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NEWS - Archive for October 2003

October 2003 Headlines

Headlines October 28, 2003

21/10/2003- Norway's immigration agency (Utlendingsdirektoratet, UDI) has for years blocked access to documentation that formed the basis for its decisions on whether foreigners would be allowed to stay in the country. The practice was a clear violation of administrative law. The state parliament's civilian ombudsman took UDI up on the issue and the agency admitted the violation, reports newspaper Aftenposten. It now promises to change its routines. Ombudsman Arne Fliflet wrote in a letter to UDI that his investigation of complaints into the practice "revealed troubling weaknesses" in the way UDI handled immigration cases. At issue is how UDI prevented foreigners seeking residence in Norway from seeing the documents that played a crucial role in UDI's decisions. The practice thus denied UDI's clients full insight into how their cases were decided. The practice could have led to incorrect decisions being made in cases nvolving family reunification, deportation and asylum. Clients and their lawyers who have appealed UDI deportation decisions, for example, weren't allowed to review documents used by UDI that formed the basis of their decision. Aftenposten reported that several employees at UDI pointed out the illegality of the practice to their superiors, but the complaints weren't acknowledged until the ombudsman took up the matter. UDI spokesman Geir Loendal now says that the agency is taking the criticism against it "very seriously" and admits that it's "justified." He said UDI will now "in cooperation with the police, work out new guidelines." He explained that previous practice resulted from a "gray zone" between administrative law and criminal law, which UDI leaders had believed allowed them to withhold sensitive documents relating to specific cases.

28/10/2003- Norway's domestic police intelligence unit PST has grown increasingly concerned about the recruiting and growth of the neo-Nazi group called Vigrid. Police fear the group is on the verge of turning violent, and are actively urging members to defect. PST (Politiets sikkerhetstjeneste) has launched an offensive directed at Vigrid and its members, reports Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). The group lately has been actively recruiting both men and women as young as 14 years of age. PST spokesman Trond Hugubakken said investigators have been monitoring Vigrid closely and tracking its membership. Police nationwide now will start directly contacting members in an effort to get them to leave the neo-Nazi and highly racist organization. "During the next few days, PST and other police officers will take contact with people tied to Vigrid and launch a dialogue," Hugubakken told NRK. Vigrid is run by Tore W Tvedt, who earlier has been convicted by Norwegian courts for racist remarks. Several Vigrid members have also been involved in serious and violent crimes of late. Tvedt appears to have stepped up recruiting efforts lately, conducting a series of ceremonial indoctrinations into the group last summer.

29/10/2003- Steinar Bryn, project leader at the Nansen School in Lillehammer, believes that authorities should lay the groundwork for meetings between neo-Nazis and immigrants. Bryn, who has previously set up dialogue projects between Serbs and Albanians, is convinced such discussions help, Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reports. Bryn's initiative comes after the news that police are trying to contact new recruits to the extremist group Vigrid, which has been slowly increasing its membership and also carried out a series of neo-Nazi 'baptisms' recently. "We worked with people from the Balkans that have experienced real hatred. Our strategy is to open the locked rooms these people live in, and lead them into a so-called long conversation. Then we see that the understanding for each other's position grows," Bryn said. Bryn believes that the neo-Nazis are interested in taking part in such a dialogue. "People who feel alienated and discontented or have an important message see a chance to be able to sit and tell the other what they really believe. You trick them into the room, but my experience is that something happens there when people actually meet each other," Bryn told NRK.

Figures spark move for tough new laws

30/10/2003- Racially motivated crime in Northern Ireland has increased by 900% over the last six years, new Government figures revealed today. The alarming rise in the number of reported racist attacks comes as the Government is publishing proposals for new hate crime laws to bring Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK. The figures were provided by Secretary of State Paul Murphy in response to a written House of Commons question from UUP MP Lady Sylvia Hermon. He revealed that there were only 25 reported racial incidents in the province in 1997, this had increased to 185 by 2001-2002 and rose again to 226 in 2002-2003. The rise in racist crime has been highlighted recently following attacks on African families living in south Belfast and Muslims living in Craigavon. Mr Murphy said: "This Government condemns all racially motivated crimes and is committed to tackling such intolerance. "Later this year I hope to publish a proposal for a draft Order in Council to enable the courts to deal more severely with crimes motivated by racist, sectarian and homophobic hatred. "This measure will send out a clear message that racism has no place in our society." But former SDLP South Belfast Assembly member Carmel Hanna said the figures showed that hate crime legislation was needed immediately. She said: "This sharp increase in racially motivated crime is a matter for serious concern. Every effort needs to be made to stamp out this blight in our community. "Racism and sectarianism are twin threats. I believe that this alarming rise cannot be separated from the high levels of sectarianism in the North. Immediate action is now needed. "Politicians and community leaders have a vitally important role to play in stamping out this dangerous threat. Unless we can live in tolerance with those of different beliefs and religious backgrounds, we have no hope of ensuring that those of different cultural backgrounds feel welcome in our society." Mrs Hanna said: "We also need to invest more money in educational programmes and an awareness programme to highlight and reduce racism in the North."
© Independent Digital

21/10/2003- A TV producer has defended undercover filming that has uncovered allegations of racism in a police force. Simon Ford was responding to criticisms by Home Secretary David Blunkett about the way a reporter posed as a probationary officer with Greater Manchester Police (GMP) to get the evidence. The allegations, which will be broadcast on BBC One on Tuesday, have led to four officers being suspended, three from GMP and one from North Wales Police. Footage for the programme includes one officer dressing up in an improvised Ku Klux Klan hood. Reporter Mark Daly faces criminal charges over his move to infiltrate recruits as part of the work to assess whether institutional racism still exists within police ranks. GMP has confirmed it suspended three officers after senior officers viewed footage from The Secret Policeman programme.

'Actual evidence'
On Tuesday Mr Ford, executive producer of the programme, defended the methods used to put together the evidence, which was recorded at Bruche National Training Centre in Warrington, Cheshire. "It is the first time ever of actual evidence of police racism," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. "With investigative journalism we have produced evidence." He said there have been "countless" reports into institutional racism in the police and a "huge number" of initiatives to deal with it, but the documentary shows racism has been "driven underground" at GMP. Mr Daly claims to have recorded racist comments made, including one officer saying he would kill an Asian officer "if I could get away with it". Another officer is heard to say: "I'll stop him cos he's a Paki. Sad innit but I would." Ray Powell, president of the National Black Police Association said he was "disappointed" by the behaviour of a "handful" of recruits, who are featured in the programme. "I hope this is not a reflection of what is taking place in our police training centres throughout the country," he said. "I will be looking to senior figures in the police service to publicly condemn such racist behaviour and take immediate steps to root out other perpetrators."

'Covert stunt'
However, Mr Blunkett has questioned the BBC's "intent to create, not report" the story. He has also suggested the BBC carried out a "covert stunt" and had leaked information to the media in an attempt to get publicity for the documentary. Mr Daly spent five-and-a-half months with GMP and could face charges of obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception and damaging police property. He is due to answer bail in November. The BBC has said any pay Mr Daly received has been kept in a separate bank account and was to be returned to the force at the end of the investigation.
©BBC News

21/10/2003- The undercover BBC reporter who allegedly discovered widespread racism within a Greater Manchester Police (GMP) training school should not be prosecuted, according to a spokesman for the force's black officers. Superintendent Martin Harding, of the GMP Black and Asian Police Association (BAPA), said they were calling for all charges against Mark Daly, who posed as a police recruit, to be dropped. Home Secretary David Blunkett has questioned the BBC's "intent to create, not report" the story. But Supt Harding told BBC News Online the results of Daly's investigations justified his methods. "In a sense my members are relieved and grateful to the BBC because this has proved beyond doubt what we have been saying for a number of years." Daly spent five-and-a-half months with GMP and could face charges of obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception and damaging police property. The allegations made in the programme, which will be broadcast on BBC One on Tuesday, have led to four officers being suspended, three from GMP and one from North Wales Police.

Ku Klux Klan
Mr Harding said he had been "amazed and astounded" by the programme's revelations about the Bruche National Training Centre in Warrington, Cheshire, which was where he himself had undergone training. Footage for the programme includes one officer dressing up in an improvised Ku Klux Klan hood. But Supt Harding said the revelations at the Warrington centre should be seen as a national problem because Daly had applied to police forces at random. "We need to sit round a table with the Police Federation, the Black Police Association and senior officers and discuss the revelations from a Manchester angle and what to do about it. "But it's not just a Manchester issue, such meetings should take place around the country," Supt Harding said. The GMP BAPA represents approximately a third of the estimated 250 ethnic minority officers employed by the Greater Manchester force. Supt Harding said whatever the fallout from the programme the central issue should be the treatment of the lone ethnic minority officer on the training course attended by the BBC reporter. "I believe there was a failure of the training centre to protect this officer and that is something which needs to be examined. "There are other black people going through training schools who need to be reassured."
©BBC News

22/10/2003- An officer with North Wales Police has quit the force after a BBC documentary investigated racism within the force. Pc Robert Pulling was secretly filmed dressed in an improvised Ku Klux Klan hood and declaring that "Hitler had the right idea" during the programme, The Secret Policeman. His resignation was accepted by the North Wales force after Greater Manchester Police (GMP) suspended five of its officers, one was taken off duty in Cheshire, and another North Wales officer was suspended. Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday Deputy Chief Constable of North Wales Police, Clive Wolfendale, brand Pc Pulling a "disgrace". "Pulling has shamed his service, his uniform and his colleagues," he said. "It's maybe of some reassurance that he has never undertaken unsupervised operational duties. "I decided two months ago to defer his duties, even on the possibility that he presented a risk. "Three days ago, on information supplied by GMP, I suspended him. Now Pc Pulling has tended his resignation and I have accepted it." In response to the programme, Deputy Chief Constable Alan Green of Greater Manchester Police said he was "shocked, ashamed and very saddened". He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that while the force "had made great strides" to improve the situation, the programme did show the GMP "hasn't done enough and we need to do more". "The presence of recruits with allegedly racist views was a result of recruiting from the community, he said. "We recruit from ordinary members of the public, some of whom have very extreme views. "Clearly what we need to do is ensure that those extreme views are sorted out before people join the police services." He said there were "rigorous" tests for discriminatory views, including racism and sexism.

Undercover filming
The documentary showed recruits at a police training centre in the North West using the terms "nigger" and particularly "Paki" with regularity. Undercover reporter Mark Daly recorded Pc Pulling apparently saying he would kill an Asian person "if I could get away with it" and a string of other racist comments. The Home Office minister Hazel Blears expressed shock at the documentary. "I was appalled at the deeply held racist views that came out from some of those at the programme," she said. She said that since May this year a new training system had been implemented across the whole police service, and recruits are now tested seven times on diversity and race views. Mr Daly, 28, joined GMP as a trainee officer and secretly filmed recruits at Bruche National Training Centre in Warrington, Cheshire.
©BBC News

22/10/2003- In the wake of outrage about a BBC documentary on racism among police recruits, Home Office minister Hazel Blears has insisted such attitudes are being rooted out by a new training programme. Ms Blears told the BBC the seven new tests designed to uncover racism - two written exercises, two tests in numeracy and verbal logical reasoning, four interactive exercises and an interview - had been failed by 4.5% of would-be recruits since they were introduced in May. But is it really possible to weed out racists by testing or to train racial prejudice out of them? Manchester University sociologist Virinder Kalra does not think so. Dr Kalra told BBC News Online: "Training isn't going to change people's attitudes but what it should do is train them to be more professional and keep their prejudices to themselves. "The people the new tests have weeded out are the real nutters who shouldn't be in the force in the first place because their views are so extreme." Mary Gray of Diversity UK, which publishes a directory of diversity consultants, believes tests for racial prejudice can work but says many people know how to avoid detection. "It is effective in the majority of cases, but people do become aware of how to get around the restrictions of their behaviour," she said. "They know the right thing to say and to do in tests, but it doesn't change their behaviour and it doesn't change their actions."

'False persona'
However, psychologist and diversity consultant, Marie Stewart says racists will be found out if the new police tests are properly structured. "If you are under pressure, and over a period of time, it can be difficult to maintain a false persona," she said. "Over a day for instance when you are being pressed into different directions by tests, you may not be on guard for some of the other things you reveal under pressure." Simple question and answers tests alone would not be sufficient to reveal racism, she said, but more sophisticated questioning should reveal a lie. "One of the ways is by having different test items which relate to each other and you compare answers to questions which are linked, to see whether answers correspond." Longer term monitoring was also a key factor, Ms Stewart added.

But many critics feel the new tests will prove no more successful at rooting out racists than other means tried by the police. Results so far of diversity training are certainly not encouraging, as Virinder Kalra points out. He said: "Diversity training is nothing new, they've been doing this for 20 years and still you get documentaries about racism in the police force." And that pessimism is reflected by reports by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), whose job is to examine and improve the efficiency of the Police Service in England and Wales. In recent years HMIC has conducted a total of seven inspections into diversity training. But in the latest report, Diversity Matters, published in May 2003, the authors comment on the failure of police authorities to fully implement the earlier reports' recommendations. The report concluded the overall picture regarding diversity training was one of inconsistency, an absence of agreed national standards and proper evaluation.
©BBC News

29/10/2003- Police informers are to go into classrooms to root out any racists at the Metropolitan Police's training college in Hendon, following the resignation of a recruit there last Thursday. The 20-year-old male recruit, who started training at the Peel Centre in Aerodrome Road on September 29, was suspended following allegations that he made racist comments in front of colleagues. The man offered to resign and his resignation was accepted. A second recruit was also suspended and officers from the Directorate of Professional Standards are investigating. The Crown Prosecution Service is also considering possible criminal proceedings. Now the Met have revealed they intend to plant informers in classrooms in an effort to combat racism at Hendon. One recruit in each class of probationers at the Peel Centre, which trains 3,500 new officers a year, will be secretly selected to inform on racist behaviour among colleagues. If they discover racism, undercover officers may be used to obtain evidence for a criminal prosecution for incitement to racial hatred. Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Sir John Stevens said: "We have talked about looking at our procedures at our own training school to see steps are in hand to make sure it [any racism] is brought to our attention as quickly as possible. Anything that happens within the recruit's class and anything that is unlawful will be reported back. If he reports it back, we might put [another informant] through the course to check out his reporting."

Jane Berry, chairwoman of the Police Federation, welcomed the move, saying any racists seeking to become police officers needed to be identified early. "The police service must ensure an environment where police officers are able to challenge and report inappropriate behaviour," she said. The Met will also allow representatives of ethnic communities to sit on recruitment panels to try to stop racists being selected. The resignation at Hendon follows revelations of racism among recruits at the Bruche National Training Centre in Warrington, Cheshire, made in the BBC's undercover documentary The Secret Policeman. Six police officers resigned after they were recorded making racist comments, praising Adolf Hitler and even wearing a mock Ku Klux Klan-style hood. A seventh officer in the Cheshire force was suspended on Saturday Two police recruits at the Met's training college in Hendon were suspended on October 24, following allegations of sexual harrassment. Officers from the Directorate of Professional Standards are investigating.
©Newsquest Media Group

Asian officer says he was driven out of West Midlands force by ongoing harassment, false accusations and the intimidation of his friends

29/10/2003- Another police force is facing accusations of racism in its ranks less than a week after the BBC's undercover exposé of officers in Manchester, north Wales and Cheshire. Ishfaq Hussain, an Asian officer whose photograph was used in a police recruitment campaign, said he had been driven out of the West Midlands force because he objected to racial harassment. He said his friend had been arrested and he had been falsely accused of a crime after he complained about a swastika and a target scrawled on his paperwork. Mr Hussain, who has a law degree, joined the police in 1995. But on the first day of his course at Ryton, near Coventry, something brown was, he said, smeared on the handle of his door. It was curry. While a probationary officer, he said a more senior officer had asked him: "Is it in your religion to lie?" Mr Hussain replied that he did not understand. The officer said: "I'm not joking, because you Asians are all fucking liars. So come on, is it in your religion?" Black people were frequently described as coons, baboons, niggers or wogs, he said. Officers described people of south Asian origin as "Stans": they had been told not to call them "Pakis". Of 30 officers on his shift, Mr Hussain claims 10 regularly used terms of racial abuse. In 1998 he moved to another station and relations worsened. When he entered a room, other officers would stop talking. He said he had made the "mistake" of buying himself a BMW. "I hadn't got a mortgage or any commitments, and it was on finance. But people said to me, 'You must be taking backhanders.'" In July 2000 he was involved in an off-duty altercation with a van driver who, he alleges, reversed into his parked car. The driver denied hitting the vehicle, but Mr Hussain said two of his friends had seen it happen. The driver, according to Mr Hussain's account, refused to give his name, address or insurance details, so he called the police. Officers interviewed the man, who was the owner of the van hire business. Police told Mr Hussain the driver would give him the insurance details at the van hire office, but when he went there he was told: "Fuck off, you're trespassing." The van driver subsequently claimed Mr Hussain had assaulted him and invented his witnesses. When Mr Hussain phoned the station and asked the officers to clear his name, an inspector said the driver had decided not pursue the case. Mr Hussain received a letter from his own police force, saying: "After careful consideration, it has been decided not to take any further action against any of the parties involved." But the incident was resurrected when Mr Hussain complained about continuing racial harassment.

The crunch had come on October 31 2000 when Mr Hussain said a target, a misdrawn swastika and the letters KKK were scrawled over his paperwork. "I went to the toilet and threw up. I didn't know what to do. I showed it to my inspector. He said: 'I don't know what this means.' I burst out crying." Mr Hussain took his complaints to police headquarters. When nothing happened, he applied to an employment tribunal, alleging discrimination. In response, police said they would reinvestigate the accusations against Mr Hussain made by the van driver. "I was threatened that if I pursued my complaint of internal racist conduct, the complaint against me would then also have to be investigated," Mr Hussain said. The West Midlands force said it had been obliged to pursue the van driver's allegations to get the background to Mr Hussain's complaints. The van driver made "very serious allegations", the force said, "involving conspiracy to pervert the course of justice". In its evidence to the employment tribunal, the force said: "The investigation of the applicant has been pursued as a duty imposed by statute." On April 11 2001, Aftab Sarwar, one of the two witnesses who works for the British transport police in London, was arrested for allegedly perverting the course of justice. Six officers raided the home of the second witness at 6am. Police told Mr Hussain that unless he surrendered for a "voluntary" interview, he would also be arrested. The van driver claimed that Mr Sarwar arrived well after the crash driving a Ford Fiesta. But according to Mr Hussain, Mr Sarwar does not drive, and a photograph taken at the time shows he was present. The driver also claimed the three men had spoken in their own language. But Mr Hussain said the only language he had in common with the second witness was English.

A year later, in April 2002, the Crown Prosecution Service dropped all the cases for "insufficient evidence". But the force then announced it would take disciplinary proceedings against Mr Hussain, leaving him, he said, no option but to resign. In his resignation letter, he wrote: "Rather than tackling racist incidents [the police] perpetuate them and anyone who challenges this conduct is persecuted. In a statement to the Guardian, West Midlands police said it was "ready to proceed" in contesting all Mr Hussain's claims at the pending tribunal. It added: "West Midlands police has no room for any degree of racism either within the force or in the community we serve." The force also said its investigation into the van driver's allegations had been handled correctly. "A complaint was made by a member of the public," it said. "The handling of this complaint was supervised by the Police Complaints Authority."
©The Guardian

28/10/2003- Residents were shocked after a caravan with effigies of Gypsies was burnt at a village bonfire party. The caravan was wheeled through a street in Firle, East Sussex, before being torched. Now the Commission for Racial Equality has called for those responsible to be prosecuted for incitement to racial hatred - which can lead to a jail term of up to seven years. One resident has said she was sickened by the show on Saturday and that many others were shocked by what they saw. Patricia Knight, who was at the bonfire with her seven-year-old daughter, said: "A caravan was wheeled down the street which portrayed women and children inside, with 'pikey' written on the back and the image of a scantily-clad woman standing in the door. "I could see other people looking shocked and I could hear shouts of 'racists' directed at the bonfire society and 'shame'." Part of the celebration at Firle is said to be that no-one knows in advance what the effigy is going to be. Villagers, who have asked not to be named, have said the effigy was chosen after the recent eviction of travellers from a nearby field. After the event, images of the event were posted on the internet. But Richard Gravett, chairman of Firle Bonfire Society, said: "There was no racist slant towards anyone from the Travelling community. If anything, it's actually completely the other way. "It is to try to make people sit up and listen and realise that these people obviously - as all of us do - need somewhere to live."

'Racial hatred'
Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), said the organisers of the bonfire should be prosecuted. He said: "Gypsies and Travellers probably suffer the most discrimination in this country. "This is clearly an example of incitement to racial hatred. You couldn't really get more provocative than this. "The police have to take it seriously. If we are asked at the CRE, we will say this case should be pursued and the people involved should be punished - which can lead to seven years in prison. "The idea that you can carry out an act like this and then apologise and get away with it, is exactly what produces a culture that says racism and discrimination and victimisation of people, because of what they are, is OK."
©BBC News

22/10/2003- Young asylum seekers often make highly motivated pupils who "enrich" schools, says a report from inspectors. The education watchdog Ofsted said many had encouraging parents, which resulted in "usually satisfactory and often remarkable" academic progress. Schools were also able to cope and had been welcoming, even when faced with an influx of new pupils after the normal beginning of term. This was especially so in inner-city areas, more used to dealing with diverse ethnic groups. But Ofsted warned the government's "dispersal" policy of spreading asylum seekers across England showed little thought as to how it would affect the education system.

High turnover
Inspectors said teachers still needed more training to deal with children in severe psychological distress. It was particularly difficult to devise a curriculum for those aged 11 to 16 who arrived in this country alone, Ofsted found. But there were still "remarkable examples" of committed teachers and supportive parents working together to "provide the best education possible". Inspectors looked at 37 nursery, primary, middle and secondary schools in 11 local education authorities, in areas including London, the East Midlands and the North West. The proportion of those whose first language was not English varied from less than 5% to more than 90%. Half the schools had a high turnover of pupils, with one seeing 27% of its roll come and go during a single year. Ofsted criticised inaccurate information from the Home Office and immigration services about the families concerned. Nonetheless, it reported that most schools had "embraced" the children, who "enrich the cultural life" of other pupils.

Successful examples of integration included a class making a welcome poster for a teenager in both English and his native language and preparing a birthday party for him. However, some schools had to face problems of racism. In reaction to this, one school in the Midlands arranged a "local forum" of residents, asylum seekers, councillors, voluntary agencies, police and church representatives. "This was instrumental in overcoming any initial hostility and antagonism," Ofsted said. The report added: "This combination of the determination to succeed and the strong support of the parents provided a potent recipe for success." Chief inspector David Bell said: "This report shows just how well schools can perform and adapt to meeting the needs of all pupils, including asylum-seekers. "I understand that for some schools this has been a difficult process. "I would like to congratulate the schools for their hard work in creating a positive, welcoming environment for the newly arrived pupils."
©BBC News

21/10/2003- A government advisory committee has warned that holders of a provisional residency permit are unable to integrate into Swiss society and suffer from prejudice. It said some 26,000 foreigners in Switzerland were being denied access to social support and to the job market, and were sometimes stripped of their human dignity. The Swiss Federal Commission against Racism said holders of an "F permit" – a provisional 12-month residency permit – also had no proper access to the country's education system. The F permit, which is renewable, is granted to certain foreign nationals who do not qualify for asylum. "It is actually a provisional permit, which was initially [meant] for people persecuted for their political beliefs," Doris Angst of the Commission told swissinfo. "But now we've seen that more than 60 per cent of F permit holders have been in Switzerland for more than five years and about 21 per cent have lived here for 10 years or longer," she added. In two reports published in Bern on Tuesday, the Commission also said foreigners with the F permit were also unable to benefit from Swiss integration programmes for foreigners. The findings come as the Swiss parliament is considering revising the country's asylum laws.

Human dignity
While some restrictions were justified over a short period, the Commission noted that holders were often stuck with the permit without much opportunity to improve their status. "If the restrictions only last for a certain period of time it is fine, but if people have to deal with it for three years or longer they are stripped of their human dignity," Angst told swissinfo. "We demand that people who have lived here for more than three years be granted a B permit [which grants them the right to work for at least one year]." In particular, the Commission was concerned that the lack of prospects for young people could lead them to "revolt or turn against society". Around 45 per cent of F permit holders are minors.

One of the studies, carried by Bern University's law faculty, also concluded that people admitted provisionally were not protected by anti-discrimination legislation, unlike other groups. In December, the Swiss parliament is due to vote on a savings plan, which includes proposals to remove state support for asylum seekers who have had their applications turned down. "I am just a bit worried that the newly elected parliament be tougher [against asylum seekers]," she said. The Swiss Refugee Council, a non-governmental organisation, has voiced concern that asylum seekers will lose welfare benefits and turn to crime. As part of its reform package, the government also wants to shorten the deadline for appeals. Eighty per cent of all asylum cases are decided within two months, but the complicated appeals process can last for years. Even if the end result is expulsion, repatriating immigrants can be problematic, with some African countries refusing to allow asylum seekers back home.
©NZZ Online

20/10/2003- After years of resistance, the French speaking side of Switzerland finally succumbed to the sirens of the Swiss People's Party in the general election this weekend, rewarding the right-wingers with seven out of the 11 seats they gained nationally. Until this century, the populist and strongly Germanic SVP was a political minnow in western Switzerland. Its anti-EU stance -- a divisive issue in non-member Switzerland -- rarely went down well in region which is fervently pro-European. "It took longer for French-speaking Switzerland to be contaminated," centre-right Radical (FDP) parliamentarian John Dupraz commented. "The region is historically more open: 30 percent of Geneva's population was foreign already at the beginning of the 20th century," he added. About 40 percent of canton Geneva's population is foreign today, yet Dupraz's home region -- which also hosts UN agencies and prides itself on its international aura -- elected two SVP candidates out of the seven it sends to Bern, when the party had never won a national seat here before. The SVP's strongman Christoph Blocher said before the poll that his party hoped to reach ten percent of the vote in western Switzerland, but his party appears to have exceeded even its own expectations. In canton Neuchatel, the SVP, led by a drugs squad officer, climbed to 22.4 percent out of nowhere. It had never presented a candidate there before. "The SVP is a now a national party, not just a Swiss one," Blocher proclaimed after first results filtered through late on Sunday. The SVP's seduction campaign included a full page press advert lambasting "unbridled asylum seekers, a brutal Albanian mafia," and accusing "black Africans" of being tied to drugs smuggling. Blocher hinted beforehand that he felt the SVP's campaign against illegal immigrants would bear fruit.

"In Geneva, it's even worse than in Zurich, because francophone Africans prefer to settle where French is spoken," Blocher insisted an interview published in a local weekly, L'Illustre, last week. Green Party parliamentarian David Hiller said the SVP preyed on the feeling that lingered in Geneva last summer, when violent demonstrations against the nearby G8 summit prompted local police to call in reinforcements from Germany. "The local population doesn't recognise its own country," Hiller said. "Now towns are not so clean, there's mixed blood in the population, and problems like school violence, that people believed would only happen abroad, are now appearing," he added. Karl Grunberg, secretary-general of an anti-racism group, SOS Racisme, pointed out that the SVP would not have put its advert locally a few years ago. "It's significant that the SVP dared to publish that in French language newspaper," he said.
©The Tocqueville Connection

22/10/2003- The success of the rightwing People's Party in Sunday's parliamentary elections has invited comparisons with far-right movements in Europe. But political scientists say the People's Party is a different animal. The foreign press have likened the People's Party - which won the largest share of the popular vote on Sunday (26.6 per cent) – to movements led by France's Jean-Marie Le Pen, Austria's Jörg Haider, and the Netherlands' Pim Fortuyn, who was murdered in May last year. Papers described the party as "xenophobic, populist or nationalist" – terms they normally use for other rightwing European parties. Italy's "L'Unita" newspaper even called Christoph Blocher, the party's flamboyant figurehead, "a Nazi billionaire".

The success rightwing parties across Europe - even the far-right British National Party has gained political ground - has shocked the political establishment in many countries, and now it is Switzerland's turn. "The People's Party's success amounted to a revolution," Pascal Sciarini of the Swiss Graduate School of Public Administration (IDHEAP) in Lausanne told swissinfo. "I call it a small revolution, as no other party has ever made such a big jump before." Sciarini says there are similarities between the People's Party and far-right movements in Europe "in their nationalist, isolationist, anti-European, anti-immigration and anti-asylum policies". "But one of the main differences is that Blocher and his entourage have never been attacked for being racist or anti-Semitic," says Sciarini. "There have never been any verbal attacks comparable with those of Haider or Le Pen. The People's Party is much more subtle.".

That's a view shared by Oscar Mazzoleni, head of Ustat, a political research institute in Ticino. As the author of a recently published study of the People's Party, he says the Swiss party is heavy on rhetoric, but rather more conventional when it comes to politics. "Both the People's Party and the extreme European Right like to defame the traditional parties as no longer able to solve burning issues and see the population's worries and needs," he told swissinfo. "But the People's Party has been part of the Swiss government for many years and despite having become more radical, it has not had problems in functioning in our system of consensus." Whether the success of the People's Party will change Swiss politics in the long term remains to be seen.

The government is already moving towards the right on economic policy, and Sciarini feels the main difference in the short term will be a harder line on foreigners. The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) attacked the party over its tough line on foreigners and asylum in the run-up to Sunday's elections. "If Christoph Blocher or one of his hardline colleagues move into the cabinet, we can expect tougher policies in areas such as immigration, asylum and the opening towards the EU," says Sciarini. Blocher's critics have expressed hopes that the party will become more moderate if it gets another seat in the cabinet. But Sciarini is sceptical. "Having two cabinet ministers of the People's Party in the government does not mean they are in the majority. "I am sure the People's Party will continue to use the tools of our direct democracy [by forcing votes on issues they disagree with] if they are not satisfied with the government's policies," he said.
©NZZ Online

28/10/2003- This week Italy is hosting an EU conference on inter-religious dialogue to promote peace between religions in Europe. But a story of religious conflict is dominating the Italian press. A radical Muslim leader has won a court battle to remove the crucifix from a state school where his children attend - a decision which has shocked political and public opinion and caused deep concern within Italy's Muslim community. The symbol of the crucifix is not just in every Italian church, it still looks down on pupils from classroom walls in every school even though Catholicism is no longer a state religion. "I think we need the crucifix in our schools," says Lorena, picking her children up from a primary school in Rome. "I remember it from when I was a child and I think its an important Catholic symbol to help guide our children today." But now a court in L'Aquila in central Italy has ordered a primary school in the town of Ofena to take down its crucifix - a legal victory for radical Muslim Adel Smith, leader of the Italian Union of Muslims. He went to the courts when the school refused to display a symbol from the Koran alongside the crucifix in his children's classroom. "My children are still Italian so why should they feel inferior to the others because the symbol of their religion is not nailed on the wall like a cult?" he says. "I've won this case - the law is on my side."

'Crazy Muslim activist'
The law may be on his side, but Italy's political establishment definitely is not. There is universal condemnation of a decision they say is an insult to Italy's cultural heritage. "It's ridiculous," says Rocco Buttiglione, Italy's Europe minister. "In my opinion the cross should stay and, in any case, whether it stays or goes, it's not up to a crazy Muslim activist to forbid it. It's our business, not his." Italy's moderate Muslim community is keen to distance itself from the court's decision. Outside Rome's grand mosque after prayers, people gather round stalls to buy sweet tea and pastries. There is little support here for Adel Smith and his court case. People here like Mohammed from Egypt worry that if the crucifix issue turns into a national debate, the Muslim community will be blamed, increasing tensions between Christians and Italy's rapidly growing Muslim population:
"I'm worried, very worried for us. This issue might be an excuse for racial hatred. It's bad news, very bad news."
As Italy tackles complex immigration issues which still inflame far-right sentiments, this is also something which also worries Europe Minister Rocco Buttiglione. "This decision by the court to remove the crucifix confirms the worst fears of those who have a xenophobic attitude in this country," he says. "It's a defeat for everyone who works for inter-religious dialogue and peaceful integration of immigrants." But a debate within Italian public opinion about the secular character of education has already started.

Secular age
The main schools union, CGIL Scuola, has voiced unequivocal support for the removal of crucifixes from classrooms. At one primary school in Rome's city centre, many parents like Alessandra are asking whether classrooms should perhaps be completely free from religious symbols. "Everybody should be free to decide their religion," she says. "So why have a religious symbol from one religion in every class in every school? I think it should be removed." Now grabbing front-page headlines and dominating TV and radio talk shows, the debate about removing the crucifix from Italian classrooms is gathering pace but it is a debate Italy's Muslim community would rather not be associated with.
©BBC News

21/10/2003- It was a scene from hell. When the Italian coastguards boarded the dilapidated wooden fishing boat in high seas on Sunday, flying no colours and with no name, they found 15 survivors and 13 corpses. They had been warned what to expect. The first craft on the scene, an Italian fishing boat, had spotted the living and the dead mixed up together. They had tossed bottles of water and bread across to the survivors, but the seas were too high for them to risk boarding. When the coastguards arrived, they found the deck littered with bodies, while those left alive were wailing for help. They were at their last gasp, human skeletons. The coastguards transferred the survivors to their boat and towed the fishing boat back to Lampedusa, arriving shortly before dawn yesterday. They began hauling away the corpses; trapped beneath them, they found a young woman, unconscious, barely breathing. She was sent by helicopter to hospital in Palermo, on the Sicilian mainland.

So many flimsy boats crammed with illegal immigrants limp into the harbour of Lampedusa, the small Italian holiday island halfway to north Africa, that it's no longer news. When hundreds of the so-called clandestini drowned in June, Umberto Bossi, Italy's Minister of Reforms, dismissed it, saying: "They died while travelling, like many people on the roads." The endless flow of these sea-borne migrants has become a fact of Italian life: they arrive at the reception centre in Lampedusa, they are transferred to a larger holding camp on the mainland, and one by one they disappear. Italy, its birth rate dwindling, needs migrants to work in its fields and factories, and slowly it is beginning to accept the fact. In a surprising volte-face, the post-Fascist Alleanza Nazionale, part of the ruling coalition, recently proposed giving legally resident immigrants limited voting rights. Others in the centre-right have urged the quota on immigrants be abandoned. Only the xenophobic Mr Bossi - who has said the Italian Navy should fire on the migrant boats - holds out. But for now, this is the way the needed new arrivals turn up. In the first six months of this year Italy detected the arrival of 8,881 illegal immigrants. That's a drop of 40 per cent compared with last year - thanks to the government's joint patrols with Albania in the Adriatic. But across the Sicily Channel from north Africa the flow is practically continuous. And now summer is over. All the Milanese bourgeois families packing Lampedusa's small beaches are long gone. The sea chops and rolls and the wind whistles; and still the migrants roll up on Lampedusa's shore. Only now they roll up dead.

The previous most recent disaster in the Sicily Channel, the one about which Umberto Bossi was so complacent, happened in June, when the seas were flat calm: more than 200 died when their grossly overloaded vessel sank. The latest tragedy looks smaller; but one of the survivors told a reporter that there were "a hundred" on board when they set sail, including seven children. The 70-odd of whom no trace remains were buried at sea. The disaster follows one that came to light on Friday after seven migrants died from cold and hunger en route to Lampedusa. Yesterday, Giuseppe Pisanu, Italy's Home Minister, told his European counterparts meeting in France that the latest incident was "a dreadful tragedy that weighs on the conscience of Europe". Hundreds of clandestine immigrants had died in the sea this year, he pointed out, and probably others had died attempting to cross the Sahara, en route to the north African coast. The latest event, he said, "is only the most recent of a huge and ignored tragedy that has been unfolding under the eyes of Europe". Rejecting the notion that Italy had special responsibility for the crisis, he insisted that "the whole European Union must feel responsible, as well as the governments of African countries from which the migrants depart or through which they transit". Italy signed an agreement with the Libyan government in the summer, requiring Libya to tighten patrols in its ports. But according to a source in the Italian Home Ministry, "the patrols in the ports push those who want to leave to try their luck from the beaches" - only increasing the peril of the voyage. The spokesman at the ministry said: "We fear that in the high seas many other tragedies occur which no one ever learns anything about."
© Independent Digital

23/10/2003- This week nearly 100 people died making the treacherous crossing from North Africa to southern Italy. Rickety boatloads of bodies have washed up on the Italian island of Lampedusa, which is often the first point of arrival into Europe for immigrants. But what happens to the survivors? Nearly 500 asylum seekers, many of whom arrived in Lampedusa, are now found living in the derelict Tiburtina railway station in Rome. They hoped for asylum and a better life in Europe... but is life actually any better?

Treacherous journey
After landing on the island of Lampedusa, Sulayman Ahmed Hamid made an application for political asylum in Italy. Now he is in legal limbo until he hears the result. He lives with nearly 500 people from Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia, many with similar stories, all now camping in a disused railway station, near Rome's city centre. "I was a political leader in Sudan," he says. "I left because of the war and because my people were being killed. "I travelled 20 days to get to Libya where they put 130 of us in a small boat, a very small boat. We were lucky to arrive in Lampedusa alive." Another man, Ali Mukhtar, says he is rapidly running out of options. "I live in this place for 2 months now, and it makes me feel totally desperate," he says. "But where can I go?"

Squalid conditions
The refugees have built a makeshift kitchen with a gas stove and battered stereo, but the rest of this vast brick railway shed is covered in dirty mattresses and blankets. People lie huddled together and the rain pours through holes in the roof. There are no lights, no clean water or toilets and the rubbish is piled high. In a nearby outhouse I find Zeg Tsega Serete from Eritrea hunched over a small gas stove. "I find it very hard to live here with my [two-year-old] baby," she says. "We have no bathroom, no water and no electricity. It is terrible for me because my baby needs more than this." The problem is that people seeking asylum here in Italy are left with little or no state help whilst waiting for their application to be processed.

Lack of support

This means many of them, although they have followed all correct procedures, are forced to sleep rough or live in places like this. Andrea Accardi works for Medicins Sans Frontieres in Rome. "It's very different from the situation in the United Kingdom," he says. "Once you get in the UK and you apply for asylum you are basically sustained by the system until the end of the procedure. "Here you are left on your own and you can't work because you have no permit... you end up waiting and sleeping rough often for 12 months or more. "Italy has only 15,000 asylum applications compared to 115,000 in the UK last year, but it but still doesn't manage to provide a second level of reception for asylum seekers," he adds.

Political pressure
The media shows politicians gushing sentimentally over this week's tragedy of drowned immigrants, but sympathy for the survivors is more limited. Calls for Italy to stem the tide of foreigners do not just come from the far-right Northern League Party, but also from some of the more moderate government coalition members. Carlo Giovanardi is minister of parliamentary affairs and a member of the centre-right Christian Democrat party. He says Italy just cannot cope with any more immigrants and this includes asylum seekers. "These people aren't real political refugees," he says. "A political refugee is someone who suffers political or religious discrimination in their country and their lives are in peril. "This just isn't the case for Somalia, for Eritrea or for central Africa. If we give asylum to people from poor countries with dictators then we will have to give asylum to millions of people."

A better life?
A recent immigration law, passed last year, plans to improve provisions for asylum seekers and provide assistance, although organisations such as MSF who work with asylum seekers say there is little evidence of any change. "In Italy just 10% of asylum seekers have access to secondary reception facilities," Andrea Accardi says. "Everyone else is living like this, it's just not human. There's no discussion about how asylum seekers are living, they just don't matter." The communities living here, in Rome's derelict railway sheds, are now faced with a more immediate threat. The whole site is about to be demolished to make way for a new station. Medicins Sans Frontieres is pushing the local authorities to find alternative accommodation before winter. In the chilling damp of the railway sheds, several asylum seekers are now in hospital with tuberculosis while others, such as Sulayman, are just slowly losing hope. "I'm not feeling well here .. I've never been to a place as terrible as this, even in Sudan, even in Africa," he says. "Some of us think we will come here and live a better life in Europe, but I feel like a person who is dying little by little, day by day." ©BBC News

22/10/2003- As yet another shipload of illegal migrants is discovered off southern Italy, the pressure increases on EU states to resolve the migration issue. At least 13 people were found dead in a small wooden boat adrift in the Mediterranean between North Africa and Italy, and many more are believed to have died during a strenuous three-week odyssey to Europe's shores. On Monday a spokesperson for the Italian coastguard, which fished out the 40-foot vessel southeast of the island of Lampedusa, said that the pile of decaying corpses and severely emaciated survivors was like something straight out of Dante's Inferno. Captain Stefano Valfre, who first sighted the ship drifting near Sicily, told reporters that the 15 surviving refugees had said that as many as 100 people had originally boarded the boat, and that they had thrown the bodies of the dead overboard, until they had become too weak to do even that. The incident, the second to have hit Italy in just a few days, draws attention to the plight of illegal migrants heading for Europe. Although Italy has been most recentlyaeffected by the ceaseless wave of refugees lapping at its door, the problem is one that all of Europe faces.

Europe dogged by migrant problem
Last week, Spanish authorities detained over 550 migrants trying to reach European shores in 12 boats. And in September, seven illegal migrants thought to be from Pakistan were killed by landmines as they attempted to cross from Turkey into Greece -- where every year tens of thousands are smuggled over to Europe from countries such as Turkey, Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The recent surge in illegal arrivals along Europe's southern shores brought the question of migration control into especially sharp focus at the meeting of EU interior ministers currently being held in La Baule, France. During the talks which focussed on migration and terrorism, Italian Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu described the latest incident as "a human tragedy that weighed, above all, on Europe's civil conscience." But he also urged African states to do more to stem the flood of migrants in search of a better life in Europe, adding that "it puts in the spotlight African governments who are doing nothing to control this exodus."

A non-quantifiable figure
Bodies such as the International Center for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD) estimate that the population of Europe is rising by up to one million a year, including illegal migration, but stress that the phenomenon is not statistically quantifiable. Each year, hundreds of thousands slip through Europe's borders and wash up its shores, unobserved and uncounted. And as the EU expands eastwards and its borders touch those of states such as the Ukraine and Russia, where human trafficking is already a known problem, many in the European Commission fear Europe will be overwhelmed with even more illegal migrants.

"Fortress Europe"
With seemingly more urgency than ever, the interior ministers from France, Germany, Britain, Italy and Spain forged ahead with their plans for toughening up their border security. French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy proposed the creation of a "European security zone" for protection against illegal immigration via the Mediterranean Sea, which would be patrolled both along the European and African coast. The five ministers discussed a "three plus three" cooperation deal involving France, Italy and Spain sponsoring efforts in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia to halt the exodus of clandestine migrants. The "Big Five" also announced they had agreed to boost police cooperation, reforming the collective EU police agency Europol, clamping down on gangs dealing in human trafficking, and putting microchips on visas for the EU's Schengen area that would include fingerprints and face-scans in digital form. Nicolas Sarkozy rejected suggestions the EU was being turned into "Fortress Europe," reducing the numbers arriving by making migrants' chances of entry less and less likely.

National sensitivities
Last week, a number of EU states resisted a plan to introduce quotas on legal immigration, expressing doubts about how it could work in practice. The scheme foresaw decisions made at a national level on how many people to admit and from which country, with the European Commission assuming a coordinating function. For now, the Amsterdam Treaty, which came into force on May 1, 1999, provides the legal basis for a common European Union immigration policy. The deadline for a new common asylum and migration policy is set for May 2004. But with EU states still wrangling over the border management agency which would coordinate existing centers responsible for border control and the migration issue still a sticking point in the first European constitution, it seems that when it comes to migration, most countries are unwilling to hand over the decision-making to Brussels. The pressure on governments to cooperate is considerable. Spanish Interior Minister Angel Acebes pointed out in La Baule that "we will be forced, sooner or later, to share a part of the cost, because if a member of the European community does not defend its borders, then we will all pay for the consequences."
©Deutsche Welle

Movement's roots are European, not fundamentalism

21/10/2003- Spain Muslims are back in this ancient Moorish stronghold, the last bastion of Islam in Spain before the 15th-century emir Boabdil kissed King Ferdinand's hand and relinquished the city with a legendary sigh. But the men kneeling in prayer at the city's new mosque, the first built here in more than 500 years, are not modern-day Moors; they are people of European descent. "We've come to offer society the only alternative that exists to lead it out of chaos," said one of the community's founders, Hajj Abdulhasib Castieira, a tall, bearded Spaniard in a glen plaid jacket and suede brogues. While immigration is gradually spreading Islam across Europe, a homegrown movement is giving it added momentum in Spain. Here a generation of post-Franco intellectuals is reassessing the country's Moorish past and recasting Spanish identity to include Islamic influences rejected as heretical centuries ago. The movement has its roots not in the austere Islamic fundamentalism that dominates popular Western imagination these days, but in the Beat Generation and the hippies who pursued spiritual quests to Morocco when it was a counterculturalist Mecca of sun, sand and cheap hashish.

There, a young patrician Scot, Ian Dallas, converted to Islam. He eventually changed his name to Sheik Abdalqadir al-Murabit and returned to Britain, where he began gathering Western converts who became known as the Murabitun. The movement is marked by his proselytizing vision, which strives to found an Islamic caliphate with an economy based on gold dinars. A handful of Spaniards accepted Islam under his tutelage on the eve of Franco's death in 1975 and returned to Córdoba to start an Islamic community there. Religious conversion has a long tradition in Spain, a land as close to Muslim North Africa as to the rest of Christian Europe across the Pyrenees. During 800 years of Islamic rule, many Christians converted to Islam. "All of this makes Spanish people more prone to accept Islam," said Castieira, sitting on a sofa outside his small office in the hillside mosque. The new Muslims attracted leftist intellectuals looking for spiritual alternatives to the strict Catholicism that dominated life under Franco. Spain's Muslim converts now number in the tens of thousands, although many of the new Muslims no longer follow Sheik Abdalqadir. The converts insist their faith is not driven by nostalgia for an idealized history. "We reject the romantic idea of a return to the Islam of the past," said Malik Abderrahman Ruiz, a Granada native who converted in 1992 and is the community's emir. "We've created a new community of this place and this time."

Granada has about 15,000 Muslims today, mostly Moroccan and Syrian immigrants and North African students who worship at three nondescript Muslim prayer rooms in different parts of town. But the town's 1,000 or so converts are very significant, Ruiz said, because they give Islam a voice that cannot be ignored. Granada's Islamic Council, for example, has been lobbying to stop annual celebrations of the fall of Granada into Christian hands. Castieira joined the original Spanish converts in Córdoba and became a Muslim in 1977. Later, at an Arab leadership conference in Seville, Granada's socialist mayor encouraged him and other Muslims to move to the city. "He said if we ever build a mosque, it should be in Granada because the last stronghold of the old Muslim community should be the first of the new," Castieira said. Eventually a small group of converts settled in the city's old Moorish quarter, Albaícin, looking across at the Alhambra, the medieval Moorish citadel that was the center of Islamic power on the Iberian peninsula. They found land for a mosque and in 1981, Castieira and another convert embarked on a trip to the Gulf, hoping to gather the $10,000 they needed to buy the land. They accepted contributions from Libya, Morocco and even Malaysia but much of the financing came from the Emir of Sharjah, one of the rulers of the United Arab Emirates. They say they rejected any support offered with strings attached. By the time the financing was in place, though, Granada's socialist mayor was gone and local opposition kept the project from going forward for 20 years.

Across Europe, plans to build mosques have met resistance in traditionally Christian communities, where people worry that the growth of Islam is changing the character of their towns. But nowhere, perhaps, has a mosque stirred as much emotion as in Granada, where the proposed location, across a ravine from the reddish-brown ramparts of Islam's last stand, carries unmistakable symbolism. At one point, the city offered Castieira and his colleagues a building site in an industrial zone on the outskirts of town. "Political lobbies have done everything they could to stop this mosque," he said, adding that a core of "right-wing Catholic families" continued an expensive legal battle against the mosque until the end. The mosque was scaled down to half its proposed size and the height of its Spanish-style minaret was cut to satisfy local demands. Even then, the Muslims were asked to first build a full-scale model of the minaret to reassure the neighborhood. Today, the whitewashed brick mosque blends seamlessly into the increasingly gentrified neighborhood. Hundreds of tourists visit the garden each day and Castieira said a few people convert to Islam there each week.
©International Herald Tribune

29/10/2003- German police arrested ringleaders of the neo-Nazi Combat 18 organisation during a series of dawn raids on more than 50 premises yesterday as part of a drive to clamp down on far right violence. More than 300 police searched properties Kiel and Flensburg and confiscated weapons and banned Nazi insignia from the group. Meeting places used by the organisation were the chief targets. Police said 10 members of Combat 18, a British-founded neo-Nazi organisation which takes its name from the position of Adolf Hitler's initials in the alphabet, were arrested. "They made up the hard core of group and were the ringleaders," said Matthias Hennig, a police spokesman for Schleswig-Holstein. The raids reflected the nervousness of the German authorities about the threat of far right violence in the run up to the November 9 anniversary of the Nazi "Kristallnacht" of 1938. Dozens of Jews were murdered and hundreds of synagogues were burned down during the pogrom.

Last month police arrested 10 German neo-Nazis on suspicion of plotting to blow up a Jewish centre on November 9. Johannes Rau, the German President and Paul Spiegel, the head of the German Jewish community were among the dignitaries due to attend a ceremony at the Munich-based centre. The arrests deeply shocked German Jewish leaders and prompted Otto Schily, the German Interior Minister to declare: "There have been hints that far right extremists are really a potential danger for our society. Now this has been dramatically confirmed." Police seized 1.7 kilos of TNT and various weapons in connection with the Munich bomb plot. Their find included a hit list of other targets including mosques, a Greek school and an Italian restaurant. Attempts by the Government to ban Germany's neo-Nazi, National Democratic Party (NPD) at the country's constitutional court failed earlier this year. Judges rejected a ban after establishing that the party was riddled with Government-paid informers who had acted as agents provocateurs when they collected evidence to incriminate the organisation.

The Government has also been accused of playing down levels of neo-Nazi violence. While official statistics state that 39 people died as a result of far right attacks since German reunification in 1990, independent research has suggested that it is about 100. The victims of far right groups have been mainly vagrants asylum seekers and handicapped people. Last week three German neo-Nazis were sentenced to prison terms of up to15 years for one of the most horrific murders since 1990. The three young men, aged between 18 and 24, were convicted of torturing and kicking to death a 16-year-old white German schoolboy because he "looked like a Jew." The boy died after his tormentors crushed his skull by jumping on his head with steel-tipped boots. His body was later dumped in a farm silage pit and lay undiscovered for almost a year. Yesterday German state prosecutors announced they would appeal to a higher court to increase the sentences imposed on the three neo-Nazis because they considered their punishment too lenient.
© Independent Digital

21/10/2003- Muslims in Germany briefly celebrated a recent high court decision here that teachers cannot be discriminated against for wearing the headscarf, or hijab, as it is called in Arabic, because there is no law against it. However a sense of triumph in the Islamic community has given way to disbelief as several states swiftly proposed laws banning the headscarves. What is happening in Germany, a country slow to accept its status as an immigrant society but eager to embrace religious tolerance, is emblematic of what is occurring with Muslims all over Europe. "Our initial reaction was to welcome the court decision," said Ali Kizilkaya, head of the Islamic Council. Based in Berlin, the organization represents about 700,000 of Germany's 3.5 million Muslims. "The lawmakers are being forced to make a decision. What makes us sad is that this was understood by some people as an invitation to ban headscarves. But this is not what the court said, and this is now what is being debated so energetically." Headscarves - from Hermès prints to chiffon pastels to black cotton - are seen with increasing frequency on women in Germany's major cities, and they have become an expression of identity as well as of religious devotion. Muslim officials say that many more women in Germany wear the headscarf now than they did 10 years ago. The reasons for the headgear are no longer only religious; for some, the scarves have evolved as an emblem of confidence and identity for Muslim women. However, others say the headscarf is far from neutral, and German feminists and human rights advocates have stated that the headscarf is a symbol of female subjugation that should not be allowed in a classroom.

"Of course we are against wearing headscarves," said Daniela Martin, an editor at Emma, the premier feminist magazine of Germany, based in Cologne. "Primarily we are against them because we are interested in the separation of church and state. We are especially so in the case of Fereshta Ludin, which is a case of political strategy in the oppression of women." Feminists also fear that Ludin was manipulated by Islamic groups. For Kizilkaya, the chance for dialogue on this issue so far is being squandered. "We are following the discussion with great concern, and oddly enough, it is being carried out in part without involving Muslims," he said. "People are debating about Muslims, but not with Muslims. This is not about the headscarves but about Muslims in general." It was in the late 1990s when Ludin, now a minor celebrity, was turned down for a public school teaching job because she wore a headscarf. Her case became a lightning rod here, and was highly publicized, especially after Sept. 11, 2001, when Germans learned that a radical Islamic group in Hamburg had spearheaded the attacks on New York and Washington. Ludin was rejected as a teacher because her headscarf violated the country's religious neutrality in the school system, school officials said, and the lower courts agreed with that reasoning. The Federal Constitutional Court overturned the lower court, stating that Muslim teachers are allowed to cover their heads while at school - unless Germany's states have laws expressly forbidding religious symbols in class. "For years in all the court cases, I felt stigmatized just because I wear a headscarf. The decision is a big relief for me," Ludin said on the day of the court decision last month. At the time, the Central Council of Muslims said the ruling was a victory for all Muslim women.

Within a day, six of the 16 German states moved to create laws against the scarves. "We were pleased and still are that the court came to a conclusion that largely corresponded to our understanding of the situation," said Hans-Jörg Melchinger of Karlsruhe, Ludin's attorney. "There is no ban currently. Now, through this decision, the Federal Administrative Court will be forced to come to a new verdict. Since there is currently no law to ban headscarves, the court will have to decide in our favor." It may not be surprising that conservative states like Bavaria, Lower Saxony, Baden-Württemberg and Hesse announced their efforts to ban headscarves. But they were soon joined by the left-of-center city-states of Bremen and Berlin. The high court decision states that there must be one law that governs all religious symbols equally - the states cannot just ban headscarves. They have to formulate a rather abstract argument that covers Christian crucifixes and Jewish kippas, too. "As I pointed out in the hearings, the people who wrote the Constitution did so to prohibit a particular group from being discriminated against on the basis of religion," Melchinger said. "This was done with the suffering of the Jews under the Nazis in mind. The court ruled that this religious freedom also stands for a teacher, even at a public school. I am eager to see what a ban would be like; it would govern all religious symbols - for Muslims, Jews and also Christians." He added, "It is common to say 'I don't have anything against Turks, but,' or 'I don't have anything against Muslims, but' or 'I don't have anything against headscarves, but'" Kizilkaya said. "So, if you don't have anything against headscarves, why would you want to keep them out of the schools? They do not change schools or lessons. Teachers with headscarves do not come to class to be missionaries." Ludin, who did not respond to interview requests, now teaches at a private Islamic school in Berlin, one of the city-states where a headscarf ban has been proposed. Born in Afghanistan and raised in Germany, her plans regarding the teaching position that was the subject of the court case are not known.
©International Herald Tribune

21/10/2003- When Lila Lévy-Omari, 18, and her sister Alma, 16, were expelled from their public school earlier this month for refusing to remove the hijab, their Islamic headscarves, the story made headlines across France. The newspaper Le Monde even launched a three-day investigation into the "scarf that divides French society." Indeed, debate on how to deal with schoolgirls who insist on wearing the hijab has raged, on and off, in France since 1989, when three Muslim girls were kicked out of a school in Creil for showing up with their heads covered, an act that apparently violated France's constitutionally enshrined tenet of secularity. Though the girls were eventually reinstated, the State Council - the country's most powerful legal authority - later declared that the headscarf was not incompatible with secularity as long as it was not "ostentatious" and did not constitute an act of "pressure, provocation, proselytism or propaganda," a statement that left much room for interpretation. The Lévy-Omari expulsions, however, occurred at a time when government leaders are discussing the possible implementation of a law that would ban students from wearing the hijab. In July, President Jacques Chirac set up a commission to investigate the issue and to re-examine the republic's concept of secularity, a principle that was originally adopted to bridge the gap between church and state.

"The heart of French secularity is the freedom of the individual," said Remy Schwartz, general reporter of the commission and a member of the State Council. "French society is constructed around the rights of the individual. We do not recognize the rights of the group. For a girl to wear a veil is for her individual liberties to be compromised." He added, "By letting veiled girls into school, we are also condoning inequality between men and women. So the veil and what it signifies is incompatible with the concept of the republic of French society." For Hanifa Cherifi, who was hired by the Ministry of Education to mediate between the government and Muslim schoolgirls, "The problem is not just the veil, but what the veil generates. "What has frequently happened is that a young girl wearing a veil will say, 'I can no longer wear a swimsuit or exercise clothes.' She will also say, 'I must always remain separate from boys.' So, a young girl who adopts the veil also adopts all the restrictions demanded by the veil." Often, the girls who choose to cover up are French-born children of immigrant parents - unable to understand their parents' values, but unable also to achieve acceptance among their classmates. Some thus turn to Islam as a symbol of identity and of belonging. Lila and Alma Lévy-Omari personify that desire. Their father is a "Jew without God," their mother is a Catholic Algerian who embraces atheism. Both have expressed horror at their daughters' decision to adopt Islam. "They need to give meaning to their lives," Laurent Lévy, the girls' father, told Le Monde. "But in my worst nightmare, I never imagined this."

French leaders worry that a growing sense of Muslim identity will exacerbate the isolation of the country's Arabs, but they also see it as a sign of increasing fundamentalism. "The problems in the Middle East, the war between the United States and Iraq and the rise in terrorism have had consequences on our community," said François Baroin, a lawmaker and member of the ruling Union for a Popular Movement party. "A minority of Islamists here does not support Western society and even considers it decadent. So we cannot be naïve. We must realize that certain Islamists are using the veil as a ram to break down a pillar of the republic." A generation ago, female Muslim students, eager to integrate, would not have dreamed of wearing a hijab to school. But then France's population of five million Muslims - now the largest in Europe - was also less marginalized. Today, most live in the clusters of ugly tower blocks that ring the more prosperous cities, relegated to neighborhoods that have become notorious for poverty and crime. "In these areas, we are seeing the most veils," said Cherifa. "Unfortunately in France, we're seeing increasing ghettoization. And in each of these communities, you have an organization that carries a lot of weight and influence. What I fear is the development of a fundamentalist Islamic current that takes hold of the young and the disaffected who have not integrated into French society, and gives them an Islamic identity." Politicians and decision-makers are divided on how to handle the headscarf's growing popularity.

Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin says he supports a law banning the hijab and other ostentatious symbols of religious affiliation from public schools. Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, on the other hand, has dismissed that idea, proposing instead the use of a bandanna as a compromise. Even among Muslims, opinions are divided. The majority who say they do not wear the headscarf view those who do with indifference, even hostility. Several groups of secular Muslims have spoken out to affirm their commitment to French secularism. The intensifying debate has only served to further alienate veiled Muslim schoolgirls. "The deep sentiment of all Muslims in general is that their deep convictions are not being respected," said Noura Jaballah, head of the French League of Muslim Women. "Up to now, there was never any question on this or that piece of clothing until Muslim girls wanted to put a scarf on their head. So the girls feel this injustice, this discrimination. And this discrimination is leading them to forget their spirituality to enter into conflict to fight for their rights." For some critics, the headscarf is a sign of the government's failure to integrate the country's immigrants. "We have neighborhoods where school success is very difficult," said Cherifi. "You can blame poverty, but it's also the failure of our schools to respond to the needs of the community, and to encourage social promotion." She added: "The unemployment rate among immigrants is the highest. Even those who manage to get through school and earn a diploma have difficulty finding a job. In the long term, this cannot be sustained. It is dangerous."
©International Herald Tribune

21/10/2003- French President Jacques Chirac stepped into the heated debate over Islam and religious insignia Tuesday, hinting that he will support a law banning the wearing of headscarves in schools. Speaking on a visit to the economically depressed northern town of Valenciennes, the president gave an impassioned defence of the country's secular principles and warned of the threat posed by "foreign" values to French democracy. "Secularism is not negotiable. We cannot allow people to shelter behind a deviant idea of religious liberty in order to defy the laws of the republic or to threaten fundamental principles of a modern society such as sex equality and the dignity of woman," he said. "The state will never allow foreign constraints on the laws of our democracy to influence hearts, spirits or behaviour," he said. The president said he was waiting for the recommendations of an official committee of enquiry into the issue of religious insignia which is due to report at the end of the year. "I will draw the necessary conclusions, with recourse -- if necessary -- to the law," he said.

France has become embroiled in a bitter argument over whether the wearing of Islamic headscarves by teenage girls in school constitutes a breach of the century-old separation of religion and state. The row reached a new intensity 10 days ago when two sisters aged 18 and 16 from the northern Paris suburb of Aubervilliers were expelled from their school for refusing to loosen their scarves so as to reveal necks, ear-lobes and the roots of their hair. The issue cuts across party lines with champions of secularism opposed by libertarians who believe the ban on headscarves is a form of provocative discrimination against the country's five million-strong Muslim population. But Chirac said that "secularism constitutes for every citizen a basic protection, a guarantee not only that their own beliefs will be respected but also that the beliefs of others will never be imposed on them." Earlier Chirac, 70, toured poor areas of Valenciennes -- a city of 350,000 near the Belgian border hard hit by the collapse of the steel and coal industries -- in the company of its former mayor, Urban Affairs Minister Jean-Louis Borloo. Commentators said the visit -- the president's second to the provinces in a month -- was an attempt to answer criticism that he has ignored domestic for foreign affairs at a time when the country is going through serious economic and social difficulties. The president used his speech to resume his theme of social healing which he first aired during his 1995 presidential campaign but which his opponents accused him of then dropping in the pursuit of liberal economic policies. "It is not acceptable that economic progress does not benefit everyone. It is not acceptable that in a land with a tradition of public service, certain areas fall by the wayside ... It is not acceptable that in a state of law job applications disappear in the rubbish bin because those who make them are of North African origin," he said. Chirac saw his popularity rating surge during his opposition to the US-led war on Iraq but it has since fallen back to just under 50 percent. Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin -- who bears the brunt of criticism on the domestic front -- has seen his ratings decline to 37 percent as a result of rising unemployment, stagnating finances and confusion over his economic priorities.
©The Tocqueville Connection

21/10/2003- Jean-Marie Le Pen, President of the far-right National Front party in France, is profiting from economic stagnation and high unemployment in France. In forthcoming regional elections, he could outstrip the two main parties in his Southern French stronghold and become President of the region. In the area of Provence - Alpes - Cote d'Azur (the traditional stronghold of Le Pen's far-right Front National party), he could beat both mainstream parties - the Socialists and the centre-right UMP - and become President of the region next March. In the Ile de France region (Greater Paris), a recent poll gave his daughter Marine Le Pen a share of 33 percent of the vote. This could be enough for the Front National to take power in Paris.

Strategic change
After the electoral success of the National Front, the government of President Jacques Chirac concentrated on the traditional National Front issues such as immigration and crime, in an effort to reduce Mr Le Pen's influence. But Mr Le Pen has responded with a change of strategy, softening his line on some issues to "de-demonise" the party and concentrating more on economic issues, such as the lack of reform, high unemployment and economic stagnation. He has lost none of his opportunism, however. A 20 percent rise on cigarette taxes came into force yesterday, prompting 34,000 cigarette sellers to go on strike. Mr Le Pen immediately promised to support them. The anti-immigration, anti-EU politician is still good for a surprise. Last year he shocked France and the World by beating socialist candidate Lionel Jospin into third place in the French elections and contesting the Presidential vote with Jacques Chirac.

20/10/2003- Migrant women who suffer physical or sexual abuse at the hands of their husband will in future come into consideration for a residence permit independent of their partner. The proposal from Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk is designed so that migrant women can report household violence to authorities without the fear of deportation. Present regulations mean that many victims cannot abandon their husbands because their residence permit is dependent upon the relationship. If the relationship ends they are forced to leave the country and it is believed that many cases of abuse are left unreported. But Minister Verdonk has informed Parliament that she will allow household violence to be used in future to justify a residence permit extension, an NOS news report said. The minister was responding to two Labour PvdA party motions submitted in and passed by the Lower House in the past 12 months. Verdonk has approved the PvdA proposals. But for abused migrant women to obtain an independent residence permit, several conditions need to be met: victims must always obtain a doctor's statement and submit a crime report with police. If prosecution proceedings against a suspect are initiated despite the fact that a victim's crime report has not been lodged, police or justice officials must make an official statement. Prosecution can occur if police have enough evidence indicating a crime has been committed. The evidence can be supplied by a third party.
©Expatica News

24/10/2003- Ethnic tension is the main topic of public debate in the Netherlands at present and not surprisingly, the construction of one of Europe's largest mosques in Rotterdam has attracted sharp criticism. But is it justified? Aaron Gray-Block reports.

Construction starts
It was a dream come true for the Moroccan community in October as construction work started in Rotterdam South on the Essalam mosque, which will be one of the largest Islamic mosques in Europe. But in contrast, a disgruntled Rotterdam Council has waged a drawn-out battle against the mosque, and the controversy around the building aptly highlights the issues confronting the harbour city in the face of a burgeoning immigrant population. The city council opposes the increase in the number of large mosques and led by Liveable Rotterdam (LR) Alderman Marco Pastors, it moved to have the architectural plans for Essalam amended. Pastors claimed the mosque would be too Arabic, was extremely traditional and that its design was even contrary to modern day mosques in Islamic countries. The mosque's dome will be 25m high and sharp criticism was directed at its 50m minarets, which will be higher than the light towers of nearby Feyenoord football stadium De Kuip. LR has led calls for the building take on a more "modest" appearance. Liveable Rotterdam is the largest party on the council in Rotterdam, having risen to power in the local elections on 6 March 2002 on a wave of popularity for its anti-immigrant and anti-Islamic leader, Pim Fortuyn. The maverick politician was later shot and killed in Hilversum on 6 May 2002, but his populist national party LPF claimed 26 seats at the general election nine days later to enter into a short-lived coalition government with the Christian Democrat CDA and Liberal VVD. But LR has had its own share of internal wrangling but remains in power in Rotterdam. It has come out strongly against the continuing influx of immigrants into Rotterdam. The party's stance cannot be separated from the council's aim to create a better spread of underprivileged immigrants across the city to battle the creation of "problem" neighbourhoods.

Immigrant restriction
Alderman Pastors has said he wants to create a symbolic fence around the city by only allowing people without a criminal record, a sufficient income and language level to move to the city, newspaper Rotterdams Dagblad said. Furthermore, an Intomart survey in August found that 62 percent of Rotterdam residents supported restricting the number of immigrants allowed to live in the city, while 25 percent were opposed. The survey came after research bureau COS predicted the proportion of immigrants would grow to 58 percent of Rotterdam's total population by 2017, compared with 46 percent last year. Figures from the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) also indicate that the Islamic population doubled in the past decade to 902,000 or 5.7 percent of the total population in the Netherlands. Interestingly, the Social and Cultural Planning bureau (SCP) released a report on 24 October showing that 48 percent of immigrants believe there are too many immigrants in the country, while a total of 65 percent of Dutch natives agree. But the Cabinet said earlier this month that limiting the number of immigrants who could settle in one area was discrimination and breached the Constitution and various other international treaties. Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk and her colleagues also said that race, ethnicity or nationality could not be used as distinguishing criteria. This meant that the allotment of housing could not be based on those criteria. Income level and the language of certain population groups could be used, but they must be adequately justified and should be directly related to the objective. In response, Rotterdam Council will investigate solutions to the high concentration of immigrants in parts of the city, but refuses to blame population groups for problem neighbourhoods.

Ethnic tensions
But ethnic tensions remain and they are not only finding root in Rotterdam. Tilburg has launched a crackdown against criminal Antillean youth, the brutal murder of an Amsterdam drug addict this month sparked concern over possible Moroccan involvement in crime and the government is compelling new and long-term immigrants to learn the Dutch language and culture. Tougher asylum seeker laws have led to a sharp decline in the number of refugees entering the country. But the backlash against the immigrant population has led to concern, with eight Moroccan groups condemning the Amsterdam murder, while also urging for respect for their community. Such pleas can be lost, however, in the all the attention focused on violent crime itself. What is not lost is the objections voiced by immigrant groups to the 660 percent increase in the cost of residence permits in recent years and its looming court battle against the State. Claims from the migrant community that it is being ostracised and stigmatised are also heard from various quarters. But LR leader Ronald Sörensen is undeterred and claims the Moroccan Essalam mosque is being built in close proximity to suburbs where many LR voters lived, raising fears of polarisation. On the other hand, the Christian Democrat CDA said in November 2002 that the design of the mosque was not a matter for the government because the Constitution clearly spells out the separation of the church and State, newspaper De Telegraaf reported. The Liberal VVD did not push for construction changes, but has said it is willing to discuss a new policy to prevent the "wild growth" of mosques. The Labour PvdA has raised objections to continued delays to the mosque's final approval and attacked the council on Friday for allegedly contributing to the continued polarisation of the community.

A dream come true
Meanwhile, the council requested the mosque's administration in August to modernise the architectural plan to a "concept of integration". The mosque's administration agreed to consider the request, but later decided against wholesale changes, news agency Novum reported. The administration agreed to allow men and women enter the mosque via the same entrance, while maintaining separate female and male worship areas. The initial construction plans were approved by the previous council in 1999, preventing the new administration forcing through changes to the architectural plan. Renewed negotiations with the mosque administration last week came to the same conclusion. A mosque spokesperson, M. Al Sayegh, said the construction of the building was a "dream come true" for the Moroccan community and thanked Rotterdam for its generosity. And without referring to the recent ethnic polarisation across the country, Al Sayegh said: "I ask all Muslims in this city to participate on all fronts and be good citizens; actively become a part of this community". Rotterdam Mayor Ivo Opstelten said the mosque would enrich the city and become an exotic attraction, but he also said the council's request for construction modifications was justified: "We think that the dissemination of faith is sometimes expressed more by reserved, rather than explicit dissemination". The mayor said the mosque's administration and religious leaders should teach Muslims what Dutch society expected from them, namely integration. "If that succeeds, then I will congratulate you with all my heart for your mosque," Opstelten said. Construction work of the mosque — financed by a United Arab Emirates sheik to the tune of EUR 4 million — begun on Tuesday and will take 18 months to complete. The mosque will accommodate 1,500 people at any one time and offers shopping, a library, kitchen and congress hall. Meanwhile, a 2002 report from social development and integration group SOM indicated that among the many purposes of mosques, they allow Islamic people to gather and discuss relationships or problems, while also offering them companionship. Mosques provide a chance to discuss Dutch society to help Muslims improve their position in the community, it said. Courses and discussion groups will be offered at the Rotterdam South mosque to help stimulate integration, but whether the mosque's efforts will appease tempers in the harbour city remains to be seen.
©Expatica News

29/10/2003— Despite community concerns about segregation, Education Minister Maria van der Hoeven has said the government will not take steps against the development of migrant-dominated schools. The minister said tackling the development of so-called "black schools" was not a government responsibility, an NOS news report said. Instead, she drew a difference between having "white" and "black" schools in the Dutch education system and having problem schools. She said the government was only required to combat the latter scenario. Recent studies have revealed that the number of Dutch schools where migrant students account for more than 50 percent of the total student population has increased from 500 to 580 in the past three years. Research also indicates that segregation in Amsterdam schools is so advanced it can no longer be reversed. But the education minister said moves to combat the segregation of schools could be made at the provincial level with agreements between individual schools. She said this was different to imposing quotas and forcing students to attend a different institute.

The minister also said learning problems and education "arrears" were not the exclusive domain of black schools in the large cities, but also occur among "white students in the country and in old industrial areas". But Liberal VVD MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali expressed shock at the minister's remarks and said she was in favour of abolishing Islamic schools, claiming that integration is the single greatest problem to have confronted the Netherlands since the end of World War II. The Somalian-born MP's comments came despite a recent Education Inspectorate report which indicated that the education offered at the nation's 43 Islamic schools does not breach basic Dutch ethics. The report also said Islamic schools stimulate integration. And Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk reacted negatively to a proposal from her VVD colleague to sharpen the supervision of Islamic schools to stamp out intolerance and cut funding if they are found guilty of inciting intolerance. The minister said Islamic schools are allowed to disseminate their own opinions if they maintain respect and understanding and combat intolerance. But Verdonk promised to further discuss the matter with Minister Van der Hoeven.
©Expatica News

27/10/2003- A draft amendment to the law on public service, submitted to parliament by the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) MP Edit Bauerová, aims to introduce an explicit ban on discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation. A similar proposal was rejected during the passage of the country's Labour Code because of the refusal of the ruling coalition's conservative Christian Democrats (KDH). KDH insists that the existing Slovak legislation includes sufficient safeguards to prevent discrimination on all grounds. The European Commission recommended the ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation. Anti-discrimination legislation proves to be one of the most problematic issues inside the ruling coalition. Pál Csáky, deputy PM for human rights, also an SMK member, wants parliament to pass a single anti-discrimination law that would apply to all citizens, not just to state employees. KDH maintains that rather than approving a single law, specific legislation that is found to be missing from the ban on discrimination should be amended individually. That, however, would require dozens of amendments, according to some observers. It is believed that KDH's reluctance to approve a single anti-discrimination law is fuelled by its opposition to granting equal rights to homosexuals.
©The Slovak Spectator

27/10/2003- As European Union leaders grope their way towards a common policy on asylum seekers, great disparities remain in the numbers of people received by different member states - and in the way in which they are treated. The treatment of children, in particular, has been highlighted by the controversy surrounding the Dungavel repatriation centre in Scotland. There, the families of illegal immigrants, who have had their claims rejected and are awaiting deportation, are kept in what have been described as "prison-like" conditions. For comparison, I visited two asylum-seeker centres in Belgium, and found a very different picture from the one described in Dungavel, with its barbed wire and lack of proper education for children. Le Petit Chateau is a former barracks in central Brussels, and now an "open" centre housing up to 850 immigrants. Around half of them are at the first stage of the asylum procedure, waiting for their application to be judged. The other half have already been rejected and are thus classed as illegal immigrants. They remain so even while they await the result of an appeal to the highest court, the State Council, on whether their application was dealt with correctly - the council does not have the right to overturn the rejection itself. Despite being illegally in Belgium, they are looked after at state expense in the Petit Chateau - often for well over a year. The residents can come and go as they please. They include 150 children who are here with their parents and 40 who are unaccompanied. The children receive a full education, starting with language lessons, in local schools. One school I visited had 61 nationalities. Teachers described it as a challenge - there was resistance to the presence of so many foreigners in the neighbourhood, and sometimes fathers from "rival" ethnic groups had fights near the school - but the mood inside seemed happy. "We love teaching here," said Vanessa Ubeek, "because the children come from backgrounds which mean they need a lot of affection, not just teaching."

The school also provides free education to hundreds of children of illegal immigrants who are not even officially registered in the Petit Chateau or any other centre. Thousands whose asylum claims have been rejected, or who never applied in the first place, live illegally in Brussels and other Belgian cities. The oddest thing about the Belgian system is that small numbers of these illegal residents are picked up by the police and taken away for deportation, even though their cases seem little different from the thousands who are allowed to stay. Marcel Kerf, director of the Petit Chateau, says it is a lottery. He is clearly committed to the welfare of his residents, and says the hardest thing is when the police come to take away a family. "They never enter in uniform," he says, "but it is hard. Usually it is early in the morning. I go up to the family's room, knock on the door, and explain to them that they have to leave, in about 15 to 20 minutes. It's very difficult for me." So while huge numbers of illegal immigrants are tolerated, and have their children educated, a small number are targeted for deportation. They are taken to "closed centres", which are more akin to Scotland's Dungavel, though in theory no one is kept in them for more than two months. At one closed centre, in Steenokkerzeel, just beside Brussels airport, I met families from Chechnya, Belarus, Bulgaria, Morocco and other countries. Here, life is much harder than in the Petit Chateau. It is surrounded by barbed wire fences, and the children can play outside for only two hours a day. In theory there is a teacher, but she had been absent due to illness for weeks when I visited.

Most baffling, is why these particular asylum-seekers had been chosen for repatriation. Immigration officials in Belgium and across Europe face an almost impossible task, trying to sort out the fake stories from the real, the political persecution from the family feud. Last year, 381,623 foreigners applied for asylum in the EU. The numbers overwhelm the authorities' ability to investigate each claim in depth. An Albanian family being held at Steenokkerzeel had clearly suffered physically: the mother, daughter and father all had large scars apparently caused by boiling water. The son, aged about 12, had learned enough Dutch during his year or so in Belgium to be able to translate for them. He wept as he explained their story. The story, however, was confused, and had not convinced the authorities, who believe the family may face a personal problem back home, but not political persecution. And so they were on their way out, protesting and in tears - while thousands with equally unconvincing stories remain in Belgium.
©BBC News

27/10/2003– Nearly three-quarters of Belgians are against allowing non-European immigrants to vote in elections, according to a study last week. The survey, conducted by market analysis group "Colombus", asked the question: "Are you in favour of voting rights for foreigners at local elections?" A staggering 80 percent of Flemings replied negatively to the statement and 56.6 percent of French-speakers. For Belgium overall, 70 percent said 'no'. Political parties said the survey would not make them change their position on the issue. The Walloon Liberal and Socialists added that, during their respective electoral campaigns, they had made clear their intention to accord voting rights to all. "We do not govern by surveys, if we did, certain fundamental reforms would never have seen the light of day – that does not mean however that we won't take the results into consideration," one MP told Le Soir. The Flemish Liberals, Christian Democrats and far-right Vlaams Block are against according voting rights to people who have not been naturalised Belgians. The Flemish Green party and all four francophone parties are in favour of a move towards voting rights for non-Europeans, calling it an important step towards universal suffrage and the opening of a dialogue between various identities. "Political participation in local life is a powerful integration factor," socialist Senate president Philippe Mahoux told La Libre Belgique. Since the end of September, the Flemish Liberals have pushed for the issue to become a matter for the regions – a proposal which the coalition refused on grounds of both principal and the non-reversible article 8 of the Constitution. Only since 2000 have non-Belgian members of the European Union been allowed the vote – at the time, only 17 percent of all potential voters signed up. The debate on according voting rights to foreigners is set to restart on 4 November.
©Expatica News

25/10/2003- EU leaders have given the green light for the formation of a new agency to manage the Union's expanding frontiers as part of a campaign against illegal immigration. Portugal, Spain and Italy have been identified as the most likely points of destination of asylum seekers entering Europe from former Soviet bloc countries and Africa. And, therefore, require additional policing. Following a two-day summit in Brussels the EU Commission was given the go-ahead to draw up plans to launch its Border Management Agency (BMA) in 2004. The agency will cooperate with member states in monitoring land, sea and air borders especially in Portugal, Spain and Italy. It is estimated that thousands of illegal immigrants are making their way by sea and land into these countries on a daily basis. National immigration controls will remain in place but the BMA will ensure a more effective method of searching out sea craft and road vehicles engaged in cross border smuggling of immigrants. The Commission was quick to point out that there is still a need for EU states to encourage the entry of skilled workers to replenish their populations, many of which are facing an ageing crisis as birth rates continue to decline at an alarming rate. The EU commissioners have set aside a budget of 140 million euros for a Euro-wide crackdown on bogus asylum seekers. Forty five million of which will go towards establishing and maintaining the BMA until 2006. Brussels is also reviewing plans for the setting of immigration quotas for all member states. Under these proposals the Commission, working with national governments, will agree the number of immigrants each member state should accept annually. Measures to speed up the present processing of asylum seekers' applications are also to be put in place. Earlier this month Brussels published a list of "safe countries" whose citizens will be considered as having no obvious reason to claim asylum. These included India, Jamaica and the ten new member states set to join the EU next year. But as human rights groups have pointed out once the ten new member states form part of the EU their citizens will be able to settle legally in any country within the Union. They say that Western EU states can expect an increase in the already high levels of immigration from the former Soviet bloc countries come June 2004.
©The Portugal News

Action called "totally unacceptable"

27/10/2003- The Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) claims that the members of a family who were being deported from Finland had been forcibly sedated by Finnish officials for their flight out of the country. According to the committee, all of the members of the family were given injections of sedatives and neuroleptic drugs before boarding the plane. Neuroleptics are mainly used in the treatment of certain mental disorders. The CPT reports that the drugs were administered against the will of the people involved, and without proper medical examinations. Two of those who were drugged were underage children. The data for the report was collected during a visit to Finland in September. According to its preliminary report, the committee has documentary evidence of the incident. Nevertheless some Finnish officials are finding it difficult to believe that the report could be true. One of the sceptics is Per Ehrsten of the police section of the Ministry of the Interior. Ehrsten says that Finnish police officers would not administer injections to anyone, and that doctors would always be used for any injections.

Professor Hannu Lauerma, head physician of the Prison Mental Hospital in Turku, notes that giving neuroleptics to a non-psychotic person would constitute abuse. He says that he would be very surprised if police had such drugs in their possession. At the Ministry of Justice, top official Ulla Mohell is also surprised at the revelations. However, she notes that the CPT has documentary evidence to back up its claims. "The committee would never put unsubstantiated information into its report. This information apparently is true", Mohell points out. She says that during the visit to Finland the committee split into two groups and moved around the country freely and independently. Its members met with many people, both state officials and representatives of human rights organisations. The committee's reports are confidential, unless the country concerned authorises their publication. Finland has agreed to the publication of the report, as it did on two previous occasions - 1992 and 1998. Mohell notes that Sweden is the only other country to allow the publication of a preliminary CPT report.

The Ministry of Justice reported on the committee's preliminary findings on Tuesday last week. However, the ministry did not mention the allegations of drugging the deportee family, although the criticism involving that incident was clearly the most serious allegation against Finland. Ulla Mohell insists that there was never any intention to keep the event secret. Finland has published the committee's preliminary findings - a move which is considered somewhat unusual. Mohell says that she hopes that the incident will lead to public debate in Finland. The committee calls the action of Finnish officials in the incident "totally unacceptable", and urges Finland to rapidly draw up detailed guidelines on the use of force in the deportation of foreigners. The preliminary report does not give any details of the alleged incident; there is no indication of when or where it took place, the size or nationality of the family in question, or who made the decision to administer the drugs. The CPT says that it will give more details in its final report scheduled for publication next spring. Finland's Minority Ombudsman Mikko Puumalainen says that there have been other situations in which medical circumstances preceding a deportation from Finland have been called into question. For instance, there have been cases in which women in an advanced state of pregnancy have been deported by plane.
Preliminary observations by Council of Europe Anti- Torture Committee (CPT) after visit to Finland in September 2003
©Helsingin Sanomat

27/10/2003- Leave your car for a few hours in the south end of town and you may return to find it covered with fine yellow dust from nearby mills. Mae Catherine Wilmont, a lifelong resident in her 50s, says she hardly notices the odor any more, but when employers from the mostly-White north side drop her off at night, they sometimes wrinkle their noses and ask, "What is that smell?" Thirteen of Gainesville's 15 toxic-producing industries are located around the African American neighborhood called New Town, even closer than its schools. New Town may be the kind of community the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights had in mind when it endorsed a report Oct. 17 slamming federal agencies for failing to comply with a Clinton-era presidential order to make environmental justice part of their work and programs. Race is a bigger predictor today of exposure to environmental hazards than geography or income, say studies cited in the 200-page report, "Not in My Backyard."

The 1994 presidential order clearly told agencies - the EPA, HUD and Departments of Transportation and the Interior - to consider effects on minority neighborhoods when deciding where to put landfills, toxic dumps and polluting industries. They don't, determined the Commission. The leadership of the agencies, said Commission Chair Mary Frances Berry, "lacks commitment to ensuring that low-income communities and communities of color are treated fairly during the decision-making process" about where to put hazardous sites. The report cited evidence of disproportionate incidents of environmentally-related disease in those communities, lead paint in homes, dangerous waste sites and toxic playgrounds. The effort to be fair in locating dangerous dumps and factories is simply a low priority, the commission says. The issue is apparently considered so marginal that not a single agency reports any comprehensive assessment of environmental justice activities -- the Department of Transportation categorizes the activity mandated in the executive order as "collateral." Some Bush critics say the picture reflects a current Republican administration policy that is unfriendly to the environment in general. Others warn the report will hurt business opportunities and jobs. Berry, an Independent, and three Democratic members voted to endorse the report; two Republicans voted no and one abstained. Another member was absent. What the Civil Rights Commission determined in Washington is no surprise to the women on the ground in New Town.

"What they find at the federal level we find with the state and the local level," said Faye Bush, president of the Florist Club. The women push efforts to bring attention to their neighborhood, including conducting "Toxic Tours" aimed at college students, and at African American youth "so they know they need to get involved and keep this from happening again," says Mae Catherine Wilmont. In the early 1990s, Wilmont joined the Florist Club when she learned she had lupus, which she attributes to a lifetime in the polluted neighborhood. When the club began in the 1950s, women simply collected money for funeral wreaths for low-income neighbors, and accompanied the bereaved to funerals as a group, wearing black in winter, crisp white in summer. By the 1980s, as a veteran member recalls, they began to ask, "Why are so many of us dying?" Slowly, methodically, the women conducted interviews and found a high number of cases of cancer and lupus, an incurable immune system condition. They joined with researchers, had their hair clipped and sent for analysis, and found significant levels of toxins in their systems. A state health survey found unexpectedly high levels of mouth and throat cancer. "It got so we asked all kinds of questions," said Mozetta Whelchel, whose 16-year-old daughter Moselee died of lupus in the 1980s. Towers of a dog food factory loom over her house. Her son Deotris died of lupus too, shortly after high school graduation. Faye Bush, Whelchel's sister, has lupus, and so does Jerry Castleberry across the street.

Experts argue environmental triggers can be key in the appearance of cancers and lupus; direct links are extremely difficult to prove. "We know this is coming to us from the outside," said Welchel, however, a view held by the neighborhood. Joel Armstrong, an environmental justice specialist at the Washington-based Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, knows New Town and sees "bright spots" for such struggling communities in the Commission's recommendations to federal agencies, if they are implemented. One of the "more helpful," he says: A recommendation that the EPA broaden its authority to establish "adverse disparate impact" on communities where state or other laws shield or limit that process. The Florist Club is taking cases to court, and new members are joining, including some young women with college educations. "If we keep on working with it somebody is gonna learn they're wrong," said Mozetta Whelchel, who runs a hand across her bald-looking scalp, the effect of treatment for a second brain tumor. "We got to talk about it, the same over and over." The Civil Rights Commission has no enforcement mandate. Previous reports have drawn public attention to key issues. The new report is scheduled for distribution to members of Congress and President Bush.
©Sacramento Observer

6/10/2003— A parliamentary majority is opposed to a Liberal VVD proposal to abolish positive discrimination of women and migrants in the workforce. The ruling Christian Democrat CDA and opposition Labour PvdA teamed up on Monday to quickly knock the proposal on the head. Both parties believe that certain groups need the support of equal opportunity policies, an NOS news report said. Democrat D66 Minister for Government Reform Thom de Graaf was also against removing positive discrimination from equal opportunity laws. But he was in favour of discussing certain aspects of the preferential policy. VVD Lower House MP Ruud Luchtenveld believes that positive discrimination is outdated — and could even be considered as discriminatory by other groups in society — and members of the public should stand up for themselves. "The government must stimulate equal treatment, but not per target group," he said. Luchtenveld also said positive discrimination can be counter-productive and have a stigmatisation effect. Only the chronically ill and handicapped people should benefit from positive discrimination to enhance their chances in the labour market, the MP said. But the CDA and PvdA — which together hold 86 seats in the 150-seat Parliament — blocked the legislative proposal, claiming that certain groups in society are still being discriminated against in the labour market. They said policies of positive discrimination could assist equal opportunities. CDA MP Coskun Cörüz also said positive discrimination was not designed to give preferences to certain groups, but to provide them with equal opportunities, Dutch associated press ANP reported.
©Expatica News

16/10/2003- Placing a limit on the number of migrants who could settle in one area was discrimination and breached the Constitution and various other international treaties, the Cabinet said on Thursday. Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk, Housing Minister Sybilla Dekker and Interior Minister Johan Remkes said that race, ethnicity or nationality could not be used as distinguishing criteria, Dutch associated press ANP reported. This meant that the allotment of housing could not be based on those criteria. Income level and the language of certain population groups could be used, but they must be adequately justified and should be directly related to the objective. After recent figures indicated that the migrant population of Rotterdam would top 50 percent by 2017 and that some neighbourhoods would completely non-native enclaves, a proposal was raised in the council by the Liveable Rotterdam party to restrict the number of migrants allowed to live in the harbour city. The Rotterdam Council also expressed concerns about the population trend and said it would investigate solutions to the high concentration of migrants in certain parts of the city. But it refused to blame certain population groups for problem neighbourhoods, newspaper De Telegraaf reported. Populist LPF MP Hilbrand Nawijn — the former Immigration Minister in the short-lived Christian Democrat CDA, Liberal VVD and LPF coalition government — later lodged the same question with the national government, demanding whether migrant concentrations should be limited. But in response, the government said it backed a broad approach in tackling social problems linked to issues of integration, livability, safety, quality education and employment to solve the division between native and migrant Dutch residents in urban areas.
©Expatica News

By Jeroen Bosch

13/10/2003- Filip Dewinter, boss of the far-right Belgian Vlaams Blok paid a sneak "working" visit to Rotterdam at the end of September. Dewinter's trip was made at the invitation of Michiel Smit's Nieuw Rechts (New Right) organisation. Smit is a former Rotterdam city councillor for Leefbaar Rotterdam, the local arm of the late Pim Fortuyn's populist movement. Anti-fascists contributed to Smit's removal from Leefbaar Rotterdam by exposing his contacts with known ultra-rightists like the former Nederlands Blok leader Wim Vreeswijk and his activities on the nazi Internet forum Stormfront, where Third Reich fetishism, swastikas and anti-Semitism are salient features. September was a very busy month for Smit and his Nieuw Rechts playmates. On 11 September, they held a 50-strong demonstration in Rotterdam to commemorate the victims of the terrorist attacks in the USA two years ago and to campaign against the alleged support of Muslim organisations in the Netherlands for terrorism.

The organising committee for the demonstration consisted of a motley crew of people from the Jonge Fortuynisten, the youth wing of the List Pim Fortuyn (LPF), some right-wing conservatives from internet fora like "Freedom of Speech", the Friends of Fortuyn ­ a group that gained infamy for is mock "hanging" of Volkert van der Graaf outside his trial for Fortuyn's murder ­ and, last but not least, the fascist New National Party (NNP). The open cooperation between the young Fortuynistas and splinter groups like Nieuw Rechts is remarkable and shows clearly that the LPF's leadership has lost control to such an extent that the far-right element in the party feels free to do what it wants. In August, LPF leader Mat Herben warned Smit, still an active LPF member, not to compromise the LPF by hooking up with the Vlaams Blok. The warning did not come out of thin air, Smit having visited the Vlaams Blok and attended an international meeting of Movimento Giovani Padani, the youth organisation of the Lega Nord, and the Sweden Democrats in Malmö in June and July.

The Vlaams Blok, and especially Filip Dewinter, has never hid their admiration for Fortuyn and, after the victory of Leefbaar Rotterdam in the March 2002 elections, immediately established Leefbaar Antwerpen. Dewinter also revealed, earlier this year, on Dutch television that he had had telephone conversations with Fortuyn and that they had agreed to meet after an LPF victory in last year's parliamentary elections which would probably have made Fortuyn prime minister had he not been murdered in the run up to the poll. The Vlaams Blok has continued to flaunt its esteem for Fortuyn, claiming that he "breached political correctness in the Netherlands". On 6 May, a Vlaams Blok delegation laid a wreath at the Belgian-Dutch border to pay tribute to Fortuyn and to honour his political legacy. Smit and Rob Verreycken, a Vlaams Blok city councillor in Antwerp, also want to erect a statue of Fortuyn in the city. By the end of September, then, the time was ripe for Dewinter to make a further "secret" and maximum security visit to the Netherlands. Indeed, his latest appearance marks the sixth occasion on which he has parleyed with Dutch right-wingers on Dutch soil. On his first trip, in 1988, he wanted to hold a public meeting together with the ultra-right Centrum Democrats (CD) but ended up being arrested immediately when he tried to make a speech through a megaphone from the house window of a CD member in Dordrecht. On another visit in 1997, the Vlaams Blok was able to stage a press conference in a private room in the village of Woerden, with the fascist strong-arm squad Voorpost taking care of security, and, a year later, he spoke to a group of Dutch right-wingers, advising them to take a break for at least eight years before trying to get back on the parliamentary circuit.

Dewinter's endeavours, from the early 1990s onwards, have been mainly devoted to trying to unite the extreme right in the Netherlands but his efforts were frequently thwarted by the capriciousness of the CD's boss, the late Hans Janmaat. Dewinter's last visit to the Nether lands, a trip to Amsterdam in September 2001 to take part in a live TV discussion programme Buitenhof together with Johan Leman of the Brussels-based Centre for Equal Rights and the liberal right wing Dutch parliamentarian Henk Kamp, a man notorious for his outbursts against refugees was hardly auspicious. Indeed, events rapidly went pear-shaped when Dewin ter was confronted by anti-fascists before the broadcast and had his car smashed up with him still in it. It was later revealed that Dewinter had been preparing himself for the televised debate by reading the book My father, Rudolf Hess in the car. Nor did his problems end when he entered the TV studio because, during the programme, he was drenched in chocolate sauce to give him the brown image he rightly deserves. No sooner than studio staff hurriedly cleaned him up, anti-fascist demonstrators used firecrackers to drown him out for several minutes. After the show, a very scared but incandescently furious Dewinter was forced to beat a retreat from Amsterdam in a police van ­ his car wrecked, his suit ruined and his image damaged ­ to rendezvous with the Dutch branch of Voorpost, which escorted him home to Antwerp. Now, two years on, Dewinter turned up with an entourage of security men and Vlaams Blok parlia mentarians who accompanied him on a "walkabout" in Rotterdam, a city they see as the sister of Antwerp, both having a big harbour, heavy unemployment and large immigrant populati ons.

Joop van Heijgen, then still a councillor of Leefbaar Rotterdam and Florens van der Kooi, the NNP chairman and a councillor in the Rotterdam district of Feijenoord acted as tour guides for the Vlaams Blok tourists. In interviews with the press, Dewinter and his host Smit raged against the construction of a new mosque in the city and Dewinter went out of his way to praise Nieuw Rechts' work. He also expressed surprise at the public debate Leefbaar Rotter dam had initiated about measures to stop the influx of foreigners into the city. "We are not ready for that in Antwerp yet," he said. Van Heijgen quickly switched from Leefbaar Rotter dam to Nieuw Rechts after Dewinter's visit, claiming that he found the ideas of Leefbaar Rotterdam "too soft". His change of party loyalties is important because the coalition between Leefbaar Rotterdam, the conservatives and the liberals has now lost its majority on the city council, handing casting votes and, thus, more power to Smit and van Heijgen. Following the twin successes of Dewinter's visit and his launch of a local newspaper Nieuws uit Rotterdam Smit has won some respect from the Fortuynistas and other right wingers but remains a controversial political solo artist whose his politics pull him in all directions. Despite this, he seems to be the only rightwing currently capable of organising anything, although his pro-Israeli stance is not popular among other right-wing extremists, especially the NNP, a party that has still some influential anti-Semites in its ranks.

2/10/2003- The European Court of Justice has today (2 October) ruled in favour of a Spanish citizen living in Belgium who wanted his children registered both under the father and mother's name - according to Spanish custom. Under Belgian law, children may only take the name of their father and so the Belgian state refused citing the integration of foreigners into Belgian culture as a defence. However, the ECJ found this argument insufficient. The father, who is Spanish is married to a Belgian national and their two children have dual nationality. The couple wanted to make a clear link between the mother and the children by giving them her name as a second name. Also, the couple wanted to avoid practical difficulties for the children by having different surnames in Belgium and in Spain, when both the name of the mother and father are permitted. The Court found that the case falls under EU competence, under the article of the Treaty concerning the citizenship of the EU. The Court also made it clear that although the rules regarding person's name are in the competence of the Member States, a State - in this case Belgium- should, however, respect Community law.

8/10/2003- Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has denied reports of deep differences within his government, after a fresh row erupted between warring right-wing coalition partners. The row began after Gianfranco Fini of the National Alliance suggested the idea of limited voting rights for some immigrants. The proposal sparked a furious response from Umberto Bossi of the far-right Northern League. He threatened to quit the government if the proposal was adopted. "Everything will go - the government will fall and we'll be headed for early elections," he said. Mr Berlusconi, on a visit to Ukraine, stepped in to declare that his coalition was not in disarray. "The coalition is united over fundamental values," Mr Berlusconi said. "The coalition cannot but be united: (otherwise) it would be proof of irresponsibility." Mr Bossi's party, accused by some of xenophobia, takes a tough line on immigration. Mr Bossi was quoted earlier this year as suggesting that immigrant boats should be blown out of the water, although he later insisted he was misquoted. Mr Fini himself has not previously been noted for liberal views on immigration. He and Mr Bossi co-authored a law last year cracking down on illegal immigration, and his comments on the possible right to vote surprised many observers. Other members of his post-fascist party said they disagreed with the idea, but the centre-left opposition and some unions welcomed the proposal. "From my perspective, the time has come to discuss giving immigrants who live, work and pay taxes in Italy... the right of administrative voting," Mr Fini said in a statement. The constitution currently allows only Italian citizens to vote. Mr Bossi insisted there would be no change. "Fini can say what he likes, but he should know that if he carries on in that direction, he'll be headed straight into a brick wall," he was quoted as saying in La Stampa newspaper. "In our electoral pact, there was a law on immigration, there would be no vote for immigrants." La Repubblica newspaper said the fresh row was "a fist in the stomach for the National Alliance, a finger in the eye of Umberto Bossi, and a blow to Silvio Berlusconi's heart."
©BBC News

10/10/2003- The Swiss Bankers Association (SBA) has rejected claims that banking secrecy is delaying distribution of a $1.25 billion (SFr1.64 billion) settlement with Holocaust victims. It said a committee under former Federal Reserve Board chairman Paul Volcker had carried out a comprehensive audit of all dormant Holocaust-era accounts. "Paul Volcker and his committee conducted a very thorough investigation and had full access to the bank accounts," SBA spokesman Thomas Sutter told swissinfo. The SBA's reaction comes after two United States lawyers criticised Swiss banks for being obstructive. Judah Gribetz, a Manhattan lawyer overseeing the distribution of the settlement money, has alleged that Swiss banks restricted information about millions of bank accounts opened in Switzerland during the Nazi era.

Interim report
His claim was filed last week in a report to Edward Korman, chief judge of the United States District Court in Brooklyn, who presided over a class-action suit brought by Jewish organisations and survivors of the Holocaust against major Swiss banks The global accord between Jewish plaintiff groups and Swiss banks Credit Suisse and UBS was signed in August 1998, but so far only about a third of the money has been paid to claimants. In another attack, Burt Neuborne, the lead counsel for Jewish groups and Holocaust victims, has accused both Swiss banks and the Swiss government of obstructing distribution of the money. He said the Swiss authorities had placed "every conceivable obstacle" in the way since the beginning of the class action. "Swiss banking laws are hindering the examination of 4.1 million accounts, which could contribute to a speedy distribution of the money," he said.

Accusations rejected
The SBA's Thomas Sutter said the banks totally rejected the accusations. He added that the vast majority of Nazi-era accounts were totally unrelated to the Holocaust, and it was never part of the settlement to provide access to all accounts. "In our opinion, it makes no sense to centralise all bank accounts that were active during the Second World War," commented Sutter. "The Volcker committee has already had access and it makes no sense to repeat the procedure," he added. Having reviewed all the 4.1 million accounts opened in Switzerland before and during the Second World War, the Volcker committee presented its final report in December 1999. A team of 600 auditors working for the committee cited 53,388 accounts as "probably or possibly" related to Nazi victims.

Out of line
Hans Bär, a member of Volcker's team and a former bank chairman, told swissinfo that Gribetz's comments were out of place. "I think the most surprising thing [in the report] is the acrimonious tone, for which there is absolutely no reason," he said. "Gribetz complains in one part of his statement that the documents aren't available. I would like to remind you that this is material dating back 60 or 70 years," he said. "The law requires documents to be retained for ten years. It is a miracle that any documents are available at all. To complain that they are not all there is ridiculous," he added. The Swiss Federal Banking Commission, which is part of the finance ministry, said the claims were not really an issue for it. "We are not involved, either in the settlement or its execution," commented spokeswoman Christina Bürgi.
©NZZ Online

11/10/2003- The Swiss elections are taking on a racist overtone, as the far-right exploits fears about the rising number of immigrants. Responding with a campaign of its own, an anti-racism organization is ruffling a few feathers. In the weeks leading up to the Swiss parliamentary elections on October 19th, charges of racism have been levied against the party currently leading in the polls, the far-right Swiss People's Party (SVP). With a mix of anti-immigrant and anti-EU policies, the SVP narrowly won the last round of elections in 1999. This time around, with a more aggressive overtly anti-immigrant campaign, they are hoping to widen their margin of victory. But a swiss anti-racism organization is trying to stop them in their tracks.

Anti-immigrant posters and comments spark controversyThe SVP recently provoked controversy, when it released a poster featuring a caricatured black face and a slogan reading, "the Swiss are increasingly becoming the negros." Following widespread criticism, the poster was withdrawn. The leader of the SVP, Christoph Blocher, a Swiss millionaire businessman, offered no apology. Another poster released by the party was entitled "Our Dear Foreigners" and was accompanied by police mug shots of criminals, none of whom, the party claims, are Swiss. Via these posters, party leaders hoped to send a powerful message. And recent comments by SVP members makes that message very clear. Will Eckler, an SVP member, told the BBC, "We need foreigners to work in Switzerland and they are well paid, but we don't need scroungers who cost money, and the criminals should be kicked out or interned."

Growing fears of immigrants in Switzerland
Foreigners currently comprise 20 percent of the Swiss population, and members of the SVP would like to see that percentage decrease -- and they're betting on the fact that a majority of the Swiss feel the same way. Currently holding 25.3 percent of the vote, according to the Bern-based GfS Institute, SVP members are exploiting fears of this rising immigrant population, blatantly employing anti-foreigner propaganda to raise their lead in the poles and claim a more significant role in Swiss government. If successful, more influence for the SVP in government could mean more anti-immigrant legislation, like the 2002 SVP-sponsored proposal to create tougher asylum laws aimed at discouraging economic migrants. The nationwide referendum was only narrowly defeated with just 50.1 percent of the Swiss voting against the plan. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, who was critical of the plan, said that had the proposal passed, Switzerland would have the toughest anti-immigration laws in all of Europe.

An anti-racism organization challenges stereotypes
In this cold climate where the nation's asylum seekers only enjoy a slim margin of support among the Swiss population, the Swiss Foundation Against Racism and Anti-Semitism has launched a nationwide campaign to challenge stereotypes. The images employed by the campaign are in-your-face depictions of common stereotypes held about foreigners, and they have proven controversial. A Jewish face smiles out from the cinema screen, and a caption asks, "How do the Jews get their money?" After a few seconds, comes the reply, "By working, just like the rest of us." A poster depicts an ethic Albanian, and the caption reads, "Where do Kosovers get their car radios?" The answer: "In a shop, just like the rest of us." Two other posters address the stereotypes of Thai women as prostitutes ("What do the Thai do after dark?") and the flower-selling Tamils ("Why do the Tamils go to restaurants"). But the campaign has rubbed some people the wrong way, even though they might agree with its general intent. "My first reaction was, oh my god, I can't believe they've done this," Steve Frost, a Swiss government worker told Deutsche Welle. "These pictures are just the worst form of stereotype, and the way these slogans are presented, people might not interpret them the right way."

Ronald Bernheim, the foundation's president, knows that his critics think the cartoonish, stereotypical images are unsettling. But they exist, according to Bernheim, and they need to be challenged. "I'm not comfortable with it, and I hope no one else is," says Bernheim. "I want to question it and I want people to talk about it." Call it a kind of aversion shock therapy. By confronting the Swiss with extreme depictions of their own stereotypes -- so extreme that many look away in discomfort -- the Swiss Foundation Against Racism and Anti-Semitism is hoping to prompt Swiss citizens to reconsider these stereotypes. Will this be enough to diminish support for the SVP? Stay tuned for the election results next weekend.
©Deutsche Welle

19/10/2003- The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) has accused the rightwing Swiss People's Party of stoking up prejudice against foreigners ahead of Sunday's parliamentary elections. The People's Party hit back, slamming the organisation for sticking its nose in Switzerland's internal affairs. It is not the first time the UN refugee agency has taken the People's Party to task over its tough stance on foreigners and asylum. Last November, the High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, condemned a proposal by the rightwing party to clamp down on asylum seekers. This time the UNHCR said it was forced to take action after viewing a provocative campaign run by the People's Party. "These are some of the worst elections ads we've seen in Europe," said UNHCR spokesman Rupert Colville. "We find this alarming. We've noticed this trend in some other countries but we haven't seen a major political party going this far in recent times."

Soft on crime
The People's Party ran a full-page advertisement last week attacking Switzerland's other political parties for being soft on crime. Under police mugshots of convicted criminals, ran the statement: "Here are the results of the policies of the left and its friends: pampered criminals, shameless asylum seekers and a brutal Albanian mafioso." Ignoring protests from the centre-left Social Democrats and anti-racism campaigners, the party repeated the advertisement on Thursday. Citing official statistics, the advert claimed the number of murders in Switzerland had risen by 32 per cent since 1994, and that there had been 70 per cent more rapes. The People's Party campaign has also drawn heavy criticism from much of the media and many politicians. The country's anti-racism league launched legal proceedings against the party earlier this week.

"Sophisticated campaign"
The UNHCR told swissinfo it had a duty - and a mandate - to protect refugees in the face of what it described as a sophisticated campaign. "When you see ads like this, you've got no option," said Colville. "We see this type of negative stereotyping, manipulation of statistics and distortion of the issues, as really very menacing for refugees." The People's Party was quick to react to the agency's attack, arguing that an international organisation had no right to dictate what should be discussed during an election campaign. "Organisations like the United Nations should not get involved in Switzerland's elections," said party spokesman Yves Bichsel.

Party anger
The People's Party also denied that the campaign was racist or that the figures quoted were false. "It has nothing to do with foreigners in general. It has to do with criminals in Switzerland, who happen to be mostly foreigners," said Aliki Panayides, deputy secretary-general of the People's Party "And our statistics are official, so we didn't invent anything." This latest intervention by the UN refugee agency has raised concerns that the publicity may ultimately benefit the People's Party. "It may do, and that is the right of the Swiss people," said Rupert Colville. "We've simply been forced into this situation. We couldn't sit there and be an accomplice to a really distorted, clever and sophisticated campaign."
©NZZ Online

11/10/2003- Switzerland's gay politicians are still holding back when it comes to coming out. While Paris and Berlin have gay mayors, in Switzerland it is still rare for high-ranking gay politicians to openly talk about their sexual preferences. There are about 400,000 gays and lesbians living in Switzerland, making up about six per cent of the population. Meanwhile, Saturday marks the 12th Swiss Coming Out Day. Sociologist Martin Abele says although homosexuality has in general become increasingly accepted in Switzerland, there is still a limited acceptance within the political sphere. "It would still be a sensation if a gay or lesbian ran for the post of a cabinet minister," Abele told swissinfo. Moël Volken of the gay rights organisation, Pink Cross, says he only knows one Swiss parliamentarian who is openly gay. "I am not sure whether someone who is openly gay would actually make it into the Swiss cabinet," Volken told swissinfo. The parliamentarian Claude Janiak says he has never really come out as such – he is simply open about his sexuality. "I take my partner to public engagements in Basel, which has never caused any problems," Janiak told swissinfo.

Double life
"Many politicians believe that their private lives should be separate from their political lives," said Brigitte Röösli of Switzerland's lesbian organisation, LOS. "Many gay politicians lead a double life as they are too afraid of the public's reaction and not getting re-elected." She added that only 16 of the more than 3,000 candidates standing for the parliamentary elections on October 19 are openly gay. However, Abele thinks this is a huge step in the right direction, as four years ago the number was significantly lower. "It is important for the gay-lesbian community that politicians come out, as it gives them somebody to identify with," Abele said.

Less progress
High-ranking politicians are less likely to come out of the closet but young politicians, who are at the beginning of their career, tend to be more open about their sexualities. Meanwhile, Pink Cross claims the French-speaking parts of Switzerland are less progressive when it comes to accepting homosexuals. "It is almost impossible to launch a pro-gay campaign in western Switzerland. There homosexuals are not as widely accepted as they are in the German-speaking part of the country," Volken told swissinfo. And it is worse, he added, in the Italian-speaking part of the country. "In Ticino homosexuals are even more hidden away." Two years ago, however, Geneva became the first canton to pass a law that gives homosexual couples almost equal rights. And earlier this year homosexual couples gained official recognition in canton Zurich. Parliament is now due to debate the nationwide registration of gay couples, their legal status and whether homosexual couples should be allowed to adopt children and use artificial reproduction techniques.

Urban life
Abele says homosexuals are more likely to be accepted in urban areas and points out that those who have been in contact with gays or lesbians are more open towards them. "Young gay and lesbians still have to struggle with the fact that they are ‘different'," Abele said. "This is a long-winded process and young people have to get over the negative clichés and the jokes about gays," he added.
©NZZ Online

16/10/2003- A record 16 openly gay and lesbian candidates are standing in this year's parliamentary elections. Most of them represent parties of the Left or Centre-left but there are also three standing for the rightwing Swiss People's Party. The 16 candidates do not include the one openly gay politician in the Swiss parliament, who is standing for re-election. Moël Volken of the gay rights organisation Pink Cross hopes one or maybe two more homosexual candidates will win seats after the October 19 vote. He says it would mark a significant step forward for the gay community within Switzerland.

Visible presence
"We think gay men and lesbians should be visible in all parts of society," he told swissinfo. "It would be a real sign of integration if people elected openly gay and lesbian candidates," he added. Bernhard Pulver, a homosexual standing for the Green Party in canton Bern, also believes it is useful for young people still coming to terms with their own homosexuality to see high profile gay men and lesbians. "It's not just important that there are openly gay and lesbian politicians," he told swissinfo, "but anyone in the public eye who is able to set a positive example."

Although there is only one openly gay member in the House of Representatives, Volken insists that does not mean there are not more in parliament. He says politicians in Switzerland are more reticent about declaring their homosexuality than their counterparts in other countries such as France, Britain and Germany. "We are generally more conservative in Switzerland because we don't really have major cities that act as a melting pot where all parts of society can meet and where everything is tolerated," he said. "There may well have been past members of the parliament or the government who were gay or lesbian, but they never spoke about it and neither did we."

New way of thinking
But Pulver believes the Swiss are becoming more open minded, certainly in the country's more urban areas, and he feels that there has been a shift in thinking. "I am sure it is easier to be more open about your sexuality in cities such as Bern, Zurich, Basel or Geneva, whereas in the rural areas it is much more difficult," he said. "But there has been a change even in rural areas over the last decade and I really believe our country is at a turning point." He also thinks that some candidates may be unwilling to reveal their homosexuality in public because they fear becoming labelled as one-issue politicians. "If you are a representative of a gay movement whose main concern is working for gay rights then of course you are more likely to be openly gay," he said. "But someone who belongs to one of the parties and has a range of political ideas – including gay rights – may be less inclined to be open about their sexuality because they fear perhaps being reduced to that element."

While Volken welcomes the number of gay and lesbian candidates standing in this year's elections, he admits that sexuality in itself is not a good reason for being elected. He maintains it says nothing about political opinions, a view backed up by the fact that while most of the candidates standing come from the centre-left or left of the political spectrum, there are also three candidates from the rightwing Swiss People's Party and one from the centre-right Radical Party. "People will elect somebody who has the same political opinions and thinks the same way," he said. "Perhaps it isn't important if they are gay or lesbian, and we are pleased about that."
©NZZ Online

20/10/2003- Final results in Switzerland's parliamentary elections show the rightwing Swiss People's Party has won the largest share of the vote. The party called it a "historic victory" and demanded an additional cabinet seat, putting forward a leading party figure, Christoph Blocher, as its candidate. According to final results released on Monday, the People's Party gained an additional 11 seats in the 200-member House of Representatives, taking its total to 55. The party's share of the popular vote increased to 27.7 per cent, up 5.2 per cent from 1999. The People's Party campaigned strongly in favour of less taxes, tougher asylum rules and against closer ties with the European Union. "We need a second [cabinet] seat and our candidate would be Blocher," Ueli Maurer, the president of the People's Party, told Swiss television. "This is a serious battle. Last time around we all knew that there was no chance, but this time I think there's a 50 per cent chance [of getting a second seat]," Blocher told swissinfo. Such a move would change the so-called "Magic Formula", a power-sharing arrangement dating back to 1959 that gives the Social Democrats, the Radicals and the Christian Democrats two seats each, and one for the People's Party. "If Blocher is not elected we will withdraw our current [cabinet] minister, Samuel Schmid, and go completely in the opposition," added Maurer. The cabinet elections are due to take place on December 10. The People's Party for the first time made big gains in French-speaking Switzerland, even winning two seats in the Centre-left stronghold of Geneva. Turnout was estimated at 42.5 per cent, down from 43.3 in the 1999 elections.

Sunday's vote was a big disappointment for the Centre-right: the Radicals and Christian Democrats each lost seven seats. The Radicals now hold 36 seats in the House of Representatives, with just 28 seats for the Christian Democrats. Philipp Stähelin, president of the Christian Democrats, admitted that his party had been badly defeated and offered to resign. "I'm not attached to my presidency," Stähelin told Swiss radio. On Monday, he said he had decided to remain in his post, after the party leadership gave him their backing. The centre-left Social Democrats held their ground with 52 seats, up from 51. "I am happy with our results, but it worries me that the Swiss People's Party has gained so many seats," said the party's president, Christiane Brunner. Switzerland's Green Party turned out to be one of the winners of this year's elections, gaining four seats. "People are a lot more sensitive to environmental problems than they were four years ago," Martin Bäumle, president of the Green Party in Zurich, told swissinfo. "I think this year's result is very important, because if the Green Party can form a strong faction, then other parties will have to think more about the environment."

Senate votes
About 4.7 million Swiss were eligible to vote. They also cast their ballot in Senate elections in 22 of the 26 cantons. Final results in the Senate elections show the centre-left Social Democrats winning at least one additional seat. In a major upset in canton Bern, Simonetta Sommaruga won a seat for the Social Democrats at the expense of the Radicals. Sommaruga, who has been a member of the House of Representatives, is a well-known advocate of consumer protection. Run-off elections will have to take place in six cantons next month, because candidates did not receive an absolute majority. The centre-right Christian Democrats and the Radicals remain the biggest parties in the Senate.
©NZZ Online

8/10/2003- A judge said racism was becoming "too common" after hearing how three men attacked two Fijian Royal Marines in Devon. The three men were sentenced to carry out 240 hours community punishment and ordered to pay £500 compensation between them to each of the two servicemen. Judge William Taylor, sitting at Plymouth Crown Court, said: "This was racial, it was a joint enterprise. "This is becoming too common in this city." Steven Sansom, 25, of Corner Brake, Woolwell, Plymouth, admitted racially aggravated behaviour towards Fijians Apisai Serau and Epilai Saleli, who were on attachment to 29 Commando in Plymouth Alan Jones, 25, and Karl Thomas, 23, both of Rothesay Gardens, Plymouth, both admitted common assault on Mr Serau.

Constructive sentence
The court heard the Fijians had gone out for a drink in a city pub after a party at their barracks in December last year. Mr Sansom accused the two Marines of being "Pakis" or asylum seekers and blamed the men for taking British jobs. The defendants were thrown out of the pub at the same time as the Fijians left, and Mr Sansom then tried unsuccessfully to punch them in the street. Mr Jones and Mr Thomas punched and kicked Mr Serau to the ground. He suffered cuts and bruises to his face and a chipped tooth and needed hospital treatment. The men were also ordered to observe a curfew for the next year. Judge Taylor told Mr Jones and Mr Thomas that the maximum jail term he could have sentenced them to was six months, which meant with early release provisions they would be out within a month. So the sentence he passed was the most constructive possible, as they were all in work.
©BBC News

Immigrants would be sent to processing islands far from the UK in order to deter applications, says shadow home secretary

8/10/2003- All asylum seekers arriving in Britain will be immediately deported to a "far offshore processing" island under Conservative plans announced yesterday. The shadow home secretary, Oliver Letwin, told the party conference in Blackpool: "We will replace the present asylum system - in its entirety - with a system of quotas for genuine refugees and the offshore processing of all claims, to deter all but genuine claims for protection from persecution." He made clear that under his policy all asylum seekers who reach Britain will find the door closed firmly in their faces. "There will be no applications in the United Kingdom," he said. Asylum welfare groups reacted to the plan with horror. The Refugee Council said it was "unlawful, inhumane and ridiculous". The body's deputy chief executive, Margaret Lally, said: "The UK is committed under international law to providing a safe haven for those fleeing persecution."

Mr Letwin admitted yesterday that he did not "have the slightest idea" where the island would be under plans that would give Britain an even tougher asylum regime than the "Pacific solution" practised by Australia. He compared the plan with the "Pacific solution" under which asylum seekers are sent to camps on islands such as Narua in the south Pacific, Papua New Guinea and a proposed centre on the Christmas Island. But unlike under Mr Letwin's plan, asylum seekers who reach Australia remain in the country, albeit detained in desert camps. Mr Letwin said the Australian experience had shown that it resulted in an "immediate and vast reduction in asylum claims" as an island thousands of miles away had a "big disincentive effect" on economic migrants. He said those found to be genuine refugees after their claims were processed would be allowed into Britain but only up to a quota of 20,000 a year. The money saved - he claimed it would be about £1.4bn - from scrapping the UK's asylum system would be used to finance his promised extra 40,000 police officers over eight years. The Tories' asylum plan goes far further than any "offshore transit camps" suggested by the home secretary, David Blunkett. "Until the Tories name where this place will be they will have no credibility in claiming they can process claims offshore," a spokesman for Mr Blunkett said. Home Office minister Caroline Flint said: "The Tories had better start looking for this mystery island which would happily take every asylum applicant in Britain".

Mr Letwin's commitments on policing were in similarly controversial vein. He confirmed that he wanted to see the home secretary losing control over the 43 police forces in England and Wales and replaced by directly elected sheriffs in each area. But he insisted in a briefing to journalists yesterday that operational control would be left in the hands of chief constables - the sheriffs will decide how police resources are spent locally. "We will give every chief constable a cast-iron legal guarantee of operational independence," he said. "And we will put each local police force under the direct, democratic control of local people. "That means wherever you live, your chief constable will answer to someone you elected. If you don't like the way your neighbourhood is policed, with a Conservative government, you will be able to vote for change." He has, however, dropped from the final version of his consultation document published yesterday, Localisation of the Police Service, his original plan to allow the public to vote to split the existing 43 police forces into a possible 139 separate units. He now admits this "would create confusion in the mind of the electorate" and that it would be better to concentrate on "developing local control rather than be distracted by force reorganisation". He also clarified what the target of 40,000 extra officers meant. It is to be achieved over eight years starting from January this year. Mr Letwin said he expected at current recruitment rates that Labour would have taken on an extra 10,000 to 15,000 officers by the time of the next election. On recent form, it would appear unlikely that the Tories would have any more success in searching for locations for the offshore centres than Mr Blunkett had when he tried earlier this year to persuade several eastern European countries in setting up transit processing centres. It is likely they would have to fall back on the last remaining elements of the British empire - the overseas territories -where ministers still have some influence over their foreign and defence policies. This could leave a Tory government trying to persuade places like Gibraltar, the Cayman Islands, the Turks and Caicos, Bermuda, and even St Helena (which includes Tristan da Cunha and Ascension Island), Pitcairn Island and Diego Garcia.

Letwin's speech: key points

  • Far offshore processing of all asylum seekers
  • 20,000 a year quota for all refugees
  • No asylum applications allowed in UK
  • Directly elected sheriffs to run 43 police forces in England and Wales
  • New state security anti-terrorism force
  • 40,000 extra police funded by scrapping UK asylum system
    ©The Guardian

    16/10/2003- Councils with small black and ethnic minority populations are being hampered in their delivery of race legislation by the conflicting messages being sent down from government, coupled with the racism of their own members, it has emerged. Frank admissions were made by chief executives of rural district councils struggling to deliver the stipulations of the Race Relations Amendment Act. The act requires public services to consult on, deliver and monitor services for people from black and ethnic minorities and is central to the modernisation agenda of tailoring public services to individuals, instead of the "one size fits all" approach. In a workshop session at the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers (Solace) annual conference, chief executives spoke of the problems they faced in trying to implement the law. They agreed to speak in the presence of the press under a cloak of secrecy which would reveal neither their names nor the councils they worked for, to be able to be "honest and open" about the difficulties they face.

    Some parish councillors are "appalled" at being involved in diversity issues, alongside many members who resent having to undergo race awareness and other diversity training. "Some members say, 'Why should we make a special effort with the group you are talking about since they are so small?'" one chief executive from the south-west said. "It is down to leaders to tackle racism amongst our members, basically," a female chief executive added. Council members' resentment was fuelled by policy debates around asylum seekers at a national level, backed by heated press coverage, delegates said. "The problem is the national environment in which we are trying to deal with diversity. It is an environment where there is an increasing hysteria around asylum seekers and migrant workers," one said. "How you deal with that at leadership level is a real problem because the members are being inundated by their electorate as to what they are doing about all these migrant workers." "We do not have a single asylum seeker who has been rehoused in the district but, unfortunately, a lot of people read the Daily Mail and believe otherwise," said another. Another chief executive said she was pandering to the selfishness of her members and constituents to achieve her aims. "The real issue is getting members that have no commitment to race equality. One of the things we have in our favour on getting it on is the economic future. Our demography is quite alarming," she said. "The same people who are hysterical if you mention an asylum centre are the same people who employ BEM [black and minority ethnic people] as extremely cheap labour on their farms." The audience called for more support from agencies such as the Commission for Racial Equality, which monitors public service implementation of the Race Relations Amendment Act.

    Speaking at the workshop, Mandy Wright, director of diversity and workforce issues at the Local Government Employers Organisation, said: "To treat people equally you may have to treat them differently, otherwise, we may be treating them worse and it is responding in an appropriate way." The comprehensive performance assessment for district councils shows evidence that they are lagging behind by failing to consult properly, carry out impact assessment , produce outcomes or measurable targets, she said. "There is plenty of evidence it is not an issue with members and you will have to be clever about how to deal with it. There is some evidence that members think it is a low priority. "You have to make the link explicit that this fits into being citizen-centred and improving social cohesion."
    ©The Guardian

    18/10/2003- The Home Secretary has criticised the BBC for its methods in making a documentary which claims to expose racism in the police force. David Blunkett said he was "concerned" following the allegations at a national training centre for officers, where a recruit was apparently filmed wearing a Ku Klux Klan-style hood and making racist remarks. But Mr Blunkett questioned the BBC's "intent to create, not report" the story. He also suggested that the BBC had carried out a "covert stunt" and was leaking information to the media in an attempt to get publicity for the documentary, The Secret Policeman, which is due to be broadcast on Tuesday. But the BBC defended its methods, claiming that its undercover operation was the only way to bring to light the problem of racism within the police.

    Behind the Ku Klux Klan mask was a police recruit who was simulating the beating of an Asian colleague, claims BBC reporter Mark Daly. Mr Daly, 28, also claims to have recorded racist remarks made by some of the trainee constables. He spent five-and-a-half months posing as a probationary constable with Greater Manchester Police. He alleges he secretly filmed the alleged Ku Klux Klan incident in his room at the Bruche National Police Training Centre near Warrington, Cheshire, which trains rookie officers from forces across the country. Mr Blunkett said: "We work hard to tackle racism in the police service. We take any allegations of racism very seriously and we are concerned about the reports of these incidents. "We have raised concerns with the BBC not about their right to expose racism but their intent to create, not report, a story. And to do so in a way that did not present the detail for action to be taken but as a covert stunt to get attention."
    ©IC Network

    By Arun Kundnani

    12/10/2003- An analysis by researchers at Bristol University has found that secondary schools in Oldham, Blackburn, Bradford, Birmingham and Luton have the highest levels of segregation between pupils of different ethnic groups. The research, based on the annual census for schools in England in 2001, used two indices to measure segregation. A 'dissimilarity index' ranked the proportion of students in a local education authority area who would have to move school if each school in the area were to have similar proportions of students from each ethnic background. An 'isolation index' measured the probability of someone from the same ethnic group being in the same school. Combined, these two indices gave a guide to the level of segregation in any local education authority area.

    The study by Simon Burgess and Deborah Wilson of the Leverhulme Centre for Market and Public Organisation found that levels of ethnic segregation are generally high. Nationally, the proportion of Whites in the school-age population is 87 per cent but half of England's schools are over 97 per cent White. However, the level of segregation varies significantly between different groups and areas. A number of Asian communities outside London seem to have been hardest hit by segregation, notably in Oldham, Blackburn and Bradford. In these three local authority areas, a system of separate schooling for Whites and Asians is at its most extreme - all three areas qualify as 'ghettos' according to a technical measure used by US academics to describe the exclusion of African-Americans. In Bradford, even though 29 per cent of students are from an Asian background, the degree to which they are educated separately from Whites is so high that more than half of them would have to be admitted to schools that are at present disproportionately White, in order to achieve an even representation of groups across the city.

    Leicester, which has been held up as a model of community cohesion following the riots in 2001, also ranked poorly on the 'dissimilarity index' with similar scores to Bradford and Oldham. Levels of segregation are higher for Asians than for students with an African or African-Caribbean heritage. But Black pupils are also disproportionately concentrated in certain schools. In an average local education authority, over half of the Black students would have to be admitted to other schools in order to achieve a common representation across the authority's schools. The researchers suggest that the introduction of a quasi-market into secondary education, with the Education Reform Act of 1988 and the emphasis on parental choice, have worsened levels of ethnic segregation. Given overlapping catchment areas, school league tables and devolved budgets, there has been greater competition by parents over schooling and some groups have lost out.
    ©Institute of Race Relations

    Fierce protests force government to back down over bid to teach Albanians and Macedonian students side by side.

    By Ana Pteruseva, IWPR project manager in Macedonia and Boris Georgievski, journalist with the Skopje daily Utrinski vesnik

    3/10/2003- The Macedonian authorities' controversial attempts to desegregate two schools have been criticised as clumsy and badly-timed by western diplomats and analysts. Plans for an Albanian language class in a Bitola school were halted last week after hundreds of Macedonian students took to the streets in protest, with some insisting that they would never allow an Albanian class in their city. The Macedonian students went back to school, but only after receiving assurances that an Albanian class will not be opened. Protesters threatened to hold further rallies if there is a new attempt to teach students from the two communities side by side. Ethnic tensions also soared last week at the Arseni Jovkov high school in Skopje when Macedonian parents and students rallied against the decision to include seven Albanian classes in the same building. Previously, the Albanian students had been attending a facility in another part of the city. Following the protests, the plan to bring the two groups together was put on hold. Multi-ethnic education has been an explosive issue for more than a decade. Macedonian and Albanian students have been strictly segregated - studying in different schools or, if in the same building, in different shifts - and previous attempts to unite the two have also failed.

    The latest desegregation initiative was not part of a broader attempt to bring an end to the ethnic divide in the country's schools, but a goodwill gesture by the governing ethnic Macedonian parties towards their Albanian partners. Education minister Azis Polozani, a member of the Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, the ethnic Albanian party in the ruling coalition, faced calls from the protesters to abandon the desegregation plans or resign. Faced with continuing popular unrest over the reforms, the government appears to have shelved the issue indefinitely. "The decision has been put on ice until ethnic tensions calm down," said DUI spokesperson Ermira Mehmeti. The trouble began immediately after Polozani announced the changes in early September. The minister has since come under fire for trying to implement the reform after the school year had already started, and for not anticipating the likely reaction, especially in Bitola, which was the scene of riots against the town's Albanian community during the 2001 conflict. "Polozani should have known that this cannot be done without thorough preparations," one western diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told IWPR. "He should have consulted people on local level. You cannot make an administrative decision and just hope it will be respected. "The timing was also crucial. If the decision had been made before the school year had already started, it would have been a different situation. Maybe there would still have been tensions, but probably not on this scale." A government source also commented on the poor timing of the move, saying tensions could have been avoided had Polozani announced the decision while the students were on their summer break. "However, there is no justification for the acts of the Macedonian students," the government source said.

    Gjuner Ismail, director of Forum magazine, told IWPR that a lack of foresight by the education ministry has fuelled Macedonian nationalist feeling in Bitola. "The minister should solve, not generate problems. He did not respect the reality of the situation," Ismail said. "Bitola is a specific city, and one that was very much involved in the war. This way [the minister] has created an opportunity for those who organised the incidents in 2001 to do so again." The hard line opposition Democratic Party of Albanians has reacted angrily to the government's climb-down, describing it last week as the result of a "well thought-out and organised action to prevent Albanians from exercising their rights". Mirjana Najcevska, who heads the local branch of the Helsinki human rights committee, said that the latest events should not be seen as an isolated problem, but rather as the result of the government's heavy handedness and lack of transparency over reforms. "We have many situations when a school director or a teacher is replaced without local consultation and parents and students protest," she told IWPR. "As for the ethnic dimension, on the Albanian side there is a belief that things can change overnight, while the Macedonians are building a wall and absolutely refusing to think of the legitimate and unsatisfied needs of others." The International community has expressed deep concern over the recent upturn in tensions. The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, in Macedonia called the Bitola protests "frightening and unacceptable". OSCE spokesperson Isabelle De Ruyt said, "It is disappointing to see people mobilising against the a common education opportunity for students. The OSCE believes that the students should be able to go to schools close to their homes, and that multi-ethnic education should be encouraged."
    ©Institute for War & Peace Reporting

    14/10/2003- Over the past several years, Ms. Marta Vidakovic Mukic, Croatian Deputy Ombudsman, has consistently and with a high degree of professional integrity condemned the widespread practice of racial segregation of Romani pupils within Croatian primary schools. Instead of prompting appropriate government action to remedy the situation, her work has placed her under increasing pressure, especially in recent months, from both the Medjimurje County local government/parliament and other "concerned" individuals/groups, which have suggested that her activities are damaging to the "country's reputation abroad" and even requested her removal from office. The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) protests such harassment/intimidation and appeals to the Croatian central government and civil society alike to stand up in defense of the Deputy Ombudsman's right and obligation to report the facts as they are, and request redress for those whose rights have been violated.

    Many Romani children in Croatia, primarily in Medjimurje County, attend segregated Roma-only classes in what are otherwise "regular" primary schools. Their placement in such schools is a result of racial discrimination by officials at the schools concerned, expressing the dominating and pervasive anti-Romani sentiment of the local non-Romani community. The teaching syllabus for the pupils attending separate Roma-only classes is significantly reduced in scope and volume compared to the standard curriculum in Croatia. As a result of segregating practices, the opportunities available to graduates of such classes to secure adequate employment in the future are jeopardized. Additionally, Romani children in such classes are stigmatized with the effects of diminished self-esteem and feelings of humiliation as a result of being forced to study in racially segregated classrooms denying them the benefits of a multi-cultural educational environment. Official government statistics show that at the county level, almost 60% of all Romani pupils attend separate Roma-only classes. In addition, in at least one of the schools in Medjimurje County, more than 88% of all Romani children in the school are victims of racial segregation.

    The severity of issues related to the education of Romani children in Croatia has been recognised by international review agencies. For example, in its Concluding Observations of 21 May 2002 on Croatia's compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination "expresse[d] concern at the continued practice of segregation of Roma children within the educational system ... [and recommended that Croatian authorities] pay particular attention to the situation of the Roma and take effective measures to prevent [their] segregation ....". Legal complaints on behalf of Romani children segregated in Croatian schools are currently pending before the Croatian Constitutional Court, and a pre-application letter on the issue has been filed at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. As regards the role and status of the institution of Ombudsman when it comes to investigating human rights abuse, Paragraph 7(ii) of Recommendation No. 1615 (2003), adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, provides that an Ombudsman must be "guaranteed independence ... in particular as regards receipt of complaints, decisions on whether or not to accept complaints as admissible or to launch own-initiative investigations, decisions on when and how to pursue investigations, consideration of evidence, drawing of conclusions, preparation and presentation of recommendations and reports, and publicity ...".

    In view of the violations suffered by numerous Romani children in Croatian primary schools and the recent pressure on/intimidation of the Deputy Ombudsman, the ERRC requests comprehensive redress for all Romani victims of educational segregation, as well as protection of the professional and personal integrity of Ms. Marta Vidakovic Mukic. ERRC Senior Staff Attorney Branimir Plese said: "Despite some local views to the contrary, a country's reputation abroad and domestically must be earned by effective human rights implementation -- individual or collective denial will not do."

    Further information on the situation of Roma in Croatia is available here

    Further information on the plight of education of Romani children in Europe is available here
    ©European Roma Rights Center

    7/10/2003- The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) welcomes the decision of the Child Protection Service in Sibiu, Romania, to separate Ana Maria Cioaba, a Romani girl purported to be between the ages of 12 and 14 (depending on the media source quoted), and Mihai Birita, a 15-year-old Romani boy. Ms Anca Dragan, head of the Child Protection Service in Sibiu, informed the ERRC that the decision, agreed to in writing by both Ms Cioaba's and Mr Birita's parents, states that both children must return to their parents' homes, to go to school and attend counselling sessions at the state Child Protection Service until they reach the legal age of marriage.

    In recent days, there has been an outbreak of media attention in a number of countries to the issue of the marriage in Romania of Ms Cioaba, who was reportedly coerced into matrimony by members of her family. According to media reports, police in Romania have opened investigation "on charges of sex with a minor", though Romanian daily newspaper Evenimentul Zilei quoted Mr Doru Pioana of the Sibiu Tribunal Prosecutor's Office as having stated that there is no evidence which proves that the couple had sexual relations. Investigation was begun following demands by Member of the European Parliament Baroness Emma Nicholson, an EU envoy in Romania. Baroness Nicholson was quoted by a number of news agencies as stating: "Implementation of human rights for everyone is essential for full entry into the European Union. Sadly, Romania still has a number of grave weaknesses which will hinder her progress unless urgently addressed." Major media reporting of the wedding and its aftermath have included the BBC and the Associated Press. As presented by sensationalised media coverage, the core of the issue -- to what extent Ms Cioaba was coerced into marriage -- remains as yet un-elucidated. Nevertheless, widespread public discussion of the issue has provided a welcome opportunity for young Romani women to express their views on this issue.

    The ERRC is aware of debates concerning toleration for traditional practices and the limits of the liberal order. Forced marriage, however, is a violation of fundamental human rights, implicating a wide range of international standards and laws. Most notably, Article 23(3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states, "No marriage shall be entered into without the free and full consent of the intending spouses." The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women has recently noted that "a forced marriage is a marriage conducted without the valid consent of both parties, where duress is a factor. It is a violation of international human rights standards and cannot be justified on religious or cultural grounds." Forced marriage of minors further implicates a broad range of fundamental human rights, calling into question states' compliance with the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, the guiding principle of which is "the best interests of the child". In particular, Article 19(1) of the Convention states: "States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child."

    Further, the marriage of minors is itself of deep concern. Child marriage constitutes a threat to the realisation of the right to education, guaranteed under numerous international instruments including the European Convention on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Child marriage also creates conditions for the infringement or unnecessary limitation of the right to the highest attainable standard of health. Most importantly, as limited moral agents, children are incapable of taking the fully capacitated decisions in the sense of ICCPR Article 23, quoted above. It is for this reason that under the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to marry is established at Article 12 as follows: "Men and women of marriageable age have the right to marry and to found a family, according to the national laws governing the exercise of this right."

    The ERRC has consistently condemned human rights violations against Roma in Romania. In most cases the perpetrators have been non-Roma. In the instant case the perpetrators are Romani relatives of the victims. The ERRC welcomes the Romanian government's decision and wishes to see similar effective law enforcement also in the hundreds of cases in which the perpetrators are Romanian non-Roma, whether state or non-state actors. It is crucial that Romanian authorities show an even-handed approach in their acts to counter human rights abuse.
    ©European Roma Rights Center

    Almost a year after the closure of the controversial Sangatte refugee camp in northern France, nearby Calais has become a haven for migrants trying to illegally reach Britain. Sofia Bouderbala reports. "Some 30 million people pass through Calais every year, between the port and the Channel tunnel. We've considerably reduced the flow of people since the closure of the Sangatte centre, but as long as Britain remains attractive, there will be pressure on Calais," commented regional prefect Cyrille Schott.

    Shut down in November 2002 and demolished a month later, the Red Cross refugee camp served during its three years in existence as a temporary home to some 68,000 illegal migrants, mainly Afghans and Iraqi Kurds. The centre in Sangatte, a tiny village of 800 inhabitants near Calais, long blighted cross-Channel relations, as the migrants living there used it as a staging point for nightly attempts to reach Britain. Many of them hoped to earn asylum in Britain, where they had relatives and where immigration laws were perceived to be more flexible, but in exchange for the closure of the Sangatte centre, London cracked down on illegal entries. "The British toughened up their legislation on the right to asylum, but nothing has fundamentally changed for those who want to try their luck," said Gerald Lesigne, public prosecutor in the Channel port of Boulogne-sur-Mer. "Calais remains the closest port (to Britain), and the smuggling networks, which took a hard hit, are rebuilding," he added.

    For French authorities, the situation has improved dramatically: border police working near the Channel tunnel entrance say 12,000 migrants have been detained so far this year, as compared with 72,000 in the same period in 2002. But also in the same period, some 220 suspected human traffickers have been detained, a 20 percent increase over last year, police said. Regional officials say the number of migrants roaming the streets of Calais is only five to 10 percent of the total seen when the Sangatte camp was open — 200 instead of 2,000 — and that the group's ethnic make-up is changing. While Afghans, Iraqi Kurds and Iranians dominated the Sangatte-era migrant population in and around Calais, Sudanese and Iraqi migrants are now in the majority.

    Officials attribute the vast reduction in the flow of illegal migrants to both the closure of the Sangatte centre and a security crackdown at the ferry and lorry terminals in Calais, as well as along the high-speed train line. Over a three-year period, the cross-Channel ferry companies have invested millions of euros on reinforced security - electrified fences, infra-red cameras, and sensors that detect movement and exhaled breath. Authorities in Calais acknowledge that migrants will continue to slip through their security net into Britain, but point out that attempts are being made in other ports along France's Normandy coast, as well as from Belgium. "We remain especially vigilant in order to avoid the creation of illegal migrant squats, which could become mini-Sangattes," explained Calais police commissioner Denis Perrin. Earlier this month, police detained a group of about 60 Sudanese migrants who were squatting in a disused Calais warehouse and took them to centres for asylum seekers or other temporary shelters. Since the start of the year, more than 2,700 migrants have been granted shelter, and nearly 400 others - who cannot be deported - have been placed under house arrest outside of the region.
    ©Expatica News

    16/10/2003- Norwegian authorities plan to charter planes in order to fly asylum seekers with groundless applications out of the country quickly and efficiently. After a rejected application refugees should be out of Norway in 72 hours. Police commissioner Knut Holen, head of the new Police's Central Alien Unit, said the plan will be put into action as soon as possible. "The problem is that some receiving countries have a quota system for how many asylum seekers can be returned at one time. They also want returnees delivered to different spots in the country, something which makes charter planes less practical," Holen said. The project is a cooperative venture by the Department of Local Government and the Justice Department. "We believe this sends a strong message abroad that we mean business. But this is also a way of strengthening the institution of asylum by filtering out those who have a need for help and who are oppressed on the one hand, and those who come here to have a better life on the other," said Kristin Oermen Johnsen at the Department of Local Government. "We can't take in everyone who wants a better life. That's just the way it is," she said. The Department has already warned a 48-hour turnaround for rejecting groundless asylum applications. The new plan sets a 72-hour deadline for transport out after rejection, and authorities want effective traffic out in place by the beginning of 2004.

    1/10/2003— EU Member States should be set to comply with the EU employment equality directive – which states that discrimination against people due to their sexual orientation, ethnic origin, age or disability is not lawful any more - by 2 December. This is the second directive that Member States have to implement by the end of this year to put EU anti-discrimination rules into force. The deadline for the integration of the first directive - the racial equality directive - was 19 July. This is the first year of a five-year campaign, launched on 16 June in Brussels by European Employment and Social Affairs Commissioner Anna Diamantopoulou, to promote diversity in the workplace, with trade unions and employers as a key target group. Diamantopoulou said, "We have adopted strong and innovative legislation, which the member states are in the process of transposing into their national laws." European laws – called directives – banning discrimination on grounds of racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age and sexual orientation were agreed in 2000. While laws had been introduced in several countries to protect people with disabilities and particular religious beliefs, this was much less the case as regards age and sexual orientation. The steps taken so far vary a lot between countries. A recent Eurobarometer entitled "Discrimination in Europe" showed that most Europeans believe that a person's ethnic origin, religion, disability, or age can be an obstacle in finding a job, even where qualifications are equal. The widest differences concerned racial origin, with the Dutch being most likely to report discrimination on grounds of racial or ethnic origin. The campaign's website at gives up-to-date information about the new legislation as well as the background and current activities and events within the campaign.
    ©Expatica News

    14/10/2003- Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Antonio Vitorino will tomorrow (15 October) unveil how the Commission could punish a state which seriously breaches the principle of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms - a move which could have consequences for Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's media empire. Its move is based on Article 7 of the Nice Treaty, which says that an EU country could have its voting rights in the Council suspended if it commits serious and persistent breaches of these rights. Although individual cases of human rights abuses are brought to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, this Article allows action to be taken against EU governments.

    Berlusconi's media empire
    The peculiar media situation in Italy, where Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi controls around 90% of public and private media may be the first case to be scrutinised. The new terrorist act law in the UK, where suspects can be taken into custody without clear charges, is also raising concerns. The European Parliament's Civil Liberties Committee is requesting an authorisation from the political group leaders to launch an inquiry into serious violation of fundamental rights of freedom of expression and information in Italy. "The situation in Italy is one of the most clear cases", Dutch Green MEP Kathalijne Maria Buitenweg told the EUobserver, saying that the fact the government influences around 90% of the media has serious consequences on democracy. "People are not informed in a balanced way", she said. However, even if the Committee is given the go-ahead to make an inquiry, it is unlikely, for political reasons, to start its work until the beginning of next year - after Italian Presidency has finished.

    Castelli: EP initiative welcome
    Italian Justice Minister Roberto Castelli welcomed the European Parliament's initiative but denied a lack of press freedom in his country. "I think by taking this initiative the parliament can just really take stock of the fact that in Italy there is maximum freedom of press, Italy being a democratic country and you can see it if you just look at the amount of abuse and criticism that the opposition address to the government", he said. It's not the first time that the European parliament has voiced criticism over the media ownership situation in Italy. In a report on fundamental rights in the EU adopted last month, the European Parliament condemned the media situation in Italy, where media power is concentrated in the hands of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, criticising also the fact that no rules of conflict of interest have been adopted on this issue. In this report the Commission is also called upon to draw up a directive guaranteeing that public and private media provide citizens with accurate information.

    17/10/2003- The plan to set up European immigration quotas on immigration was resisted yesterday by some EU governments amid doubts about how the system would actually work in practice. The idea is to decide at a national level how many people to admit and from what country, but with the European Commission playing a co-ordinating role. This quota system could serve as an incentive for third countries to stop illegal immigrants coming to the EU, and make them more willing to sign re-admission agreements, which have been dragging on for years. Yet some EU countries are critical about the plan. Finland and Germany want this issue to remain within the competence of the member states. At the moment, Berlin is reluctant to embark on discussions on a new quota system - it is currently negotiating a new internal law on immigration. The UK - although it is willing to consider the idea - first wants to see how the system would work. The Commission will be presenting a study next spring on this issue, which will be drawn up with the help of experts from each member state.

    16/10/2003- Organisers of the Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) European Action Week Against Racism in Football are expecting a record participation in the event, which begins today and continues throughout the continent until 28 October. UEFA is giving financial support to the Action Week. In 23 European countries, more than 300 fan groups, clubs, national associations and ethnic minority and migrant organisations will be involved in the Action Week. The Action Week has become a regular fixture on the international football calendar, as FARE, UEFA and their partner bodies throughout Europe spread the message that racism has no place in football.

    Serious problem
    "Particularly encouraging this year is the strong involvement of football governing bodies and the anti-racist initiatives in Central and Eastern Europe - some of them countries where racism inside football stadiums constitutes a serious problem," said FARE as the activities got under way. At the forthcoming home matches of the Belgrade clubs Crvena Zvezda, FK Rad and UEFA Champions League participants FK Partizan, the players will present red cards against racism when they line up before the match. Slovakia's national association will join with the Slovakian 'People Against Racism' body in a similar exercise involving the country's top-flight teams before an entire round of domestic matches, and further events will take place in Azerbaijan, Belarus, Croatia, Hungary, F.Y.R. Macedonia, Poland, Romania and Ukraine.

    English involvement
    "The involvement of all 92 English professional football clubs in the National Week of Action will constitute a highlight of the pan-European efforts to kick racism out of the game," said FARE. "For example, tens of thousand of Arsenal [FC] fans will raise messages against racism during their match at Highbury, similar anti-racist day events will take place all over the country." German Bundesliga clubs FC Schalke 04, BV Borussia Dortmund, 1. FC Kaiserslautern and VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach will stage anti-racism activities at their home matches, while dozens of supporter clubs and fan projects throughout Germany will promote the integrating message that football is a strong force in uniting people, irrespective of origin or nationality. In the Netherlands, players from PSV Eindhoven and AFC Ajax will show racism the red card, match programmes will be dedicated to the issue of racism, and an anti-racist film clip will be screened in stadiums. Fans from neighbouring countries Austria and Slovakia have come together to produce a bilingual fanzine, players in Norway have been visiting schools, and video workshops have been shown in schools in France as the anti-racism campaign gathers momentum.

    UEFA role
    UEFA's contribution to the Action Week includes a friendly football match featuring the UEFA staff team and a local multi-ethnic football team. UEFA's staff footballers will take on a team from the Geneva-based Africa-Suisse sporting organisation at the Stade de Colovray, opposite UEFA's headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland on Wednesday 22 October at 20.15CET. UEFA and FARE have worked together for several years. The European body recently issued a good practice guide which has been circulated to all of Europe's national associations, leagues and clubs, as well as to UEFA's list of referees, match delegates and venue directors.

    More details about FARE can be found at

    By Salim Muwakkil

    17/10/2003- The fight to contain the monopolistic impulses of the corporate media has galvanized media activists. Their efforts have borne some fruit, mobilizing considerable opposition to a Federal Communications Commissions ruling that loosens limits on the number of stations a single company may own. On September 17 the Senate passed a full rollback of the FCC ruling. But this sharp, almost exclusive focus on corporate ownership has drowned out other crucial concerns in the struggle for media democracy. And one of the most serious issues is the continuing problem of racial bias. Many of our current headlines are suffused with racial content. But there's precious little effort to place that content in an understandable context. The long line of statistics that point to continuing racial inequities—in health care, incarceration, poverty, education, employment and more—are often marginalized as aberrations in a land of opportunity. There is a "race fatigue" factor in much mainstream media coverage these days. The media message to African Americans is this: Racism is old news—get over it. Rush Limbaugh was essentially fired for saying on air that the media was giving black NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb a pass because it was "very desirous that a black quarterback do well." His comments were troubling more for the context of his words than the content. He was hired by ESPN to attract white males ("NASCAR Dads") similarly offended by affirmative action. Limbaugh's argument feeds the notion that an unbridled beast of affirmative action is roaming the countryside, victimizing helpless whites. This animus against affirmative action is part of a general American narrative of racial hierarchy and privilege. It's an old narrative with many subplots and subtleties (Confederate patriots thought that freeing slaves was "affirmative action"), but the overall theme is white supremacy. An important part of the media's job during America's formative years was to transform racial hierarchy into conventional wisdom. Their success was overwhelming.

    Racist assumptions have blocked African-American progress at every historical juncture, but these biases are so deeply embedded in U.S. institutions and attitudes that most of the white Americans who share them often can't detect them. Distressingly, these notions can also be found in some progressive quarters. The history of this nation's progressive movement is rife with racial rancor. And although progressives have more openly confronted racial issues than other spheres of society in America, they still have a lot of work to do—just look at the leadership ranks of progressive organizations. That may be one reason why the movement for media democracy, as commendable as it is, has failed to attract the attention of black activists with whom it would seem to have much in common. "The corporate preoccupations of most white media activists have very little relevance to the everyday lives of the black people I see who are adversely affected by the media on a regular basis," explains Karen Bond, a black media activist from Evanston, Illinois. Bond says her basic struggle is to reduce media portrayals that promote negative racial stereotypes influencing the life chances of American minorities. "That's where the rubber really meets the road in the media." Ownership diversity doesn't necessarily speak to that core problem, she says. "When media had more diverse ownership, stereotypes still reigned." Bond has a point. Media-driven stereotypes tend to drive social policy. I have no doubt that media stereotypes of black criminality help account for the incarceration epidemic afflicting black youth. One of the more recent examples of this correlation showed up in a landmark 2001 study, co-authored by Lori Dorfman of the Berkeley Media Studies Group and Vincent Schiraldi of the Justice Policy Institute.

    The study found that media coverage of crime exaggerates its scope and unduly connects it to youth and race, noting that 62 percent of the poll respondents felt juvenile crime was on the increase, although violent crime by youth in 1998 was at its lowest point in more than two decades. The authors concluded, "In an environment in which fear of youth crime and actual youth crime are so out of sync, policies affecting young people are bound to be impacted." And they have been; during this same period, legislators across the country were racing to pass ever more onerous measures to try children as adults or to increase the range of punishment available to youthful offenders. "A disproportionate number of perpetrators on the news are people of color, especially African Americans," the authors write. They note that a study of Time and Newsweek stories found that the term "young black males" was synonymous with the word criminal.These cultural synonyms have helped create a social system of racial disparities in which, according to a report by Human Rights Watch, there are five times more white drug users than black ones, but African Americans are imprisoned at several times the rate of whites. Even black men who evade prison and seek employment are less likely to find it than white men, according to work by Northwestern University sociologist Devah Pager. Her study found that white applicants with prison records were more likely to be hired than black men without records. Race bias is still a fact in America, and media too often facilitate it. We are still haunted by notions of racial hierarchy because the United States has yet to confront the complex legacy of slavery. Progressive activists must remind themselves that a true struggle for media democracy demands they continually challenge the conventional wisdom of white supremacy.

    Salim Muwakkil is a senior editor of In These Times, where he has worked since 1983, and an op-ed columnist for the Chicago Tribune. He is currently a Crime and Communities Media Fellow of the Open Society Institute, examining the impact of ex-inmates and gang leaders in leadership positions in the black community.
    ©In These Times

    24/9/2003- The Bulgarian parliament passed a new antidiscrimination law on 16 September, local media reported. The law, passed in anticipation of Bulgaria's eventual joining of the European Union, is designed to comply with European tolerance legislation. It prohibits direct or indirect discrimination based on gender, race, nationality, ethnic identity, citizenship, origin, religion, faith, beliefs, political affiliation, marital status, property, age, disability, and sexual orientation. The law also addresses sexual harassment, instigation of discrimination, persecution, and building of and architectural environment which hinders the access of disabled people to public places. Those found guilty of violating the law will face fines depending on the severity of the offense. The parliament also approved the establishment of a commission for protection against discrimination, which will work as an independent state body, reported.

    Dimitrina Petrova, executive director of the Budapest-based European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), in a press release applauded the new legislation. Under the law, the burden of proof is on the defendant to prove discrimination did not occur. Following its adoption, an antidiscrimination commission with specialized subcommittees for racial and gender discrimination will be formed. "This law is of particular significance for Roma," Petrova said. "It opens the door for the provision of real and significant remedies to Romany victims of the very serious harm of racial discrimination, and moves Roma rights issues to a new level in Bulgaria." Petrova added that the new antidiscrimination law could also provide a positive example for other central and eastern European countries to follow (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September 2003).

    A new poll prepared by Gallup International found that Bulgarians have a mainly positive attitude towards immigrants, although 7 percent continue to be "xenophobic," reported on 23 September. Immigrants from Central Europe and the Balkans as well as Western Europe tend to be more accepted, although those from Africa and the Arab world are said to be fairly well-tolerated. The groups provoking the most resentment are those viewed as related to Islamic fundamentalism or criminal groups from Kosovo, Chechnya, Central Asia, and Afghanistan. Most immigrants to Bulgaria are from the former Soviet Union (33 percent), with 14 percent from the Middle East, 13 percent from Eastern Europe, and 12 percent from the European Union and the United States. They include investors and managers of businesses. Officials are said to be reviewing restrictions on land ownership by noncitizens, and participants at a 23 September roundtable in the National Palace of Culture discussed the possible waiver of the rules especially for young, educated, and skilled professionals, reported.

    Another group that has promoted equality in Bulgaria is the International Gay and Lesbian Association (ILGA) and its regional chapter, ILGA-Europe. They credit the process of EU accession for putting pressure on the governments of Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, and others to bring local legislation into conformity with Protocol No. 12 to the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides for a general prohibition of any kind of discrimination on any grounds. Legislation passed in Bulgaria in September 2002 was said to equalize homosexuals and heterosexuals regarding the age of consent, penalties for prostitution and rape, and also decriminalized homosexual acts. The legislation was still open to some interpretation, and without an enforcement body, compliance was uncertain. Evidence of a more tolerant attitude toward gays was evidenced at a March 2003 hearing of the UN's NGO Committee, the official body that determines whether groups can obtain accreditation at UN agencies. Bulgaria supported ILGA's application for consultative status.

    25/9/2003- Radical Islamists who turn Muslims against the West should be deported, says the UK's leading race campaigner. Trevor Phillips, head of the Commission for Racial Equality, said anti-Muslim and anti-Semitism was on the rise throughout the UK. Extremists were using tension in the Middle East and after the 9/11 attacks to further their agenda. Mr Phillips said the sooner leaders of these groups were deported the better. Mr Phillips said members of the far-right British National Party (BNP) were "scumbags" but reserved his most vehement criticism for Abu Hamza al-Masri and Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad, two of the leading figures within fringe Islamist politics. "The faster [Home Secretary] David Blunkett can deport them the better," Mr Phillips told Reuters in an interview. "Every time Abu Hamza or Sheikh Omar do their thing in front of the television cameras, Muslims suffer in dozens of places in this country," Phillips said. "They claim to be speaking on behalf of Muslims but they do things in such a way that every time they speak, some Muslim somewhere else in Britain gets it in the neck."

    Banned from mosque
    Mr Abu Hamza, head of the Supporters of Sharia, has been banned from preaching at north London's Finsbury Park Mosque. He is fighting against the Home Secretary's decision to strip him of British citizenship and deport him to Egypt. Syrian-born Sheikh Omar, head of the radical al Muhajiroun group, could also face a similar attempt at deportation. "Both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are on the rise in Britain," said Mr Phillips. "There has been desecration of Mosques and Jewish cemeteries. "There has been harassment of Muslims and a rise in anti-Semitic sentiment. "Something is definitely on the up here. You can feel it anecdotally from the range of complaints that come through to us."

    Racists emboldened
    Mr Phillips said the 11 September attacks had emboldened racists to target Muslims while the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians was stoking up anti-Jewish sentiment. "I find (anti-Semitism) contemptible," Mr Phillips said. "If you want to have an argument about Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the actions of the state of Israel, that's fine. "But don't conflate it by saying 'This is typical of what Jews are like'." Mr Phillips said he was alarmed by recent BNP wins in local elections. The party commands only a fraction of the national vote but it continuing to campaign in northern towns with diverse populations. "We should be worried about it," he said. "They're scumbags, the lot of them."
    ©BBC News

    28/9/2003- The Conservative leader, Iain Duncan Smith, has been warned that he could jeopardise his party's chances of political recovery by agreeing to share a public platform with a Danish racist. Mr Duncan Smith is billed to speak at the Rally for a Referendum on 7 November, at which Pia Kjaersgaard, chairman of the Danish People's Party, will also appear. The Danish Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that it was permissable to use the adjective "racist" to describe Ms Kjaersgaard. The rally is being organised by the Congress for Democracy, which is campaigning against the new European constitution which it sees as a threat to Britian's independence. Tory MP Ian Taylor, a leading pro-European, issued a public plea yesterday to Mr Duncan Smith to steer clear of "unsavoury" politicians from fringe groups. After the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US Ms Kjaersgaard declared a "holy war on Islam". In May last year, she said: "Asylum-seekers are often under-educated and illiterate. I don't need them." She went on to claim that "Muslims have a taste for committing mass rape." Her party's campaign poster in the 2001 Danish general election featured a photograph of a young white girl with the caption: "When she retires, Denmark will be a majority-Muslim nation." Denmark's population of 5.4 million is about 2 per cent Muslim, and 95 per cent Protestant. Ms Kjaersgaard has close links with the right wing of the Conservative Party, not because of her views on race but because she was also one of the leaders of the successful campaign to persuade Danish voters to reject the euro. Daniel Hannam, a Tory MEP and leader writer for The Daily Telegraph, acted as one of her political advisers during the Danish referendum. He believes the Tories should team up with small anti-euro parties like Ms Kjaersgaard's. Mr Taylor said yesterday: "We need to build up the Conservative Party's credibility, and appearing on a platform with politicians with unsavoury reputations is not a good start." A Tory party spokesman said: "Iain Duncan Smith is totally opposed to racism."
    © Independent Digital

    Sufferers from ethnic minorities are more likely to be locked up than given proper treatment, reports Sophie Goodchild

    28/9/2003- Frank Bruno is not the first black celebrity whose life has been blighted by mental illness. Trisha Goddard, the chat show host, has admitted that she has been in a psychiatric hospital and has twice attempted suicide. Mercury Music Prize winner Ms Dynamite has also talked openly about her depression. Their cases made headlines because of their public profile, but for every Frank Bruno or Ms Dynamite there are thousands of black men and women who pass through Britain's mental health system, and their largely negative experiences go unreported. Ethnic minority groups in Britain are far more likely than their white counterparts to be diagnosed with psychiatric disorders. Women born in India and East Africa have a 40 per cent higher suicide rate than those born in England and Wales. Young African-Caribbean men are particularly vulnerable. They are up to 10 times more likely than white people to be diagnosed with schizophrenia. Mental health reformers say these alarming statistics are indicative of the fact that black people are victims of a system which is institutionally racist, that their more severe symptoms are often misinterpreted by psychiatrists who wrongly perceive these patients as dangerous.

    Psychiatrist Dr Aggrey Burke, a specialist in deprivation and mental illness in ethnic minority families, said psychiatrists pigeonhole black people as difficult and therefore in need of restraint, not healing. "You look at Frank Bruno - 10 police officers to restrain him," said Dr Burke, a senior lecturer in the department of mental health sciences at St George's Hospital medical school in London. "This is partly due to seeing blacks as dangerous. There is this mind-set that the black population is tricky, difficult to deal with. The Government has not attempted to understand the root issues which are poverty and deprivation." Dr Burke also criticises the huge disparity in the standards of treatment that can be expected by white people and those from ethnic minorities. Afro-Caribbeans are seven times more likely than white people to be sent to medium-secure units. The majority of patients on any locked secure hospital ward in London will be young, black men. Instead of receiving therapy, they will be given the "liquid cosh", the term used to describe the powerful sedatives used to subdue psychiatric patients. The fact that many health practitioners are biased towards containing black patients instead of curing them was highlighted in a report called Inside Outside which was the first Government-backed study into the mental health care provided for black and ethnic minorities. It found that the service was institutionally racist, that the whole issue of ethnicity within mental health services had become marginalised or even ignored and that these problems were getting worse.

    The report confirms fears that mentally distressed black people are more likely to be locked away. For example, it reveals that rates of compulsory admission are markedly higher for black and minority ethnic groups in comparison with whites and that black and ethnic minority patients are more likely than white people to be assessed as requiring greater degrees of supervision, control and security. So damning were the findings of Inside Outside that they prompted a special debate in Parliament and led the Conservatives to call for an independent inquiry into ethnic minority care. The author of the report was Professor Sashi Sashidharan, a member of the Government's Mental Health Task Force. In his opinion, the situation has reached crisis point. "The issue is that people from black and ethnic minority communities are severely disadvantaged because mental health services have paid little attention to their needs," says Professor Sashidharan, medical director of North Birmingham Mental Health Trust. "The point I tried to get across is that the situation is pretty dire and we've known about it for a long time. There has been very little in the way of acknowledgement from the Government. That is what is more appalling. There is very little enthusiasm for improving services for black people." Unless action is taken now to address the mental health needs of ethnic minorities, Professor Sashidharan warns that suicide rates will escalate and social problems such as drug abuse and crime will multiply. "Frank Bruno's experience of being locked up in a psychiatric hospital is indicative of what is happening to black people in general terms," he says. "There are hundreds of young black men with huge potential who are being dragged into psychiatric hospitals with little benefit. That's the tragedy."

    While black people are over-represented in the mental health system, they are under-represented in the psychiatric profession. The Royal College of Psychiatrists says that 24 per cent of its 9,000 members describe themselves as non-white. However, unofficial estimates indicate there are fewer than a dozen Afro-Caribbean psychiatrists and around 50 are African. Professor Sashidharan does not think more black psychiatrists would necessarily improve patient/practitioner relations although it could help to solve inequality in treatment. He is urging the Department of Health to set NHS improvement targets for ethnic minority mental health services. So far, ministers have rejected this proposal. But the pressure on them is mounting especially with the imminent publication of the draft Mental Health Bill. Campaigners fear that the Bill's current emphasis on dangerousness will lead to the locking up of even more black people. Earlier this month, the Afiya Trust, which campaigns against inequalities in health care for ethnic minorities, called on the Government to back a national network for black and minority ethnic mental health."We have got a crisis on our hands, a public health crisis," says Peter Scott Blackman, director of the Afiya Trust. "The fact there are so many black people represented comes out of poverty, low aspirations and institutional racism. And we can't pretend it's not happening because the figures are getting worse every day."


  • 51 per cent of patients in a London psychiatric hospital were black yet less than 17 per cent of the British population are from ethnic minorities
  • 28 black people per 100,000 of the population end up in secure units compared with four white people per 100,000
  • 100 African-Caribbean and African mental health patients were interviewed in a study and almost half had been given a diagnosis of schizophrenia
  • 88 per cent of black people in a survey said they had been forcibly restrained under the Mental Health Act

    'Six police piled on top of me'
    By Sophie Goodchild

    First Paul Grey heard the roar of feet along the corridor. Then about six policemen, wearing helmets and carrying riot shields, burst through the doors of the psychiatric ward where he was a patient. "Get down!" they shouted, then piled on top of him and pinned him to the floor. "I'm 5ft 9in but only weighed about 9st 7lb at the time," said Mr Grey, 33. "I was on the floor and they were on top of me. Terrorists or hijackers get better treatment. The mental health system is not about working towards recovery, it's all geared around fear." He says he cannot remember what occasioned the police's heavy-handed intervention. Now a successful businessman in North London, Mr Grey was 20 when he was diagnosed as a manic-depressive. He spent 10 years in psychiatric hospitals. Instead of therapy, he was put on drugs which had disturbing side effects. "Mental health services are not focused on recovery but on containment. I wasn't offered any other treatment apart from medication which made me put on two stone." "It was torture being on the stuff [drugs]. My tongue would fall down my throat and once the nurses in the hospital had to give me an injection to stop me choking. "There should be clear strategies for calling the police. There should be an emergency number that people can call and someone sent out who is a buffer between the person who is mentally distressed and the police." Mr Grey said his recovery was achieved through his own determination to achieve well-being - a term that he says is rarely used by the medical profession. "The medication doesn't heal and the hospitals are not about healing. They are not places for recovery. I've always been ambitious and I started to focus on my own dreams and hopes and understand who I was." In his opinion, services for ethnic minorities are getting worse, rather than better. "Madness was in Britain long before black people came here. It's a problem that affects everyone, but black people have been wrongly stigmatised."
    © Independent Digital

    1/10/2003- The Scottish Executive is to rethink its anti-racism strategy after a new study revealed that more than a quarter of Scots still think it is acceptable to be prejudiced. An Executive spokeswoman said ministers would use the survey to examine how to improve the One Scotland, Many Cultures campaign - launched in 2001 at a cost of £1 million. The initiative's future direction, set to be unveiled in February, will focus on practical scenarios where racism is experienced, such as the workplace. Separate campaigns to tackle discrimination against other groups may also be considered. The move comes after concern that current strategy is "woolly" and highlights only the diversity of ethnic groups rather than also delivering a message of equality. "The general feeling from community groups is that the Executive campaign hasn't addressed the realities. There is a sense that it was too soft," said Mick Conboy, the head of the Commission for Racial Equality in Scotland.

    Mr Conboy's comments came after the publication of Attitudes to Discrimination in Scotland, an Executive-backed research project. The study found that 26 per cent of Scots agreed that sometimes there was "good reason" for people to be prejudiced. The survey, which questioned more than 1,600 Scots on their attitudes towards gays, the disabled, ethnic minorities and women, found 56 per cent said there was a "great deal" of prejudice. More than 10 per cent said they would prefer a white MSP and 18 per cent wanted an MSP who was not gay or lesbian. Nearly 30 per cent said a gay or lesbian primary teacher would be unsuitable, while 12 per cent said it would be unsuitable for a primary teacher to be disabled. Discriminatory attitudes were least likely to be expressed by those who were well-qualified and most likely to be expressed by those aged over 65. On a more positive note, the report revealed that 68 per cent of Scots agreed the country should do all it could to get rid of prejudice. Professor John Curtice, from the National Centre for Social Research in Scotland, which carried out the survey, said that discrimination was caused by life experience, concern over competition for resources - such as jobs - and, most importantly, the mental image Scots had of other groups as being different. Only by tackling this psychological prejudice - by making Scots understand their similarities with others - could discrimination be tackled, he argued.

    "Discriminatory attitudes are held only by a minority of Scots, but in some cases that minority is not an inconsiderable one," he said. "The most important reason for discrimination appears to be psychological, and this is the key to future strategy. "The Executive has been primarily trying to encourage diversity in its campaign so far, and there may be a lesson here about what can be done to also encourage people to understand that we are all essentially alike." Ali Jarvis, the director of Stonewall Scotland, called for a more direct strategy to combat discrimination against gays and lesbians. "We would like to see more recognition of gays, lesbian and transgender people in Scottish society. It tends to be the invisible group," she said. "We want to see a much more tangible approach, and we want the Executive to be a little more bolder and a little more confident in this area." Rona Fitzgerald, the director of policy at the Equal Opportunities Commission, said she wanted to see real experience of discrimination reflected in campaigns. Margaret Curran, the communities minister, said: "Building a society where people can live their lives free from prejudice and abuse is a cornerstone of the Executive's partnership agreement."
    ©The Scotsman

    30/9/2003- Refugee groups have expressed alarm at a tougher stance on asylum signalled by Tony Blair in his speech to the Labour party conference. The prime minister told the conference changing the law was the only way to control immigration. Specifically, he said he wanted to slash the appeals process and restrict access to legal aid. "We should cut back the ludicrously complicated appeal process, we should derail the gravy train of legal aid, fast-track those from democratic countries, and remove those who fail in their claims without further judicial interference," he said. The government recently finished consulting on plans to cut the hours of legal aid to which an asylum seeker is entitled to four hours for initial advice, and five to prepare an appeal.

    Susie Renshaw, of campaign group Refugee Action, said she was "very worried" about Mr Blair's suggestions, particularly concerning legal aid. "Some claims can be processed very quickly if you have a good solicitor, or if you come from a country where human rights abuses are well documented and your claim is relatively easy to process," she said. "But if you have a complicated story it can take a lot longer. "It's very difficult if you've been raped or you've seen your family killed to talk to your solicitor about it in the allotted time. "And if psychiatric reports or medical reports are needed, that will take a lot longer." There had been cases of unscrupulous solicitors wasting time, she said, but the planned changes would make it more likely that the good solicitors would leave the system entirely. And too many asylum refusals would lead to many more judicial reviews which would simply cost the taxpayer more money, she said.

    Tougher asylum rules
    In his speech, Tony Blair said he wanted to:
    "Cut back the ludicrously complicated appeal process"
    "Derail the gravy train of legal aid"
    "Fast-track those from democratic countries"
    "Remove those who fail in their claims without further judicial interference"

    Keith Best, of the Immigration Advisory Service, said Mr Blair's speech was "chilling" - especially the phrase about "judicial interference". "It's an assault on justice and the rule of law," he said. The idea of restricting legal aid to just a few hours was unworkable and unfair, Mr Best said. "It will not work, I give it 12 months before the whole thing implodes," he said. Solicitors would not be able to prepare a case properly, ethical lawyers would pull out of the system entirely and many people would be denied effective representation, he said. "It's the most direct way to deny justice and an assault on the rule of law, it's absolutely appalling." The chief executive of the Refugee Council, Maeve Sherlock, stressed the importance of a fair judicial system for asylum seekers.

    'Defence against racism'
    "An effective asylum system requires a robust judicial framework that provides strong legal safeguards. "The current high level of successful appeals - over one in five - demonstrates how necessary this is," she said. Mr Blair said the UK should "always be open to refugees", and Britons should be "proud" of the part immigration had played in their country. "But economic migrants should come in through a proper immigration process," he said. "Changing the law on asylum is the only fair way of helping the genuinely persecuted, and it's the best defence against racism gaining ground. "We have cut asylum applications by a half. But we must go further."
    ©BBC News

    28/9/2003- The Government is in talks with security companies about tagging asylum-seekers so that they cannot abscond while their claims are being assessed. The Independent on Sunday has learnt that Securicor, which already has a contract to tag criminals, has met Home Office and Immigration Service officials to discuss controversial plans to fit electronic tags to immigrants. It comes as the Government faces increasing criticism over its failure to track asylum-seekers. David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, admitted in a BBC interview last week that he had no idea how many illegal asylum seekers were in Britain.

    Tagging options include setting up a voluntary programme, and legislation allowing immigration officials to tag asylum-seekers without their consent. Securicor confirmed that discussions had taken place with officials. "It would be for people who have come into this country and are being assessed for asylum," said an insider. It has emerged that a Home Office official helped develop a similar scheme in the US for tracking immigrants who were about to be deported. The programme was devised by the Vera Institute of Justice in New York. The US Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, part of the new Department for Homeland Security, has also piloted an electronic tagging programme for immigrants in Alaska and Florida. A senior Home Office source said the Government had no immediate plans to introduce tagging but "nothing is ruled out". "It's the duty of officials to listen to proposals about specific technologies. We never rule anything out but we feel our reporting restrictions work pretty well at the moment," said the source. Keith Best, head of the Immigration Advisory Service, branded electronic tagging "deeply offensive". "These people have committed no crime whatsoever," he said. "Electronic tagging would be unnecessary if the Government introduced policies that didn't encourage people to stay clandestine. The ridiculous thing is, it's a crisis of the Government's own making."
    © Independent Digital

    29/9/2003- Police and Norway's most conservative political party want to start electronically marking asylum seekers. They say it's the best way to keep track of their whereabouts and fight crime. The marking can come in the form of electronic chips mounted around the asylum seekers' wrists or ankles, reports newspaper VG. The system is already being evaluated for use in the UK. Now Norway's Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet) is keen on the idea, with support from the police. "This can be a measure that could prevent or clear up crimes in which asylum seekers get involved," said police spokesman Arne Johannessen. Electronic marking also could help prevent asylum seekers from disappearing while their applications are being processed, Johannessen noted. The head of Norway's immigration agency UDI, however, rejects the proposal. He claims such electronic marking "can be associated with the ways Jews were marked" by the Nazis. "We can't treat human beings in this way," he told NRK.

    30/9/2003- Municipal Minister Erna Solberg is strongly opposed to the idea of electronic tagging of asylum seekers. This has been proposed by the right wing Progress Party MP Per Sandberg, who says he will put his proposal before Parliament this fall. According to Sandberg, this would be the best way to keep track of asylum seekers who are sought for criminal activity in Norway, or who are staying in the country illegally. Applying for asylum is a legal activity. We must not make the problems with asylum seekers bigger than thy are. The fact that some asylum seekers disappear from asylum centers is often connected to the fact that some volountarily return home, Municipal Minister Solberg says. Solberg says that all asylum seekers who arrive in Norway are fingerprinted upon entry. This gives the police the possibility to identify people who are staying in Norway illegally.

    The Norwegian Refugee Assosication (NFR) agrees with the Municipal Minister:
    -This is an utterly sick proposal. The first thing that comes to mind is killer bears, and the next Jews, says NFR communications director Petter Nome.
    -This is fully compatible with the yellow star which Hitler forced Jews to carry prior to the Second WW. This would brand a whole group of innocent people many of whom have very good reasons for applying for asylum in Norway, Nome says.
    -Only one per cent of asylum seekers who are beeing processed are being sought by the police for criminal acts, Nome says.
    ©The Norway Post

    29/9/2003- There have been heavy losses for Austria's far right Freedom Party in provincial elections. Final results from the votes in the provinces of upper Austria and Tyrol show a major setback for the far-right Freedom Party. The party, once Europe's most successful far-right movement, has fallen on hard times. Although it is still the junior partner in Austria's governing coalition, its supporters dropped by more than half to 8.4% in upper Austria and to 8% in Tyrol. There was better news for its coalition partner, the Conservative People's Party, which maintained its hold on both provinces. And the Social Democrats appear to have gained from the Freedom Party's losses, coming second in both Tyrol and upper Austria. The Freedom Party lost around two-thirds of its support in national elections in November. That followed a power struggle led by its former leader, Joerg Haider, which toppled the last coalition government.
    ©BBC News

    European Roma Rights Center Legal Action at the European Court of Human Rights Challenges Housing Discrimination in Hungary

    1/10/2003- On 26 September 2003, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), together with the Legal Defense Bureau for National and Ethnic Minorities (NEKI), filed a pre-application letter against Hungary with the European Court on Human Rights in Strasbourg. The submission concerns racially-motivated threats and discrimination in access to housing, perpetrated by the local government officials and the non-Romani residents of Gyure, and asserts violations of Article 3 (freedom from inhuman and/or degrading treatment), Article 8 (right to family and private life), Article 1 of Protocol 1 (right to peaceful enjoyment of ones possessions), Article 13 (right to an effective domestic remedy) and Article 14 (right to non-discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

    Ms. Bertalan Nagy is a Hungarian citizen of Romani origin with six children whose house was totally destroyed by floods in 2001. With the financial support provided by the Hungarian Government, she decided to buy a house in Gyure. On 27 July 2001 she signed a preliminary contract with the owners of the house, Mr. and Mrs. Kahlik, both Ukrainian citizens of Hungarian origin. After it became publicaly known that Mr. and Mrs. Kahlik intended to sell their house to Ms. Nagy, several non-Romani inhabitants of Gyure as well as a number of local government officials resorted to threats and coersion to try to block the upcoming real estate transaction. On 10 August 2001, despite the opposition, the purchasing contract was finally signed. Under Hungarian law, however, the sale required the approval of the County Office of Public Administration. More than two years later, this office is formally yet to decide on the matter. On the same day, the mayor and the notary held a meeting at the local council office following which five men, driving a council-owned car, went to the Kahlik's family house and threatened them by saying that the whole village would rather gather and burn their house down then allow it to be sold to Roma. Later that day, Mr. Laszlo Herceg, the mayor of Gyure, spared no effort and came personally to ask the Kahliks to terminate the contract as "Roma cannot buy a house in Gyure" and "no Gypsy may live on the main street".

    In the evening of 10 August 2001, an unknown person, whom the Kahliks could hear but not see as they were afraid to leave the house, caused damage to their gate with an axe, called them "dirty Russians", and even threatened to kill them. Ms. Kahlik reported the incident but the competent authority, namely the notary of Gyure, terminated the investigation stating that the perpetrator could not be identified. On 15 August 2001, Ms. Nagy was called to come to the Council office for a meeting. The mayor of Gyure, the notary, a representative of the Ministry of Internal Affaires, the deputy mayor of Jand (the village affected by the by floods) and a representative of the Minority Self-Government of Gyure all took part. Ms. Nagy was told not to buy the house because the Kahlik family, being Ukrainian, could not sell the property. In addition, Ms. Nagy found out that, two days earlier, the notary of Gyüre had gone so far as to sequester the Kahliks family house based on a debt that subsequently turned out to be non-existent.

    The Kahlik family and Ms. Nagy, assisted by NEKI as part of a joint litigation project with the ERRC, filed a criminal complaint and a civil complaint for damages. The criminal complaint was filed against the mayor and the notary as well as against an unknown perpetrator, respectively, for misuse of official power, infringement of constitutional rights, damage caused to the Kahlik's family house, using racist language, and finally threatening their very lives. Despite compelling evidence submitted by the applicants, including taped conversations containing threats, both lawsuits were ultimately rejected. In view of the obvious inability and/or unwillingness of the Hungarian authorities to provide Ms. Nagy and the Kahlik family with a remedy domestically, ERRC and NEKI have decided to turn to the European Court of Human Rights on their behalf and request that international justice be served and their clients afforded adequate and comprehensive redress.

    For further details on ERRC action in the case, please contact Ms. Ioana Banu, staff attorney at the European Roma Rights Center.
    Further information on the human rights situation of Roma is available on the ERRC web site.

    ©European Roma Rights Center

    By Liz Fekete

    2/10/2003- An official inquiry was prompted in Spain after twenty-one migrants, trying to cross from the North African coast to the Canary Islands, drowned in two separate incidents in June. Their boats capsized after being intercepted by Spanish patrols. But now questions are being asked about the role of British planes deployed in the region as part of the multinational 'Operation Ulysses'. Beverley Hughes, the immigration minister at the home office, responding to a parliamentary question asked by Jeremy Corbyn MP on 18 September 2003, has detailed Britain's commitment to Operation Ulysses, the EU maritime border project in the Mediterranean and Atlantic. In September, an official Interior Ministry inquiry opened in Puerto del Rosano, the capital of Fuerteventura, into the drowning, in June, of twenty-one migrants in two shipwrecks off the Canary Islands. Below, we report on how the British Royal Air Force (RAF) is being dragged into the controversy over the reckless nature of Operation Ulysses.

    What is Operation Ulysses?
    The multinational maritime border control project, Operation Ulysses, was set up as part of the EU Council's Border Control Programme, instigated following the Seville Summit of June 2002. Presented as the prototype of policing of coastal frontiers within the EU, Operation Ulysses provides armed vessels from several countries to detect the hundreds of small overloaded boats that set out from North Africa. Once detected, the aim is to intercept the boats in international waters and then return the desperate voyagers to their country of origin. According to Spanish interior minister, Angel Acebes, the aim of Operation Ulysses is to create a 'rectangular filter' six nautical miles in width, with a length measured in multiples of 12 miles according to the number of ships. He added that any boat attempting to pass through that filter would be detected, since the radars of the ships taking part in the patrols have a 12-mile range.

    Under the first phase of Operation Ulysses, initiated in January 2003, armed vessels from Spain, Britain, France, Italy and Portugal patrolled sections of the Mediterranean coastline. This phase - the command centre of which was based in the Campo de Gibraltar port Algeciras - focused on the Strait of Gibraltar. The second phase was launched on February 8 when Operation Ulysses was extended to include the Atlantic zone of the Sahara, which includes the maritime frontier of the Canary Islands. According to Beverley Hughes, the British government contributed a Customs and Excise Cutter vessel to the first phase of the operation and a Nimrod aircraft for the second phase. (The four-engined Nimrod MR2 from RAF Kinloss in Morayshire, deployed in Operation Ulysses, is derived from the first jet airliner and has been used in war time as a spy plane in Iran and Afghanistan. It was recently upgraded as part of a multi-billion pound defence programme and is now equipped with eavesdropping and detection technology.) In addition to providing the Nimrod for surveillance purposes, the Home Office and the British Embassy in Spain have lent administrative assistance to Operation Ulysses.

    Why controversial?
    Even before it was launched, Operation Ulysses was mired in controversy. Refugee rights groups argued that the aim of this border project - to detect boats in international waters and return all those onboard, regardless of whether they were asylum seekers - was in breach of Article 31 of the Geneva Convention. This states that those who use illegal methods to enter a country should not be penalised if their purpose in so doing is to seek asylum. It was also in breach of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which sets out the right to claim asylum in another country. But in early June, criticism intensified when twenty-one migrants drowned in two separate incidents close to the Canary Islands under the saturation surveillance of Operation Ulysses. The two incidents, which took place on 2 and 10 June, are now the subject of an official interior ministry inquiry.

    But since 10 June, there have been further deaths, which have been left outside the scope of the inquiry. On 20 June, eight corpses were recovered from the sea when a boat containing twenty-five people capsized near the coast of Fuerteventura. There are allegations that those on board became nervous when a police patrol boat approached. Panicking, they either jumped or fell overboard. In another incident towards the end of July, two migrants drowned (thirteen others were rescued) when the boat they were travelling in capsized after a vessel from the civil guard approached. The civil guard called off the search on the basis that the water depth at the point of capsize was twelve kilometres. In 2001, fifteen sub-Saharan Africans fell into the water in the same area; their bodies were never recovered.

    From Operation Relex to Operation Ulysses
    Operation Ulysses is startlingly similar to Operation Relex, the saturation surveillance operation set up by the Australian government after the notorious Tampa incident. It involves a naval blockade and the deployment of spy planes in the Indian Ocean. Operation Relex has been subject to intense parliamentary debate, particularly after 353 people, mostly Iraqis, and including 146 children, drowned when the 19-metre wooden vessel (known as SIEVX*) carrying 397 passengers sank in international waters in the Indian Ocean, north of Australia's Christmas Island, in the Australian Operation Relex border protection surveillance and interception zone. A Select Committee on a Certain Maritime Incident (CMI) raised uncomfortable questions for the Howard government as to why those involved in Operation Relex did not detect the boat in danger and take emergency action to save lives. Since the inquiry wound up, Labor Senators, John Faulkner and Jacinta Collins, have sought to keep the issue in the public eye by persistently questioning officials at biannual senate estimates hearings. There is also a senate motion calling for a full independent judicial inquiry into the sinking of SIEVX and Australia's People Smuggling Disruption Programme in Indonesia. Campaigners involved in the SIEVX issue believe that Operation Ulysses is working very much along the same lines as Operation Relex and that more questions should be asked.

    More and more questions
    Spanish interior minister Angel Acebes claimed in parliament that Operation Ulysses in the Canaries has been 'very positive' and hadshown 'concrete results' in the matter of reception and interception of irregular migration. But a growing cross-section of Spanish civil society disagrees. The Spanish Ombudsman, the Red Cross, the Spanish Commission for Aid to Refugees, the Spanish League of Human Rights, the Associación de Trabajadores Immigrantes Morroquíes en España (ATIME), trades unions and parliamentarians from the United Left are among those calling for a full parliamentary commission of inquiry into these deaths and into Operation Ulysses. ATIME is drawing attention to the 'similarity and repetition of these accidents which are completely avoidable'. The Union Général de Trabajadores (UGT) is considering taking an action against the Spanish government for 'indirect responsibility for these deaths' and has written to the European Union's Petition Committee calling for the review of maritime coastline inspections as a result of them. It points out that radar equipment, available in Lanzarote by the defence and interior ministries to detect boats, is not made available to coastal patrols, and that while the Ministry of Defence tracks boats leaving the coast of Africa bound for Fuerteventura and Lanzarote, it does not pass on this information to other agencies - thus putting lives further at risk. Operation Ulysses and the Integrated System for the Surveillance of the Strait (SIVE) place great emphasis on 'detect and deter' missions, while completely inadequate resources are given over to rescue missions and the need to save lives.

    The official Interior Ministry inquiry, that opened in September, heard evidence from Juis Gutiérrez Salvador, the chief of the civil guard on Fuerteventura, who said that there were twenty-three people onboard the makeshift raft (patera) on 2 June, twelve of whom died, and that there were twenty-five aboard the raft on10 June, nine of whom died. Salvador told the inquiry that when the marine patrols approached the pateras, floating close to the coast, the cold and exhausted migrants stood up to greet the coastguards, only to pitch into the sea while the coastguards were still fifteen or twenty metres away. 'They are very tall and, if they are not calm, they raise the centre of gravity over a very unstable surface', Salvador told the inquiry, adding that 'They were wearing a lot of clothing, and almost all of them had hypothermia. Their muscles were swollen from spending 14 or 15 hours in the foetal position. They sank like stones.'

    Implications for the British government
    What role, if any, the RAF played on 2 and 10 June, is not yet known. But we do know that the Nimrod was patrolling the 60-mile stretch of water between North Africa and the Canary Islands at the beginning of June. The RAF website, and Paul Gilbridge, a journalist from the Express newspaper provide descriptions of a Nimrod mission which involved the interception of two boats packed with ninety migrants travelling from Morocco to Lanzarote. The Express journalist describes the Nimrod 'swooping low' over the boats. Flt Lt Richie Williams writes of 'open boats packed with people who immediately ducked down attempting to hide. We alerted a nearby Guardia Civil patrol boat and stayed close by in case the smugglers tried to throw people out, in which case we could have deployed life boats.' One can only imagine what effect a military aircraft approaching in this way would have on people crammed into unsafe and rickety boats. Further questions need to be asked about Nimrod's role, if any, on 2 and 10 June. If the Nimrod was operational, was it the RAF which passed on information to the Spanish patrol boats about the two crafts which capsized when the marine patrols approached? Was the Nimrod in the area when the boats capsized? Was it deployed to rescue the survivors? In peace time, the Nimrod has been used as a search and rescue aircraft, involved in searching for survivors and coordinating rescues. 'The Nimrod's sophisticated search and location capability makes it the ideal aircraft for this type of operation', the RAF website proclaims.

    Whatever the facts about 2 and 10 June, migrants continue to drown in parts of the Atlantic Ocean under intense surveillance by Operation Ulysses. While millions of Euros are spent fortifying coastlines and equipping armed vessels with the latest technology, no such resources or expertise is given to the basic requirement of saving lives. Spanish NGOs have compiled evidence to prove that civil guard vessels are not equipped to rescue survivors from capsizings and other tragedies. The NGOs accuse the civil guard of recklessly approaching these boats in certain knowledge that they will capsize as those on board panic. Surely, it was the responsibility of the British government - which boasts about the administrative support it has given to Operation Ulysses - to ascertain the facts about the Spanish civil guards capabilities to rescue survivors of capsizings - before it embarked on Operation Ulysses?

    * SIEV stands for 'suspected illegal entry vessel', X for identity unknown.
    The Moroccan NGO 'Pateras de la Vida' based in Larache can be contacted at
    The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

    ©Institute of Race Relations

    3/10/2003- A university professor has caused controversy by calling for state measures to encourage childbearing among intelligent people. Denmark's future population could become 'more healthy and intelligent' if the law is used to encourage childbirth in intelligent families. This is the view of an Aarhus academic, who has caused controversy by calling for state measures that not only encourage childbearing among intelligent people, but also dissuade those with low intellectual ability from having large families. The result, he claims, would be a 'better society.' Helmuth Nyborg, professor of psychology at Aarhus University, claims that now is the time to 'abandon the politically correct' (way of thinking) and to practice selection in order to 'improve future generations and avoid degeneration of the population."

    His comments, which were widely reported last weekend, led to many of his opponents comparing the proposals with the Nazis' programme of eugenics, which led to the widespread incarceration and extermination of those who would today be described as having 'learning difficulties.' 'I am aware that my proposal breaks a taboo that dates back more than half a century, since Hitler's Aryan race programme, and it is very controversial,' said Nyborg, who specialises in research into intelligence. 'However, the subject has to be raised now because the current trend is a cause for concern in Denmark where we have an increasing number of problem kids.' Nyborg's proposals also led to outrage in political circles. Integration Minister Bertel Haarder was quick to disassociate the government from Nyborg's comments, claiming that they were 'against all moral principles.' International research colleagues recently invited Nyborg to edit a book on eugenics. Despite the volatile overtones of the eugenics debate, the genetic discussion has continued among intelligence researchers, biologists and psychologists. "If our objective is to make life better, and we can do it effectively, it's not morally reprehensible. It's something we should strive for," said Kasper Lippert Rasmussen, director of Copenhagen University's Institute for Philosophy, Pedagogy and Rhetoric.
    ©The Copenhagen Post

    3/10/2003- EU home affairs ministers agreed in principle on Thursday (2 October) to set up an EU list of "safe countries of origin", which would accelerate the granting or refusal of asylum applications. If an asylum-seeker originates from a country on the list deemed to be safe, his or her claim for asylum in an EU state could be rejected by an accelerated procedure. The Commission is expected to table a first list of countries to be included in this list by the end of November.

    Lists raises eyebrows
    But the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, expressed concerns about this list, saying that the procedures on granting asylum should have sufficient safeguards, including some form of review particularly if a country on the safe list experiences a coup d'état or some other form of social or political upheaval. "An asylum seeker must be given an opportunity to explain why he or she might be at risk in a country that is generally considered to be safe", it said. The UK wants to soften the criteria on which the list would be drawn, thereby broadening the scope of the list and restricting the granting of asylum applications. Concern was also expressed about another EU plan to establish a "safe third countries" list, where an asylum seeker could be returned to a country where he or she has claimed asylum or travelled through before arriving in the EU country. The refugee agency is worried that asylum seekers could be sent back to non-EU countries without any guarantee that their asylum claim will be properly dealt with there. This proposal, however, is not being tackled yet by the EU ministers, as they first await agreement on the "safe countries of origin" list.

    Long negotiations
    These lists form part of the asylum procedures directive, and have been discussed for years by EU ministers. Italian interior minister Giuseppe Pisanu and Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Antonio Vitorino emphasised that - despite the existence of this list - each asylum request will be examined individually. Four EU states - Germany, UK, Finland and Denmark - have already national lists on which they process asylum applications. Questioned as to whether Member States would be able to have a more extensive national list than the EU one, Minister Pisanu said that the differences should only be minimal and restricted only to some specific cases. The deadline for reaching a political agreement on this matter is supposed to be the end of this year.

    Editorial: RACISM IN OUR MIDST(Canada)
    2/10/2003- Racism is banned in Canadian workplaces. It's anathema in the police and justice systems. It violates the human rights code. It is widely reviled. But for all that, racism is far from vanquished in this country. More needs to be done to fight its corrosive influence. A new study shows one in five Canadians who are visible minorities say they have been discriminated against, "sometimes or often." More than half of those suffering the sting of bigotry reported it happened at work. One in three experienced racism in a store, bank, or restaurant, while one in 10 felt discriminated against when dealing with police and the justice system. Too often, Canadian attitudes seem at odds with our well-intentioned laws and regulations. The latest figures come from Statistics Canada, which surveyed 42,500 people from across the country, all over the age of 15. The study's authors calculate about 5.3 million people, almost one-quarter of the population, were born outside Canada. Not since 1931 has the proportion of newcomers been so high. What immigrants discover here is a country that offers immense opportunities. But also, if they're non-white, a society where there's a significant risk of racial discrimination. Bigotry hits some groups harder than others. About 30 per cent of blacks report facing racial bias, while 21 per cent of South Asians, and 18 per cent of Chinese, say they were treated unfairly. This is shameful. Racism, today, may be subtler than in past decades. Laws banning discrimination have driven bigotry underground, making it less obvious and harder to punish. But it still hurts. To address subtle racism, society must do a better job educating its children. Deep-seated biases must be confronted. And minds, closed by racial stereotyping, must be opened. To that end, Ottawa should invest more in multicultural programs and in public information campaigns supporting diversity. No single measure will cure the problem. But every measure helps. Canadians, generally, ought to look into their hearts, examine attitudes, and resolve to treat each other fairly. We are all people, no matter the colour. Let's just treat each other as such.
    ©The Toronto Star

    By Haroon Siddiqui 28/9/2003

    "It flatters me that they think I'm important enough to keep attacking me. What it does, in fact, is to interest more people in my work and my writing. That's the way I respond to them, by producing more. I think what they want is my silence. Unless I die, it's not going to happen".
    Death has now silenced Edward Said. But his words live on.

    "Anti-Arab sentiment, anti-Arab speech and representations are the last approved racism and hate talk that exists in the West. There is very little attention paid to Arab suffering. There is no acknowledgment that Palestinians are going through things even South African blacks were spared during apartheid. The homelands were never bombed by F-16s or Apache helicopters." Courage was Said's greatest gift, more than his extraordinary brilliance as a towering literary critic and Palestinian patriot. He was persistent and eloquent on behalf of his people whose own tenacity he admired:
    "Palestinians remain, despite Israel's concerted efforts from the beginning to get rid of them or to circumscribe them so much as to make them ineffective. I have never met a Palestinian who is tired enough of being a Palestinian to give up entirely.''

    Despite relentless attacks on his integrity and character, Said (pronounced Sa-eed) refused to be intimidated. That gave him his great moral strength, leaving his critics largely helpless and mostly fuming. He inspired the timid to break the silences and self-censorships that characterize much of our debate on the Middle East. To him, the duty of a public intellectual is to be a moral agent, and speak truth to power. Individuals, too, shouldn't be complacent. "Human understanding cannot take place on the collective scale unless it takes place first on an individual scale." Teachers must inculcate in students "perpetual dissatisfaction." "Knowledge and reading require unending questioning, discovery and challenge." Portrayed as a radical by his enemies, Said was a charming, cultured and cosmopolitan man of catholic tastes: an accomplished pianist and opera buff who waxed poetic about belly dancing and Johnny Weissmuller's Tarzan; a Christian who defended Muslims, and had Hindu and Jewish friends, notably Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim, who helped him bring Arab and Israeli musicians together for a yearly concert. It was a pleasure to meet Said and a greater pleasure to read him, even when one disagreed, as on his unequivocal opposition to the Oslo peace accord and his advocacy of one secular state for Arabs and Jews. He had an affinity for Toronto, mostly due to Glenn Gould, whose fan he was and whom he eulogized in an erudite essay, The Virtuoso as Intellectual.

    In 1986, already famous as professor of comparative literature at Columbia University, Said came to the University of Toronto as the Northrop Frye visiting lecturer in literary theory. In 2000, he returned to receive an honorary doctorate. His independent thinking first came to light in his 1978 epochal work Orientalism. He painted Western scholars of the Orient as the advance guard and then the court poets of colonialism. His hypothesis did not go unchallenged, but it did usher in Post-Colonial Studies. He also decried Occidentalism, the East viewing the West as a white Christian monolith. He saw Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations as pernicious: "What is described as `Islam' belongs to the discourse of Orientalism, a construction fabricated to whip up feelings of hostility and antipathy against a part of the world that happens to be of strategic importance." He was a dissident Arab. A member of the Palestinian National Council (1977-91), he broke off with Yasser Arafat, calling him self-serving, authoritarian and corrupt. Typically, Arafat banned his books. He criticized Arabs for not acknowledging historic Russian and European anti-Semitism. But he understood the "resentment and hatred that people feel in the Arab and Islamic world towards the Jews, not because of classic European anti-Semitism but because of what Israel is doing, which is barbaric." He attacked despots Saddam Hussein and Hafez al-Assad, and Arab states for doing little for Palestinian refugees. He condemned terrorism but not enough for his critics who were also infuriated by his attacks on "Israeli terrorism."

    His detractors went after him after an incident in 2000 when he was photographed in Lebanon indulging in the local custom of tossing a symbolic stone across the border with Israel. Columbia University was urged to fire or censure him. It declined. Provost Jonathan Cole said in a famous statement:
    "We at Columbia did not yield, as did other institutions, to the pressure and impulse to sanction or fire professors who held unpopular political views during the McCarthy period; we will not back down from our protection of the faculty's right to express itself now."

    He called Said "a giant in his field ... one of the foremost and influential humanists and intellectuals in the world." But the Freud Society in Vienna cancelled a Said lecture on Freud's interest in Egypt and Palestine. He said: "Freud was hounded out of Vienna because he was a Jew. I am hounded out because I am a Palestinian." While admired in the Arab and Muslim world, he did not escape its criticism either. Echoing one sentiment, Abdullah Schleifer of American University in Cairo, said Friday Said was so preoccupied with Palestine, "he was unable to see problems in other parts of the Arab world, such as the massacre of Kurds and Shias." Khaled Abou el-Fadl, professor at UCLA, raised another in an interview with me last year. While Orientalism was a pioneering work, it ended up "helping many Muslim intellectuals to deflect criticism, project fault upon the others: `Well, it's the fault of colonialism, it's the fault of Orientalism, it's the fault of this, it's the fault of that,' and there doesn't seem to be much space for Muslims to engage in self-criticism and hold themselves under the microscope."

    The day Said died, there was a news story that 27 high-ranking Israeli reservist fliers had publicly denounced Ariel Sharon's policy of assassination air strikes as "immoral and illegal." He would have applauded their courage to be true to their conscience.
    ©The Toronto Star

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