination if we hear and see it in our schools, workplaces or in the general public." If you, or anyone you know, has experienced a hate crime or incident:
•Call into your local police station
•Speak to a Police Officer or PCSO on the street
•Phone the Police on 101 to tell them about something that has happened before
Share article

Call 999 if you or someone else is in immediate danger
For more information about Holocaust Memorial Day and the events taking place visit hmd.or.uk or follow the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust on Twitter via @HMD_UK
© The South Wales Guardian

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New Czech website focuses on the Romani Holocaust

26/1/2016- On Wednesday, 27 January, the world will honor the memory of the millions of victims of the Holocaust. On this occasion the In IUSTITIA public benefit corporation, the only group in the Czech Republic comprehensively dedicated to the issue of hate violence, is launching an educational website focused on the topic of the Romani Holocaust, sometimes referred to as the Porajmos.  "In recent years we have noted remarks made on the Czech political scene doubting the existence of the camp at Lety by Písek or otherwise belittling those who fell victim to the genocide of Romani people during the Second World War," attorney Martina Houžvová said when describing what prompted the group to create the information portal. The website, www.nepopirej.cz ("www.don'tdenyit.cz")is focused on outreach and raising awareness about the issue of denying the Romani Holocaust in the Czech Republic and is intended for both the broader public and for experts.

The website is divided into four thematic areas: History, Society, Law and Memory. "We have produced legal analyses about Holocaust denial," Houžvová said. Those analyses are published on the website in the form of questions and answers. The "Memory" section includes a short film telling the story of the camps that have been preserved at Lety by Písek and Auschwitz. "Ever since, when I close my eyes, I see him with his outstretched arm and that cap with the skull and crossbones," Holocaust survivor Arnošt Vintr has said of his memories of Adolf Hitler. "I can't watch films where there is a war... I have never watched a war film, not since I was a child."

The number of victims of the Nazi persecution of Romani people in Europe is currently estimated at between 200 000 and 500 000. After the end of the war only approximately 600 children, men and women from the original Czech Romani population returned from the concentration camps and from other internment or labor facilities after the war ended. The genocide of the Bohemian and Moravian Romani people was, therefore, probably one of the most thoroughly-performed genocides of the Second World War. The Romani population there was almost completely murdered off at that time.
© Romea.

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