Headlines March 12, 2004

Headlines 9 January, 2004

European-wide Action Week Against Racism
"We're full of prejudice. We don't judge people by their deeds, but through the lens of our prejudice" said Ladislav Durkovic of the Slovakian NGO 'People Against Racism'.

Europe stands up against racism: activities in 40 European countries
From 20 to 28 March 2004, various non-governmental-organisations in more than 40 different European countries will raise their common voice against one common European problem: racism.
21 March was declared 'International Day for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination' by the General Assembly of the UN as a reaction to the murder of 70 demonstrators in Sharpeville, South-Africa, in 1960. Also in 21st century Europe, racism still keeps on affecting people's minds, thoughts and deeds. This year NGOs in countries such as Azerbaijan, Cyprus, France and Ireland concentrate on anti-racist education and big nation-wide campaigns with hundreds of different events are launched in Finland and Germany.

Racism: Spot it and Stop it!
A few months before the European Union enlarges eastwards, the general public all over Europe is alerted about the situation of the Roma minority in Slovakia. Racism, discrimination and stigmatization have led to a social uprising, despair and violence. But the situation of minorities and migrants is frightening not only in Slovakia, all over the continent, a dark shadow called racism is laying over our societies, sometimes obvious, sometimes hidden. This "hidden", silent racism is not less dangerous: it leads consequently to violence and "open' discrimination.
The European-wide Action Week Against Racism 2004 aims to Spot this European-wide problem in order to Stop it.

Additional Information:
A full list of activities

2004 Spot it! Poster front

2004 Spot it! Poster back

UNITED for Intercultural Action is a network of 560 organisations all over Europe working against racism and fascism. Activities at the local level in the framework of the campaign around 21 March are carried out by organisations from 40 European countries. The campaign is co-ordinated by the UNITED International Secretariat.

Contact the UNITED office for further information. We will be happy to supply you with contact information of an organisation near you that is involved in the campaign.
UNITED for Intercultural Action

10/3/2004- The fascist Nationale Alliantie (NA) announced its first demonstration, at the beginning of February, in support of a demand for the release of the Cees Gardien, who is in jail awaiting his trial for killing Yapcup Yuruyucu, a Turkish immigrant alleged to have robbed the garage firm owned by Gardien who is wheelchair-bound and an invalid. Though the march, in The Hague on 21 February, was advertised on many right-wing web fora, only 25 fascists turned up on the day. The NA is a split from the New National Party (NNP), which has partly moved into yet another right-wing extremist outfit, NieuwRechts, and which still has, partly, retained an independent existence. Recently, there have been defections by high-ranking NNP members to the NA whose leader is Jan Teijn, a veteran extremist. Teijn kicked off his fascist career in the Centrum Democraten in Rotterdam and then went over to CP'86, where he was a member of a national socialist faction and, in the end, got himself elected for the NNP in the city's council in the Feijenoord district, a seat he still holds. When Teijn is not busy with party politics and factioneering, he is marching in support of the SS in Belgium or is touting nazi paraphernalia or hate music on his website. The NA demonstration represented a strange cross-section of the Dutch fascist scene, with people from the board of the NNJ, the NNP's youth wing, together with the leader of the Jonge Fortuynisten for the region The Hague, the youth section of the right-wing populist List Pim Fortuyn. In charge of security at the demonstration was the NA's own security chief, Ton Hoogduin, the former bodyguard of late Centrum Democrat leader Hans Janmaat. Hoogduin achieved notoriety as a football hooligan of ADO Den Haag and once hurled a nail bomb on a crowded stadium terrace. Peter van Egmond and Wim Beaux, who defected to the NA some weeks ago and now form, together with Ton Steemers, the leadership of the NA's North Netherlands region, carried one of the two banners. These three racists have between them also a lengthy political history.

The demonstration ended after 30 minutes with a speech by Teijn, who raged at Anti-Fascist Action because it had dared to attempt ‚ unsuccessfully ‚ to prevent the demonstration by sending an open letter, exposing the fascists behind this march and calling for it to be banned, to the city council and mayor. Shortly before the demonstration ended, Michael Krick, a notorious nazi from Germany but living in the Netherlands, dropped by to take a look. The oft-convicted Krick, currently active in Eite Homan's Aktiefront Nationaler Socialisten, was extradited to Germany for possessing hate music and displaying nazi symbols at a demonstration, but was released last year. The NA's future will probably be no different from other breakaway factions. It is already quarrelling with almost everybody in sight and seems to have attracted some activists who are infamous for causing factional strife in other parties. The NA is not alone in cobbling together strange marches in The Hague. On 23 January, a 40-strong ragbag of right-wing extremists took part in a march, organised by JongRechts, the youth organisation of NieuwRechts, under the slogan "Less violence, more order". This march, like the NA's parade a month later, used law and order slogans in a bid to exploit feelings of unease amongst white people following the shooting of Hans van Wieren, a teacher at the Delta school in The Hague, by a young Turkish boy, identified only as Murat D.

12/3/2004- Integration is fast becoming the dirty word of the new millennium. It is a central element of Dutch immigration policy which is trying to force immigrants to fit in en masse. Integration is the Dutch cure for "ethnic crime" and distrust of "people who don't think like we do". It is the government-designed oil to smooth the entry of newcomers into society and harmonise the divide between the newcomer and native communities. These are lofty, but misguided, ideals. Learning the Dutch language and getting to know the local culture is very worthwhile. But Dutch politicians are forcing the issue in such a way that they seem to be suggesting the native language and culture of newcomers is somehow bad and of less importance. To integrate in the Netherlands, immigrants must thus become Dutch. And this speaks volumes about famous Dutch "tolerance" and the nation's respect for the enriching influence different cultures can impart on the Netherlands. The Dutch nation is swiftly losing its grip on these admirable traits.

Once known as a bastion of tolerance, the Netherlands is leading a shift against immigration and this misguided approach to integration is moving full steam ahead. The government received solid backing last week as the ACVZ advisory commission told Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk that integration courses do not breach the European Convention on Human Rights. It also said the Netherlands was entitled to demand that immigrants successfully pass an integration course before gaining a permanent residence permit. This is good news for a Cabinet which resolved last month that all non-EU nationals wishing to enter the Netherlands permanently to join their Dutch partner should be required to complete an integration course in the country of origin before they arrive. But interestingly, people from the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan are exempted from having to complete an integration course in their home country because their national governments have signed treaties with Dutch authorities. It is doubtful whether countries such as Sudan or Morocco will be allowed to sign such treaties of exclusion, an indicator of growing Dutch racism against those less fortunate. "Warm-heartedly" though, the Dutch government is prepared to offer learning materials for foreign partners to learn about the Netherlands and its language. But they must pay for their studies themselves  a sure fire way to exclude poor people.

The Dutch cabinet decided last week it wants to force Dutch partners to earn at least 120 percent of the minimum wage, excluding poorer people from marrying a foreigner. Should the proposal become law, both the partner and the Dutch national must also be 21 years old. The media lopsidedly reports on "ethnic crime", the socio-economic problems of immigrants or that long-term immigrant residents speak inadequate Dutch and have failed to integrate into Dutch society. Positive reports such as an Education Inspectorate study indicating last year that Islamic schools stimulate integration are a drop in the ocean. The study was also instantly dismissed by the Liberal VVD which demanded greater restrictions on Islamic schools. The party's call was labelled a "witch hunt" and failed to gain Parliament support. Despite the end result, it indicates how prejudice can overshadow truth. Common sense is thus distinctly lacking in Dutch immigration policy. Take for example Immigration Ministry plans to conduct integration exams over the phone, requiring would-be immigrants to receive a pin number from a Dutch diplomatic mission in their home country. The foreigner will use the pin number when an examiner in the Netherlands rings them to test their grasp of the Dutch language and culture. The pin number is designed to ensure they are not cheating by getting someone else to take the exam, but would it be nitpicking to suggest this is not exactly a Dutch by forcing integration down an immigrant's throat is xenophobic and deprives them of dignity. The Dutch should study how to best welcome new arrivals ñ very many of whom want an opportunity to better themselves and by so doing contribute to society. Either way, a Justice Ministry spokeswoman said the Netherlands stands alone as the only country forcing immigrants to do integration courses in their country of origin. This is a dubious honour. Neither "tight-border-controls" Britain nor the "anti-terrorist" US request immigrants to complete integration courses when they arrive, but Germany is poised to legislate this year what is expected to be compulsory integration courses for foreigners in Germany.

Will Dutch intolerance thus spread to its neighbours? Islamic veils are banned in France, the US demands its new citizens prove their command of the English language and American general knowledge, while Australia controversially refused boat people stranded off its west coast to come ashore in 2001. And a European Commission survey this week showed that 80 percent of EU nationals are in favour of stronger immigration controls. The Bureau Gallup survey also said 79 percent of the Dutch backed stronger controls. Anti-immigration sentiments are therefore not unique to the Netherlands, but are worrying in a century that will be shaped by an internationally-mobile population. Forcing people to integrate robs them of their cultural heritage, self-worth and national identity. Voluntarily getting along with your neighbours and integrating and adapting to a tolerant, foreign society is rewarding, but trying to fit in with an increasingly anti-immigrant Dutch community is not. And as another government advisory commission pointed out last week, the Dutch are not even offering extra incentives to integrate, such as discounted course costs or shorter waits for a permanent residence permit. Should immigrants thus adjust and take on Dutch morals and standards to integrate, becoming as intolerant as the Dutch are becoming?
No, not on your life.
©Expatica News

14/3/2004- An anti-racist group on Sunday launched a campaign to try and prevent attacks on Muslim and Arab residents of Spain following bomb attacks in Madrid that were claimed by the Islamic extremist group Al Qaeda. "Given the hypothesis that this could be a terrorist attack by Al Qaeda, we want to alert all of society to the serious risk of racist and xenophobic reactions," a statement from the SOS Racism group said. "Immigrants of Arab origin are already part of Spanish society, and such reactions would be extremely serious," the group said in its statement, which took the form of an open letter to political parties and Spanish institutional bodies. The campaign came on the heels of a new claim of responsibility by a group claiming to speak for Al Qaeda, and as Spaniards were due to vote in parliamentary elections. Thursday's attacks on trains in Madrid killed at least 200 people and injured more than 1,400.
SOS Racism prefaced its statement with a strong condemnation of the attacks
© Khaleej Times

16/3/2004- Exactly who was behind the Madrid train bombings is still not certain but three of the five being questioned are Moroccan, one of whom is reported to be linked to attacks in Casablanca last year. There is a large Moroccan immigrant community in Spain and many fear reprisals against their families, businesses and places of worship. Islamic leaders in Spain were quick to denounce the 11 March Madrid attacks, even though the finger of blame was initially pointed at Basque separatists Eta. At least eight Muslims were among the 200 people killed and more than 40 among the hundreds of injured. But talk of al-Qaeda links has again muddied the perception of Islam and made ordinary Muslims feel insecure in the land they have happily made their home.

Rumours of repercussions
The white stone and marble Cultural Islamic Centre and mosque stands out against the backdrop of high-rise flats along the M-30 motorway out of Madrid. Inside it is a cool oasis of serenity that echoes with the imam's call to prayer. But the number of prayer times has been reduced and entrance to regular visitors is restricted. The centre's secretary, Mohamad Saleh, says the safety precautions are necessary. "We are worried about the repercussions that there may be against Muslims," he said. After 11 September eggs were thrown at the mosque and some Muslims were sacked from their jobs simply because of their religion. There are already reports of abuse on the street, Arab businesses having windows broken and rumours of demonstrations outside the mosque being planned.

Moorish memories
"We felt for the victims, the same as everyone, this sort of desperate terrorism affects all areas," said Mr Saleh. "But people shouldn't punish a religion or country because of who commits a crime. If a Christian kills, are all Christians blamed? Are the Basques blamed if Eta attack? "These people are terrorists and terrorists are criminals wherever they are from. "They cannot have real faith or know God. For a Muslim to kill a person unjustly is to kill everyone. There is no justification to kill." A banner reading "No to terrorism. Solidarity and condolences to the victims and their families" hangs under the arch of the centre's entrance. There are about 500,000 Muslims in Madrid and on Fridays between 1,500 and 2,000 faithful pray at the mosque. Most are from Morocco, Algeria and other Arab states. Spain has a long, if bloody, history with its Arab neighbours to the south. Many Arabic dishes, words and architecture survive in modern Spain, remnants from the Moorish conquest of the peninsula which ended in 1492.

'Good people'
But now, many immigrants who have made the country their second home don't feel safe. A 46-year-old Algerian, who would not give his name, said there had been threats and people were afraid. "I feel one of the people here and feel for them but I don't like the way they now look at us in the street," he said. "A friend of my wife's came home pale and frightened the other day after a group of kids threatened her, shouting 'Dirty disgusting Moors'." But he said the Spanish were genuinely good people and hopefully would move on with their lives. Moroccan immigrant Rabii, 26, playing draughts with bits of cardboard outside the mosque, said it still had to be proved that al-Qaeda was to blame. "The people coming over here are not here for jihad, they are coming here to find a better future. But now we can't go to the mosque and they are stopping us praying." A greater concern for him was that the difficult task of finding a job would be made harder after the attacks.

After the pain, peace
Businessman Ahmed Jbari, 53, from Tangiers, says the adverse reactions are down to ignorance. "Here in Madrid there is a mix of everyone, Jews, Muslims, Christians - it is like a big family and we all have our way of life. ©BBC News

17/3/2004- A German Islamic leader on Wednesday criticized German authorities for carrying out a large number of raids on mosques and homes of Moslems. Nadeem Elyas, chairman of the Central Council of Moslems, said police had searched more than 80 German mosques and over 1,000 apartments and offices belonging to Moslems in Germany in connection with anti-terror sweeps. "All this achieved nothing," said Elyas in a Deutschland Radio interview. Elyas called on German authorities to view the Moslem community as partners in the struggle against terrorism. "We must indeed exclude fringe groups and win over the majority of German Moslems as partners by giving them the feeling they belong here," Elyas said. He underlined that the Central Council strongly condemned last week's Madrid attacks which left 200 people dead and are suspected to have been carried out by Islamic extremists. Islam cannot justify such acts, declared Elyas. Germany has about 3.1 million Moslems out of a total population of 82 million. The vast majority of German Moslems are from Turkey. Leaders of the extremist group which carried out the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States lived in the northern German city of Hamburg, posing as students, in the years prior to the attack.
©Expatica News

17/3/2004- The Central Council of Jews in Germany intends to fight an American-based animal-rights group over a controversial campaign likening animals to victims of the Holocaust, according to a published report Wednesday. Council Chairman Paul President has vowed to use Germany's stringent laws against public display of Nazi emblems or slogans to stop the "Holocaust On Your Plate" campaign being launched in coming days throughout Europe by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), according to the report in Berliner Zeitung newspaper. After making waves throughout the U.S. last year, PETA's controversial "Holocaust on Your Plate" exhibit opens in Stuttgart Thursday, coinciding with a national advertising campaign. The display, which consists of eight freestanding 2.5-metre panels, each showing photos of factory-farm and slaughterhouse scenes side-by-side with photos from Nazi death camps, graphically depicts the point made by Yiddish writer and Nobel laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer, who wrote, "In relation to [animals], all people are Nazis." But Spiegel, representing Germany's 100,000 Jews, calls the exhibit and its accompanying billboard promotional campaign "an anti- Semitic provocation" which could jeopardize fragile gains made by Jews in post-war Germany. "We have hired a number of attorneys and are exploring all legal avenues for stopping this dangerous campaign," Spiegel told the Berlin paper. "Should PETA actually go through with its plans to launch a billboard campaign equating the holding of chickens in mass-breeding facilities to the incarceration of Jews in concentration camps, we'll most certainly file legal complaints," Spiegel was quoted as saying.

In Germany, all public display of Nazi emblems or slogans is banned. In addition, it is potentially slanderous to call someone a Nazi or even to compare an individual or a group to the Nazis. But PETA officials said the European campaign would go ahead as scheduled. "The exhibit will make its European debut in Germany at Stuttgart's historic Schlossplatz to remind shoppers and the lunchtime crowd of the dangers of turning one's back on the victims of oppression," PETA Deutschland deputy head Harald Ullmann was quoted as saying. "Just as millions of Europeans ignored the concentration camps, allowing them to operate for seven years simply because they were not themselves being victimized, millions of people today turn away from the horrors of factory farming," he explained. "In today's factory farms and slaughterhouses, animals are treated as nothing more than milk-, egg-, and meat-producing machines. They are abused in unthinkable ways. Chickens have their beaks seared off, cows are skinned and dismembered while still alive, and pigs have their testicles yanked out, all without any painkillers. "Like victims of the Holocaust, they are forced to endure a frightening journey on tightly packed transport vehicles through all weather extremes, and then they are herded to their deaths," he said in a statement. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is an animal rights group founded in 1980. PETA works primarily on the issues of animals used for experimentation, food, clothing, and entertainment. It claims to have grown from a handful of volunteers to an international organization with more than 800,000 supporters. Opening Thursday in Stuttgart, Germany, the "Holocaust On Your Plate" exhibit travels to Zurich, Milan, Zagreb, Budapest, Vienna, Bratislava, Prague, Warsaw, Stockholm, Copenhagen and Amsterdam.
©Expatica News

United Nations Human Rights Committee Presented with Documentation on Germany's Human Rights Failure with Respect to Sinti and Roma

18/3/2004- Today, the United Nations Human Rights Committee, the body monitoring states' compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, reviews Germany's compliance with the Covenant. On the occasion of the review, the ERRC has provided comprehensive documentation of a number of human rights issues facing Sinti and Roma in Germany to the Committee. High levels of anti-Romani sentiment in Germany, arbitrary limitations on freedom of movement, racially motivated violence against Sinti and Roma in Germany, and the expulsion of Roma from Germany as a matter of policy raise serious concerns regarding the ability of Roma to realise the rights enshrined in the Covenant. Permeating and underlying many aspects of Germany's poor human rights record with respect to Sinti and Roma are administrative efforts to prevent non-citizen Roma in Germany from integrating in Germany. Of particular concern is the status of "tolerated" ("geduldet"), through which many Roma factually in Germany for periods of often a decade or longer have been prevented from enjoying lives with dignity in Germany. Many of these persons live under threat of expulsion from Germany, and in recent years German authorities have in fact expelled large numbers of Roma from Germany. In a number of instances, German authorities have even forced Roma to go to Kosovo, where they face persecution.

In Germany, Sinti and Roma have also been targeted for racist attacks and have experienced degrading treatment at the hands of law enforcement officials. German authorities have for the most part failed to provide justice even in the most extreme attacks on Sinti and Roma, such as in the case of the 1992 firebombing of an asylum-seekers hostel in the northern German city of Rostock. Germany has also not managed to keep pace with evolving standards on anti-discrimination law in Europe. Germany was under deadline to bring the substance of European Union rules combating racial discrimination into its domestic law by July 2003. To date, the German government has not yet done so. The German government has tabled a number of drafts of an anti-discrimination law, but it has not yet managed to adopt any of these draft bills into law. Also, the German government has not yet ratified Protocol 12 to the European Convention on Human Rights, providing a comprehensive ban on discrimination on a number of grounds in the exercise of any right secured by law, nor has Germany ratified the Revised European Social Charter.

Issues presented in detail in the materials provided by the ERRC to the UN Human Rights Committee include:

  • Arbitrary Limitations on the Recognition of the Sinti and Roma Minority in Germany
  • Forcible Expulsion of Roma from Germany
  • Arbitrary Limitations on Freedom of Movement
  • Arbitrary Limitations on the Rights to Freedom of Expression and Assembly
  • Violence and Other Cruel and Degrading Treatment of Roma
  • Failure to Provide Sufficient Legal Protections against Racial Discrimination

    The submission concludes with a number of recommendations aimed at providing a framework through which the very serious human rights issues facing Sinti and Roma in Germany can be remedied.
    The full text of the ERRC submission

    ©European Roma Rights Center

    15/03/2004- Youngsters from differing religious, ethnic and social backgrounds are being brought together in Belfast in a new scheme aimed at tackling racism, it was revealed today. Racism has become rife south of the city with loyalist paramilitaries targeting, especially, members of the Chinese community. In a bid to build new attitudes from the young up, a charity is bringing more than 50 children from differing ethnic, religious, educational and socio-economic backgrounds together to discuss issues affecting them. The Youth Empowerment Scheme (YES) has set up the weekly meetings, starting on Tuesday, at which young adults will act as mentors to children aged between 11 and 14. YES said that at each session the children will "explore different themes to enhance their understanding of the world around them and tackle issues facing them like racism or bullying". Mentor Ryan Moffett said: "It is important to address concerns young people have about racism and bullying. "I think it is great the children have trained mentors, who are just a few years older than them, to turn to.

    "What is different about YES compared to other youth groups is that it is completely run by young people for young people." Through the medium of mentoring, university students and young professionals will act as positive role models in listening to and encouraging the children. The charity seeks to enable participants to take an active role in society with the aim of promoting positive change and leadership in Northern Ireland. The first meeting comes after a week in which a sinister new racist campaign was revealed in the Donegall Pass area of south Belfast. Leaflets were distributed around the predominantly Protestant district urging people to resist a so-called "yellow invasion". At the same time it was revealed that two thirds of Chinese families had been forced out of the area by loyalist thugs. Assembly member David Ervine, leader of the Progressive Unionist Party which speaks for the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force, admitted on Friday that certain people in the UVF were responsible for the racism. Mr Ervine said it was unclear whether the UVF involvement had been approved by the local leadership, but said it could have a huge impact on his party's relationship with the paramilitary group. "We can't stand on the same ground as those who are avowed racists," he said.
    ©Ireland On-Line

    To claim Jews cause their own suffering by failing to denounce Israeli policy is a revival of an old hatred
    By Stephen Byers, chairman of the Parliamentary Committee Against Antisemitism

    15/3/2004- As the agnostic child of practising Methodist parents, I have viewed with alarm the dramatic increase in anti-semitic attacks and asked myself if it is really the case that Jews must denounce the behaviour of the Israeli government in order to earn a European commitment to fight anti-semitism. In 21st-century Europe, the rise in anti-semitic incidents is directly linked to renewed violence between Israelis and Palestinians. When tensions flare up in the Middle East, synagogues are burned, Jewish cemeteries are desecrated and Jews are attacked. Ethnically and religiously motivated hatred, violence and prejudice, wherever it occurs, should earn unconditional condemnation; sympathy and support for the victims should not be conditional on their behaviour or political convictions. Yet, because rage over Israel's policies can cause these attacks, condemnation is often too slow and increasingly conditional. This is unacceptable. Of course, criticism of Israel's policy is not, of itself, anti- semitic. But it can become so when it involves applying double standards, holds all Jews responsible for the actions of the Israeli government or reveals a demonisation of Jews. It is clearly anti-semitism if it provides an excuse for anti-Jewish hatred. If Chinese restaurants in London were firebombed by angry mobs, would it be right to withhold sympathy for the victims until they condemned China for its policies in Tibet? Should Russian students at British universities be harassed unless they publicly condemn their government's handling of the Chechen crisis? This way of thinking becomes an apology for mass murder. Nobody should be asked to take a loyalty and morality oath as a precondition for protection against racism. No citizen should feel that their equality before the law is dependent on their embrace of political views that we approve of. This is a totalitarian logic that undermines the very foundations of freedom on which our society stands. Yet present-day anti-semites demand precisely that of Jews.

    Acts of anti-semitism are justified by an increasing number of "respectable" commentators, who accuse Jews of being the cause of their own suffering. This logic borders on apology of hatred; worse, it is a veiled threat that if Jews fail to oblige, nobody will stand by them in the hour of need. Instead of sympathising with the victims, anti-semites exploit the Palestinian cause to side with the perpetrators. Around the world, only Israel and the Jews earn such contemptuous treatment. When it comes to Israel, Jews are held collectively responsible. Their sin is not deicide any more, nor are they are accused of possessing sinister racial traits. In the modern world, the methods of the anti-semite are far more subtle. It is no longer the jack-booted Nazi; instead, it is anti-semitism with a social conscience, often based on human rights and the demand of a homeland for the Palestinian people. Today's Jewish "collective crime" is Israel. Nothing is more dishonest and prejudiced than shrugging off responsibility for hatred by saying the victims deserved it. Muslims do not merit Islamophobia because of Osama bin Laden, but Jews are somehow blamed for anti-semitism on account of their alleged uncritical support for Israel. This is an attempt to rationalise anti-semitism. It is a warning sent to Jews not by people who care about them, but by bigots seeking to condone their prejudice.

    Anti-semitism is not rational. It is, as Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said, a virus and it mutates. It will not be defeated unless it is treated as an act of senseless hatred that has no logic, no reason and no justification. simple. Anti-semites feel emboldened again. Their prejudice, suppressed out of guilt but lingering on in the past 50 years, is finding its way back to the mainstream. This cannot be ignored. Anti-racists everywhere have a responsibility to challenge and expose anti-semitism wherever it occurs.
    ©The Guardian

    16/3/2004- The Government was forced into a humiliating climbdown over plans to limit the right of appeal for asylum-seekers after Lord Irvine, a former lord chancellor, made "strenuous representations" opposing the plans yesterday. Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the current Lord Chancellor, told peers yesterday he would abandon plans to deny failed asylum-seekers the right of appeal to the higher courts. The U-turn follows an onslaught of criticism from MPs, Lord Irvine, and Lord Woolf, the highest judge in the land. Yesterday Lord Falconer said he had considered the arguments of Lord Irvine, Lord Woolf and other members of the judiciary, as well as those advanced in debate in the Commons, and would accept changes to the proposal in the Asylum and Immigration Bill. The climbdown is expected to head off a rebellion in the House of Lords, although peers are still unhappy about many measures in the Bill. Yesterday Lord Woolf said he "warmly welcomed" the Government's decision to abandon limits on appeal which he said "will be greeted by approval of the judiciary".
    © Independent Digital

    16/3/2004- Three rightwing extremists have gone on trial charged with brutally killing a fellow gang member near the resort of Interlaken. Marcel von Allmen was murdered and dumped in a nearby lake in February 2001 for allegedly betraying their secret racist fraternity, the "Order of Aryan Knights". Police arrested four men, aged between 17 and 22, a few days after the 19-year-old's body was found. The four told police they had punished von Allmen for breaking the extremist group's code of silence. Von Allmen was allegedly lured to the gang's hideout and beaten to death with an iron bar. His body, which showed torture marks, was then tossed from an 80-metre-high cliff into the lake. Weights had been tied to his ankles.

    District court
    On Monday three of the four suspects appeared before the district court in Bern at the start of a five-day trial. A fourth defendant, aged 17 at the time of the killing, was found guilty of murder in December 2001. The trial of the remaining three suspects had been postponed several times to allow psychiatric reports to be prepared. Police claim the rightwing group planned other killings between 1999 and 2000. Von Allmen's murder shocked local residents and prompted a series of silent marches against violence. "These proceedings are necessary for the local people to come to terms with what happened," said the president of the local community, Simon Margot.

    The Order of Aryan Knights was reportedly set up in 1999 by two of the defendants to fight against the presence of foreigners in Switzerland. However, police in Interlaken said they had no record of crimes being committed against foreigners prior to the arrests. According to Hans Stutz, a specialist on the extreme right in Switzerland, there were 105 racist-related cases in 2003, compared with 120 in the previous year. Offences included verbal racism, the distribution of racist leaflets, denial of the Holocaust and acts of violence. Stutz, who has monitored the rightwing scene in Switzerland since 1989, compiles an annual report on behalf of the Foundation against Racism and Anti-Semitism.
    ©NZZ Online

    Female MPs debate whether they need special preference

    15/3/2004- A quota for the participation of women in politics as a temporary tool to increase their representation in parliament was rejected by MPs in a March 9 vote on the new election law. Liberal MP Jozef Heriban from the New Citizen's Alliance (ANO) party proposed the quotas, arguing that women must be helped to enter top politics, which is still a male domain. Although quotas had been discussed prior to Heriban's proposal, the idea had never won enough support under the general argument that Slovak women's chances of becoming MPs are equal to those of men, and that quotas are discriminatory. Activists had predicted that Heriban's initiative had little chance of success. "I am afraid the quotas have little chance of being approved, and that attitude testifies to the character of our society," Olga Pietruchov· from the Mo nost Volby (Pro-choice) activist group told The Slovak Spectator before the decision. Among those who rejected the temporary quota, a law similar to those approved decades ago in some Scandinavian states such as Sweden, were not only male conservative MPs but, paradoxically, female politicians. "I personally am not at all happy about this proposal despite the fact that I am a woman," said Monika Benov·, deputy chair of the opposition party Smer. "I feel completely equal to my male colleagues in parliament," she said.

    The country's Justice Minister, Christian Democrat Daniel Lipöic even said that, should the quota pass in parliament, he would turn to the Constitutional Court and challenge it as an unconstitutional discriminatory measure. But Heriban, the author of the proposal, argued that voters would not be forced to elect the women on candidate lists, and the measure was only to encourage parties to open the doors to more women among their parliamentary candidates. Some MPs, such as the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia MP Irena Belohorsk·, later accused Lipöic of maintaining a backward image of women as people who "raise children and stand behind the stove". "Everyone is just shouting that there are too many women in the Slovak courts, but when you look at the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court [the highest judicial authorities] there are no women there," said Belohorsk·. She added that there was a similar situation at Slovak schools, where a majority of teachers are women but, almost as a rule, "when there is a man, he is usually the school principal." "We are good enough to be their wives, lovers, and perhaps secretaries and advisors, but we're not good enough for the gentlemen to sit at one table with us on equal terms," Belohorsk· told the Slovak daily Nov: den on February 25. Compared to the last election term, 1998 - 2002, the new Slovak parliament has less female MPs. While females previously made up 20 percent of the legislature, currently there are 25 out of the total 150 MPs, or 16.7 percent. The Slovak cabinet has no female ministers, compared to three in the previous one.

    Many male politicians said that they did not think there were barriers keeping women from entering politics, and that it was often hard to persuade women to do so due to their lack of interest in active politics. Female activists rejected such statements, insisting that women were at a disadvantage when trying to enter top politics. Pietruchov· said that women were still expected to be good mothers and wives, while at the same time working in their regular jobs. The double load prevents many from entering top politics. "There are quite a few women in politics but you don't really see them because they rarely make it to the top," she said. She also pointed out that the interest of women in politics was a evident from the proportion of female assistants to Slovak Mps. "Looking at the list [of MP assistants] you'll find that 40 percent of them are women. Were women not interested in po ©The Slovak Spectator

    by Karin Waringo, freelance journalist and political adviser for the European Roma Information Office in Brussels.

    17/3/2004- Slovakia's Roma have had their first taste of what their future as EU citizens may be. In January, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) issued its third country report on Slovakia. The report concluded "the Roma minority remains severely disadvantaged in most areas of life, particularly in the fields of housing, employment and education." Accordingly, the proclaimed goal of improving the situation of the Roma "has not been translated into adequate resources and a concerted interest and commitment on the part of all the administrative sectors involved." In several weeks, Slovakia will enter the European UniononRespect for human and minority rights was once an important prerequisite for joining the EU, but today an increasingly inward-looking Union seems to feel little concern for Slovakia's Roma and their fellows in the other Central and Eastern European countries. Last year, the European Commission came to very similar findings, stating in its regular report on Slovakia that the Roma minority encounters widespread discrimination, including on the part of law enforcement, and that its economic situation differs grossly from that of the majority population. In the latest Commission report, however, the situation of the Roma is not mentioned. Perhaps it is thought that the improvement of their condition will come later in a kind of trickle-down effect, once EU integration has started to impart its benefits on the Slovak economy and society. But what if this assumption proves ill-founded?

    Settlement blues
    For 10 years, the EU has been insisting that the countries of Central and Eastern Europe make substantial efforts to improve the situation of their Roma minorities. The European Commission and many other public and private donors have invested several hundred million euros in projects related to this purpose. There have been many achievements, such as the establishment of representative bodies and other institutions to advocate for Roma at the national level and the introduction of anti-discriminatory provisions into national law, but the majority of the Central and Eastern European Roma continue to struggle for daily survival. Last year, the UN Development Program warned: "Without proper integration [of the Roma] Ö the opportunity provided by EU accession may quickly disappear. The risk is that, if postponed, the cost of finding solutions for marginalized groups will be immeasurably higher. Ö The human costs of exclusion will spiral, potentially resulting in political extremism and setbacks for the democratic process." Among the many unresolved issues is the problem of adequate housing. This is particularly the case in Slovakia, where an increasing number of Roma live in isolated settlements as a result of social discrimination and a lack of money. A 2003 World Bank survey showed that the Roma living in these settlements are far worse off than those who live in majority-populated areas. The consequences often include lack of access to employment, lack of information, and poor-quality education. Moreover, many of these settlements have little or no access to basic public utilities such as clean drinking water, electricity, sanitation, refuse collection, and transportation. Unresolved property issues and the refusal by local authorities to issue residence permits to settlement residents prevent overdue reparations and the establishment of a proper infrastructure.

    Will these problems be resolved with EU integration? The European Union itself is currently facing some different worries, which make the plight of Roma appear as a secondary concern. Budget negotiations are under way and facing a deadlock. The draft constitution is still on the table and waits to be amended and adopted. The overall economic outlook is bleak; are hardly any jobs available. It's laudable to attract international investors, most recently the South Korean carmaker Kia, to western Slovakia, but where is the employment plan for eastern Slovakia, where unemployment is twice the national average and where the majority of the Roma live? The government sent troops to the trouble spots in eastern Slovakia. Sending troops against its own people is not only cynical, it is despicable, or rather it shows that the Slovak government despises the country's Roma minority. The unrest did not occur in a faraway place like Haiti. It occurred somewhere in the middle of Europe, in a country soon to be an EU member. However, there was no official reaction from Brussels. A few European Parliament members took positions in the media or raised questions to the President of the European Parliament, but neither the Council of Ministers nor the European Commission has reacted so far. This is not the first time this year when Slovakia's Roma and the Roma of the other candidate states have had a taste of how little EU citizenship may mean for them. In January and February, British tabloids ran an extensive campaign against Roma seeking to migrate to the United Kingdom following the entry of their countries into the EU. They produced testimonies from Slovak Roma who explained that after 1 May they would just jump on the first bus to London to live on the back of British taxpayers. The British government subsequently retracted its policy of an open labor market and announced that it will temporarily exclude citizens from the Central and Eastern European acceding countries from its welfare system.

    Did you hear any reaction? Working for a Roma organization, I followed the issue carefully, but I am not aware of any reaction from an EU policymaker, save for Britain's Europe Minister Denis MacShane, who spoke out against what he called a campaign of rancid hatred that he compared to the propaganda against Jewish refugees fleeing Germany in the 1930s. But there was nobody in Brussels to make clear that statements such as "gypsies can't come" are not acceptable in the Europe of today. There was only a huge silence. For the Roma this was hardly a new experience. Exceptions to this pattern are so few they can be easily listed. For the EU, however, failure to integrate its Roma population may one day turn into a nightmare. For now, the plight of the Roma is the problem of a marginalized minority that lives in peripheral regions of Europe. But it could grow into a problem for Europe as a whole, because society will fall apart if an ever-greater number of its citizens are simply left to despair.
    ©Transitions Online

    New group of 50 Slovakian Roma expected Thursday - police plan repatriation

    18/3/2004- A total of 201 members of Slovakia's Roma or Gipsy minority have applied for political asylum in Finland so far this year. The latest to arrive were in a group of 25 on a flight from Prague on Sunday. Another 50 are expected to arrive today, Thursday. Nearly all of the arrivals so far have had their applications refused, says Matti Heinonen of the Directorate of Immigration. One fifth of those who have applied for asylum this year have been in Finland once before for the same reason, and about 40 percent of them have made applications in some other EU country. Police in Helsinki are already making preparations for repatriation of rejected applicants, and are looking for the least expensive option. Under Finnish legislation, the transportation provider who brings in a foreigner who has been refused entry to Finland is responsible for returning that person to the place of origin. Discussions are being held with the Czech airline that most of the Slovaks took to Finland on how many of the asylum-seekers it can take back to Prague. Another option is to charter a plane for the purpose. Jaakko Heinil” of the Helsinki Police Department says that the idea is to act quickly to discourage others from considering coming to Finland in order to make a groundless asylum application.

    Roma from Slovakia are generally seen as economic migrants, although there have also been complaints of discrimination back home. There have been reports of recent unrest in Slovakia sparked by cuts in social welfare. The gap in the standard of living is reportedly so great that the money that is paid to those who are housed in Finland's refugee reception centres during the time that they are in Finland is a considerable economic boost when the rejected asylum-seekers return home. Authorities at the refugee reception centre in Naantali are checking to see if reducing the amount of money that the asylum seekers are paid will discourage frivolous applications. Asylum-seekers in Naantali are given food at the reception centre and just EUR 35 a week; in other parts of Finland, residents at refugee reception centres get EUR 150 a week. Parties of asylum-seekers generally come from the same area, and often from the same village. They usually travel by bus to Prague and fly from there to Finland. Groups of Roma from various countries, including Hungary, Romania, and the former Yugoslavia, have applied for asylum in Finland. The first groups came in 1999.
    ©Helsingin Sanomat

    By Arun Kundnani

    17/3/2004- Foreigners and ethnic minorities in Russia are facing a barrage of racially motivated violence encouraged by extreme-Right political groups, Russia's 'war against terrorism' and official indifference to racist crime. She was knifed eleven times while her father was beaten senseless with baseball bats, chains and knuckle-dusters. Nine-year-old Khurshida Sultanova, from Tajikstan, was the latest victim of skinhead violence in Russia. Her eleven-year-old cousin was hospitalised with head wounds. The brutal attack on the streets of St. Petersburg, on 9 February 2004, is the most shocking in a catalogue of violence that has unfolded in Russia's cities over the last two years.

    Anger at light sentences
    There is now growing concern at the failure of the criminal justice system to prosecute the skinheads responsible for these crimes or to impose adequate sentences. This month, three skinheads appeared in a St. Petersburg court for the 2002 murder of Mamed Mamedov, an Azeri father of eight, who was set upon while working as a street vendor. Two of the men received sentences of 4 and 7 years while the third was released on the grounds that he had already served enough time. A video recording of the murder, which the assailants had filmed and the police later seized, showed a gang of 20 to 25 skinheads mounting an armed assault against Mamedov. What makes the case unusual was the clear evidence of a racial motive - the video film showed that the attack was accompanied by racist slurs. A slogan popular with extreme-Right political groups, 'Russia for the Russians', was also chanted. The Mamedov trial was therefore seen by many as a test of the City Hall's willingness to tackle racist crime. Many hoped that the court would use the case to send out a clear signal that such crimes would not be tolerated. But instead, say critics, the light sentences sent the opposite message. The executive director of the Azeri National and Cultural Community in St. Petersburg was outraged at the sentences and said that they were going to appeal. Attacks on ethnic minorities in St. Petesburg have increased dramatically over the last two years and at least four murders have been reported. Just days after Kurshida's murder, a man from the Caucasus was beaten to death in a St. Petersburg railway station. In the same month, a Jewish cemetery in St. Petersburg was vandalised, with swastikas and graffiti daubed on over fifty graves. A lawyer at the St. Petersburg office of the Russian Committee of Lawyers in Defence of Human Rights said that the vast majority of crimes against ethnic minorities not only never reach court, but are not even reported to the police. Many of those attacked by skinheads are undocumented migrant workers who are nervous about contacting a police force which will check their status and deport them.

    Students in fear
    A survey by the Moscow Bureau of Human Rights states that the number of skinheads in Russia has risen to over 35,000 in the past two years. There are 5,500 skinheads in Moscow and 3,000 in St. Petersburg. Skinheads fall into three groupings: Skinlegion, a branch of the German group Blood and Honour and United Brigade 88. In addition to these organised skinheads, many more roam the streets. Not only are Muslim and Jewish minorities targeted but also students from Asia and Africa. On 21 February 2004, Amaro Antonio Limo, from Guinea-Bissau, was stabbed to death in broad daylight just metres from the Medical Academy where he studied, in Voronezh, 360 miles south of Moscow. Foreign students in the town have documented seven killings and about seventy attacks in the past five years. The police, who do not keep records of racially motivated attacks, say that only two students have been killed, and not in race attacks. They and the university officials usually blame hooliganism, not racism, for the attacks. 'It could happen to all Russians', said the assistant rector, 'foreigners are just more visible'. The police had denied a racial motivation for Limo's killing on the grounds that the assailants had hair and were therefore not skinheads. But the students say that those who habitually harass them are not distinguished by lack of hair, but by their aggression and threats to kill. Limo's death led to a three-day walkout by angry students, drawing national media attention and forcing a meeting with the mayor, regional heads and education leaders. In Moscow, too, Third World students say they are living in fear. 'At any hour you must be ready to fight', says one Cameroonian. Ambassadors from 37 African countries have appealed to the Foreign Ministry for protection for its nationals. Human rights groups have documented widespread harassment which often occurs with the compliance or support of the police. In November 2003, 42 students died in a suspicious late-night fire at the Russian People's Friendship University in Moscow. Although the fire was officially described as an accident, most foreign students are convinced it was not. They say that they were receiving bomb threats for weeks before, forcing students onto the cold streets in the middle of the night. The fire killed newly arrived students from Angola, China, Vietnam, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Ivory Coast and Tahiti. And survivors are highly critical of the college authorities. One student described how he video-taped students banging on the glass for help and how the hands just slipped down the glass, as 'they were gone'.

    Alexander Brod, director of the Moscow Human Rights Bureau, has warned that White supremacist skinhead gangs are multiplying, fuelled by nationalist political groups and publications. 'All this Nazi ideology gives rise to hatred of all non-Russians... many people think skinheads are not bandits but Russian patriots who are fighting for the purity of Russian society'. The Bureau has also claimed that there are close ties between the law enforcement agencies and extreme-Right groups. Yuri Vdovin, of the human rights group Citizens' Watch said: 'The police simply don't want to deal with the problem. Many share the same views as the thugs. They sympathise.' At an extreme-Right rally held in front of Moscow's Gorky Park on 16 February 2004, the slogan 'Russia for the Russians' was chanted once again. Leaders of the extreme-Right Nationalist Patriotic Party, who organised the demonstration, said that they were protesting against Chechen terrorism. Human rights activists who mounted a counter-demonstration were arrested by riot police.

    Anti-Chechen sentiments have been on the rise in Moscow since a bomb exploded on the city's subway on 6 February 2004, killing 41 commuters. Vladimir Putin was quick to pin the blame on Chechen terrorists and proposed new legislation against 'illegal immigration'. The police have conducted high-profile swoops of mosques under the pretext of foiling terrorism and are rounding up anyone who looks like they might be from Chechnya. There have also been reports of gangs conducting 'revenge attacks'. When the roof of a swimming pool in south Moscow collapsed, on 14 February, groups of skinheads swarmed through the area within hours, beating up members of ethnic minorities. With Russia's 20 million Muslims being regarded as the 'enemy within' and a growing hostility towards immigrants, Russia's racism is coming to align itself increasingly with that in the rest of Europe. The Soviet era's official ideology of 'paternalist solidarity' with the Third World has given way, in the new Russia, to xenoracism. And two decades of conflict in Afghanistan and Chechnya have left Russia with a particular fear of the poorer nations to Russia's south. Few see any signs of these trends being checked by strong action from Russia's 'strong man', Vladimir Putin.
    ©Institute of Race Relations

    19/3/2004- Around 40 foreign students held a rally against racism near the University of Electricity and Technics in St. Petersburg on Friday, Interfax news agency reported. The rally was organized in connection with the death of a Syrian student of the university who was pushed under a subway train in St. Petersburg on March 13. The members of the rally called on the authorities to stop extremism. In the course of the investigation a 20-year-old was detained. The detainee, who is suspected of pushing the Syrian off the platform of the subway station, appeared to be disabled. A murder inquiry has been instigated. Meanwhile, three men detained in the city of Voronezh in connection with the murder of an African student have confessed to the crime. However, the acting head of the Interior Ministry's information department, Valery Gribakin, was quoted by the News.ru web agency as saying that the crime had been committed "not on national grounds but as a result of a personal conflict" connected with a woman. 24-year-old student of the State Medicine Academy Amar Lima from Guinea-Bissau was stabbed to death on February 21 in what looked like a racial hatred attack. The murder sparked a wave of protests among foreign students in the city. The students have organized a self-defense committee after repeatedly accusing the authorities of paying little attention to the problem of racism.

    17/3/2004- At least six people have been killed in clashes between crowds of Kosovo Serbs and Albanians in the flashpoint northern town of Mitrovica. Nearly 300 were injured in heavy bursts of gunfire, including 11 French troops with the Nato-led force, two seriously. Violence has spread to several towns, with UN offices coming under attack. Tensions flared in Mitrovica on Tuesday when three Albanian children drowned, allegedly as they were trying to escape from Serbs who chased them with a dog. The boys' deaths came a day after an 18-year-old Serb was wounded in a drive-by shooting in central Kosovo, prompting clashes between Serbs and Nato peacekeepers. There were clashes between Serbs and Albanians at the scene of Monday's shooting incident, close to the village of Caglavica, with several Serbian houses on fire. Mitrovica has seen some of Kosovo's worst post-war violence but has been relatively quiet for more than a year. Wednesday's clashes have been the worst for four years in terms of loss of life, says the BBC's Nick Thorpe. Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said Wednesday's attacks showed the true nature of Albanian separatism, "its violent and terrorist character", and called for Kosovo Serbs to be given autonomy.

    Scores wounded
    Hundreds of Kosovo Albanians converged on the southern part of the divided town of Mitrovica to vent their rage after the boys drowned in the Ibar River. Kosovo Serbs controlling the northern part also started gathering for the confrontation. Peacekeepers blocked off a bridge separating the Serbs and Albanians and fired tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades to keep the angry crowds apart. But as the Albanians tried to force their way across the bridge - and a second one - there were bursts of gunfire, and a reported grenade explosion. Four Albanians and two Serbs were killed in the brief confrontation. The French soldiers were wounded by stones or shrapnel from a grenade, Capt Athanasios Zormbas, a spokesman for the Nato force, said. UN spokesman Gyorgy Kakuk told BBC News Online the Albanian-dominated southern part of the town was still tense, with large numbers of Albanians still on the streets. Towards the evening, Albanians attacked offices of the UN administration in several places, including the western towns of Prizren and Pec - as well as forcing the evacuation of Serb returnees from Bijelopolje, Mr Kakuk said. Thousands of UN police and Nato peacekeepers have been deployed to restore order and a curfew has been imposed.

    Kosovo's top political leaders - including UN administrator Harri Holkeri - have condemned the violence and Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi has gone to the troubled town. Mr Rexhepi urged the Nato peacekeepers to restore calm - and a similar call came from his Serbian counterpart, Vojislav Kostunica. After an emergency session of his cabinet on Wednesday, Mr Kostunica denounced the Albanian "onslaught on the remains of the Serb community" in Kosovo. Mitrovica has been a flashpoint since the UN took over the administration of Kosovo in 1999 after Nato air strikes forced a Serb withdrawal. Around 200,000 Serbs left Kosovo, but some remained in isolated enclaves or more homogeneous blocs, like northern Mitrovica. Kosovo's future status is unresolved. Mr Kostunica recently proposed that the province be either divided into cantons or split on ethnic lines. That was immediately rejected by Mr Holkeri. On Wednesday, the Serbian prime minister said: "The Serb community in the province must have not just rights, but within these an autonomous area in which it will be able to protect these rights, in which it will feel safe".
    ©BBC News

    18/3/2004-Nato is sending more peacekeeping troops to Kosovo after the worst ethnic clashes there for five years. The troubles began in the divided town of Mitrovica where Serbs and Albanians exchanged gunfire and grenades, and several people were killed. As violence spread across the UN-administered province, 22 people are known to have died and more than 500 were injured, UN officials say. The news provoked protests in Belgrade and other Serbian cities.

    Nato troops are being redeployed from Bosnia to Kosovo to help quell the violence, a spokesman at Nato's headquarters in Brussels said. One company of up to 150 US troops is already on its way and two other companies are on standby, the spokesman told Reuters. There has been widespread international condemnation of the riots, described by Nato as the worst violence since the end of the war in 1999. Tensions resurfaced in the flashpoint town of Mitrovica in northern Kosovo on Tuesday when three Albanian children drowned, allegedly as they were trying to escape from Serbs who chased them with a dog. The boys' deaths came a day after an 18-year-old Serb was wounded in a drive-by shooting in the village of Caglavica in central Kosovo, prompting clashes between Serbs and Nato peacekeepers. So far 22 people have been killed in various outbreaks of violence, a spokeswoman for the UN administration, Unmik, said. Flights in and out of Kosovo have been suspended and internal boundaries with Serbia have been closed.

    Among other incidents:

  • Serb building attacked by Albanians in the capital, Pristina - seven people killed, the UN says. About 100 Serbs evacuated from the city by police and Nato forces
  • three people killed in eastern town of Gnjilane
  • fighting in Caglavica where several Serbs' houses were burned
  • in Kosovo Polje, on the outskirts of Pristina, a local hospital burned alongside Serbian houses attacks against Serb returnees in Belo Polje in western Kosovo
  • rioting in the western region of Pec, where UN offices came under attack and an Albanian was killed by a UN policewoman
  • Thousands took to the streets of Belgrade on Wednesday night to protest at attacks on their fellow Serbs in Kosovo. Demonstrators broke through a police cordon to set a 17th century mosque on fire.
  • A mosque was also set ablaze in the Serbian city of Nis.

    Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said Wednesday's attacks showed the true nature of Albanian separatism, "its violent and terrorist character", and called for Kosovo Serbs to be given autonomy. He denounced the Albanian "onslaught on the remains of the Serb community" in Kosovo.

    Mitrovica has been a flashpoint since the UN took over the administration of Kosovo in 1999 after Nato air strikes forced a Serb withdrawal. Around 200,000 Serbs left Kosovo, but some remained in isolated enclaves or more homogeneous blocs, like northern Mitrovica. Kosovo's future status is unresolved and correspondents say the lack of progress on this issue has increased post-war tensions. Mr Kostunica recently proposed that the province be either divided into cantons or split on ethnic lines. But a spokesman for the Kosovan President, Ibrahim Rugova, told the BBC that independence was the only solution. "It goes without saying that the status should be independence for Kosovo, that is the will of the majority of the people of Kosovo. Kosovo's independence in fact would solve many problems here," Mohamed Hamiti told the World Today programme.
    ©BBC News

  • KOSOVO'S DEEP DIVIDE(background 13/10/2003)
    In Kosovo you measure progress in small steps. Like driving your son to school. So one grey morning in Pristina, Vesna Bojicic, her son Dino and I all squeezed into her tiny Yugo car and headed out of the city. Once Serbs needed an Nato escort to do this safely. Dino's school is in the Serb enclave of Gracanica. It is here that the progress ends. Gracanica is where many of the Serbs still in Kosovo live. It is like Serbia itself. Signs are in cyrillic script. You can buy kajmak, Serbian cheese. And in the centre a tatty Serbian flag hangs stubbornly on the flag pole.

    Success stories
    Most of the rest of Kosovo is very different. Signs are in Albanian. The language of the majority here. Dino used to attend an Albanian school. He speaks the language as well as Serbian. But the school we drop him off at is exclusively Serb. It is hardly the multi-ethnic Kosovo the international community and his mother Vesna believe in. "He was accepted by the children and the teacher at the old school, but the parents of the children made some comment about us. That we are the Serbs, that we should go to Serbia. It was a really big pressure for us." But there are success stories. The multi-ethnic Kosovo Police Service for one. Albanians and Serbs now serve together. About 16% of the force is non-Albanian. Most of those are Serbs. Sergeant Visare Berisha - an Albanian I meet on patrol - was not convinced it could work. "It seems to be," she told me cautiously. "I am surprised. But it seems to be working."

    They certainly need the police here. Organised crime is huge. Ethnic crime though, despite a recent increase, is in the long term falling. Some surveys show a majority here on both sides feel security is improving. But Kosovo's central problem remains. Albanians do not trust Serbs, and Serbs are deeply suspicious of the Albanians. The legacy of the conflict between Kosovo's majority ethnic Albanians and Belgrade in the late 1990s has politicised everything. Serb forces, accused by Nato of committing atrocities against the Albanian population, were withdrawn after a three-month bombing campaign. Since then Kosovo has been run by the United Nations. Under a UN resolution it still officially remains part of Serbia and Montenegro. But in reality Belgrade has no power here.

    Practical issues
    For four long years Belgrade and the mostly ethnic Albanian political leaders in Pristina have all but ignored one another. Now though the UN has decided it is time for the first talks between the two sides. They will focus on practical issues: Energy Transport Missing persons The return of more than 100,000 displaced people. But Kosovo's final political status will not be discussed, for now. With feelings so deep on both sides, it's understandable that final status will be left for another day. But this limbo situation that Kosovo finds itself in does not help one bit. The economy is shot to pieces. In Kosovo unemployment is a crippling 60%. Factories lie dormant with little hope of investment. The UN says it must tackle standards before it can tackle Kosovo's final status. But without status, no-one knows what they are investing their money in.

    Attracting investment
    The UN knows it has a huge task on its hands. Even after spending an estimated $10bn on and in Kosovo since the war. In his office in Pristina, Harri Holkeri, the head of the UN mission in Kosovo tells me how he hopes to kick start the economy. "By improving the security in general the investments are more ready to come. The faster society develops towards democratic institutions the easier the investors will come. And no doubt when the final status of Kosovo can be fixed, it helps a lot." But there seems no sign that this is remotely possible in the next decade, I put it to him. He hesitates, then says: "I do not want
    ©BBC News

    17/3/2004- The Paris court of appeal ruled Wednesday that it is competent to hear the case against former Yahoo! boss Timothy Koogle who was acquitted a year ago of illegally selling Nazi memorabilia over the Internet. The decision means the appeal hearing will go ahead later this year. Koogle, who headed the US Internet company from 1995 to 2001, was brought to court by the Association of Auschwitz Deportees, which said he had broken French laws that ban the exhibition of Nazi uniforms and insignia. Wednesday's hearing centred on arguments over what jurisdictions should apply to Internet companies that sell transnationally over auction sites. Koogle's lawyer said that if French law could be invoked simply because the Yahoo! Internet site was available in France, then by the same token all jurisdictions in the world could be brought to bear. But for the state prosecutor's office, which brought the appeal against Koogle's acquittal, the logical conclusion of this argument was that no laws at all could be made to apply to an Internet company -- which was clearly untenable. The court agreed. The row over auctions of Nazi memorabilia led to a civil court decision in 2000 obliging Yahoo! to install software filters to prevent French access to the site. The lower court cleared Koogle in February 2003, ruling there was no evidence for the two crimes with which he was charged: "justifying a crime against humanity," and "exhibiting a uniform, insignia or emblem of a person guilty of crimes against humanity".
    ©Expatica News

    13/3/2004- A survey published this week by the Eurobarometer has revealed that one third of European citizens are against awarding immigrants equal rights. According to this survey, citizens of Spain (86 percent in favour of equal rights) and Portugal (81 percent) are those most accommodating to the needs of immigrants. At the opposite end of the scale are Germans and Belgians with 47 and 45 percent of their citizens being against equal rights for their immigrants. On a European level, 56 percent of citizens recognise the economic need for immigrants and 66 percent want equal rights for legal immigrants. However, 80 percent are in favour of strengthening entry controls into the EU for persons coming from non-member States. Nine in ten EU citizens call for judicial cooperation in civil and family matters. These were some of the main conclusions reached by a poll carried for the European Commission on the attitudes and opinions of European citizens concerning "Justice and Home Affairs" policies in two specific areas: immigration and asylum, and judicial cooperation. The survey, for the latest Flash Eurobarometer, was carried out between 8th and the 16th of December 2003. A total of 7,514 citizens were interviewed. It would seem that although citizens strongly support an immigration policy they are, at the same time, calling for stricter entry controls for third-country nationals. In other words, European citizens are in favour of monitoring immigration, which will optimise the conditions for legal immigrants and facilitate their successful integration. Regarding asylum, citizens are against secondary movements of asylum seekers through exploitation of diverging application systems between member states and 85 percent are in favour of common rules throughout the EU. With the outbreak of cross-border crime, citizens are fully aware of the fact that the member state alone cannot tackle this problem. The results show that 71 percent of EU citizens believe that joint decision-making and action are the best way to prevent and combat crime throughout the European Union.
    ©The Portugal News

    11/3/2004- The administrative hassle of moving within the EU will be reduced under a new law passed by the European Parliament on Wednesday (10 March). Under the new directive, which has to become national law in 2006, a person living in a member state other than their own for five years will have the automatic right to permanent residence. Similarly, EU citizens will no longer have to go through the drawn out bureaucracy of getting a residence permit when they move to a new state - so long as they have identity papers from their own authorities. "In the last four years the Union has achieved a great deal in the areas of security and justice. The new Directive will represent an essential step in ensuring that we can say the same with regard to our citizens' freedom", said justice and home affairs Commissioner Antonio Vitorino. The residency rights will also apply to partners but only if the member states where the couple want to move to recognises the partnership. This means that a non-EU citizen with a gay partner in Denmark could move to Belgium and have automatic residence rights - as marriage between gay couples is recognised in both countries. However, the same would not apply if the couple were to move to Spain or Greece where this is not the case. A Commission Official said that the Brussels executive will not be making member states change their national law in this area - the European Commission has no competence in family law. The new law, which has already been agreed by governments, could benefit the around five million EU citizens living in another member state.

    16/3/2004- Swiss and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have called on the United Nations' top human rights body to reform itself or risk becoming irrelevant. The comments came ahead of the 60th annual session of the UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC), which opened in Geneva on Monday. "Time and time again, the Commission has turned a blind eye to human rights violations and allowed perpetrators to operate with impunity," said the secretary-general of Amnesty International, Irene Khan. "And if it is not willing to confront the major human rights challenges of the world, it will be sidelined," she told swissinfo. Adrien-Claude Zoller of the Swiss NGO, Geneva for Human Rights, agrees that the UN body ñ which is charged with upholding and denouncing human rights violations ñ has lost sight of its mandate. "The Commission has become a chamber of impunity, with the judges and the accused sitting on the same bench," Zoller told swissinfo.

    At a recent debate hosted by swissinfo, the Libyan president of last year's session, Najat Al-Hajjaji, flatly rejected Zoller's statement, saying the UNHRC was not a "forum for impunity". But Zoller worries that suggestions put forward by developing countries to move away from "naming and shaming" countries ñ in favour of a slap on the wrist and more technical and cooperative assistance ñ could weaken the Commission's position. "Condemnation is a must when massive human rights abuses have been committedÖ Without it, the Commission will no longer have a raison d'Ítre," Zoller said. "It's ridiculous that members of the Commission might even consider no longer adopting resolutions on countries," he added. "The only way for them to uphold their mandate is to denounce violations, while at the same time providing support."

    Over the next six weeks, the UNHRC is expected to consider the human rights situation in some 20 countries, and at the same time address a range of issues, including rights to development and education, torture and the sale of children. But NGOs, like Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, have challenged the Commission to go a step further by tackling thornier subjects such as the status of American-held prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, the US-led war on terror and sexual orientation. They're also pushing for debate on the human rights record of several individual countries. "When you look around the world, you see a battering of human rights in Iraq, Afghanistan, Congo, China, Chechnya, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and now Haiti," Khan told swissinfo. "And where is the Commission in all of this?" For his part, Zoller said he hoped there would be follow-up discussions on countries such as Belarus, Turkmenistan and North Korea, which were the subject of resolutions last year.

    NGOs are also pushing for the Commission to appoint an advisor to monitor the effects of anti-terrorism measures on human rights. The United States, Great Britain, Spain and Australia, which is leading this year's session, are against such a proposal, as are India, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. But Amnesty and Human Rights Watch say the US-led war on terror has resulted in numerous human rights abuses and they are calling on the UN to take action. "We have been struggling for the past few years to get the Commission to establish a special mechanism to deal with this issue," Khan told swissinfo. "Since September 11, we have seen human rights come under attack by governments in the name of counter-terrorism and we believe the Commission has to play a role here," she added.

    Other issues NGOs are urging the Commission to examine are violence against women and discrimination against homosexuals. Ten years ago, the Commission established a UN special rapporteur, or advisor, on violence against women, but Khan says widespread v ©NZZ Online

    29/2/2004- Slovak President Rudolf Schuster has met leaders of the Roma minority to try and avert a planned blockade of the country's borders and motorways. Roma groups say they will bring traffic to a standstill on Monday, unless riot police and troops are withdrawn from settlements in Eastern Slovakia. The security forces were deployed there on Wednesday after more than a week of looting. The Slovak president said he supported the withdrawal of the forces. President Schuster met the leaders of two Roma organisations on Sunday in Kosice, eastern Slovakia.

    Welfare benefits
    Mr Schuster called on the Roma leaders not to go ahead with Monday's blockade, but said he supported their demands for around 2,500 police and soldiers to be withdrawn from nearby Roma settlements. Mr Schuster was due to hold more talks on Sunday with members of the cabinet. The widespread looting was a response to cuts in social benefits introduced by the centre-right government, which has vowed to slash public spending. However unemployment among Slovakia's Roma community runs as high as 100 % in places, and state handouts are often all they have to live on. The government has since moved to soften the reforms, offering to pay higher benefits to those who do community service.
    ©BBC News

    Among good marks for an open society, strikes for the condition of Roma and police brutality

    1/3/2004- Though during 2003 there were no reports of politically motivated disappearances, the arbitrary deprivation of life, torture, or inhuman or other degrading treatment, and the Slovak government generally respected human rights, there were problems in some areas, the US State Department says in its annual report on human rights practices in the Slovak Republic. "Police officers allegedly beat and abused persons, particularly Roma. The performance of the security forces, particularly the police, continued to improve during the year. Investigation and prosecution of racially motivated crimes improved, although sentences imposed by some judges appeared lenient, leading some nongovernmental organizations to claim that perpetrators were not adequately punished," reads the report. According to the US State Department, there were 165 complaints of police brutality reported in the first six months of this year, compared with 102 complaints in the same period of 2002. The suspected officers went to trial in only 3 percent of the cases. From October 2002 through June 2003, Minister of the Interior VladimÌr Palko dismissed 236 officers, of whom 6 percent left the force for committing physical abuse or making threats. A supervisor who witnessed a racially motivated crime and did not act was also released from duty. Reports of sterilisations of Roma women under coercion or without informed consent did not escape the attention of the US State Department, which did not find that the Slovak government promoted or approved the operations. The report acknowledges that the government did investigate and took some steps to address the problem. According to the report, skinhead attacks on Roma and other minorities continued and the Roma faced considerable social discrimination. Trafficking in women also remained a problem. The report, which calls attention to discrimination against the Roma, comes into the hands of the Slovak government at a time when it is struggling with massive social turmoil in the central and eastern parts of the country fuelled by members of the minority who protest the cut of their social benefits.

    The Slovak Spectator was unable to get the Slovak government's reaction to the report before going to print, but will report it in next week's issue. The latest progress report of the European Commission on Slovakia, released on November 5, which softened earlier criticism that the central European country had received in May 2003, concluded that, despite all the evident efforts, the situation of the Roma minority remains very difficult. "A majority of the community is still exposed to social inequalities and discrimination in education, the criminal justice system, and access to public services. The living conditions of the Roma essentially remain far below average," said head of the European Commission delegation to Slovakia, Eric van der Linden, in an interview with The Slovak Spectator in mid November 2003. Alvaro Gil-Robles, commissioner for human rights for the council of Europe, also urged the Slovak government in late 2003 to strengthen its laws and practices related to the Roma in Slovakia. Last year, marking the International Day of Human Rights on December 10, Slovak Prime Minister Mikul·ö Dzurinda made a public wish that the rejection of all forms of discrimination, racism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism become a major principle in relationships between the state and its citizens, the news wire SITA wrote. However, on the same day, Columbus Igboanusi, director of the League of Activists for Human Rights and an international human rights lawyer, warned that Roma offenders in Slovakia routinely get higher sentences than offenders from the rest of society. Slovak officials rejected his claims.

    On December 2, 2003, the United Nations Human Rights Comm October, Parliament approved a law on property restitution that provide citizens a second opportunity to apply for the return of land confiscated by the state between 1948 and 1990. The citizenship requirement was criticised for violating international restitution standards. The Central Union of Jewish Religious Communities in the Slovak Republic stated that up to 30 percent of the unclaimed land might have been confiscated from Jewish owners between 1938 and 1945 and sought monetary compensation from the state, reads the report.
    ©The Slovak Spectator

    9/3/2004- Over one hundred Slovakian asylum-seekers have arrived in Finland during the early months of 2004, more than from Slovakia in 2003 as a whole. The flow of new arrivals has continued up to the past few days. Last weekend alone, 48 Slovakian Roma lodged applications for asylum at the Helsinki-Vantaa International Airport. They flew to Finland from Prague. So far this year, 110 people have announced their asylum intentions at Helsinki-Vantaa. Slovakians comprise all but 24 of them. Dozens of Slovakian asylum-seekers also crossed the border from Sweden into Northern Finland in February. A part of the Roma have already previously applied for asylum in Finland or another EU member state. According to the Directorate of Immigration, some of the new arrivals have previously been banned from entering Finland, and these bans are still in effect. Such bans originate from rejections of asylum applications. The preliminary questioning of the Slovaks has revealed that more Slovakian Roma can be expected to arrive in Finland within the next few weeks. The Directorate of Immigration processed 113 applications lodged by Slovakians last year. One was granted a residence permit, 102 applications were rejected, and ten applicants left the country of their own accord. The number of asylum-seekers crossing the border in Northern Finland has usually been small, but the situation has changed of late. Around one hundred asylum-seekers have chosen this route during the past fall and winter. In addition to Slovakians, the group has included people from Macedonia as well as Serbia and Montenegro.
    ©Helsingin Sanomat

    27/2/2004- Bulgaria will have to solve its problems concerning the integration of minorities. European Union and NATO officials have been chanting this statement as one of the major conditions this country will have to meet on its way to Euro-Atlantic integration. For years on end, however, Bulgaria seems to have failed to implement the prescription, in spite of there being more than 100 non-government bodies in this country watching over minority rights. The budget these NGOs are operating with is also rather impressive. According to official data from the Council of Ministers' National Council on Ethnic and Demographic Issues, more than 50 million leva is allocated a year for different projects, mostly targeted at the Roma population. Yet every year at the end of heating season, there are massive strikes around the country launched by Roma whose electricity has been cut due to unpaid bills, usually amounting to millions. After protests and political statements that this is discrimination against the Roma and that they will sue the state in Strasbourg, the power companies have usually responded by turning the electricity back on. There is another side to the coin, though, which is also worth considering, says Nikolay Zelinski, chairman of the recently established Bulgarian Human Rights Association. "This is also discrimination against all those ordinary Bulgarians who pay their bills without protesting. This is discrimination against all of us, the regular taxpayers, because we are the ones who pay for the electricity of the so-called discriminated minority." Zelinski told the Echo there are fresh examples that the Roma usually get what they want because they are considered as a minority.

    Two weeks ago, a rally of more than 200 Roma from the Plovdiv neighbourhood of Stolipinovo gave an ultimatum to the Plovdiv mayor and the local electricity distribution company to stop the power cuts. They threatened to block major traffic routes and crossroads in Plovdiv. The Roma also demanded that their electricity bills, which now sum up to a little more than nine million leva, should be scrapped. A similar development was recently witnessed in the Sofia Roma neighbourhood of Fakulteta. The Roma living there also sent a delegation to the electricity distribution company for negotiations. The talks were tough since it transpired 85.5 per cent of the electricity in Fakulteta is actually stolen. Because of unpaid bills, the electricity there was supposed to be cut, but for the price of five leva skillful Roma illegally connect the houses to the power network. On February 20, the Roma rights foundation Romani Bah told the media they had filed a court action claiming ethnic discrimination by the electricity companies in Sofia and Plovdiv on the behalf of 30 families from Fakulteta who had paid their bills and still did not have electricity. The Bulgarian Human Rights Association is in turn sending protest declarations to the President, the mayors of Plovdiv and Sofia and the Delegation of the European Commission to Bulgaria, saying there is discrimination by water and power supply companies against ethnic Bulgarians. In Stolipinovo, there are more than 2000 Bulgarians who also suffer the consequences of unpaid bills of their neighbouring Roma.

    The situation has led to ethnically-based violence against the ethnic Bulgarians. Zelinski, citing people who have contacted his association for help, said that in the neighbourhood, organised Roma groups have harassed the Bulgarians, robbing and beating them, with the sole purpose of chasing them away so that the Roma can conquer new habitats. Last year, three women of ethnic Bulgarian origin went on a hunger strike as a last resort in their desperation to seek protection from the state. They wanted assistance in getting out of the ghetto. Their wish had not been heard. A year now, last week, the Bulgarians from the neighbourhood again filed a req easier, however, to be on the dole and live on the back of regular tax payers, Zelinski says. More than half the social benefits provided for by the municipal budget in Plovdiv, go to the Roma neighbourhood of Stolipinovo.
    ©Sofia Echo

    24/2/2004- For a time, at least, it looked as if Ireland might stand alone as the only current EU member state throwing open its doors to citizens of accession countries with no restrictions whatsoever. The welcome mat was out, with work and welfare benefits open to people arriving from Eastern Europe after 1 May. However, a changing picture in the rest of Europe, and especially in its neighbour, the UK, has focused Irish minds. On the one hand, the government of Bertie Ahern is extremely keen to attract workers from new member states to come to Ireland. But on the other, ministers want to avoid some would-be immigrants from seeing Ireland's warm welcome as a way of claiming benefits. Mr Ahern has re-iterated his commitment to allow workers in. Put simply, the Irish economy needs them. Such has been the astonishing success of economic growth in Ireland in the past decade, that there is a shortage of workers. Last week Mr Ahern's deputy, Mary Harney, told the BBC that the shortage is being felt across a range of sectors. And she stressed another factor in Ireland's decision-making: that of history.

    Irish diaspora
    For centuries, Ireland has experienced its own mass emigration, with the Irish diaspora heading from these shores to build communities in the United States, Australia and elsewhere across the globe. For that reason, many here suggest that Ireland has a moral duty to welcome workers from other nations who are trying to better themselves - and that it certainly can't stand in their way. But as Mary Harney also warned, welfare benefits can become a magnet to some immigrants - something her government would want to avoid for political as well as financial reasons. And now that the British have announced their restriction, Ireland is likely to tinker with its own social welfare arrangements to prevent that becoming a reality after 1 May. Such a move was broadly supported by an editorial in Tuesday's Irish Times newspaper. "...It is reasonable to protect welfare systems from potential abuse and to safeguard existing labour mobility rights between Ireland and the UK," it said. The issue is certainly creating interest here, and since the start of the year there has been speculation about the effect of Ireland's policy on the numbers of immigrants coming to Dublin and other cities. That has not been driven by fears or scare-stories, but the actions of other governments across the EU has pushed the issue up the Irish agenda. Ireland has witnessed a relatively new phenomenon of immigration in recent years, with people arriving from Africa and Eastern Europe in the main. Long-term population decline has ended, due in some part to such immigration. At the moment, tens of thousands of workers from Eastern Europe ply their trades in the Republic of Ireland. After enlargement, the expectation is that up to 70% of Irish migrant labour needs will be met from that part of those countries. So for Mr Ahern and company, the imperative remains to boost the country's economy by ensuring a large enough supply of labour. The welcome mat remains in place. But, as elsewhere, the key is that countries and their governments want to welcome people who plan to work rather than claim benefits. In the coming weeks, ministers and officials will be checking, and possibly altering, the welfare rules. And then they will watch and wait to see what happens after the accession states join up on 1 May.
    ©BBC News

    27/2/2004- Travellers and asylum-seekers are the minorities viewed most negatively by the majority population, according to a study published yesterday. The research, carried out on behalf of the Government-funded Know Racism campaign by Millward Brown IMS, finds 54 per cent of people believe most asylum-seekers are bogus, while a fifth say Travellers should not have the same rights as the settled community. It also finds 18 per cent of people have witnessed racist abuse. Those who have had least experience of actually meeting and interacting with minorities were most likely to have a negative perception of them, said the report. Interaction with minority groups is highest among the unemployed (50 per cent), students (48 per cent) and those living in Leinster outside Dublin. Those who haven't had experience of minority groups included retired people (82 per cent), the over-65s (80 per cent) and farmers (78 per cent). Asked why they had a negative impression of minority groups, those who had personal experience of them were most likely to rate begging (61 per cent) as a reason, followed by cultural differences (23 per cent), language barriers (18 per cent), being noisy neighbours (6 per cent) and other (22 per cent). Overall, 66 per cent of respondents believed "anyone should be allowed to live in Ireland if they work and pay their taxes", with 40 per cent of people saying "ethnic groups living in this country make a positive contribution to Irish society". However, when asked about asylum-seekers 54 per cent agree with the statement: "Most asylum-seekers are abusing the asylum system and are really economic migrants." Some 71 per cent of people agreed with the statement: "Ireland has its fair share of asylum-seekers and should not take any more." Some 21 per cent of all respondents said Travellers should not have the same rights as the settled community, with 23 per cent saying the nomadic way of life should not be preserved. Mr Philip Watt, of the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism, said the results confirmed the link between non-interaction and negative perceptions. They also show more work needs to be done on tackling specific racism. The report says attitudes towards Travellers are "more instinctive, more deeply ingrained and less subject to correction by liberal sensitivity". It concludes that, "unless effective policies are developed and implemented soon, we run the risk of making the same mistakes which have already been made elsewhere".
    ©The Irish Times

    10/3/2004- People in south Belfast were helping last night to remove racist posters put up in the Donegall Pass area in the past few days. Police are trying to find out who put up the flyers, which included overtly racist comments directed at the Chinese community. A number of leaflets were also put through letterboxes in the area, which has been the scene of a number of racist incidents in recent months. Helped by community workers, residents took down all the posters, which included expressions such as "Keep yellow blood out" and south Belfast is not another "China Town". David Carlin, chairman of the Anti-Racism Network in Northern Ireland, condemned those responsible and said he believed it was part of an "ongoing campaign" to spread fear among ethnic communities in the area. "These posters and leaflets had an overtly racist overtone," said Mr Carlin. "There are certain people who are taking the opportunity to try to create a climate of fear within the ethnic Chinese community in this particular vicinity of Belfast. "This must be tackled." The latest racist incident comes after the Policing Board's meeting with Hugh Orde on Monday, when members told the chief constable that rising levels of racist attacks were a real cause of concern. Reported attacks on ethnic minorities in the city rose by 30 per cent in the past year, forcing many families to flee their homes
    ©IC Network

    9/3/2004- Racist attacks in Scotland have risen by 75 per cent, with the majority of incidents occurring in Glasgow, according to research. Statistics collated by Positive Action in Housing (PAIH), the charity which supports ethnic minorities, revealed that many asylum seekers and refugees are subjected to a growing tide of violent physical and verbal abuse. More than a quarter (28 per cent) of ethnic minority families living in Glasgow said they had suffered racial harassment in the last year. The survey also found that almost four in ten (36 per cent) of victims said they were targeted regularly. However, campaigners insisted yesterday that the statistics are just the tip of the iceberg and that the true number of incidents could be much higher. Robina Qureshi, the director of PAIH, said that refugees had often fled torture and persecution simply to find that they became the target of racist youths in some of Glasgow's most deprived areas. She said: "Around one third of refugees, once they achieve exceptional or indefinite leave to remain, are moving south to avoid the problems of harassment. "This is bad news for Scotland at a time when the First Minister is trying to encourage more immigration to Scotland. "To want to settle and work and contribute to Scotland, immigrants must be made welcome as neighbours, not just as workers. "Refugees and asylum seekers have grown to accept racially motivated attacks as part and parcel of life as a refugee in Britain. "Scotland has now established a track record when it comes to harassment of minorities."

    Official statistics seem to confirm the basis of the research carried out by PAIH. Since Glasgow became home to more than 7,000 asylum seekers under the Home Office dispersal programme, Strathclyde Police have recorded huge increases in racist incidents. In the year 2000 to 2001 there were 1,241 incidents. This rose by 48 per cent to 1,832 in 2001-2. In 2002-3, the number rose by 8 per cent to 1,980 incidents. In 2002-3 there were two racist murders and five attempted murders, compared with one murder and one attempted murder the previous year. It is believed that many of the crimes are carried out by youths on the deprived housing estates such as Sighthill, Castlemilk and Pollokshaws, where many of the asylum seekers and refugees are housed. PAIH campaigns for affordable and safe accommodation for ethnic minorities. The charity surveyed hundreds of families living in Glasgow. A total of 174 said they had been the victim of racist attacks since April last year, a rise of 75 per cent from the previous year. More than one in five (21 per cent) of the families who suffered racial harassment were of Pakistani origin. One in four (25 per cent) said they were subjected to physical assaults. Seven households even said they suffered physical racist attacks on a daily basis. Almost half (49 per cent) said they had been verbally abused and 13 per cent said property had been damaged. Sally Daghlian, the chief executive of the Scottish Refugee Council, said the rise was "disappointing" and warned the true figure could be much higher. She added: "These incidents are extremely distressing. Unfortunately, we believe that many more people are having to contend with abuse and sometimes violence on a daily basis. "A lot of good work has been done to ensure that there is more understanding of why refugees are here and a lot of local people in Glasgow have been extremely welcoming. "There does, however, seem to be a minority of people intent on making life hell for refugees and asylum seekers." Mark Brown, the secretary of the Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees, described the rise as worrying. He added: "Glasgow has an ongoing problem with intimidation of asylum seekers. "In some areas the situation has deteriorated but in others, like Sighthill, it has improved from a very low base. "We need an increased worki ©The Scotsman

    26/2/2004- Michael Howard faced a dilemma over race on a second front today, after a Conservative assembly member in Wales dubbed the Commission for Racial Equality "institutionally racist" and "the best recruiting sergeant for the BNP". The controversial remark came as anti-racism bodies called for the Tory leader to sack Ann Winterton for her joke about Chinese cocklepickerslast night, rather than merely remove the parliamentary whip from the MP. Mr Davies later issued a short statement aplogising if he had given a "misleading impression" in his comments. He said: "I support the Commission for Racial Equality and the work they do. "I was attempting to highlight the importance of the CRE being seen to be consistent in the way it pursues racism. "However, I am sorry if the terms I used gave a misleading impression." Tony Blair refused to be drawn on Ms Winterton's remarks at his televised monthly press conference today. However, the prime minister said: "I have the deepest sympathy for the victims of that tragedy and their families and for the local community as well. I really have nothing to say about the comments of Ann Winterton."

    This morning the shadow foreign secretary, Michael Ancram, offered Ms Winterton an olive branch if she apologised for her "joke" about the deaths of 20 Chinese cocklepickers in Morecambe Bay, saying that would bring her back into the Tory fold. However, he hinted that a failure to do so would leave it open to her constituency whether to deselect her as their MP, since she would be without a the Tory whip in the Commons. He said: "Ann Winterton has lost the whip. If she wished to get the whip back she would have to apply to do so and she would have to apologise." But even as he and Mr Howard were trying to draw a line under the Winterton affair, a Tory member of the Welsh assembly - and prospective candidate at the next general election - said that the CRE was "institutionally racist" and played into the hands of the BNP. David Davies [not to be confused with the shadow deputy prime minister, David Davis], the Welsh assembly member for Monmouth, said the race relations body was "one of the best recruiting sergeants for the BNP". In an interview to be screened tonight on BBC Wales's Dragon's Eye programme, Mr Davies said: "They and other organisations coined the phrase institutional racism. It was used in a rather nebulous way. "Well, in my opinion the CRE are showing the same institutional bias. They are by the same token an institutionally racist organisation." "The CRE have shown over quite a long period that they are simply not prepared to tackle issues about black and Asian racism towards each other or the white population." Mr Davies said the CRE only seemed to be interested in "portraying the image that racism is something which occurs with white people being the racists and black and Asian people being the victims".

    Nick Bourne, the leader of the Conservatives in the Welsh assembly, said Mr Davies' remarks were made in a personal capacity. He said: "Comments that were given by David Davies were made in a personal capacity. "Both I and the Conservative party as a whole deplore racism in every form." Meanwhile, Ms Winterton - who was sacked by Iain Duncan Smith from her shadow ministerial role for joking that "pakis" were "10 a penny" in this country - reportedly referred to two sharks who were sick of eating tuna, one of which then said: "Let's go to Morecambe for a Chinese." Dennis Fernando, from the National Assembly Against Racism (NAAR), said Mr Howard's actions did not resolve the issue. "To have the party leader apologise on behalf of Ann Winterton and withdraw the whip does not go far enough in terms of the offensive comments she has made," he said. "We call for her sacking as an MP because 20 people died trying to make a living in a completely hostile climate in Britain and we treated them worse than animals. "In this ©The Guardian

    Howard accused of hypocrisy over party rebranding

    29/2/2004- The Tories will tomorrow rise to the defence of rejected asylum-seekers in a startling new attempt to rebrand the party as anti-racist and tolerant of immigration. They will line up with Labour rebels, civil-liberties groups and refugee charities in opposing government plans to scrap asylum-seekers' legal right of appeal, sparking furious charges of hypocrisy from Labour aides. Shadow frontbencher Dominic Grieve insisted the plan was 'fundamentally wrong' and the Tories would vote against it when the Government's Asylum Bill comes before the Commons tomorrow: 'We are sympathetic to the Government's concerns that the system of appeals has been massively abused by a small number of unscrupulous lawyers spinning out proceedings. But we consider it fundamentally wrong to oust the jurisdiction of the higher courts. 'It's unheard of, it's never been done before and it's beyond my comprehension frankly as to how the Home Office came up with it. We hope that what we are doing will meet their concerns while making sure that civil liberties are protected.'

    The move will be seen as the latest stage in Tory leader Michael Howard's careful attempts to reposition his party on immigration, which began with a controversial speech in Burnley denouncing the BNP as bigots and telling the story of how his grandmother had died in a Nazi death camp. He went on to strip backbencher Ann Winterton of the party whip for telling an offensive joke about the dead Chinese cockle-pickers. Beverly Hughes, the Immigration Minister, will tomorrow unveil fresh concessions over another controversial aspect of the Asylum Bill, which would see asylum-seekers jailed for two years if they deliberately destroy identity documents on arrival in Britain. She will make clear that children or 'vulnerable' adults forced to jettison their papers by those smuggling them into the country would not be prosecuted. Refugee groups had objected that traffickers often make their clients destroy passports to hamper attempts to deport them. But the Home Office is refusing to back down over ending the right to judicial review, which it says is essential to prevent unfounded claimants spinning out legal objections for years to avoid deportation. 'The case for reform of an appeal system that is being widely abused by people who are not refugees is overwhelming. Coming from someone who, when he was Home Secretary, tried to remove benefits from asylum- seekers at all stages of the process, this is more than a little hypocritical,' said one source close to Blunkett. 'They're trying to play it both ways and the public catch up pretty quickly with politicians who are two-faced.'

    Grieve's amendment would grant rejected asylum-seekers the right to appeal within seven days to a High Court judge, and go to the House of Lords if necessary. Tomorrow's Commons revolt is unlikely to be big enough to torpedo the Bill. But Vera Baird, the Labour MP and barrister, predicted defeat in the Lords: 'Even if opposition at this stage is split, there is a pretty clear pattern which is about an independent appeals process. 'I think the Government will have to give way on that in the end.' The row came as Trevor Phillips, chair of the Commission for Racial Equality, attacked 'wicked' media coverage of migration from eastern Europe, warning it could fuel resentment against gypsies already living in Britain. Tabloid headlines have screamed of Britain being 'swamped' by migrants infected with HIV or TB once its borders open to the 10 new EU countries from 1 May, despite controls announced by the Government last week to prevent benefit tourism and restrict numbers.
    ©The Observer

    29/2/2004- The head of the £20 million Metropolitan Police programme to train officers in race relations and community awareness has been removed from his job following allegations of racist behaviour. Scotland Yard confirmed last night that Detective Chief Inspector Terry Devoil, head of the force's Diversity Training Initiative, has been assigned to new duties pending an investigation into the claims by the Met's Department of Professional Standards. The training programme was launched as part of the Met's response to the Macpherson inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993. The inquiry branded the Met 'institutionally racist' and recommended that all police officers, CID and civilian staff 'should be trained in racism awareness and valuing cultural diversity'. Devoil, a police officer for more than 30 years, has led it since 1999, overseeing the training of around 1,500 officers each month. A Yard spokeswoman said: 'The officer has not been suspended. While the investigation is under way he has been removed from his position and assigned to other duties.' News of the allegations comes as the Metropolitan Police is in the middle of a major inquiry into whether discrimination has led to Asian and black officers being investigated and disciplined more than their white counterparts. More than 100 black police officers in London are to submit evidence to an inquiry into the way Scotland Yard investigates allegations against its own staff. According to the Metropolitan Black Police Association, evidence will include allegations of racism, bullying and inappropriate management. The inquiry was ordered following questions over the handling of several high-profile cases involving ethnic minority officers, including that of Superintendent Ali Dizaei, who was cleared of allegations of dishonesty by an Old Bailey jury last September. The Met had spent more than £7m investigating Dizaei and the case led to some black police officers calling for ethnic minorities considering a career in law enforcement to boycott the force. Other recent cases have included that of a Sikh officer, Sergeant Gurpal Virdi, who was sacked after being falsely accused of sending hate mail to fellow officers. He won back his job, as well as substantial damages, after taking his case to an employment tribunal in 2000.
    ©The Observer

    27/2/2004ó A group of rejected asylum seekers has begun a "long march" from Groningen in the far north to Parliament in The Hague. The 35-strong group is protesting against the hard-line deportation policy introduced earlier this month in the Netherlands by Immigration and Integration Minister Rita Verdonk. MPs have backed her plan to grant residence permits to more than 2,000 asylum seekers who have been waiting for five years or more for their applications to be processed. Some 200 people were also granted permits on the grounds their cases were "distressing" and that they would suffer dangers or severe hardships if sent home to their countries of origin. Another 26,000 are to be expelled in the largest deportation operation in Western Europe since the end of the Second World War. "We want to show the minister that we are willing to endure pain in order to be allowed to stay," Massoud Djabani of the group A long Walk to Freedom said on Friday. Groningen is 234km from the seat of Parliament in The Hague. Apart from the long distance, the marchers were also confronted with snow and ice-cold winds. By Friday afternoon the demonstrators and their supporters were about 15km from Assen, the capital of Drenthe Province, where a rally was planned to highlight their plight. The group plan to stay overnight in Drenthe before travelling on to Utrecht by bus. From there, the demonstrators will walk to The Hague, via Woerden and Zoetermeer. Djabani said he hoped about 150 sympathisers will have gathered in The Hague when the marchers arrive on Monday. "More people will join us along the way (to The Hague). Everyone agrees that the minister has handled this matter incorrectly as there are far more than the 200 "distressing" cases she has recognised," he said.
    ©Expatica News

    By Jeroen Bosch

    8/3/2004- Dutch politics smashed its way into sensational international headlines on 9 February when the Dutch parliament agreed, by 83 votes to 57, to return some 26,000 refugees to unstable countries Afghanistan, Somalia and Iraq. While the MPs were casting their vote in favour of the most repressive asylum policy in Dutch history, 2,000 people gathered, in freezing cold, outside parliament to protest at the move. Immigration minister Rita Verdonk, after giving another 2,300 refugees permission to stay, got down to the task of implementing the law essentially formulated by Job Cohen, who held the same post in the government coalition of two years ago between the Social Democrats (PvdA) and the rightist liberals (VVD). At that time only a small group of hard-line activists fighting for refugees could see what could happen in The Netherlands, and protested against the Social Democrat Cohen's decision by handcuffing him during a debate in Parliament, to make him feel like an "illegalised" person for 15 minutes. During the elections of 15 May 2002 when, despite  or perhaps because of  the death of Pim Fortuyn, the fever of populism was never far away and, in the following elections of January 2003, Cohen, still mayor of Amsterdam, was regarded as the personification of a humanist approach on problems of integration and immigration, a human face against the incumbent premier Jan Peter Balkenende, a thoroughbred technocrat. Despite the totally unexpected emergence of Fortuyn in 2001 and the swing to the right in the whole political atmosphere, it is not Fortuyn's legacy that has triggered Verdonk's latest plan. Fortuyn was, in fact, in favour of a general pardon for the very same group of refugees, now in danger of being extradited. While this might have been a smart tactical switch to make Fortuyn look suitable for a place in government had he not been murdered, the fact of the matter is that even his disciples, in the shape of List Pim Fortuyn (LPF) leader Mat Herben and minister for some months Hilbrand Nawijn were exactly of the same opinion. The aim, in the parlance of the right-wing populists, was to "clean the house and then introduce a tough new immigration law.

    What exactly does Verdonk plan to do? At the very least, she will try to extradite 3,000 refugees who have run out of all further legal options this year. Running out of options is hardly difficult since previous governments long ago abandoned the right to file new evidence to back up an appeal for the right to claim asylum during the hearing of a case. Many of the people targeted for extradition by Verdonk have been in the Netherlands for years, most of their children having been born there. They frequently live in small villages, mainly in the north of the Netherlands and are role models of integration. Of course, the threat to remove them has triggered much protest from their neighbours, friends and people in the villages where they live with local people offering the refugees a hiding place and, as distinct from countries like the UK, promising resistance if the police come to collect their friends. This was not exactly what Verdonk expected. Indeed, she thought her scheme to evict these people from their refugee hostels to make room for "real" refugees and to bring them to a special centre to prepare them for their return "home" would appeal to certain sentiments in the Dutch population. It didn't. Although, according to surveys, the majority of Dutch people favour the new law, most people think it inhumane to separate families by sending only the father back, or to return them to war zones like Iraq or Afghanistan.

    The first "special centre" for refugees is scheduled to be opened by this coming summer and Verdonk she should already have known that these "centres" would not work. Her plan, nevertheless, is be barred. The last piece of Verdonk's system is the still-to-be built "return locations" where refugees whose applications are exhausted can apply to be housed. This accommodation will be more sober than the existing refugee centres and the regime that they live under has still to be decided. The key point is that the spartan accommodation and a tight regime will be concentrated on scaring and intimidating refugees and on putting them in such a desperate plight that they will even accept extradition to a country they did not come from in the first place. Besides this panoply of restrictive facilities, there are also several special prisons or prison wings for refugees in the Netherlands.

    Unlike some other European countries, the Netherlands does not have a system of periodical "regularisation" of so-called "illegals" like those existing in Spain, Italy, France or even a smaller country like Belgium. Five years ago, the Dutch government, in the person of Job Cohen, gave a kind of "residence status" to thirteen "illegals", who had been working in the Netherlands and paying taxes for an average of twelve years. Last year again, a group of illegalised workers went on hunger strike, resulting in three permits to stay being handed out by Cohen again, this time as mayor of Amsterdam. But that does not amount to much. Surveys prove that the Dutch people support such people, especially because they are workers contributing to the economy and paying their taxes and are totally integrated in society. The government sees it all differently, however. The same is now happening in the case of refugees affected by Verdonk's measures. Large numbers of people, right up to the highest levels of society, are attacking the inhumanity of "Verdonk's law" and are contemplating civil disobedience. At first, it seemed that even the city councils and mayors of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht were going to refuse to carry out evictions of refugees from hostels in their cities but, after talks with Verdonk herself, they now seem reassured that no refugees will be roaming their streets and embarrassing them with the sight of women and children begging on the squares of their cities.

    One of the people most fiercely opposed to the law is the former minister and political veteran, Jan Pronk, nowadays chairman of the main refugees' organisation Vluchtelingenwerk in the Netherlands. Pronk says that refugees are not being treated legally and are being discriminated against instead of being protected. Technical criteria, he says, are being implemented on people, without consideration of important aspects of their personal situation, like children, work, integration, and health. Pronk, who called the extradition plans deportations, found himself thrown out of Verdonk's office and was threatened that the subsidies of the Refugee Councils for which he works will be withdrawn. Verdonk refused to talk with Pronk because the term "deportation" reminded her of the Second World War. Another high-ranking critic of the government's plans is the Foreigners' Advisory Commission (ACVZ), which has lashed Verdonk's proposal that new asylum seeker should have a mere 48 hours to prove their identity, tell their story and secure the services of a lawyer. This Commission has never really recommended anything before, but now says the new procedures are very dangerous for the rights of refugees and should be extended by at least a further 48 hours.

    Human Rights Watch also complained, as long ago as April 2003, that the Netherlands were heading Europe's harshest anti-migration policies and took the Dutch government to task by calling its policies inhumane and unlawful. Despite these official protests, the grassroots work that antiracists are doing to save refugees from being extradited is even more important because they are providing practical assistance like shelter, medical care, education and jobs. In this activity, school students, churches and local residents' committees are working together to organise demonstrations at government bu ©Alert!

    9/3/2004- When the Muslim community in the southern Spanish city of Granada built a new mosque this summer - the city's first for 500 years - it was to considerable local opposition. During eight centuries of Moorish rule, Granada had enjoyed a reputation for religious tolerance. The Alhambra Palace was once the symbol of Islamic power in Europe. But that was several centuries ago. In the post-11 September world, people said, they feared the mosque could become a focus for religious extremists. Certainly the yearning for a return to the cherished province of Al-Andalus (Spain's southern region of Andalucia) is often the subject of Islamic poetry. For many Muslims, the territory is a cherished symbol of Islamic learning and culture.

    'Nothing to hide'
    But thanks to the open-door policy of Granada's new mosque, local suspicion and resentment has begun to melt away. "We invite school groups, tourists... anyone who is interested to come by and visit us. We also offer free classes in Arabic for children," mosque director Abdalhasib Castineira told me as we walked through the mosque's garden with its breath-taking view of the Alhambra. "We have nothing to hide and welcome outside interest in our faith and our culture. "I believe this is the way forward for Muslims all over the Western world. There is too much ignorance and prejudice on all sides. The threats and the hatred will only fade away if we all educate ourselves more about different faiths and customs." Yet there is a secret to Granada's success. Glorious reminders of its Moorish history are everywhere. The new mosque has been built high on a hill in the Albaicin, Granada's charming old town. Its winding, white-washed streets and many Arabic tea-shops are more evocative of Rabat than Madrid. Jeronimo Paez, the president of the League of Andalucia and a Granadino by birth, says that the people of Granada are aware that their cultural heritage is mixed, regardless of their religious faith. "Our passports may say 'Spaniard' but in our hearts we are also Arab," he told me. "Granada is a city where churches are built next-door to mosques." This is certainly true of the new mosque, built next-door to Granada's oldest church.

    'Balancing act'
    "If we travel to Cairo or Rabat - we feel quite at home," he adds, "similar architecture, similar food, similar temperament." But just as Moorish rule in southern Spain was not always quite as liberal and tolerant as some historians suggest, the day-to-day realities in modern Granada also present problems as people from different cultures try to co-exist. It is the job of the city's influential Association of Neighbours to solve them. "The balancing act between Granada's various communities is not always an easy one," says its president Alberto Sanz. "In our city's history there was a bloody struggle between Moors and Christians over this territory. In those days people said whoever held the key to the gates of Granada would be master of the city. "These days the key is a metaphorical one. It's patience, open-mindedness and good will. That is the key to peaceful co-existence and to modern Granada's success."
    ©BBC News

    25/2/2004- As France pushed ahead with its planned school headscarf ban, in Turkey the issue has been the subject of impassioned debate for more than 20 years. Turkey is often held up as a model of Islamic democracy. The separation of public secular identity from private religious practice is fiercely defended by the country's powerful military. It's a separation which many here in Turkey are keen to show the world. They want to present a country which is secular, modern and Western. It was an image captured perfectly in last year's Turkish winning entry in the Eurovision song contest. Sparsely-clad Sertab Erener's song "Every Way That I Can" fused Eastern rhythms and hip-hop and became the country's first-ever winner. But that image does not reflect the whole of Turkey. In fact, it is estimated that as many as 65% of Turkish women cover their heads with a scarf. But women wearing headscarves are not allowed to enter state-controlled areas such as schools, universities, or government offices. Since 1997, when the ban came to be more strictly enforced, growing numbers of these women have been travelling abroad to pursue a university education. After 24-year-old Semra Batur was excluded from her Turkish university, she and many of her fellow students continued their studies in Azerbaijan. "Of course it was difficult but we had to do it," she says. "I did what I had to do, because I wanted to continue my education. "We have the right to an education."

    Special responsibility
    Mazlumder is an Islamic organisation that helps women like Semra. They say that since the headscarf ban was enforced, more than 10,000 women in Istanbul alone have been excluded from universities. These women and their families expressed their frustration in general elections in 2002, when they voted Turkey's AK Party, which has its roots in Islamist politics, into power. Now they say their government is not doing enough to help them. "This government, because of its nature, has more responsibility to solve the problem," says Mazlumder official Gulden Sonmez. "Even Prime Minister Erdogan suffers - his daughters wear the headscarf. "But he has the money to send them to the United States to be educated, so they can keep wearing the scarf. "People are hugely frustrated." The election of a government with roots in political Islam has made the issue more complex. The government declined to speak on the subject, but an AK Party spokeswoman said it considered the headscarf problem to be one of human rights - if Turkey's overall human rights record improved, the issue would be resolved.

    Confrontation risk
    Privately members of the AK Party may wish to remove the headscarf ban. The wives of cabinet ministers have themselves been criticised for covering their heads at official state functions. But the AK Party is also anxious to avoid alienating the powerful Turkish military - and with some cause, since the last Islamist government was quietly deposed by the army in 1998. And many staunch secularists like Cuneyt Akalin of Istanbul's Marmara University also remain suspicious of the government's Islamic roots. They support the recent French ruling and believe the headscarf ban in Turkey must continue. "In a public space, people should act according to the rules," Mr Akalin says. "I teach at a public university. In a public space I have some obligations, and so do the students. "I totally defend it there is no other way of it." Mr Akalin also thinks the Europeans do not have a clear view of the situation in Turkey. "We have been fighting for this for 200 years," he says. "Turkey was the pioneer of this struggle."

    Many young Islamist women attempt to reconcile their personal religious beliefs with their desire for an education by removing the headscarf outside the university gates and wearing a wig instead. But is this purely a question of individual conscience? Political s ©BBC News

    3/3/2004- The upper house of the French parliament has approved a bill banning Islamic headscarves and other religious symbols in state schools. The proposal was approved with 276 votes in favour and 20 against. President Jacques Chirac has 15 days to sign into law the bill - passed by the lower house last month. Most of France's political parties, and around 70% of the population, support the ban which some Muslim leaders say risks being perceived as intolerant.

    Quick signal
    Jewish skullcaps, large Christian crosses and probably Sikh turbans are also expected to be banned when the new law comes into effect in September. Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin told senators before the vote that the law did not aim to discriminate against religions but to "send a powerful and quick signal". "Our vision of secularity is not opposed to religions. Everybody has the right to express his faith as long as he respects the laws of the Republic inside the Republic's schools," Mr Raffarin said. But he added: "We do not feel or claim to believe that all's been settled with this bill." Some French MPs, backed by Muslim leaders and rights groups, have warned that the new law could be seen as intolerant and undermine the integration of France's Muslims. They say young Muslim women are being forced to wear the headscarf, though the few hundred who have turned out for demonstrations against the new law say they wear it of their own free will. Many governments and human rights groups have criticised the bill - including the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights and the US-based advisory group, the Commission on International Religious Freedom.
    ©BBC News

    6/3/2004- Thousands of women demonstrated in Paris Saturday amid deep division over the controversial wearing of the Islamic veil in a country where Islam -- with some five million adherents -- has become the second religion. The procession included a small group of women wearing headscarves under heavy escort, much to the disgust of many demonstrators who said they were marching to protest the oppression of women in the tough housing projects around French cities. "I found it revolting," said one demonstrator, who gave her name only as Nelly, gesturing toward the veiled women. "They don't belong here." Getting into their role of provocateurs, the veiled women shook their fists and chanted, "Veiled or not veiled, together against sexism." The vast bulk of the procession across Paris, which marked international women's day on Monday, was formed by a couple of groups that don't always see eye to eye on strategy. One was a group called "Ni Putes Ni Soumises" (Neither Whores Nor Slaves), which was set up to combat growing violence against women in the projects including gang rapes and forced marriages. Author Fedla Amara founded the organization after the immolation of a 19-year-old girl of North African origin, Sohane Benziane, in October 2002 shocked the nation. The other group was the National Collective for the Rights of Women (CNDF), which disagrees with exclusive preoccupation about the oppression of Muslim women. It is more concerned about what it sees as the dismantling of social protection by the current center-right government. "We condemn the veil, but we say that the social assaults by the government are just as serious," said Maya Surduts, a spokeswoman for the Collective, which is supported by the opposition Socialist party and other left-wing groups. But Ni Putes Ni Soumises had no reason to disagree with the government after it pushed through a law recently that will make it illegal to wear Islamic headscarves in public schools, where a long tradition of secularism is under increasing attack. Amara walked in the demonstration alongside Nicole Guedj, a secretary of state in the justice ministry and Arlette Laguiller, leader of the radical leftist group Workers' Struggle. "I'm very happy to see that women are committing themselves no matter what their political affiliation," Amara said. Guedj said she had come to "be on the side of women who want to free themselves from the yoke of fundamentalism." Between two and three thousand women marched beneath the large white balloon of Ni Putes Ni Soumises. In all about 7,000 women took part in the demonstration, according to police, or 10,000, according to organizers. "It's years since I demonstrated, but today I am here to support those Muslim women who do not have the same rights as us," said one marcher, Jeanne Chevalier.
    ©The Tocqueville Connection

    6/3/2004- Top French figures led by President Jacques Chirac Saturday condemned arson attacks on two mosques after Muslim leaders sharply criticised what they considered the inadequate response of the politicians. Chirac condemned the torching of the mosques which occurred early Friday, assuring the Muslim community of his sympathy and support. Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin expressed indignation at the incidents in eastern France and said he had ordered "that everything be done to find the perpetrators of these outrages". But Muslim leaders were up in arms, criticizing the political establishment for failing to attend a silent demonstration at Annecy, where one of the attacks occurred. One fire devastated an 80-square metre (860-square foot) prayer room in nearby Seynod, while the other seriously damaged the heating system at the mosque in Annecy. "No leading political figure came," Kamel Kabtane, a local Muslim community leader, told demonstrators massed outside Annecy mosque. "We are in a pre-electoral period and many politicians did not dare come, fearing perhaps a backlash from voters," he added. There were no public indications Saturday who was behind the attacks. Chirac phoned Dalil Boubakeur, head of the French Council for the Muslim Religion (CFCM), and Kamel Kabtane to express his utter condemnation of what he described as odious acts, a presidential statement said. It said Chirac "expresses his sympathy and support to all the Muslims of France and assures them of the government's determination to find and punish those who carried out these attacks". In a letter to Kabtane, religious head of the mosque in Lyon, Raffarin said: "I will personally ensure that you will be kept informed of the progress of investigations into these unacceptable acts. "I wish it to be understood that I firmly condemn all attempts by those who try to propagate hate in our country," the prime minister went on. Meanwhile the CFCM described the attacks as "unspeakable, racist and anti-Islamic" and Boubakeur warned that such acts "can only worsen the sensitive religious climate in our country." The CFCM is the first recognised national council for the country's estimated five million Muslims. The Representative Council of Jewish institutions in France also strongly condemned the attacks, expressed full solidarity with the Muslim community and demanded "a forceful response from authorities". French Justice Minister Dominique Perben Friday said the perpetrators being sought by police should be given exemplary punishment while Muslim leaders have called for mosques to benefit from the same level of protection as synagogues. Perben said he wanted a tough new law against racially and religiously motivated attacks passed last year to be applied. The law provides for jail terms for offenders of up to 20 years.
    ©The Tocqueville Connection

    7/3/2004- About 250 people have held a protest rally in the south-eastern French town of Annecy after two local mosques were damaged in suspected arson attacks. One fire ravaged a mosque in the Alpine town itself while the other burned a prayer room in nearby Seynod. French President Jacques Chirac condemned the "odious acts". In Paris, the issue of the Islamic veil in schools resurfaced as thousands of feminists marched in support of the new state ban on religious symbols. Kamel Kabtane of the French Council of the Muslim Faith said in Annecy that the suspected cases of arson were "not an act of vandalism... [but] an attack" and complained that no senior French politician had joined the protest. "We are in a pre-electoral period and many politicians did not dare come, fearing perhaps a backlash from voters," Mr Kabtane said, presumably referring to regional polls later in March. The organisation's president, Dalil Boubakeur, warned the arson could "only worsen the sensitive religious climate" in France. The Representative Council of Jewish Institutions of France also "strongly condemned" the attacks, expressing solidarity with the Muslim community. No group has said it started the fires, and police have made no comment about the investigation. No-one was injured in either blaze.

    Women's rights
    Many of France's estimated five million Muslims are outraged at a new law which will ban religious symbols such as the headscarf from schools from the start of the new school year in September, in line with France's secularist tradition. But in the French capital, about 7,000 feminists marched on Saturday in support of greater rights for women and in support of the ban on symbols. At the same time a group of about 30 women in Islamic veils demonstrated against the law during the march which was organised by women's groups, trade unions and leftist political parties. Prominent at the march were members of Ni Putes Ni Soumises (Neither Whores nor Slaves), a group which campaigns for the rights of women of North African origin in France which strongly opposes the headscarf. "It's years since I demonstrated but today I am here to support those Muslim women who do not have the same rights as us," one marcher, Jeanne Chevalier, told the AFP news agency.
    ©BBC News

    10/3/2004- French schools should show films like "Schindler's List", "Sophie's Choice" or "The Pianist" to combat a dramatic rise in racism and anti-Semitism among pupils, Education Minister Luc Ferry said on Wednesday. Novels, documentary films and visits to former Nazi concentration camps would also help invigorate civics classes meant to teach tolerance and understanding, he said while presenting a new guide to materials against racial hatred. Ferry said serious problems with racism and anti-semitism were limited to about five percent of schools in France, but the problem overall had grown rapidly in the past three years. "For the first time since World War Two, anti-Semitism is now more widespread than racism that is not directed against Jews," he told journalists. "We cannot act as if this didn't exist, we cannot not respond to it." The guide is part of efforts in France and other European countries to deal with resurging anti-Semitism linked to recent Middle East tensions. European Commission President Romano Prodi supports these but has disputed charges that anti-Jewish violence in Europe is now as bad as it was in the 1930s. Ferry said popular films depicting the Nazi persecution and slaughter of Jews during World War Two could add a powerful message to the usual civics lessons based on textbooks. "When you see a film like 'Schindler's List', 'The Pianist' or 'Shoah', you understand the reality of racism and anti-Semitism more than if you're asked to read the 1948 (United Nations) Declaration of Human Rights," he said.

    Words that have killed
    Apart from a list of recommended films, the guide included a new glossary of civics terms written by leading intellectuals and a selection of legal and historical documents, essays, poems and songs meant to combat racism and teach tolerance. Ferry said France had about 10 violent anti-Semitic acts and about 60 verbal threats annually against Jews in the 1990s. In 2000, these shot up to 119 attacks and 624 threats. The highpoint was reached two years later with 193 attacks and 731 threats against Jews. Racist violence not directed against Jews rose by 205 percent in 2002, he added. Ferry clearly blamed tensions between Muslim and Jewish pupils for the rising number of attacks: "If we have such a rise in anti-Semitism in France, it's because some children identify with the Palestinian cause and others with Israel." Preventing classes from dividing up along religious lines was the reason for France's new law banning religious emblems in state schools, he added. Illustrating the problem schools faced, Ferry said a teacher once told him she had asked 13-year-old pupils to write down what they did and didn't like and got one response saying: "I like football, I don't like Jews." Youths these days used insults like "dirty Jew" or "dirty wog" as easily as people used to "idiot" or "fool", he said. "Words have become as light as feathers," he said. "The idea of this guide it to give back weight to these words, to make pupils understand that these insults have killed." Among the films the guide recommended were the slave ship drama "Amistad", Charlie Chaplin's Hitler farce "The Great Dictator" and the movie of "The Diary of Anne Frank." To understand how people can be different, its suggestions included "E.T. the extra-terrestrial", "Romeo and Juliet" and the New York gang war musical "West Side Story."

    7/3/2003- Far-right Austrian politician Joerg Haider is to battle for his political future in elections in the southern province of Carinthia on Sunday. Latest opinion polls show his Freedom Party running neck-and-neck with the Social Democrats. Four years ago, Mr Haider sent shock waves throughout Europe when he led his party into a national coalition government with the conservatives. But now he is struggling to retain his job as governor of Carinthia province. Support for the Freedom Party has slumped nationwide, and recent polls in Carinthia say the party is now trailing a few points behind the Social Democrats. However, Austria's system of coalition governments means that Mr Haider could keep his job as governor, even if he only comes in second. Austria's conservative Chancellor, Wolfgang Schuessel, may yet put pressure on his local party to form an alliance with the far-right in Carinthia in order to keep Mr Haider away from national politics. There are fears that a defeated Mr Haider could take revenge by trying to topple the national coalition between the conservatives and the Freedom Party in Vienna. Provincial elections are also taking place in Salzburg, where there is a close race between conservatives and the Social Democrats.
    ©BBC News

    8/3/2004- Austrian far-right politician Joerg Haider is set to remain governor of the province of Carinthia after an election result which confounded opinion polls. His Freedom Party took 42.4% of the vote in the Alpine province compared with 38.4% for the Social Democrats. A Social Democrat win had been forecast which would have forced a change in Mr Haider's controversial political life. Nationwide support for the Freedom Party has declined dramatically since it entered government four years ago. "No-one thought we'd be number one again," Mr Haider said after the results became known. "In fact I did not expect that we will have a result like this, though I am very satisfied and thankful that the voters reacted to our work." For much of the election campaign in Carinthia, his party had trailed behind the Social Democrats. The Freedom Party's senior partner in government, the conservative People's Party, saw its share of the vote in Carinthia slump to 11.6% from nearly 21% at the last election in 1999. The BBC's Bethany Bell says that it may be harder for Mr Haider to revitalise the Freedom Party in other parts of Austria. At another provincial election on Sunday, in Salzburg, it lost half its support, plummeting to 10%. The Social Democrats won a majority there for the first time in half a century and finished ahead of the People's Party. Our correspondent adds that the losses for the conservatives and strong showing for the Social Democrats and Mr Haider in Carinthia could have a destabilising effect on the governing coalition.
    ©BBC News

    7/3/2004- The Swiss foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, has invited her female counterparts to hold talks in Geneva on ways to combat violence against women. In an interview with swissinfo, Calmy-Rey said the aim of the meeting ñ to be held on March 15 ñ was to put women's rights higher on the global political agenda. The gathering coincides with the start of the 60th annual session of the United Nations Human Rights Commission, which runs from March 15 to April 23. Women's rights are also the focus of International Women's Day on March 8. Statistics released on Friday by Amnesty International estimate that up to a third of women worldwide had been subjected to some form of abuse.

    swissinfo: What has been the response to your invitation?
    Micheline Calmy-Rey: At present, a dozen or so of my female counterparts have accepted my invitation, which is around half of the world's female foreign ministers. So, in my view, it's already a successful initiative. A country's foreign policy exists to create networks and to develop links between people and from that point of view, I think it's very important that female ministers have the opportunity to get to know each other, speak together and understand each other. What's more, as women, we are particularly concerned with defending human rights. And despite the fact that many countries have integrated women's rights into their beliefs and constitutions, the promotion and respect of these rights is a long way from being at the level they should. So it's very important that female ministers get behind this kind of cause.

    swissinfo: What do you hope the result of the meeting will be?
    M. C-R.: This is an informal get-together so the main goal is to get to know each other and learn to work together. That said, we plan to make our voices heard within the Human Rights Commission and to raise public and governmental awareness of violence against women. We hope that our efforts will allow us to take steps on an international and domestic level to fight this problem. At the end of our meeting on March 15, we also hope to adopt a common declaration, which we're currently working on.

    swissinfo: Last year, you called for reforms within the Human Rights Commission. Where do things stand now?
    M. C-R.: The reform proposals that I put forward have been well received and we've made some progress. Canada and Norway have also made similar suggestions. But it remains to be seen whether these ideas will really take shape within the upcoming session of the Commission.

    swissinfo: In particular, you suggested that only countries which have ratified the relevant human rights treaties be allowed to take part in the Commission. Is there not a risk that the Commission could be transformed into a rich nations' club?
    M. C-R.: I did not make any official suggestions but I did ask some hard questions that seemed to resonate with other countries. First of all, it must be said that rich countries violate human rights. So it's not really a question of a divide between rich and guilty countries. What's more, the Commission must be open to all nations. At the same time, it's not a bad thing to evaluate the progress of countries that would like to become members of the Commission. It's also important to note that the respect for human rights is one of the cornerstones of Switzerland's foreign policy. It lies at the heart of our development work and our promotion of peace. Without respect for human rights, there would be no sustainable development or peace. So, these aren't empty proposals that we're taking to the Commission.

    swissinfo: You have also proposed that Switzerland establish its own, domestic human rights commission. Has there been any progress on that issue?
    M. C-R.: It's under discussion and still n ©NZZ Online

    7/3/2004- Swiss women are set to begin a vigil outside parliament on Monday in protest against their lack of representation in government. To be launched on International Women's Day, "Women's Vigil" aims to have at least one woman permanently on site until December 10 ñ the one-year anniversary of the cabinet elections. The protest is the brainchild of Yvette Barbier, a doctor from Lausanne, who was spurred into action by the election result which saw Ruth Metzler of the centre-right Christian Democrats ousted from the seven-strong cabinet. This left just one woman in government: the centre-left Social Democrat, Micheline Calmy-Rey. Thousands of Swiss women took to the streets of the capital, Bern, incensed at what they saw as an inadequate representation of women in government. There was further anger over Metzler's replacement: Christoph Blocher of the rightwing People's Party. His party has come out against issues such as statutory paid maternity benefit ñ a key campaign issue for women's rights groups. "Before the election, younger women thought women's rights were recognised [in Switzerland]," Barbier told swissinfo. "But many of them were shocked last December and realised there was still a great need to defend their rights."

    Low key
    Barbier says she wanted to find a way of making their voices heard that would appeal to women who did not like the idea of large street protests. "I had the idea that in our society women do a lot of night duty, such as looking after children or working in hospitals, and many of their efforts are unrecognised," she said. "So if only two more of them did a sort of guard duty in front of parliament, their protest would become more visible." She added that a longer-term protest might also have more of an impact than a mass demonstration, which normally only lasts for a few hours. "This time we will not go back to cook dinner, we will remain."

    Creative ideas
    Although women must commit to the full 24 hours - they can, however, arrange to share the shift with friends - Barbier is confident that volunteers will be able to organise their work and private lives around the vigil. "It shouldn't be too difficult for them to come up with one day between March and December," she said. Barbier says she has already received some interesting ideas from those willing to take part. One woman wants to do the vigil with her daughter in order to promote dialogue between the generations. Meanwhile, a writer plans to come and read poetry, while a musician wants to perform a concert during her shift. According to Barbier, men are also welcome to join in - as long as they support women's rights.

    Positive discrimination
    A report published earlier this month by the Inter-Parliamentary Union found that Switzerland ranked 25th in the world in terms of women parliamentarians. According to the IPU, women fill 24.8 per cent of parliamentary seats in Switzerland. The global average is 15 per cent. Barbier's ultimate aim is to see another woman in the Swiss government. However, she does not think this should be achieved by setting a quota. "I see women doing so many important things in our society that we urgently need to have a platform where they can express their concerns," she said. "Through this movement we will reopen a general discussion on women's rights and I hope this will ultimately bring more women into politics."
    ©NZZ Online

    9/3/2004- Hundreds of women dressed in red took to Switzerland's streets on Monday, blowing whistles and brandishing the slogan "We are angry". This year's International Women's Day was marked with more fervour than usual, after last year's cabinet elections left only one woman in government. Justice Minister Ruth Metzler was ousted from the cabinet in December, to be replaced by the rightwing politician, Christoph Blocher. The foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, is now the only woman in the seven-strong cabinet. AndrÈe-Marie Dussault, editor-in-chief of the Geneva-based "L'Èmilie", the world's oldest women's magazine, says Women's Day is an important occasion around the globe. "This day is very important as it provides an update on the progress made by women all over the world," Dussault told swissinfo. The Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner, Shirin Ebadi, expressed her frustation by appearing in black at a conference at the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Geneva, as a sign of "mourning" for women's rights. "Unfortunately the situation for women in Islamic countries is not what it should be. Women there suffer," she said. "Women's rights are human rights."

    Permanent vigil
    The Swiss capital, Bern, awoke to the sounds of ringing alarm clocks and rattles as women tried to attract attention on their special day, which was first celebrated in Copenhagen in 1909. It was also the start of a vigil outside the parliament building to call for greater female representation in government. On Monday, authorities gave the green light to the vigil, which aims to have at least one woman permanently on site until December 10 - the one-year anniversary of the cabinet elections. Switzerland ranks 25th in the world when it comes to female representation in parliament, according to the Geneva-based Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), with women making up nearly 25 per cent of parliamentarians. Rwanda has the most women in parliament with 48.9 per cent, followed by Sweden (45.3 per cent) and Denmark (38 per cent), says the IPU.

    Dussault believes progress has been made in the past three decades, but points to numerous obstacles. "Women's rights have improved immensely over the past 30 years, but there is still a lot to do, especially in Switzerland. "We still don't have statutory [paid] maternity [leave] and we don't have enough crËches, and the ones we do have are too expensive," she lamented. "And Swiss women still earn less money than their male colleagues." According to the Federal Statistics Office, Swiss women earned 20.9 per cent less than men doing the same job in 2002. More than half of all employed women work part-time. Equal rights have been enshrined in the Swiss constitution since 1981. The Swiss authorities launched the Federal Office for the Equal Rights for Men and Women in 1988.
    ©NZZ Online

    11/3/2004- Victims of forced sterilisation are to receive SFr5,000 ($3,800) each after parliament agreed in principle to pay compensation. Parliamentarians said the figure was a "symbolic gesture" and was aimed at recognising past abuses. Campaigners have complained about the paltry size of the payments, which are well below original proposals of Sfr80,000. On Wednesday the House of Representatives narrowly agreed by 91 votes to 84 to pay compensation. There was strong opposition from the government, members of the rightwing Swiss People's Party and the centre-right Radicals. The money is to be paid to surviving victims, who number an estimated 100 people. Forced sterilisation was carried out in Switzerland until the 1970s and mainly involved mentally and physically handicapped women or women of low social standing.

    Heidi Meyer, president of Insieme, an organisation representing Switzerland's 50,000 mentally handicapped, welcomed the move but criticised the size of the payments. "I am very pleased that this law was finally approved and that there has been recognition that these people suffered a wrong. But the amount of compensation is very small," she told swissinfo. Opponents of the move had argued that granting compensation could set a precedent for other victims' groups. "In 50 years' time, are our descendents going to ask for compensation for people currently interned for life in psychiatric establishments?" questioned the justice minister, Christoph Blocher, in his address to parliament. "We need to do more investigations in order to determine which sterilisations were forced and which were justified at the time," he added. Blocher also said that cantons and communes - rather than the government - should be primarily liable for the payments. His position was supported by members of his own People's Party and the Radicals.

    Sterilisation allowed
    The House also approved by 156 votes to two another proposal to allow sterilisation only under strict conditions and only where it was in the interests of the person affected. Parliamentarians also agreed to raise the minimum age for authorised sterilisation from 16 to 18. They said sterilisation would only be permitted in cases where the patient was able to make an informed decision and after they had agreed to it in writing. "Many people suffered forced sterilisation in the past and it's important to have a law to ensure that it doesn't happen again," added Meyer. Both proposals, for compensation and outlining conditions for sterilisation, are now due to go to the Senate for approval. Forced sterilisation became a political issue at the end of the 1990s, after Sweden revealed that more than 60,000 of its citizens - mainly women - had been sterilised between 1935 and 1976. Subsequent research in Switzerland showed that compulsory sterilisations had been carried out in the country until the 1970s and that there had been abuses.

    Thousands of victims
    No precise data exists on the exact number of those affected but it is estimated to run into the tens of thousands. The victims were mainly handicapped or mentally disabled women who were sterilised or forced to have abortions under the threat of being institutionalised. A study of Zurich city and cantonal records - published in 2002 - also found that some of the victims were women from poor or deprived social backgrounds. Researchers concluded that Swiss sterilisation policies were similar to those practised in the United States and Scandinavian countries and were motivated by fears that white Europeans were at risk of becoming weaker than other races. In 1999 the former Green Party parliamentarian, Margrith von Felten, launched an initiative calling for compensation to be paid to those sterilised against their will.
    ©NZZ Online

    9/3/2004- Germany's ruling Social Democrats and opposition conservatives thrashed out the details of long-debated immigration legislation on Monday. Though there's no talk of a breakthrough, the two sides did make progress. After almost four years of turbulent negotiations, Germany's floundering immigration legislation received a slight boost on Monday when a seven-member expert group drawn from the main political parties said it made some progress on finding common ground. German Interior Minister Otto Schily of the ruling Social Democrats (SPD) spoke of an improvement. "The objectives aren't that far apart anymore," he said. Peter M¸ller of the opposition Christian Democrats (CDU) added that the two sides had made progress in the controversial areas of labor-market migration and humanitarian immigration, though details weren't released. M¸ller added they discussed further tricky issues such as the integration of foreigners already in Germany as well as the situation of ethnic Germans and security.

    Security a sticking point
    The latter point in particular proved to be a contentious one during Monday's discussions. The conservatives have been pushing for tighter security measures ever since the discovery that terrorists involved in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States had lived and studied in Germany for years and had hatched the plot during that time. On Monday, Schily (photo) signaled his willingness to facilitate expulsion procedures in the draft law for immigrants suspected of terrorist activities. "It goes without saying that we don't want to tolerate immigrants who pose a threat to German security. We agree that there must be clear provisions that govern the residential status and possible expulsion procedures for such persons," Schily said.

    Gulf between SPD and CDU positions
    The immigration issue has been plagued by the widely divergent positions of the ruling coalition, made up of the SPD and the Green party, and the opposition CDU and its Bavarian sister party CSU. While the SPD and the Greens are in favor of a law aimed at simplifying regulations governing residency permits and making it easier for highly-qualified foreigners to work and live in Germany, the CDU/CSU argues that in light of Germany's high unemployment rate it would be rash to open its gates to an influx of labor from abroad. It claims the country has enough problems integrating the seven million foreigners already in the country. The issue first attracted attention when Schrder launched a scheme in 2000 to give permits to up to 20,000 computer specialists from India and Central Europe to work in Germany on five-year contracts. It has been lent new urgency by statistics showing Germany faces a demographic time bomb with an increasingly ageing population and declining birth rates. In addition, German business and industry experts have repeatedly warned that the country faces a severe crunch of scientists and engineers and that highly-qualified foreigners were badly needed in the fields. Immigration is also necessary, they say, for economic growth and the funding of Germany's generous welfare state.

    Signs of compromise
    Schrder's government came close to sealing Germany's first-ever immigration law in 2002 but suffered a severe setback in December that year when Germany's highest court ruled that it was unconstitutional. Despite the lows, in recent weeks, both sides have loosened their entrenched positions and signaled a willingness to compromise. The SPD and Greens have agreed to give up demands for a point system, such as in Canada or New Zealand, that would have allowed immigrants access to the German labor market without proof of a concrete job. Instead, permission would have been based an immigrant's qualifications, skills and German language knowledge. The ruling coalition insists, though, that a general ba ©Deutsche Welle

    4/3/2004- A nationalistic tone in campaigning for Russian elections is fueling racism responsible for murders and other violent crimes, the government minister in charge of relations with ethnic minorities said Thursday. After a 9-year-old girl from former Soviet Tajikistan was knifed to death in St. Petersburg and an African student was also murdered last month, Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev this week admitted ultra-nationalist groups were now a real problem. Thursday, Nationalities Minister Vladimir Zorin said that the general political atmosphere of President Vladimir Putin's Russia was to blame. Putin became president in 2000. "If young people were ethnically tolerant in the 1990s they are now ethnically phobic," Zorin told journalists, explaining racism was most common among the young. "In the growth of hate I see echoes of the elections of last year, when a series of candidates and deputies used nationalistic slogans in their election campaign." Nationalism was catapulted into the spotlight after the success of two nationalist parties -- the newly formed Motherland party and Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democrats (LDPR) -- in December's parliamentary election. Zorin's comments came while campaigning for the presidential election on March 14 was in full swing. Putin is certain to win a second term. The former Soviet KGB agent is himself often described as a nationalist -- but a moderate one. His efforts to revive national pride through bringing back old Soviet state emblems and crushing Muslim rebels in Chechnya, seem however also to fuel a more rabid vein of nationalistic sentiment.

    Foreign students in fear
    Deputy interior minister Alexander Chekalin said Thursday that 10,000 crimes were committed against foreigners in 2003, but gave no comparative figures. Students in Voronezh, a major center for foreign students since Soviet times, went on strike after a 24-year-old medical student from Guinea-Bissau was killed there in broad daylight. They refused to attend classes, saying they were frightened of being the next victim. Zorin said the xenophobic atmosphere had also been worsened by terrorist attacks such as a bombing on the Moscow metro last month, which killed at least 40 people. A Chechen rebel group claimed responsibility for the attack Monday. A string of other Chechen suicide bombings has fed the hatred and suspicion felt by many toward Russians and others from the Caucasus, the mountainous area that includes Chechnya. Darker skinned than the dominant Slavs, they are routinely targeted by police and asked to show documents more frequently than others during supposedly random checks on the street.

    10/3/2004- A Belgian judge on Wednesday ruled that a case against Belgium's far-right Front National could go ahead despite the French-speaking political party's insistence that the lawsuit should be thrown out. A coalition of civil liberties and anti-racism groups brought the case against the Front National, which stands accused of committing a number of racist crimes. The Front National says the lawsuit has not been properly prepared and that it should be thrown out on a technicality. But on Wednesday, the head of Belgium's appeal court, Raymond Loop, said the court case could go ahead. The Front National's opponents say their court case matters because they believe their action will send an important message that racist politics are not acceptable in Belgium. Meanwhile, Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt on Tuesday outlined his blueprint for dealing with Belgium's other main far-right party, the Flemish Vlaams Blok. Speaking at a political debate in the city of Leuven, Verhofstadt argued that effective grass-roots local government was the best way to deal with the extremists. Towns that have put in effective policies and listened to local residents have seen support for the Blok fall off significantly, the Prime Minister said. "The results of the last national elections showed this only too well," he said. In the 2003 election the Vlaams Blok lost support in a number of large Belgian cities including Bruges, Leuven and Gent, where the city authorities have made great efforts to improve services for local people. But critics point out that a recent survey, carried out by Belgium's sate broadcaster RTBF and Le Soir newspaper, showed that the Blok could make significant gains in the country's forthcoming regional elections, often at the expense of Verhofstadt's own Flemish Liberal Democrat (VLD) party.
    ©Expatica News

    24/2/2004- Non-EU nationals deported from the Union should have more opportunities to challenge the decision to expel them according to proposals to be presented to Brussels today. The European Commission will be urged to give EU nationals the right to challenge decisions which affect their freedom to move around the EU and nationals from outside the union to challenge deportation orders and decisions to refuse them entry. The ëMeijers Committee', established in 1990 by five NGOs, will today present Brussels with a proposal to see that individuals have effective access to an impartial judge and the right to redress perceived injustices. The NGOs are calling on the Commission to legislate.

    Neglected in EU law so far
    "The [Commission] directive is proposed because effective access to an impartial court against government measures has been neglected in EU law so far", Pieter Boeles, Professor at the University of Leiden and one of the persons who drafted the proposal, told the EUobserver. "At the same time considerable powers to control and repress individuals have been created under the Treaty of the European Union", he added. Under the proposal, member states would be obliged to create effective legal remedies for any individual who is refused entry to the EU. It would also apply if they are not given a visa or residence permit, or when personal information including biometrical (fingerprints, iris scanning) and DNA information has been taken. "The consequences of the lack of effective judicial protection in these matters are partly hidden in dark numbers, as it is difficult to see and count the persons who were unlawfully deported, or the persons who could not come to the European Union because of an arbitrary or unlawful refusal of entry", Mr Boeles told this news-site.

    Unfavourable political climate
    However, this proposal may be a difficult one to accept, admits Professor Boeles. "Unfortunately the political climate is not very favourable for proposals stressing the need to access to justice for individuals, especially when immigration and border control are at issue". He went on to say that this political climate is unlikely to change when the European Commission gets the sole right of initiative for proposals on immigration from 1 May. "By launching our draft Directive, we hope to support the forces in the EU understanding the importance of individual freedom, security and justice in the proper sense of the words", he said.

    2/3/2004- New member states, who have reacted with anger at the moves by current member states to close their labour markets, are making some practical political moves of their own. Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have taken the lead in asking that either the issue be raised separately at a meeting of EU leaders at the Spring Summit later this month or that the Summit conclusions are adjusted to emphasise the four freedoms of the EU - one of which is freedom of movement of workers. The topic is set to be raised in a meeting of EU ambassadors on Wednesday (3 March) in Brussels. "We have decided we will propose certain amendments [to the conclusions]", a Hungarian diplomat told the Euobserver. "This is an issue affecting all of us", he added. Similarly, a spokesperson for the Czech Republic said that Prague will decide whether the issue should be raised later in the month on the basis of the outcome of Wednesday's meeting.

    Europe's competitiveness
    New member states have taken the line of argument that free movement of labour is one essential way of promoting competitiveness in the EU - which is the main topic of the Spring Summit. A spokesperson for the Irish EU Presidency said this angle will be discussed at a meeting of competitiveness ministers in Brussels next week (11 March). "Certainly in terms of the competitive council, efforts are being made to emphasise the importance of the four freedoms [of workers, services, capital and goods]". The accession countries are annoyed at the unexpected moves by the vast majority of current member states to restrict market access to workers from countries from central and eastern Europe from 1 May. They are particularly irked by the fact that Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark, Ireland and the UK, who initially promised to keep their doors open when negotiations first took place, have now all put in place, or are considering, some sort of restrictions. Speaking after a meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels last week, Slovak foreign minister Eduard Kukan said the moves were "inexcusable and unjustified".

    Commission waiting for an answer
    For its part, the European Commission is also getting irritated. It is waiting for a clear answer from member states as to what kind of restrictions they intend. Legally, current member states can apply restrictions for up to seven years to workers from central and eastern Europe. However, benefit restrictions planned by the UK and Ireland have raised the most concern as they may contravene the EU's own rules on not discriminating on the grounds of nationality. So far, just the Danes have given a clear answer about what they intend. Belgium, Germany, Austria, Finland, Spain, Portugal, the UK and Ireland have only given indications, said an EU official. France has published an extensive guidebook on the internet but failed to inform the Commission while Italy, Greece, Luxembourg, Sweden the Netherlands have not informed the Commission formally either. The Commission has repeatedly asked the member states at a "technical level" but an official said the requests may go to political level if there is still no response. This would mean a formal letter from the Commission asking for information.

    11/3/2004- Fears of waves of immigrants pouring into the European Union from the 10 nations joining May 1 are the fault of politicians for failing to prepare their people, the bloc's enlargement commissioner said Wednesday. The commissioner, G¸nter Verheugen, criticized political elites as stoking populist concerns in the 15 current EU member states, leading to restrictions on immigrant labor across the bloc just weeks before enlargement. "We cannot close our eyes to the fact that only at the present time has there been an in-depth debate on EU enlargement in the member states," he told the European Parliament. "I have said for years that we need to have our citizens on board in this process; it is too late now at the eleventh hour. Only now has enlargement become an issue on the front pages of newspapers and in the minds of citizens." He said the EU's executive commission and Parliament had done all they could to educate the public about the consequences of enlargement but had not been backed by member states. The result has been a spate of headlines across Europe predicting a flood of benefit-seekers and economic migrants, leading almost all member states to introduce last-minute obstacles to potential immigrants from the accession states. "The political elites in the member states should have done more to transmit the essence of this historic project to the citizens and to the people," Verheugen said. "And I say this with some bitterness, because we have repeated this time and again. "We have to say that yes, this enlargement will throw up problems, yes, it will require us to make changes, but there is no sensible alternative. This is our historic duty." He added that enlargement, bringing in 10 countries, mostly from the former Soviet bloc in Central and Eastern Europe, was "not the source of problems, it is the solution to the problems that arose in Europe 15 years ago," when communism collapsed. The Parliament had harsh words for Romania, which is hoping to join the EU in 2007, although it praised Bulgaria, scheduled for entry at the same time, for progress towards accession. Parliament's rapporteur for Romania, Emma Nicholson, said, "Corruption is widespread in Romania, involving administrative officials, judges, politicians, and in its sum undermines the functioning application of the rule of law." Verheugen agreed, saying senior officials should face trial. "In the fight against corruption the political system cannot remain untouched," he said. "It is not enough to put minor officials in the dock, it is the big fish that must be caught." The executive commission wants Romania and Bulgaria to enter together, but the slow pace of reform in Bucharest led Parliament's rapporteur for Bulgaria, Geoffrey van Orden, to call for Sofia's accession bid to be considered separately. "Bulgaria's progress and accession should not in any way be linked to, or held back by, any other candidate country," he said.

    The European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance is this month observing the 10th anniversary of its founding. It will convene what it calls a major conference to assess its contributions to racial and religious tolerance in Europe. One of the commission's greatest concerns has been rising anti-Semitism in Europe, but the commission's chairman tells RFE/RL that historical barriers are blocking efforts to analyze the problem.

    4/3/2004- The European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) is entangled in a frustrating web. To commemorate its 10th anniversary later this month, the ECRI -- an arm of the Council of Europe -- plans to hold a conference in Strasbourg to consider what it has accomplished and to plan future tactics in its campaign to oppose intolerance. Commission leaders say, however, that they will go into the meeting lacking some basic information. For example, the commission agrees with other human rights groups and interested agencies that anti-Semitism is on the rise in Europe. But a knotty problem is slowing the ECRI's efforts to measure the problem and analyze its causes. In some quarters, merely gathering data on the racial, ethnic or religious elements in incidents of crime and violence is itself considered racist. ECRI chairman Michael Head tells RFE/RL in a telephone interview from London that significant increases in cases of anti-Semitism in Europe are evident to observers but that measurable data are difficult to acquire. Head says the anti-Semitic upsurge is especially worrisome and that its probable causes are complex. "We are deeply concerned about the upsurge in anti-Semitic violence in Europe over recent years. [We soon recognized] that this was not just a simple question. It was a very complex one. It was not just a question of whether anti-Semitic violence was caused by young Muslim groups reacting to events in Palestine, or whether it was caused by nationalist skinheads, or whether it was caused by a deep level of anti-Semitism in a particular society," Head said.

    Head says efforts to unravel the causes are hampered by unevenness in the data that are collected. "It is very difficult to find out where the violence comes from, and to what extent it is due to one particular factor as opposed to another," Head said. Head says some countries collect ethnic and religious data without a problem, but that others do not. In Germany, Nazi decrees before and during World War II required Jews to wear identifying insignia. The requirement became a precursor to the Holocaust in which millions of Jews were imprisoned and massacred. Today, Germany is extremely sensitive to issues related to ethnic and religious identification. ECRI Executive Secretary Isil Gachet says several countries continue to inhibit the collection of information based on ethnic, national, and religious identification. "At the level of the Council of Europe, for example, our member states have very different approaches concerning ethnic data. You have some countries where they collect this kind of data for a long time. [In some] other countries, it is considered as being extremely dangerous, and it is even sometimes forbidden by constitutions. In countries like France or Spain or Germany, they do not [collect] ethnic data [for] historical reasons," Gachet said. "We are deeply concerned about the upsurge in anti-Semitic violence in Europe over recent years." Chairman Head adds, "Until there are systems of collection of information of this sort, it is extremely difficult to compare one country with another, or to be very precise as to the nature of the phenomena that we are describing."

    The Council of Europe comprises 45 member nations across Europe. Ten nations formed the Council of Europe in 1949 to defend human rights, parliamentary democracy, and the rule of law. The Council of Europe established the ECRI in 1994. The issue is ©RFE/RL

    THE NASTINESS OF RACISM(Asia, opinion)
    By Shin Chul-ho

    2/3/2004- I know a Canadian who teaches English very skillfully and sincerely on an Internet site, where students can speak with native speakers. Some students and the teacher talked about cultural difference between the East and the West, which later led to discussion about racism. Since I know that he taught English in Taiwan, I asked him if he had been discriminated against there. He said, ``On the contrary, I was looked up to because I am a white person. And he added, ``It is very, very difficult for a black person to be an English instructor. In general, people of Asian countries with a comparatively high standard of living tend to have an inferiority complex about people of European origin whereas they tend to have a superiority complex about people of African origin and developing Asian countries. Can we overcome the imposed inferiority complex about white people by making this nation an economic power and a military power?

    Let's look into the example of Japan. The Japanese are reluctant to think that Japan is one of Asian countries. They think that Japan is on a par with western countries, on the ground that it is a super power in terms of economy and the military. However, the fact shows that the Japanese still have inferiority complex about westerners that they get dwarfed when faced with Caucasians. Let me quote an excerpt from ``The Japanese biased towards contradiction by Professor Lee Ea-ryung, which was published in 1982. ``The Japanese are classified as honorary white people in the Republic of South Africa. They are treated as white people, sitting next to them, although they are the yellow race. So, they sometimes forget that they are yellow people. But when Americans and Europeans, treating them as the whites, get to notice that the Japanese come into their society so deep that they behave as their competitors, the white skins of the Japanese begin to turn yellow. The above excerpt proves that Asian countries can hardly break down the barrier of racism inflicted on them merely by elevating their economy and military power to or above the level of western countries.

    Molecular biologists let us know that the human race shares 99% of our genes with chimpanzees. Evolutionists assure us that all human beings belong to one species, Homo Sapiens, regardless of their skin colors. Will the scientific evidence rid mankind of deep-rooted racial prejudice? As Samuel P. Huntington predicts in his book, ``The Clash of Civilizations, the clash has been taking place in many parts of the globe and cultural differences have too often put concerned countries into conflict. Behind the clash and conflict is hidden racism. Huntington asserts in the book that ``in the emerging world, the relations between states and groups from different civilizations will not be close and will often be antagonistic. Yet some intercivilization relations are more conflict-prone than others. At the micro level, the most violent fault lines are between Islam and its Orthodox, Hindu, African, and Western Christian neighbors. At the macro level, the dominant division is between ``The West and the rest, with the most intense conflicts occurring between Muslim and Asian societies on the one hand, and the West on the other. The dangerous clashes of the future are likely to arise from the interaction of Western arrogance, Islamic intolerance, and Sinic assertiveness. Therefore, it will take a terribly long time before the human race live together in peace, transcending races and civilizations.

    However, can I hope the following remarks made by Ernest Mayer in his book, ``What Racism Is help lessen racism? ``The major reason for the existence of a race problem is that so many people have a faulty understanding of race. These people are typologists, and for them every member of a race has all the actual and imaginary characteristics of that race. To translate this ©The Korea Times

    18/2/2004- France's far-right leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, is seeking to overturn a rejection Wednesday of his bid to run in regional elections on the French Riviera as critics claimed he was creating a drama to boost the chances of his anti-immigration party. Lawyers for Le Pen said they would come up with proof that the National Front leader legally resided on the Riviera to counter the rejection issued by the region's top official, prefect Christian Fremont. Fremont's decision to exclude Le Pen from the elections to be held March 21 and 28 was based on a court's finding that the controversial politician had been unable to show tax records establishing a home in the area, a rich part of Europe that has proven his strongest base of support. If the lawyers are unable to sway the prefect, they have the option of taking their appeal higher, through two national courts. The rejection of Le Pen's application to head the National Front lists on the Riviera came the same day another prefect declared a former supporter of Le Pen's, now his rival, Bruno Megret, ineligible to run on the far-right ticket in the northeastern Champagne region. Le Pen, who made a surprise second-place showing in presidential elections against Jacques Chirac in 2002, told AFP he believed his documents were all in order to be considered a resident of the Riviera. "I have a rental contract from 1997, this contract is backed by the fact that I have my main office there and that I even live there from time to time," said the politician, who maintains a home in the bourgeois Paris suburb of Saint-Cloud. Mainstream politicians and the left-leaning Le Monde newspaper have speculated that Le Pen may have set himself up to be barred from a place on the Riviera election list in order to portray himself as a victim of political machinations and to generate media attention. His party's candidates might then go on to benefit in the elections, particularly as the generally older population on the Riviera has shown itself in the past to be receptive to Le Pen's anti-immigration rhetoric. Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, who heads a centre-right administration appointed by President Jacques Chirac, said of Le Pen's difficulties: "For me, there's reason to be suprised, looking at this political professional who doesn't lack experience." He said that "everybody" knew what steps needed to be taken to qualify to run in the regional elections and added that "for the moment, I don't know what game is being played." Recent polls have suggested that even if Le Pen was in the race he would finish in third place, behind the leading candidates from Chirac's ruling party and from the main opposition Socialist party.
    ©The Tocqueville Connection

    12/2/2004- Young French Muslims in the Lyon suburb of Les Minguettes - which 20 years ago saw angry protest marches as Muslims fought for full French nationality - are again angry at what they see as continued exclusion. Already frustrated by poverty and what they perceive to be discrimination, their anger has been further increased by the French Parliament's passing of a law banning headscarves and other religious symbols from schools. Some have even said that there is a risk French Muslims may choose to live in their own "state within a state". "French society needs to accept us, because if they don't, it's going to lead to Muslims opening their own schools," said Lokman, a 22-year-old student and part-time teacher in Les Minguettes, told BBC World Service's Looking For God In Les Minguettes programme. "Then they'll really keep to themselves. Already, there isn't much dialogue between the two groups. Then there won't be any at all. "You'll have Muslims on one side, and everyone else on the other. "It will be like having a state within a state."

    Les Minguettes is home to 21,000 people of North African origin. It was the place where, in 1981, the first riots by a second generation of French immigrants took place. By 1984, large numbers of these people were marching, in the belief they would eventually become equal to the French. But today, many of them have effectively abandoned France, arguing that Islam is their home. "When young people work, they want to work in a firm with Muslims - so it's happening a little already, this state within a state," Lokman said. "They know they'll be given time to recited their prayers; they know that during Ramadan they'll be able to go home a little earlier, because their boss is a Muslim, so he understands. "If they had a choice, they would work with a Muslim." Another of the frustrated young Muslims in Les Minguettes is Sami Hamaclouf, a 22-year-old studying Arabic literature at the University of Lyon. Sami, who also works as a secretary for a halal meat wholesalers, said her headscarf had prevented her from working in many places. "I never even went looking for a job, because I was afraid of the refusals I would get because of my headscarf," she said. "You just don't hire a veiled girl. So I work for Muslims. This discrimination has pushed me to stay among my community, even if Muslims are much-criticised for that. "I'm no different to anyone else here in France, except my faith is in Islam." Lokman also said he had struggled to get a job because, although he dresses in Western clothes, he has a beard. "When I go for a job interview and the boss sees my beard, he'll start wondering if I belong to an Islamic group," he said. "People do not understand many of the Islamic practices. For us, the beard is part of the Islamic code of dressing, as found in the Koran. It's a way of covering the body, like the veil or headscarf for the woman."

    'Quest for identity'
    Sami said she had started wearing the headscarf at 14, and that it was a "spiritual and religious choice" inspired by her older brother. She added she had learned that wearing a headscarf was a commandment of God. However, in first year of wearing it, she was "straight away summoned to the headmaster's office, and told to take off my headband and show off my hair," she recalled. "Then the headmaster started lecturing me about the Taleban and the oppression of women in Algeria. "I didn't know about any of this. I'd been brought up in France. Algeria was the country of my holidays. It was then that I realised people did not understand me, or my quest for my own identity."

    Many of the Muslims in Les Minguettes feel not enough has changed in 20 years. Their parents who marched 20 years ago to demand their rights sang a deeply ironic version of the classic French song Sweet France. The same concerns still a ©BBC News

    13/2/2004- Islamic parents won a court victory in Germany this week allowing them to keep their children at the controversial King Fahd Academy in Bonn, a month after education officials ordered the pupils to transfer to public schools. A Cologne administrative tribunal said the January orders from the Bonn municipal education department were legally defective in at least seven cases. More than 30 families were told last month that their exemptions from state schooling had been withdrawn. In most German states, attendance at public school is compulsory for all children aged 6 to 16. The orders were contested by the parents of 24 pupils, though three have since dropped their cases. The remaining 14 cases have yet to be decided by the tribunal in Cologne, just north of Bonn. There were attempts to close down the school last year after a teacher gave a flaming sermon at school prayers calling for a jihad or holy war against the West. Officials said pupils were being drilled in Islamist ideas but not learning much arithmetic. A supervisory board with German and Arab members approved in November a set of tough guidelines for the school, which oblige the academy to concentrate on education. The jihad teacher was fired. The school, which is funded from Saudi Arabia, is to continue providing a religious environment with instruction in Arabic and the Koran alongside the normal German curriculum. It has about 460 mainly Arab pupils, of whom 200 are German nationals.
    ©Expatica News

    17/2/2004- The Dutch plans to forcibly remove tens of thousands of asylum seekers may sit ill at ease with Holland's long-standing reputation as a bastion of liberalism and laissez-faire attitudes. But the expression "Normen en waarden" - norms and values - has become a catchphrase in the country, whose residents have in recent years expressed increasing unease with sharing their homeland with foreigners who they say do not subscribe to Dutch values. The meteoric rise of the populist Pim Fortuyn - who campaigned on an anti-immigration, anti-Islam ticket prior to his assassination in 2002 - was widely interpreted as a wake-up call for Dutch politicians who had studiously avoided questions of immigration and integration. The Netherlands was full, and those without permits should be deported, Mr Fortuyn declared. His party achieved stunning election success after his death, and although in-fighting has since taken its toll, his politics - as Tuesday's vote makes clear - live on. "It's probably fair to say that the Dutch have become less liberal," says Hans Wansing, a political commentator at the Dutch daily De Volkskrant. "A lot of people feel we have been too tolerant over the years - hence the appeal of Pim Fortuyn when he started breaking taboos. The government is acting on that - what we are seeing is indeed his legacy."

    Behind the plan
    The clampdown on asylum seekers is seen as inextricably linked to a wider debate about multi-culturalism in the Netherlands - a policy which has of late been called into question. A recent Dutch all-party parliamentary report concluded that efforts to create an integrated multi-ethnic society has failed, leaving first and second-generation immigrants alienated from mainstream Dutch life. To those who oppose the plans to expel the 26,000 failed asylum seekers - many of whom have lived in the country for years and have worked hard to integrate - the deportations will only exacerbate this problem. The Council of Churches for example has warned of "major tension in local communities that have adopted immigrants, where their children go to school and where numerous volunteers are involved in settling them in". Other pressure groups note that families will be torn apart, young people sent back to a country they barely know. But while opinion polls do suggest a number of Dutch believe the plan to be draconian, the majority are behind the plan. "I think it's the only way to stop things getting out of hand. I'm with the government on this," says Roy, a software consultant in the north-eastern town of Zwolle. "The Netherlands must always be a place where those who are genuinely fleeing persecution can come, but it should not be a place for people who want to abuse the system and who have no interest in accepting their responsibilities, learning the language, trying to fit in."

    European trend
    While the Netherlands may be about to embark upon one of the largest deportations in modern European history - the country is not alone in questioning the merits of multi-culturalism and ongoing immigration. New measures have been adopted in the UK and Germany to repatriate those whose claims to asylum on the grounds of persecution are rejected. Italy and France say they will not repeat the periodic amnesties which have been granted in the past to illegal immigrants. Mainstream parties across Europe have been jolted into action by the gains made by anti-immigrant, populist parties in a string of elections. While these parties - as Pim Fortuyn's movement illustrated - are rarely able to maintain a prolonged period in government, if they enter office at all - their policies are frequently absorbed by ruling parties. Many human rights activists argue that politicians should not kowtow to demands for a clampdown, but politicians retort that, in a democracy, there are voters to consider.
    ©BBC News

    16/2/2004- Legislation that was expected to bring more effective prosecution of racially aggravated crimes has instead made it harder to secure a conviction, legal experts said yesterday. New figures from the Scottish Executive show that the new offence of racially aggravated harassment has a conviction rate of just 5% and, of the racially aggravated conduct offences reported, just 26% were convicted in 2001. Lawyers and experts claim that a section of the 1998 crime and disorder act has made it harder to prove that crimes were exacerbated because of racism. In the past, experts say racially aggravated conduct would have been taken into account by judges alongside another offences, such as breach of the peace. Two witnesses would have been required to corroborate the breach of the peace, and judges would accept one witness to explain the racial element. However, because of the legislation, racially aggravated harassment and conduct have been made separate offences and now two witnesses are required to corroborate the racial element.

    In 2001, of 328 offences of racially aggravated harassment recorded by the police, just 18 (5%) were convicted. Of the 1260 offences of racially aggravated conduct recorded by the police, there were just 338 convictions (26%). The legislation was introduced to assuage fears that racial attacks were not being taken seriously enough, and concern that racism was not being properly monitored. There was also evidence that the prosecution was accepting plea bargains which meant the racist element of the offence was not taken into account. Plea bargains on this can no longer be accepted. However, although the new legislation came into force five years ago, there is still no statistical analysis of the level of the problem, or success, of the new legislation. The executive says it is not straightforward to create a conviction rate by comparing the figures because of a number of "mitigating" factors, including the fact that offences recorded by the police in 2001 might not have been dealt with by the courts until 2002.

    Professor Lee Bridges, of the Legal Research Institute at Warwick University, said figures show the law makes prosecutions more problematic. "I have always taken the view this legislation would make it harder because it creates another part that requires proof," he said. "If someone was charged with assault, you had to have witnesses to prove that assault and if there was evidence it was racially motivated, it could be taken into account by the judge. "I admit there were concerns judges didn't take it seriously enough and that was why it was changed. But that means we now have an extra burden of proof." The Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) has welcomed the new legislation, but is concerned that the figures should be openly analysed. It has seen a number of positive benefits including increased police recording and a far better service from the prosecution. Meanwhile, young people are to be targeted in the second phase of the Scottish Executive's anti-racism campaign, launched today. The £500,000 campaign will encourage young Scots to speak out about racist language and behaviour through radio adverts and billboard posters.
    ©The Herald

    Some liberals have given up on the idea of a multi-ethnic Britain
    By Trevor Phillips

    16/2/2004- Nice people do racism too. Liberal commitment to a multi-ethnic Britain is wilting. Some very nice folk have apparently decided that the nation's real problem is too many immigrants of too many kinds. Faced with a daily onslaught against migrants it may be understandable to give in to populist bigotry; but it is not forgivable. Take this, for example: "National citizenship is inherently exclusionary." So no foreigners need ever apply for naturalisation, then. And " ... public anxiety about migration ... is usually based on a rational understanding of the value of British citizenship and its incompatibility with over-porous borders". Straight from the lexicon of the far right. And best of all: "You can have a [generous] welfare state provided that you are a homogenous society with intensely shared values." Is this the wit and wisdom of Enoch Powell? Jottings from the BNP leader's weblog? Actually they are extracts from an article in the Observer, penned by the liberal intellectual David Goodhart, who I have always suspected is too brainy for his own good. He is just one of several liberal thinkers now vigorously making what they consider a progressive argument against immigration. It goes like this: the more diverse a society, the less likely its citizens are to share common values; the fewer common values, the weaker the support for vital institutions of social solidarity, such as the welfare state and the National Health Service.

    There are perfectly good reasons to worry about how we respond to immigration, not least the downward pressure on workers' wages; the growth of racial inequality; and the exploitation of illegals exposed by the Morecambe Bay tragedy. But as Polly Toynbee elegantly pointed out in these pages last week, the answer to these problems is not genteel xenophobia, but trade union rights, backed by equality and employment law. The xenophobes should come clean. Their argument is not about immigration at all. They are liberal Powellites; what really bothers them is race and culture. If today's immigrants were white people from the old Commonwealth, Goodhart and his friends would say that they pose no threat because they share Anglo-Saxon values. They may not even object to Anglophile Indians - as long as they aren't Muslims. Unfortunately for liberal Powellites, the real history of the NHS shatters their fundamental case against diversity. The NHS is a world-beating example of the way that ethnic diversity can create social solidarity. Launched by a Welshman, built by Irish labourers, founded on the skills of Caribbean nurses and Indian doctors, it is now being rescued by an emergency injection of Filipino nurses, refugee ancillaries and antipodean medics. And it remains 100% British.

    Virtually all of our public services have depended heavily on immigrants. Enoch Powell was forced to admit as much when, as minister for health he advertised for staff in the Caribbean. His new admirers will discover that a rapidly depopulating Europe will have no choice but to embrace diversity. For the moment, however, the liberal Powellites are gaining support in high places. Their ideas are inspired by the work of the American sociologist Robert Putnam, a Downing Street favourite. He purports to show that dynamic, diverse communities are more fragmented than stable, monoethnic ones. But the policy wonks have forgotten that Putnam's research was conducted in a society so marked by segregation that even black millionaires still live in gated ghettoes. The prime minister still seems uneasy on the issue. Last week, he wavered uncertainly between backing his robustly pro-immigration home secretary, and a desperately defensive response to Michael Howard's goading now France's second largest party, with one in five likely to vote for them in upcoming local elections. Liberal secularists who joined in the assault on the rights of French Muslims now have to find a convincing explanation for their cowardice, which has also betrayed the freedom of expression of French Jews and Christians. In Holland, this spinelessness has ended up as straight leftwing racism. The previously liberal Dutch establishment is now pushing an asylum policy so extreme even the Sun was moved to criticise it.

    The line up that favours managed migration and diversity - Blunkett, McConnell, Livingstone, Bush and the Sun - share one quality that the PM should envy more than any other at present: they are all popular with the public. Maybe the government ought to pay more heed to this focus group than the ones that see scary foreigners on every street corner. Perhaps we should also be creating an even more progressive immigration policy, for example offering easier admission to those who will bring their skills to the depopulated regions of the north of England and Scotland. The Americans will next year offer more work permits to IT whizzkids from India than ever before; and before the middle of the century, the world's strongest economy will become its most ethnically diverse. Our own population is still over 92% white; we shouldn't be duped by anxious faint-hearts into becoming an all-white backwater. There's one last reason the government ought to be suspicious about the advice of liberal Powellites. Minority Britons once looked to them for support. We learned the hard way that they are always totally committed to your cause - until they change their minds. In the immortal words of David Brent: "You have to get 100% behind someone before you can stab them in the back."

    Trevor Phillips is a journalist and broadcaster; since March 2003 he has been chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality
    David Goodhart's essay "Too diverse?" can be read in this month's issue of Prospect

    ©The Guardian

    18/2/2004- Racist officers should "get out of the Met now", Britain's most senior police officer said. In his opening statement to a major new inquiry into race discrimination within the Metropolitan Police, Sir John Stevens delivered a forceful message that racism would not be tolerated. The commissioner called for a radical overhaul of rules which govern the handling of serious misconduct and corruption allegations, saying the process was crippled by bureaucracy. He also called for the scrapping of laws which prevent surveillance evidence of alleged dodgy officers being used against them. "Let me be unequivocal from the outset - there is no place in the Metropolitan police for racists," he said. If you do not believe in the fundamental right of all people to be treated with respect, dignity and compassion then I do not want to share my service with you. You should not try to join. "If you are a serving police officer or staff member and cannot claim such a belief as your own you should get out of the Met now." Calling for reform of disciplinary mechanisms, Sir John said: "The present system is antiquated and should be scrapped. "With minor exceptions, ordinary employment law should be applicable to police officers even though they retain their position as office holders under the Crown rather than employees of the police service. "This would lead to a less adversarial approach to disciplinary proceedings and enable the police to rid itself quickly and cleanly of those officers we have reasonable grounds to believe are guilty of serious misconduct. "Where we have evidence of criminality or corruption by an officer it is essential to the integrity of the police service that it is able to dismiss the officer without delay and without having to wait for the outcome of often protracted criminal proceedings."
    ©IC Network

    19/2/2004- Over 500 people packed out Plymouth's extensive Guildhall for a conference to launch The Monitoring Group's Rural Racism Project. For the South West of England, an assembly of 500 people talking about racism is a major success in itself. That the conference, held on Wednesday 11 February, heard some excellent speeches and is the launch pad of a major anti-racist initiative makes it a turning point for the Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Dorset region. The conference heard both local activists and organisers and national speakers, such as Lord Herman Ouseley (former head of the CRE) and Imran Khan (solicitor for the Lawrence family). They outlined both the national situation and the tasks facing those trying to tackle racism in small, scattered rural communities. The recent dispersal and isolation of asylum seekers, the growth of the BNP and the irresponsible reporting on asylum seekers by the national and local media have all contributed to the increase in racist attacks in the South West in the last three to four years. The conference was timed to mark the fifth anniversary of the Lawrence Inquiry report. Drawing upon the experience of the Stephen Lawrence Family Campaign, the conference took as its touchstone the experience of the victims of racism and heard several harrowing accounts of cases involving racist violence, police hostility and bureaucratic indifference. The conference workshops considered a range of issues from the experiences of young people in tackling racist violence to the difficulties of campaigning in a rural setting. The conference was widely reported in the local media. The impact of the Rural Racism Project on those who attended the conference and those who have now heard about its plans and programme is extensive. It remains to build on this excellent start and campaign to highlight, and ultimately stop, racism in the South West.
    ©Institute of Race Relations

    13/2/2004- The latest figures on racist attacks in Northern Ireland show there were 189 offences committed over the year. The PSNI has appealed for the community's help in tackling the problem. The statistics for the year ending March 2003 were supplied to a Community Involvement Committee meeting of the Policing Board in Belfast on Thursday. Of the 189 offences recorded there were only seven prosecutions, and seven others still under investigation. In addition, there were 37 racial incidents where a crime was not committed - that is where a person suffered racist name calling. Acting Assistant Chief Constable Judith Gillespie said the clearance rate was disappointing and unacceptable, but the PSNI was committed to making offenders accountable to the law. "However, in many of the incidents reported to police the perpetrator is not known, there are no other witnesses to the incident and many incidents are not reported until some time later," she said. "In these circumstances, it is extremely difficult for the police to make someone amenable." This week, the Police Service will drop 'Hate Crime' leaflets into 29,000 homes in south Belfast seeking the community to provide information "to enable attacks to be prevented and prosecutions to be taken".

    Ethnic minorities
    Meanwhile, there is to be an inquiry into Hate Crime in Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee will investigate the rise in the number of incidents motivated by hatred within and between communities. The group will also examine measures taken by the government to tackle hate crime and assess any changes that might be needed in the current laws. Attacks against ethnic minorities have risen by around 40% in the last year, with many families being forced to leave their homes in south Belfast. Last week, the loyalist paramilitary group the Ulster Volunteer Force said it has "stood down" its leader in the Village area after a spate of racist attacks in the area. On Tuesday, Criminal Justice minister John Spellar said consultation on legislation to tackle so-called hate crimes was being launched by the government in Northern Ireland. Under the proposals, jail terms for criminal damage would go up from 10 to 14 years, and judges would take into account racial and religious factors when sentencing.
    ©BBC News

    Polls cite crime, unemployment and other economic woes

    16/2/2004- Alexander Eror, a soft-spoken, 27-year-old elementary school teacher, does not like to think of himself as a nationalist. So, Eror explained, when he voted in December for the most virulently nationalist group in Parliament, the Serbian Radical Party, it was not for its long support of a Greater Serbia or for its leader, Vojislav Sesejl, who is facing war crimes charges in The Hague. Instead, Eror said, he made his decision because of the sight of his neighbor's top-of-the-line sports car. His neighbor, Eror is convinced, is part of a criminal elite that emerged in the 1990s and continued to prosper even under an elected government dominated by reformers. "I expected crime to be uprooted," he said. "Nothing has changed." The anger and disillusionment of Serbs like Eror goes some way in explaining how the Serbian Radical Party became the election's big winner, with 28 percent of the vote, and is now the largest party in the 250-seat Parliament.

    The victory has thrown pro-reform parties into disarray, stalled formation of a coalition government and sent chills through the ranks of Western analysts who are fearful that nationalism may again be on the rise in Serbia. Political analysts here acknowledge that nationalism remains a powerful undercurrent in Serbian politics. Certainly, Eror's decision was made easier by the fact that Serbs generally have yet fully to face their role in the wars of the 1990s that left their country isolated and economically shattered. At the same time, opinion polls showed that Eror's concerns - unemployment, low living standards, economic decline, and not least, corruption and crime - were shared by a majority of voters. As much as anything, analysts here say, the vote's outcome reflected disappointment with an elected government that failed to live up to its promises to bring about economic and political change, and to crack down on rampant cronyism and racketeering. Each morning, Eror said, he had left his parents' home in Belgrade with sense of anger. He watched his neighbor, also in his 20s, grow richer, while his own salary stagnated at $200 a month. At school, too, he said, a small group of rich children emerged, while a majority stayed poor. Like more than half the Serbian electorate, Eror voted to remove Slobodan Milosevic from office. His removal as Yugoslavia's federal president was followed by the election of a unwieldy 18-party coalition government in Serbia's state Parliament. Three years later, Eror said, his neighbor's car reminded him how little that government achieved.

    Vojislav Kostunica, the former president who defeated Milosevic in elections three years ago, said in a recent interview that the new government was under huge pressure to perform. After 10 years of war and international sanctions, Kostunica said, Serbs "expected and looked forward to some quick change, improvement of their situation." The expectations of the government, he said, "were even larger than in other post-Communist countries," where people also returned to voting for Communist parties after an initial round of disappointment in elected reformers. Kostunica maintains that Serbia has seen some change for the better. Growth in 2003 was estimated by the World Bank to be 4 percent. The hyperinflation of the 1990s is over. The dinar is stable. Many indicators suggest that living standards have improved in the past three years. But those advances were overshadowed, political analysts say, by deep divisions in the coalition government, political paralysis and allegations of corruption.

    "These guys have discredited democracy - it's covered with mud," said Liljana Smajlovic, a journalist and political commentator with the weekly magazine Nin. In 2002, two important groups in the coalition fell out. Kostunica withdrew his Serbian Democratic Party from the coalition, accusing the prime m a major concern for voters during the last elections, but it remains a constant source of friction between Serbia and the West. Most of the indictments issued by the court have been against Serbs, lending to the impression that the tribunal is biased against them, Serbs say. Western officials say the Serbs have not turned over two of the top suspects from the war, the onetime leader of the Bosnian Serbs, Radovan Karadzic, and a former Bosnian Serb general, Ratko Mladic. Serbian politicians dispute their presence in the country. U.S. aid, worth up to $100 million, is conditional on full Serbian cooperation. "The indictments of The Hague tribunal have been a sort of national humiliation," said Kostunica, the former president. He urged Western governments to ease the pressure on Serbia over the tribunal if they wanted to secure the reform process, which at this point, analysts agree, is in jeopardy.
    ©International Herald Tribune

    The attack on the Moscow metro spreads anxiety, xenophobia and uncertainty on the eve of the presidential elections.
    By Sanobar Shermatova, reporter with Moscow News

    13/2/2004- The deadliest act of terror yet perpetrated in Moscow appears to have toughened the Kremlin's policy on Chechnya ñ even though no one has yet claimed responsibility for the slaughter. The bombers picked their target to cause the maximum amount of terror, as nine million people ride the Moscow metro every day to get to their places of work or study. The bomb, which exploded on February 6 on a train between Avtozavodskaya and Paveletskaya stations, killed at least 39 people and wounded more than a hundred. The death toll is expected to rise, with Moscow's mayor Yury Luzhkov saying it is expected to reach around 50. Since the blast, Caucasus-phobia has gained strength in the capital. Demands to forbid people from the region to enter the capital now fill the airwaves and newspapers. This is the case even though most Caucasians in Moscow are Russian citizens and protected by the constitution ñ and indeed three of the passengers killed were from Armenia and Georgia. This did not stop prominent Communist politician Nikolai Kharitonov declaring it was time to "clear up" Moscow, as happened before the 1980 Olympic Games, while the well-known nationalist journalist and parliamentary deputy Alexander Nevzorov posed a straightforward question live on the NTV channel, "Where have you ever seen ordinary Chechens?" Although he did not directly call the people of Chechnya bandits - as Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky occasionally does - the thrust of Nevzorov's comment was clear to all.

    President Vladimir Putin himself was quick to blame Chechen pro-independence leader Aslan Maskhadov for the attack. "We don't need any indirect proof, we know for sure that Maskhadov and his bandits are linked to this terror," Putin said angrily. He also lashed out at "calls from abroad" for negotiations with Maskhadov - a clear reference to the recent letter signed by 145 members of the European parliament backing the idea of a United Nations administration for Chechnya. "It's not the first time that we encounter a synchronization of crimes committed on the territory of Russia and calls for negotiations," Putin said. However, Maskhadov's envoy in London, Akhmed Zakayev, condemned the attack and said that his leader had nothing to do with it. There is speculation that the radical Chechen warrior Shamil Basayev may claim responsibility for the blast ñ as he has done with a series of other attacks in Moscow and the North Caucasus, including the Nord-Ost hostage-taking incident in October 2002. Nothing has been heard from Basayev as IWPR went to press, although an article on the extreme Islamist website - written by someone under the name of Boris Stomakhin - suggested that it was "very likely" Basayev may claim responsibility.

    If Basayev did indeed order the attack, it marks a change of tactics for him. Usually suicide bombers record themselves on video so as to prove that they were responsible and pass it to an organisation such as Al-Jazeera television. This did not happen after the Moscow attack, although such a tape may yet turn up. For most Russian citizens these finer points are irrelevant, and they have no qualms about blaming Chechens for the attack. The growing Caucasus-phobia is also accompanied by a total silence on the part of Chechens themselves. No Chechen took part in the many televised live debates and other programmes on television. It is true, Chechnya President Akhmad Kadyrov pleaded publicly for people not to blame the whole Chechen nation for the acts of terrorism in Moscow, but it was the only such declaration. "We will avenge you!" wrote desperate relatives of those who died after the theatre centre outrage in Moscow in 2002. The same face value. Georgian security minister Valery Khaburdzania claimed that his agency had detained a man from the North Caucausian republic of Karachai-Cherkessia named Nazir Naidaborov in Tbilisi. Khaburdzania claimed that Naidaborov had been recruited by the authorities in the breakaway republic of Abkhazia to go to Georgia and visit the Pankisi Gorge, home to thousands of Chechen refugees. He was then supposed to visit the Russian embassy on February 5 and warn them about a threatened extremist attack in Moscow - which he had supposedly learned about from Chechens in the Pankisi - and also about another planned assault on the Lyudmila market in Stavropol in the North Caucasus. Khaburdzania thus indirectly linked the Abkhaz authorities to the bomb blast in Moscow ñ an allegation that was angrily denied in Abkhazia. So far there has been almost no reaction in either Georgia or Russia to these extraordinary claims. As a result of the bombing, Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov has called for a series of changes in the city's security provisions. He said it was necessary to tighten registration regulations ñ even though it is well known that these can be easily bought ñ and instructed the Moscow police to step up its patrols of the metro. A more senseless order is hard to imagine, given that any criminal suspect can avoid an unpleasant trip to the police station by giving the guards from as little as 50 rubles - a significant contribution to the modest wage of a policeman. With no clear culprit identified and the presidential election only a month away, Russians are now fearful that the metro attack will not be the last.
    ©Institute for War & Peace Reporting

    17/2/2004- A political row blew up Tuesday after a judge ruled a lesbian couple had the right to legally adopt two female twins. In a landmark decision, the lesbian couple - who are the biological parents of the children - have been granted the legal rights to adopt them. The two women, aged 38 and 42, have been living together in Pamplona, Navarra, north-west Spain, since 1999 and have been a couple for seven years. They had the twins through artificial insemination. The decision, in a court in Navarra, has brought condemnation from the Church and the Right but support from left-wing parties and gay groups. Juan Antonio Martinez Camino, secretary and spokesman of the Episcopal Conference of Spain, said the case "showed no respect for the rights of a child to have a father and mother". The ruling conservative Popular Party has claimed that the law under which the judge made the decision was "unconstitutional". The main opposition parties and gay groups have supported the decision. Leire Pajn, of the socialist PSOE party, said: "This is very important for equality. The sentence contributes to normalise life and guarantees rights for many boys and girls born and educated in the families of homosexuals."

    Pajn congratulated gay and lesbian groups for this change which will help them secure their rights. The left-wing IU party also supported the decision. In a statement, one of their candidates, who has stood as president of the Collective of Gays and Lesbians in Madrid, said it was a "real advance and a social revolution". He said it would recognise the equality of gay and lesbian parents. "The laws had to change to allow the equality of all the minorities," he added. The district attorney involved in the case explained Tuesday his decision not to appeal against the decision because it would oppose the law of unmarried couples in Navarra. Angel Santiago Ruiz explained that if he had opposed the application it would have been transferred to the Constitutional Court. Meanwhile, he said that neither the regional parliament nor the conservative ruling Popular Party - which has claimed it was unconstitutional - could appeal. He said that the law said that stable couples, independent of their sexual orientation, are defined as a union if they are adults and have been living together for at least a year. In this case, the lesbian couple had been together for seven years were the biological parents of the two twins who were conceived by artificial insemination. The regional government in Catalonia is considering reforming the law in the province to allow gay couples to adopt.
    ©Expatica News

    18/2/2004- The Austrian reality show "Family Swap" takes the concept of the British hit "Wife Swap" further by mixing people with different backgrounds. It's a recipe for disaster, and that's the whole idea -- most episodes offer plenty of fighting. "Wife Swap" is broadcast in Britain and Germany, and ABC plans to air a U.S. version. In the hugely successful British version, two wives swap homes, husbands and families for 10 days. During the first five days, the women must live by the rules of their new families; for the last five, they set the rules. The Austrian version, which swaps select family members, began in June and was to end this month, but it has been extended to May because of strong ratings. In one recent episode of "Family Swap," a woman named Gerda asked her host with barely concealed disgust: "Are you a Turk or a Tschusch [a derogatory term]?" "Neither. I am human," Dursun Salman responded, adding that he is of Turkish heritage. Gerda then lashed out with an even nastier epithet. Salman's 35-year-old girlfriend, Melike Sanalmis, endured even worse abuse while living with a racist Viennese family. She calmly tried to reason with her hosts to make them question their prejudices. The exchange was supposed to include Sanalmis' 6-year-old son, but she sent him away shortly after it started, saying the hateful environment was harming the child.

    Sanalmis, who has lived in Austria for 16 years, never expected she would be able to reform the racists. But she had hoped to make them think in new ways. Their refusal to listen changed her outlook on humanity. "I always used to think there's something good to be found in each person. I no longer believe that," she said. The flagrant racism in the episodes sparked debate in Austria, a country long beset by allegations of racism and xenophobia. Some condemned the Viennese family's behavior; others criticized ATV-Plus -- Austria's first private television station, which is behind the show. Hundreds of people showed up at Salman's restaurant to apologize for their countrymen following the broadcasts a few weeks ago. Many recorded their reactions in a notebook serving as the restaurant's guest book. "I was speechless, shocked and furious," one guest wrote. Salman said he agreed to participate partly because he wanted to draw customers to his struggling eatery, but mostly to dispel Austrians' perceptions of foreigners as lazy welfare recipients who don't speak German. "We wanted to show that we are integrated people and that we have earned a chance to live in Vienna," he said.
    ©Associated Press

    Police feel detention centre for 30 people is too small

    18/2/2004- Some asylum-seekers are still ending up in police cells, even though a separate holding centre was set up in Helsinki in July 2002. The Ombudsman for Minorities, Mikko Puumalainen, does not believe a police cell is the correct place for the temporary holding of asylum-seekers. In the latest incident, four Romanian men who applied for asylum in Sodankyl” in northern Finland ended up in police custody. The men had sought asylum along with four women and twelve children. Since Helsinki's asylum-seeker holding centre (designed for 30 people) was full, the men were taken to police cells in Lappeenranta instead. Finnish law allows temporary placement of asylum-seekers in police cells if a detention centre is full. Helsinki's asylum-seeker detention unit is the only one of its kind in Finland. It is used for asylum-seekers whose identity or travel route to Finland is unclear, or who it is feared might take off and disappear before their status has been determined. In the holding centre, asylum-seekers are not locked up in their rooms but can freely move about indoors, and daily supervised outdoor visits are also possible. According to Puumalainen, conditions for asylum-seekers who end up in police cells instead are not nearly as good. "An asylum-seeker is not a criminal and therefore should not be placed in a police cell. This creates a wrong comparison", Puumalainen comments. No figures were available on Tuesday for the number of asylum-seekers who had to be placed in police cells last year, nor was it possible to determine how long such a stay might have been. However, it is known that the Helsinki centre was full for nine days plus two nights in 2003, and hence the numbers are unlikely to be very large. All the same, the situation could be about to change. This year, the centre has already been filled to its maximum capacity on five days.
    ©Helsingin Sanomat

    Striking a balance on immigration policy isn't easy
    13/2/2004- An Integration Ministry think-tank report has recommended maintaining tight immigration controls in some policy areas, whilst relaxing regulations in other areas The Danish Integration Ministry's think-tank released a series of recommendations earlier this month, in a hotly anticipated report on the future of immigration policy in Denmark. Recent restrictions to immigration policy mean that even the best-integrated, highest-educated immigrants must wait seven years to gain permanent residency in this country. But the think-tank's report recommends granting residency status to this segment of immigrants after just three years: a strategy they say would motivate highly functional immigrants to work harder in their adopted country. The Ministry think-tank otherwise recommends that Denmark maintain its hardline policy on immigration, after examining developments in other countries, including Sweden and Germany. The panel also recommends that immigrants with high-level educational backgrounds and good language command receive permits to live in Denmark whilst seeking jobs. Under current laws, foreigners are only allowed to stay in Denmark if they have obtained a so-called specialist work permit. The chairman of the Integration Ministry think-tank, Erik Bonnerup, said he would like to see the rules amended, arguing that this would attract highly qualified manpower into Denmark, as well as having a positive influence on the integration of other immigrants. The idea has failed to draw support from Integration Minister Bertel Haarder, or from Social Democratic immigration spokeswoman Anne Marie Meldgaard. 'Last year alone, 12,000 work permits were handed out to foreigners who came to Denmark to study and work. There's no need to give out more,' said Haarder. The Danish Employers' Association says that laxer immigration rules for highly trained foreigners could help to create new jobs here at home. 'Denmark could learn a thing or two from other countries like Canada, Britain, Germany and Italy. It is relatively easy for qualified immigrants to gain work and residency permits, and thereby help to create jobs and economic growth,' said DA manpower director Tina Voldby. 'The time is ripe to start developing a viable Danish strategy for immigration and attraction of qualified manpower,' she added. The think-tank noted that Danish immigration policy was far stricter in some areas than in many other countries. But because no country has yet to come up with a magic formula for curing the ills of immigration, the group recommended that Denmark maintain its strict policy for the time being. 'ÖWe will continue to take in any quota refugees that may come our way, but we should concentrate our energies on giving immigrants and their families real education and work opportunities,' said Erik Bonnerup.

    Asylum figures
    13/2/2004- The number of asylum seekers arriving in this country, as well as the number being granted residency, continues to fall as a result of the Government's strict immigration policies. 25% fewer asylum seekers arrived here last year - just 4,557 - compared to 6,068 in 2002, whilst the number being granted residency fell by 40%.

    Immigrant windfall
    A new report from the independent economic institute DREAM, reveals that the State is currently saving at least DKK 4.3bn annually on immigration, compared to before the Government came to power. In addition, the report claims that there will be 135,000 less refugees and immigrants from non-Western countries in this country in 2040 than there would have been if strict immigration restrictions hadn't been introduced two years ago. Minister of Labour, Claus Hjort Frederiksen said: 'It's extremely satisfactory to see that our policies have been so effective. Now we've got to go one better by getting those immigrants residing here into a job. The future health of the economy is dependent ©The Copenhagen Post

    Landmark lawsuit filed with a Bulgarian court alleges racial discrimination in the provision of electricity to a Romani neighborhood in Sofia

    18/2/2004- With the assistance of the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) and the Romani Baht Foundation (RBF) have today filed a landmark lawsuit against the Sofia state-owned electric company concerning a discriminatory denial of electricity to bill-paying Romani consumers. On 9 January 2004, a breakdown in the power grid in the segregated Romani neighborhood of "Fakulteta", Sofia, discontinued the power supply to more than 100 Romani households. The provider refused to repair the network contending that many of the affected consumers had unpaid debts to the company. Along with the debtors, however, more than 30 Romani households with no outstanding debts, have also been denied restoration of their power supply. In court, BHC and RBF, with the assistance of the ERRC, will argue that the company's refusal to restore the power supply constitutes a collective sanction imposed on debtors as well as non-debtors, that such a sanction is discriminatory because it is imposed on residents of a Romani neighborhood, and that the power supply in non-Romani neighborhoods is never denied to bill-paying consumers on account of their neighbors' unpaid debts.

    Discrimination, as described above, is in breach of numerous international standards such as those contained in the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It is also in breach of the Bulgarian anti-discrimination act. Adopted in September 2003, this act prohibits discrimination by public as well as private parties in all fields of public life including the provision of services. It provides for a special legal remedy against discrimination and also grants human rights groups standing to file lawsuits on their own behalf, in the absence of individual plaintiffs, in situations where "the rights of many parties are breached". The law also importantly forces alleged discriminators to prove that illegal acts have not taken place, relieving victims of a major obstacle in obtaining justice. The ERRC, BHC and RBF are public interest law organizations with long and successful track records of fighting for Roma rights before both domestic and international courts. This is the first time that these human rights groups will be doing so in their own right before a domestic court and on the basis of the relevant European Union anti-discrimination standards contained in the new Bulgarian anti-discrimination act. On the occasion of the filing of the lawsuit, ERRC Executive Director, Dimitrina Petrova, said: "The time has come for Bulgarian courts to act to combat racial discrimination. Events such as the deprivation of electricity to hundreds of people in the dead of winter, based on the fact that they are Romani, must finally become a thing of the past."
    ©European Roma Rights Center

    15/2/2004- Scrubbing toilets in a London pub might not seem like a dream job, but for future European Union citizen Gustav Baco it is a chance to rescue his family from poverty. As an ethnic Roma, Baco says he has no chance of a good life in Slovakia, where negative stereotypes that brand Gypsies as thieving bums have poisoned the country's psyche against an estimated half a million of its citizens like him. So the 36-year-old father of four plans to get out. "I'm going to England in May when we join the (European) Union," he said from the cluster of tumbledown shacks where he lives in central Slovakia, 230 miles from Bratislava. "I'll wash dishes, or clean toilets. It doesn't matter, as long as it's a job and it's legal. Once I see it is OK and I can provide my kids with a better future, my family can come." While Baco's plan is clear, what is not is whether he will be welcome in Britain, which indicated this month that it may backpedal from a pledge to allow unlimited access to migrants from the poor ex-Communist states in line to join the European Union. Apprehension that Roma and other immigrants may try to milk Britain's taxpayers for financial support has caused scare-mongering in the British press and the government to consider reworking its benefits system. Memories are still fresh in Britain of thousands of Czech and Slovak Roma landing in the country in the 1990s to seek asylum and state aid. Under the current system, an immigrant in Britain can get unemployment, housing and other benefits such as free health care and schools for children if he proves he is at least looking for work and has come to England for good reasons.

    Too little done on the ground
    Roma leaders say the Czech and Slovak governments are doing too little to remedy the desperate living conditions for the estimated 700,000 to 800,000 Roma in their countries. This may prompt thousands to move west. Sociologists say fears of an exodus from central and eastern Europe are overblown, while singling out Roma smacks of racism and ignores the tens of millions of non-Roma who are more able to move. Pavol Makis from Partners for Democratic Change says the option of going west would be available to only a tiny fraction of wealthier Roma. Most of the up to 1.5 million others estimated to live in the region suffer from abject poverty. Unemployment is nearly 100 percent in many settlements across the region, and state supported incomes are low. In Slovakia, for example, a family of four on welfare gets around $125 monthly, not nearly enough for someone to save for the several months in England that are now necessary for benefits to kick in. "I'm not afraid that there will be a mass exodus of Roma from Central Europe," Makis said. "With their financial and social problems, most couldn't even begin to imagine how to move. Many have not even been to larger towns around their settlements in their home countries."

    Labor pains
    Some Roma may see the promise of escaping discrimination and poverty as a good reason to go abroad, but experts say that, regardless of race, the number of emigres leaving most accession states has declined since 1992 and will continue to drop. A number of studies show that if they do move, future EU citizens are disproportionately more likely to target nearby Germany, Austria, or other accession states than Britain, which ranks behind the United States as a popular destination. Claire Wallace, a sociologist who deals with migration trends in the region at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Vienna, says that as living standards in the EU newcomers rises, it becomes uneconomical for people to leave. "The people who are most able and likely to move are not unemployed and already have some skills and education, and if their economies start picking up, they are exactly the kind of people who will do well at home," she said. Portugal and Spain caused simi ©Reuters

    18/2/2004- Tony Blair and key ministers say they have agreed a package governing access to UK jobs and benefits for people from the new EU member states. MPs will be given the full details - which were agreed during talks in No 10 - on Monday, Downing Street said. Britain is one of only two existing EU countries to allow people from states like Lithuania, the Czech Republic and Poland the right to work from 1 May. Moves could include a work permit scheme, and restrictions on benefits. Tuesday's talks involved Home Secretary David Blunkett, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and Work Secretary Andrew Smith.

    No discouragement?
    Ireland is the only other EU country to have decided not to place restrictions on the citizens of new member states working. The government had already indicated it was looking at ways to stop "benefit shoppers" - people turning up and trying to tap into the UK's health and benefits systems. But there has been support from ministers for allowing the right to work. Later, Work and Pensions Minister Andrew Smith refused to reveal the details of the package, saying Parliament should be told first. He denied there had been "panic" over the issue, saying the government had always realised there would need to be regulations after EU enlargement. "As the prime minister said in the House of Commons, of course there have been the developments in terms of the decisions which other countries have taken," Mr Smith told reporters. "Anyone sensible would take account of the position in the light of those and that is what we are doing." The Tories last week accused the government of being confused on this issue. This came after Mr Blair first indicated Britain was looking at tighter controls to limit migration from Eastern Europe, and then Mr Blunkett insisted there would not be measures to discourage people from heading to the UK to work. However he told the BBC steps would be announced "shortly" to stop the UK becoming a magnet for people who want to claim benefits and not work.

    Conservative home affairs spokesman David Davis questioned why the government had been forced to hold a "crisis summit" nine weeks ahead of the accession date when EU enlargement had been "planned for years". He said: "Emergency meetings in Downing Street only nine weeks before the accession date shows what mess they are in." For the Lib Dems, Mark Oaten said: "Blair's victory over David Blunkett surely signals the final victory for populism over principle." Ex-home office minister John Denham said there were good reasons to allow new EU citizens to work in Britain - for example to fill existing gaps in the labour market.

    But he added there was a danger that if a small number of people were perceived to be exploiting the benefits system it could cause "a great deal of trouble". John Monks, now head of the European-wide version of the TUC, accused sections of the media of talking up the danger that the UK would be "swamped". Scotland's First Minister Jack McConnell said his country was facing a "serious population problem" with numbers due to fall below five million by 2009. It was therefore important that the new EU had as "free an economic market as possible because that's the way to global prosperity not just for mainland Europe but for the UK as well". All existing member states are able to impose transitional restrictions form up to seven years on the right of residents of eight of the ten new EU member states to work and claim benefits. The idea is that by the end of that period of time the economies of the new members will have grown, thus making it less likely that mass migration will follow. The restrictions only cover the former communist states joining the EU - a separate deal means that there are no restrictions on citizens of Cyprus and Malta.
    ©BBC News

    19/2/2004- European Commission head Romano Prodi has vowed concrete action to fight anti-Semitism in the European Union. Mr Prodi was addressing a high-level meeting in Brussels, called to address Jewish concerns that anti-Semitism is on the rise in Europe. "We are not here to beat our breasts in public and then do nothing," Mr Prodi said, urging European governments to make anti-Semitism an EU-wide offence. Attacks on Jewish targets have caused alarm among Jewish groups worldwide.

    The seminar was organised by the European Commission, together with the European Jewish Congress and the Congress of European Rabbis. It brought together political and religious leaders from Europe and beyond. "Anti-Semitism has returned. The monster is here with us once again," European Jewish Congress president Cobi Benatoff told the conference. "What is of most concern to us, however, is the indifference of our fellow European citizens." The seminar was briefly postponed after Mr Benatoff and the head of the World Jewish Congress, Edgar Bronfman, accused the EU and Mr Prodi himself of fostering anti-Semitism. The charge infuriated Mr Prodi, who was recently honoured by European rabbis for his part in promoting what he calls "a Europe of diversity". In a passionate speech to the conference, he rejected the comparison of contemporary Europe to that of the Nazi era. "Let us be honest and keep things in perspective. Today's Europe is not the Europe of the 1930s and 1940s." It would be an insult to the memory of the millions of victims of the Holocaust to put their sufferings on a par with today's demonstrations of anti-Semitism, serious though they are, Mr Prodi said. He proposed an action plan that would strengthen existing EU rules, including making anti-Semitism and denial of the Holocaust a criminal offence across the European Union. Mr Prodi's proposals echo calls by Jewish leaders for national governments to set up special taskforces to monitor and combat anti-Semitism - as France and Italy have recently done - and co-ordinate action internationally.

    Peace moves
    The complexities of the problem were apparent throughout the day, with constant allusions to Israel and the Middle East crisis, the BBC's religious affairs correspondent Jane Little reports. Israeli Diaspora Affairs Minister Nathan Sharansky said that while criticism of Israel was legitimate, it was often a vehicle for anti-Semitism. German Foreign Minister Joshka Fischer said the EU would continue to strive for peace in the Middle East despite criticism from Israel and Jewish groups that it is biased toward the Palestinians. "We must energetically tackle anti-Semitism, but solving the Middle East and developing a real vision of peace it the major, major challenge for a Europe that is uniting," Mr Fischer said. Alongside the fears of Jewish communities, there is some evidence that attacks on Jewish targets have declined. The French Interior Ministry recorded 247 anti-Semitic incidents in the first eight months of 2003 - down from 647 in the same period a year earlier. France recorded the highest number of attacks on Jewish targets in Europe in 2002. However, a UK Jewish organisation that monitors anti-Semitic incidents, the Community Security Trust, is expected this week to announce a slight rise in the number of attacks in 2003 as compared to 2002.
    ©BBC News

    16/2/2004- The dried blood on the streets of Sydney's black ghetto on Monday following an overnight riot by Aborigines was a stark reminder of the continuing deep, and at times violent, divide between white and black Australia. About 100 Aborigines, many of them drunk, pelted 200 riot police with Molotov cocktails, stones and bottles, as anger boiled over in the inner-city suburb of Redfern. The riot was triggered by the death of Aboriginal Thomas Hickey, who was impaled on a metal fence after falling from his bicycle on Saturday. He died in hospital on Sunday morning. His mother, Gail, said her 17-year-old son was injured while being pursued by police. Police say patrolling officers merely passed by the boy who then sped off, losing control of his bike. Senior Aboriginal leaders on Monday condemned the violence, the worst civil unrest in Australia's largest city for at least a decade, but said the riot reflected a wider issue -- the alienation of black Australia. "People should not kid themselves -- this is Australia," said Aden Ridgeway, the only Aboriginal politician in the national parliament. "Last night's display of violence is an extreme example of the extent of the alienation felt by some Aboriginal kids and the manifestation of the difficult relationships in the area."

    Australia's 400,000 Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders make up two percent of Australia's 20 million population. Aborigines remain the nation's most disadvantaged group, dying 20 years younger than other Australians with far higher rates of imprisonment, unemployment, welfare dependency, domestic violence and alcoholism. Most live in remote communities in Australia's outback, with smaller groups in squalid accommodation on the fringes of regional towns. Very few live in major cities. Black Australia calls the arrival of white settlers in 1788 "the invasion". Thousands were massacred by white settlers or evicted from their ancestral lands. And Aboriginal leaders say racism in Australia has dictated their lives ever since. A public gathering by Aborigines in Redfern on Monday saw speaker after speaker express anger and frustration at how Aborigines were being treated in Australia. "There is no such thing as (racial) reconciliation," said Lyall Munro, an Aboriginal elder in Redfern, citing the thousands of Aborigines in jails or juvenile detention centres.

    Long struggle
    It was not until a 1967 national vote by white Australians that Aborigines were actually grant citizenship. Until then they were governed under flora and fauna laws. Aborigines in the remote Northern Territory gained land rights in 1976 after a long struggle, but Aborigines in the rest of the country are still fighting for land rights. A 1997 report by Australia's human rights commission found an assimilation policy used by various Australian governments up to the 1960s was "systematic racial discrimination and genocide". The report detailed the plight of the "Stolen Generation" children, taken from their parents to be raised in white families, but who were sexually abused or used as slave labour in Australia's vast outback. It called for a government apology and compensation, but conservative Prime Minister John Howard will not issue an apology for past atrocities against Aborigines, saying Australians today have nothing to be sorry about. In recent years Aboriginal leaders have moved away from calls for racial reconciliation to a more pragmatic call for help to tackle drug and alcohol abuse which is killing their people. But white and black Australia rarely cross paths in this island continent and when they do tensions rise. White Australia says Aborigines are to blame for their own poverty, while Aborigines say racism dictates their plight. "They're lucky they haven't got a guerrilla war happening," an angry Aborigine called Tammie told the Redfern meeting. "Aboriginal people are peaceful ©Reuters

    10/2/2004- A nine-year old Tajik girl has been stabbed to death in the Russian city of St Petersburg by suspected skinheads. Police said a group of youths armed with knives and bats attacked the girl on Monday night, stabbing her 11 times. Her father and an 11-year old boy were also hospitalized with head wounds. The attack was being widely seen in Russia as racist in origin. St Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko, who described the attack as "bestial", said they must combat any manifestations of nationalism in the city. "This crime is comparable to the terrorist act in the Moscow underground railway," she said. "It is different in scale but these events are of the same order." At least 39 people died last week in Moscow when a suspected suicide bomber detonated a bomb on an underground train.

    'Skinhead gangs'
    St Petersburg police named the man injured in Monday's attack as Yusuf Sultanov, 34, from Tajikistan. He was with his daughter, Hurshida, and an 11-year old boy, Alabir, when they were attacked in a courtyard. A report by Russia TV said investigators were confident that St Petersburg-based skinheads were behind the incident. There were several small but well-organised neo-Nazi groups in the city, the report said. There have been several racist attacks in Moscow and other large Russian cities in the past, targeting foreign students, diplomats or immigrants from former Soviet Republics. An estimated 300 skinheads attacked market places in Moscow two years ago, killing three people. Chanting racist slogans, they smashed up market stalls and attacked anyone who appeared to be from the Caucasus region.
    ©BBC News

    10/2/2004- The justice system is to be challenged today to enforce tough new plans to lock up racist thugs in Northern Ireland for up to 14 years. In an attempt to halt an onslaught of attacks on ethnic minority groups across the Province, the authorities are to announce a proposed legislative crackdown on hate crimes. Homophobes and bigots also face longer prison sentences under the draft Criminal Justice (NI) Order. But with Asians and Africans in parts of Belfast being forced to flee their homes, representatives insisted that the proposals are worthless if more tormentors are not captured. Patrick Yu, head of the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities said: "We don't have confidence in the whole criminal justice system if no one is prosecuted. "There are cases with strong evidence but the Director of Public Prosecution drops them without any reason. What we need to do is put more of these people in jail.'' The new plans, outlined by Criminal Justice Minister John Spellar, would require judges to take into account any racial, religious or sexual orientation factors when sentencing. Sentencing powers, where violent attacks are connected to so-called hate crimes, would also increase. Maximum jail terms for offences such as grievous bodily harm would rise from five to seven years, while the tariff for criminal damage would go up from 10 to 14 years. Mr Spellar said: "Proposals introduced in the Criminal Justice (NI) order 2004 would see much needed changes to legislation in Northern Ireland, strengthening the law to tackle crime motivated by hatred." The consultation paper has been published amid a new attempt by police chiefs to end the campaign of intimidation and violence directed against vulnerable communities. Attacks against ethnic minorities have risen by around 40 per cent in the last year, with many of the most sickening assaults centred in a working-class Protestant part of south Belfast. Loyalist paramilitaries, who control the Village district, have been blamed for driving Chinese and Ugandan families from their homes. Pregnant women have watched in terror as male relatives have been battered by the gangs. The new proposals, Mr Spellar said would provide the courts with more scope for punishing the offenders. The Minister added: "I am putting forward plans to increase maximum sentences for certain offences, giving judges greater powers in sentencing where aggravation is proven." But even though he welcomed the Government initiative, Mr Yu insisted it was only part of a solution. "We also need the police to secure good evidence,'' he suggested. "Not all police officers are sympathetic to the needs of ethnic minorities, so there needs to be more anti-racism training."
    ©IC Network

    ASYLUM SEEKERS: LET THEM STAY(Netherlands, comment)
    6/2/2004- Dutch Immigration and Integration Minister Rita Verdonk plans to unceremoniously uproot 26,000 people from the lives they have built for themselves in communities all over the Netherlands and fly them back to their countries of origin in the next few years. According to the latest opinion poll (6 February) by pollster Maurice de Hond, 55 percent of the Dutch public support her. This is down 10 percent from a week earlier. Nevertheless, a majority seem to agree that it is right to lead a crusade to rid the Netherlands of as many unprocessed asylum seekers as possible. Verdonk did not come up with the idea, she is simply implementing the legacy bequeathed to her by populist politician Pim Fortuyn. He shattered the pervasive political correctness in the Netherlands back in 2001 when he declared that the Netherlands was full and that people who were living here without a residence permit should be expelled. These views cost him his life when he was murdered by Volkert van der Graaf on 6 May 2002, but the same views were swallowed hook, line and sinker by the electorate who voted massively for his LPF party in the general election later that month.

    And again the voters returned Christian Democrat CDA Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende to power after the general election in January 2003, apparently aware that he'd agreed with the urgency of dealing with the asylum seeker issue by instituting mass deportations. His Liberal VVD coalition allies are also enthusiastic "people exporters" and appointed Verdonk to take the helm at the Immigration Ministry. You would imagine, therefore, that public support for Verdonk's actions should be rock solid. But if the events of recent weeks are anything to go by, you would be wrong. There is growing opposition to her deportation plans. And the reason for that opposition is simple: the government's asylum-seekers policy (i.e. expelling as many as possible) is short-sighted, unfair and bound to be far more harmful than good.

    What went wrong?
    The public blindly bought into Fortuyn's simplistic sloganeering without stopping to think how he proposed to close the Dutch borders, combat crime and bureaucracy, make the economy perform better and make the Netherlands a nice place to live "like it used to be in bygone days". Verdonk is caught up in this dilemma: the public indicated they wanted fewer foreigners in the country; but at the same time the public doesn't want to have to deal with the reality of the situation. Her predecessor at the immigration ministry, Hilbrand Nawijn, helped to muddy the situation when trying to improve his hard-line image by announcing an amnesty for long-term asylum seekers. More than 10,000 people who have been waiting five years or more for a decision on their applications applied for this amnesty in the wink of an eye. But Nawijn departed, Verdonk replaced him, and somehow had to make good on his promise. She failed miserably. Before she had decided the rules of the amnesty, her officials were busy writing to tell applicants that they did not qualify. When she finally decided what the standard was, only 3,260 were left in the running. She granted residence permits to about 2,300 of these applications. The rest, plus another 25,000, face deportation. Suddenly, local governments in cities around the country, politicians in The Hague and ordinary people - as was seen at a demonstration in Friesland earlier this week - have risen up in protest.

    People are beginning to wake up and realise that asylum seekers are generally ordinary people who are trying to fit in and make a new life for themselves in the Netherlands. Many have found jobs, formed relationships and had children, children who are attending school here and speak the Dutch language. It would be bad enough if Verdonk's plan was to expel all unsuccessful asylum seekers en masse. Instead, as if still ca people to this uncertain, legal limbo by taking years to look at their asylum applications? The real people at fault here are not the asylum seekers, but the officials who failed to do their jobs properly. Fortuyn was the first to preach the message that foreigners are lazy, undesirable and possibly dangerous. It proved to be an easy message to sell, but it is having calamitous consequences. It is time for Verdonk and the rest of the government to stop buying into this nonsense and start working on a fair and balanced asylum seeker policy. This will not happen until the Dutch public wakes up to the fact it got it wrong when it opted for Fortuyn's xenophobia in 2002. Giving 26,000 people who have settled here residence status should not be seen as an amnesty, but as their right.
    ©Expatica News

    10/2/2004ó Despite resolute criticism from opposition MPs, Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk won Parliament's backing on Monday night for her plans to allow 2,300 asylum seekers to stay in the Netherlands, but deport 26,000 others. A parliamentary majority made up of government parties the Christian Democrat CDA, Liberal VVD and Democrat D66 stood behind the embattled minister, allowing the legislation to pass unscathed through the Lower House or Tweede Kamer. But MPs also asked the minister to examine whether a greater number than the 220 people already given approval to stay based on "distressing" reasons might be given a residence permit. The minister agreed and said the number of distressing cases might eventually be higher. In assessing distressing cases, the minister said she will take account of families with children, but she dismissed a D66 proposal to introduce a special test, which would be administered by a separate commission, public news service NOS reported. Verdonk also said she had confidence in the project group ó which personally assists asylum seekers with their return to their home country ó to inform her of distressing cases. She may award more residence permits based on advice from the project group. Meanwhile, the minister welcomed the parliament's support for her amnesty and deportation policy, praising a good and positive debate.

    To clear a backlog of cases from the immigration service IND, about 2,300 people will be allowed to stay, but 26,000 will be deported over a three-year period. The plan has met with stiff opposition from the MPs, churches and the wider community. But the association of Dutch municipalities VNG and the large cities backed the minister's plans last week after being assured that no asylum seekers will end up on the street. And parliamentary approval of the amnesty policy means that public servants can start preparing the deportation of 3,000 people who are expected to be removed from the country before the summer. A further 10,000 people will receive a definite answer from a judge about their status in the near future. The remainder of the 26,000 asylum seekers who do not qualify for the government's amnesty ó and hence a residence permit ó are still being investigated by the immigration service IND. The minister refused to comment on advice from the foreigner affairs commission, which had urged her to reassess the dossiers of asylum seekers who have waited five years or more for a final decision on their asylum request. She said the matter would be raised in Cabinet. Parliamentary backing of Verdonk's plan came despite a motion from main opposition party Labour PvdA for a more expansive amnesty. The green-left GroenLinks, Socialist Party and the small Christian party ChristenUnie also demanded that more asylum seekers be pardoned. GroenLinks MP Marijke Vos and PvdA MP Klaas de Vries criticised the minister's statement that allowing more asylum seekers to stay would tempt more asylum seekers to enter the country. They said the minister's statement could not be evidenced, giving as example Germany and Britain.

    Prior to the debate being held, about 2,500 protestors gathered around the Lower House building to demand that more asylum seekers be allowed to stay. A man who sewed his eyes and mouth together, plus many children were involved in the protest, which was organised by the Dutch Refugee Council. Verdonk praised the protest as a good democratic right, but she drew offence to protestors who entered the parliament gallery and unveiled a banner comparing her asylum policy to the Holocaust deportations during World War II. "We have careful procedures in the Netherlands. This cannot be compared with Jews who were put on a train to the gas chamber," she said. After several warnings to the protestors that they were not allowed to be heard from the gallery, the parliamentar ©Expatica News

    Planned Deportations Would Put Thousands in Danger, Violate International Law

    13/2/2004- Dutch proposals to deport thousands of failed asylum seekers put their safety at risk, Human Rights Watch said today. The Dutch parliament is expected to adopt the proposals in a final vote next week. The Dutch government's proposals to deport as many as 26,000 failed asylum seekers, which would violate international standards, signal a serious departure from the Netherlands' historic role as a leader in human rights protection in Europe, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to Dutch Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk. The failed asylum seekers-including children-would be deported over the next three years. Many have been in the asylum process for years, and include Somalis, Afghans, Chechens, and stateless persons. Human Rights Watch is concerned that sending people back to states without a functioning government, such as Somalia, or to states otherwise insecure due to continuing post-conflict violence, like Afghanistan, would place their safety at risk. "The Dutch government claims that the proposals are safe and humane," said Rachel Denber, acting executive director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia Division. "But sending people back to places where they could be in danger not only jeopardizes their safety, it is illegal."

    Human Rights Watch raised concern about whether returns effected from proposed "departure" centers could be genuinely voluntary, and urged the government to ensure that the International Organization for Migration, a partner in so-called voluntary returns, observe international human rights and protection standards in all its operations. "The Dutch authorities have apparently decided that a 'clean sweep' would be the most efficient way to rid the Netherlands of failed asylum seekers," said Denber. "For years, asylum seekers endured an inefficient asylum process-they worked, went to school, raised families, and waited. Threats to their safety and well-being are the price they'll be forced to pay for the past mistakes and abuses inherent in the Dutch system." Human Rights Watch also criticized the Netherlands' treatment of asylum seekers' children and unaccompanied minors; plans to attempt to deport stateless people and others unable to access proper documentation, including their possible detention; and proposals to evict and end social assistance for those subject to the deportation scheme, including families with children. In an April 2003 report "Fleeting Refuge: The Triumph of Efficiency over Protection in Dutch Asylum Policy," Human Rights Watch documented serious abuses in the Dutch asylum system. The current deportation proposals represent a further degradation of the Netherlands' commitment to the right to seek asylum and the principle of nonrefoulement, which prohibits the return of people to countries where their lives or freedom could be threatened.
    ©Human Rights Watch

    13/2/2004- A refugee organisation has advised rejected asylum seekers who wish to start a hunger strike in protest against the government's amnesty and deportation policy to do so as a group to gain better publicity. Hundreds of asylum seekers have indicated they are prepared to start a hunger strike in a last-ditch effort to gain a Dutch residence permit. Refugee organisation Prime is looking for suitable locations, such as churches. "I tell them that they can get more attention from the media with five or ten people. Preferably with a hundred," Prime chairman Ahmed Pouri said. Pouri also said individual hunger strikers will not achieve anything with isolated, desperate actions, newspaper De Volkskant reported on Friday. The call to join forces came after the government recently gave 2,300 asylum seekers a residence permit in a one-off amnesty, but also announced plans to deport 26,000 others. The policy was devised to clear a backlog in asylum requests lodged with the immigration service IND.

    But the plans met with stiff opposition from the community, churches and opposition MPs, but ultimately won approval when government coalition parties the Christian Democrat CDA, Liberal VVD and Democrat D66 backed the policy on Monday. Opposition against the plans, however, remains publicly visible and vocal. Hunger strikes in the Netherlands are not uncommon. Pouri supported 126 so-called white illegal immigrants who went on an 18-day hunger strike in the Agnes Church in The Hague about six years ago. White illegals are a hidden group of people who live and work in the Netherlands. They also have a tax file number (sofinummer) and pay tax, but do not have legal residence status. Pouri also backed five Iraqi Kurds who refused to eat for 95 days in the western Dutch cities of Waddinxveen and Alphen aan den Rijn in 2001. Their action was the longest hunger strike in Dutch history. But Pouri denied allegations that he was encouraging the latest group of potential hunger strikers to initiate protest action. He said they should voluntarily make contact with official organisations about their decision to start a hunger strike. "They say they would preferably die in the Netherlands than be forced to turn back," he said. Both the Dutch Refugee Council (Vluchtelingenwerk Nederland) and Prime have said they do not officially support hunger strikes. The council said hunger strikes can have a negative impact on an asylum seeker's situation and is urging them to keep eating and drinking.

    But some asylum seekers hope that extreme actions - such as that by Iranian Mehdy Kavousi who sewed his mouth and eyes closed on Sunday - will mobilise the media to force the government into yielding ground. Hunger strikes rarely succeed, but there have been no deaths, the Volkskranrt reported. But Prime chairman Pouri said that hunger strikes do succeed in allowing people to eventually stay in the country. The actions of Kavousi have attracted widespread media attention, prompting Zaanstad Mayor Ruud Vreeman to write a pressing letter to Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk. Kavousi was a vivid element of a protest in The Hague on Monday as 2,500 people demonstrated against the government's amnesty and deportation plan. His Dutch wife said his self-inflicted wounds were a desperate act. The rejected asylum seeker - who is listed to be deported after having lost his bid for asylum in 2002 - cut the stitches holding his eyes closed on Thursday and also started drinking again to regain strength for a hearing with immigration service IND, which has been brought forward 10 days. He hopes to be granted a residence permit based on his marriage to Dutch national Marjon Kavousi. He is continuing with his hunger strike, but is drinking water with electrolytes to prevent liver and kidney problems. The stitches holding his eyes closed were cut open because his eyes had become infected. Th government institutes and doctors who regularly confront asylum seeker hunger strikers said such people are responsible for the consequences of their actions. Despite this, every hunger striker has a right to medical assistance from a doctor, who must respect the decision of the protester. The doctor can persuade the person to start eating again, but only in cases where the hunger striker is judged to be unable to give informed consent will a decision be made to force-feed him or her.
    ©Expatica News

    Over the past eight years, the government of Jose Maria Aznar's Popular Party has made immigration a leading issue and changed the law three times for foreigners. Graham Keeley asks what the future might hold for 'extranjeros' after the 14 March general election.

    One commentator recently forecast that by 2015, one in every three Spaniards will be a foreigner. This startling prediction gives an idea of the number of people moving to Spain. It also helps to explain, perhaps, why politicians are taking the matter so seriously. There are currently thought to be 2.5 million foreigners living in the country ñ or about 6 percent of the estimated 42 million population. Only 1.6 million of these are registered with the authorities. The others, some 853,000, are said to be 'sin papeles' or without papers ñ not properly registered for tax and social security and living or existing outside the system as what the Spanish call 'clandestinos'. Outgoing prime minister Jose Maria Aznar's ruling conservative Popular Party (PP) consciously decided to make immigration one of the issues of the day as soon as it came to power in 1996. As Jaime Mayor Oreja, the former minister of the interior, put it: "Immigration is problem number one for Spain during the next decade. "If ETA (Basque terrorist group) is the problem of the 21st Century, then immigration will be the cornerstone of living together." Even though the issue has more to do with those who arrive clandestinely on boats or on flights, the way the politicians are reacting to the issue will have knock-on effects for those who live and work quite legally in Spain.

    Change in attitude
    A turning point on this issue for Spaniards came just over four years ago, on 22 January 2000, when two immigrants, one Palestinian and one African, were held responsible for two appalling murders in El Ejido, near Almeria, in southern Spain. In response local people went on what one newspaper called "an orgy of racist vandalism". The incident said a lot about the rising tension in the country surrounding the issue of immigration. After the riot in Almeria, Aznar was seen by many Spaniards to act firmly. His government embarked on the first of a series of controversial changes to legislation relating to foreigners. In January 2001, the government marked a clearer distinction between legal and illegal immigrants with a change to the law. Critics from the main socialist opposition party and human rights groups claimed the reforms stripped many of their right to form unions, protest and strike. "The government had to change the law, but they're killing flies with cannon balls," said immigration lawyer Fernando Olivan at the time. In a further reform, thousands of Ecuadorians ñ who are the second-biggest nationality among foreigners in Spain (12 percent, or 115,301 pepole) ñ were repatriated with the promise that they could return if their papers were later put in order. The biggest group are Moroccans, at 29 percent or 282,432 people. Nearly 43,000 people were flown home in what was called Operation Ecuador. Again, this provoked protests from opposition groups. Not content with these changes, the Aznar government has changed the law governing immigration two further times. After a number of wrangles getting them through the Spanish parliament, the changes finally came in late last year. From October 2003, foreigners who break the law and are condemned for crimes that warrant jail terms of more than six years will be sent home. The third reform of the law has meant that the police have access to data which is obtained by local councils from immigrants when they apply for 'tarjetas sanitarias' ñ health cards. These cards entitle people to free access to the health care system, but to get one a foreigner has to prove he or she has an address and is made to show passport details. Immigrants who are involved in the transport industry and who operate out about immigration? And what does this mean for the future of foreigners living in Spain ñ both the legitimate and those 'clandestinos'. Though the election campaign has not officially been launched, the PP has said if they are voted back into power ñ which polls suggest they will be ñ they promise more crackdowns of the same nature. Mariano Rajoy, the prime ministerial candidate, has promised to make it a priority issue. Officially, the election campaign has not got underway so Rajoy will not lay his cards on the table on this issue. But he has long been a backer of Aznar's programme to be seen to stop illegal immigrants coming to Spain. The main socialist PSOE opposition party is predictably more liberal on the issue. But it cannot afford to be too lenient ñ the issue is too much of a political hot potato. PSOE leader Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero promised to create a new agency to draw together the various bodies that work on immigration issues. More importantly, the party has promised immigrants that the notorious Spanish bureaucracy will be streamlined for those with job offers: a 60-day deadline will be imposed to deal with residency and work permits. This is welcome news to anyone who has had to tackle the seemingly endless paperwork. However, it should be remembered that the PP are 11 points ahead in the polls. So by 15 March, the day after the election, foreigners are more likely than not to be facing four more years of the PP's conservative immigration policies. Watch this space.
    ©Expatica News

    11/2/2004- Human rights groups and unions launched a campaign Wednesday against what they claim are "unconstitutional" law reforms concerning foreigners. Spain's two main unions, the Commission of Liberties and Information and the Association of Human Rights, are to ask regional governments to oppose reforms to the Law for Foreigners. They will ask regional governments to make a case to the Public Defender, or Ombudsman, that the law is unconstitutional. They claim that the law violates various sections of the Magna Carta in relation to the right to 'intimacy and equality' and against discrimination and fundamental rights. They also claim it also contravenes the Law for the Protection of Data which relates to personal data being available to public bodies. At a press conference Wednesday, they argued that it is unconstitutional in two aspects: police can now get access to census material and transport companies are obliged to divulge information about their passengers.

    The reforms became law in December and were introduced by the conservative government of prime minister Jose Maria Aznar in an effort to crack down on illegal immigration into Spain. Recent studies showed that 2.6 million people in Spain were foreigners - or 6 percent of the population. But the authorities believe that the real figure - as a result of a sharp increase in illegal immigrants - is probably much higher. The change which allows access to census material is designed to allow police to be able to track immigrants. Transport companies should supply authorities with information about passengers in order to discourage them from taking illegal immigrants. But according to Almudena Fontecha, secretary general of the General Workers Union, the reform of the law permits police to get access to census material in general terms and not as before, only in the course of a criminal investigation. She said: "This means in practical terms the majority of immigrants will simply disappear and it provides an incentive for them not to register" for fear of being discovered or expelled by the police. In this way, regional governments in the Basque Country and Catalonia will deny giving census information to police because "they found that since the law changed, people have not been registering" But the government has claimed that the change in the law gives the police greater powers to stop illegal immigrants - but does not affect legal immigrants.
    ©Expatica News

    9/2/2004- Press release by Medici Senza Frontiere, the Italian branch of the international Medecins Sans Frontieres organisation, on the publication of the report "Rapporto sui Centri di Permanenza Temporanea in Italia".

    Inadequate buildings, limited contacts with the national health service, insufficient legal and psychological assistance, abuses in the use of phychiatric drugs, excesses during interventions by law enforcement officers: these are the main violations that the humanitarian organisation Medici Senza Frontiere (MSF) has found evidence of in the Centri di Permanenza Temporanea (CPT, temporary detention centres) for foreigners in Italy. The allegations are included in a Report that was published today [26 January 2004] by the humanitarian organisation, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999. "The lack of respect for laws and procedures in the CPTs - said Loris De Filippi, responsible for the Italian MSF-run projects - all to often results in the violation of the human rights and dignity of individuals. The Italian immigration policy has some serious shortcomings, and for this reason MSF asks the Italian government and civil society to establish an independent and impartial authority capable of monitoring the respect for human rights, medical assistance and asylum procedures within the centres". The report is the result of the first complete monitoring of the CPTs that has been undertaken by an independent and impartial organisation: [emphasis in original] in fact, the MSF teams have visited all of the 11 Centri di Permanenza Temporanea, and the five "hybrid" Centres whose purpose is the identification of asylum seekers, over the last few months.

    During the monitoring process MSF has found that asylum seekers are present in several centres. "In the centres, there is no guaranteed provision of the legal assistance for asylum seekers that they should receive in accordance with several international conventions that, among others, have also been signed by Italy, and they should receive a wholly different kind of treatment - added Enrico Davoli, the executive director of MSF - Italy -. Furthermore, contrary to the scope envisaged by the law that established them, 60% of the guests in the CPTs comes from prison. Very frequently, the immigrants who are transferred to CPTs have already served sentences for any illegal acts they have committed: thus, their detention in CPTs becomes an inexplicable extension of their detention". MSF also believes that the forced cohabitation between former prisoners and people who are fleeing wars and persecution to seek protection in Italy is unacceptable." The CPTs were established in 1998 by the Turco-Napolitano law [on immigration], and [the policy] was subsequently confirmed by the Bossi-Fini law [amending the law on immigration]. The purpose of the CPTs is to identify foreigners who are intercepted on Italian territory without possessing a regular residence permit, with a view to their repatriation. At present, the maximum detention period is of 60 days.

    Victims of discrimination could be entitled to EUR 15,000 in compensation

    11/2/2004- Victims of ethnic discrimination in Finland will get a new channel to air their grievances when the government names the members of a new Discrimination Board next week. The establishment of the board is linked with the law on equality which came into force at the beginning of this month. It is based on two EU directives on racism and discrimination at work. Violators of the law could have to pay damages of up to EUR 15,000. The board offers a new channel of complaint for those who feel that they are victims of discrimination in areas such as social and health services, the military, or in services offered to the public at large. Discrimination complaints might arise from situations in which a person believes that his or her ethnic origin has led to the rejection of a bank loan, denial of public housing, or being refused entry to a restaurant. The Discrimination Board would work in cooperation with the Minority Ombudsman, whose task is to provide advice and guidance. The ombudsman can also seek to help the parties to a discrimination dispute iron out their differences. The board would be authorised to put a seal on such a settlement, impose conditional fines to stop discrimination, and order the payment of such a fine if it becomes necessary. Minister of Labour Tarja Filatov (SDP) notes that previously the threshold for proof of discrimination has been very high. Now the burden of proof is divided more evenly: for instance, an employer accused of job discrimination will have to show some evidence that no discrimination took place. The new law also requires employers and proprietors of educational establishments to take reasonable steps to take the needs of the disabled into consideration. Failure to take such measures would also be seen as a form of discrimination under the new law. What measures are considered reasonable will be determined on a case-by-case basis: the owner of an office on the third floor of a building would probably not be expected to finance the construction of a missing elevator to acommodate disabled customers or potential employees.
    ©Helsingin Sanomat

    Labour is using foreign workers to deny everyone a living wage
    By Polly Toynbee

    11/2/2004- The war of the worlds gets fiercer. Yesterday the French banned Islamic schoolgirls from wearing headscarves in a provocative assertion of Frenchness against the perceived threat of alien beliefs. The Belgians are considering following suit. This is an expression of the political pressure over immigration that most European governments feel: if even the tolerant Netherlands can be rocked to its foundation by migration-panic, then no nation is safe. Immigrants may not all be Islamic, but Islam is the most visible and alarming threat from foreigners to hard-won secularism, tolerance, feminism or social democracy. Here, we pride ourselves on a multi-culturalism that has so far worked better than anyone dared hope. To be sure, places like Oldham may go up in smoke under pressure of a hardship easily provoked by the BNP - but by and large (fingers crossed), Enoch Powell's famous "rivers of blood" have not been spilled. We choose to hope that after a generation or two, most newcomers are assimilated and religious passion moderates. Perhaps we are complacent, unlike the French in their eternal (but often futile) vigilance against intrusive cultures, be they American or Islamic. Yet immigration is a wicked issue here, too.

    Enough governments of the left have fallen over immigration to take it very seriously. Guardian readers may not see headlines in the Express: only one of the last five front pages did not feature an "asylum" story or "Gypsies: You can't come in!" Immigration has shot up the list of public concerns. This is not just Labour under threat, but Britain's nurtured policy of multiculturalism with it. What frightens people, as I have often written, is any suggestion that our borders are out of control. How can you share taxes and benefits collectively with unknown global multitudes? The numbers themselves are insignificant in a population of 58 million - but untold hordes of illegals are not politically acceptable. Tony Blair has made good his pledge to halve asylum applications; 1,500 failed asylum seekers a month are now being sent back. This success is allowing a gradual change in the government's approach. Britain, almost alone, is willing to let citizens from the new eastern EU entrants work here from May 1. The 80,000 asylum seekers - mostly refused - are now dwarfed by the 200,000 legal immigrants let in each year, mostly professionals bringing highly prized skills: the NHS and care homes are only afloat through the mass importation of foreign staff. Study after study shows how in the US and Britain, immigration is a net spur to growth, a net earner for the exchequer and a motor for the economy. The home secretary's language is more positive about immigration partly because employers are now clamouring for it, especially in the hotel, catering and building industries, to add to the 60,000 who come in on temporary permits for agricultural work. The case for more immigrant labour is now powered by the Treasury, currently drawing up a secret paper advocating more permits for the unskilled.

    This is not all good news. The tragic drowning of the Chinese cockle-pickers drew brief attention, yet again, to the unregulated slave labour at work in Britain. Alone among European countries, Britain has no proper inspectorate of working conditions, no place for the exploited to turn and few prosecutions of employers. Only 15 employers a year are prosecuted for using illegal migrants. This is still among the least protected and inspected labour forces in the EU. How do we know that? Because the government boasts of it. Just turn to the UK trade and investment website and read its glowing description of Britain as the best place for foreign companies to set up. It sells Britain as a low-wage, low-labour protection nat and the cost of childcare is so astronomical they would starve on what was left over from a low-paid job. So maybe migrants sleeping 10 to a room can do it instead? The better answer is to raise pay to a level people can live on. Let employers pay the fair market price - not one subsidised by tax credits. There is no shortage of people to do these jobs; only a shortage of people who can afford to take this shockingly low pay. The chancellor's praise for Britain's "flexible" labour market and his attacks on Europeans who pay and protect their workforces better is curious. It sits oddly with Labour's promise to eliminate child poverty in the next 15 years: unless pay rises to a fair market price, poverty will always be with us. Prices must rise too - so that the dishwasher can live on the pay from the price for the restaurant meal. But the poverty agenda lives in a different department of the chancellor's brain from his cheap, flexible labour market. His stop-gap solution is to import a lot of poorer workers. But that just helps depress pay rates and imports new cadres of poor families who will prevent Labour hitting its poverty target. So the new generosity of spirit towards migration has to be watched warily.

    There is room for legal migration of all kinds - with public assent, effectively policed borders and rules people trust. But more immigration must be accompanied by a tough inspectorate to protect all workers' rights, and a living wage as the minimum for all. Employers may yelp about "red tape" and "regulation", but the government's description of Britain as the best place for global employers gives the game away. The cockle-pickers, at the extreme end of our "less regulated" workforce, have reminded us that we are still a low-wage, low-tax, low-employee protection economy. People are right to fear immigration if it is used as a way to keep pay down.
    ©The Guardian

    13/2/2004- A journalist for The New Statesman who caused a row by claiming to have witnessed a gathering of neo-Nazis in a mid Wales bar has admitted the pub does not exist. Freelance journalist Jack Jameson, who wrote the article headlined Weimar in Wales, told BBC Wales it was a composite of many pubs and that it was not meant to be taken as a news story but rather as "an allegory" Peter Wilby, the magazine's editor who had initially stood by the story, said on Friday: "I have to say I'm very sorry. Clearly, I'm not very happy about it." The admission came after police were called in to investigate the magazine's claim that an unnamed mid Wales pub - around 15 miles from the home of British National Party leader Nick Griffin - was a favourite with supporters of the far-right group. The freelance writer described how his car broke down in Welshpool and he wandered into a pub where German marching songs were being played and BNP supporters gave Nazi salutes to the strains of Deutschland Uber Alles. Dyfed-Powys Police wrote to its editor, Peter Wilby, asking him to provide information about the article after a complaint by a local Conservative politician and a threat of legal action by the town publicans' association. Tory AM for Mid and West Wales Glyn Davies told BBC Wales that he was glad the magazine had been forced to come clean, but said the story should never have been written. "I'm pleased, in a sense," he said. "I'm pleased the magazine has decided to apologise to the people of Welshpool. "To me, the issue wasn't about racism, it was about journalistic standards. "The issue was whether it was right for a national magazine to completely fabricate such a story." "It was only by bringing in the police and the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) that the magazine has been forced to back down," he added. "This has made The New Statesman look very, very silly. It is a fulsome, total apology, and something which must be very embarrassing for the editor of the magazine." The first admission that the story was untrue came on BBC Wales' current affairs programme, Dragon's Eye, broadcast on Thursday night. Mr Jameson told presenter David Williams, "It is, in fact, not a news story - it is an allegorical story. "It is trying, by use of allegory and symbolism, to draw a comparison between certain happenings in mid Wales and what happened in Weimar, Germany, in 1933." Asked if the pub actually existed, he replied : "If the pub does exist, it is, indeed, no more than a composite - something which is put together from a number of different instances. "If anybody has taken it seriously, of course I apologise. "I've got a great fondness for Welshpool and the surrounding countryside."
    ©BBC News

    12/2/2004- Greater effort is needed to combat "institutional racism" in the National Health Service, a new report has said. It follows an inquiry into the 1998 death of black schizophrenic patient David "Rocky" Bennett, after he was restrained at a clinic in Norwich. Among over 20 recommendations, the report says NHS staff working with the mentally ill should be trained in "cultural awareness and sensitivity". Retired High Court judge Sir John Blofeld lead the inquiry team.

    NHS 'fear'
    The team said it believed institutional racism was present throughout the NHS. "Until that problem is addressed, people from black and minority ethnic communities will not be treated fairly," it said. "Black and minority ethnic communities have a fear of the NHS: that if they engage with the mental health services they will be locked up for a very long time, if not for life, and treated with medication which may eventually kill them'." It said more black and ethnic minority people were diagnosed as schizophrenic and that they tended to receive higher doses of medication than Caucasian people with similar health problems. "They are generally regarded as more aggressive, more alarming, more dangerous and more difficult to treat", the report said. The inquiry was commissioned by the Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire Strategic Health Authority and the Department of Health.

    It followed a 2002 inquest into David Bennett's death in the Norvic Clinic, Norwich. He had been restrained by at least three nurses after attacking another patient and punching a female nurse. His heart later stopped and he died in hospital. Jamaican-born Mr Bennett, from Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, had suffered from mental illness since his early 20s. The inquest jury at King's Lynn, Norfolk, found that he died an accidental death "aggravated by neglect". Jurors heard he was given unauthorised doses of medication in the days before his death and that nurses used inappropriate restraint procedures. The Mental Health Act Commission said after the inquest it was keen to draw lessons from the case.

    Clinic staff
    In the report on Thursday Sir John criticised nursing staff, health service managers and police. He said staff had not been deliberately racist. But the report said staff had not made it clear that they believed racist comments by other patients were wrong. "David Bennett was not treated by nurses as if he was capable of being talked to like a rational human being, but was treated as if he was a lesser being". The inquiry said staff at the Norvic Clinic were "kind" and "helpful" towards Mr Bennett but said insufficient effort was made to recruit ethnic minority staff. It also criticised the mental health service's failure to involve Mr Bennett's family.

    Inhumane treatment
    "There was no attempt by any of the mental health trusts or facilities involved in Mr Bennett's care during the 18 years of his illness to engage his family in his treatment". The clinic's "inhumane" treatment of the family had suggested a cover-up, the report said. It also criticised staff for failing to notify them of the death for more than eight hours and giving different answers when asked how Mr Bennett died. One nurse told a family member he died as a result of breathing difficulties - but a clinical nursing specialist said the family could not be given details of his death because an internal investigation was under way.

    Some of the report's recommendations

  • Mental health workers should be trained in cultural awareness and sensitivity
  • Ministers should acknowledge and commit to eliminating institutional racism in mental health services
  • A National Director for Mental Health and Ethnicity should be appointed
  • Steps should be taken to ensure an ethnically diverse mental health workforce
  • A national system ©BBC News

    ERRC and NEKI initiate international legal action

    12/2/2004- On 2 January 2001, a Hungarian Romani woman was sterilised by doctors at Fehergyarmat hospital. While on the operating table she was asked to sign forms giving her consent to this and other operations, without a full explanation about sterilisation. No information was provided to her as to the nature of the intervention, or what the consequences of being sterilised would be. Nor did doctors tell her what the risks involved in the operation were. The right to be fully informed before an operation is a cornerstone of modern medical practice and is anchored at the core of international human rights law. Nevertheless, despite suing the hospital in Hungarian Courts, she has yet to obtain justice. After the operation, when she learnt that she had been sterilised, the victim (Ms.S.) said "We wanted a big family. I wanted to give birth again. But I simply cannot." ERRC and NEKI are therefore helping the victim, Ms. S., take her case to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

    ERRC Legal Director, Branimir Plese, said "This is a sadly typical example of women's and patients' rights violations in the health care systems in Central and Eastern Europe. Many men and women are treated as passive objects by an authoritarian caste of professionals uninterested in facilitating the individual's right to decide in matters related to her own medical care. Due to high levels of anti-Romani sentiment in the region, Romani women are particularly exposed. We hope that by bringing this case to the United Nations, we can change the practices of some doctors, and that Governments will take note and tighten relevant laws and regulations, so that cases of this kind may not happen again. Most importantly of course, we seek, finally, justice for the victim, after her long ordeal."

    The facts of the case
    On 2 January 2001, Ms. S' birth pains started. She was taken by ambulance to the public hospital in Fehergyarmat, in pain, having lost her amniotic fluid and bleeding heavily. During an examination the attending physician informed Ms. S. that her unborn baby had died in her womb and that a caesarean section needed to be immediately performed to remove the dead embryo. While on the operating table the doctor asked her to sign a statement of consent to the caesarean section. At the bottom of this form the doctor had added in a hand-written, barely readable script -- a consent to sterilisation. He wrote the Latin equivalent of the Hungarian word for sterilisation on the consent form, a word unknown to Ms. S. She signed the consent forms. The hospital records show that only 17 minutes passed from the ambulance arriving at the hospital until the completion of both operations. Before leaving the hospital, Ms. S. sought out the doctor to ask him for information on her state of health and when she could try to have another child. It was only then that she learnt the meaning of the word sterilisation and that she could not become pregnant again. This information had a profound effect on Ms. S. as she has strict religious beliefs that prohibit any form of contraception, including sterilisation. At no point prior to the operation did Ms. S. receive full information about the nature of sterilisation, its risks and consequences, or about other forms of contraception. This lack of informed consent before a medical intervention, and the resulting inability to reproduce, amounts to a clear and compelling violation of numerous international legal standards.
    ©European Roma Rights Center

    cross-party majority 494 to 36

    10/2/2004- France's lower house of parliament on Tuesday adopted a controversial bill that would ban Islamic headscarves and other religious symbols in schools despite opposition from its large Muslim population and criticism from abroad. The text, put forward by President Jacques Chirac's ruling centre-right party and supported by the left-wing opposition Socialists, was adopted by a vote of 494 to 36. It will now be sent to the parliament's upper house, the Senate, where Chirac's UMP party has a large majority, and is expected to become law well in time for the start of the next school year in September. Drafted in response to a rise in religious radicalism among the country's estimated five million Muslims, the bill makes it illegal to wear clothes or signs that "conspicuously" display affiliation to a faith. Though it does not specify the items that would be barred, an experts' report listed the Jewish skullcap and "large" Christian crosses in addition to the Islamic headscarf. Sikh turbans are also likely to be included, and Education Minister Luc Ferry has said bandanas and even beards could be barred if worn with the wrong intent. The measure has the support of around 70 percent of the French population, and is strongly backed by teachers. The Socialist opposition wanted the text to be toughened - with "visible" replacing "conspicuous" - but agreed to vote in favour after the UMP promised a review of the law in a year.

    The government hopes the law will uphold France's tradition of secularity - a strict separation of church and state that it argues promotes an ideal of French republicanism and brings together citizens from different backgrounds by filtering out religious differences. But some of France's Muslims have held demonstrations against the bill, as have some of the country's generally discreet 7,000 Sikhs. Outside of France, criticism has been made from organisations which view the move as a blow to religious freedom. The Times of India newspaper said Tuesday that the issue in relation to the Sikhs would likely be raised when French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin visits to India later this week. On Monday, the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, based in Austria, said it was against the French bill because it believed it violated human rights. A US group, the Commission on International Religious Freedom, which advises Congress, the White House and State Department, said it, too, believed the proposed law could violate international human rights standards, although US Secretary of State Colin Powell said his government considered the debate "an internal matter for the French people and the French government to decide." Last month, Saudi Arabia's highest religious authority, grand mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, said that "interfering in the affairs of Muslims regarding the headscarf is an infringement on the human rights that they (French) say they are defending." A small minority of French deputies have expressed their doubts about the law, calling it unnecessary, unworkable and liable to inflame sentiment among a section of the population that already feels victimised by society. "The Muslim community is going to feel stigmatised. The law will not treat the evil at its source - that is to say the problem of integration. That is the big mistake of a law that has set off this national psychodrama over secularism," said Alain Madelin, who heads the liberal wing of the UMP.
    ©Expatica News

    11/2/2004- France Head scarves were banned by administrators at the public school in this Paris suburb long before France began its current round of tortured debate on the issue. While the public discussion focuses on France's vaunted secularism, on women's rights and the definitions of Frenchness, racism is a silent but powerful undercurrent propelling the debate. It is an undercurrent that Sarah Aguado, a precocious 13-year-old, knows well. As the only Jew in a school with a large Muslim minority, she was repeatedly insulted and attacked and finally forced to flee. Classmates called her a "dirty Jew." One student slapped her and made a racist remark. Another asked whether her family in Israel "owned guns and killed Palestinians." Sarah stopped eating and had nightmares, her mother said. Five weeks ago, mother and daughter moved to the south of France, where Sarah enrolled in a new school, relieved to exit the "catastrophic" situation. As France's National Assembly passed a law Tuesday banning head scarves and other religious symbols from the classroom, teachers and Jewish groups said that the larger problem of anti-Semitism in French schools remains deeply ingrained and would not be solved simply by banning religious headgear. Anti-Semitism is so prevalent in some of the housing projects that ring Paris and other major French cities that "it's become infused into the language," according to Barbara Lefebvre, a history teacher at a French public school. "Just about every week I see students in my class - where there are no Jews - insulting each other by saying, 'Stop it, you Jew.' Or 'No, you can't borrow my pen, it's not yours, Jew.' Or if their pen is broken they'll say: 'What's wrong with my pen? It's a Jew.' "When you point it out, they say, 'This is just a way of speaking.'"

    France's interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, said last week that the number of violent anti-Semitic attacks in the country had declined 37 percent in 2003, with 125 incidents recorded by the police. But teachers and Jewish groups say many incidents of harassment or anti-Semitic insults go unrecorded. As part of the government's campaign against anti-Semitism, the Education Ministry last year established a system of "surveillance cells" specifically to track anti-Jewish incidents. Officials will issue the first data from this effort sometime in the next few months. In the meantime, Jewish groups say, one measure of anti-Semitism in French schools is the number of Jewish students switching to Jewish private schools, Catholic schools or moving to different cities or neighborhoods. According to Patrick Petit-Ohayon, the coordinator for Jewish schools at the Fonds Social Juif UnifiÈ, an umbrella group of Jewish associations, "hundreds" of Jewish students in France have left their schools for new ones because they felt harassed or uncomfortable. Total enrollment at Jewish schools has almost doubled from about 18,000 in 1988 to 30,000 today, Petit-Ohayon said. The shift away from public schools is an important change for the Jewish community in France, which has long been proud of its tradition of integration. A spokeswoman for the Education Ministry, Corinne Stolarski, said that the ministry did not keep track of the number of Jewish students leaving the public school system, but that the overall problem of anti-Semitism was "certainly a trend." In order to combat anti-Semitism, the ministry is giving teachers access to case studies of racist incidents and is preparing a "republican booklet" that will help teachers "bring to life the republican ideals among students," according to a government document.

    Ultimately, Stolarski said, combating anti-Semitism needs to be done at the grass-roots level. "This is a question of personal responsibility for the people who run the institutions," Stolarski said. "This is not something you can legislate against." Lefebvre, the history teacher, says th the Paris area have been more violent. Two Arab students were expelled from their high school in December after they repeatedly beat and insulted a Jewish classmate. The incident, which was well covered in the French press, shocked the French elite because it happened at the LycÈe Montaigne, a prestigious school located across from the Luxembourg Gardens, one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Paris. According to an account in Le Monde, the two students surrounded the victim in the school courtyard one day last autumn and said: "All Jews are going to be exterminated, you're going to disappear." The students were starting the sixth grade, which normally means that they were 11 or 12 years old.

    Teachers say racism in schools is a measure of France's failure to integrate an estimated five million Muslims, the largest Islamic population in Western Europe. France also has the largest Jewish population in Western Europe, estimated at between 550,000 to 700,000 people. "For a long time we wanted to see the school system as a place cut off from the violence of the world," said Emmanuel Brenner, a teacher who co-authored a book about anti-Semitism in French schools, "The Lost Territories of the Republic" (Mille et Une Nuits, 2003). "Because today the poison of anti-Semitism has massively returned to our country," Brenner wrote, "schools are finding themselves in the middle of this tormented situation in dozens of cities and suburbs in France." Most anti-Semitic incidents in French schools are perpetrated by students of North African origin, teachers say. And although anti-Semitism is often portrayed by French politicians as a mirror of political events in the Middle East, Brenner says the racism can also be very personal. He cites a 2002 survey by the French polling company TNS Sofres in which 400 French people aged 15 to 24 were asked whether they would ever live with a Jew. Eight percent of those polled chose the answer "personally, no." But among Arab respondents of the same survey 24 percent chose "personally, no." Those who study anti-Semitism in French schools say the problem is not generalized throughout the entire French school system. A school administrator in a Paris suburb says the problem of anti-Semitism is "very different from one area to another." The administrator, who has a Jewish-sounding name and is Jewish, said he had "never had a problem." But for the Jewish community as a whole, the anti-Semitic incidents are both traumatic and polarizing - especially the trend toward sending children to private schools.

    Private Jewish education in France was almost nonexistent a half-century ago, said Jean-Jacques Wahl, secretary general of Alliance IsraÈlite Universelle, a French educational group. France's public educational system was touted as the way to instill what the French call "republican values" - a sense of citizenship and national solidarity. "Jewish schools I would say were against the general spirit of France," Wahl said. "The republican school was the foundation for the citizen and had an excellent reputation." But today, Wahl said, "people are beginning to question the republican ideal." Wahl's organization manages a half-dozen private Jewish schools that have 2,000 students enrolled. "Demand is very, very strong for spots and we can't fulfill it," he said. Demand for private Jewish schools increased in the 1960s and 1970s, when the Jewish population doubled with the influx of Jews from France's former North African colonies. The total number of Jewish schools in France increased from about 18 in the 1950s to 47 in the 1970s, according to Petit-Ohayon. Since then the Jewish population in France has been relatively stable. Yet the number of Jewish schools has increased to about 100 in 2003, Petit-Ohayon said. Jewish students are also enrolling at Catholic schools, especially in troubled suburbs. At St. BenoÓt de l'Europe, a Catholic school in the suburb of Bagnolet, east of Paris, Jews make up about 7 to 8 percent of the 1,100 students enrolled, according to Catherine Leduc-Claire, the headmi ©International Herald Tribune

    11/2/2004- As expected, the French parliament has voted in favour of a new law to ban the wearing of Islamic headscarves in schools. And despite mass protests by French Muslims in recent weeks, the ban won by a landslide. It will not just affect Muslim girls - large Christian crosses and Jewish skullcaps are also banned, as almost certainly are Sikh turbans. After months of public debate, the vote in parliament was a brief affair. Just five minutes for each party to sum up their position on this controversial new law. Then, the vote itself - passed by 494 votes in favour, with just 36 against. This means that as long as it is approved by the upper house next month, the new law will come into effect in September, banning all obvious religious symbols from schools. President Jacques Chirac's ruling centre-right UMP party has been the driving force behind the law, which is backed by some 70% of French people. UMP deputy Jerome Riviere says France's secular nature was being challenged by a small minority of hardline Islamists, and he insists the law is not about suppressing religious freedom. "We have to give a political answer to what is a political problem," he said. "We don't have a problem with religion in France. We have a problem with the political use by a minority of religion." Yet others warn that far from uniting the country, this new measure will divide it more than ever. At a small demonstration outside the National Assembly, just under 200 protesters gathered to oppose the new law. Most were young Muslim women, all wearing headscarves.

    As the children of immigrants, they say, they have a dual identity - both French and Muslim - and they blame France for failing to accept its newer citizens. "It is unjust and I am very angry, angry yes, it's not just, it's a law, a segregation," one woman told me. Another protester said: "We are very upset especially with this law, we think this is very unfair against the Muslims. But this is not only a threat for Muslims but for whole French community." Others here say that that feeling of rejection or alienation could even drive some young Muslims into the arms of Islamic fundamentalists. Green party leader Noel Mamer opposed the new law. "I think it's a very bad law, a law which takes the risk to make worse the rift between two parts of the French population," he said. Yet teachers in France are relieved that it will no longer be up to them to arbitrate on disputes over whether Muslim pupils can wear the Islamic headscarf in class.

    Personal choice
    Ghislaine Hudson, a headteacher who gave evidence to the Stasi commission on secularity, says she understands the concerns surrounding the law, but believes it is the only way to ensure that all pupils are equal in the classroom. "We have to work with our teachers, we have to work with the students, the families, we have to explain to them that this is a law for their own protection," she said. And that's a view supported by some French Muslims, some of whom came to France partly because it is a secular state in which religious belief is kept a private matter. Iranian-born writer Venus Kavoussian says that as an immigrant, she values and respects France's traditions. "It's important that school stays non politic, non religious - personally I am living in France because it is a secular space," she said. But others say this will leave some young Muslim girls with little choice but to leave French state schools and seek private education elsewhere - leading to less integration, exactly the opposite of what the French government says it intends.
    ©BBC News

    10/2/2004- The Islamic headscarf has become one of the most hotly disputed items of clothing in Europe. The French parliament has approved legislation to ban it from state schools, and politicians in Germany and Belgium want similar laws.
    BBC News Online asked eight commentators for their views on imposing a ban on the headscarf.

    Alain Destexhe is a Belgian senator who, inspired by developments in France, has proposed a bill that would see headscarves banned from state schools.
    We are certainly not trying to stamp out multi-culturalism. But we are very anxious that the conflicts of the world are not brought into the classrooms, and that is why we support the French legislation and are trying to introduce a similar law in Belgium. For one, public spaces should be neutral spaces, not places to spread a particular view of the world. Secondly we have a duty of care to children who enter the public school system, and there is certainly an issue that young Muslim women are often forced into wearing the headscarf by those around them. Therefore while some allege that we are taking away their individual freedoms, in some cases we will actually be restoring it. We want individuals to be integrated, and we want Muslim women to be viewed and treated as equals. I am not wholly confident that the legislation will pass in Belgium, as it has proved very controversial. What people seem to forget is that nobody is seeking to regulate what people do in their private spheres, merely to stipulate that in the public sphere, certain rules must apply. And it is better that these decisions are taken by a democratically elected government, than leaving the matter to individual schools to decide upon.

    Fareena Alam is the editor of Q-News, Europe's leading Muslim magazine.
    Modesty is only one of many reasons why a woman wears a scarf. It can be a very political choice too. I began wearing it at the age of 21, against the wishes of my family, while serving as president of the United Nations Students' Association at university. I wanted to assert my identity and counter common stereotypes about Muslim women. A woman who wears a hijab can be active and engaged, educated and professional. There are many women, from Iran and Saudi Arabia for example, who have had very negative experiences with gender oppression in their home countries. They bring this vitriol to the debate about the hijab. This is not only unacceptable to me, it goes against their own secular principles of freedom and choice. Does this democratic society have any room for a British-Muslim woman like me who chooses to wear the hijab on my own terms? Isn't it the fundamental secular standard - that one cannot demand that any individual surrender an unobtrusive religious observance? The terms of reference that define secularism can and must shift to remain relevant in a world that is constantly changing and diversifying. Isn't the idea of what it means to be French or British constantly evolving?

    Amir Taheri is an Iranian author and journalist based partly in Paris.
    The headscarf ban is a political move and I don't think the government is right. It has nothing to do with the broader issue concerning the six million Muslims in France. At least three-quarters of the French Muslim population are North African Arab, who are experiencing the same problems as the Black-Americans in the US. They lack opportunity and are mostly parked in huge Stalinist suburbs around large cities - it is almost like living in hell. Rather than focusing on the issue of the scarf, the government should be focusing on these problems. You can't solve them by passing such a law - by standing outside a school gate and tearing the scarf off the heads of girls. The proposed law is making a mountain out of a molehill. Not that many Muslims wear it in France, or anywhere else for that matter. There are 1.8 is wearing the headscarf by choice? I strongly believe that people coming from the Middle East to live in Europe must adhere to the law of the land and respect the traditions of the country they have come to live in. Many of the people who come seem to think that the only person they have to obey is God. Others say that the veil is the wrong target - that the real issue is the alienation of the Muslim community in France, poverty and unemployment. The two are not mutually exclusive. The government must certainly act on the economic issues, but it must also try to alleviate the oppression of young Muslim women.

    Alice Schwarzer is a prominent German feminist.
    This issue is about the constitution, and the division between state and religion - a hard fought for achievement of the enlightenment. The weakening of this division is utterly incomprehensible, particularly as it comes at a time when the worldwide offensive of the theocrats is not just making countries with Muslim majorities subservient to their inhumane "holy laws", but is also threatening democracies worldwide. Countries like France have long grasped the consequences of this. The Green politician in charge of immigrant affairs, Marieluise Beck has the cheek to warn of a "demonisation" of the headscarf, that a ban on headscarves in schools will "push Muslim women into the hands of Islamic fundamentalists". In fact the opposite is the case: the passiveness of politicians leaves the majority of Muslim women in Germany powerless against the militant minority of fundamentalists. Fanny Dethloff is a pastor at a Hamburg church and is responsible for refugee issues in the community It makes absolutely no sense at all to bar Muslim women from public places because they wear the scarf. This kind of exclusion prevents these women gaining access to jobs, stops them from being integrated. It does nothing for emancipation - indeed, by shutting out those women who are trying to better themselves, it has quite the opposite effect. Of course we want to condemn fundamentalism, but we don't do that by punishing the women - it is not the women who are involved with pushing this kind of intolerant, politicised Islam, it's the men. At a time like this we need more understanding, more tolerance, not less. And indeed, cracking down in this way is only likely to lead to a sense of victimisation, which will fuel extremism, not reduce it. It is also problematic to assume, as some people do, that women are forced into wearing the scarf by overbearing men. While it is certainly the case that some are pressured into putting it on, many Muslim who wear it do it quite self-consciously. We need to respect their wishes, not ourselves oppress them by trying to make them take it off.

    Binnaz Toprak is a political science professor at Bosphorous University in Istanbul, Turkey, a secular country with a Muslim majority.
    I think they have got it right in France. Civil servants and schoolgirls should not wear the veil. Personally, I am against it, it is a symbol of the inferior status of women in Muslim countries. In many situations, males have great authority over under-age girls and we cannot be certain that the girls are wearing the hijab because they want to or because their fathers and brothers are forcing them to. They should, therefore, be protected. In the case of civil servants, I think that when people refer to someone in government office, they should be able to feel that they will not be discriminated against because they do not share the same beliefs as that civil servant. A headscarf could be seen as a symbol of those beliefs. The issue in Turkey at the moment is whether university students should be allowed to wear the hijab. Many students wear it for political reasons but others wear it for religious reasons and I think that choice should be respected.

    Tariq Ramadan is a professor of Islamic Studies and Philosophy at Switzerland's Ecole de Geneve and University of Freibourg.
    Muslims in France believe they are bei as a sign that the road ahead is not going to be easy but it is not the end of the road. It is just the beginning of the dialogue.

    Opinions of the BBC readers
    The veil in itself is just a piece of tissue, what counts is what is behind it. These women who so insist upon it should be ashamed of not respecting and throwing away with their stupidity and narrow-mindedness all the hard efforts other women of their own culture, their own religion have made, very often sacrificing their lives to get a better life for ALL women.
    Elize, Arlon Belgium

    I really cannot understand what the fuss is about. Why is it always considered ok to wear less, but if someone likes to cover everyone becomes alarmed? After all this upheaval, one really starts to suspect that Western culture is indeed exploiting women as sex symbols, and not being allowed to do so by a small minority is perceived as a major threat?
    Anna, Tehran, Iran

    I cannot see any sense in the prohibition or ban on the Muslim headscarves. Is secularism the NORM, ideology and the "religion" of modern France or EU? Any one who does NOT conform to its "religion" of "laicite" or is it "laicism" has to be proscribed! Why? Is this not another form of fanatical intolerance in the guise of the so called secularism!
    Eliseo Mercado,OMI, Rome, Italy

    It is a symbol and a human right that is being banned. Remember the public labelling of Mentally & Physical Disabled, Communists, Homosexuals, and others in Nazi Germany? In a rights based culture that is the Free West, there is no place for persecution based on beliefs. Greater problems than merely clothing need to be addressed. Ridiculous.
    Christopher Donovan, Perth, Australia

    Does anyone really believe that this will stop women being forced to wear the hijab by their families and peers? If the law prevents them wearing headscarves in public, they will only be forced to cover up the moment they get home. This law will offend those who want to wear headscarves, crucifixes or other symbols of their religion, and only benefit those who are somehow offended by seeing the symbols of other people's beliefs in public.
    Maria, Aldershot, UK

    I'm afraid the ban will be seen to be discriminatory. After all, if the objection is to religious symbols, why don't the authorities ban Christians from wearing crosses on a chain around their neck? They say they will do so if the cross is too conspicuous, but that is unfair on Muslims and other religions; they suffer just because their religious symbols happen to be more visible.
    Saurabh, Delhi, India

    We live in a secular West. No headscarves in schools! The veil is to silence, to make invisible and to subjugate women. It is the mark of oppression.
    Lili Ann Motta, E. Marion, NY/ United States

    Yes, I strongly believe that the scarf should be banned. It is a symbol of female oppression and has no place in a modern society. Those who insist on wearing scarves should return to their native country.
    R. Johns, Singapore

    It is a shame that many ignorant people seem to feel that Muslim girls should have forced upon them the 'freedom' to be leered at like a piece of meat as many of our own daughters are before unromantic encounters in an alley on their way home from the club they just got wasted in.
    Adam Ward, Bristol, UK

    The idea that people should be forced to wear, or not to wear, any particular style of clothing by the state or by their religion is preposterous. This is a clear breach of the rights of the individual which I hope we will never accept in this country. To justify forcing people not to wear a garment on the basis that they are being forced to wear it, and therefore need to be forcibly freed from that, is just stupid and goes nowhere in addressing the real problems of this world.
    Gabriel Lee, Hertford, England

    What bothers me is how an "enlightened" "democratic" and secular society can dictate what women wear. Ironically, France is taking such a Patriarchal approach to the situation in the guise of Secularism.
    Ahmad, Boston

    The headscarf poses no threat to any social order but in fact encourages moderate behaviour.
    Asim Mirza, Stoke - England

    This entire debate is starting to border very close to the absurd. Legislating what can and cannot be worn within France's "secular" society and schools is at the polar end of the absurdity of compulsory veiling. What do about term holidays then? If France is so adamantly a secular nation, then perhaps they should centre their term holidays around random periods of the year, go to school on Christmas Day and Eid al-Adha, etc. How far can it possibly go? The headscarf does not threaten the achievements of the Enlightenment or national identity: what threatens the achievements of the enlightenment are governments who micromanage their citizens and feminists who are "allergic" to Islam.
    Alexandra, London

    If Muslim women and girls are forced to wear the scarf by male relatives and a law is passed banning it in public places, won't those same male relatives refuse to allow the women to leave the house if they can't wear the scarf? This law may have the effect of making their lives more restricted, not more open.
    Sandra S., New York, USA
    ©BBC News

    EU plans compelling airlines and ferry operators to collect passenger details and send them to destination countries are "seriously flawed", peers say. They warn the idea, intended to combat illegal immigration, will lead to "serious delays and disruption". It will be largely ineffective and place a "disproportionate" burden on carriers, says the Lords EU committee. The committee wants the government to negotiate with EU partners to change aspects of the "half-baked" proposals.

    'Unnecessary burden'
    The idea, first proposed by the Spanish Government in March 2003, would force airlines and sea carriers to collect and transmit passenger data to immigration authorities, ahead of travel. Inquiry chairman Baroness Harris said the plan "would certainly cause massive disruption to millions of passengers travelling into and around the EU and create substantial extra costs for air and sea carriers". "This half-baked idea is unlikely to reduce immigration significantly," she said. "It is an unnecessary additional burden for the hard-pressed aviation industry - the EU should think again." In their report the peers question how the plans would help combat organised crime or national security threats, saying that suggestion has not been substantiated. They also say the proposal has no provision for passengers to seek redress if they are wrongly prevented from boarding. And they warn a "massive new IT structure" to support implementation of the plan would impose "substantial" costs on carriers. But the peers say the published plan contains no estimate of those costs.

    Valid reasons?
    The scheme would also require carriers to notify immigration authorities where the return half of a ticket is not used. But peers say there are "many valid reasons" why passengers would decide not to make their return journey. Even where details were forwarded the proposal "would not help to counter identity theft or document forgery". The committee recommends: "In view of the wide-ranging implications, it would be better for the government to participate fully in the negotiations in order to seek to remove some of the more objectionable features, if it is not possible to secure its withdrawal altogether."
    ©BBC News

    The strain on the British lorry driver's face was all too evident as he appeared in court in Greece earlier this month to appeal against an 11-year prison sentence for people smuggling.

    27/1/2004- David Wilson had been convicted last March after 19 Iraqi illegal immigrants had been found inside his lorry as he waited in the Greek port of Patras to board a ferry to Italy. He had always protested his innocence, saying the Iraqis had been smuggled into his lorry without him knowing. He said he had been asleep in the cab at the time. It did not take long for the appeal court to announce it had accepted his defence and that it was quashing the conviction. While the nightmare for Mr Wilson is now over, it is clear that every lorry driver using Patras port runs the same risk. Patras lies on a route used by people-smuggling gangs which transport illegal immigrants on journeys which can begin thousands of kilometres away in countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq. Greece with its long coastline and proximity to Turkey is often used as the entry point into Europe.

    Easy access
    The aim of many of the illegal immigrants is to travel then from Greece into the heart of the European Union. One of the most obvious ways of doing this is to hitch an illicit ride inside a lorry travelling to Italy from Patras. "There is a very good organised gang with Greeks, Albanians and Kurdish people which organises everything from Athens to Patras to Italy and then to Germany and other countries in the European Union," said Patras-based journalist Georgios Karvouniaris. Sometimes lorry drivers are themselves involved in the smuggling operation. But frequently they are innocent victims. They are most at risk when they arrive in or near Patras port and take a break from driving in the hours before the ferry leaves. The smugglers and illegal immigrants have become expert at breaking into the container sections of lorries without the drivers realising. Greek lorry driver Panayotis Mouratides said: "Several times illegal immigrants have entered my truck. "Sometimes I manage to get them out, but then when I go off to a restaurant to eat, they try to get back in. "It's impossible to seal the lorry completely because they don't just use the back door, they also cut the ropes and elastic holding the top covers down." It is surprisingly easy for illegal immigrants to get inside the ferry terminal at Patras and find lorries to hide in.

    Camping out
    While we were visiting the port we spotted two men - either Afghans or Iraqi Kurds - jumping out of the back of an empty lorry parked near the perimeter fence. They had been checking out the lorry while the driver was elsewhere. They had managed to evade the minimal security at the main entrance simply by climbing through a gap in the fence in broad daylight. Not far from the port, a group of Afghans has set up a makeshift camp sheltering from the rain and wind in huts made of pieces of cardboard and plastic. Without passports and with very little money, most are clearly hoping to make the illegal crossing to Italy. Elsewhere in Patras city, Iraqi Kurds and South Asians are also waiting for the right moment to jump on board a lorry. In total it is estimated there are currently around 1,000 illegal immigrants in the city.

    But the Greek authorities insist they now have the situation under control. "We have special forces and other teams patrolling the port and we've installed surveillance cameras," said Constantinos Soulis, head of the Patras Port Authority. "We also check all the vehicles before they enter the boats. "It's resulted in a drastic reduction in the number of illegal immigrants being trafficked." These new measures may have made it harder to reach Italy but experts believe the illegal immigrants just keep trying until eventually they succeed.
    ©BBC News

    3/2/2004- Football will be accused of being "institutionally racist" in a Government-backed report which will make uncomfortable reading for the Football Association and particularly the Premier League and Football League when it is published next week. The report, compiled by the Independent Football Commission, a body of respected university people, following a year-long investigation into all parts of the game, recommends a radical and immediate restructuring of all three bodies to improve their racial mix. The IFC want the appointment - or "co-opting" - of people from ethnic minorities on to six FA committees with three more joining the FA Council by the end of the year. The Premier League and Football League, who will be told to examine whether their personnel recruiting complies with equal opportunity practice, will be asked to appoint black or Asian board members this year and, like the FA, install more over the next three years. A similar timescale is set for altering the ethnic make-up among coaches, managers and club chief executives. Failure to do so could trigger a process culminating in a Whitehall-appointed football tsar running football, although the IFC hope to foster change from inside football.

    Football's image of being a whites-only preserve off the field has also precipitated action from the Commission for Racial Equality, whose findings following an extensive, separate survey are expected shortly. Due out on Feb 10, the lengthy IFC report notes the absence of Asian or black people in football administration at all levels, although the FA are taking steps. The highly respected Brendon Batson has been helping rewrite the FA's disciplinary rules. However the report concludes that the game is perceived as "institutionally racist" under the criterion used by Sir William Macpherson about the Metropolitan Police in the 1999 Stephen Lawrence Inquiry. The IFC report notes that people from ethnic backgrounds believe the football authorities do not care about them and that an individual had to be white, male and elderly to gain a position of power. It is not all critical, the report applauding that strides have been taken in tackling racism although stressing much more is needed. The Premier League, Football League and FA are all praised for their commitment to the "Kick It Out" anti-racism campaign. Yet inconsistencies in clubs' punishments of racist fans are highlighted by the report. Some clubs ban abusive supporters sine die while others simply warn them. The report calls for a standardised code of behaviour and sanctions applied to all levels of football. The report claims that rugby union and cricket are far better than football at tackling the problem of racism.

    The report actually queries whether banning racist fans is the long-term answer, wondering whether it simply transferred the problem elsewhere. The residual presence of racists helped explain why members of ethnic communities advised the IFC that they felt grounds were neither safe nor welcoming. Yet keen to tap into local ethnic communities to increase gates, clubs have tried all manner of schemes from placing advertisements in ethnic newspapers to free tickets and player visits to local schools. Few clubs feel their efforts are succeeding. The report stresses certain successes. Leeds United, who have worked hard since the Jonathan Woodgate/Lee Bowyer trials, were congratulated for their community schemes, particularly one that involves talking to high-profile individuals within Elland Road about racial issues. The report argues that the Premier League, Football League and FA should follow Leeds's example in educating senior executives and coaching staff to understand the nation's ethnic diversity. Leicester City are held up as a particularly good role model. Their Foxes Against Racism campaign seeks to attract Asian fans to the Walkers Stadium while an anti-racism partnership with Leicester Tigers and Leicest ©Daily Telegraph

    6/2/2004- The inquiry team delivered a withering analysis of institutional racism in the NHS. After taking evidence from many of the most eminent experts in mental health, it said: "The views of our witnesses were virtually unanimous. Institutional racism is present throughout the NHS. Greater effort is needed to combat it ... "People from all communities, but particularly from the black and minority ethnic communities, find it difficult to access mental health services." Psychiatrists were often reluctant to diagnose schizophrenia, believing that it carried a stigma they wished to avoid. They sometimes chose a diagnosis of "drug-induced psychosis", and in the case of Afro-Caribbeans this nearly always related to the use of cannabis. "There appears to be no clear medical basis for this diagnosis [which] may prevent proper treatment of early signs of schizophrenia." People from black and ethnic minority communities feared the mental health service, believing that they could be locked up for life and treated with medication that would kill them. Young black men with a mental health problem did not go to a doctor until it was so severe that their family and friends could not cope. Late treatment combined with inappropriate diagnosis led to a disproportionate number of black people being detained under the Mental Health Act. In London that over-representation was 40%. They were also more likely to fail to respond to treatment for schizophrenia. They got higher doses of anti-psychotic medication than white people with similar health problems. NHS staff regarded them as "more aggressive, more alarming, more dangerous and more difficult to treat". Specialist services for black and ethnic minority patients in Birmingham and the London borough of Haringey showed good results from lower doses of medication. But such initiatives were rare. Black patients were more likely to be restrained, secluded and medicated than any other group. They were less likely to get psychological treatment. This had been known to the NHS for many years. Although the Department of Health pledged improvements, the confidence of the black and ethnic minority communities had been lost. New initiatives were always round the corner, the inquiry said.

    It made 22 far-reaching recommendations. They included:

  • All who work in mental health services should receive training in cultural awareness and sensitivity.
  • All managers and clinical staff should get mandatory training in cultural sensitivity, including how to tackle racism.
  • There should be ministerial acknowledgment of the presence of institutional racism in the mental health services and a commitment to eliminate it.
  • There should be a national director for mental health and ethnicity in the NHS to oversee the improvement of all aspects of mental health services for black and ethnic minority communities.
  • All mental health services should have a written policy dealing with racist abuse, strictly monitored.
  • Every care plan must include appropriate details of each patient's ethnic origin and cultural needs.
  • The workforce in mental health services should be ethnically diverse. Where appropriate, active steps should be taken to recruit, retain and promote black and minority ethnic staff.
  • No patient should ever be restrained in a prone position for longer than three minutes.
  • A national system of training in restraint and control should be established as soon as possible.
  • There is an urgent need for debate on strategies for the care and management of patients suffering from schizophrenia who do not appear to be responding positively to medication.
  • All patients should be entitled to an independent NHS opinion from a second doctor of their choice.
  • There should be no unnecessary detention in secure accommodation and the period of each detention and the treatment should be kept constantly under review.
  • There should be no medication of patients outside limits prescribed by law.
  • Other recommendations included annual statistics on deaths of psychiatric in-patients, giving an ethnic breakdown; mandatory first aid training for all medical staff in the mental health services; and records of psychiatric units' use of restraint.
    ©The Guardian

    1/2/2004- Immigration checks for the United Kingdom are moving onto the French side of the Channel on Sunday, in an attempt to reduce illegal immigration. Passengers travelling to Dover through Calais and Dunkirk will have passports checked before they leave France. If passengers do not have the correct documentation, they will not be allowed to begin their journeys to the UK. Home Office Minister Beverley Hughes says tightening border controls has already halved asylum claims.

    Moving the border
    The deal between the UK and French Governments is intended to intercept illegal immigrants before they arrive in Dover. The reciprocal arrangement means that French border police will make checks on the UK side of the Channel. The system has already been used on the Eurostar and Eurotunnel cross-channel services, and is claimed to have greatly reduced the number of people arriving without proper passports or visas. "We are effectively moving our borders across the Channel. UK immigration officers will be able to stop would-be illegal immigrants even before they set off for the UK," said Ms Hughes. The government says the move is the latest stage in a "radical package" of measures which has halved the number of asylum seekers. Other measures have included closing the Sangatte refugee camp, tightening security at the Channel Tunnel and using scanning equipment that can find people hiding inside vehicles. Ms Hughes also said there were intelligence-led efforts to tackle organised gangs of "people smugglers".
    ©BBC News

    The government, the media and the feminists say the Islamic scarf is a repressive symbol, but many French Muslims say the debate is racist

    1/2/2004- Jamila Farouk arrives at a sandwich shop at OdÈon in central Paris bareheaded. She is not wearing the Muslim headscarf because she has not 'attained the level of love, generosity and selflessness' implied in wearing full Muslim attire. 'It is a journey - in the same way as Buddhists undertake, only no one complains about them.' But she adds: 'The way things are going in France, sometimes I just want to wear a scarf to wind people up. They say our fathers and brothers force us to be veiled - which is not true - but they expect us to put up with the paternalism of government.' 'They' are the media, the government, the feminists and society as a whole. Farouk, a 30-year-old office assistant, believes the law banning 'ostensive' signs of religious affiliation in schools - which is likely to be passed with cross-party support by the French parliament this week - is a deliberate attempt to marginalise Muslims. Farouk and the campaign group to which she belongs, Le Mouvement pour la Justice et la DignitÈ (Movement for Justice and Dignity), are in the minority, even among Muslims. They are calling for a second demonstration against the law next Saturday. The first protest, on 17 January, drew fewer than 20,000 people.

    By a crushing majority - up to 70 per cent in some surveys - the French want the new legislation. Even though 'ostensive signs of religious affiliation' in the draft law covers Jewish skullcaps and 'manifestly excessive' Christian crosses, few pretend that its real target is anything other than the Muslim headscarf. Farouk, born in France to Moroccan parents, lives in the Gennevilliers suburb of Paris where girls wear headscarves 'out of choice'. She says Le Mouvement was created spontaneously by concerned citizens and friends of Lila and Alma LÈvy-Omari, two sisters who were expelled last September from a school in Aubervilliers, near Paris, for refusing to remove their scarves. Our interview is suddenly interrupted by the woman at the next table, 21-year-old Lynn-Allison Durham, who says she just has to intervene. Durham, a history student, has an American father and a Tunisian-born mother. She has a great attachment to the French republican ideal of la laÔcitÈ - the secularist principle which was born in 1905 after a 100-year battle against Catholic interference in public affairs.The two women engage in a quick-fire debate.
    Durham says: 'A school is a public place where you go, as a neutral being, to learn to have a critical mind. The headscarf is a private matter.'
    Farouk: 'It is for the teachers to be neutral, not the children.'
    Durham: 'The scarf is a symbol of submission - look at Iran and Afghanistan.'
    Farouk: 'We're in France, not Iran. In France it is very rare for a girl to be forced to cover her head. Often, if she chooses to, it is against her parents' will. If she is forced not to wear a scarf, she is submitting to the government.'
    Durham believes the veil is a symbol of fundamentalism.
    But Farouk says the case in France is racism, not Islamism. She says: 'Ever since the debate started around this law, people have begun to... harass women wearing scarves, not just in schools. Mayors refuse to marry them. Banks won't open their doors to them for "security reasons". French law gives us the right to choose our doctor. If une petite franÁaise called Nathalie or Christine asks to change doctors, her wish will be granted. But I bet you that if Samira refuses to be examined by a male doctor, she will be seen as a difficult Muslim. 'Where are the feminists when we need them?' Farouk adds.

    But many feminists are on the side of the secularists. Philosopher Elisabeth Badinter: 'Most Muslim women here are in our private affiliations.'

    The debate in the run-up to drafting the law on religious signs in schools - which dates back to 1989 when then Education Minister Lionel Jospin decided it would be up to school principals to make case-by-case rulings - has polarised opinions. Jacques Chirac and most mainstream politicians want the process rushed into law, so it is well out of the way by the time regional elections are held next month and the Front National is on the warpath again. Despite trepidation among some Socialists and opposition from the Greens and the non-Gaullists in the right-wing majority, Chirac, politically, has backing from most sides. Head teachers support the law, as do Jewish leaders. Even Catholics have almost come around to the idea. On Tuesday, when the law is put before the French parliament for debate, only some minor tweaking is expected, with the Socialists likely to ask for the term 'ostensive' to be replaced by 'visible' and for more guarantees that mediation will be in place to support school principals. As if symbolically bringing the process to a close, Chirac on Friday presented the LÈgion d'Honneur (France's highest decoration) to Bernard Stasi, the state ombudsman who last year headed the commission into the application of the principle of secularity. In his speech Stasi said: 'Those who are against the law are against the integration of Muslims.' He could have put it more subtly, says Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Paris mosque and president of the French Council of Muslims (CFCM) - the body that has been the most willing to concede that a headscarf ban in schools could be a move for the greater good. 'We believe Muslims must embrace a modern form of Islam in the name of the republic. However, we want more talks with the government, not statements,' he said. In the run-up to this week's debate in parliament, French Muslims have appeared more divided than ever. The Union des Organisations Islamiques de France (UOIF) is close to Morocco's King Mohammed VI, who in turn in close to Chirac. On the other hand, the UOIF's more radical members have been among the main proponents of street demonstrations. The UOIF secretary-general, Fouad Alaoui, said: 'Chirac's version of the secularist state ... excludes religions and limits freedoms. The headscarf is a prescript, not a sign. The law is unfair.'

    Yamin Makri, spokesman for the more radical Collectif des Musulmans de France, feels both the UOIF and the CFCM have been compromised and lost their legitimacy among young Muslims. He said: 'Chirac has done more harm to French Muslims than was done by 11 September. The climate is more hostile towards us than it ever has been in France before.' As Chirac seeks to hurry matters along, two questions remain: will the law banning ostensive religious signs stand if a case were brought before the European Court of Human Rights? According to the LÈvy-Omari sisters' lawyer, GÈrard Tcholakian, it may not even stand scrutiny by France's own constitutional council. 'It is questionable whether the law is constitutional under rules safeguarding religious freedom,' he said. The second question hanging over the law is the extent to which it is enforceable - especially in French overseas territories - and whether its existence will make life any easier for schools. One approach - to introduce uniforms - was ruled out by the Stasi commission. The only politician raising the enforceability issue is Communist Party leader Marie-Georges Buffet. 'After all this pain and acrimony, we are still in the situation where teachers are going to have to make the rulings. They will have the law on their side but will still take the flak,' she said.

    Finally, no one seems to have noticed the irony that in the same year as Chirac is busily levelling identities in his own country, he is lobbying at the UN's Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) for a worldwide charter to protect cultural diversity. So seriously is America taking Chirac's attempts to gain UN endorsement for subsidising cinema and pr ©The Guardian

    3/2/2004- The French parliament is preparing to debate controversial legislation to ban the wearing of religious items in schools. Scores of MPs have asked to speak on the bill which would outlaw the wearing of "ostentatious" symbols of faith. The law would ban Islamic headscarves, large crosses, skullcaps and perhaps also Sikh turbans in state schools. Polls suggest most French people support a ban on headscarves, but it has outraged some Muslims and other religious communities. The law would take effect from the beginning of the new school year in September. French President Jacques Chirac has said it is necessary to preserve the national principle of secularity - separating religion and state. The BBC's Caroline Wyatt in Paris says the proposed law has been criticised as clumsy and unclear while there are also fears that it could prove divisive - forcing Muslim girls into separate schools. But she says there is also support for the strengthening of France's secular tradition.

    High profile
    Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin will open the debate in the National Assembly - a sign, correspondents say, of just how important the government considers the legislation. Some 140 members of the 577-seat lower house are reported to have signed up to speak - which is said to be an unusually high number. Three days have been scheduled for the debate and a vote is set for next week. Protests against the suggested ban have been held around France and at French missions around the world. Some Muslims agree with the ban. but others say wearing the headscarf should be allowed under religious freedom. A ban could also affect men choosing to grow beards - if they do so for religious reasons. Strict Muslims says the headscarf, or hijab, is necessary to protect women's modesty in keeping with the teachings of the Quran, while Sikhs insist their turbans are central to their cultural identity as well as their religion.
    ©BBC News

    2/2/2004- After five years, three German border guards face a Frankfurt court to answer questions on their involvement in the death of a Sudanese refugee who died while being deported in 1999. A court in Frankfurt has begun to hear the case of three German border guards who are accused of using excessive force five years ago in the deportation of an asylum seeker who later died by suffocation. The Federal Border Police officers face charges of careless homicide. The incident took place on May 28th, 1999, when Aamir Ageeb, 30, was being taken to a Lufthansa airplane by border guards before being deported back to his home country of Sudan. The prosecution will claim that Ageeb was restrained in his seat with numerous plastic chains and rope to such an extent that he was struggling for air. The court will hear that when Ageeb began to struggle and protest, the guards then put a motorcycle helmet on his head in an attempt to prevent the Sudanese from biting them. The resulting actions, it is claimed, led to Ageeb suffocating to death. None of the accused has made any statements regarding the nature of the case and the accusations made against them. They face prison sentences of up to five years each if found guilty.

    Were regulations and procedures ignored?
    The German refugee organization Pro Asyl maintains that the central question of the case should be whether the border guards knew that the force they were exerting could have been deadly. The organization said that the procedure practiced by U.S. guards to restrain prisoners had been adopted by the German Border Police and that they should have known safe methods of restraint. By attaching numerous restraining devices to Ageeb while he was in a certain position may have led to the breathing problems which caused his death. Frankfurt doctor Klaus Metz has stated that "death due to position-conditioned suffocation" had been established in the autopsy.

    Possible obstructions hinder case
    Lawyers acting for Ageeb's family said that their own investigation into the case had met with unforeseen problems. Dieter Kornblum of the prosecution told German radio that certain Border Police documents pertinent to the case had disappeared and could be in "any number of drawers." Ageeb's death generated heated discussions concerning the regulations associated with the so-called "return of rejected asylum-seekers." Federal Minister of the Interior Otto Schily suspended all deportations where it was thought there was a possibility of violent resistance on the part of the deportee. The decision was heavily criticized. As a result, police and border guard procedures for dealing with violent deportees were reassessed and the use of motorcycle helmets where there is a danger of struggle is now prohibited.
    ©Deutsche Welle

    3/2/2004- Amid growing public and political dissatisfaction, Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende has confirmed his backing of government plans to deport 26,000 rejected asylum seekers, placing him at odds with his Christian Democrat (CDA) grassroots supporters. The Cabinet recently granted a residence permit to about 2,300 asylum seekers in an amnesty designed to remove a backlog of cases in the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND). However, a total of 26,000 refugees will be deported over a three-year period. Besides heated public debate, the plan also sparked a dispute between government coalition parties, with Liberal VVD parliamentary leader Jozias van Aartsen accusing Balkenende of inadequately supporting government policy. The VVD leader said at a party congress on Monday night that the CDA prime minister should more strongly back VVD Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk, who has attracted sharp criticism for her deportation policy. Speaking in Nieuwleusen, near Zwolle, Van Aartsen said Verdonk was only carrying out government policy, an NOS news report said. He was particularly annoyed by CDA criticism of the deportation plan, pointing out the Christian Democrats also voted in favour of the scheme. Van Aartsen said criticism should not only be directed at the VVD.

    But Balkenende told a CDA congress earlier on Monday night that the Cabinet would go ahead with the deportation policy without amendment. Such support is at odds with growing unrest among CDA grassroots members and the general public. Speaking in Lelystad, near Almere, Balkenende urged his party to try to understand the deportation policy, saying it was a task the CDA had to carry out. "It is not easy but very necessary," he said. Many of the asylum seekers set to de deported have lived in the Netherlands for several years and have found jobs and raised families. Their local communities, churches and schools have strongly objected to their looming deportation. But Balkenende said the same criteria should apply to an anonymous asylum seeker in a city suburb or a refugee shelter as to a family in "village Y or that girl at school X", newspaper De Volkskrant reported. Despite the prime minister's speech, the CDA party council is expected to meet again in the coming week when various departments are set to make an ultimate appeal on Christian Democrat MPs to allow more "distressing" refugees to remain in the Netherlands. The Lower House of Parliament, the Tweede Kamer, will then discuss the deportation policy on Monday 9 February, provided that Minister Verdonk has recovered from a recent illness. After unveiling her amnesty and deportation policy, the minister was admitted to a hospital in The Hague last week, complaining of feeling unwell. She was released later in the week.
    ©Expatica News

    5/2/2004- The asylum-seeker crisis worsened on Thursday as the chairman of main opposition party Labour PvdA, Ruud Koole, denied he had urged PvdA mayors to disobey the government's amnesty and deportation policy. Instead, Koole said he had requested municipal council chiefs only "to gather information over distressing situations of asylum seekers threatened with deportation", reported public news service NOS. The opposition chairman leaped to his own defence after Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk and government coalition parties Christian Democrat CDA, Liberal VVD and Democrat D66 strongly criticised a letter he sent to municipal mayors. Koole's letter "warned" PvdA colleagues against the "hard" asylum seekers policy. The minister and the three government parties claimed the opposition chairman had urged council chiefs to engage in civil disobedience with his call to resist Verdonk's new asylum-seeker policy.

    The immigration minister recently announced that 2,334 asylum seekers will gain a residence permit in a government amnesty designed to clear a backlog of cases from the immigration service IND. But about 26,000 asylum seekers will be deported over a three-year period. Many of the asylum seekers earmarked for deportation have lived in the Netherlands for several years, found jobs and raised children. Communities have welcomed them and political and public outrage has been expressed at their looming deportation. Amid the public tension, Koole's alleged call for resistance hit a raw nerve, but the Labour chief now claims he demanded greater attention only to be directed at "distressing" cases. By gathering such information, he said "the inhumane effects can become clear and real people behind the figures can become visible". Koole also said municipal administrators are the ones being confronted with the hard reality of the deportation policy. He denied he was guilty of urging wrong sympathies and instead only wanted to indicate the dilemma facing local mayors. "On one side they must carry out the deportation policy, but on the other side they must guard the public order and liveability of their municipalities. I have asked for understanding for these tensions," he said. But the CDA labelled the PvdA stance as "scandalous and hypocritical", while the VVD said the letter "was completely inappropriate". D66 leader Boris Dittrich said the PvdA fuss was "undignified" and Verdonk claimed that Koole had acted beyond his authority.

    Verdonk also claimed that rejected asylum seekers were being treated in a dignified fashion and refuted Koole's claims that families were being split up. She has also claimed that ongoing concern over the asylum-seeker amnesty is escalating into media hype. Verdonk said asylum seekers "are clasped by an iron ring of lawyers and social workers who are taking advantage of people's emotions and have thus unleashed media hype". The minister also said that for years the PvdA ó which was in a coalition government with the VVD and D66 between 1994 and 2002 ó was responsible for immigration law and had been too lax in its deportation policy. "Everything was tolerated back then, and now there is a new cabinet," she said. The Lower House of Parliament, the Tweede Kamer, will debate the amnesty and deportation policy on Monday.
    ©Expatica News

    31/1/2004- The current state of human rights has been inspected by the European Commissioner for Human Rights with a fine toothcomb, who, in a scathing report, denounced the ineffective functioning of Portugal's legal system and the common practice of immigrants being "exploiting by unscrupulous employers". In a report published Wednesday in the Di·rio de NotÌcias, based on a study conducted by the European Commission during a visit to Portugal last May, Commissioner Alvaro Gil-Robles highlights the "exploitation of between 30 and 50 thousand immigrants in the building sector "who receive low salaries, without any health or accidents insurances". In addition, the EC states that immigration laws and regulations lead to an even more precarious state of affairs, saying the annual renovation of residence permits, coupled with a cost of 75 euros for their renewal put even "more pressure on these immigrants". The Commissioner concludes that Portugal needs to toughen up its labour inspections, though he recognises the difficulties faced due to manpower and financial shortages. In terms of the nation's legal system, Alvaro Gil-Robles' document, which has been presented to the 45 members of the European Council, slams the slowness of Portuguese courts along with the "excessive application and duration of defendants detained in preventative custody" .
    ©The Portugal News

    5/2/2004- A municipally employed teacher in Kristiansand has been prevented from wearing a Star of David around his neck. Kristiansand Adult Education Center, where the man works, ruled that the Jewish symbol could be deemed a provocation towards the many Muslim students at the school, Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reports. Teacher Inge Telhaug said he feels this is a violation of his freedom of speech. "I can't accept this. It is a small star, 16 millimeters (0.6 inches) that I have around my neck, usually under a T-shirt. I see it as my right to wear it," Telhaug told NRK. Telhaug teaches immigrants Norwegian language and culture at the education center. Telhaug is not Jewish. "I see it as the oldest religious symbol we have in our culture, because without Judaism there would be no Christianity," Telhaug. The principal of the school, Kjell Gislefoss, feels that the Star of David can also be interpreted as a political symbol for the state of Israel, and is afraid the star can provoke and offend students, for example immigrants from the Palestinian territories. "The Star of David would be a symbol for one side in what is perhaps the world's most inflamed conflict at the moment. Many have a traumatic past that they have escaped and then we feel that if they are going to learn Norwegian then they can't sit an at the same time be reminded of the things they have traveled from," Gislefoss said. Telhaug has hired a lawyer and refuses to give in. The head of the Education Association in Kristiansand, Heidi Hauge Uldal, called the school's decision "unacceptable". Uldal said her group did not want to go the way of France and forbid all religious symbols in schools, a topic that is currently becoming relevant in Norway as well.

    5/2/2004- Education Minister Kristin Clemet said during question time in parliament on Wednesday that she had no plans to ban the hijab - the head scarf worn by Muslim women that has recently become increasingly associated with Islamism. The Progress Party's parliamentary group agreed Wednesday to propose banning the hijab and the burka from elementary schools. Progress Party (Fr.P) deputy leader Siv Jensen told newspaper Dagbladet that the party would raise a debate along the lines of the current discussion in France, forbidding religious symbols from schools, and also hoped to strengthen the ability of employers to enforce dress codes. Jensen said the proposal aimed to integrate and believes the hijab repressed women. "I don't think this will be a big problem in Norway. That some disagree, I think is more for political reasons. Many have claimed that these are political symbols in the Islamist movement. One labels a group of people, in this case young girls," Jensen said. Jensen said the Fr.P had not considered religious symbols such as the crucifix, turban or calotte because they did not consider the hijab a religious symbol, but a political one. Clemet said that the government had no reason to see the hijab as an obstacle to education or integration in schools. "It is typically Norwegian clothing that has caused more problems in Norwegian schools, from the feedback I have had," Clemet told the Storting, Norway's parliament, on Wednesday. Clemet emphasized the hijab's religious significance rather than the Fr.P's political argument. "The shawl or hijab can be regarded as an article of clothing or a religious symbol. It has not been customary to regulate either of these in Norwegian schools," the education minister said.

    5/2/2004- Minister of Culture and Church Affairs Valgerd Svarstad Haugland came under heavy fire during question time in Norway's parliament after arguing that the Norwegian Missionary Association's desire to deny homosexuals membership was a theological issue. Party colleague and health minister Dagfinn Hoeybraaten, who has just taken over leadership of the Christian Democrat Party from Haugland, has not commented on the NMA's stance. Svarstad Haugland argued in the Storting, Norway's parliament, that living in contact with homosexuals was a question for theology and that there were different views on this according to religious convictions. Svarstad Haugland said that different viewpoints had to be respected, and that the question of homosexual rights in relation to Norwegian law was a political question. "I am not going to propose to cut state support even if a congregation expresses something with which I disagree or am only partly in agreement with. Those who are the most intolerant in this debate are they who shout for the removal of state subsidies every time someone says something they don't like. In the name of tolerance we should accept that people have different opinions," Svarstad Haugland said. The Progress Party went on the warpath, with family policy leader Ulf Erik Knudsen calling the new Christian Democrat leader "mulla Hoeybraaten", a fundamentalist, and labeling him "a significant danger for individual freedom". "It shocks me that Hoeybraaten will not distance himself from the religious community's treatment of homosexuals," Knudsen told newspaper Dagsavisen. Hoeybraaten is a member of the Norwegian Missionary Association.

    5/2/2004- The future of a gay student expelled from the K·roli G·sp·r Reformist University after coming out is still uncertain, but has now found backing from the Background Society for Gays (HTM). Gabor Cs, a theology student at the K·roli university was studying to become a pastor but was barred by the department board last November. A member of the board said it was a hard decision to make, but the student was expelled due to his "unsuitability" to become a clergyman. The university does not have a policy stating that students who declare themselves homosexual or lesbian will not be allowed to study at the institution. Although the student's family, as well as equal opportunity minister Katalin LÈvai, have consulted with Debrecen university, the case has not been settled regarding whether and where he will be able to continue his studies. Meanwhile, the student has insisted on staying at his former school, and has filed an action with the aim of a court declaring his expulsion illegal. The HTM will file an action against the K·roli university because of its position on homosexuals. The organization called the university's decision "severely discriminative and unacceptable", and on January 6 called on the university to take back its statement regarding gay students. JÛzsef K·rp·ti, the HTM's legal representative underlined that the new Equal Opportunity Act enables non-governmental legal protection organizations to turn to court if they detect general abuses of law. "We hope that the lawsuit, thanks to the Equal Chances Act, will create a precedent which will prevent other church-run universities from formulating such discriminatory positions in the future," K·rp·ti concluded. Katalin LÈvai earlier commented that education was not a religion related activity, and therefore all students had the right to earn a degree regardless of their sexual orientation.
    ©The Budapest Sun

    Thinktank on immigration
    6/2/2004- An Integration Ministry thinktank has praised the nation's crackdown on Denmark, but urged laxer requirements for highly skilled foreigners Following a recent wave of tighter restrictions on the nation's immigration policy, even the best-integrated and educated immigrants must wait seven years to gain permanent residency in Denmark. The Integration Ministry's thinktank issued a series of widely anticipated recommendations yesterday, urging authorities to grant residency to highly qualified immigrants after three years. The prospect of faster residency will motivate immigrants to work more actively toward self-sufficiency in their adopted country, the thinktank found. The thinktank recommended that Denmark maintain its strict immigration policy, but urged authorities to allow immigrants with good education and language skills to remain in the country to seek work. Under current regulations, immigrants can only remain in the country after receiving a so-called specialist work permit. The group's recommendations failed to secure backing from Integration Minister Bertel Haarder or the opposition Social Democrats. The Danish Employers' Association voiced support for the measure.

    Immigrants form new underclass
    6/2/2004- A newly released report from the Economic Council of the Labour Movement reveals that the average Danish worker has greater possibilities of moving up the social scale than an alien holding similar qualifications. The report states that around 50% of the Danish nationals who found themselves hovering around the bottom of the 'social pyramid' in 1996 had moved up to a higher income level five years later, compared to just 20% of immigrants from third world countries. The managing director of the Economic Council, Lars Andersen, interpreted the statistics as a warning that the basic principles of the welfare society are under threat. 'The rosy picture of a classless society, where the idea of equality for all is dominant, is disintegrating,' he said. 'We now have immigrants in our society who could be termed a new underclass, and who are being treated as 'working poor,' just as in the USA.'
    ©The Copenhagen Post

    6/2/2004- Switzerland's women politicians are campaigning for greater female representation in politics, after just one woman was re-elected to the cabinet last year. Members from all the major parties are planning to hold a national congress next year to raise awareness of women's issues. Female parliamentarians received a wake-up call on December 10 when the justice minister, Ruth Metzler, was dumped in favour of the populist hardliner, Christoph Blocher. Christine Beerli, a candidate from the centre-right Radical Party, was also turned down in favour of her party colleague, Hans Rudolf Merz. Micheline Calmy-Rey, the Social Democrat foreign minister, was the only woman to survive the shake-up in the seven-strong cabinet. "I was shocked the way things panned out," said Barbara Perriard, a spokeswoman for the female branch of the Radical Party. "It had nothing with Metzler's or Beerli's skills, but rather with the fact that they were women." "That was the day I was converted to feminism," she told swissinfo. The elections prompted a 15,000-strong demonstration just a few days later in the Swiss capital, Bern, calling for more women in the cabinet.

    National congress
    The date for the women's congress has tentatively been set for December 10, 2005 - exactly two years after the changes to cabinet make-up. The Left has been battling for years on the issue of equal rights, but women on the Right have been slower on the uptake. But Perriard believes a new feminism is making itself felt in rightwing ranks. "Women on the Right are no longer afraid of the word ëfeminist'," said Perriard. But not all women are convinced that a congress will help promote equality. Regula St”mpfli, a political scientist, said progress would be only made if the gathering tackled issues such pornography and the sexual exploitation of women and children. St”mpfli also reckons that women can achieve more for equality through business, the media and the civil service, rather than through politics.

    One of the thorniest issues up for discussion is the possible introduction of gender quotas in politics. In March 2000, the Swiss voted on equal political representation for men and women, a leftwing initiative that was turned down by more than 80 per cent of the electorate. Female politicians on the Left still defend the quota system despite this defeat at the polls. "Research has shown that when women have at least 30 per cent representation anywhere, it provokes change in culture and values," Kathrin Scheidegger-Ogi, deputy secretary general of the Social Democrats, told swissinfo. But others are uneasy about the implementation of quotas. ThÈrËse Meyer, a Christian Democrat, fears that such a system would strip female politicians of their legitimacy. "We would end up with a two-tier system and that would be a real problem," she added. "There have to be other ways of guaranteeing better representation."

    Female politicians face a number of battles ahead of the congress. The rightwing Swiss People's Party has forced the issue of maternity leave to a nationwide vote, to be held in the autumn. They are looking to overturn a new law which would give employed mothers 14 weeks of statutory paid leave on 80 per cent of their salary. The People's Party says Switzerland cannot afford to introduce statutory maternity leave. Switzerland is the only country in western Europe that does not have statutory maternity leave.
    ©NZZ Online

    After years of tolerating neo-Fascist imagery, political correctness is penetrating such nationalist bastions as the Catholic Church.
    By Drago Hedl in Osijek

    4/2/2004- For years, Croatia's right-wing establishment has turned a blind eye to songs, slogans and emblems glorifying the Second-World War Ustasha regime, or ñ worse ñ has actively encouraged them. But as the country gets ever closer to the European Union, a growing chorus on the nationalist right is demanding an end to such glorification, as well as legal changes to penalise displays of neo-Nazi and pro-Fascist sympathy. Last week, even the influential Catholic Church, which rarely criticised such sympathies in the past, condemned the trend in a very public response to the furore surrounding the lyrics of a right-wing pop singer. Marko "Thompson" Perkovic, who has wowed youthful audiences for years with controversial songs praising the Ustasha, hit a new low with a recent song entitled "Jasenovac and Gradiska Stara". The tune lauded the Ustasha-run concentration camps of the 1940s in which Serbs, Roma and left-wing Croats were slaughtered. A line referring to Jasenovac and Gradiska Stara as the "home of Maks's family", referring to Maks Luburic, a notorious Ustasha camp commander, disgusted many in the country. A petition on a website entitled "Stop the Ustashe" demanded that the company behind the song, Croatia Records, stop recording and releasing Thompson's CDs. The petitioners urged Croatian Television to halt broadcasting his songs and asked the Catholic Church and the political right to distance themselves. Previously, such anti-Ustasha campaigns had little impact on the public, being seen as projects of the political left.

    But in a sign that political correctness is starting to embrace a much wider spectrum of opinion, both the Church and ministers of the new right-wing government have joined the condemnation of Thompson's songs and called for legal changes. The Clerics message was forthright. In a public statement on 23 January, bishops lambasted "the messages and contents of Marko ëThompson' Perkovic's songs, which use hate speech that is in any way linked with the Catholic Church". The bishops described such songs as "incompatible with the accomplishments of Christianity and civilisation". They concluded, "The glorification of any crime and the failure to honour the legal system is in breach of all Christian doctrines." Politicians fell in line behind the bishops. On January 26, the new right-wing prime minister, Ivo Sanader, political heir to the late nationalist president, Franjo Tudjman, marked Holocaust Remembrance Day by attending the opening of a photographic exhibition on the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw in 1943. The appearance of a leader of the Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, at such an event was noteworthy in itself, as was his public reaction to the images. "Thank God in Europe and the rest of the world people are very conscious of the fact that such crimes must never be repeated," he said. Sanader's presence lent extra force to the more predictable remarks of the centrist president Stipe Mesic. He said it would be a good idea to mail the pictures at the exhibition "to the addresses of all those nostalgic for Fascism, so they can see the results of such politics".

    Over the past decade, the flaunting of Ustasha "U" symbols and pictures of the Ustasha leader, Ante Pavelic, have not been confined to eccentric folk concerts. Football fans often sing a pro-Ustasha song entitled "Here comes the dawn, here comes the day". The police turn a blind eye to the merchandising of Ustasha symbols at sports stadiums, as well as to the sale of Pavelic and Ustasha emblems on tourist routes in the Adriatic. Opponents of the Ustasha cult blame loopholes in the law for its persistence. "Quite incredibly, no one can be convicted for glorifying Ustasha crimes in Croatia," said the well-kno name back after the HDZ lost the 2000 elections. But the centre-left government of Ivica Racan from 2000 to November 2003 never seriously got to grips with the neo-Ustasha trend. They feared an all-out battle with the right and the consequent risk of being pilloried as unpatriotic. When the HDZ regained power last year, the radical right hoped the time was ripe again to foist Ustasha ideas on people. They printed calendars with pictures of Pavelic, as Ustasha symbols blossomed at concerts by Thompson and other folk stars. But the public was less receptive than they expected. Sanader deserves some credit for this, as the change in mood partly reflects his determination to show Europe that the HDZ has been reformed into a classical European, centrist party. Sanader jolted his nationalist supporters when he sent Croatia's Serb minority a Christmas greeting using the traditional Orthodox formula, "Christ is born". He also broke with HDZ tradition by describing Croatia's minorities as part of its "riches", rather than an irritating problem. He has yet to drag his supporters in his wake. One survey in mid-January suggested up to 70 per cent of HDZ members do not support this policy. But as the head of a right-wing administration, his stance is indicative of a wider shift in public perceptions. With the support of the powerful Catholic Church, Croatia's political climate is undergoing major changes.
    ©Institute for War & Peace Reporting

    The Irish EU presidency is predicting that unless present member states control the level of immigrants from the ten candidate countries set to join the EU bloc in May, there will be a racist backlash. It also pointed out that there will be a massive influx of illegal migrant workers from the former Eastern bloc countries bordering the new member states following enlargement.

    31/1/2004- The Irish justice minister Michael McDowell told the EU Commission: "A failure to deal with migration of asylum seekers and the like could give rise to a Right-wing backlash and racist politics." Despite five years of wrangling, EU governments have failed to reach full agreement on asylum rules. It is estimated that thousands of immigrants from the new Eastern member states and their neighbours, Ukraine, Belarus and the Balkans, will flood into Portugal between 2004 and 2005. Immigrants from Portuguese speaking countries such as Brazil and Angola, are expected to push the final numbers to beyond 100,000. By comparison the number of immigrant workers being allowed into the Netherlands is small beer compared to Portugal. The Dutch government is implementing tough measures to make sure that the number of new immigrants is kept to a minimum. A total of only 22,000 immigrant workers from new member states will be allowed into Holland. One reason is the rising levels of unemployment in the country. The move has been described by a government spokesman as a "safety valve" to prevent the country being "swamped". Finance Minister Gerrit Zalm told reporters: "If before May 2005 the number of 22,000 immigrant workers threatens to rise, the government will reconsider its decision." An agreed number of immigrants from candidate states into the existing 15-nation bloc will be put in place by the EU Commission between 2004 and 2006. But in 2011 total freedom of movement within the 25-nation EU zone will come into force. It is expected that at this time the greatest demographic change in the history of Europe will take place. Already in Portugal, the Netherlands and Italy immigrants represent on average 16 per cent of the population - unofficial estimates put the figure even higher. Various extremist groups in Europe have stepped up their campaigns against immigration. The UK based Final Conflict Party has accused national governments of giving the impression of trying to stem the tide of illegal immigrants into the EU, but in reality they continue to leave the floodgates open. A spokesman for Final Conflict told The Portugal News: "For the past thirty years there has been a deliberate policy put in place by EU national governments to fight nationalism within their countries. This they are achieving by using immigrants to mongrelise national populations. The result being that pride in one's nation state is giving way to just a common European identity."
    ©The Portugal News

    United Nations chief pleads for warmer welcome

    30/1/2004- Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general, has launched a scathing attack on "fortress Europe", warning that its "dehumanising" policies towards immigrants are leading many to their deaths. The UN chief used an appearance before the European parliament to demand a more positive approach that sees immigration as beneficial and not simply something to be curbed. "The public has been fed images of a flood of unwelcome entrants, and of threats to their societies and identities," he told MEPs. "In the process, immigrants have sometimes been stigmatised, vilified, even dehumanised." Mr Annan's high-profile intervention - which won him a standing ovation - came as the EU accelerates slow-moving plans for common asylum and immigration policies, with moves dominated by crackdowns on illegal migrants and "bogus" asylum seekers. These issues have risen high up the political agenda across the continent following electoral gains by populist and far-right parties, highlighting strong opposition to immigration. The UN chief wants to counter the sense that the post-9/11 world is marked by an inevitable "clash of civilisations" between the west and Arab and Islamic societies. His remarks came against the backdrop of fierce controversy over France's plan to bar the wearing of Muslim headscarves or other conspicuous religious symbols in schools. Immigrants "should not be made scapegoats for a vast array of social ills". They were "part of the solution, not part of the problem".

    Ruud Lubbers, the Dutch UN high commissioner for refugees, often attacks EU policies, warning of possible breaches of the UN's 1951 convention on human rights. But yesterday's Brussels speech by Mr Annan - the embodiment of the multilateralism prized by the EU - carried even greater weight. Mr Annan, receiving the parliament's Sakharov prize in memory of the UN staff killed in Iraq, told governments they must tackle "this silent human rights crisis [that] shames our world". Hundreds of thousands of immigrants enter the EU every year. Illegal migrants, often exploited by unscrupulous traffickers, die weekly trying to enter Europe by crossing in small boats from Morocco or Turkey or by hiding in lorries and under trains crossing to Britain from France. "Your asylum systems are overburdened precisely because many people who feel they must leave see no other channel through which to migrate," he said. "Many others try more desperate and clandestine measures, and are sometimes injured or even killed - suffocating in trucks, drowning at sea, or perishing in the undercarriage of aircraft." As he spoke, news emerged of another accident in which two people drowned and at least 17 were missing after a boat carrying dozens of illegal immigrants, apparently Kurds, sank off the Greek island of Evia. A small wooden ship trying to smuggle 70 illegal immigrants to Greece sank last month off the Turkish coast. Only one person survived. "It is the sovereign right of all states to decide which voluntary migrants they will accept, and on what terms," he said. "But we cannot simply close our doors or shut our eyes to this human tragedy."

    Mr Annan said managed migration and proper integration of newcomers into Europe's ageing societies would help boost economies and ensure the continent enjoyed a better future. "They don't want a free ride. They want a fair opportunity. They are not criminals or terrorists. They are law-abiding. They don't want to live apart. They want to integrate, while retaining their identity." Pat Cox, president of the parliament, said the EU had a responsibility not to create a fortress Europe. Claude Moraes, a British Labour MEP, said: "The fact that Mr Annan devoted his entire speech to the question of migration and refugees speaks for itself." The French Green leader, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, linked Mr Annan's stance on immigration to his ©The Guardian

    Belgium is considering a bill that would let noncitizen immigrants cast ballots in local elections.

    3/2/2004- In a roadside gas station 25 miles west of the Belgium capital, a handful of truckers are sipping hot coffee and loudly discussing politics. "In the big cities, the immigrants already run the city councils," one of the men says, in a statement marked by equal parts of hyperbole and resentment. "Now that they are going to give them all the right to vote, they will take over the smaller towns, too. Pretty soon, we won't be the boss in our own country anymore." Belgian plans to let noncitizen immigrants vote in local elections are fanning the latest controversy as Europe wrestles with the issues of immigration, citizenship, and national identity Proponents say the change will bring Belgium into line with other parts of Europe - such as Sweden, Finland, Ireland, and the Netherlands, where immigrants without European Union (EU) citizenship already have the right to cast ballots in local polls. Some EU member states see such rights as a way to compensate for earlier failed integration policies, says Anoush Desboghessian, an analyst with the Brussels-based European Network Against Racism (ENAR). "Europe is changing," she says. "There is more and more diversity of cultures and languages. But immigrants remain excluded from society." Policymakers in Italy, Germany, and France are also debating voting rights for noncitizen immigrants. But, as in Belgium, the issue is controversial.

    "Passing this law goes against the will of the majority of the people," says Philip Dewinter, the political leader of the far- right Flemish Bloc. "This is a permanent message to foreigners that Belgium is a land of milk and honey, where they have rights but no duties. It will attract more foreigners - poor foreigners without any added value for our society." But to Turkish-born socialist senator Fatma Pehlivan, voting rights are essential to immigrants' integration in society. "The people who will benefit from this measure are mostly first-generation immigrants - people who have come here in the '60s, and have contributed to this country's economy. To them, this is a positive signal that they are part of society, that their vote counts." Immigrant voting rights were first discussed in Belgium in the late 1970s, when it became clear that the hundreds of thousands of Muslim guest workers from Turkey and Northern Africa, who had moved to Europe in the boom years of the '60s, would never go back. Local voting rights were seen as a way to give them a say in how their communities - most in the inner city - were governed. With the more pressing matter of economic hardship on the table in the '80s, and the electoral rise of the anti-immigrant far right in the '90s, the idea was put on hold in Belgium, only to be revived by the current left-leaning administration of socialist and liberals.

    Under the proposal, now making its way through the Belgian parliament, noncitizen immigrants from non-EU countries who have lived in Belgium legally for at least five years - and are therefore considered to be sufficiently integrated - would be permitted to cast their ballots in local elections. As a special condition, they would have to register to vote (which Belgian nationals do not have to do, since the country has compulsory voting), and sign a written declaration that they will respect the Belgian laws and constitution - a provision that was added as a safeguard against Islamic fundamentalism. A number of immigrant groups criticize the special condition as discriminatory. "The proposal is about people like my parents, who have been in Belgium for 40 years and have always been taxpaying, law-abiding people," says Mourad Bekkour, an immigrant rights activist from Antwerp, whose family is from Morocco. "Now they would have to sign a form that says they are not terrorists. To me, that is demeaning and hurtful." Man vote in Belgium or Holland the day he moves there, why not give the same right to a Moroccan or an American who has been there for much longer?" In countries where noncitizen immigrants are already allowed to vote locally, fears of Islamic fundamentalist parties taking over city councils have so far proven unfounded. A 1998 study by the European Research Centre on Migration and Ethnic Relations (ERCOMER) in Utrecht in the Netherlands, shows that, although their electoral turnout is low, immigrants initially tend to vote for left-wing parties. After a number of years, their votes spread out, and, by and large, they vote the same way as the general population. The traditional political families - liberals, socialists and Christian-democrats - cater to these new constituencies by presenting them with moderate Muslim candidates. In Belgium's last general elections, the party Resist, a somewhat unlikely alliance between the radical Arab- European League, led by "the Belgian Malcolm X," Dyab Abou Jahjah, and the Maoist Labour Party, failed to clear the 5 percent threshold to qualify for parliamentary representation. "Those Muslim parties have some grass-roots support, but they represent a minority of the immigrant community," says Jacobs.
    ©Christian Science Monitor Service

    1/2/2004- Fifteen-year-old Chris Acain has been told he can't be Asian because his eyes aren't slanted. In the restroom at the fast food outlet where he works he's seen graffiti proclaiming that "only white people should be allowed to live in Canada." Originally from the Philippines, Acain has to explain sometimes that being Asian isn't limited to being Chinese or Vietnamese. Then there are the stereotypes about "having to eat fish and rice all the time." Tim Ira, also 15, said he's been called "whitewashed" because his Philippine heritage doesn't mesh with some people's image of an urban Asian youth. "You don't know a man until you walk a day in his shoes. People should be willing to get to know someone rather than judging," he said. The pair attended a G.E.T. Fest symposium on Saturday dealing with thorny issues, such as racism, dating, gang violence and drugs during. Bringing together youth aged 12-22, the event was organized by Movements: The Afro-Caribbean Dance Ensemble. Artistic director Sharlene Thomas said it was developed as a prelude to Black History Month which would mix fun and entertainment with discussions on some serious issues. More than 300 students from Edmonton schools took part in a forum at the Shaw Conference Centre on Friday afternoon and a talent competition was staged at the Victoria School for the Performing and Visual Arts that evening.

    Presentations about Black History Month will continue at city junior and senior high schools until Feb. 6. Saturday's symposium attracted about 20 young people and Thomas said she would like to see it grow next year. Natasha Hanna, 18, said music and entertainment are an important part of any festival aimed at youth. "Adults can sit and listen and just talk, but youth want to be active and get involved in the energy," she said. A member of the Movements ensemble, she found the jump from junior high to high school included increased racial tension. "Some cultures think they are better than others and so they boss and bully people around." She recalled how a Caucasian member of the troupe was hurt by a comment from the audience that a "white girl" shouldn't be dancing the hip-hop routine they were performing.
    ©Edmonton Journal

    27/1/2004- The organisers of an anti-racism rally in Belfast today were hoping that thousands of workers would take to the streets to demonstrate their abhorrence of recent attacks on racial minorities in the City. Belfast Lord Mayor Martin Morgan of the SDLP, Irish Congress of Trade Unions officials and Anna Lo of the Chinese Welfare Association were among those due to address a rally outside Belfast's City Hall which will coincide with the UK's Holocaust Memorial Day. Anti-Racism Network spokesman Davy Carlin, whose organisation has helped plan the rally said today he hoped thousands of people would join them to register their disgust at attacks on Belfast's Chinese, Pakistani, Ugandan and Filipino communities in recent weeks. "Belfast is fast acquiring a name for itself as the racist capital of Europe," he said. "That is how it is being portrayed in the international press. "What we would like to see is the community turning out like it had done in the past against sectarianism. "What we want to see is a cross-community collective voice against racism in the tradition of the anti-sectarian rallies in the City."

    Earlier this month a 6ft wooden plank was pushed through a double glazed window of a house in the loyalist Village area of south Belfast where a Pakistani man and an eight month pregnant sister-in-law had just moved. Pipe bombs were also thrown into the homes of black families last summer in the Village area and last month Chinese and Ugandan homes were attacked. A local estate agent also recorded that he had been ordered not to rent property to ethnic minorities. Mr Carlin said while the focus had been on recent attacks in south Belfast, it was important to remember people were encountering racial bigotry and harassment throughout Northern Ireland. "This is not confined to one area or one class," he said. "There is also evidence of institutional racism and it cuts across all backgrounds. "It is right that as we remember the Holocaust, that we also recognise that prejudice and intolerance faced by minorities in the past is still alive in the 21st century. "To say nothing is not an option and the rally will allow everyone who opposes racism to speak out with one voice." Belfast was today hosting the UK's main commemoration for National Holocaust Memorial Day. London, Manchester and Edinburgh had previously hosted the event. Today's rally was also due to be addressed by journalist and civil rights campaigner Eamonn McCann and Presbyterian Minister, the Rev Ken Newell. Irish Congress of Trade Unions Deputy Assistant General Secretary Tom Gillen said trade unionists were "disturbed and angry" at the recent spate of attacks on ethnic minorities in Belfast. "Our presence at the rally should be seen as a clear expression of our disgust at these attacks and for our absolute support for the human rights of people of all nations," he said.
    ©The Scotsman

    27/1/2004- Campaigners have staged a rally in the centre of Belfast to oppose a recent spate of racist attacks in the city. Once synonymous with sectarian violence and religious intolerance, Northern Ireland has now hit the headlines over a growing trend of harassment against the province's small ethnic minority communities. "Two-thirds of Chinese people here have had experience of verbal attacks, over half have had their property damaged," said Anna Lo, chief executive of the Chinese Welfare Association. "Newspapers have branded Belfast as the 'racism capital of Europe' and this must stop." Around 500 people braved chilly temperatures and a light flurry of snow to attend the lunchtime rally in front of Belfast City Hall. Organisers had chosen the date to coincide with Britain's fourth Holocaust Memorial Day, which has been held annually since 2001 on the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland in 1945. "These racist incidents of recent times, in their scale, are altogether different from the conflagration of hatred that led to millions of Jews and others perishing in the death camps of Europe," campaigning journalist Eamonn McCann told the crowd. "But what we have to remember too is that these incidents are the sparks which, if not snuffed out, can lead to such a conflagration."

    Recent months have seen reports of attacks on Romanian, Chinese, Pakistani, Ugandan and Filipino families in Belfast. Most of the incidents have taken place in the Village, a working class Protestant district just south of the city centre. Among those attending Tuesday's rally were politicians with links to both the province's main Protestant paramilitary groups, as well as Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, whose Sinn Fein party is allied to the Catholic Irish Republican Army. Northern Ireland has a long history of sectarian strife between pro-British Protestants and pro-Irish Catholics, but until recently racial violence has received little attention, partly because the 30-year "Troubles" deterred immigration. According to latest census figures there are 1,100 people from a black African, Caribbean or other black background, 2,700 from an Asian background and 4,145 people of Chinese origin living in the province of 1.7 million. Later on Tuesday, Holocaust survivors were due to join Nobel prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney and former British TV reporter and parliamentarian Martin Bell for the UK's main commemoration event at Belfast's Waterfront Hall.

    30/1/2004- Black and Asian children are underachieving at school in Birmingham partly because of "racism" in the teaching curriculum and materials, a new LEA study has found. The teaching system in place nationally is not "appropriate" for Birmingham because it does not provide positive role models and affirming subject matter for minority groups, according to one of the report's authors. The Birmingham Advisory Service conducted the study with community groups over six months in response to low GCSE grades among many youngsters of African Caribbean heritage. It came in the wake of a demand for black-led schools after the murders of Letisha Shakespeare and Charlene Ellis. The study is expected to lead to a raft of changes, including the introduction of Asian and Caribbean history into the curriculum, which will feed into the council's education policy. Birmingham LEA is believed to be the first authority in the country to conduct such a focused study. The study, the African Caribbean Achievement Plan, said: "Some, although not all, African Caribbean young people underachieve because they are educated in an education system that is not totally effective and which exhibits aspects of racism." Karamat Iqbal, lead adviser on equalities for Birmingham LEA, was an author of the plan. He said to engage pupils properly, their heritage ought to be recognised in the curriculum.
    ©Birmingham Post

    29/1/2004- Planning bosses were last night accused of allowing allegedly "racist" comments about a road safety campaigner to appear in a public document. Benllech Road Safety Group chairman Barrie Durkin is threatening legal action against Anglesey County Council over the inclusion of the offending remarks in a planning file. The comments are in a letter objecting to a scheme to convert the former Rhostrefor Hotel in the resort into flats. The letter includes a photo of 57-year-old Mr Durkin, with the caption underneath: "How much more are we going to have to put up with from people like this? "They come here and take over and drive local people out of the village. For any of you who are not aware of the situation, the atmosphere in Benllech is absolutely terrible." Mr Durkin, originally from south Cheshire and who moved to Benllech four years ago to run a guest house and restaurant, has written to the council's managing director asking for the comments and his photo to be removed from the file. "I have suggested to the council that it is promoting other people's racial opinions in public documents for all to see," he said last night. But council boss Geraint Edwards has told him: "You will be well aware that the correspondence to which you refer is a submission by an objector to a planning application. "The file in which it is held, by its very nature, becomes a public document and the council is not in a position to edit such documents." But last night Mr Durkin, whose road safety group is also objecting to the plan, said he would be taking legal advice. "The objector has an opinion, which she is entitled to, but my argument here is with the council, and my view is the comments with the photo, which obviously refer to me, have nothing whatsoever to do with the application," he said. Retired supermarket manageress Ceinwen Huws, who lives with her disabled mother in Benllech, said she had written the letter of objection including a photo of Mr Durkin. She added: "I am not and never have been a racist and I have not singled him out. All I want to do is to highlight what has been happening here in Benllech, which has already been over-developed. It is all about the planning application. "The Welsh population of this area has, over the years, been diluted drastically as it is. Any further influx of outsiders would make this situation worse and some of the original Welsh locals would feel they have to leave the village as it no longer feels like part of Wales. "If the development goes ahead it should be for the elderly who are living in the area and not newcomers."
    ©IC Network

    France's move to ban Islamic headscarves from state schools has prompted strong and mixed reaction. It also highlights fundamental differences of approach to religious tolerance between France and Britain. Ingrid Bazinet reports.

    27/1/2004- As a proposed ban on Muslim headscarves in schools provokes both outrage and approbation in France, education professionals in Britain say their country's tradition of religious tolerance is based on "radically different" values which can't simply be transferred to the other side of the English Channel. President Jacques Chirac let it be known in December that France would move towards a ban on "conspicuous religious insignia" ó a category that runs the gamet from Muslim headscarves to large Christian crucifixes ó from state classrooms. The ban was recommended by an advisory committee, on grounds that French schools are strictly secular, and Chirac indicated that he'd like to see it written into law by the start of the next academic year. But in Britain, where multiculturalism is officially embraced, such symbols of a student's religious heritage are not taboo, and diversity is encouraged. "It's a French issue because the church and the state are separated quite distinctly," said Paul Harwood, head teacher at Bishopford Community School in Morden, south London. Therefore, the wearing of a Muslim headscarf ó or a crucifix, or a Jewish kippa, or a Sikh turban - "is seen as a demonstration of religion," said Harwood, who's been discussing the issue with French colleagues as part of a cross-Channel educational exchange programme. "We don't necessarily separate religion because we think it's part of people's culture," he said. "If it's important for them, it should be valued."

    A wider illustration of this consideration is that Sikhs ó whose faith requires men to wear turbans and forbids followers from cutting their hair ó are exempted by British law from the general public requirement to wear helmets on motorcycles. The Education Act, in effect since 1944, obliges schools in England and Wales ó Scotland runs its own education system ó to provide religious teaching and Christian prayer. But in recent years, such classes have often been replaced with more general teaching of the traditions of different faiths, reflecting the post-war influx of immigrants from across the British Empire. Another difference is that, while the French constitution draws a clear line between church and state, there's no such distinction in Britain. Indeed, Queen Elizabeth II is both head of state and head of the Church of England ó although it's the prime minister and the archbishop of Canterbury who wield real authority over politics and the Anglican faith.

    "The British have a radically different idea of secularism; it's a concept that doesn't have any real meaning in the United Kingdom," said Philippe Fatras, a school inspector from the well-heeled Paris suburb of Versailles. "Our system is founded on the Enlightenment philosophy of an integrating nation," Fatras said. "To belong to the nation, you have to stick to its values." In Britain, different cultures "can live very comfortably in their own little world, their own sphere, side by side, without bothering each other," he said. "There is not a great deal to be transferred, because central to our history is the republican principle of schooling," Fatras said. "It seems that this big issue (of headscarves) takes the place of any discussion about developing culture understanding, and that's a very complex area," said Peter Walker, headteacher of Park View Academy, a comprehensive high school in north London. He recalled a similar debate taking place in Britain more than 20 years ago ó a debate that was ultimately resolved by what Walker called a "celebration" of cultural differences. "We will get there," said Fatras, who regrets the ignorance of some French pupils on ©Expatica News

    30/1/2004- A small explosion damaged the mailbox of a school attended by the son of a French Muslim prefect early Thursday. It was the third suspected bomb attack in two weeks targeting the newly appointed official. A police source said the blast caused little damage at the school in Nantes, a few hundred meters from the home of Aissa Dermouche, the new prefect of the Jura region of eastern France. A bomb wrecked Dermouche's car early on Jan. 18, and another exploded on Sunday at the entrance to the business school he headed until recently, causing minor damage. No arrests have been made in the case. The police have tightened security for the Algerian-born Dermouche, one of France's first Muslim prefects, and the government has said it would not allow the attacks to upset its efforts to better integrate France's five million Muslims. The French government is trying to counter fundamentalist attitudes and social discontent among Muslims by promoting a moderate "French Islam," but a proposed ban on Muslim headscarves in public schools has prompted protests.
    ©International Herald Tribune

    Ultra-nationalist resurgence in recent elections sparks wave of attacks on non-Serbs in multi-ethnic province.
    By Jan Briza, journalist with the Novi Sad daily Dnevnik.

    23/1/2004- Minority communities in Serbia's northern province of Vojvodina are feeling the heat after recent stunning gains by Serbian ultra-nationalists raised fears of a return to the ethnic violence of the 1990s. Residents in the province's capital, Novi Sad, were woken by drunken mobs over Serbian New Year on January 13-14 shouting, "Hey Serbs let's butcher the Croats! Hey Serbs, let's butcher the Hungarians!" Petar Dedjanski, a local Serb, was roused by a group of about 20 young drunks outside his window. "They were shouting horrible threats and singing songs of the Chetniks," he said, referring to the Serb nationalist fighters during World War 2. Dedjanski told IWPR the crowd only left when he called the police. Marina Fratucan, a Novi Sad journalist of Romanian origin, had a similar fright. Awoken by her doorbell, she confronted a group of ruffians yelling insults. "They terrified my eight-year-old son and only ran off when the police finally arrived," she said. Fratucan has been a frequent target of Serb nationalists on account of her work in Radio Free Europe. They have labelled her "a traitor of Serb people". The wave of incidents stepped up during and after the December 28 general election, which saw the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party, SRS, make sweeping gains.

    The party led by Vojislav Seselj, currently facing war crimes charges in The Hague, emerged the largest party in Serbia's new parliament, and achieved its greatest success in Vojvodina, where it won in 35 of the 45 municipalities. The Radicals lost only in eight mainly Hungarian municipalities in the north and in two dominated by Slovaks. The results sent a ripple of fear through the 30 or so ethnic communities in Vojvodina, where Serbs make up about 65 per cent of the 2 million population. Hungarians are largest minority, with 290,000 people, or just over 14 per cent. Immediately after the launch of the campaign, Novi Sad's Catholic cemetery, where Hungarians, Croats and other minority groups are buried, was desecrated. Police charged against two unnamed juveniles, though the media voiced doubts that the two could have inflicted such damage alone. As in the 1990s, the fiercest attacks have been directed against Vojvodina's remaining Croats. In the course of the election, the chair of the Croat National Council, Lazo Vojnic Hajduk, was assaulted. Over the Catholic Christmas celebrations, Serb emblems, comprising a cross garnished with four "S" letters in Cyrillic, were sprayed over the cars of a journalist of the Zagreb daily Jutarnji List and of other visitors to the Croat cultural centre in Subotica, near the Hungarian border.

    In Tavankut, the northernmost town of Vojvodina, home mainly to Croats, a monument to the Croat mediaeval peasant leader Matija Gubec, was vandalised twice. The first attack took place in the night of December 28, while the votes in the election were being counted. It was further damaged during New Year's Eve celebrations. The windows of the Croat cultural centre in Sombor were also smashed, while a Catholic cross was pulled down in the village of Mala Bosna. The most serious threats were delivered by telephone to the weekly Hrvatska Rijec (Croat Word) on several occasions during mid-January by a man claiming to represent the Subotica Chetnik Movement. "If your paper is published just one more time I'll kill you all. You've murdered my child," the anonymous male voice said. The paper's editor, Zvonimir Perusic, said the voice wished them "a happy Chetnik New Year" and repeated the threat "We'll kill you all". The attacks have not gone unreported. The Information Bureau of the Serbia-Montenegro Ministerial Council on January 15 demanded a swift response f supporters even Serbianised the name of the village, which was re-designated "Srbislavci". Jovan Komsic, a sociologist, warns that the Radical victory in Vojvodina may have sweeping consequences. "The majority of their voters effectively opted for a vision of Serbia constantly at war with its neighbours since the political platform of the Serbian Radical Party is Greater Serbia," he told the Vojvodina daily Dnevnik. However, Radical party officials reject accusations of being responsible for the nationalist incidents. The deputy president, Tomislav Nikolic, said the accusations had no basis in reality. "We would need only one hundred days in power to make all those who believe we are fascists change their minds," he said. "We would prove wrong all those who believe we only harass, abuse or persecute people. We would prove wrong those who think we cannot form a democratic government." As for the victims of the assaults, they seem determined to ride out the latest wave of hostility. Antun Merkovic, a Croat from Tavankuta, said previous attempts at intimidation had failed to drive Croats from their homes. "Regardless of what the Radicals say, all of us are staying here," he said. He even ventured a black joke about his community's plight. After winning the elections, he said, Seselj sent sandwiches to all the ethnic minorities in Vojvodina. He gave one each to the Croats and Hungarians but two to all the Slovaks. Asked why he had sent more to the Slovaks, Seselj answered, "They have to travel further."
    ©Institute for War & Peace Reporting

    A single anti-discrimination law is in sight

    26/1/2004- The lengthy conflict over Slovakia's anti-discrimination legislation may have come to an end, as Deputy Prime Minister P·l Cs·ky and Justice Minister Daniel Lipöic agreed on the form of the law on January 15. As a result, instead of amendments to several laws, a single piece of legislation will guarantee equal treatment to all citizens in Slovakia, as required by the European Union. Following several unsuccessful attempts, experts are outlining a compromise version of the act. According to the agreement, Cs·ky and Lipöic - both vice-chairmen of their parties, the Hungarian Coalition Party and the Christian Democrats (KDH), respectively - have set up a committee of experts who will prepare the final wording and introduce the bill in early February. The law to guarantee fair treatment for everyone regardless of race, colour, sex, religion, age, national or ethnic origin, health condition, or sexual orientation should pass through parliament by April 15. Working under new leadership, the Slovak National Centre for Human Rights, an already existing but so far ineffective institution, will safeguard the implementation of the law and decide on complaints against violations of the principles of equal treatment. Cs·ky characterized the agreement on the future anti-discrimination law as "a triumph of common sense". An initiator and co-author of several drafts of the act, Cs·ky had recently indicated that he would introduce yet another proposal to the government, regardless of the disapproval of his ruling coalition partner the KDH.

    Another governing party, the New Citizen's Alliance, said that should Cs·ky fail to come up with his own version of the act before January 20, they would prepare a new draft. In October of last year, even the opposition party Smer presented an anti-discrimination law, which, however, failed to be adopted in parliament. "I am glad that we have reached such an agreement and I believe that together our experts will create a draft legislation that will not only be compatible with EU directives but, more importantly, will not be unconstitutional," Lipöic told journalists. Earlier, he had criticized Cs·ky's recently proposed law, claiming that it would give more rights to homosexuals than required by the EU. He labelled Cs·ky's efforts as "an attempt at social engineering". The KDH argued that sufficient provisions against discrimination already exist in the constitution. They also claimed that the law proposed by Cs·ky would be the first step toward allowing gay couples to adopt children, a policy they firmly oppose. "Two and a half years of work plus three hours of negotiation [between Cs·ky and Lipöic]," said Jana Kviecinsk·, general director of the government's human rights and minorities department, summing up for The Slovak Spectator the work it took to reach the agreement.

    The legislation, which has to be passed prior to Slovakia's entry into the EU, had been the cause of heated debate between members of the ruling coalition for years, as KDH had been against a single law. KDH proposed amending the 18 laws already in existence to put them in line with the required anti-discrimination directives. In March 2002, the government adopted an action plan against all forms of discrimination. However, in June 2002 the KDH halted the anti-discrimination bill because of the provision dealing with equal treatment for homosexuals. KDH deputy chairman VladimÌr Palko argued that the EU did not require Slovakia to pass such a law. European Parliament officials had earlier warned Slovak authorities that, if they did not approve anti-discrimination legislation by the end of 2004, they might face sanctions from the EU. One of the 10 countries that will join the EU on May 1, Slovakia has to adopt anti-discriminatory legislation in line with the EU Race Directive, which implements the principle of equal treatmen provision prohibiting discrimination against homosexuals. However, it is still unclear whether the proposed law will get as far as adoption. Laura Dyttertov·, spokeswoman for the KDH, told The Slovak Spectator that the committee is working on a draft that would prohibit any inquiry concerning jobseekers' sexual orientation and that this provision would be similar to that of the Labour Law. Talking to The Slovak Spectator, Cs·ky's spokesman, Martin Urmanic, confirmed that the committee of experts is already working on the final wording of the legislation, to be compiled from both Cs·ky's and Lipöic's drafts. The main scope of the law, he indicated, should not be changed. He said that everything had been settled during the previous talks between his boss and Justice Minister Lipöic. "We expect no surprises," Urmanic said.
    ©The Slovak Spectator

    The Interior Ministry's proposal stirs up negative reactions

    26/1/2004- The interior Ministry's plans to introduce specially trained officers to assist in keeping order in Roma settlements have raised protests and been called fascist. Some Roma leaders have dubbed the idea inhumane and discriminatory against the minority. At the January 14 cabinet meeting, Interior Minister VladimÌr Palko defended his plans when presenting an analysis on the special officers as a part of the cabinet's long-term strategy for solving problems in poor Roma communities in Slovakia. According to informed estimates, there are 500,000 Roma in Slovakia and many of them live in rundown settlements in the eastern part of the country. Roma are largely undereducated and many live in poverty without proper housing. In some Roma settlements, unemployment is as high as 100 percent. The officers would, according to Interior Ministry spokesman Boris A altovic, work in the Roma community, especially in the Roma settlements, to "solve petty quarrels and possible transgressions against the law, and help to prevent illegal activities". Some Roma settlements are also fighting problems with loan sharking, and the new officers would help address this issue as well. According to the Interior Ministry's analysis, the success of the specialised officers, who are scheduled to start working by the end of 2007, depends on "at least partial acceptance by the Roma community of [the creation of] such positions in the police".

    Initial reactions from Roma leaders showed that achieving this acceptance could prove a tough job. "This is totally undemocratic and inhumane and it reminds us of fascist practices," said Alexander PatkolÛ, head of the Slovak Roma Initiative. Ladislav FÌzik, who leads the Roma Parliament, a union of several Roma parties, said: "I don't agree with the plan as described [by Interior Ministry officials]. Nobody knows what a specialist police officer would be and I am afraid that the Roma would not accept them." "We would prefer that skilled Roma were picked to work for the police because they would be more accepted by the community," FÌzik said. But Kl·ra Orgov·nov·, the cabinet plenipotentiary for Roma communities, disagreed with the statements and said that she would be the first to protest against a project that would include elements of discrimination against the Roma. Deputy PM for Human Rights P·l Cs·ky also backed the Interior Ministry's plan, stating that it was normal for specialist officers to receive specialist training. The project of the special officers will be divided into three stages that will also involve several NGOs that deal with Roma issues and minority rights, such as the Inforoma foundation, Citizen and Democracy, and the Slovak Helsinki Committee. äarlota Pufflerov· from the Citizen and Democracy NGO told The Slovak Spectator that the ministry had not officially contacted her organisation but added that they would be interested in helping to carry out the plan. "We plan to prepare an educational project for the police and the Roma communities and we would gladly participate in the ministry's project," Pufflerov· said. She pointed out, however, that the initially negative reactions to the idea of special officers was possibly due to the negative connotation that the word specialist can have among the Roma. "They feel as if something was being plotted against them. Perhaps if the idea was better communicated and the new policemen were called Roma cooperation officers or something in that sense, it would help make [the plan] acceptable to the Roma," she said.

    A altovic from the ministry insisted that the "Roma need not fear any misuse," and he said that the plan may be adjusted according to the advice the ministry wants to get from NGOs and Roma organisations. "We plan to introduce the officers no earlier than 2007 so there is a lot of tim ©The Slovak Spectator

    28/1/2004- Slovakia's progress in solving issues of racism, intolerance, and discrimination is still insufficient in many areas, says a report published by the Council of Europe's European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI). According to the Strasbourg-based commission, racially motivated violence, including police brutality, remains a problem in Slovakia and often goes unpunished due to weak law enforcement, news wire TASR reported. The country's Roma minority is severely disadvantaged in most areas of life, including housing, employment, and education, says the report. The ECRI calls on the government to take additional measures to ensure more rigorous enforcement of legislation against racism, and to adopt an anti-discrimination law as soon as possible.
    ©The Slovak Spectator

    28/1/2004- Switzerland has been criticised by a European body for failing to make sufficient progress in combating racism and intolerance. The report released by the Council of Europe on Tuesday also noted the hardening of political attitudes towards foreigners and police abuses. Responding to the findings, the Swiss authorities admitted that some of the criticisms were justified. The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), which wrote the report, said Switzerland had made progress in combating discrimination in some areas but there remained much work to be done. "Progress remains fairly limited in a number of areas," said the executive secretary of the ECRI, Isil Gachet. "We are preoccupied with some cases of discriminatory treatment by the police towards members of certain minority groups and in particular black Africans," she told swissinfo. On a positive note, the ECRI welcomed Switzerland's new constitution, which came into force in 2000 and which prohibits discrimination. It also praised the establishment of a Federal Anti-Racism Service, as well as plans to extend criminal law provisions to combat racism. However, there were more brickbats than bouquets for the Swiss. The commission said that the Swiss authorities had to do more to ensure that cantonal and federal authorities, as well as the general public, were aware of the constitution's anti-discrimination clause.

    Police abuses
    The police were also criticised, in particular for their conduct towards black Africans. The European body reported that members of this minority group were subjected to frequent identity checks and were often taken into custody for no reason. It also criticised the practice of closing off certain areas of towns and cities to members of ethnic groups, which affected mostly young black asylum seekers. It was noted that there was no independent mechanism in place to investigate allegations of police violence, resulting in a lack of redress for victims. The ECRI recommended more police training to clamp down on incidences of violence towards foreigners. This recommendation was deemed unnecessary by the Swiss government in its reaction to the commission's findings. "Issues such as xenophobia and police violence are systematically covered during basic police training," it said. "The police are well aware that, given the numerous police operations carried out around the clock everyday, mistakes may sometimes occur," it added. The government also denied that the police were racist: "We reject the assertion... that the Swiss police behave in a racist, discriminatory and violent way towards minorities, in particular black Africans."

    Asylum seekers
    The commission called on the Swiss authorities to do more to counter the negative public opinion about asylum seekers and refugees. In particular, it said, politicians and the media should be more sensitive to this issue and learn to address it in a balanced fashion. The ECRI was also concerned that accelerated procedures to deal with asylum applications at airports and detention centres might not give applicants sufficient time to make their case properly. Michele Galizia, head of the Federal Anti-Racism Service, told swissinfo that the ECRI had listened too closely to the complaints of non-governmental organisations. "Allegations made by NGOs were simply accepted, often uncritically. There could have been more understanding for Swiss federalism." "In a country with a central administration, criticism can be dealt with more simply and measures taken directly. In Switzerland, each cantonal and municipal police force has to be engaged," he added. However, Galizia agreed that the report was broadly correct. "The findings were expected ñ they reflect the situati ©NZZ Online

    27/1/2004- One of Europe's most respected anti-racism organisations harshly criticised Belgium's far-right Vlaams Blok party on Tuesday. In a major new report, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), which is part of the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe, slammed the Flemish-speaking Blok's use of racist language in much of its propaganda. "ECRI expresses concern at the continuing presence of racist and xenophobic discourse in politics in Belgium and at the increasing success of parties that resort to racist and xenophobic propaganda," the report said. "ECRI also reiterates its concern that the nationalist propaganda of the Vlaams Blok contributes to fostering a climate of tension in the relations between the different regions and communities of Belgium," the document continued. The Vlaams Blok regularly calls for Flanders to be allowed to split from French-speaking Belgium and the party is also vehemently anti-immigration. In recent months it has been campaigning hard against plans to give non-EU foreigners the right to vote in local elections in Belgium. The ECRI report called on the Belgian authorities to prosecute parties that use racist and intolerant propaganda.
    ©Expatica News

    By Simon Coss,Editor Expatica Belgium
    A leading Catholic Cardinal launches into a vicious homophobic diatribe, the far right is up in arms about foreigners' voting rights and racial tension is in the air again. What's happened to tolerance in Belgium?

    30/1/2004- Belgium's reputation as a tolerant society has taken quite a knock over the past week or so. First came Cardinal Gustaaf Joos' extraordinary homophobic outburst in an interview with 'P-Magazine'. If the 80-year-old cleric's remarks hadn't been so offensive they would been laughable. As one angry Expatica reader put it only too rightly the day after the Joos story broke, Roman Catholic clergymen are hardly in a position to lecture anyone about strange dress codes. For the benefit of those of you who may have missed the batty cardinal's blithering, Joos said he was "ready to write in his own blood that of all the people who say they are homosexual only 5 to 10 percent really are. The others are simply sexual perverts." This tirade was followed up with the bizarre observation that "real homosexuals don't parade around the streets in brightly coloured clothes," the comment that sparked our reader's astute riposte. But the fact is Joos is not just some loony old priest ó although he would certainly win any 'Belgium's Barmiest Cleric' contest hands down. He is a senior member of the Roman Catholic Church, one of the most powerful and influential religious organisations in the world In a strongly Catholic country like Belgium, when Joos speaks an awful lot of people listen. Well, on this occasion he should have shut up. Belgium's Archbishop Godfried Danneels was entirely right to distance himself from his colleague's outrageous remarks. His testy statement that Joos was speaking in a personal capacity will have gone some way to reassuring right-minded people that not all Catholics are homophobic bigots. The real question though is what on earth was going through Pope John Paul II's mind when he decided to make Joos a cardinal last October? Is the crackpot cleric's message of prejudice and intolerance really part of the legacy the ailing pontiff wants to leave his beloved church? But it is not just Joos' homophobic ramblings that have exposed Belgium's ugly underbelly recently.

    Racism has also been all too apparent. In its most subtle form, racial prejudice has begun to muddy the debate over whether Muslim girls should be allowed to wear veils in school. As in neighbouring France, there are many truly well-meaning people who support a veil ban because they say they want to preserve a secular education system in Belgium. No-one is seriously suggesting these 'secularists' are in any way racist ó although they have yet to come up with a convincing explanation as to why a student's choice of clothing may threaten a non-religious education system. But the problem is that the veil debate has also become a focus for anti-Muslim prejudice in Belgium. For example, the odious far right Flemish Vlaams Blok party has played on the current climate of Islamophobia in its recent campaign against plans to allow non-EU foreigners to vote in Belgium's local elections. This week the Blok proudly announced that it had managed to gather nearly 70,000 signatures for a petition it is supporting against the new law. Some of those who signed may of course oppose the idea of wealthy expats from non-EU countries like the US having their say in how Belgian towns and cities are run. However one suspects they are the minority. Anti-racism groups say the vast bulk of opponents to the law are more concerned about immigrants from the other side Mediterranean than about transatlantic expats. But whatever motivation the petition-signers may have had, it's frankly shameful that so many Belgians oppose giving such limited voting rights to people who have in most cases been living and paying taxes in their country where one half of the population literally cannot speak to the other. Two more different groups of people than the Flemings and the Walloons you couldn't hope to find anywhere. Yet they do manage to live together. They make an awful fuss about it on occasions but ñ and this is the amazing thing ñ Belgium sort of works. And don't forget that while Belgium may be home to wackos like cardinal Joos and the Vlaams Blok it also a country where gay weddings are legal, and where anyone who wants to smoke a quiet joint in the privacy of their own home can do so without the police threatening to batter the door down.

    Belgium gave us the universal competence law, the famous piece of legislation that allowed war criminals to be tried in Belgium wherever in the world they committed their acts of genocide. Granted the government back-peddled on that particular advance last year, but the move nevertheless represented an important step along the long road to a truly international justice system. These are things Belgium can and should be proud of. The sooner the country dumps anachronisms like Joos, the Vlaams Blok and the Front National in the dustbin of history, the better.
    ©Expatica News

    27/1/2004- Bulgaria still drags leg with stereotypes, prejudices and discrimination practices against minority groups, particularly Roma, as well as against immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), Council of Europe's expert body on combating racism, wrote in its report presented in Strasbourg on Tuesday. The ECRI outlined the serious problems connected with the excessive use of firearms and force by Bulgarian police against Roma, and draw attention to the segregation of Roma children in schools. According to the report, the new Denominations Act passed in 2002 does not remedy all the shortcomings as regards freedom of religion in Bulgaria. Besides Bulgaria, the ECRI has released reports on examining racism, xenophobia, anti-semitism and intolerance in Belgium, Norway, Slovakia and Switzerland. Nevertheless, the Commission recognised that in all of these five Council of Europe member countries positive developments have occurred. These reports form part of a third cycle of monitoring of Council of Europe member States' laws, policies and practices in order to combat racism. Their purpose is to examine if ECRI's main recommendations from previous reports have been followed, and if so, with what degree of success and effectiveness. Bulgarian government's official stance refuted any allegations in exercising xenophobic, racist or discriminatory activities against its national minorities, including the Roma population. No supporting facts thereof have been presented by the ECRI's report, Bulgaria claimed.

    28/1/2004- A monitoring body with "teeth" will fight anti-Semitism in Europe, Israel Singer, chairman of the World Jewish Congress Governing Board, and European Commission president Romano Prodi agreed on Tuesday. "We agreed that the European Union's planned seminar on anti-Semitism should not be a one-time action," Singer told The Jerusalem Post. "The commission will meet with a Jewish monitoring group every other month, probably under the aegis of the European Jewish Congress. "This monitoring body must have teeth and not be just another registering institution. It will decide whether or not to publish documents and findings, and will help the European Commission draft propositions to efficiently fight the anti-Semitism on the rise in European countries." The European Jewish Congress, presided over by Italy's Cobi Benatoff, is an affiliate of the World Jewish Congress. WJC and EJC accused the European Commission of fueling anti-Semitism by shelving a previous study by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) which showed a rise in anti-Semitic incidents committed by Muslims and pro-Palestinian groups in Europe. Earlier this month, in a Financial Times, op-ed, WJC president Edgar Bronfman and EJC president Cobi Benatoff, wrote: "Anti-Semitism can be expressed in two ways: by action and inaction. Remarkably, the European Commission is guilty of both." Prodi reacted by suspending a planned conference on anti-Semitism. Following a meeting with Singer, Prodi eventually decided the seminar would take place as planned, with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer playing a key role.

    Meanwhile, Auschwitz survivors gathered at their former place of captivity Tuesday in an appeal to world leaders to seek peace and renounce racism at a ceremony marking the 59th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp. Some 20 survivors were joined by 600 town residents and Polish and Israeli officials at a monument to the victims of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. "We, miraculously saved and few, appeal to you, who make the law and hold the power, please do all you can to abandon discords and conflicts," said survivor Jozef Matynia. Between 1 million and 1.5 million primarily Jewish prisoners perished in gas chambers or died of starvation and disease at the camp before it was liberated by advancing Soviet troops on January 27, 1945. Meanwhile, in Berlin, Simone Veil, a former president of the European parliament and Nazi death camp survivor, warned Germans that resurgent anti-Semitism in western Europe and the failure of former communist countries in the East to reckon with their pasts threatens Europe's future. She told German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and other national leaders gathered in the German parliament for Europe's Holocaust remembrance day that anti-Semitism threatens democracy. Veil, who was deported to Auschwitz from her native Nice in April 1944 when she was 16, said it was western Europe's responsibility to denounce anti-Semitism as an example to 10 mostly former communist eastern European countries entering the EU on May 1. In those countries, she said, the victims of communism have displaced the victims of the Nazis. "As Europe opens itself to the East, these distortions are extremely alarming because [they]... rip into the core of the future identity of Europe," she said. She called on Germans to avoid a "banalization" of the Holocaust, pointing to the Nazi era as a uniquely brutal period that should not be compared to other crimes. She also singled out her native France, noting an increase in anti-Semitism coinciding with the three-year-old Palestinian violence.

    Veil's visit showed the continuing strength of the relationship between Germany and France, said German parliament President Wolfgang Thierse, who called the Holocaust "a European catastrophe, conjured up and released by Germans." Other events included an exhibit at the former Sachsenhausen camp, now a "appropriate measures, educational as well as sanctions, to combat every form of intolerance, racism, and xenophobia." There were no immediate details about the punitive measures.
    ©The Jerusalem Post

    26/1/2004 ñ The United Nations must spearhead a worldwide mobilization of conscience against racial intolerance in a time of globalization when the Internet is being used for both conciliation and divisiveness, a senior United Nations human rights official said today. "It is the role of the United Nations to bring to the conscience of the international community the pervasive violations of human rights that are taking place in the world and to call for a mobilization of conscience against such gross violations," Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights Bertrand Ramcharan told the Commission on Human Rights working group against racism. The working group is meeting in Geneva to follow up on the decisions taken at the anti-racism conference in Durban, South Africa, in 2001. Mr. Ramcharan also called for galvanized efforts to respond to today's atmosphere of fast-paced globalization and turbulence when poverty is rampant, millions of children do not have access to schooling and "the Internet is used to bring people together, but also to spread hatred, prejudice and discrimination." Promoting and protecting human rights can help to reduce poverty, he said, adding, "Advancing the principle of equality and non-discrimination is of fundamental importance." In a separate message to the ninth meeting of the Board of Trustees on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, also in Geneva, Mr. Ramcharan called for "new approaches and new strategies" for countering grievous violations of the human rights of hundreds of thousands of children and young women, which range from child labour to sexual exploitation and trafficking. "Contemporary forms of slavery are among the foremost issues of conscience demanding our attention in today's world and we need to think afresh how we might mobilize international outrage against such practices," he said, voicing hope that the Commission would consider designating a special rapporteur against trafficking in human beings.
    ©UN News Centre

    17/1/2004- Veteran British television presenter Robert Kilroy-Silk has quit as host of a BBC morning chat show after 17 years following a row over anti-Arab comments he made in a newspaper article. "I believe this is the right moment to leave the programme and concentrate my energies in other directions," said 61-year-old Kilroy-Silk, a former member of parliament. The BBC had suspended his long-running "Kilroy" topical discussion show after the Sunday Express newspaper published an article by him headlined "We owe the Arabs nothing." In the article, he asked: "What do (Arabs) think we feel about them? That we admire them for being suicide bombers, limb amputators, women repressors?." The Muslim Council of Britain, which had condemned Kilroy-Silk over the article, welcomed his departure. "We hope today's landmark decision by the BBC will send out a clear signal that anti-Arab racism is every bit as unacceptable, every bit as odious as any other form of racism," council secretary general Iqbal Sacranie said in a statement. Britain is home to around 1.8 million Muslims, many of them second and third generation descendants of immigrants from London's former colonies. Kilroy-Silk had swiftly apologized for any offence the article might have caused, pointing out that it had been re-published in error and had prompted no reaction when it first appeared in April last year. But he also defended his right to speak his mind, telling one newspaper: "If I am not allowed to say that there are Arab states that are evil, despotic and treat women abominably... which I know to be a fact, then what can I say?"

    BBC deny 'gagging'
    The BBC on Friday denied they were gagging Kilroy but said his views made him unsuitable as host of a discussion programme. "I would like to say that this has never been about freedom of speech," said Jana Bennett, the BBC's director of television. "Presenters of this kind of programme have a responsibility to uphold the BBC's impartiality. This does not mean that people who express highly controversial views are not welcome on the BBC but they cannot be presenters of a news, current affairs or topical discussion programme," she added. The smooth-talking, silver-haired presenter had become a fixture of the BBC's morning schedule during the show's 17-year run, regularly attracting 1.2 million viewers to heated debates of everyday problems and hot issues with a studio audience. The BBC said Kilroy-Silk's TV production company -- which made the "Kilroy" show -- would produce a replacement discussion show for broadcast "in the next few weeks." The programme would be hosted by a number of guest presenters for the remainder of the present series, the BBC added.

    17/1/2004- Corrie stars Julie Hesmondhalgh and Shobna Gulati were confronted by a screaming mob of right-wing thugs when they attended an anti-racism rally. Cops were called to control the BNP supporters as scuffles broke out. But Julie and Shobna bravely battled through the 30-strong gang to reach the meeting. Julie, 33 ‚ who plays Hayley Cropper ‚ vowed she would not give in to the thugs. And she told 370 people at the Manchester Town Hall rally: "Shobna and I are here tonight to represent a larger group of cast members. "We think we can use the pull of Corrie to benefit the cause. We are all proud to be a part of the Manchester Against Racism movement." Julie also revealed that an anonymous caller had threatened to disrupt filming if she and Shobna, 32 ‚ who plays shop worker Sunita ‚ attended the rally. She said: "You can see how threatening they can be." In 2002, BNP yobs blared the Dambusters tune outside studios after stars spoke against them.
    ©The Sun

    20/1/2004- National Front (NF) protesters marched through Woolwich last Sunday holding banners saying ëno more racists attacks' over the murder of white lifeguard Terry Gregory, 19, who was killed in December last year. Police confirmed they are not treating the death as a racist attack, and it has since emerged that Gregory's family do not believe it was a racist attack either. A police source said the family regarded the dispute that led to Gregory's death as an argument over an umbrella. The NF are alone in claiming a racial element to the murder and went ahead with their demonstration against the wishes of the victim's family. Superintendent David Cummings of Plumstead police said: "The police don't regard the incident as a racial attack and it has never been."

    Greenwich council leader Chris Roberts, who monitored the march, said: "This was a tiny group which should have allowed the family to grieve in private. It was a general tragedy hijacked by extremists." But a spokesman for the NF was unrepentant, refusing to apologise for hijacking the memory of Gregory for political propaganda purposes. He said: "Black on white crime is not seen as racist by the police". Around 30 NF members joined the protest on Sunday, singing ëRule Britannia' and carrying Union Jack flags before laying a wreath in memory of Gregory. Around 50 protestors on a counter-demonstration organised by the Anti-Nazi League jeered them, shouting ëNazi scum" as the far-right supporters left their meeting point at Woolwich Dockyard station. No arrests were made and police hailed the events as ëpeaceful'. Isatou Touray, a local mother with two year old son, stumbled into the protests. She revealed that she had recently been stoned by white youths. She said: "I hope it [ANL demonstration] works, we don't like them [the National Front]. Sometimes they throw stones at us. For kids growing up in this area it is very bad."

    Franck Yao, 28, a local student standing outside supermarket as the march went past, said: "We need to get on and love each other, life is too short. "They're intimidating us black people, basically. I think it should stop personally. One of my friends was attacked on that road down there, it was sad. There are racial attacks big time [around here]." Another black youth, who did not want to be named, was more blunt. "They [NF] had better watch out before they get rushed", he said. London Mayor Ken Livingstone appealed for the police to ban the march last week. In a letter to divisional commander Chief Superintendent Ian Apps, Livingstone said: "These marches are not political demonstrations, but an attempt to physically intimidate sections of the local community. "As we know from the National Front marches in Bermondsey, these events are often accompanied by violence and intimidation of local black and Asian residents and appear intended to increase racial tension and provoke racial hatred." But police argued they had no power to ban the NF march, which was their ëhuman right'. Cummings said: "Even if it was a march that was banned it would still have to be policed."

    One of the ANL protestors, Weyman Bennett, is also Joint-secretary of Unite Against Fascism. He said: "When fascists try and use racism to divide us we know very well that they stand in the traditions of mass murder. As you can see people who live down this street have come out and said we don't want them. "Fascists should not be allowed to march through our communities and intimidate people. They bring violence and disharmony wherever they go. We are not very far from where Stephen Lawrence was murdered and I think we need to learn the lessons of what happens when you allow fascists to organise." Another ANL protestor, Kerri Parke, 25, from Walthamstow, added: "The BNP are trying to look respectable, ©Black Information Link

    21/1/2004- An official inquiry into racism within the Metropolitan Police Force headed by former union boss Sir Bill Morris is getting under way. The probe, ordered by the Metropolitan Police Authority, will look at the way internal complaints about ethnic minority officers are investigated. It will also look at how black officers' grievances are treated. Ex-Transport and General Workers Union head Sir Bill said his inquiry was vital to restoring public confidence.

    The Met was the "shop window of law enforcement agencies in the UK and it should be a beacon of good practice," Sir Bill told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. "It is about restoring the relationship between the Metropolitan Police and the community they serve," he added. Many steps had been taken by the force since the Macpherson Inquiry into the death of black teenager Stephen Lawrence which branded the force "institutionally racist", he said. But he added that while he was confident of getting co-operation from the force, he would not hesitate to take any obstruction to Home Secretary David Blunkett.

    Inquiry welcomed
    Leroy Logan, chairman of the Black Police Association's branch in the Metropolitan force, said his organisation was preparing a submission to the Morris Inquiry. Mr Logan said: "We are encouraged by the police authority's approach in drawing up the inquiry team headed by Sir Bill Morris. "We welcome the inquiry in our search for truth, relying heavily on its total independence - not only for my members, but also the Police Service as a whole. "We see it as a significant contribution towards modernisation of the Met."

    Dishonesty allegations
    There have been a number of high profile cases involving ethnic minority officers, which prompted questions about the Met's internal investigation procedures. In September, Iranian-born Superintendent Ali Dizaei was cleared of allegations of dishonesty at the Old Bailey. Afterwards, he claimed a handful of racist senior officers had set out to destroy his life and bully him "out of a job I love". He also said a hardcore of "very senior" officers were spreading the "cancer of racism" through the force.

    Hate mail
    Other high profile cases have included that of Sikh officer Sergeant Gurpal Virdi who was sacked after being falsely accused of sending hate mail. He won his job back, and substantial damages, after taking his case to an employment tribunal in 2000. The Black Police Association believes that there have been a disproportionate number of other inquiries into officers from ethnic minorities. The inquiry will focus on this and the and the "excessive" resources used to investigate them. Those officers are also more likely to be pursued over trivial matters, the Association says. But the agreement under which Superintendent Dizaei returned to work before the disciplinary process was complete has caused a backlash from some white officers. They suspect their bosses have caved in to political pressures, BBC crime correspondent Neil Bennett reports.
    ©BBC News

    21/1/2004- More than 100 people have complained about a Channel 4 documentary about Chinese culture called The Missing Chink, with one viewer branding the title "blatantly racist". The short run of five-minute programmes, which began on Monday, asks why there are so few Chinese actors and sports stars in the UK. Hosted by two Chinese British comedians, it features appearances by former Chinese Detective David Yip, Pink Panther star Burt Kwouk and England rugby hero Rory Underwood. Channel 4 bosses said the title of the four-part series was an "ironic comment on the fact that the Chinese have been overlooked in Britain." But many viewers disagreed. More than 60 people have so far complained to Channel 4, with another 48 complaints sent to new TV regulator Ofcom. "It is supposed to be addressing why there is a lack of Chinese role models in Britain which I don't have a problem with," one viewer told MediaGuardian.co.uk. "But I am so angry at this blatantly racist title. I don't see why Channel 4 should get away with perpetuating this kind of racism when there would be a massive outcry if the title was dealing with another ethnic minority and using an obviously pejorative term."

    A mixture of sketches and documentary, the first part of Missing Chink was watched by 900,000 viewers. In one scene, presenters Paul Courtnay Hyu and Paul Chan discussed Yip's '80s crime series, The Chinese Detective, before Yip himself walked in to collect his takeaway, unrecognised. The Observer said it was an "interesting, if flawed, attempt to meld documentary with sitcom... asking why it is still okay to poke fun at one of the UK's oldest ethnic communities on TV." The Guardian's Nancy Banks-Smith said if the Chinese "weren't barely there, you wouldn't risk that [Missing Chink] joke." Missing Chink is the latest Channel 4 documentary to be saddled with a provocative title, including Pissed on the Job and "Bodyshock", a season of programmes which included The Boy Who Gave Birth To His Twin and the Riddle of the Elephant Man. A Channel 4 spokeswoman said: "The Missing Chink is written and performed by two British Chinese comedians, Paul Courtnay Hyu and Paul Chan. The title is meant as an ironic comment on the fact that the Chinese have been overlooked in Britain - they are a missing ethnic minority. The title and the content aims to highlight this lack of public awareness in a light hearted way."
    ©The Guardian

    By Arun Kundnani

    21/1/2004- Newspapers have been scaremongering over Europe's Roma communities, some of whom will, from May, have the right to migrate to Britain. Are these the first shots in a press campaign against Blunkett's 'new migrants'? The Sun claimed that it would be 'tens of thousands'. The Sunday Times predicted 100,000. The Express announced that 1.6 million are 'ready to flood in'. In the newspapers' numbers game, no amount of exaggeration is excessive - but any amount of immigration is too much. This time it is the anticipated migration to Britain of Roma (Gypsies) from countries set to join the European Union on 1 May. From May 2004, all citizens of Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia will enjoy the same freedom of movement previously granted to citizens of other EU states. They will be allowed to settle in Britain and work just as, for example, Greeks, Portuguese and Italians have done for many years. If they are out of work, they will be able to claim benefits - but only after being in the UK for three months and passing a 'habitual residence test' to prove permanent settlement. Denmark, Greece, Ireland, the Netherlands and Sweden have also announced that they will offer citizens of the new member states the right to work. France, Germany, Italy and Spain are planning to delay the right for up to seven years. It appears that the anti-immigration lobbying group Migration Watch provided the impetus for this latest salvo. A week ago it published a briefing paper on the Balkans which attempted to analyse the problems faced by the countries of south-eastern Europe: Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosova, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Romania and Serbia. Since the collapse of Communism, the paper suggests, the failure of the EU to facilitate social and economic development in these countries has led to large-scale migration to western Europe. Oddly, Migration Watch decided that this paper should be a 'wake-up call' to the government, not for its policy on the development of the Balkans region, but for its policy of granting freedom of movement to the citizens of the ten new EU members - an entirely different set of countries with circumstances very different from the Balkan countries.

    'Welfare shopping'
    A couple of days later, the Sunday Times ran the story, but chose to focus specifically on an 'influx' of Roma. The newspaper compared the benefits available to an out of work, two-child family in the Czech Republic (£100 per month) with the benefits available in the UK. The next day the Sun told its readers that 'tens of thousands of gipsies are poised to flock to Britain'. A 'special investigation' in Slovakia featured Ryszard, whose family currently survive by begging. He had earlier lived in Liverpool, where his children attended school, but the family was deported last year. Under the heading 'Britain's Our Dream', Ryszard was reported as saying that he planned to return to Liverpool and hoped to 'get a big house with nine rooms'. The question of why the family was deported, at some expense, when they were shortly to be entitled to return to Britain anyway, was not asked. No doubt the Sun would have approved of the deportation at the time, arguing that the family's asylum case was 'bogus' and that the claim that Roma suffer persecution was false. But now the same newspaper tells its readers that Roma do indeed face persecution so severe that they are desperate to escape it and come to Britain. Previously, Roma were demonised as 'illegal immigrants' abusing the asylum system with false claims. Now that Roma are about to have the right to come here anyway and, hence, the legality of an asylum claim is irrelevant, the same newspaper is telling its readers how awful the situation is for the Roma in Slovakia, detailing the r reinforcing the suggestion that Britain faces some kind of foreign occupation. An editorial comment begins by stating that Gypsies are 'heading to Britain to leech on us' and then apparently espouses the Gypsies' cause by warning that if they are let in they will become 'figures of hate'. Yet the Express's choice of metaphors - 'flood', 'invasion', 'leech' - does little to mitigate such hatred. If the same terminlology were used of Jews, wouldn't an editor be forced to resign?

    A more reasonable estimate of the number of migrants from the ten new member states was given by University College London, in research published last year, which estimated that the number of people coming to Britain is likely to be between 5,000 and 13,000 per year (of which Roma would make up an unspecified percentage). In the past, for example when Greece and Portugal joined the EU, commentators tended to overestimate the numbers of people willing to move to wealthier countries, wrongly assuming that human beings make decisions like economists on the basis of a cost-benefit analysis. Predictions of an 'influx' of southern Europeans proved mistaken then, and are likely to be so again in the case of eastern Europeans. Of course, the situation of the Roma is different, as the wholesale social persecution they suffer is unique in Europe. But the numbers willing and able to leave, are still unlikely to make much difference to the total level of immigration to Britain each year.

    Blunkett's new migrants
    What underlies this week's stories, though, is not numbers but the prejudice that Roma will come to Britain to scrounge, beg and steal. Although the new immigration rules will apply to any citizen of the new EU countries, newspapers have chosen to focus exclusively on Roma. That no mention is made of other groups, such as impoverished Polish farmers, who might with equal reason come to Britain from the new member-states, indicates the racial bias of this latest press onslaught. Unsurprisingly, the real issues are obscured in this haze of press distortion. The government's decsion to permit the free movement of migrant workers from new EU members is part of a new phase in Britain's immigration policy - 'managed migration' - in which the government is attempting to fine-tune immigration rules more closely to the needs of British capitalism. The French and German governments - with their more regulated labour markets - see migration from eastern Europe as having only a negative economic impact. As a result, they have decided against allowing free movement to their countries by citizens from the new member states, for the first few years. But Home secretary David Blunkett believes that countries like Britain with 'flexible' labour markets, where workers have less rights, can benefit economically from migration, if it is 'carefully managed'. In particular, he hopes that eastern European workers will do the ultra-low-wage, dirty jobs that nobody else wants - for example, in London's hotel and catering sectors. And, assuming they fill these vacancies, he would rather they came as workers than as asylum seekers. While, on paper, these workers would be covered by normal employment legislation, in practice it may prove impossible for them to secure any rights. A report on migrant workers published by the TUC last year revealed that workers from existing EU countries, such as Portugual, can end up being paid below the minimum wage because of exploitation by intermediaries. These issues are set to rise in importance over the coming years as Blunkett's 'new migrants' - those coming to work from the expanded EU and those coming from further afield with work permits - slowly increase in number. Judging by the coverage this week, we can expect that the right-wing press will see these new migrants as just another group of foreigners to demonise - just as asylum seekers have been, and 'new Commonwealth' immigrants were before that - especially if they include existing figures of hate, such as Gypsies.
    ©Institute of Race Relations

    22/1/2004- The young couple from China were sitting in front of the television set in their newly rented row house in South Belfast, just before Christmas, when they heard glass shatter. They looked up to see two men standing in their living room with bricks in their hands. One of them battered the Chinese man's face repeatedly. When his wife, nine months pregnant, ran to help, they punched her in the face and tossed her to the ground. Then the men demanded money. The attack drew a crowd of curious neighbors, who watched the men walk out of the couple's home. "The men got nervous and left," said the 31-year-old wife, who with her husband and new baby is now homeless and living rent-free at the Balfour Hotel here. The woman, fearful of more violence, requested anonymity. "Everyone just watched them walk out. Nobody did anything." Although the police arrested one man, he has not been charged and is now free, pending forensics, said a police spokesman. Belfast, once the engine of violence between Catholics and Protestants, is being seized by a new kind of hostility ó racism, fueled in large part by the recent arrival of Asians, blacks, Indians and Pakistanis in Northern Ireland, which in 2001 was still 99 percent white.

    During the so-called Troubles, the violent 30-year conflict between Catholics and Protestants here, few immigrants, no matter how desperate, chose to settle in Northern Ireland. That slowly began to change with the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which ushered in a period of relative peace and prosperity. Foreigners looking for jobs, primarily in the health care, restaurant and university sectors, started to trickle in, most of them unaware of the Byzantine rules, credos and allegiances that govern Northern Ireland. Few speak English well, and most stand out because of their skin color. As a result, the number of attacks on foreigners has jumped sharply, particularly in the hardscrabble neighborhood called the Village in South Belfast, which is populated by people called loyalists for their fierce allegiance to the British crown. From April through December, 212 racist incidents were recorded in Northern Ireland, ranging from assault to arson, police statistics show. Five years ago, only a handful of such incidents were reported.

    The violence has worsened lately. In the last two months, a six-foot plank was thrown through the window of a Pakistani home, two houses have been pipe bombed, one occupied by a Ugandan family the other by Romanians, and another Chinese family was forced to flee its home after being threatened by a gang. Filipino nurses walking home are routinely harassed and physically threatened, said a local official of the hospital workers' union. Children are being bullied. In an interview, a local real estate agent, William Faulkner, said he was warned not to rent to foreigners before his office was firebombed. Swastikas and racist words now compete for wall space with anti-Catholic vitriol and Protestant murals of paramilitaries carrying assault weapons. Political officials and advocates of immigrants' rights say they can pinpoint the flash points. With few exceptions, racially motivated attacks have taken place in Protestant working-class neighborhoods like the Village and on streets controlled by loyalist paramilitary groups. It is common knowledge that loyalist leaders can just as easily start trouble as end trouble in these neighborhoods, and people who fall out of line know the consequences, city and immigrant group leaders say. "Very little goes on in those areas that people don't learn about very quickly," said Ken Fraser, who works for the Race Equality Unit in the office of the first minister. "Typically, you steal cars in the wrong area and your kneecaps hear about it." David Ervine, leader of the Progressive Unionist Party, which represents the Ulster Voluntary Force, a loyalist paramilitary group, said that a small gr Minorities. "No information, no arrests, no prosecutions." After the decades of violence, Belfast is trying to brighten its cultural and financial image in the European community, and for its mayor, Martin Morgan, quelling the attacks is crucial to dispelling the city's reputation as a violent backwater. "We must not be dragged down by bigotry, hatred and intolerance," Mr. Morgan said. "How we are perceived has a direct effect on our ability to develop and thrive as a city. We cannot ignore these issues."
    ©The New York Times

    19/1/2004- Norway's immigration agency is dropping plans to expand its refugee receiving centers. The number of refugees arriving in Norway has suddenly declined, and now the state may actually close some centers. What a difference a few months can make. Just last fall, Norway's refugee receiving stations were bursting at the seams after around 1,700 people arrived seeking asylum in both August and September. "We were so pressed for space that we had to do something," Trygve Nordby, director of the immigration agency (Utlendingsdirektoratet, UDI) told newspaper Aftenposten. He chose to seek bids for construction of up to 650 new refugee housing units. By late autumn, however, the trend had reversed. In December, around 1,100 refugees arrived. This month, the number is expected to be much lower. Nordby has thus cancelled plans for more emergency housing. "That means the state can avoid a bill of about NOK 150 million (USD 21 million)," he said. Nordby attributes the decline to new methods of expediting asylum applications, evictions from centers if applicants are rejected and public information campaigns overseas aimed at discouraging would-be applicants from trying their luck in Norway. Meanwhile, the government minister in charge of immigration, Erna Solberg of the Conservatives, said she's "disappointed" that US officials in Iraq are blocking the return of Iraqi refugees keen to return home. "I can understand that they want more control, but all countries have a duty to take back their own citizens," Solberg said.

    18/1/2004- Switzerland's Federal Health Office could soon carry out HIV tests on all asylum seekers entering the country. The authorities are reacting to the increasing number of infected refugees arriving from sub-Saharan Africa. In 1991, Swiss laboratories registered 2,144 positive HIV tests, more than ever before. In 2000, that number had dropped to 586. But the numbers began to climb again the next year, reaching 632, and increasing to 791 in 2002. This 25 per cent increase in just 12 months sent alarm bells ringing at the Federal Health Office. The agency's annual report stated that the "epidemiological trend of HIV infections had changed in a disturbing way." The breakdown of the figures shows that 218 of the 791 positive tests were carried out on people who came from sub-Saharan Africa. This is however an estimation, as only 70 per cent of the test data gives the origin of the tested person. It does mean though that people from this region represent around 27 per cent of all new HIV cases in Switzerland, when they constitute just 0.4 per cent of the population.

    Not compulsory
    The number of asylum seekers from sub-Saharan Africa has been on the rise over the past few years. Around 25 million people are HIV-positive in that part of the world, approximately two thirds of all the people infected with the virus. Aids itself claimed 2.3 million lives in the region last year, and roughly ten per cent of sub-Saharan Africans that could be sexually active are HIV-positive, a rate that climbs as high as 30 per cent in some areas. It is therefore most likely that asylum seekers from that region that test positive in Switzerland were infected in their homeland. The Federal Health Office has decided to react. According to the head of the agency's Aids division, Roger Staub, asylum seekers should be tested for HIV in the future and receive appropriate counselling. Those who do not wish to be tested will be able to opt out though. The authorities cannot impose compulsory testing, as there is no legal basis for it. The tests would be carried out at Switzerland's five refugee registration centres as part of the medical check given to all asylum seekers. The Health Office will decide in February whether to go ahead with its plan. Staub says that the introduction of HIV tests is one way of making asylum seekers aware of the issue. "They would have to familiarise themselves with HIV and Aids," he added. People who are declared HIV-positive will be taught the risks of passing on the virus. Staub says that carrying out the tests at the border is also one way of making sure an asylum seeker is informed and counselled in his or her own language.

    The Swiss Aids Federation (SAF) is sceptical about the Health Office's plan. "HIV tests must carried out on a voluntary basis, and they must be followed by individual counselling," said SAF spokesman Christoph Schlatter. Playing back a tape to pass on information as it is sometimes done in refugee centres is not enough according to Schlatter, who adds that a HIV test is not an effective way of preventing the virus from spreading. The Health Office has upgraded its prevention work with its "Afrimedia" project. The Swiss Red Cross and the Swiss Tropical Institute have recruited and trained 13 so-called "mediators." These mediators are men and women from sub-Saharan Africa who live in Switzerland. For the past three months, they have been visiting refugee centres, African associations, restaurants and bars to pass on information. The aim of the project is to ensure that residents and refugees form sub-Saharan Africa are as well informed as the rest of the population about HIV and Aids.

    Political concerns
    According to Claudia Kessler of the Swiss Tropical Institute, the initial results are encouraging. She adds though that all HIV tests carried out at the registration centres ©NZZ Online

    19/1/2004- The town of Ostermundigen is the first in Switzerland to introduce written language tests for those applying for Swiss citizenship. Supporters say the tests will improve integration, but critics say written examinations could be discriminatory. "We have around 22 per cent of foreigners in our town," said Ursula Norton of Ostermundigen's local government. "And very often, when we interviewed candidates for naturalisation, we found that their knowledge of German was very poor." "We wanted to do something for integration, and we thought we would start with the language," she told swissinfo.

    Local power
    In Switzerland, immigrants wishing to become Swiss must apply through their local communities, and the main decision-making process takes place at local level. This means that towns like Ostermundigen have a great deal of freedom to decide on the criteria for citizenship. The new language test has been developed with the help of the Migros adult education centre and is made up of multiple-choice questions written in high German rather than Swiss German. Although it is not an enormously difficult test, it has attracted criticism. Stefanie Gass, an ethnologist specialising in immigration issues, believes written tests could be unfair to some candidates. "Immigrants in Switzerland can't speak German not because they don't want to, but because they don't have the chance to," Gass told swissinfo. "Often they are just at home with their children or working cleaning empty offices at night, so they don't get the chance to practise." Gass also questions the concept of introducing obligatory language tests at the point at which an immigrant applies for citizenship. "Remember you have to live here for 12 years before you can apply," she explained. "We should be asking what they were doing all those 12 years; did they have the chance to go to language classes?"

    Integration failures?
    In Ostermundigen, candidates for citizenship are offered the chance of language classes, but they do have to pay for them. However the town will refund half the money if the students attend at least 80 per cent of the classes. But Ursula Norton agrees that integration efforts when the immigrants first arrive in Switzerland could be improved. "We give them written information when they first arrive, and we send out some fact sheets about the community," she explained. "Then if they want more they can ask here and there, but that's about it."

    Life in Switzerland
    A visit to one of Ostermundigen's language classes is an interesting experience. It is clear that, along with the language, Swiss cultural attitudes are being taught too. Students work from a book called ëLife in Switzerland'. Exercises include looking at drawings of two children, one sitting quietly in a corner, the other throwing building blocks up into the air. Asked to describe the first child, most students suggest ëquiet'. In fact the answer is ëgood'. For the second child, the students suggest ëplaying'. But no, the teacher explains, a child throwing building blocks is a ëbadly brought up' child. This response draws uneasy laughter from the students, most of whom are women. "I am nervous about this test," said Saibua Grdel from Thailand. "I don't know what they are going to ask me about, what they will test me on. And German is a very difficult language."

    Finances investigated
    She is perhaps right to be nervous. When it introduced the language tests, Ostermundigen also introduced a stipulation that candidates for citizenship should not be in debt. "You do not get to be Swiss if you have debts," said Norton. "If someone has a credit at the bank for a car or whatever, we will checkÖ they are paying off the debt responsibly." Norton admits however that she herself is not entirely comfortable with such investigations. "It's an image of Switzerland," she sa integration to me," said Gass. "It looks more like a criterion for selection."
    ©NZZ Online

    21/1/2004- A proposed ban on religious symbols in French state schools could include a ban on beards, according to the French education minister. Luc Ferry said the law, which will be debated in parliament next month, could ban headscarves, bandannas and beards if they are considered a sign of faith. But he said Sikhs might be able to wear head coverings if they were discreet. The proposals, backed by President Jacques Chirac, follow an official report into state secularism. Mr Ferry, in a National Assembly legal committee hearing about the draft law, said the definition of a religious symbol in the proposed law was broad so that pupils could not bypass the law simply by deviating from a list of proscribed items. Some Muslim girls wear bandannas to cover their hair as an alternative to the traditional headscarf, feeling it is easier to blend in to the crowd. Asked about beards, as worn by many Muslims, Mr Ferry said: "As soon as it becomes a religious sign and the code is apparent, it would fall under this law."

    As the proposal stands at the moment, discreet religious symbols - such as a small star of David or cross worn around the neck - would be permitted. Mr Ferry also acknowledged that Sikhs were not permitted by their religion to cut their hair, and suggested that they could wear caps. But he said ordinary headbands, which he described as "invisible turbans", were preferable to traditional headgear. Jacques Myard, an MP from Mr Chirac's ruling party, told the BBC that beards would not be an issue in schools. "Beards are not at stake because we have young boys and they don't have beards," he said. "This is more a question of discipline than any religious or political affair but I would say today that we are not facing a religious approach with the Muslims. "We are facing a genuine political policy that tries to enforce their own Sharia Law on the civil law which is not acceptable." He told the BBC's World Update programme that France was "absolutely tolerant to any religion". French opposition Socialists have described the proposals as misguided and unclear.

    Socialist deputy Julien Dray said: "This is putting a comic face on a very serious issue." Centrist Francois Bayrou said the planned ban as "a whiff of oxygen for fundamentalists" who would exploit it to whip up protests. Thousands of Muslims joined demonstrations across France against the proposed law on Saturday. Many of France's five million Muslims see it as an attack on their religious and human rights. But Mr Chirac's stand reflects popular opinion in France where some 70% of the electorate have said they back a ban on religious symbols in schools. Divisions have emerged within France's Muslim community over tactics.
    ©BBC News

    22/1/2004- Days before the French Parliament was to officially begin considering a proposed ban on Islamic head scarves in schools, doubts were appearing Wednesday over its feasibility, with growing warnings that the law would create more problems than it solves. Legislators from the governing Union for a Popular Movement party and the opposition Socialists were meeting separately to work out their positions on the bill amid calls for a "no vote" - or at least abstention - from a significant number of influential political figures. Confusion over the text, which bans "signs and clothing which conspicuously display a pupil's religious affiliation," was only increased Tuesday when Education Minister Luc Ferry told a parliamentary committee that this could include bandanas worn with the wrong intent or "mere hairiness." The head scarf ban was agreed to by President Jacques Chirac last month with the aim of enforcing France's strict secularism in the classroom, but it has provoked a backlash from many Muslims, at home and abroad, who believe they are being singled out for discrimination.

    A series of demonstrations Saturday by supporters of the head scarf sparked new warnings that the proposed ban would aggravate relations with Muslims, whose numbers are estimated at five million across France, rather than encourage their integration. FranÁois Bayrou, who heads the UMP's coalition partner, the Union for French Democracy, said he "feared from the start that such a law, which of course goes down well in the polls, would quickly heighten tensions and offer the fundamentalists an opening which they could only have dreamed of." His words echoed former Prime Minister Edouard Balladur of the UMP, who said that while he opposed head scarves in school, existing legislation was sufficient to cope with the problems that arose. "I am not convinced that a law will not poison things more than it resolves them," he said. Claude Guasguen, vice president of the UMP group in the National Assembly, said the issue was "getting out of control." He warned of the "unforeseen consequences of a debate whose aim was to ensure tolerance but which ends in a climate of tension, dominated by racism, anti-Semitism and violence." The proposed ban is supported by about 70 percent of the French public, polls show. Warnings about its applicability have come mainly from abroad, where French "secularism" is widely seen as a worthy but unrealistic ideal. The bill is to be presented in Parliament next Wednesday before an opening debate in the National Assembly on Feb. 3. France's small Sikh community stepped up its campaign on Wednesday for an exemption from the plan. Ferry said Sikhs, whose leaders have said will leave state schools if they cannot wear the turbans covering the hair they never cut, could keep the headwear if it is discreet. "This is good news," said Chain Singh, spokesman for about 5,000 followers of Sikhism, a monotheistic religion born in India in the 15th century, living in the Paris area. Ferry did not, however, make it clear whether Sikhs could wear turbans themselves or only the "patka" scarf worn underneath. Sikhs also wear beards, and Ferry had said they would be forbidden as well, if worn for religious reasons. Singh said Sikhs renewed their appeals to the government after Ferry's statement.
    ©International Herald Tribune

    VEILED INTENTIONS(Belgium, opinion)
    Some prominent politicians ñ first in France and now in Belgium ñ are calling for Islamic headscarves to be banned in schools. Rather than simply guaranteeing the separation of church and state, such a ban, argues Khaled Diab, is more likely to alienate the Muslim community ñ particularly women ñ and harm multiculturalism.

    20/1/2004- As I was walking home and thinking about this article, I saw a large group of teenage girls making their way loudly down the street. Among the regular-looking Belgian faces were three that looked Arab, one of whom was sporting an Islamic headscarf. Her hijab made no apparent difference to this young lady's ability to joke and socialise with her mates. Watching this crowd of friends pass casually by made me wonder how it was that a little square of cloth could cause so much fuss in two apparently tolerant and open-minded European societies. Although I am a Muslim, I am not personally in favour of the hijab. However, I believe that it is a matter of individual choice ñ an opinion that is not shared by several prominent politicians in France and Belgium. Arguing that the separation of church and state required it, Interior Minister Patrick Dewael of the liberal VLD echoed a French parliamentary committee when he called for the banning of the headscarf ñ and other religious symbols ñ among teachers (as well as other civil servants) and pupils. The minister's comments drew harsh criticism from across the political spectrum, with the notable exception of the far-right Vlaams Blok.

    Forbidding religious symbols makes sense when it comes to state institutions ñ the 10 commandments in a US courthouse or a cross in a school assembly hall ñ because it demonstrates government even-handedness when dealing with its citizens regardless of their religious background. But schoolgirls are not state property, nor are teachers or other civil servants. Government officials are, of course, obliged to serve the public without prejudice. But dictating how they dress will not enhance their sense of justice. How does not wearing a cross, a star of David, a Sikh turban or a Hindu Tika improve a person's ability to do his or her job? People will carry their beliefs with them no matter what they wear. A good civil servant leaves his or her personal views ñ secular or religious ñ outside the door and there are plenty of laws to protect against discrimination. If such a policy were to get the all-green, it would raise some important questions about where the state ends and the individual begins. As critics of Maoist China ñ with its uniform blue or grey suits and bicycles ñ were all too keen to point out, people are not the same and their differences should not be buried. But purging individuality ñ a cherished European value ñ is precisely what these secular puritans are asking everyone to do. Then, of course, there would be questions about what exactly constitutes a banned headscarf. There are several methods with which a Muslim woman can cover her hair, including ñ in increasing conservative order ñ hijabs, khemars and niqabs. Which will the government forbid? What if a woman covers her head for non-religious reasons ñ such as a ëbad hair day' or it becomes the latest Gucci craze? Many Muslim women seeking to stay true to their faith may cover their hair in a hood, a beret, a hat, or a shawl. Would these items of clothing then become religious symbols, too?

    Splitting hairs
    Minister Dewael claims that banning the headscarf will lead to the "emancipation of young people". This holds when a woman is forced by family, spouse, peer pressure and the community to cover up. In such cases, she should have recourse to a social and legal support network to help her protect her individual rights. The government should perhaps work on making such services more accessible. However, many Muslim women voluntarily don a headscarf and they do so out of a strong r desexes their relationship with men in the public arena, others see it as tool of male dominance. Rifaat Hassan, a feminist from conservative Pakistan, recently told a Brussels audience that she regarded the headscarf as a non-issue because it was not expressly referred to in Islamic scripture. As if to illustrate her point, she let the top of her sari slip off her hair. It is men's attitudes towards women that are the problem, she argued ñ a microskirt can be just as subjugating or liberating as a hijab. All this angst over covering hair may seem strange to non-Muslims but sweeping the issue under the carpet will not promote tolerance, since to be tolerant, people need to understand and accept their differences as well as their similarities. We should not pretend that we're all the same and we should learn to respect, or at least put up with, our differences. I say let Muslims, Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus and atheists do their thing ñ it makes life more colourful.
    ©Expatica News

    21/1/2004- Belgium's far-right French speaking National Front party has threatened to join forces with its Flemish counterpart to bring the Brussels region's parliament grinding to a halt. In a statement the National Front said it was considering forming an alliance with the Vlaams Blok block because it is opposed to a planned new law that would give foreigners the right to vote in local elections. Between them, the two far right parties would have enough votes to prevent the Brussels parliament and the region's other key institutions from passing any new laws or taking any decisions. Meanwhile, the Vlaams Blok on Wednesday threw into doubt the future of a planned countrywide law on financing political parties. The proposed law would reduce funding for political parties that do not respect human rights or are found to be racist. The Vlaams Blok is worried it could fall foul of the legislation if it were passed and has been doing its utmost to kill the bill in a series of parliamentary hearings. Parliamentarians were set to vote on the proposal on Wednesday afternoon, but as Expatica was updated it was not clear whether the vote would go ahead.
    ©Expatica News

    21/1/2004- A United Nations team studying minority issues has given Finland high marks for what it has learned from this country. The group began its four-day tour of Finland from Mariehamn, the capital of the autonomous ‰land Islands. Members of the team said that the system of autonomy enjoyed by the island province has been quite successful. Asbj–rn Eide, the Norwegian chairman of the working group, says that the experiences of ‰land could be applied in other parts of the world as well. Members of the group noted that residents of ‰land are satisfied with their present conditions, "and no longer want to join Sweden". In addition to ‰land, members of the group met with representatives of ethnic and linguistic minorities on the Finnish mainland: Swedish-speakers, Russian-speakers, Ingrians, Roma, S·mi (the indigenous Lappish minority), Jews, and Tatars. "Very few problems were encountered, which is not very common for this working group", Eide said. He feels that the Finnish state, society, and people have found sensible solutions to many problems concerning minorities. He noted that the position of Finland's Roma, or Gypsy population, is much better than in many other European countries. Unemployment among the Roma is a difficult problem in Finland as well, but their social and health care services as well as housing arrangements win praise. Finland was also noted to have ongoing public discussion on ways to improve the status of the Roma. As for the situation with the S·mi, Eide believes that there is some room for improvement: "It is not ideal, but also not too bad". Finland's Russian-speaking immigrants are burdened by the slow process involved in getting Finnish citizenship. Their situation could be helped by the establishment of an official consultative committee of the kind that exists for S·mi and Roma affairs. Eide urged Finland to ratify the ILO treaty on tribal nations and indigenous peoples. Norway has already ratified the agreement. The parts of the treaty that apply to Finland would affect certain rights for the S·mi people, such as rules concerning education, culture, land rights, human rights, and work. Eide conceded that although the status of minorities may appear to be relatively good, some problems might not be so easy to see. These could include factors such as racism experienced by Somalis, or the position of the wives of immigrants from distant countries. A report on the visit to Finland of the UN working group on minority affairs is to be published during the spring.
    ©Helsingin Sanomat

    21/1/2004- Rather than simply closing its borders to protect Dutch jobs, the government in The Hague is to consider imposing a maximum limit on the number of East European immigrants allowed to enter the Netherlands after the EU expands in May. Social Affairs State Secretary Mark Rutte said in a letter to Cabinet members that the immigrants will also need to obtain a work permit to enter the country, thus requiring that they have an employment contract. At the end of November last year, Rutte presented a similar proposal as an alternative to closing the borders against the expected inflow of East European job seekers, an NOS news report said. A parliamentary majority made up of the Christian Democrat CDA, Liberal VVD and populist LPF was in favour at the time of placing a restriction on the free movement of workers. The three parties were concerned that the immigrants would push aside Dutch nationals in the search for jobs at a time when the Netherlands is faced with rising unemployment. Recent figures from the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) indicate that 5.5 percent of the Dutch workforce was unemployed in the last quarter of 2003. In the same period 12 months ago, 4.2 percent were jobless.

    Elsewhere across the EU, Germany, France, Austria, Belgium, Spain and Finland have all imposed a two-year closure of their borders to East European immigration to protect domestic employment levels. Despite the fact that the free movement of labour is a cornerstone of EU policy, it has permitted member states to close their borders to East European migrants for two years after the May expansion. After the initial two-year period, member states are also allowed to impose a three-year and then an extra two-year border closure. But cabinet conflict erupted over the measures to be implemented in the Netherlands as VVD Finance Minister Gerrit Zalm warned of an alarming inflow of migrants and called for border control restrictions. Democrat D66 Economic Affairs Minister Laurens Jan Brinkhorst, a strong proponent of the free movement of labour, urged instead for the borders to be thrown open from 1 May. But Zalm's fears of an alarming rise in migration were not supported by figures released last week by the Central Planning Bureau (CPB). The CPB said without extra restrictions, only 5,000 to 10,000 East Europeans will migrate to the Netherlands annually by 2006, after which the inflow will gradually decline. Its fears assuaged by the report, the VVD stepped back from its demand that the borders be closed, but contined to insist that East European migrants be required to obtain a work permit. But the CDA was not fully convinced and said the planning bureau's figures were too rosy. The CDA has urged that agreements be made with other EU nations about the introduction of restrictions, but the government coalition parties have not yet reacted to Rutte's proposal, which is designed to break the deadlock between the coalition government members. The state secretary will officially present his proposal to the Cabinet during its weekly meeting on Friday.
    ©Expatica News

    21/1/2004- The Netherlands' example as a successful, tolerant, multicultural community has taken a dent with the publication of a parliamentary report saying Dutch society is becoming increasingly polarised, with huge ethnic ghettos and subcultures tearing the country apart. It is an issue which has been simmering away for years, but only made the headlines two years ago when the radical politician Pim Fortuyn, who was later assassinated, called for an end to immigration. He said immigration, especially from Muslim countries, was diluting Dutch liberal values. Now the all-party parliamentary report has reached a similar conclusion. It says the attempt to create an integrated multi-ethnic society has failed. While most immigrants had integrated well, it said, there were also growing ghettos of foreigners from countries such as Turkey and Morocco. Even Dutch-born "foreigners" tend to marry within their own communities and find spouses in their parents' home countries. The report blamed successive Dutch governments for what had previously been seen as a positive policy designed to make life easier for immigrants - allowing them to be taught in their native languages at primary school. This had merely perpetuated their alienation and prevented them from integrating into Dutch society properly, it said. In what would mark a reversal of a 30-year-old policy, the report recommended that the country's Muslims should henceforth effectively "become Dutch".

    Dutch test
    The city of Rotterdam, where almost half the population is of non-Dutch origin (and where Mr Fortuyn had his biggest following), has already pre-empted the report by bringing in measures to prevent the influx of more immigrants. At the end of last year it sought to keep out poor immigrants by stipulating that newcomers must earn 20% more than the minimum wage. All applicants for a residence permit would have to demonstrate a good command of Dutch. And no more political refugees would be accepted for four years. Although the Dutch report deals broadly with "immigrants" and their effect on Dutch society, there is no doubt that it is Muslim immigrants who are seen as posing the biggest problem. In this, there are similarities with France, where current moves to ban "religious symbols" in schools and public places are aimed primarily at banning the headscarf worn by many Muslim women. Opinion surveys all over Europe have detected growing public distrust of Islam in the two years since the 11 September attacks on New York and Washington. The US-led "war on terror" has been largely aimed at Islamist groups, inadvertently encouraging public perceptions of Muslims as being "incompatible" with Western society. In the Netherlands (and elsewhere) there is talk of trying to create a "European" form of Islam - basically a secularised version, where private religious beliefs are tolerated but not any manifestations of Islam which undermine European laws and customs.

    There is now a lively debate across Europe over whether assimilation or integration or multiculturalism is the most desirable way forward. Holland seems to be lurching from the multicultural option - in which immigrants keep their own languages and cultures, at the risk of becoming ghettoised - to a policy of assimilation, by which newcomers lose all trace of their original identity and become indistinguishable from their "host" nation other than by the colour of their skin. In the middle is the option of integration - practised with some success in the UK - whereby immigrants retain their distinct cultures but are also encouraged to become part of the general community. With Belgium now also considering a headscarf ban, there appears to be a growing trend towards assimilation. It's a process that's already caused a storm among Islamic communities in Europe and abroad, and may be fraught with as many problems as the "opposite" policy ©BBC News

    21/1/2004- An alternative radio station in Hungary has been banned from broadcasting for 30 days by the state media watchdog for insulting Christians. During a live programme on Christmas Eve a presenter from Tilos Radio, based in Budapest, suggested that all Christians should be exterminated. The affair is unusual because the majority of people in Hungary are Roman Catholics and previous legislation on hate speech was designed to protect minority groups, such as Jews and Gypsies. The radio presenter was fired and the manager of the station apologised. But that was not enough to prevent a tide of criticism from representatives of the main churches in Hungary and many political leaders.

    The five-member National Radio and Television Authority, which oversees the broadcast media in Hungary, has now banned the station. This is on the basis of a paragraph of the media law which prohibits comments which offend or ostracise any social group. The authority also prevented the station from applying for state support for six months and issued a final warning that if similar comments are broadcast it could lose its licence altogether. The affair has aroused strong emotions in Hungary, where more attention is normally paid to anti-Semitic or anti-Roma remarks. Earlier this month in another incident thousands of demonstrators called for the station to be closed. That protest meeting stirred controversy when several participants set fire to an Israeli flag.
    ©BBC News

    21/1/2004- A man accused of domestic violence has been released after a Spanish court ruled that his wife was too well dressed to be a victim of such abuse. The Moroccan woman claimed she was married against her will at the age of 17 and taken to Spain in 2001. She says she was locked up and beaten by her husband before she finally fled to a women's shelter, according to Spanish media reports. Spanish women's groups condemned the judge's decision as abhorrent. Barcelona judge Francisco Javier Pauli Collado, who is said to have a good reputation for dealing with women abuse cases, said he found the woman's story "inconsistent with the fear and loss of all sense of initiative that characterise beaten wives". In his verdict he went on to say that her "physical appearance during the three-day hearing - carefully groomed, dressed differently each day, with rings, bracelets, fancy earrings and large glasses - ... does not fit the profile of a woman who has suffered months of aggression".

    He said he was not suggesting that someone could not progress out of negative situations. But he said such an ability did not usually come out of the supposedly continual aggression alleged in this case. A medical report describing multiple bruising on the woman's body was presented during the hearing but the court found there was "no evidence" to suggest that her husband was responsible. Radio Cadena Ser said women's associations had described the verdict as "abhorrent" and hoped action will be taken against the judge. Consuelo Abril, from the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse, said that the judge's decision perpetuated the false stereotype that an abused woman had to be poorly dressed and belong to a particular social background.
    ©BBC News

    22/1/2004- Nearly half of all Spaniards think there are too many foreigners, according to a study released Thursday. But despite this, the number of foreigners living in the country is expected to triple in the next six years to six million. The current number of registered legal foreigners in the country is 1.6 million, though authorities believe the real figure is nearer two million. Of these, about 28 percent are from "richer countries", whereas the rest are from the Third World. According to the report on attitudes to foreigners by the Foundation of Savings Banks (FUNCAS), 85 percent of Spaniards feel that only foreigners with work contracts should be allowed to enter the country. Forty percent of those questioned said there were more than enough foreigners and only four percent said there were not enough. Nearly half of those polled said they did not trust foreigners (46 percent) while 12 percent despise them and only 24 percent treat them respectfully. However, according to the research, called 'Immigration ñ Views and Opinions' 74 percent do not mind their children sharing school-rooms with immigrants.

    Although 28 percent of foreign residents come from the European Union, the United States, Canada, Australia and other ërich' countries, only five percent of Spaniards consider them immigrants. The real immigrants, according to 77 percent of those questioned, are Moroccans, although they only represent a fifth of the total. The number of foreigners in Spain has almost doubled in four and a half years and tripled in the past eight years. There were 10 percent more immigrants in the first half of 2003 than the previous year. If this trend continues, says the study, there will be more than six million in 2010 and more than 11 million in 2015. This means foreigners will make up 14 percent of the projected population of 43 million in 2010 and 27 percent five years later. Currently, foreign residents make up just over five percent of Spain's 42 million-strong population. The report also states that the growing number of immigrants has led to continuous legal changes that complicate Spanish immigration law, resulting in greater control mechanisms that make integration more difficult. On the other hand, results show that the employment rate of foreigners is 16.5 percent higher than the national average. It also found that 44.6 percent of female immigrants work compared to the 37.4 percent of their Spanish counterparts. On average, each immigrant sends EUR 3,864 abroad every year and in total immigrants send EUR 2 billion home. The report studied immigrant numbers in different parts of Spain and found the highest number of immigrants in 2003 were: Balearic Islands (7.22 percent), Canary Islands (5.48 percent), Catalonia (5.2 percent), Madrid (5.032 percent) and Murcia (4.42 percent). The lowest numbers were found in Cantabria (1.6 percent), Castilla-La Mancha (1.4percent), Castilla y LeÛn (1.2 percent), Asturias (1.1 percent), Extremadura (1 percent) and the Basque Country (1 percent).
    ©Expatica News

    23/1/2004- Racists in St. Petersburg have gone on a rampage, intensifying violent assaults against ethnic minorities since nationalist politicians triumphed in the State Duma last month, victims say. The campaign was marked by calls of "Russia for the Russians," suggesting foreigners should be thrown out of the country. The most visible foreigners are those with dark skins. But the city police accuse foreigners and human rights groups of exaggerating the magnitude of racial hate crimes, saying racist attacks are typical of any big city. "I wouldn't say such crimes have reached the level of concern that you [foreigners] would like to believe," police spokesman Pavel Rayevsky said Wednesday in a telephone interview. "They are daily occurrences in big cities in the West." Ethnic minorities, especially blacks and Asians, have tended to allege racism as a way of diverting attention from their involvement in crimes, he said.

    But at least two African men were in critical condition after being stabbed by organized groups of young white supremacists in two unrelated incidents within a 24-hour period since Sunday evening. Isaac Mwita, 23, a student of pre-university Russian-language courses who arrived in the country from Tanzania three months ago, was attacked by a group of five skinheads early Sunday evening. He said the "assault aimed at disfiguring and humiliating me with torture." Mwita said the skinheads could easily have killed him after removing his winter jacket, forcing him to lie on the ice-covered ground and holding him by his ankles and wrists. But instead, one of the assailants stabbed him in what seemed a ritual way and left him writhing in agony. His cries for help were ignored by distant witnesses. Mwita was stabbed more than a dozen times. The wounds were in a pattern - to his knees and elbows, two wounds in the ears and two wounds just above them, but he was not stabbed in the abdomen, where injury could have been fatal. He was admitted to hospital in critical condition. Rose Ngindu, 21, from Congo, who saw Mwita immediately after the incident, found a Nigerian male student sitting in a pool of blood near Ploshchad Vosstaniya on Nevsky Prospekt on Monday afternoon. The man's face was disfigured by wounds that clearly came from a knife and he could hardly utter the words "Nigeria" and "Lesnaya" in reference to the country he came from and the location of his hostel. Ngindu was assisted by onlookers to carry the man to a cab, which took him home. Eyewitnesses said the Nigerian had just been attacked by a group of about 10 skinheads who had kicked and stabbed him to within inches of his life. Hours earlier, three African students, including one woman, reportedly made a narrow escape by catching a cab when they were chased by a large group of skinheads near Palace Square. Ngindu, who has spent about a year in Russia while preparing to study for a degree in international relations, said she has decided to go back home because ethnic minority students are defenseless in the city. Quang Son, a first-year computer science student from Vietnam, has a 6-centimeter scar on his cheek he sustained last summer from being stabbed by skinheads who attacked him and a male compatriot. His friend Nam, who was severely injured, had to go home immediately.

    A random interview with 10 new students from developing countries in one city hostel revealed that all had suffered or witnessed violent racial attacks on the streets, but none reported the attacks to the police, citing their lack of trust in the law enforcers. Local musician Andrei Platonov witnessed a group of about 10 skinheads assaulting a man from Burundi in broad daylight on St. Isaac's Square on Victory Day last year. The man managed to break free of his assailants and rushed to two nearby police officers for assistance, but they shrugged him off, suggesting he should avo case had been going on for years, amid debates whether the case deserved criminal proceedings. Congo student Arnold Obambi has his own evidence that the police don't take racial assaults seriously. He said they forced him to pay 1,000 rubles in damages to one of seven skinheads who assaulted him last summer and whom he injured in self defense. Obambi was arrested two weeks after the incident on charges of disturbing public order and causing bodily injuries to the "victim." The police suggested he should pay the sum to the "victim" to avoid a four- to seven-year jail term.
    ©St. Petersburg Times

    19/1/2004- UEFA says that efforts to combat racism in football can only be totally successful if there is greater ethnic minority participation in the game at all levels ñ and if a greater number of ethnic minorities go to stadiums to watch matches. In its Guide to Good Practice, issued to the European football community as part of a concerted anti-racism drive in conjunction with the pan-European Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) network, European football's governing body says the number of black spectators should reflect the amount of black players. "Involving ethnic minority fans and migrant groups in campaigns against racism in football is vitally important," the guide states. "One of the most striking aspects of all European football is the discrepancy between the high number of black players on the field and the lack of black faces in the crowd." It is estimated that some 15 per cent of all professional footballers in England and Wales are black. However, a recent survey of fans revealed that ethic minorities on average comprised less than one per cent of season ticket holders at Premier League clubs. "What's more 27 per cent of fans said they had heard racist abuse directed at players during the season," UEFA explained.

    Model project
    The guide named the Football Unites, Racism Divides (FURD) project in the English city of Sheffield as a model project, in that it ran football-related activities which helped counter the exclusion of young ethnic minority people ñ "demonstrating the way in which football, education and community involvement can be linked to bring about positive change," as UEFA puts it. Another example comes from Hungary, where the Mahatma Gandhi Human Rights organisation in Budapest formed the African Star football team. The team offers refugees and people of African descent the opportunity to play football. A summer football tournament also helps bring people together. "For those from within the game, relations with ethnic minority communities will need to be seen as longer-term partnerships mutually beneficial to football and the process of integrating newer communities into the mainstream," UEFA concludes.

    View the UEFA guide to good practice

    18/1/2004- Minister Dick Roche has today said that Ireland's 6-month Presidency of the European Union will be "prioritising human rights both within Europe, and throughout the world, so that the dignity of all human beings is respected and that discrimination of any kind is combated." Roche said, "It is all too often underestimated the hugely positive role that the European Union can, and has, played throughout the world in promoting respect for human rights and the importance of the democratic process. During our Presidency, we want to ensure that the European Union continues to assume its international responsibilities in the area of human rights protection. In particular, we will be developing 'Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders', which I hope can be adopted by the EU. This is a specific initiative of the Irish Presidency. Although the EU has traditionally attached importance to the protection of human rights defenders, this has been largely done on an ad hoc basis and in the absence of clear criteria for interventions. As Presidency, we intend to produce specific policy guidelines in order to strengthen the EU's support for human rights defenders. It is now time to build on the success of the past. The EU can be rightly proud of the achievements of the last 50 years. However, we must never become complacent. There is no part of the globe which is absolutely free from human rights abuses. None of us in Europe is without fault. Acts of racism, xenophobia and intolerance, have not yet disappeared in our own societies. Believing in human rights means being ready to accept criticisms and working every day to strengthen respect for the freedoms that we all hold dear," Roche said.

    9/1/2004 French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy attended the signing of an agreement between Hong Kong and France on Friday to fight illegal immigration and organised crime. The agreement is similar to one reached Thursday between France and China during a oneday visit by Sarkozy. It provides for the installation of a French border control officer in Hong Kong and a Hong Kong officer at Roissy airport, near Paris, as part of efforts to halt illegal immigration. "Hong Kong is Asia's premier aerial hub in terms of passengers and (its) second in logistics," Sarkozy said, underlining the importance of the former British colony in efforts against illegal immigration. About 4,000 Chinese attempted to enter France illegally in both 2002 and 2003, according to French ministry figures. Friday's agreement also targeted the trafficking of drugs, money laundering and counterfeiting, with more emphasis on organised crime than the accord reached with Beijing. "A lot of triads come from Hong Kong," Sarkozy said, because "it is there that there is the most money, more so I would say than Beijing." The deal foresees the deployment in Hong Kong within weeks of French criminal affairs specialists to fight drug trafficking, and economic and finance specialists to deal with money launderers and counterfeiters. A Hong Kong police official would in turn be sent to France.
    ©Expatica News

    14/1/2004- In the midst of a bitter debate over affirmative action, President Jacques Chirac of France on Wednesday appointed a business school head as one of the country's first Muslim "prefects" -- or departmental governors. Algerian-born Aissa Dermouche, 57, who came to France at the age of 18, was named prefect of the eastern department of Jura by the Swiss border. In a statement released by his office, Chirac said the nomination was based on "a basic republican principle -- that top civil service appointments are based on the recognition of merit, whatever the origins of the persons involved." Chirac has been in dispute with his powerful interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy who openly supports what is known in France as "positive discrimination" -- promoting Muslims in order to encourage their integration into French society. France has around 200 prefects and 500 sub-prefects, nearly all of whom have qualified from the elite National Administration School (ENA). Created in 1800 by Napoleon, their task is to represent the state in the country's 100 departments. There have been rare examples of Muslim prefects in the past, but there are none today and only a handful of sub-prefects -- despite the growing size of the Muslim community which at five million is around eight percent of the population. France's centre-right government includes two Muslims: Hamlaoui Mekachera, junior minister for veterans' affairs, and Tokia Saifi, junior minister for durable development. Dermouche has since 1979 been director of the Audencia school of management in the western city of Nantes. It is one of the highly selective "grandes ecoles" where France trains up its business and scientific elite.
    ©The Tocqueville Connection

    Leading rightwing party appears to be undergoing a remarkable transformation since its election to power.
    By Drago Hedl in Osijek

    9/1/2004 The newly appointed prime minister Ivo Sanader has taken a series of spectacular steps to seemingly change the hardline nationalist image of his Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, party, since its victory in elections last month. Sanader caused a real sensation on January 7, when he appeared in the company of his wife, parliamentary speaker Vladimir Seks, a once notorious nationalist, and another two of his ministers at the Serbian Orthodox Christmas reception organised in Zagreb by the Serb National Council, SNV. The Croatian public were thrown into a state of shock when Sanader wished a merry Christmas to his Orthodox Serb hosts, in the traditional Serb way, with the greeting, "Christ is born". This was the latest in a series of unexpectedly moderate moves by the leader of a political party, founded by late Franjo Tudjman, which once espoused extremist, hardline nationalist policies. It has led many analysts to believe that Sanader's promises about the HDZ's transformation into a new, modern party should be regarded as credible declarations. However, this does not necessarily mean that HDZ rule will be problemfree or that Sanader may be fully trusted to implement the reforms that he's promised and usher Croatia into the European Union by 2007, as planned by his predecessor, former Socialist prime minister Ivica Racan.

    The most dramatic change in HDZ policy is its approach to ethnic minorities, particularly Serb and Italian communities. SerbCroat relations have been fraught with difficulties ever since the 1991 war when the Serbian minority, under the influence of Slobodan Milosevic, set up an autonomous province on Croatian territory. The conflict dragged on for several years and finally came to an end when the Croatian army overran the entity in August 1995, triggering the exodus of over 200,000 local Serbs. Ever since, repatriation of refugees has been painstakingly slow while there have been many difficulties and obstacles encountered by those who dared return to their homes. In the course of his election campaign, Sanader surprised the general public by calling on uprooted Serbs who have yet to return to their homes to do so, assuring them that they would be permitted to reclaim their homes. The HDZ leader additionally offered the minority a ministerial post, should the party be elected. The offer was rejected as the Serbs have made support for his government conditional on refugee repatriation and property restitution. In his Orthodox Christmas address to the Serbs, Sanader sought to reassure the minority that his gesture was genuine, "I would like to show on this occasion that the manner in which we started off our term of office truly represents what we really think." Seks, notorious for his antiSerb public statements during the Tudjman era, went on to say, "Bitter experiences, times of misunderstandings and misconceptions should be left buried in the past. Hopefully, we have all learnt the lessons about tolerance and respect for human and minority rights."

    "These are very encouraging signs," said Vojislav Stanimirovic, one of three Serb deputies in the Croatian parliament and president of the Independent Democratic Serbian Party, SDSS, told IWPR. "Now the most important thing would be to implement this new positive policy at local level. If this indeed happens, then we may talk of considerable progress in interethnic relations in Croatia." SNV head Milorad Pupovac told the Vecernji List newspaper on January 9 that he was optimistic about the new Sanader regime. He said mutual trust between it and his community had grown markedly in the course of recent discussions over the government's refugee return and housing reconstruction programmes. Before his extraordinary attendance at the Serbian Christmas re neighbouring state. Since the HDZled government was formally constituted on December 23, the new premier has reiterated on several occasions his regime's willingness to fully cooperate with the war crimes tribunal in The Hague a key prerequisite for the European Union membership in marked contrast to Zagreb's previous footdragging over extraditions. Sanader said that cooperation was a legal issue not a political one, which many nationalists have previously argued to justify their opposition to the process. The premier said that Croatia has passed legislation on working with the tribunal and, as he was a staunch advocate of the rule of law, he was not prepared to violate any of its provisions. This has been interpreted by analysts as Sanader's apparent readiness to hand over without hesitation all war crimes suspects. Sources close to his cabinet say that the premier has already made a deal with all potential war crimes suspects about their voluntary surrender. Indeed, press reports in Zagreb over the last few days have suggested that the government has received several Hague indictments.

    Racan, who represented the moderate left in Croatia, could only have dreamt of adopting this sort of policy towards the Hague court, commented a close associate of the former prime minister who preferred to remain anonymous. "Racan couldn't have mustered enough courage to take such bold steps and he constantly kept an eye on the rightwing political parties, fearing their tempestuous reactions, " said the associate. "Sanader got rid of the most extreme right-wingers in his party." The HDZ's apparently remarkable turnaround doesn't however mean that the party's term in office will run smoothly or that the reforms Sanader has promised will be implemented, analysts say. This, they say, will all depend on whether he manages to raise living standards, reduce unemployment and generally revive the economy. In his first month in office, he hasn't exactly inspired confidence in this regard. Plans to cut VAT from 22 to 20 per cent have been postponed until next year. A promise to down-size state departments to increase efficiency has come to naught. Ministries have been reduced from 20 to 14, but the post of state secretary whose powers are almost equal to that of a minister has been introduced. Twenty of these new positions have been created, increasing the level of bureaucracy. "Sanader now does the things which cost him nothing like wishing a merry Christmas to the Serbs and addressing ethnic Italians in their native language," said one analyst. "It'll be totally different when he tackles the problems with considerable price tags attached to them, like paying off foreign debt, reducing taxation and improving social benefits which he has promised to the people. Then we will see what his true strengths are."
    ©Institute for War & Peace Reporting

    12/1/2004 Furious BBC bosses are set to grill telly host Robert Kilroy-Silk over his anti-Arab rant. The 61yearold former MP, who faces the sack, has been summoned to meet chiefs next week. His daily BBC 1 discussion show has been ordered off the air until the row is resolved. Kilroy ó who issued an apology last night ó sparked fury by branding Arabs "suicide bombers, limb amputators and women repressors" in a newspaper column. He has already been reported to cops by racism watchdogs. And the BBC yesterday "strongly dissociated" itself from his outburst. A spokesman said: "We are taking the Kilroy programme off air immediately while we investigate this matter fully." A source said the decision to suspend the programme illustrated how seriously Beeb chiefs were taking the issue. Another insider said it was "quite likely" Kilroy ó who has hosted the morning show for 17 years ó would lose his £200,000 job and be axed from his Radio 5 Live slot. The source said: "He chairs debates on sensitive issues, so I can't believe he was so stupid. He's in contract negotiations and this is bound to put a spanner in the works." Labour MP Lynne Jones demanded the BBC consider sacking Kilroy ó and put down a motion urging other MPs to condemn his remarks. In his Sunday Express article, headline "We Owe Arabs Nothing," Kilroy said of Arab countries: "Few of them make much contribution to the welfare of the rest of the world." He also said Arabs "murdered more than 3,000 civilians on 11th September and then danced in the streets". Kilroy, ex-Labour member for North Knowsley, was once viewed as a potential PM. But in 1985 he quit Parliament to move into the media. In his apology last night, the dad of two, who lives in Amersham, Bucks, said: "I greatly regret the offence which has been caused. "The article contains a couple of obvious factual errors which I also regret." Kilroy said the piece was first written in April and had been "republished last weekend in error".
    ©The Sun

    Prosecuting Kilroy-Silk would set a much needed marker for social relations
    By Faisal Bodi, commentator on Muslim affairs

    12/1/2004 Finally, it's safe to turn on your TV. Britain's minority communities can rise this morning in the knowledge that they will no longer be assailed by a vainglorious hatemonger affecting social concern on their screens. It won't just be Arabs, the objects of Robert Kilroy-Silk's latest ignorant philippic, breathing a sigh of relief. The BBC's decision to discontinue his daily talkshow pending an investigation into his article for last week's Sunday Express, in which he vilified the whole Arab world as a bunch of "suicide bombers, limb amputators and women oppressors", will be welcomed in all communities where his bigoted pen has drawn ire. Ireland is justified in some schadenfreude for his caricature of it as "a country peopled by peasants, priests and pixies". As are young black people, for his recommendation that they be targeted by police since they show up disproportionately as offenders in gun and street crime statistics. As too are asylum seekers and visitors from Africa, eastern Europe and Asia, whom he accuses of being largely responsible for poisoning our green and pleasant land with Aids. But it will be the nation's Muslims who have most to celebrate. For over a decade, it is they who have borne the brunt of the presenter's rabid rants. During the Salman Rushdie affair in 1989, he wrote that if Britain's "resident ayatollahs" could not "accept British values and laws then there is no reason at all why the British should feel any need, still less compulsion, to accommodate theirs". Buoyed by the support of liberals in a debate that was wrongly characterised as free speech versus censorship he went much further. "Muslims everywhere behave with equal savagery. They behead criminals, stone to death female only female adulteresses, throw acid in the faces of women who refuse to wear the chador, mutilate the genitals of young girls and ritually abuse animals," he wrote for the Daily Express in 1995.

    That calumny was on a par with his current offence there have been many more in between, including a recent description of the postwar looting in Iraq as the work of "a load of thieving Arabs". But the reaction then was surprisingly mild compared with the outrage evoked this time round. The Press Complaints Commission failed to uphold complaints that the 1995 piece was Islamophobic, ruling perversely that it wasn't directed at all Muslims, just those Kilroy-Silk disliked. You don't have to look far for explanations. While racism has fast become a red line in our society, religious prejudice is still acceptable, dare I say, fashionable in the more well heeled social circles. The Express can get away with denigrating Muslims, but it cannot easily shake off allegations of racism. A raft of race legislation over the past three decades has set the tone of social discourse and steered society away from xenophobia. But it has manifestly failed to get to grips with Islamophobia, of which Kilroy's antiArabism is an obvious variant.

    The European Union's two most recent equality directives, which came into force in last July, only cover religious discrimination in employment. The only legislation under which Kilroy-Silk might be prosecuted are the racial and religious hatred (Arabs are overwhelmingly Muslim) provisions of the updated 1986 Public Order Act. The other explanation lies in the increasing organisation of the Muslim community. Muslim groups have come a long way from the placard waving, rock hurling days of Rushdie. Today the community is more sophisticated, engaging in everything from lobbying journalists and liaising with the BBC to offering cultural sensitivity training and networking with the great and the good. Kilroy-Silk's suspension was precipitated by a flu epitomised by Will Hutton in yesterday's Observer, has been that Islam must assume a post-Enlightenment view of the world, failing which it must be dragged there kicking and screaming. This is the more troubling attitude, because it negates the prospect of genuine coexistence and presupposes a horrible clash of civilisations.

    This is not to brush over the differences between western and Islamic value systems and their epistemological foundations. They are real. But in western liberal societies the choice is between a peaceful engagement and survival of the fittest or a likely violent conflict brought about by the imposition of secular liberalism over Islam. The ball has been thrown into the court of the state to choose which route it wants to take. The attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, must decide if a prosecution for incitement to racial hatred is warranted, a decision he will arrive at after consideration of the facts and also what lies in the public interest. A prosecution would set a much needed marker for social relations. Whether this is likely is a different matter. Very few prosecutions have ever been brought successfully under this legislation. And, given Goldsmith's perception in the Muslim world as pro Israeli, Britain's Muslims are not holding their breath that he will initiate a prosecution against someone writing for a proprietor with similar political leanings.
    ©The Guardian

    Robert KilroySilk's outburst shows that there is one ethnic group about whom it is apparently still OK to be flagrantly racist, writes Brian Whitaker

    12/1/2004 While sifting through my father's belongings after his death a few years ago, I came across a book of autographs that he had collected as a child. Some of the signatories had added short verses or quotations, and on one page I found this:
    God made the little nigger boys
    He made them in the night
    He made them in a hurry
    And forgot to paint them white
    In Britain during the 1930s, it was considered perfectly acceptable (at least among white people) to write that sort of thing, and some may even have found it amusing. In those days, of course, there were not enough black people in Britain to challenge such attitudes, but we have moved on and now have a multicultural society. Today, anyone who suggested that blacks were created as a result of divine amnesia or a malfunction on God's production line would justifiably be accused of inciting racial hatred as would anyone who suggested that Jews, for example, had made no worthwhile contribution to civilisation. Even now, though, there is still one notable exception: the Arabs. People happily write and say racist things about Arabs that they would not dream of saying about blacks or Jews and usually they get away with it.

    The explanation lies partly in international politics but also in the negative stereotypes of Arabs that have become deeply imbued in western popular culture. This is nowhere more apparent than in Hollywood films where Arabs, unlike other racial groups, continue to be demonised on screen. A couple of years ago Jack Shaheen, a Lebanese/American professor, published Reel Bad Arabs, a massive study of some 900 films featuring Arab characters. With very few exceptions, he found that Arabs are portrayed as hate figures in films to a degree that the studios would no longer dare with any other ethnic group. He accused the filmmakers of "systematic, pervasive and unapologetic degradation and dehumanisation of a people". In the early days of Hollywood, Arabs were portrayed as oversexed, exotic creatures living in the desert, riding camels, fighting among themselves and buying women at slave markets. By the 1970s probably as a result of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war and the oil embargo Hollywood Arabs turned into oil sheikhs: rich, vengeful, corrupt, sneaky and invariably fat. From the 1980s onwards, they have usually been portrayed as crazed terrorists evolving more recently into crazed terrorist Islamic fundamentalists.

    Which came first the politics or the stereotypes is a moot point, but Shaheen and others argue that both are interlinked. The stereotypes help to justify the foreign policies of western governments, particularly the US, while at the same time government policies help to legitimise the stereotypes. It is only recently that such attitudes have been seriously questioned. The events of September 11, and the ensuing "war on terror", caused alarm among Arab and Muslim communities living in the west, sparking fears of a racist or religious backlash. As a result, they have become much more media conscious, actively monitoring what is said about them and complaining when they feel they have been treated unfairly. Last Tuesday, the Guardian (and presumably other newspapers too) received two e-mails complaining about a column which had appeared in the Sunday Express on January 4. One came from the Muslim Council of Britain, the other from the Islamic Affairs Central Network in Nottingham. Next day there were more, from the Forum Against Islamophobia and Racism (Fair), Arab Media Watch and the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding. The offending column was headed "We owe Arabs nothing" and it said: "Apart from oil which was discovered, is produced and is paid for by the west what do they contribute? Can you think of anything? Anything really useful? Anything really valuable? Something we really need, could not do without? No, nor can I." "What do they think we feel about them?" it continued. "That we adore them for the way they murdered more than 3,000 civilians on September 11 and then danced in the hot, dusty streets to celebrate the murders?" By any standards it was an appalling article, a sweeping denunciation of Arabs in general, without any qualification or exception, implying that all 200 million of them were "suicide bombers, limb ampu complaints about the article. One message said: "Why don't you go back to the desert and get busy oppressing the opposite sex and everyone else who doesn't agree with your weird, backwards religion?"

    On Friday afternoon, the BBC announced that it was suspending Mr Kilroy-Silk's show with immediate effect, pending further investigation. By Saturday, the story was all over the front pages. On Sunday, the Express returned to the fray, defending the article on the grounds of free speech and attacking the BBC's decision, though it also published a reply from the Muslim Council of Britain, as well as several critical letters from readers. The BBC's suspension of the Kilroy show has been criticised by some as an overreaction, but the BBC along with other broadcasters in Britain has a legal obligation to be impartial. Newspapers, on the other hand, can be as partisan as they like. The BBC has also been trying to clamp down on freelance writing by its journalists and presenters (such as Mr Kilroy-Silk's column for the Sunday Express) because of possible conflicts between the two activities. The problem of freelance writing came to light during the recent Hutton inquiry into the death of the weapons scientist David Kelly, over remarks made by the BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan. In addition to his work for the BBC, Mr Gilligan wrote an article for the Mail on Sunday in which he said the prime minister's press secretary had been responsible for "sexing up" the British government's dossier on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. BBC guidelines state that freelance writing by staff "should not bring the BBC into disrepute or undermine the integrity or impartiality of BBC programmes or presenters", and there can be little doubt that Mr Kilroy-Silk's latest rant has done just that.

    In future, as the Muslim Council of Britain points out, Arabs and Muslims are going to be reluctant to appear on his show, knowing the views that he expressed in his newspaper column. A broader point, made by the Arab League's ambassador in London, is that the BBC has its worldwide reputation to consider. The BBC's Arabic service has a large audience in the Middle East and is highly respected there, but the views expressed in Mr Kilroy-Silk's column, which were reported in the Arab press, have damaged that reputation. One complicating twist in the tale is that the offending article has appeared twice in the Sunday Express on January 4 this year and on April 6 last year under a different headline and with some differences in editing. The explanation given by Mr Kilroy-Silk is that his secretary accidentally plucked an old column out of the computer and e-mailed it to the newspaper instead of the column intended for January 4. Nobody at the Express seems to have noticed, though there were several clues in the text that ought to have rung alarm bells. The first sentence began: "We are told by some of the more hysterical critics of the war that 'It is destroying the Arab world' ..."

    Writing last April, Mr Kilroy-Silk was referring to the war in Iraq. Receiving the article again this month, a sub-editor apparently baffled as to which war the columnist was talking about blithely changed "the war" to "the war on terror". Thanks to this mistake, Mr Kilroy-Silk and the Sunday Express are able to point out that there was no great outcry the first time his anti-Arab column was published. It seems that in the midst of the invasion of Iraq the monitoring groups simply failed to notice what Mr Kilroy-Silk was writing. That is scarcely surprising, because the headline on the April version of the column was barely comprehensible and cannot have enticed many people to read on. It said: "Us, loathsome? Shame on them." The headline on the second version "We owe Arabs nothing" was far more likely to grab readers' attention. Part of Mr Kilroy-Silk's defence is that in its original context of the Iraq war his article was unobjectionable as demonstrated by the lack of objections at the time. That has subtly muddied the waters, but it is really no exc Racist articles by high-profile figures not only reinforce popular prejudices but lend credibility to the unsavoury views of neo-Nazi groups. If the freedom of speech argument is taken to its logical conclusion, then all kinds of racial abuse become permissible blacks, Jews, the Irish, everyone. That becomes a recipe for communal disaster of a kind that even Mr Kilroy-Silk would probably not wish to see. Where racism is concerned, therefore, freedom of speech has to be tempered by restraint. But whatever applies to one racial group has to apply to them all. It is no good having one rule for blacks, Jews and the Irish, and another rule or none at all for the Arabs.
    ©The Guardian

    12/01/2004 Racist thugs in Northern Ireland are forcing black people out of their homes in part of an apparently orchestrated plan to "ethnically cleanse" Belfast. Ethnic minority leaders have called for urgent Government action to combat the wave of assaults and forced evictions. With about one attack a day, race crime has risen by more than 900 per cent since the signing of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, as loyalist paramilitaries appear intent on forcing the immigrant population out. The concerted attacks have been particularly focused in south Belfast where Asians, Chinese and Africans have been targeted. In typical Belfast fashion the actions have been reinforced with graffiti of "Keep the Streets White" and more sinisterly a "Whites Only" message scrawled outside a primary school. Nonwhite faces are unfamiliar in Northern Ireland whose 1.7 million population is 99.15 per cent white. The next biggest grouping is Chinese (0.25 per cent), who have been there since the 1960s, and there are just 2,600 Africans. In one incident a South African woman, who had survived Soweto during apartheid, was attacked inside her home in the staunchly loyalist Village area in south Belfast.

    Tandy, who did not want her surname published, answered a knock at the door to a group of men who shouted "get the f*** out of here". She ran out of the back door leaving behind her children, aged 13 and two, who remained silent upstairs as the family's television, kitchen, fireplace and new electronic games console were smashed. Tandy, who moved to Belfast a year ago to study for a psychology degree, said: "I'm used to this coming from South Africa. I grew up to racism but I am fed up with it here. I wanted to breathe the fresh air here but then I came across racism again. It's a terrible experience." She now plans to leave Northern Ireland. An estate agent has also been threatened with having his business destroyed if he continued to let houses to ethnic minorities. William Faulkner was told by the Ulster Volunteer Force to stop renting homes to Chinese and black people.

    Loyalist paramilitaries had close links throughout the Troubles with the National Front and Combat 18. A group called the White Nationalist Party have leafleted several areas with ethnic minorities and the British National Party recently said it would field several candidates in the next council elections. Dr James Uhomoibhi, a lecturer at Queen's University who moved to the province from Nigeria 17 years ago, believes that ethnic groups have become "more noticeable" since the 1998 agreement. "The issue of sectarianism has been largely removed and there are some who realise there are more ethnic people here. Racism existed before but it's just that the violence of the Troubles has gone away. People need to be educated to learn to accept that because someone is a different colour it does not make them a threat."
    ©Daily Telegraph

    Bishop in call for greater understanding

    15/1/2004- A leading Ulster bishop today said the whole community was "shamed" by the escalating number of racist attacks in Northern Ireland. Bishop of Connor, the Rt Rev Alan Harper, chairman of the Church of Ireland's Board for Social Responsibility, called on everyone to attempt to understand and counter racism. Last week the Belfast Telegraph revealed that racist attacks in Northern Ireland are occurring at a rate of one almost every day after a Pakistani family were targeted in Belfast. In another incident, an eight months' pregnant Chinese woman and her husband were forced to flee after their south Belfast home was attacked. Bishop Harper said: "Our whole community has been shamed and its reputation besmirched by racially motivated violence. "There is an obligation upon us to seek to understand and counter the influences that prompt the resort to violence and abuse. "It has been pointed out that racist incidents increase in number and severity when sectarian incidents decline. Is this further evidence of the depth of insecurity in parts of our society? "Racist violence in Northern Ireland often targets people who are more disadvantaged even than those perpetrating the violence. "All institutions, including the churches are challenged to promote respect and sympathy for the stranger in order to build a tolerant, safe and welcoming society." Meanwhile, the Anti- Racism Network is to hold a rally in Belfast later this month in response to the recent spate of attacks. The rally is due to take place outside the City Hall at 5pm on Tuesday, January 27, Sara Boyce from the Network said: "People have been asking what they can do. We would urge people to support the rally as it is really important we make our voices heard against racism in all its forms."
    ©Belfast Telegraph

    8/1/2004- A few months after a Szeged court ruling which cut the compensation of two Roma men saying they were "more primitive than average", an earlier case has been brought to light by civil watchdogs. In the justification of a decision made in 2000, a judge from Debrecen used the expression "Roma features" in describing a man involved in a criminal action. The lawsuit was initiated by the owner of an apartment because his tenant sold the apartment illegally, and the owner wanted to have the sales agreement annulled. The judge, who eventually ruled in favor of the claimant, insisted that the plaintiff did not act in good faith. If he had, the judge wrote in the justification, he would have been more cautious about the "Roma features" of the presumed seller. The buyer subsequently appealed against the court decision but the appeal court upheld it, although the ethnic reference was removed. The Roma Civil Rights Foundation decided to refer the case to the National Justice Council, requesting the judicial body to express an opinion on the judge and the ruling. "I first read about this case from a newspaper this March," President of the Court of Hajd™-Bihar County Judit KerÈkgy·rtÛ told The Budapest Sun. "I examined the relevant files and warned the judge to refrain from such statements in the future." KerÈkgy·rtÛ added the judge had been given a warning by the judicial council, a county-level body regularly revising the work of judges, after the appeal court deleted the questionable reference from the decision. "The word the judge used did not represent his views but that of the witnesses and the buyer," KerÈkgy·rtÛ insisted, emphasizing that a professional mistake was made. "It does not mean, however, that the judge in question has racist tendencies," she concluded. At any rate, KerÈkgy·rtÛ admitted such references must not be included in a court ruling under any circumstances. Although minorities ombudsman JenÙ Kaltenbach refused to pass specific comments on the case, he told daily newspaper Magyar HÌrlap that "no official document may establish a link between Roma origin and unreliability".
    ©The Budapest Sun

    13/1/2004- It is midwinter in Serbia. The cold makes life harder for everyone. Especially those with little. On the outskirts of Belgrade there's a small, but tidy home. Inside, an old woman is stoking the fire. Next to her there are two boys. One is eight, the other is 10. They seem happy enough. They're giggling as they put on their coats to go to school. Then I ask them whether they like going to class. "I want to meet the children here, but people don't want to mix with me. They want to fight." The boys' parents don't want me to tell you their names. They're worried about possible recriminations. And life is already hard enough. They are Roma, or gipsies. They moved to Germany a few years ago. They say to seek a better life. They couldn't get permission to stay. One day at 4am the police came, took them to the airport, and put them on a plane back to Serbia. "I want to go back to Germany," the 10-year-old tells me. "I have friends there, they play with me, they come to see me and I go to their homes." In the tiny kitchen, I speak to the boys' father. A polite, intelligent man, who says try as he might, he can not get a job here in Serbia. "In Germany we had it all. Here Roma are treated like an underclass." That's the kind of thing you hear from many Roma in Serbia.

    No support
    Roma first came to the region from India in the 12th Century. They have often suffered discrimination. That in turn appears to have made many reluctant to co-operate with state authorities. When the former Yugoslavia fell apart during the wars of the 1990s, many fled to escape the fighting and poverty. Some have returned voluntarily. Others are now being forced to come back.

    This is what a report by the Council of Europe recently had to say:
    "Forcible return programmes of Roma... are being concluded and one between Germany and Serbia and Montenegro has already begun."
    The report goes on: "There appear to be no reception or resettlement programmes in place in Serbia and Montenegro and Roma, who often experience severe racial discrimination, would be likely to return to a life of poverty."
    "Those without identity documents may be denied access to... education, housing and health care."
    And there are plenty coming back. It's estimated that 50,000 are due to be returned from Germany alone. Every Wednesday a plane flies in, returning more.

    Family separated
    The question though is where they should now live. The Yugoslavia they left has disintegrated. Roma for instance who once lived in the southern Serbian province of Kosovo can't return. Their property has been destroyed and they face discrimination. Then there's the problem of mixed marriages. Milan Antonijevic, a human rights campaigner, told me about the case of one married couple returning from Germany. "One of them has citizenship of Macedonia, one of them citizenship of Serbia and Montenegro, and at the airport in Germany they were separated," he said. "The child was given to one of them. It is the case of very severe violation of human rights." I headed to the huge Communist-era government building in New Belgrade. An old-style art deco lift with gold trim took me up to the fifth floor.

    Action plan
    Down the faceless corridors there's a new secretariat, specifically for Roma. This at least is progress. The rights of Roma, like other minority groups have been largely ignored in the past. "When we were about to leave Germany they told us we'd have help from the government here, but we got nothing," the boys' father tells me. "We tried to ask for help, but we were told the government doesn't have money now. 'Call us in two or three months,' they said. "I did, and they said again: 'Call us in a couple of months.'" There's a chill wind when I leave the house. Down the street there are less fortunate Roma. Children playing on dirt roads. Tin roofs. It doesn ©BBC News

    14/1/2004- A senior member of Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende's party has branded the official policy aimed at integrating immigrants into Dutch society a dismal failure. Through out much of the 1990s, the Dutch approach to multiculturalism was often cited as a very successful model that other countries should adopt. But Maxime Verhagen, the leader of the parliamentary faction of the ruling Christian Democrat CDA party, has said that the Dutch integration policy had totally failed. "Anyone who dares to claim the opposite is either naÔve or ignorant, or both," Verhagen told a CDA conference in The Hague on Tuesday evening. "We can establish that immigrants in the Netherlands top the 'wrong' lists ñ WAO disability benefit, unemployment assistance, domestic violence, criminality statistics, school and learning difficulties," the hard-talking politician said. "Moreover the future prospect for integration is not something to be happy about," he added, "of the third generation of immigrants, no less than 75 percent get a partner from their land of origin, rather than marrying other Dutch people."

    Verhagen was commenting in advance of the publication on Monday 19 January of a major review of Dutch integration attempts over the last 30 years, news agency Novum reported. The Blok commission has heard evidence from many witnesses, the last of whom, Frits Bolkestein, EU commissioner for internal markets, slammed what he called the political correctness in Dutch politics in the 1990s. Dutchman Bolkestein was leader of the free market Liberal VVD, which was in government through the 1990s. The VVD was in coalition with the left-leaning Labour PvdA party and the left-liberal D66 party from 1994 to May 2002. Bokestein was the first senior politician to voice concern about problems with the integration of newcomers, the majority of whom are Muslims from Turkey and Morocco, into Dutch society. He claims the coalition partners did not want to hear his "warnings" and accused him of trying to appeal to a "negative undercurrent" in society. His mantle was taken up by populist politician Pim Fortuyn in 2002 who struck a nerve with his claim that "the Netherlands was full". Fortuyn accused Islam of being backward and demanded a halt to immigration into the Netherlands. His newly-founded LPF party came from nowhere in the polls until it looked possible that the party would emerge as the biggest from the general election to be held on 15 May 2002. Fortuyn made clear he would, should that be the case, become Prime Minister.

    Fortuyn was gunned down by animal rights activist Volkert van der Graaf nine days before the poll. A wave of public sympathy helped the LPF to second place on election day, but uncertainty and fear about the populists allowed the CDA to emerge on top. Since then, attitudes towards immigrants and asylum seekers have hardened further within all majority parties, including the CDA. Verhagen told his party conference on Tuesday that the minimum age at which a person could bring a foreign marriage partner into the Netherlands should be raised from 21 to 24. The granting of a residence permit, he said, should be linked to the requirement to complete an integration course, inburgeringscursus, completed in the person's country of origin. And income level requirements had to be strictly enforced to ensure newcomers did not have to draw on financial supports from the government. Verhagen also said that holding dual nationality should be banned. This would not only strengthen a newcomer's ties to the Netherlands, he said, but would also be an important step in the emancipation of immigrant girls and women. "A person who commits domestic violence should be banned for a period of several years from bringing in a new partner from abroad," Verhagen said.
    ©Expatica News

    15/1/2004- Up to 10,000 extra people annually will apply to immigrate to the Netherlands as a direct result of the "big bang" in May when 10 additional countries join the EU, according to a new report. The government's macroeconomic think-tank CPB said that most of the additional 5,000 to 10,000 applicants for immigration would come from Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic. The four, along with Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta and Slovenia, will be officially admitted to membership of the EU on 1 May this year. As this is the biggest enlargement in the EU's history, the event has been dubbed the "big bang". Bulgaria and Romania hope to join the EU by 2007, while Turkey is also eager to join in the future. Prime Minster Jan Peter Balkenende's centre-right Dutch coalition government asked the CBP to study how EU expansion would affect immigration and the Dutch economy. The request came after Cabinet division opened up after both Liberal VVD Finance Minister Gerrit Zalm and Christian Democrat CDA ministers raised concerns about a possible alarming rise in migration from Eastern Europe. But Democrat D66 Economic Affairs Minister Laurens Jan Brinkhorst was more optimistic and the CPB figures were lower than expected, helping to ease cabinet concerns.

    Immigration, particularly from Muslim countries, is a political hot potato in the Netherlands. Murdered anti-immigration politician Pim Fortuyn became a household name in 2002 when he called for the Netherlands to close its borders. Since then the mainstream parties have dedicated themselves to limiting immigration and to enact stronger measures to force immigrants already in the country to better integrate. The CPB said that its figure of 5,000 to 10,000 additional immigrants was applicable only if the Netherlands did not insist on any restrictions on the free movement of labour ó one of the EU's cornerstone principles. France and Germany have insisted on a transitional period from 1 May during which time the free movement of labour will be denied to citizens of the new member states. Balkenende's coalition Cabinet ó made up of his Christian Democrat CDA, the free-market Liberal VVD and the Democrat D66 ó has yet to take a decision on the issue of a transitional period. The CBP said that in previous years about 10,000 seasonal workers annually came to the Netherlands from the new EU states, and 1,500 apply for a permanent residence permit each year. This means that in the absence of a stay on the freedom of movement, the enlargement of the EU would lead to an additional influx of 3,500 to 8,500, the CPB said. It also stated that the impact on the number of seasonal workers after the borders came down was still unclear.

    The CBP predicted that the influx of new immigrants was unlikely to adversely impact employment levels in the Netherlands. Because immigrants will not have a legal right to welfare benefits on arrival in the Netherlands, they will be obliged to get a job straight away. An important part of this group will get difficult-to-fill vacancies, the report said. "Only in the event of a high inflow of immigrants would the CPB expect some repression of the labour market, by which unemployment could rise by a maximum of 9,000." The CBP said that after 2006, the net inflow of immigrants from mid and Eastern Europe would probably decrease. The speed at which this would happen was dependent on several factors, including the transition periods imposed by neighbouring EU states and economic developments.
    ©Expatica News

    The number of foreigners living in Spain has tripled in eight years. But who are these 'extranjeros' and where do they come from? Graham Keeley examines the explosion in Spain's foreign population.

    Kashif and Farisa Habib have been living in Barcelona for eight years. For them it is very much home and where they want to bring up their four-year-old daughter and baby son. Kashif, 33, has a well-paid job with a multi-national company, and 27-year-old Farisa has just left work to spend more time with their children. Both are Muslims whose families were from Pakistan but lived in Rochdale, near Manchester in the UK. The Habibs are typical of the kind of young professional family moving to Spain in increasing numbers.

    The numbers
    Though more and more people are arriving in Spain from Europe, the real picture of immigration is more complex. Many more foreigners earning a living here are from Latin America and Africa. The Spanish Foreign Ministry revealed the full scale of the numbers who are now settling in this country. The number of legal foreign residents has soared to 1,647,011 - three times the 1996 figure. In 2003, there were 323,010 new arrivals alone ñ a 24 percent rise on the year before. More than a third are people from the European Union. The British are by far the biggest contingent, with 105,479 permanent residents (6.4 percent of all foreigners). Next come the Germans with 67,963 (4.1 percent) settled in Spain. Other large communities are the Italians who make up 59,745 (3.6 percent), the French with 49,196 (3 percent) and the Portuguese, of whom there are 45,614 (2.8 percent). But by the largest contingent of foreigners are the 333,770 Moroccans who make up a fifth of all legal workers in Spain. Apart from Morocco, the largest number of legal residents comes from Ecuador (174,289, or 10.6 percent) and Colombia (107,459, or 6.5 percent). Other large foreign communities come from Peru (57,593, or 3.5 percent), Argentina (43,347, 2.6 percent) the Dominican Republic (36,654, 2.2 percent), China (56,086, 3.4 percent), Cuba (27,323, 1.7 percent) Bulgaria (24,369, 1.5 percent) and Romania (54,688, 3.3 percent). Foreign workers now make up nearly 6 percent of the working population of Spain. Unsurprisingly, most move to the big cities to find work. The largest number of foreigners is in the capital, where 355,035 vie for jobs with the Spanish. Madrid's population of 'extranjeros' is predominantly from South America, though after that the number of Europeans appears to be rising. Barcelona, by contrast, has an African population which is also increasing, with 147,288 making up 16 percent of all foreigners. Its place as a port may have a historical role to play in attracting more people from abroad. After these two major cities, Murcia, Alicante, Valencia and Malaga have large immigrant populations.

    The illegals
    Illegal immigration from Morocco and Latin America is a controversial topic in Spain.Each week many thousands of Moroccans make forlorn journeys in tiny, dangerous boats called 'pateras' across the sea to the mainland or the Canary Islands. Many have died or been arrested by the Spanish police and subsequently sent back.Often they have spent all their savings paying the human traffickers who arrange the journeys in the vain hope they could find a new life in Spain. Gonzalo Robles, Spain's Foreign Secretary, said more than 92,679 were repatriated last year. For the 'clandestinos', or illegal immigrants, who make it, working in the 'black economy can be desperately hard. A 23-year-old painter from Mozambique who arrived in Spain last year finds occasional work in Madrid told of the difficulties. 'Miguel', who did not want to give his real name, said: "It is difficult to find work. "I have been for many jobs but when they know you have no official papers, they don't want to know. "When I did get work, the boss tried to cheat me out of mo aspects of immigration, from processing paperwork by legal workers to sending home illegal immigrants. Under the centre-right government of the Popular Party, the law governing foreign workers from outside the EU is to be tightened. Visas will be required before workers can come to Spain in an effort to stop people arriving in the country and simply disappearing while their papers were processed. Robles said: "The Ministry of the Interior has the intention to complete the law on all fronts. Illegals should know that they are subject to the possibility of expulsion." But Consuelo Rumi, immigration spokeswoman from the socialist PSOE opposition party, accused the government of losing control of the situation. She said: "The true picture is that the government has strangled legal immigration and at the same time lost control of illegal immigration in our country."
    ©Expatica News

    12/1/2004 As the Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern prepares to address the European Parliament this week, Amnesty is calling for serious improvements in EU human rights policy inside Europe. Amnesty International's report calls for policies that ensure the EU does not abandon its international obligations to protect refugees and for more EU supervision of human rights compliance within EU countries. It further recommends concrete measures at EU level to combat racism, xenophobia and discrimination, and the protection of victims of human trafficking. Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said: "It seems that the EU human rights machine is running out of steam. "The EU has the ambition and the potential to be the most powerful global force for human rights. While there have been achievements in certain areas, overall there is still too little to show in terms of impact and effectiveness. We are looking to the Irish EU Presidency to inject more energy into the human rights agenda. "It is not enough for the EU to preach human rights abroad. First and foremost, Europe must look to itself. Amnesty International has detailed serious human rights concerns in most of the existing and prospective EU member states. This is something that must be addressed at EU level as well. Otherwise, the EU's human rights credibility in its international relations will always be called into question."

    Among Amnesty International's Recommendations to the Irish EU Presidency:


    The Irish Presidency should ensure that EU member states do not shift their responsibility for protection of refugees to third countries where adequate levels of protection and durable solutions are not available.
    Immigration and borders
    All decisions taken to combat illegal immigration should be subject to effective monitoring mechanisms and a human rights impact assessment.
    Human trafficking
    Efforts to combat trafficking must include human rights protection for victims of trafficking through appropriate legislative measures.
    Human rights compliance in EU countries
    The Council of Ministers must give a robust and practical response to the Commission's Communication on Article 7 of the Treaty addressing the issue of EUlevel accountability for serious breaches of human rights within an EU member state.
    Judicial cooperation
    Increased judicial cooperation must be underpinned by adequate procedural safeguards. The European Arrest Warrant should be implemented in all states with appropriate human rights guarantees.
    Racism and discrimination
    There needs to be pressure on member states to transpose the EU Race Directive (which should have been implemented by July 2003) into national laws across the EU.


    The EU and the UN Commission on Human rights
    The Irish Presidency should bolster the UNCHR's core function of monitoring, reporting and public scrutiny of situations of gross human rights abuse and further integrate the EU's work on the UNCHR into regular political dialogues with third countries.
    Human rights clause in EU association agreements
    Human rights concerns should be stressed in political dialogue with all Mediterranean countries in particular, to complement the Commission's efforts to develop National Action Plans on human rights and democratisation.
    The Irish Presidency should redouble efforts to implement the EU guidelines on torture. The proposed regulation on trade in torture equipment should be adopted by the Council of Ministers without further delay so that controls are in place by the time of the accession of the ten new member states on 1 May.
    Human rights defenders
    Welcoming the announcement of guidelines for EU policy on human rights defenders, Amnesty urges the Irish Presidency to invite the EU's Latin American and Caribbean partners to use the opportunity of the May summit in Mexico to put in place a roadmap for the implementation of the principles of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
    European Security Strategy
    Human rights responsibility must be made an integral component of crisis management and of longterm engagement in postconflict resolution.
    Arms control
    The Irish Presidency is urged to support efforts towards the adoption of an international Arms Trade Treaty by 2006.
    Amnesty International UK

    By Liz Fekete

    14/1/2004- The IRR has been following the fortunes of extreme-Right and anti-immigration parties in elections across Europe from September 2003-January 2004. In the last five months, the anti-immigration Swiss People's Party (SPP) has received a massive boost and polls predict significant gains for anti-immigration parties in Denmark and Norway. Far-right political parties in the UK and Germany have also made some gains at a local level. But in Austria, the Freedom Party, which is a junior partner in the coalition government, suffered substantial losses in provincial parliament elections in Upper Austria and the Tyrol.

  • In Switzerland, the anti-immigration Swiss People's Party won the largest share of the vote in the October 2003 general election. Its share of the vote increased by 5.2 per cent from 1999 to 26.6 per cent.
  • The Danish People's Party's controversial leader Pia Kjaersgaard was voted Denmark's most influential politician in 2003 and an opinion poll suggests that the DPP could now command 12.5 per cent of the national vote.
  • In Norway, the anti-immigration Freedom Party (FrP) improved its share of the vote in regional and municipal elections held in September 2003.
  • In Germany, the far-Right German People's Union (DVU) made a significant breakthrough in municipal elections in Bremerhaven in September 2003 and now has four seats in the council assembly.

    Race and asylum as election issues
    The Swiss People's Party campaign in the Swiss parliamentary elections was condemned by one newspaper as 'the most explicitly foreigner-bashing in Switzerland's history'. A series of aggressive posters targeting foreigners and asylum seekers were condemned by the UNHCR as 'nakedly anti-asylum' and 'atrocious'. One poster, later withdrawn, carried a caricatured black face and a slogan reading 'The Swiss are increasingly becoming the Negroes'. In Germany, the DVU election success in Bremerhaven came after racist slogans were used to capture votes. In local elections in Bulgaria, anti-Roma sentiments were openly used in electioneering - with leaflets put out telling people not to vote for certain candidates because they 'love Roma'. In Russia, where the Union Against Illegal Immigration has been formed and is targeting immigrants from Central Asia and the Caucasus for xenophobic campaigns, a local election campaign in Jekaterinburg was characterised by intense anti-Roma racism.
    ©Institute of Race Relations

    13/1/2004- Thousands of illegal migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa are braving cold and wet nights in Moroccan forests in the hope of getting to Europe. The forests near Rahrah are only about 30 kilometres (19 miles) from Spain and when the weather is clear, the European mainland can easily be seen from the top of a hill. But trips across the rough Mediterranean sea aboard inflatable boats are very risky. Some 4,000 migrants have drowned in the past five years trying to get into Spain.

    No guarantees
    The migrants pay between $500 and $1,500 to people traffickers, known as "samsara", to get to Europe. In some cases the price can be doubled with no guarantee of arriving alive. The forests in the north have now become a "waiting room" for some Africans to get to the "European Eldorado". But now the Moroccan security forces are cracking down on the migrants living in the shacks. Hundreds of them have been sent back to the Algerian border where they entered Morocco after trekking across the Sahara desert. And some 1,500 Nigerians have been repatriated in a joint exercise between the Moroccan and Nigerian authorities. As a result of the crack-down, the migrants are now taking cover in deeper parts of the forests. To get in touch with them, we needed a guide who is familiar with all corners of the forest.

    Cellular phones
    Excellent persuasive powers are vital too, to convince the guards that we did not have ulterior motives. The first man we bumped into dismissed us. "There have been several foreigners who have told us they are journalists and afterwards told the security forces where we are staying," he accused. News of our visit to the forest spread rapidly, thanks to cellular phones, which the migrants' guards use to report danger. But not all migrants live in the shacks - those with money rent small houses from the local community.

    Cooking soup
    Here compared to those in the forests, they live lavishly. A group we met here, had bought some beers and prepared a home-made speciality of roasted chicken. Charles sports a beard and dreadlocks, and he had worked for seven years in Libya before he came to Morocco on a mission to cross the Straits of Gibraltar. After half an hour's walk on a path wriggling along the slope of the mountain, a camp came into view. During the march we met several migrants on the way to the shop for some supplies. Several were relaxing on a piece of cardboard. Small tents were fixed between the trees. In the distance, a woman was cooking soup on an open fire, while others were talking loudly.

    "Have you visited the camp to see how we live like animals hunting for something to eat?" asks Richard, a young man from Nigeria. He alleged that the Moroccan security forces are very brutal, punching and kicking any migrants they catch. At times they also rape women during their operations to flush out illegal immigrants, he said. His claims are promptly supported by his colleagues who all have tales about their nasty experiences of the security forces. "Look at my back," says one. "Honestly, I can't understand why the Moroccan authorities treat us this way," says a Ghanaian who is desperate to cross to Europe. Priscilla, a teenager, is five months pregnant but refuses to leave the forests to consult a doctor because she is scared of being arrested. She only hopes that she will make it across the Straits of Gibraltar before she gives birth.
    ©BBC News

    14/1/2004ñ Elections were held at the United Nations today to choose nine members of an expert panel, which monitors implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Those elected today to serve four-year terms include Ralph F. Boyd, Jr. of the United States, a former government official who dealt with civil rights; JosÈ Francisco Cali Tzay, the founder of an indigenous rights programme in Guatemala; and Fatimata-Binta Victoire Dah, a career diplomat from Burkina Faso. Today's balloting also saw the re-election of Alexei S. Avtonomov, a senior research fellow from the Russian Federation who speaks 11 languages; Patricia Nozipho January-Bardill who, during over two decades in exile from her native South Africa, conducted anti-apartheid activities; Luis Valencia Rodriguez, who has over half a century of experience in Ecuador's foreign service; Raghavan Vasudevan Pillai of India, who is a Senior Consultant with the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions; Tang Chengyuan, a legal expert from China; and Mario Jorge Yutzis of Argentina, who is the Vice?President of the International Movement against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism. The newly elected experts will join nine members of the panel whose terms of office will expire in two years: Mahmoud Aboul-Nasr (Egypt); Nourredine Amir (Algeria); RÈgis de Gouttes (France); Kurt Herndl (Austria); Morten Kjaerum (Denmark); JosÈ A. Lindgren Alves (Brazil); Agha Shahi (Pakistan); Linos Alexandre Sicilianos (Greece); and Patrick Thornberry (United Kingdom). The 1966 International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination commits States Parties to take measures to abolish that scourge in both law and practice. One hundred and sixty-nine countries are party to the pact.
    ©UN News Centre

    12/1/2004- India has for years fought to keep caste discrimination off the international agenda. But starting Friday in Bombay, Hinduism's centuries old social hierarchy will be a focus of fury for thousands of global activists. The World Social Forum, the annual convention of the anti-globalisation movement which is being held in Asia for the first time, will take up caste as one of five main themes for its panels and protests. Caste "is certainly a very central issue that's going to be put on the table," said Gautam Mody, a spokesman for the forum which organisers expect to draw 75,000 people through January 21. More than 138 million Indians belong to the lowest caste known as the Dalits, or "the oppressed," the term the community prefers to the archaic "untouchables." Another 68 million Indians belong to tribes facing similar social stigma. By the estimate of New York-based Human Rights Watch, more than 100,000 atrocities including murder and rape are committed each year against Dalits, who in the view of Hindu traditionalists should not be allowed even to sit on the same bus seats as higher caste Indians. However, caste discrimination was banned by the 1949 constitution and a number of Dalits have risen to prominent positions most notably K.R. Narayanan, president of India from 1997 to 2002 and a scheduled speaker at the World Social Forum's closing session.

    The Indian government, always sensitive to international criticism, in September 2001 moved to block caste from the agenda of the UN Conference on Racism in Durban, South Africa, arguing that it was already tackling a problem which was not racism. The final resolution condemned discrimination based on "descent" without specifically mentioning caste. Omar Abdullah, who headed the Indian delegation to Durban as junior foreign minister but is now out of the federal government, said he was not bothered by the focus on caste at the World Social Forum. "At that time I was representing the government of India's position. But as an individual I recognise there is a problem," Abdullah told AFP. "If there is an international forum that discusses caste discrimination, then fine," said Abdullah, who leads the main opposition National Conference party in Indian administered Kashmir. "But the problem is not necessarily going to be resolved just because of the international community. It requires greater domestic involvement."

    It is domestic concern that Dalit activists are hoping to spur by the high-profile meet in Bombay. "Untouchability has been officially abolished for 50 years. Fifty years should be sufficient time to get into the bloodstream of the country," said Paul Divakar, convener of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights. Activists from Divakar's movement have been crisscrossing India since December 6, holding Dalit rallies that will culminate at the World Social Forum. While the focus in Bombay will be on India, Dalit campaigners said they wanted to form alliances with other communities suffering hereditary discrimination, such as the Burakumin, Japanese who traditionally lived in isolation as tanners and butchers, and indigenous Americans. Among the speakers at the World Social Forum will be Ecuadorian indigenous leader Blanca Chancoso and Victor Dike, who has lobbied against discrimination among the Igbos of Nigeria. "The whole concept is to rally all the communities who are being humiliated by no fault of theirs," said Ashok Bharti, convener of India's National Conference of Dalit Organisations. World Social Forum organisers said they hoped the meet would bring greater cooperation between Dalits and other Indian movements such as labour unions, Muslims and feminists. Besides talks and rallies, the World Social Forum will showcase arts of the low castes, including an evening of "Dalit tribal fusion music."
    ©Khaleej Times

    22/12/2003- Police in Norway last month deported a record number of would-be immigrants who had no right to permanent residence in the country. It's part of a new effort to enforce immigration law. Around 1,200 would-be immigrants who tried to enter or stay in the country illegally will have been sent out of Norway by the end of the year. An intensifed effort on the part of police resulted in 29 deportations in the course of two weeks alone last month. "More and more people keep coming to Norway," Geir Mjaaset of the police department's immigration section told newspaper Aftenposten over the weekend. "At the same time, we're trying to be more effective." Police cracked down on a string of bus, train and ferry arrivals in Norway in November. They stopped a total of 468 persons, all suspected of either carrying false identification, having forged visas or no documents at all that would allow them to enter Norway. More than 80 of the new arrivals sought asylum on the spot.

    31/12/2003- The leader of the National Homeowner's Association wants to set a top limit of 50 percent immigrants in housing associations and have quotas for Norwegians. The goal, according to managing director Peter Batta, is to improve integration and increase property values, newspaper Dagsavisen reports. Batta, the son of Hungarian immigrants, wants to put Norwegians first in line when apartments open up in associations where immigrants make up the majority. "If Pakistanis only live with Pakistanis they don't learn Norwegian. It is easier for them to adjust to Norwegian culture if they live with Norwegians instead. The point is that immigrants should become as much like Norwegians as quickly as possible, besides cultivating their own culture and religion," Batta told Dagsavisen, and argued that it worked for him. Batta's suggestion mirrors that of Denmark's Minister of Integration, Bertel Haarder, and which has the support of the Danish version of the NHA.

    Batta speaks bluntly about how and why the idea would work, arguing that the plan would upgrade certain areas because Norwegians demand higher living standards than immigrants and also have the economic advantages to do so. "If you want to put immigrants and Norwegians on equal footing it has to be forced, in order to achieve more varied residential districts," said Batta, who defined 'immigrants' as someone from a non-European country who did not speak Norwegian. Batta said the plan is to increase integration and avoid the development of ethnic ghettoes in Oslo. The populist Progress Party's member of parliament Per Sandberg agreed with Batta's arguments. "This is positive discrimination to create harmony and integration. Ghettofication is a problem that will grow in Norway but it is dangerous to say this out loud. We are heading towards the situation in France at full speed, where up to 90 of immigrants live in certain areas," Sandberg said. Martin Maeland at OBOS, the largest Nordic cooperative building association, was skeptical about transplanting a Danish integration idea to Norway. Maeland said that the highest concentration of immigrant presence amounted to 20-30 percent non-Western immigrants in some Oslo neighborhoods, and that there was no reason to call these ghettoes. "Colorful neighborhoods that have become very popular places to live is what they are," Maeland said.

    5/1/2004- Erna Solberg, the cabinet minister in charge of local government and immigration, is proposing a new law forbidding discrimination on ethnic or religious grounds. The law would cover everything from the workplace to the housing market. Its aim is to make life in Norway easier for foreigners who often find themselves aced out of the job market or who encounter difficulty renting an apartment. In another recent case, a local furniture store wouldn't allow a female employee to wear a head scarf, arguing that it violated the store's dress code. Solberg admits that much of the discrimination that occurs in Norway is informal and difficult to crack down on. "But once we finally have an explicit law, the threshold will rise considerably," she told newspaper Aftenposten on Monday. Norway already has a new law forbidding discrimination in the housing market, and Solberg's department is mounting a campaign to inform the public about it. Her proposal would toughen the law, and also require those charged to mount proof of their innocence. Solberg argues that existing law already makes it illegal for employers, for example, to prevent women from wearing head scarves if their religion calls for it. Her proposed law "would make this even more clear."

    6/1/2004ñ Belgian schools should outlaw the wearing of ostentatious religous dress, including the islamic headscarf, according to a proposal outlined Monday by by two Belgian Senators, Socialist Anne-Marie Lizin, and Liberal Alain Destexhe. Large crosses, veils, tchadors and kippas would be banned in Belgian schools by the end of 2004 if their resolution, to be tabled before senators, and similar to proposals made in France at the end of last year, is passed. Arguing that ostentatious religious iconography works against gender equality in the school environment, Lizin and Destexhe said the law would "protect minors and favour emancipation." "In all Muslim countries, women are fighting to be liberated from the veil and affirm their identity. It is not normal that more women carry a veil in some Brussels neighbourhoods than in the streets of Algiers," Lizin said. The Senatorial duo will be lodging their proposal at the Senate for review, while Lizin hopes to create a Stasi Commission like working group to carry out research on the subject across the country and encourage debate.
    ©Expatica News

    7/1/2004- Public hospitals throughout Brussels' Iris group are to ban the wearing of all visible religious dress by their staff, it was announced Tuesday. Moliere-Longchamps, Baron Lambert, CHU Brugmann, J Bracops, and Etterbeek-Ixelles hospitals will ban religious dress from later this month. "We had to establish a set of rules because the situation was becoming a problem," director of human resources at Iris, Michel Peeters, told La Libre Belgique. Employees within the Iris group will have to adhere to the same rules. Until now, each management group had its own stance on the wearing of religious dress to work. Several private hospitals have already adopted a ban on religious dress. "In certain hospitals, patients have complained about being cared for by people who were manifesting their religion too aggressively," said president of the Brugmann Hospital board, Jean-Marie Amand. Peeters notes the problem runs farther than religious dress, citing cases whereby employees attempted to convert patients, refused to serve meals containing pork, refused to wash men, or maintained a derogatory attitude towards women having an abortion. Some Belgian medical schools have taken a similar approach to Iris, with the Free University of Brussels (ULB) banning women from carrying a veil during practical exercises and while undertaking practical training within a hospital environment. Earlier this week two Belgian Senators, Socialist Anne-Marie Lizin, and Liberal Alain Destexhe, proposed that Belgian schools should outlaw the wearing of ostentatious religious dress, including the Islamic headscarf. Large crosses, veils, tchadors and kippas would be banned in Belgian schools by the end of 2004 if their resolution, to be tabled before senators, and similar to proposals made in France at the end of last year, is passed. Arguing that ostentatious religious iconography works against gender equality in the school environment, Lizin and Destexhe said the law would "protect minors and favour emancipation."
    ©Expatica News

    21/12/2003- Hundreds of people have protested in the French capital, Paris, about government plans to ban the wearing of the Islamic headscarf in state schools. The demonstrators were mostly young women, many with their heads covered. They marched behind a banner which declared "Beloved France, respect our freedom". Another insisted that Muslims were devoted citizens of the republic, but were also free citizens of a democracy. As though to demonstrate their loyalty, many carried the red white and blue tricolour, the national flag of the French republic. It was in defence of secularism - a core value of that republic - that President Chirac announced on Wednesday that the wearing of overt symbols of religious allegiance would be banned from state schools from the start of the next academic year. These include the Islamic headscarf, the Jewish skullcap and crucifixes of excessive size.

    Muslims divided
    Polls showed two-thirds of French people support the ban, as do many schoolteachers. Opinion in the Muslim community is divided. One survey suggested that as many as 50% of Muslim women here also support the ban. But some Muslim leaders insist that, although the ban applies in theory to all religions, in practice it discriminates against the country's five million Muslims. France has been convulsed by the debate. Many believe the problem of how France's Islamic community can be integrated into the mainstream of French society is the most troubling and explosive fault-line of the day.
    ©BBC News

    2/1/2004- President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt has intervened in a growing row in his country over France's decision to ban headscarves in state schools. The row erupted earlier this week when a senior Muslim cleric said he agreed that France should have the right to implement the ban. Mr Mubarak appeared to support the sheikh's ruling, saying it was a French issue and Egypt could not interfere. The sheikh's ruling has been angrily rejected by other Islamic scholars.

    National right
    The president said the ban on religious symbols from state schools applied to all religions and not only to Muslims. The Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar mosque, Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, had said he agreed that France should have the right to implement the ban. He said that although the wearing of headscarves was a religious duty, different rules applied to Muslims living inside Muslim countries and those living in non-Muslim ones. "If a Muslim woman is in a non-Muslim country, like France, for example, whose officials want to adopt laws opposed to the veil, it is their right." However, the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest opposition group with 16 seats in parliament, have strongly opposed the French ban and criticised Sheikh Tantawi's views saying they harmed the principles of Islam.

    Sikh concerns
    In a separate development, France's 5,000 Sikhs are asking India's prime minister to lobby for their traditional turbans to be exempted from the ban. "This law will not just be against Muslims, it will be against Sikhs as well," said spokesman Chain Singh. "We cannot live without our turbans. This is our religion. If we cannot wear them, we may not be able to stay here." The issue of headscarves has also provoked a strong debate in Germany. Politicians and clerics have criticised President Johannes Rau's appeal that Islamic headscarves should receive equal treatment as other religious symbols of other faiths. The Bavarian state prime minister, Edmund Stoiber, said the president had no right to cast doubt on the German identity which is distinguished by the Christian religion. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder himself has said that while he is opposed to public servants wearing Muslim headscarves, he was not against students doing so in schools. The German federal constitutional court, the country's highest tribunal, has ruled that individual states could legislate to ban religious attire if it was seen to unduly influence children.
    ©BBC News

    22/12/2003- In supporting a ban on Muslim headscarves and other religious symbols in his country's public schools, French President Jacques Chirac has called forth some startling ironies. On Sunday, the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hamid Reza Asefi, condemned the Chirac government for "an extremist decision aimed at preventing the development of Islamic values" in France. Meanwhile, thousands of French Muslims demonstrated in favor of the veil. Last week, The Associated Press reported that some Muslim girls in France were thinking of attending Roman Catholic schools in order to keep wearing their headscarves.

    Astounding, no? The French government's heavy emphasis on secularism is rooted in a reaction against Catholicism's dominance of the state before the French Revolution and the church's opposition to liberal values into the early part of the 20th century. Now we face the prospect of Muslim women seeking to vindicate their religious rights through Catholic institutions. Chirac does deserve credit for linking his decision with a necessary call for a renewed "fight against xenophobia, racism and anti-Semitism." He acted in response to both liberal and right-wing fears. French liberals worry about the rise of anti-Semitism and the challenge that head scarves pose to women's rights. The far right has gained ground by exploiting prejudice against Muslim immigrants. But Chirac's problem was made more difficult because the French version of secularism is different from its American variant. The American approach provides more room for settling conflicts.

    Both France and the United States see their respective governments as "secular" in the sense that they do not sponsor any particular faith. But Wilfred McClay, a historian at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, notes that there are two kinds of secularism. One is largely "negative," aimed at protecting religion from government establishment and interference. The other sees secularism as "an alternative faith" that "supersedes the tragic blindness and destructive irrationalities of the historical religions." McClay is critical of this view and prefers the "negative" approach because it limits government's claims and respects religion's contribution to the public realm. On the whole, the United States has operated within this limited framework while French secularism has been more aggressive in pushing religion to the margins of public life.

    The difference between the approaches has already played itself out on the schools issue. In 1995, the Department of Education issued guidelines that drew a distinction between the rights of individual public school students and the duty of teachers and school administrators. Students were free to wear religious garb and symbols, to pray voluntarily on school grounds, to read the Bible or other holy books at study halls. But school officials had the duty not to endorse any particular religious doctrine, nor could they coerce students into participating in any religious activity. The balance, President Bill Clinton said at the time, demonstrated that the Constitution "does not require children to leave their religion at the schoolhouse door."

    Before Americans crow, we should reflect on the expressions of religious bigotry in our own history. But the conflicts confronting Chirac suggest that America's limited form of secularism may well, as McClay has written, provide "an essential basis for peaceful coexistence in a religiously pluralistic society." That's because our approach grows from a basic respect for religious traditions, including the ones that are not our own.
    ©The Washington Post

    By Caroline Wyatt, BBC correspondent Paris

    20/12/2003- French President Jacques Chirac has widespread popular support for the proposal to ban the wearing of religious symbols in state schools. And everyone knows that it is really about the Islamic headscarf. I was sitting in a cafe with a friend, Antoine, soon after I'd arrived in Paris this June. It was a glorious sunny summer's evening, and we sat outdoors to watch the world go by. I live in the Marais, a gay and very touristy area, full of young men sauntering past in search of a good night out. Two men in tight T-shirts, showing bulging biceps, walked past hand in hand, occasionally stopping to kiss one another affectionately. "That's disgusting!" exclaimed Antoine, a middle-aged, rather conventional French businessman. "What, the two men?" I asked. "No, no, not them. Behind them, the two women." I looked but I couldn't see anything amiss. All I saw were two young women, walking past chatting to one other. I turned to Antoine, mystified. "The veils!" he exclaimed. "Veils?" I asked. "Yes, those headscarves," he said. "That shouldn't be allowed here in France." I was utterly baffled.

    Very 'un-French'
    Antoine spent the next half hour explaining to me why he and most of his friends were horrified by the sight of women wearing what the French call "the veil" and others might call the "hijab" or Islamic headscarf. It was degrading to women, he told me, and few of the women wearing it did so voluntarily. They were forced, he said, by their families and by local Imams, who were teaching an increasingly fundamentalist form of Islam to France's Muslim community. "That was never a problem with the first generation of Muslim immigrants in France, the Algerians and Moroccans who came and settled here in the 60s and 70s. They just wanted to fit in," Antoine told me. He explained that it was the second and third generation of French-born Muslims, many of whom live in the big city suburbs - effectively ghettoes - who seemed to him increasingly "un-French". He said they were rejecting French values and French culture and identifying themselves with their co-religionists in other countries instead, even insisting on wearing the headscarf to school. Muslim girls were clearly being oppressed by the headscarf. It was all very dangerous, and would lead to no good, said Antoine ominously.

    Young targets
    Those same thoughts were echoed rather more elegantly by the French President Jacques Chirac, as he announced to an appreciative audience at the Elysee Palace that all religious symbols would be banned from French state schools. He cited liberty, equality, fraternity, and the need to keep France a secular state. Yet everyone here knows that the ruling isn't really about the wearing of a small cross on a chain, or even the Jewish skullcap. It is about the headscarf, and the visceral, almost incoherent rage it induces in even the most liberal of French. But is that racism, or fear of the "other"? Is it the fear of someone else's values slowly turning France into something more multi-cultural? I can't make up my mind, and the French Muslim women I've spoken to all have radically differing views.

    Unexpected support
    Samira Bellil, a 30-year-old Algerian-born Frenchwoman is just as passionate as Antoine in her rejection of the hijab. She has become involved in a Muslim women's campaign against the headscarf in schools. She says girls are being pressurised to wear it, as much to protect themselves from the casual violence of the ghetto, as by their families or religious leaders. Samira herself was raped not once but twice as a teenager in the Paris suburbs. Her attackers were also Muslim. Later, she was told by one classmate that she wouldn't have been attacked if she had been wearing the hijab instead of flaunting herself bare-headed. It was that sort of at immigrant community. This is a discussion that suddenly acquired a new and desperate urgency on September the 11th 2001.

    Fragmented society
    France's failure over the past 40 years or so has been to dump those immigrant families into high-rise ghettoes, where desperation over unemployment and poverty is boiling over into alienation. A whole new generation of young people are choosing to reject French values, just as they feel France has rejected them. Only now are politicians beginning to wake up and ask what has gone wrong. How can France offer real equality to all, making it more than just a word inscribed on all the national public buildings?
    ©BBC News

    25/12/2003- The head of the worldwide Anglican church, Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury, roundly attacked France Thursday over its proposal to ban religious symbols, including the Islamic veil, from state schools. Williams, the primate of the Church of England, also spoke out against religious extremism and intolerance during his Christmas Day sermon at Canterbury Cathedral. "Alas," he said, "religious faith has too often been the language of the powerful, the excuse for oppression, the alibi for atrocity." Williams said religious intolerance was being given a new lease of life "by the threat of terror carried out in the name of a religion -- even when representatives of that religion at every level roundly condemn such action as incompatible with faith." But he said the call of President Jacques Chirac for a law banning religious symbols in state schools was unsurprising "in a secular environment that looks at religion not only with suspicion or incomprehension but with fear." "The proposal to ban Muslim headscarves in French schools suggests that there is still a nervousness about letting commitment show its face in public, he said. Williams has been preoccupied with relations between Christians and Muslims over the past year and was a leading critic of the US-led war on Iraq. He has also criticized the holding of Muslim prisoners without trial by the United States and Britain, saying this complicates relations with followers of Islam.

    Chirac last week declared his support for a ban on "conspicuous" religious insignia that was recommended by an advisory committee, on grounds that French schools are strictly secular. Chirac indicated that he would like to see the ban written into law by the start of the next academic year. Williams had previously lashed out at the move on religious symbols as "provocative and destructive", in a British Sunday newspaper. "Discomfort about religion or about a particular religion may be the response of an educated liberal or, at the opposite extreme, the unthinking violence of an anti-Semite; it isn't easy to face the fact that sometimes the effects are similar for the believer," Williams told the congregation in Canterbury cathedral. "And in case we think the whole debate is just a French problem, we should recognise just a little of the same unease in the nervous sniggering about the prime minister's religious faith which ripples over the surface of the media from time to time." British Prime Minister Tony Blair is a practising Christian. Williams said faith was "not either a perversion of human freedom or a marginal and private eccentricity." But he added, "we have to show that we truly are on the side of humanity -- by patient loyalty to people in their need, by courage and sacrifice for the sake of justice, by labor for reconciliation, setting people from the threat of violence." Williams said all the great religious traditions have something to say about this: "which is one reason for Christians, Muslims, Jews and others to stand with each other and speak out for each other in times of stress or harassment."
    ©The Tocqueville Connection

    6/1/2004- French President Jacques Chirac told the country's top religious leaders Tuesday that a planned law to ban Islamic headscarves and other insignia from schools would protect religious freedom and not "modify the bounds of secularism". "This is simply about France remaining faithful to the balance which has been established over decades and to reaffirm, respectfully but firmly, a principle and practices long present in our country," Chirac said. The French leader called for a ban in December following months of fierce debate over whether to allow headscarves in state schools, which are secular. The draft law, which parliament is likely to pass next month, has drawn protest across the Muslim world and in France, notably from some of the country's five million Muslims. A Britain-based Islamic group, the European Council for Fatwa and Research, asked Paris to rethink its plans in a statement made public Tuesday. Backers of the law, which has strong popular support in France, should act in the interest of "reinforcing national unity and peace", the group said, according to the French Union of Islamic Organizations which made the statement public. The group also urged French Muslims to express their opposition through "peaceful and legal" means.

    In Paris, Dalil Boubakeur, president of the French Council for the Muslim Religion (CFCM) was the first Muslim representative to attend Chirac's annual New Year's greeting to religious leaders. "Today is a great day, an historic day, for Islam in France. It is the first time organized Islam is welcomed into the palaces of the republic," Boubakeur told journalists. The CFCM, formed last year, is the first recognized national council for French Muslims. It opposes Chirac's secular law, but has indicated it will urge acceptance of the new measure when it comes into force in the next academic year. Chirac's comments Tuesday were a "call for calm, wisdom and responsibility," Boubakeur said. "There is nothing on the French side that is contrary to the serenity of the Muslim community." Also present in Paris were French Protestant Federation (FPF) president Pastor Jean-Arnold de Clermont, the Grand Rabbi of France Joseph Sitruk and the Archbishop-Cardinal of Paris, Jean-Marie Lustiger. Sitruk said it was "Year I of Islam in France. It is the beginning of a history which I hope will be felicitous and show this friendship between Jews and Arabs."
    ©The Tocqueville Connection

    26/12/2003- A French bank, Societe Generale, said Friday that one of its security guards had been overzealous in turning away a Muslim woman wearing an Islamic headscarf from one of its Paris branches. The bank, confirming an article in Le Monde newspaper, said the incident occurred on December 22 when the woman tried to enter a bank in the northeast of the city. A guard in the bank stopped her from entering after she refused to abide by a sign that required all customers to take off "scarves, caps, helmets and all other head coverings and sunglasses" -- a measure taken against robbers trying to disguise their appearance. But the incident rapidly took on bigger proportions in France, which is in the throes of a fierce debate over whether to ban Islamic headscarves and other "conspicuous" religious insignia from schools and public offices. Islamic groups around the world have decried the proposal, which was backed last week by President Jacques Chirac.

    Internet chat rooms -- some of which were behind a Paris protest by thousands of Muslims last weekend -- have been buzzing with news of the Muslim woman's experience. Some contributors claimed it was not an isolated case. A spokesperson for Societe Generale said the entry requirement for the banks had been around for several years, "but employees know how to distinguish between possible masked robbers and a client whose face is recognisable." "The guard seems to have interpreted the measure literally, and the matter has been blown up because of the context," the spokesperson said, adding that the guard had shown "excessive zeal".
    ©The Tocqueville Connection

    27/12/2003- St.Florentin, France. From most angles, this village looks like the quaint medieval parish that tourists expect to find deep in the French countryside: Half-timbered houses crowd around a stone church that overlooks rolling fields and ancient Burgundian forests. But tucked between the old buildings and the bucolic landscape, there lies another world filled with spoken Arabic, steaming couscous and the simmering frustration of idle young men born to Muslim immigrants in a deeply conservative Christian land. "Racists surround us," said Brahim Bouanani, a 26-year-old St.-Florentin native, when asked what lies down the tree-lined, two-lane highways that stretch out of town. For Bouanani and his peers, born to North African laborers who arrived decades ago, St.-Florentin is less a centuries-old accumulation of France's cultural heritage than a series of cheap and charmless public housing blocks on the west side of town. About a third of the town's 5,800 residents are "foreigners" like him, he said. Their isolation is extreme, their alienation profound and their future uncertain. But their situation is not unique. Beyond the Arab ghettos of Paris or Marseille or Lyon, the immigration of the 1960's and 1970's seeded hundreds of smaller communities across France with Muslims whose numbers have since grown.

    France's Muslim population - Europe's largest - is now five million. They are the avant-garde of a trend that is already redefining European societies from Sweden to Spain. With European populations aging and shrinking, reopening the borders to immigration is becoming an economic necessity. Demographic pressures mean Muslims will probably be at the forefront of the next immigrant wave: By many estimates the majority of the 300 million Muslims already living along the Mediterranean's southern rim are under age 20, and the population there is expanding fast. As a result, the growing estrangement of France's second- and third-generation Muslims and the increasing discrimination directed against them have become pressing concerns for the French government. The political establishment remains rattled by the resurgence of virulent racist-tinged nationalism during the last national elections.

    "I'm worried about a certain Islamophobia that is developing in our country," Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said during a recent visit to the capital's largest mosque. With their imperfectly spoken Arabic and their French ideals, young Muslims say they are as alienated from their parents as they are from the provincials in the surrounding countryside. Bouanani took a visitor for a stroll along the hillsides below the housing projects and along the still waters of the Burgundy Canal. Makeshift fences of chicken wire and rough boards divide the land into small, overgrown gardens filled with mint and red peppers. Women in black chadors and abayas make the place feel more like Barbary than Burgundy. Few of the younger generation work in the gardens, Bouanani says, and though many of the immigrants' children visit North Africa each summer, their ties are growing weaker as their parents age. St.-Florentin, named for a ninth-century monastery built in honor of a fifth-century Christian martyr, changed little over the centuries until the 1960's, when an enterprising mayor built a small industrial zone. During the brief labor-hungry economic boom that followed, workers were brought here from the Islamic crescent across the Mediterranean.

    The borders have since closed, but family members, asylum seekers and illegal immigrants have added to the immigrants' numbers. The original immigrants expected little from their adopted homeland. But their children, born French and now coming of age, want to be treated like everyone else. Crumbling Moroccan hashish into a cigarette paper in front of a mostly abandoned apartment block here, Gharib Roubiaux co a mosque. The prefecture has also established a discrimination hot line and works actively to settle disputes, the young Arabs say. "It's no longer explicit racism, but implicit racism," said Karim Sahmaoui, 20, a lean, sad-eyed man with white sneakers. He and others complain of job discrimination. The factories typically employ the men for three-week stints of staggered shifts but rarely offer full-time contracts. They work for minimum wage without benefits. Full-time employment is reserved for ethnic Europeans, the men say. Many people become so discouraged they rarely leave the square kilometer of buildings where most of the town's Arabs live. Depression and drug use are common. In Sahmaoui's sixth-floor apartment, one of the last inhabited in a building slated for demolition, his father chopped carrots and tomatoes for the couscous he was making for dinner. For all his frustration, Sahmaoui says that when he visits Morocco, he thanks his father for having moved to France. "If I didn't have hope," he said when asked about he future, " I'd be in prison."
    ©International Herald Tribune

    3/1/2004- Eight people staged a daring escape from a controversial holding centre for clandestine immigrants in the southern French city of Marseille on Saturday by digging a hole under a wall, police said. The eight, who were from five different countries and were in the process of being expelled from France, managed to reach the centre's staircase and then disappeared into the port of Marseille in the early hours of the morning. The centre, with accommodation for 48 people divided into dormitories, is located in a shed on the end of a quay of Marseille port area. The group of 20- to 44-year-olds, who included Moroccans, Russians, Algerians, Moldovans and at least one Palestinian, are now the subject of a return order at borders. Their flight is set to renew the debate over the future of the Arenc holding centre, which is regularly criticised by immmigrants' support groups for being in a state of delapidation and decay. The centre, which is kept under guard by some 40 French frontier police officers, was set up back in 1964 as a "secret prison" and has been in official operation since 1975. Arenc was singled out in a 2001 report by the 45-nation Council of Europe, which awarded it the title of having the filthiest detention conditions of any centre of its type. Debate is now raging at a local level about whether the centre should be merely renovated or rebuilt from scratch. "Arenc is an old centre. It needs to be done up," the deputy regional adminstrator of Marseille, Jacques Belpey, conceded on Saturday. "But such an operation takes time... The choice between rebuilding and renovation is a difficult one."
    ©Expatica News

    6/1/2004- French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy set himself clearly against the political mainstream Tuesday with a public call for affirmative action to help integrate the country's growing immigrant population. "There are parts of France and categories of French citizen who have loaded on their heads so many handicaps that if we do not help them more than we help others, they will never escape," the minister said in a debate at the Political Studies Institute in Paris. Refuting the argument that affirmative action -- or positive discrimination -- was not part of France's political culture, he said that in many areas of public life it is already in operation. "When we create quotas for the disabled, when we pass a law so that half the people on party lists at elections are women, when we set up economic and educational priority zones, what is that if not positive discrimination?" he said. French governments and the country's intellectual establishment have always fought shy of affirmative action, believing that it is an American concept that encourages the break-up of society into ethnic and religious groupings. However the failings of the French system -- which in theory allows every citizen an equal opportunity but in practice has consigned millions of North African and black immigrants to suburban ghettoes -- have provoked heated debate over whether change is necessary. Sarkozy has already shown he is willing to confront prevailing orthodoxy, saying recently that he hopes to appoint the country's first ever Muslim prefect, or departmental governor -- an idea which enraged upholders of the principle of non-discrimination. The interior minister, who has made no secret of his desire to succeed President Jacques Chirac, has combined a tough line on law-and-order with a conciliatory policy towards France's estimated five million Muslims. He was behind the creation of the first officially-recognised Islamic representative body in France and was initially opposed to a law backed by Chirac that will outlaw the wearing of the Islamic headscarf in schools.
    ©The Tocqueville Connection

    22/12/2003- An African couple who were among three families forced to flee their south Belfast homes after a series of vicious racist attacks spoke out today about the ordeal. The pair, who are originally from Uganda, had their home attacked along with two Chinese families, including two pregnant women, by a gang in the loyalist Lower Donegall Road area. In one of the terrifying incidents on Saturday night a gang burst into a house and assaulted the two pregnant women - one of whom is expecting her baby on Christmas Day. A man in the house was battered in the face with a brick and suffered a broken nose and other facial injuries. A short time later, bricks were thrown through the windows of two other houses in the area. Police, who are treating the attacks as racist, said the occupants of all the houses - some with young children - had now left their homes for their own safety. The African man, who did not wish to be identified, told the BBC he felt the feelings of racism were encouraged by a lack of education. "I think the best thing that the politicians can do is just to educate the people that are thought to be doing all this," he said. "If only they could educate them that we are just part of the community, that we are as normal as them, we breathe the same air, we have the same blood, we are simply the same as they are." Inspector Keith Gilchrist said one of the pregnant women had been taken into hospital. "She is very heavily pregnant and was taken in for observation but we believe everything is OK with the baby at the moment," he said. "It's absolutely horrific that people have been put out of their homes at this time of year. We're having to seek temporary accommodation with the assistance of social services." SDLP Assembly member for south Belfast, Carmel Hanna - also a member of the Chinese Welfare Association - said: "We have some very sick people in our society - some very sectarian and some very racist people." The weekend's attacks are just the latest in a prolonged series of racially motivated attacks on the Chinese community in Belfast where they live close to loyalist areas. Police said 226 racial incidents were reported between April 2002 and April 2003 and 185 the previous year.
    © Independent Digital

    Far right targets loyalist areas

    23/12/2003- The British National party and other far-right groups may be behind a spate of vicious racist attacks in loyalist areas of Northern Ireland, it emerged yesterday. The most recent came over the weekend when a family originally from Uganda and a group of Chinese people - including two heavily pregnant women - were driven from their homes in the deprived Village area of South Belfast. One of the women is due to give birth on Christmas Day and has been taken into hospital for observation. Inspector Keith Gilchrist of the Police Service Northern Ireland said: "It is absolutely horrific that people should be put out of their homes at any time but particularly at this time of year. We are having to seek temporary accommodation with the assistance of the social services." A gang attacked at least three houses, smashing windows with bricks. In one house a man was battered in the face with a brick. The African man who did not wish to be named said: "I think the best thing that the politicians can do is just to educate the people that are thought to be doing all this. "If only they could educate them that we are just part of the community, that we are as normal as them, we breathe the same air, we have the same blood, we are simply the same as they are."

    Police are treating the attacks as racially motivated and it is thought that racist groups based in England may be organising them. The BNP recently announced it would be fielding candidates in the next round of council elections in the province. Councillor Bob Stokoe, a former Lord Mayor of Belfast who lives in the Village area, said he thought that individuals from groups such as the BNP or Combat 18 may be involved. He believed that outsiders were organising the attacks and that mainstream loyalist paramilitary groups were not directly responsible. Davy Carlin of the Anti-Racism Network said: "They appear to be the work of individual loyalist far-right sympathisers getting active support from far-right organisations. "They choose to go into areas that are socially and economically deprived and stir up a perception that outsiders are coming in to get their jobs." Duncan Morrow of the Community Relations Council said that there was endemic racism across the whole of Northern Ireland, particularly in loyalist ghettoes that was "turning into real violence". The political vacuum and the idea that many loyalists thought that republicans were being given major concessions could be exacerbating the situation, he believed. He said: "Because of the years of sectarianism and street violence there are kids on the streets for whom violence is somehow legitimate. "I doubt whether this has anything to do with the pathology of the Protestant communities. It is more to do with where they are now and what has been happening to them. "Under these circumstances certainly it is dangerous for people who are from ethnic minorities to be living in some protestant areas." South Belfast's SDLP assembly member and member of the Chinese Welfare Association, Carmel Hanna, said: "We have some very sick people in our society, some very sectarian and some very racist people."

    In the year ending April 2003, police recorded 226 racial incidents in the province compared with 185 the previous year. More attacks are thought to go unreported for fear of reprisals.
    ©The Guardian

    23/12/2003- A police force revealed today that all new recruits will be made to sign a "no racism" pact following a BBC documentary which exposed bigoted officers. Anyone wishing to join North Wales Police will be forced to sign the "personal contract" between themselves and Chief Constable Richard Brunstrom. The move follows the BBC's The Secret Policeman documentary which showed undercover footage of trainee officers from the North West making racist comments. Since the programme nine officers have resigned, including one from the North Wales force, two from Cheshire, and six from Greater Manchester Police. The documentary, filmed by reporter Mark Daly, showed North Wales recruit Pc Rob Pulling wearing a Ku Klux Klan-style homemade hood, saying he would bury an Asian under a railway track.

    A spokeswoman for North Wales Police said today that all prospective officers would be sent a recruitment pack containing the document. They must sign it before they can progress any further. Any breach of the contract will lead to dismissal and possible prosecution. Chief Constable Richard Brunstrom said: "Individuals may be able to hide deep-seated prejudice for a time but the organisation will root out unacceptable behaviour and enforce the strongest penalties possible. "The very least we expect from our recruits is a commitment to basic standards of decency and respect." He added: "We are committed to promoting tolerance, diversity and human rights."
    ©The Scotsman

    5/1/2004- Racism has replaced corruption as the biggest threat to the integrity of the police, the new head of the police complaints commission said yesterday. Nick Hardwick, the chairman of the Independent Police Complaints Commission, said the scourge of racism within the police was his greatest "concern" and that some chief constables needed to do more to "drive it out". Mr Hardwick, 46, also attacked police disciplinary procedures as an "anachronistic", "quasi-military, Victorian system" in need of reform. His comments, in an interview with The Independent, come as the commission, which replaces the Police Complaints Authority, is given sweeping new powers to carry out independent investigations into alleged police wrongdoing. Mr Hardwick said the extreme racism uncovered among police recruits at a training centre in Cheshire by an undercover television reporter last October raised disturbing questions about the culture that still existed within elements of the service. In the documentary, The Secret Policeman, recruits were filmed praising Hitler and wearing a Ku Klux Klan-style hood, and one described the murder of Stephen Lawrence as "a good memory". Mr Hardwick said: "On top of the list [of concern] is race. That was shown by all that came out of The Secret Policeman. There are big questions about why people like that thought the police service was going to be a comfortable place to work. What we would like to see is that complaints on these matters are dealt with properly. "There are parallels in how the police have dealt with corruption in the past. If you go back a long time, there was almost a certain acceptance of a low level of corruption. Then it led to ... a really strong drive against major corruption.
    © Independent Digital

    4/1/2004- The Picture and details of a leading anti-racism campaigner and councillor have been posted on a website linked to violent and neo-Nazi groups. Turn to page 3 Chris Wood's photograph has appeared on the Pro-Democracy League website which is run as a far right spoof of the Anti-Nazi League (ANL) website. Mr Wood is chairman of North Staffordshire Campaign Against Racism and Fascism (Norscarf) and Labour group deputy leader on Stoke-on-Trent City Council. Under the headline: 'Who are Britain's Anti-Democrats?', Mr Wood appears alongside various organisers from the ANL. The site also carries a commentary on the activities of Norscarf which recently pledged to knock on the doors of every house in North Staffordshire where the British National Party is campaigning. The Pro-Democracy League says it will make a poster available on the internet to print and display in a window to tell Norscarf they are not welcome. The Pro-Democracy League site publishes the photographs, addresses, car registration plates and regular haunts of hundreds of anti-racism campaigners.

    The website is also listed on a far-right website called Redwatch which provides links to 12 other websites including the White Nationalist Party, Aryan Unity and Combat 18. The Redwatch website has the slogan "Remember places, traitors' faces, they' ll all pay for their crimes." Photographs on Redwatch include individuals and crowds who have taken part in demonstrations against the Iraq war or against the British National Party (BNP). The anti-racism organisation Searchlight says some people whose details have been posted on Redwatch website have been subject to violence and intimidation and the Home Office says it is looking for ways of responding to public concerns. Mr Wood said: "This is an attempt at intimidation. The site is linked to Redwatch which is clearly an attempt to intimidate people into not campaigning against groups like the BNP. It will not stop me or put me off doing what I do, but there is still a worry there. As a councillor it is very easy to get my address and contact details. I have two sons aged 19 and 21 who live at home with me and I have concerns in case they are bothered. "There have been attacks on other people or on their cars in other parts of the country, so I have informed the police about it. These people are just cowards and they won't intimidate me."

    A Home Office spokesman said: "We are very aware of the anxiety caused by the presence of such material on the internet. The Home Office has had representations from many MPs and others about Redwatch, and we will be responding to their concerns very soon. The Government has for some time been in discussion with police, the Crown Prosecution Service, internet service providers, the Internet Watch Foundation and others about criminal activity on the internet and ways of tackling it." The Pro-Democracy League website offers 'education' on Trotsky, Marx, Lenin, Stalin and the impact of Communism on the former Soviet Union. It describes Marx and Lenin as "idols of the ANL" and says: "The ANL is a Marxist/Communist front. Its 'supporters' are recruited in the main from universities where red dross are not only students, but lecturers promoting anti-democratic propaganda like Marxism." Julian Waterson, national organiser of the Pro-Democracy League, said the organisation had been launched in 2001 in response to anti-racist organisations who campaign specifically against the BNP. He said it had no link to the BNP or Redwatch, apart from being listed by the site. He said: "The Pro-Democracy League is exclusively committed to peaceful means." Mr Waterson said the site was intended to provide another view to the campaigning of anti-racist groups. He said: "The public needed to be made fully aware of the true nature of these groups which are mostly made up of far left groups who oppose democracy and free speech, and Baby Drive and the Racial Volunteer Force. Redwatch lists "reds" by town and city and justifies publishing names and addresses because the Anti-Nazi League has previously circulated personal details of BNP leader Nick Griffin and his family when planning a counter-demonstration to a party rally. The website says: "The infantile goons of the SWP/ANaL [Socialist Workers' Party/Anti Nazi League] circus recently published the addresses, telephone numbers and work details of a leading British nationalist and his family. Fight back - send us details of your local red scumbags - we want their names, addresses, phone numbers, photographs, work details - anything and everything about them to publish here in the same way as they are doing to our people. We are going to give them exactly the same treatment as they are giving us - and we'll give as good as we get!"
    ©This is Staffordshire

    By Robin van Stokrom

    2/12/2003- Dutch Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner has this week advocated the idea of a two-tier justice system in which foreigners who commit crime would be sentenced differently from Dutch nationals. How has a country which once had a reputation for tolerance descended to such illiberalism? During the second half of 2004, the Dutch government will hold the EU presidency. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has expressed the hope 'that the Dutch government will seize this opportunity not only to improve its own asylum policy, but also to extend its humanitarian tradition to the broader European community.' But, this hope is unlikely to be fulfilled. For, in recent years, the Netherlands has forfeited its image as an open society which welcomes refugees. Immigration policies have become very strict and the attitude towards foreigners generally hostile. Racist tendencies are emerging as a fear of foreigners is exploited in order to create a sense of Dutch national identity.

    Whereas the immigration debate in southern Europe is focused on the clandestine entry of people who seek illegal work, in the Netherlands as in other northern European countries, the debate has focused on asylum seekers. During the 1990s, EU-member states made it more difficult for refugees to enter and to receive residence rights on political or humanitarian grounds. European countries are now engaged in a competition as to who can accept the lowest number of refugees - and the Dutch are winning. As HRW concluded in April 2003: 'over the past several years, the Netherlands has left behind its traditionally protective stance toward asylum seekers to take up a restrictive approach that stands out among Western European countries.' In fact, in 2001, only 219 asylum seekers were granted permanent residence in the Netherlands: the lowest figure of all European states. (In 1996, around 9,000 asylum seekers were granted refugee status.) Even in Italy, where the extreme-right is in power, the number of asylum seekers that received a residence permit in 2001 is higher than the Dutch figure: 15.9 per cent of applicants in Italy were successful as compared with 0.6 per cent in the Netherlands.

    Influence on welfare groups
    The strictness of current policies are even influencing refugee NGOs. In Friesland (a region in the North with its own distinct culture and language, and a strong socialist tradition) the Frisian branch of the refugee welfare NGO Vluchtelingenwerk, which campaigns for better refugee policies, recently suggested to Frisians that they should be less friendly to refugees. Instead of trying to influence the government's harsh policies, it told Frisians that their welcoming attitude to refugees was problematic in the light of the strict current policies of the government. For it gave refugees the impression that they were welcome in our country, which ran contrary to fact. There are also refugee NGOs engaged in sending asylum seekers back to their countries of origin. One is Maatwerk bij Terugkeer, an organisation set up by the Catholic Organisation for Relief and Development and the Central Mission Commissariat. Maatwerk, a charity, co-operates with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) that manages the REAN-project, Return and Emigration of Aliens from the Netherlands. IOM co-ordinates the 'voluntary' return of refugees in Europe. But the reality is that if an asylum seeker refuses to return voluntarily, he or she runs the risk of being deported, forcibly.

    Human rights violations
    In April 2003, HRW, after three months research, concluded that the Dutch government had, 'breached the Netherlands' refugee and human rights obligations'. In its report, The Triumph of Efficiency Over Protection in Dutch Asylum Policy, it identified three main areas in which the Dutch state violated internati positive decision after the 48 hours, the refugee must wait for years for the next decision as to whether permanent residence will be granted.

    Asylum and integration
    Restrictions on asylum rights reflect broader tendencies in the Netherlands. It is clearly a sign of the times when opinion-formers within the second largest party, the PvdA (Labour Party), call for a ban on child benefits for 'foreigner' families if they bear more than one child. Such proposals aren't coincidental. Tougher laws on asylum go hand-in-hand with a broad and nationalist tendency to 'white-out' foreigners and recreate a national identity. Within this new policy outlook learning to speak Dutch is not a right but a duty with penalties for failure. An 'integration course' costs a 'foreigner' 6,000 euros (half a years pay on the minimum wage). Increasingly, a distinctive 'other' culture is presented as a threat to social cohesion. This view is not restricted to the extreme-right. On the contrary, demands for 'integration' of any foreigner go hand-in-hand with demands for a quota or even a ban on further immigration. Such demands now come from all major parties. As the former parliamentary leader of the PvdA, Jacques Wallage, told the Parliamentary Commission on Integration in October 2003, whereas before, he might have been afraid of being called intolerant, now notions such as 'full is full' (the country is full) have become commonplace. The government itself can hardly be more explicit. The 'multicultural' society, where different cultures co-exist under the same set of formal rules, is believed to have failed. 'Integration' of foreign cultures, or as some say 'assimilation' into the Dutch way of life is seen as the way to deal with feelings of insecurity within the 'host population'. In the yearly presentation of the budget, in a ceremony where the Queen as head of state announces plans, a distinctive 'other' culture was discussed as a threat to social cohesion. While at the same time, massive social and welfare cuts were presented as offering people more responsibility over their own lives.

    The politics of immigration
    Issues of immigration and integration have traditionally been separated, but now there is even a special department of Immigration and Integration, operating a new ministry within the Justice Department. The long tradition of separating the two issues was mainly because of the plurality within Dutch society itself. The country has had -as most other countries- a long tradition of different cultures, ranging from Catholics and fundamentalist Christians to socialists and liberals. These groups used to have their own magazines, radio and TV stations, sports clubs and so on. But now because the differences between such groups are less clear and the groups have become much less segregated, a new line of demarcation is being made between the Dutch and foreigners. It is essentially Islam which is now being discussed by both politicians and sections of the media as a threat to 'Dutch values'. Tougher immigration laws for asylum seekers have been implemented since the 1980s, under former Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers, currently the head of the UNHCR. More and more it has become a political issue - evolving into a new consensus on strict policies, which now embraces many parties from right and left. Today, with the current right-wing government, led by conservative Christian-democrat Jan-Peter Balkenende, laws become yet more repressive and get passed without much opposition. It is doubtful whether current policies would have been any different if the populist anti-immigration politician Pim Fortuyn were in power. (He was shot dead just days before the May 2002 elections.) Some of his ideas on immigration were actually less strict than current policies. Frits Bolkestein, currently European Commissioner of internal markets, began in 1994 to highlight in his right-wing liberal party Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (VVD), the issue of immigration. He was one of the first to abuse the issue will lose them votes. Because of the Fortuyn effect, the media landscape changed dramatically. As veteran journalist John Jansen van Galen put it in the Amsterdam based newspaper De Parool in November 2003: 'It was a politician, Pim Fortuyn, who changed the general tack. But, ever since, all the media advocates the new ideology: against Islam and the Antilleans, against privacy and state-benefits and against tolerance. Is resistance still possible against the all-embracing ideology of zero tolerance.'

    Stricter asylum polices
    The government is thinking up yet new ways to make the regime even more strict, especially for 'official' asylum seekers. Within the EU, the Dutch government is working on ways to keep them out of the Union in the first place. During the summer 2003 Thessaloniki summit of EU states, the Dutch backed a British plan to create processing centres outside the borders of the EU, from which refugees would be selected and then distributed among the European states. This plan was defeated because of strong opposition from, among others, Germany. But still the Dutch government want to take the idea forward with a 'coalition of willing' partners within the EU. Detention centres outside the European borders would clearly not stop the main problems. 'The more we close Europe, the more attractive it will be for criminals to traffic refugees for big money through the holes of the fences. Because external borders of Europe cannot possibly be absolute,' argues Jeroen Doomerik, a scientist at the University of Amsterdam. And other critics maintain that independent scrutiny of asylum procedures will become even harder.

    Public opposition
    Laws and practices are currently so tough that some recent polls show a large proportion of the population actually wants less stringency. There is concern as to what should happen to asylum seekers that have been in the country for a long time without being granted asylum or who might be awaiting a court decision. Local people who have befriended refugees are beginning to protest. Though against the law, some churches and even some local authorities offer shelter and other means of subsistence to the destitute. The government has had to tolerate such acts of 'civil disobedience', but recently came up with a policy to legalise around 2,000 asylum seekers who had been in the country for more than five years and who are still waiting for a first decision by the IND. Although the problem of the refugees who are appealing against the first decision of the IND (of whom many have been in the country for over five years) is not solved, this legalisation gives the government a pretext for then actively pursuing local authorities which are resisting central government edicts. Refugee support organisations, churches and the organisation for local governments are strongly opposed to the limited number of asylum seekers who have been granted residence. They argue that those who have been in the Netherlands for over three or five years should get a permanent residence permit. These demands are widely supported by Dutch citizens. (Even Pim Fortuyn said he wanted to offer permanent residence permits to about 10,000 people who had been in the country for five years, if they spoke Dutch and did not have a criminal record.)

    The way forward?
    There are, however, alternative ideas that could be explored in the future as well. One of those calling for a new approach is Jeroen Doomernik. He argues for a layered system of social rights and starts from the proposition that anyone should be able to work in the EU. For, he states, most people do not stay in the Netherlands longer than necessary, simply because they come to earn enough money so as to create better lives back home. But if people do stay, work and pay taxes, they should obtain rights to welfare benefits after several years, gaining more rights as they work more years. It basically resembles a multi-layered system of access to social and political rights. This proposal would sol cheap labour around the world. They point to the special export-zones in the Third World as 'engines of growth' (ignoring the fact that these zones have done little for development and much for the enriching and empowering of multinational corporations).

    The politics of integration
    Until now, these alternatives gained little attention but they are likely to enter the public debate when the current non-discussion on integration ends. The populist focus of debate is about perceived differences between so-called Dutch and Islamic values. A more serious debate concerns connecting the perceived failure of integration with the socio-economic positions of immigrants. Although there are many second- and third-generation 'immigrants' who have higher education and have well-paid jobs, there is still a striking correlation between those in poverty and those of 'non-Dutch origin'. But because young people, Moroccan and Antillean youth specifically, are associated with crime and the feelings of insecurity within the general population, the debate is more about culture and values than about social structure. This comes out in the areas of housing and schooling. Instead of focussing on the eradication of poverty in general, the main thrust is on mixing rich and poor in the same neighbourhoods, so to avoid ghettos of poor 'foreigners'. In addition, a parliamentary majority is in favour of extra control over Islamic schools. (In the Netherlands, all religious groups have the right to form their own schools and still receive subsidies.) The scrutiny of Islamic schools should be tougher and 'liberal-democratic' values should be taught in these schools, say several parties from both left and right. Yet a school-inspection organisation has concluded that there is hardly anything wrong with Islamic schools. And if there is one type of school where 'liberal-democratic' values are not taught, then it must be the old-Dutch 'Christian fundamentalist' schools.

    For the 'immigrants' themselves, many questions remain unanswered. When is an immigrant 'integrated'? How long does he or she need to live in the country? One immigrant, who lives in Rotterdam, made this point to the Parliamentary Commission on Integration in the three minutes allotted to speakers from the floor: 'I have one important problem: I do not know if I am integrated yet. Please, Commission Integration, stop me from my suffering. Tell me, if I have a job, am I integrated? If I wear a beard, am I integrated? Going to school, is that enough? Could you please clarify that for me? If I do not get an answer, I will get ill and end up on Occupational Disability Insurance. So tell me: Am I integrated yet?'. After a weighty silence in the overheated community centre in the poor Rotterdam neighbourhood, the President of the Commission answered curtly: 'We have not come here to give answers. Next please.'
    ©Institute of Race Relations

    By Jeroen Bosch for Alert! and Antifa-Net in Utrecht.

    7/1/2004- A concert by the Croatian rock band Thompson  named after the machine gun of the same name  was cancelled in Amsterdam at the end of November after its lead singer, Marko Perkovic, was accused of giving the Hitler-salute at previous concerts and the group was attacked for its sympathy with Nazi ideas. Perkovic is certainly no wallflower having fought as an irregular soldier on the side of Croatia in the Yugoslav civil war in 1991- 1992 but, in addition, CIDI, a Jewish organisation that combats anti-Semitism, charges that Thompson supports the ideas of the fascist Ustasha movement in Croatia and that the movement uses the band as a cultural propagandist for its ideas. CIDI issued a statement pointing out that a performance by Thompson would stir up hatred between different communities and would be insulting to other people in the Netherlands. Those attending Thompson concerts are mainly young people, clad in black shirts with the words "Black Legion", hats with the sign "U"  for Ustasha  and brandishing banners with anti-Serb and anti-Jewish slogans.

    CIDI, Sinti organisations and some Dutch-based Serb groups had announced a protest demonstration if Thompson's Amsterdam concert was allowed to go ahead. A couple of hundred fans still turned up in buses from Belgium and Germany, only to find the venue gates closed to them. "We don't want to be associated with groups that make propaganda for ultra-right ideas", stated the foundation that had rented the concert hall to the band. The organisers of Thompson's tour, however, denied the accusation declaring:
    "previous concerts in Germany and Croatia have been a huge success. There have never been quarrels or fights. There is only one kind of people who wants to ruin this concert."
    For the first Thompson concert in the Netherlands, an attendance of around 4,000 people was expected and, facing a big loss, the organisers switched the concert to Rotterdam. There, however, they ran into further opposition with the anti-racist organisation Radar and CIDI demanding a ban on the event. Thompson did play in Rotterdam, but Perkovic was banned from singing by the local authorities. When he tried to make a short speech to his 1,000-strong audience, he was promptly removed from the concert hall by police officers. Some Croats living in the Netherlands were shocked by the measures taken against Thompson. According to them, the band is very popular and is the number one pop group in Croatia. They also think that Serbs all over Europe are behind the anti-Thompson campaign. Outraged at the Dutch authorities, part of the Croatian community in the Netherlands has now started to protest against the ban on Thompson, defending the symbols the band uses and even defending the Ustasha movement. By doing so, these people are planting their feet firmly in the camp of murderous fascism.

    The Ustasha movement was founded in 1929 in Croatia and had absolute power in the country during the Second World War, acting as a Nazi puppet regime. Its leader, Ante Pavelic, was backed by Hitler and was given a free hand to exterminate half a million Serbs, 30,000 Jews and 29,000 Sinti and Roma. These Ustasha crimes and especially those of the notorious Crna Legija, the Black Legion, even shocked the Nazi generals in the region. Thompson starts its performances on stage with the traditional war cry of the Ustasha and, according to the Jewish community in Zagreb says, sells piles of Ustasha paraphernalia, including T-shirts with portraits of Second World War Croatian leaders, at concerts. Perkovic also publishes his own magazine, called Thompson, in which readers can find all kind of war propaganda and pictures of himself posing with a Thompson machine gun and other weapons. In one remarkable picture, Perkovic poses with a group of heavily armed Nazi-salute instead of the Ustacha-salute." Supported by right-wing politicians and, evidently, some newspapers, Thompson's Croat nationalist concerts attract tens of thousands of people and the band was nominated for an important Croatian pop music award last year.

    The Dutch fascist party Nieuw Rechts, needless to say, spoke out for the band, claiming that "Thompson is a band which sings about its love for its country, its people, the family and God" and that it had given several benefit concerts for hospitals and the victims of war. "The band keeps a great distance from politics. Thompson never performs at political festivals or demonstrations," lied Nieuw Rechts leader Michiel Smit in an introduction to questions he has tabled to the mayor of Rotterdam about the actions of the city authorities. Smit's support, however, was hardly needed to expose Perkovic as an anti-Semite once and for all. The man himself, reacting to the controversy in the Netherlands, commented in the Croatian newspaper Jutarni List: "It is all to blame on the Jews. I have nothing against them and I did nothing to them. I know that Jesus Christ also did nothing against them, but still they hanged him on the cross. So what can I expect as a small man?"

    7/1/2004- National gay organisation COC Nederland has claimed that police and local government officials are increasingly mounting intensive surveillance of known homosexual meeting areas and handing out fines to men who meet there. COC warned that this approach would further deter gay men from going to the police when they are attacked in these cruising areas. The organisation has called the police, health boards and local governments to formulate a "coherent, long-term policy" to deal with attacks on homosexuals, to promote safe sex and tackle prostitution and underage sex. Saying that "police are no longer your best friend", COC chairman Henk Beerten implied that politicians and the police were giving the signal that gays should not frequent parks and nature areas around the country. Victims of anti-homosexual violence are now afraid the reaction will be that being attacked was their own fault. "That is naturally not the intention, but it has that effect," Beerten said. "We see the consequences of the current short-sighted policy, long warned about by COC, in the Zuiderpark in Rotterdam. A group of young people have gone unpunished for months despite attacking and robbing men looking to meet other gay men. Let this be a signal that a more responsible policy is needed to prevent worse happening," he said. COC has been criticising what it deems are the "short-sighted" policies of local officials for months.

    In an article in newspaper De Volkskrant in August 2003, Beertens claimed that toleration had become a thing of the past since the meteoric rise, then assassination of murder of openly-gay populist politician Pim Fortuyn in May 2002. "The trademark is decisive leadership. In practise, this is mainly directed towards self-publicity and in their eyes 'purifying' with overtly repressive measures," Beertens wrote. Separately, a new study has suggested that informational brochures on HIV intended for young gay men should be simpler. This is one of the main conclusions reached by academics from Utrecht and Maastricht universities and market research bureau Sellvation. The team surveyed 157 young gay men and found that information on HIV risks should be adapted to make it more accessible to young gay men with a low level of education. Additional attention also had to be given to situations in which men "found it difficult" to have safe sex, the report said. Interestingly, the study found that providing more information on safe sex had no affect. Instead, the brochures had to concentrate more on difficult situations. After reading such focused information, many men in the experiment said they planned to practise safe sex. Dutch people are generally considered to be well informed about the dangers of unsafe sex. But an earlier study carried out by Utrecht University and the health board in Amsterdam found that a lot of unsafe sex still takes place, particularly young gay men with a low educational level, Novum news agency reported.
    ©Expatica News

    8/1/2004- Jews in the Netherlands suffered a major rise in anti-Semitic attacks, threats and abuse in 2002 as incidents more than doubled compared to the previous year, according to a report on racism released Thursday. Anti-Semitic attacks, including arson, assault and graffiti, rose from 18 incidents in 2001 to 46 incidents in 2002 despite an overall drop in racist and extreme right-wing violence, the Anne Frank Foundation and Leiden University said. The report focused on a year when enough Dutch voters backed the rightist, anti-immigration party of murdered populist Pim Fortuyn in a general election, making it the parliament's second-biggest party. Anti-Semitic attacks in the Netherlands in 2002 included a bomb threat and attacks on property and people, according to statistics from the police and other organizations in the "Monitoring Racism and the Extreme Right" report. The Center for Information and Documentation on Israel (CIDI) in the Netherlands said that according to its own report last year, there was a surge in anti-Semitism in 2002, apparently partially due to to tensions in the Middle East.

    22/12/2003- Although much has been said about Roma problems and both foreign and domestic delegations have continued visiting Roma settlements throughout the year, Slovak society seems no closer to finding a solution to the "Roma problem". Moreover, Slovakia's planned accession to the EU, accompanied by loosened migration restrictions and allegations of human rights violations, have brought the administration under the closer scrutiny of international experts, who have mostly not been too impressed by the government's track-record.

    January -The New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights and the Slovak Centre for Civil and Human Rights release a report entitled Body and Soul that documents 110 cases of Roma women who were sterilised against their will in public hospitals in eastern Slovakia. The report says that "coerced and forced sterilisation practices continue in Slovakia," especially in its eastern region, where most Roma people live.

    February 4 - Managers of a hospital in the eastern Slovak town of Krompachy file a complaint over a report that said it carried out forced sterilisations on Roma women. Krompachy hospital is one of those named in the Body and Soul report.

    Early March - The Health Ministry's chief gynaecology expert, Karol Holom·n says he found that no laws had been breached in a number of eastern Slovak hospitals suspected of carrying out coerced sterilisations of Roma women. Holoman announces that he will push for an update on the law governing sterilisation so that medical professionals will be required to give all women considering the operation a complete explanation of its consequences and a minimum of 72 hours to think about it before going through with it.

    Late March -The Koöice regional court upholds an earlier ruling by the Spiösk· Nov· Ves district court that Monika Bik·rov· was not illegally sterilised by doctors in 1986. She had been calling for Sk400,000 ( 9,600) in damages in the first case to be brought forth following allegations that doctors were illegally sterilising Roma women.

    September 3 - A joint commission on Roma migration is established to monitor the issue of Slovak Roma moving to the Czech Republic. The formation of the commission comes on the heels of an exodus of Slovak Roma to the Czech Republic. The Czech authorities say they have no official statistics confirming media speculations that as many as 20,000 Slovak Roma have recently moved to the Czech Republic.

    October 29 - Deputy PM for Human Rights P·l Cs·ky states that allegations of sterilisations are not confirmed. "[The] Slovak cabinet considers this issue and this case a closed matter," he says.

    October 29 - Alvaro Gil-Robles, the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights, suggests in a statement that the Slovak cabinet should accept "objective responsibility in the matter for failing to put in place adequate legislation and for failing to exercise appropriate supervision of sterilisation practices, although allegations of improper sterilisations have been made throughout the 1990s and early 2000s".

    November -The largest political party representing the Slovak Roma minority calls on the country's government to stop the "mindless spending of money for worthless activities connected with the Roma minority".

    November - Representatives of Roma parties warn that as a result of worsening social conditions, thousands of Roma are preparing to leave Slovakia after it becomes a member of the EU in May 2004. Roma leaders say that Roma would mainly be heading to Great Britain after the country lifts its visa regime with Slovakia, and that Roma also want to go to Belgium and the Netherlands.

    December -The American Helsinki Committee is not satisfied with the results of the Slovak investigation of the alleged illegal sterilisation of Roma ©The Slovak Spectator

    Government sponsors integration programs, but prejudice lingers

    23/12/2003- Alena Kubickova doesn't mince words: "Many older Czechs will tell you that their country is superior and more developed than any other. "This is what they were taught under communism and they haven't realized yet that it's not true. But this attitude is not racism; it's just ignorance." As director of the Counseling Center for Integration in Prague, Kubickova helps successful asylum seekers and other foreigners with permanent residency overcome that ignorance. She says her job has gotten easier in recent years. "Younger people in particular are much more comfortable with foreigners and are not afraid of them." In the Czech Republic, that progress means more than just maintaining a civil society.

    There are currently about 231,000 foreigners residing legally in the Czech Republic, just over 2 percent of the population, with Ukrainians, Slovaks and Vietnamese the largest groups. (Police estimate the number doubles when illegal immigrants are taken into account.) The government, working with organizations such as the Center for Integration, is preparing for a major influx of immigrants, mostly from the former Eastern bloc and Far East, seeking the higher wages expected with the country's European Union entry in May. That wave may be the only thing that keeps the country's population -- and, thus, its work force and economy -- from a precipitous decline. As increased immigration has fueled rising xenophobia and nationalist political parties in several European countries, the Czech government is focusing on changing the country's lingering communist-era suspicion of outsiders. While pledging to fight illegal immigration, officials acknowledge that foreigners will be needed to keep the country from shrinking into oblivion. Migration experts recently predicted that the native Czech population could drop by as much as half by 2050 because of one of Europe's lowest birthrates -- an average of 1.17 children per family -- and a rapidly aging population. Recognizing the need for so-called "replacement migration," the government in 2000 initiated the Conception of Integration of Foreigners Living in the Czech Republic, a program aimed at smoothing the transition for those coming to the country for work. A pilot program to attract highly skilled foreign workers from three countries started this year, as did a host of studies assessing the obstacles faced by foreign workers. Despite this flurry of activity, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are worried about a gap between policy and practice, a difference they say will make or break the integration effort over the next decade.

    Fear of Foreigners Police
    According to immigrants and organizations aiding them, the biggest locus of discrimination and humiliation foreign workers face is the Foreigners Police, which handles applications for visas. Dusan Drbohlav, associate professor of social geography at Charles University, sent students to interview more than 900 "clients" at Foreigners Police offices across the country this year. "The most consistent information obtained was that officers treated immigrants from the East very, very badly, sometimes like garbage," he says. Kubickova says policies as well as attitudes make the Foreigners Police feared. "There is a new policy that requires foreigners to have their rental contracts notarized," she says. "We had this Albanian family of five in Brno and the Foreigners Police told them that they had to notarize every piece of paper that mentioned another person living in the flat. That would be at least 5,000 Kc [$192], which is beyond the means of a family that just received asylum," she says. "The ministries have good policies, but when foreigners come here they are not dealing with ministries -- they are dealing with local administrative offices."

    Although advocates country depict foreigners in a negative way -- as criminals and outsiders -- and this influences public perception," says Grebo, a native of Sarajevo. Nicola Jasaroski, a 38-year-old Macedonian with permanent residency and a sales background, says his recent job search met with frequent hostility by employers. "About 30 of them told me point blank they were not interested in hiring foreigners," he says. "Czechs treat people from the East differently than foreigners from the West. They have a prejudice that Easterners are of a lower quality."

    Fostering multiculturalism
    Charles University's Drbohlav says the media, NGOs and politicians must help society move forward. "I would say we are still living with the myth: The Ukrainian worker takes Czech jobs. Of course, the reality is the Ukrainian workers are mostly taking jobs that Czechs don't want because the pay is too low." Viktor, 18, has lived in north Bohemia for more than six years. Originally from West Africa, he came to the country with his father, a businessman and naturalized Czech citizen. Viktor speaks unaccented Czech as well as English, attends a technical high school and participates in top-level club athletics, representing the Czech Republic in competitions abroad. The Interior Ministry denied his application for citizenship, saying that he had insufficient contact with Czech society. Viktor, whose name has been changed to protect his identity as he appeals his case, attributes the decision to false statements by authorities in the town where he once lived. "This is just silly," Viktor says, adding that his family already had to relocate within north Bohemia because his brother was beaten in a racially motivated attack. Kubickova, who works with Viktor's family, says she plans to appeal his case to the Ombudsman's office. "For some Czechs, the idea of integration is still, 'If you do not do things exactly like we do, think like we do, dress like we do, then you are not entitled to citizenship.' It is disgusting."

    The Multicultural Center Prague, partly funded by the government, is trying to change such thinking. It holds hundreds of public events, including seminars, school visits and library evenings, where the public is exposed to the positive side of living with new and sometimes different neighbors. "The challenge for the Czech Republic is that most people coming here actually have a similar background to the Czechs," says Hana Kabeleova, the center's migration project coordinator. "But what happens when we get people who are very different?" That question lies at the heart of Europe's integration debate and explains why replacement migration is considered only one of several solutions to the Continentwide decline in native populations. "Look at what is happening in France and the debate over the integration of foreigners there from Muslim countries," says John Salt, a professor of geography in the Migration Research Unit at the University of London. "Most countries cannot really tolerate [large-scale] integration; what they seek is assimilation."

    Immigrant stats

  • Number of foreigners living legally in the Czech Republic: 231,000
  • Top groups: 49,000 Ukrainians, 30,000 Slovaks, 20,362 Vietnamese, 15,836 Poles, 11,800 Russians
  • Percent of population: 2
  • Percent of EU population that is foreign: 6 to 9 percent
  • The International Organization for Migration will begin a Web site in January, with information for immigrants in Czech, English, Ukrainian, Russian, Armenian and Vietnamese.
    Source: IOM, Multicultural Center Prague
    ©The Prague Post

    In the first case of its kind in Germany, a rock band has been deemed a criminal organisation and its lead singer sentenced to more than three years in prison for lyrics that venerate Nazism and incite racial hatred

    24/12/2003- In the first case of its kind in Germany, a rock band has been deemed a criminal organisation and its lead singer sentenced to more than three years in prison for lyrics that venerate Nazism and incite racial hatred. On Monday, a Berlin criminal court sentenced 38-year-old Michael Regener to 40 months in prison after a six-month trial. The court ruled that Regener's band, Landser, was a threat to the country's Jewish, Muslim and African minorities. Founded in 1992 as the Final Solution, the band has been a favorite of neo-Nazis worldwide. The band's bass player, Andre Moericke, and its drummer, Christian Wenndorff, were sentenced to nearly two years' probation and ordered to perform 90 hours of community service. The band's lyrics are more intellectual than those of most skinhead bands, but their agenda is just as blunt. "Let's get the enemy, bombs on Israel," go the words of one song. Another tune laments: "In the old days, Africa was wonderful/Now our white brothers stand with their backs against the wall." Anti-discrimination laws in Germany are among the most stringent in the world. They forced Landser - an old German word for foot soldier used during World War II - to produce four of its CDs outside the country. The band quickly became a symbol for far-right radicals, and its songs praised skinheads for arson attacks and murders against Germany's immigrant communities in the late '90s. Testifying at Landser's trial, Thorsten Heise, a prominent neo-Nazi, told the court that Regener's lyrics are "a little bit more thoughtful... ironic and full of humour". One of the group's distributors, Thule Publications, noted on its website that "by purchasing (a Landser) CD from Thule you are supporting free speech for our people".

    The case coincided with what many officials describe as growing racial hatred across Europe. The Interdisciplinary Institute of Conflict and Violence Research at Germany's Bielefeld University is conducting a 10-year national study on racism and xenophobia. The study found that 55 per cent of Germans believe there are too many immigrants; 52 per cent believe that Jews use the Holocaust "for their own advantage"; and 46 per cent don't approve of women wearing headscarves. German state legislatures are debating bills to forbid Muslim teachers from wearing headscarves in classrooms. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder supports such bans.
    ©The Age

    18/12/2003- A threat by a self-declared Nazi radio station to take on the government in court could have embarrassing repercussions If, as expected, a Nazi radio station based in Greater Copenhagen loses its controversial state subsidy, the station will appeal the decision in court. The news will not be welcomed by the government, whose supporters fear that a highly-publicised court case could only serve to highlight the freedom enjoyed by extremists groups. Furthermore, should the court rule in favour of the station, the verdict could give encouragement to other radical groups and undermine the government's commitment to get tough on extremists. Based at the Copenhagen suburb of Greve, Radio Oasis has, over the past six years, received DKK 400,000 from the state to aid its transmission of music and Nazi propaganda. However, as reported last week, Culture Minister Brian Mikkelsen recently gave a well-publicised commitment to kick the controversial radio station off the airwaves. 'I find it insane and grotesque that a radio station promoting Nazism is still getting money from the government,' he stated. 'It has to stop.' However, Mikkelsen's plans have not gone down well at Radio Oasis, which has now confirmed through its lawyer that it will appeal any withdrawal of subsidy. 'Brian Mikkelsen is using his powerÖ to limit freedom of political expression,' Radio Oasis's lawyer Peter Hj¯rne stated in a press release. 'If the subsidy is lost due to the new guidelines, then Radio Oasen (Oasis) will view this as a infringement of the constitutional prohibition of censorship.' In order to prevent the Nazis from receiving state support, Mikkelsen is suggesting that the station must meet a number of conditions, including 'broad contact with the local community' and contribute towards the 'fulfilment of the aims of local media policy.' However, opinion is divided on whether such conditions would stand up in court. Radio Oasis first began legal broadcasting in 1996. Shortly afterwards, it made a successful application to a state fund controlled by the Ministry of Culture designed to ensure the healthiest possible freedom of speech in Denmark. The station has been receiving automatic state support ever since. The issue made headlines last week after claims that Mikkelsen was dragging his feet on an earlier commitment to end automatic annual funding to the station.
    ©The Copenhagen Post

    7/1/2004- New figures have dispelled the myth that generation after generation of women of non-Danish ethnicity are giving birth to huge flocks of children. According to a new report from the Copenhagen Council vital statistics office, birth rates for women descended from immigrants are almost as low as birth rates for their ethnically Danish counterparts, according to daily newspaper metroXpress. "Overall, there's no doubt at all. Birth rates for second or third-generation immigrant women are markedly lower than for first-generation immigrant women, and--even though they tend to give birth at an earlier age--not much higher than Danish women overall," said Copenhagen Council statistician Martha Kristiansen. According to the report, immigrant women in Copenhagen bear 2.5 children on average. The figure for Danish women is 1.3 children per woman, while the figure for women of non-Danish ethnic descent is 1.5 children. Copenhagen University sociologist Connie Car¯e Christiansen told the newspaper that the birth rate figures were proof that integration of immigrants was moving swifter in some areas than popular opinion would indicate.
    ©The Copenhagen Post

    7/1/2004- The conditions of illegal immigrants kept in detention, as well as being treated at Mount Carmel Hospital is being investigated by Labour MP Gavin Gulia. Yesterday, he visited illegal immigrants at Mount Carmel and TaÌ Kandja barracks. Contacted by The Malta Independent, Dr Gulia said he intended to visit all the places where asylum seekers are being detained. Asked for a comment, he said that he will call a press briefing after he has made all the visits. Asked for his comments about yesterdayÌs visits, he said he would rather comment after he has collected all the information. Dr Gulia was accompanied by Police Commissioner John Rizzo on the visits and said that the police had been very helpful. He had requested permission from Mr Rizzo to visit the illegal immigrants, following an agreement to give the commissioner two hoursÌ notice before making such visits. The Labour MP said he intended to assess the conditions of the immigrants and, as far as was possible, speak to them on a one-to-one basis.
    © Malta Independent Daily

    8/1/2004- The number of asylum requests in Switzerland has fallen for the first time in two years. According to Federal Refugee Office figures, 20,806 people applied for asylum last year - down 20 per cent on 2002. But officials said there had been a significant increase in the number of people arriving from eastern Europe, especially Georgia and Russia, many of whom were unable to give credible reasons for seeking asylum. The Federal Refugee Office said on Wednesday that the number of bogus requests was on the rise as people increasingly sought asylum for economic rather than political reasons. Spokesman Dominique Boillat said 7,818 applications were rejected last year - up from 6,445 in 2002. The latest statistics show that the largest group of asylum seekers came, as in previous years, from Serbia and Montenegro, and from Turkey. People arriving from Iraq make up the third-biggest group, followed by Algerians. Requests from people from West African countries, such as Congo or Nigeria, have decreased, however.

    Welfare benefits
    Parliament is currently debating cutting welfare benefits for asylum seekers whose requests have been turned down. These cuts, which could come into force in April this year, are part of a controversial savings plan to reduce public spending by SFr3.3 billion ($2.7 billion) over the next few years. The Swiss Red Cross has voiced concerns that asylum seekers who lose welfare benefits will turn to crime. The organisation also warned that asylum seekers whose requests were rejected would go underground in Switzerland. It wants to set up a special medical service for asylum seekers living illegally in Switzerland to ensure they receive treatment.
    ©NZZ Online

    People on the move generate income But human suffering casts a long shadow

    4/1/2004- If the earth's people were photographed from space in 2003, the snapshot would be a blur, as a human tide of refugees, immigrants, displaced people and economic migrants flows from country to country, moving back and forth by land, sea and air. In the past year, there were 175 million people living outside their own countries, an increase of 100 million in three decades of steadily growing, and faster-travelling, human migration. "More people than ever before are on the move to more countries, for a great diversity of reasons," says Gervais Appave, director of migration policy at the International Organization for Migration in Geneva. But if 2002 was the year of hostility and suspicion of newcomers, following the cataclysm of Sept. 11, 2001, the year 2003 ended with the dawning realization that migration was a fact of life, and one that, reluctantly or willingly, governments would have to live with. "The first knee-jerk reaction to Sept. 11 was that migration is a source of danger," said Kathleen Newland, co-director of the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute. "Now governments are taking a more studied look, making distinctions, and seeing positive effects as well as risks."

    One of the milestones of the past year, experts say, was the understanding that the movement of people generates enormous income, helping to prop up poor countries and support families and communities that would otherwise sink into destitution and starvation. "Everyone knew that migrants sent back money to their home countries," says World Bank economist Dilip Ratha, the author of a ground-breaking report on the subject. "But when they saw how big the figures were, it came as a huge surprise. It's changing how they think about migration." In the past year, Ratha says, close to $90 billion (U.S.) was sent home by people working in wealthier foreign countries. The sum, known as remittance money, has rocketed from $50 billion in 1995, and amounts to 65 per cent of worldwide foreign investment in developing countries, and 50 per cent of the foreign aid that international governments donate. "What's really important is that when times are bad, and nobody wants to invest in countries like Argentina or Afghanistan, or when aid budgets are cut, family members send even more money home. It's a remarkably stable source of income."

    The top five countries from which migrant workers earn and transmit money are the United States, which accounts for nearly 30 per cent of worldwide remittances, Saudi Arabia, with 15 per cent, and Germany, Belgium and Switzerland at 8 per cent each. The countries that benefited most from receiving remittances were India and Mexico, which each gained $10 billion (U.S.), followed by the Philippines with $6.4 billion, Morocco with $3.3 billion, and Egypt with $2.9 billion. But the dark side of migration ó human suffering ó also cast a shadow over the year. The "coyotes" or human traffickers who extort money from people desperate to move to other countries, were snapping at the heels of millions of unfortunates, thousands of whom died from heat, cold, suffocation or injuries during their journeys. Estimates for numbers of trafficked people worldwide are vague. But last year, analysts say, approximately 1 million arrived in North America and Europe alone. "It's impossible to tell exactly how many people are trafficked each year, because you're dealing with secret operations," says the IOM's Appave. "But we know that all the restrictions in the world aren't working, and trafficking is on the increase." In the past year, the agency says, fees charged by traffickers have continued to grow, and people travelling from China or the Middle East to Western destinations must now raise up to $15,000 (U.S.). Nearly $10 billion a year, experts believe, goes into the pockets of traffickers.

    But the trails end in tragedy rather than triumph for some would-be migrants: in one incident last May, 19 people died of suffocation in Texas, sealed into an unventilated tractor-trailer. They were some of about 400 who died in the U.S. while trying to slip across the border in 2003. In the European Union, the other leading destination for smugglers and their victims, 742 people died in transit. Most were victims of drowning as they made perilous sea crossings in overcrowded, dilapidated boats and dinghies. While 2003 saw many deaths and injuries suffered by people seeking a better life, there was also a major advance in laws to protect them. "This has been a landmark year for the international migrants' rights regime," says Amnesty In the world's 13 million refugees, who make up only about 12 per cent of those who move to new countries each year. "There's an unfortunate tendency throughout the world to associate refugees with violence and taking advantage," says Jahanshah Assadi, the Canadian representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). "The vast majority are not abusers, they're abusees. But that doesn't make their lives any easier." Canada has been praised as a compassionate country for its refugee policies, Assadi said. Nevertheless, the number of people accepted as legitimate refugees decreased last year, following increased security and budgetary concerns. "The numbers are down since Sept. 11," says Nick Summers, president of the Canadian Council for Refugees. "The government is also trying to save money, because the refugee system is costing too much, so it's figuring out ways of stopping people from coming here." Figures show that 9,170 refugees were allowed to remain in Canada in the first half of last year (yearly totals are not complete). If there were 20,000 by year's end, that would be a sharp reduction from 25,000 in 2002. Immigration targets are also lower, with an estimated 10,000 fewer people expected to have obtained landed immigrant status than 2003's total of nearly 204,000. But Canada is positively welcoming, experts say, compared with other countries that viewed line ups of asylum-seekers with mounting hostility.

    Europe, the main refugee destination in the developed world, continued to toughen rules in 2003, and the number of asylum seekers dropped. "Europeans are reacting with renewed harshness," says Merrill Smith, editor of World Refugee Survey, at the Washington-based U.S. Committee for Refugees. "Asylum-seekers are being detained, sometimes in bad and overcrowded conditions. Rules are tougher. Family reunification is restricted to immediate family members." The United States last year accepted only 28,000 of a possible 70,000 people from other countries where they were living in dire conditions and in need of resettlement. Most refugees, however, must stay in poor and often unstable neighbouring countries where they are in peril, or lack the most basic human needs. Africa and Asia each harbour more than 3 million refugees, while Europe has some 2 million, and North America fewer than 500,000. Although the most feared displacement of people didn't materialize in 2003 ó a huge wave of refugees fleeing Iraq during the bombing last spring ó war-torn Afghanistan is still in crisis. "The massive migration back to Afghanistan has slowed a great deal," says Smith. "But internally displaced people are the biggest problem. They come back with no place to go, and the country is still dangerous. Agencies that are trying to help them are frightened away by the Taliban and other groups." More than 1 million Afghans are still taking refuge in parts of Southwest Asia, outside their own country.

    In Africa, meanwhile, the past year saw glimmers of new hope for refugees, as well as continuing misery, as peace spread among countries that have fought bitterly for decades. In southern Africa, the 2002 peace accord in Angola has begun to bear fruit, and 3.7 million refugees and displaced people returned to their homes this year. However, the UNHCR warns, they face danger from land mines and bad water, and must cope with poor health and education facilities, and few job opportunities. In Central Africa and the Great Lakes region, there are more than 1 million refugees who have fled conflicts in Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and other troubled countries. Many live in Tanzania, and reluctant to return even after peace treaties were drawn up in their home countries. More than 100,000 were helped to travel back to their homes last year by aid agencies. In the Horn of Africa, where a devastating conflict between Sudan's government and the Sudan People's Liberation Army is close to resolution, 572,000 people who were driven from the country are awaiting return. The U.N. plans to repatriate more ©The Toronto Star

    8/1/2004- The EU racism watchdog said Thursday it would publish a new report on anti-Semitism in Europe amid a furious row between Jewish leaders and the bloc's executive arm over the suppression of a previous study. The director of the Vienna-based watchdog told AFP the report would be published in the first quarter this year, most likely in March, and would cover anti-Semitic incidents in Europe in 2002 and 2003. Jewish leaders had accused the European Commission of fuelling anti-Semitism by shelving a previous study by the watchdog, which showed a rise in anti-Semitic incidents committed by Muslims and pro-Palestinian groups in Europe. Any report from the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) that is seen to blame Muslims for anti-Semitism is likely to prove inflammatory, given that large number of Muslims that live in Europe. But director Beate Winkler said that the new report would note that "in certain EU member states some of the perpetrators (of anti-Semtitic acts) have an Arab-Muslim background."

    This trend is particularly apparent in France, the Nertherlands and Belgium, she said, emphasising however that it did not apply to all EU states. "Where the facts play a role we are going to mention them," she said. But Winkler said that the watchdog decided in February to hold back the earlier report not because of its results but because the period under study -- May and June 2002 -- was deemed too short to draw meaningful conclusions. "It was our idea to do the study last year ... but it was based on too little to make strong conclusions," she said. Earlier this week, Edgar Bronfman, head of the World Jewish Congress, and Cobi Benatoff, president of the European Jewish Congress, accused the Commission of fuelling anti-Semitism in Europe "by action and inaction". The clash with the Commission caused the postponing of an EU seminar on anti-Semitism, but it is now set to go ahead after the Jewish groups patched up their relationship with the EU's executive arm. Along with the suppression of the report, the Jewish leaders were also enraged by a November poll commissioned by the European Union that labelled Israel as the biggest threat to world peace.

    Marking 2004 as anti-slavery year, UNESCO urges renewed fight against racism

    23/12/2003- As the United Nations gears up to mark 2004 as the International Year to Commemorate the Struggle against Slavery and its Abolition, the head of the world body's cultural agency today called for a universal recommitment to combat all contemporary forms of the scourge. "Aside from looking at the past, the intention is to sound the alarm about all forms of contemporary racism, discrimination and intolerance, and thus to set the stage for a greater awareness of the need to respect human beings," the Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), KoÔchiro Matsuura said in a message released in Paris. The UN General Assembly proclaimed 2004 as the celebratory year to mark the bicentenary of the Haitian Revolution, which led to the establishment of the first black republic in the Western hemisphere, and, by extension, to the liberation of the peoples of the Caribbean and Latin America from slavery. Mr. Matsuura cautioned that the commemoration must foster a more meaningful dialogue among cultures and civilizations. "By retracing the cultural interactions brought about by the slave trade, which transported so many African men and women far from the land of their birth, we can indeed celebrate the extraordinary meeting of cultures born of this enforced dialogue." Knowing and recognizing the major imprint of African cultures on the world's cultures and civilizations will be the second objective of the commemoration, he added. The UNESCO chief called universal awareness of the tragedy "essential," and urged that school textbooks throughout the world cover the issue of slavery.
    ©UN News Centre

    He has spent years attempting to obliterate any trace of his African-American roots. So why, since his arrest, is Michael Jackson suddenly so keen to embrace the black community? Gary Younge reports on the singer's unexpected racial conversion

    6/1/2004- When Michael Jackson wrote the lyrics "But if you're thinkin' about my baby/It don't matter if you're black or white" in his hit single Black or White, he could claim significant expertise. Jackson has had a fair crack at being both. First there was the African-American child star from Gary, Indiana - which became the most segregated city in America - who was the ethnic and aesthetic antithesis of the white-skinned, white-bread Osmonds. Then came the raised cheekbones, thinned nose and lightened skin that transformed him into ... something else. The surgeon's knife did not make Jackson white exactly, but it did not leave him looking black either. Instead he took on the characteristics of a transracial experiment, a combination of features that had never before been seen collected in one human being. In the process, Jackson proved that race was a construct by altering his face beyond all racial definition. If ever there was a candidate to tick the box "Other" on the racial categories of forms, it was him. If his first attempt at racial conversion was cosmetic, his second, more recent one has been political. Only this time he is going in the other direction. In what may yet prove to be his boldest transformation yet, Jackson is trying to reinvent himself as black. Under siege from both reporters and prosecutors, following charges of seven counts of child molestation, Jackson has reportedly teamed up with the black Muslim racial separatist organisation the Nation of Islam. Among other things, the Nation supports the creation of a separate country for black Americans and was founded on the principle that white people - literally born with tails and fur - are devils.

    Jackson's former spokesman, Stuart Backerman, resigned two weeks ago, claiming that leading members of the Nation have begun making decisions for Jackson on strategy for his legal defence, business affairs and dealing with the media. The Nation's chief of staff and Minister Louis Farrakhan's son-in-law, Leonard Farrakhan, is now working out of the Los Angeles office of Jackson's lawyer Mark Geragos. "The Nation of Islam and Louis Farrakhan's son-in-law have taken over completely and are in full and total charge," one senior Jackson employee, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the New York Times. "They have gone in and taken over control of the finances in terms of who's getting paid, how much," the employee added. "They're approving all funds and have decided they have control of the business manager and accountant, without signing authority or power of attorney. They are working out of Geragos's office; in essence they're telling him what to do." "These people are basically brainwashing him," said the associate, who is also a friend of Jackson's. "They tried to do the same thing to Whitney Houston. They offer a false sense that they can control everything. Everyone is scared of them. They pretty much keep Michael semi-captive." Another Jackson employee said: "They're negotiating business deals with him. They're negotiating media deals, who can talk, how much. You've got a lawyer who's scared to throw them out. Michael doesn't know what to do with them." Both the Nation and Jackson insiders deny the claim. "The idea that there is some takeover by the Nation of Islam - someone is spinning you," said Gregaros. "Nobody has told me what to do and what not to do. Leonard, I believe, is someone Michael consults with, just like in excess of 25 people." But just a couple days earlier, during a recent televised news conference, Benjamin Muhammad, a senior member of the Nation, was there, larger than life, standing behind Geragos.

    Quite how a prominent black people brought low by scandal, when no one else will touch them. Attend its large meetings and you will see Marion Barry, the former mayor of DC filmed taking crack with a prostitute. Benjamin Chavis was fired as head of the nation's oldest civil rights organisation, the NAACP, after he diverted £200,000 to settle a sexual harassment claim. Now he is Benjamin Muhammad. Jackson, then, is just one more lost sheep coming back to the fold. A more cynical theory is that this is one more black celebrity marriage made in opportunism. Forced yet again to explain himself out of a sordid hole, Jackson has fallen back on the defence of last resort: the hidey-hole of identity politics. He is being pursued not for what he has done, but for who he is. Sadly, the latter interpretation is the more likely. Following the familiar pattern of the trials of both OJ Simpson and Sean "Puffy" Combs, Jackson is yet another African-American celebrity whose interest in anti-racism has coincided with finding himself in trouble. The handcuffs click and the rest of the story writes itself. They reach for Johnny Cochrane's number (the one call it appears Jackson has yet to make, but who was first on the Rolodex when OJ and Puffy needed representation), then they start to circle the wagons, mobilising the broader community to protest their plight. Amid the noise, the gravity of the original charge - murder, manslaughter, paedophilia - gets lost.

    It is not the first time that Jackson has chosen to identify with the African-American community at moments that were more propitious for himself than for the community. Eighteen months ago he rode through Harlem with the African-American presidential candidate, Al Sharpton, accusing record companies of being racist. "The record companies really, really do conspire against the artists," Jackson told an audience of 350 at Sharpton's headquarters. "They steal, they cheat, they do whatever they can. Especially against the black artists." In a bitter denunciation of his record label, Jackson said of Sony's chairman, Tommy Mottola: "He's mean, he's a racist, and he's very, very, very devilish." Referring to one African American artist, Jackson said, Mottola "called him a fat black nigger ... And I can't deal with that, you know. It's wrong." One wonders whether Jackson - rarely seen in Harlem before or since - had only just realised this, or whether the epiphany had anything to do with a flagging career. Sony dismissed the comments as "spiteful and hurtful", implying that the campaign reflected Jackson's own frustrations at the recent shrinking of the market for his work after his album, Invincible, sold only two million copies worldwide and Sony demanded that he pay back tens of millions spent on promoting the new album. And his accusation against Mottola was not the last time Jackson would use the word racism to describe his treatment. On the day when he was led into the Santa Barbara court in handcuffs, his brother, Jermaine, called CNN and went live on air stating, "This is nothing but a modern-day lynching." Nor is it first time that the Nation has provided security for or helped manage celebrities. Its most famous client was Muhammad Ali - although he, of course, was a member. But more recently, it provided security for OJ Simpson during his trial, Sean Combs during the height of the rap wars, and for a host of other rappers and artists. The Nation is not just a religious organisation but a business. It does not hook up with embattled black people through altruism, but because there is either some political or financial gain through the association. The group did not want to be too closely linked with Ali initially because he was expected to lose to Sonny Liston.

    What its true motivations are we will probably never know. Michael Jackson is a complex character. What is going on in his mind is no easier to discern than the original features on his face. Similarly, the Nation is a highly secretive organisation not given to the kind of free exchange of information that might shed some allow him to live the logic of his lyrics. In America, in the 21st century, it does matter whether you're black or white.

    Jackson understands how this might work to his advantage in a tight spot. Sadly, we have yet to find any evidence that this awareness might benefit anyone other than himself.
    ©The Guardian

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