Headlines 16 October, 2015
Bulgaria: UNHCR Condemns Incident with Migrant near Border
16/10/2015- The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR has strongly condemned the shooting which resulted in the death of a migrant near Bulgaria's border with Turkey, its local spokesperson, Boris Cheshirkov, has announced. "We condemn the fact that the death of an asylum seeker from Afghanistan occurred and that it happened while he was trying to reach safety in Bulgaria and to exert his universal right to seeking asylum," Cheshirkov told the Bulgarian National Radio, also urging an "immediate, thorough, transparent, and independent" investigation into the tragic event. Earlier, the Bulgarian Interior Ministry's Chief Secretary, Georgi Kostov, warned that migrants from Afghanistan (such as the total of 54 people of which the victim's group consisted) arrested at the borders are to be extradited to their homeland under FRONTEX regulations.
Finland: Parliament condemns racism, mulls over its definition
15/10/2015- All parliamentary parties signed on Wednesday a declaration against racism and demonstrated the same solidarity while engaging in a topical discussion initiated by Member of Parliament Nasima Razmyar (SDP). The impetus for the discussion stemmed from the budding climate of intolerance and increasing incidence of hate speech. “We've witnessed too many times how few steps there are from hate speech to hate acts,” Razmyar stated. She urged her fellow Members of Parliament in her emotional speech to send out a clearly-worded message: “There is no room for racism and hate speech in Finland.” Her colleagues embraced the message but also emphasised that whipping up solidarity in the session hall is not enough without appropriate actions. Each and every one of us can demonstrate by ourselves that tolerance can overcome hate, Razmyar summarised, stirring up an emotional response even from veteran lawmaker Eero Heinäluoma (SDP).
While the session hall was full to bursting with goodwill, Members of Parliament also examined the definition of racism. Sampo Terho, the chairperson of the Finns Party Parliamentary Group, reminded that the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights defines racism as discrimination based on race, colour, birthplace or national or ethnic origin. Petteri Orpo (NCP), the Minister of the Interior, estimated that some have been too eager to brand their fellow citizens racists. “You can be critical of the immigration policy or concerned about how Finland can cope with the high number of immigrants without being one bit racist,” he said. “It's tolerance to appreciate the concerns and different opinions of people under such difficult circumstances. Branding someone a racist is a harsh accusation.”
Tarja Filatov (SDP) defined racism as the subjugation of another population group. “You consider your own group of people superior to the other group.” Some make racist statements, while others advocate “an open-door policy,” said Peter Östman (Christian Democrats). “The Christian Democrats don't like either line. We don't tolerate racism, but we don't like decisions that include coercion [such as the obligatory re-settlement of asylum seekers].” Certain members of the opposition took the opportunity to criticise the spending cuts proposed by the Government. Outi Alanko-Kahiluoto (Greens) warned that the cuts in education funding will hinder the integration of immigrants. The chairperson of the Left Alliance, Paavo Arhinmäki, estimated that people have a just reason to feel disoriented and anxious about their jobs, homes and livelihood.
“However, this is not because of immigrants but because of the spending cuts and economic policy pursued by the Government that were drawn up before the number of asylum seekers arriving in Finland started to grow,” said Arhinmäki. Razmyar estimated that it is also time to update the assessment of the risks posed by extremist movements and determine carefully how the legislation can be improved to prevent violent acts by extremist groups. Estimates drawn up by the Finnish Security Intelligence Service (Supo) suggest according to Orpo that a few hundred people are currently affiliated with extremist groups. Finland, he added, has beefed up the monitoring of extremist groups and is currently updating the national action plan for preventing violent extremism.
© The Helsinki Times.
Belgium charges French comedian over racist remarks
15/10/2015- The Belga press agency reports that controversial French comedian Dieudonné has been charged with using anti-Semitic, discriminatory speech during a performance in Belgium and faces prison time of up to six months without parole should he be convicted. "His performance is full of so many defamatory, offensive expressions that it makes one want to vomit," said Damien Leboutte, the prosecutor in Liège, when reading the indictment. Leboutte is also seeking to fine the comedian EUR 5 000. The verdict is expected on 25 November. According to the Belgian authorities, Dieudonné, a 49-year-old whose full name is Dieudonné Mbala Mbala, committed his offense during a performance in March 2012 in Liège. His words allegedly incited racial intolerance and expressed negativistic, revisionist ideas. Belgian daily Le Soir reports, for example, that the comedian called Adolf Hitler a "good-hearted braggart". Dieudonné is the son of a Cameroonian man and a Frenchwoman and was actively against racism during the 1990s, when he became famous as part of a duo with the Jewish humorist Elie Semoun. Later, however, he began to spend time with representatives of the French ultra-right and doing solo performances featuring speech that primarily took heavy swipes at Jewish people. He has faced several prosecutions, his performances have been cancelled, and the doors of the mainstream media have gradually been closed to him.
EU Countries Not Meeting Commitments on Migrant Redistribution, Official Says
14/10/2015- European governments are failing to live up to their commitments to tackle the continent’s migration crisis, a top European Union official said on the eve of a summit on Thursday here where leaders will debate the issue anew. Thousands of people continue to arrive every day in Greece, even as temperatures drop, adding to the 710,000 refugees and other migrants that the EU border agency Frontex says have arrived in the bloc this year. Last month, after vitriolic debate, EU governments approved the redistribution of 160,000 asylum seekers across the bloc. But so far, only a handful of capitals have given precise indications of how many people they will take in and when.
Governments in September also pledged to donate more money to aid organizations dealing with refugees, but have so far done little, Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, told the European Parliament on Wednesday. “The European institutions have delivered quickly, all we were supposed to do, we did. But member states have not done it to the same extent,” he said. Mr. Juncker said the commission, the bloc’s executive, has cobbled together a total of €9.2 billion to cope with the refugee crisis, a sum that national governments last month pledged to match. Out of that, so far only the U.K. has come forward with €225 million for the United Nations refugee agency.
Governments have also failed to live up to their pledges to dispatch border guards, asylum officers and translators to Italy and Greece to help with registration and fingerprinting of migrants. Out of the more 1,000 staff needed, only 130 have been put forward so far by member states. “I would have liked to see that what was promised in September will be delivered tomorrow. It is not enough to make promises; deeds are what count,” Mr. Juncker said. Thursday’s summit will discuss revamping the bloc’s asylum policies, improving control over the bloc’s external borders and relations with Turkey, the main transit country for refugees.
Mr. Juncker, who was the architect of the controversial refugee redistribution plans, admitted to shortcomings in making the program work. Among the challenges is finding people who are willing to go to countries they have never heard of. “It seems hard enough to find people in Greece willing to come to Luxembourg, even though it is one of the richest countries in the EU,” Mr. Juncker said. “Still, I don’t think it is outrageous to invite people fleeing from war to come to Luxembourg.” Greece—which has seen 450,000 migrants arrive this year—aims to transfer just 30 refugees to Luxembourg sometime this month. But “it was hard to find them,” a Greek official said.
Last week, Italy struggled to find the 19 Eritreans it eventually sent to Sweden, say officials and migrant aid groups involved in the process. Another problem is convincing migrants to remain in the country they are sent to. Most want to reach Germany or Scandinavia, but tens of thousands are earmarked for other countries where they may not want to settle. Indeed, France and Belgium last month tried to help Germany by taking 1,250 refugees from German reception centers. But many of them soon returned to Germany on their own. “This plan may have been too hopeful [in expecting] that people will go and stay where they’re told. But it’s early stages; it may still work,” one senior EU official said.
Securing the bloc’s external borders is another area in which nearly no progress has been made, as Athens opposes an idea floated by Mr. Juncker to set up joint Turkish-Greek border patrols. “I proposed joint Turkish-Greek patrols in the Mediterranean. Turkey was fine with it, but Greece rejected the idea,” Mr. Juncker said. “This is about Europe, not bilateral relations. I ask Greece to revise its position.” Konstantinos Koutras, a spokesman for the Greek foreign ministry, said this week that Greece had never considered using its navy to confront war refugees “nor can it even discuss the novel ideas expressed lately, such as that of joint Greek-Turkish patrolling of maritime borders.” Mr. Juncker added that the Turkish route—where more than 450,000 people have come this year, according to the International Organization for Migration—needs to be closed “in a reasonable manner.”
But convincing Turkey to stem the migration flow in exchange for visa-free travel and other EU incentives is still a distant project. Mr. Juncker dispatched two of his deputies to Ankara on Wednesday to continue talks on the matter. Diplomats in Brussels say they are skeptical this will succeed. “Turks don’t feel treated very well by the EU. This has been an issue for years and has not changed. I have no illusions that there will be a very difficult bargain with Turkey on that,” said one official familiar with the discussions.
© The Wall Street Journal*
Switzerland: Populist right seen boosting number of MPs
The Swiss head to the polls Sunday to vote in a new parliament, with the populist right seen as likely to strengthen its already dominant position amid concerns over migrants and asylum rules.
14/10/2015- The surging numbers of migrants and refugees moving through Europe have heightened the focus on the issue in Switzerland, even though the wealthy Alpine nation has yet to be significantly affected by the crisis. The last poll from the gfs.bern polling institute showed that 48 percent of those questioned thought migration was the most important issue facing the country. Power-sharing and consensus rule are the norm in Switzerland and elections rarely lead to major shifts in parliament or the makeup of the government, which does not directly reflect the power balance in the house. But the latest polls suggest the scale is tilting from the centre-left towards a centre-right majority in parliament, which has 200 seats in its lower chamber and 46 in the upper chamber.
"That could clearly impact future decisions," Andreas Ladner, a political scientist at Lausanne University, told AFP, suggesting a centre-right tilt in parliament could lead to "stricter immigration policies." About a quarter of Switzerland's eight million inhabitants are foreign nationals, and immigration and asylum policies tend to figure among voters' top concerns. Pollster gfs.bern said the country had not seen a campaign so dominated by a single issue for decades, with only nine percent choosing the runner-up issue — Switzerland's relationship with the neighbouring European Union — as the most important. Ties with the EU were badly hit by a narrow Swiss popular vote in February 2014 in favour of restricting immigration from the bloc.
Migration crisis boosts right
Switzerland's largest party, the populist rightwing anti-immigration Swiss People's Party (SVP), appears to be benefiting from the increased focus on its pet issue, mainly at the expense of the Greens and other smaller parties. The latest poll handed SVP nearly 28 percent support — up from the 26.6 percent it managed in the 2011 election and close to the record high 28.9 percent it won in 2007. "SVP is clearly benefiting from the European crisis," Ladner said. Pascal Sciarini, a political scientist at Geneva University, however noted a heightened feeling of solidarity towards the migrants moving through Europe, which "may not benefit SVP".
He suggested the party, which in 2007 sparked outcry with posters of three white sheep kicking a black sheep off the Swiss flag, had toned down some of its anti-immigrant rhetoric. The SVP, which championed the vote to restrict immigration from the EU, has demanded a new referendum aimed at tightening Switzerland's already strict asylum laws. The centre-right Liberal Party, Switzerland's third largest party, holds a very different view. The party, which has also seen a significant hike in support in the latest polls to 16.7 percent and which could help push the overall balance of parliament rightwards, stresses instead the need for more immigration to keep Switzerland's economy strong.
Lack of qualified labour
"There is no migration problem . . . the main problem facing Switzerland today is economic," Liberal parliamentarian Fathi Derder told AFP, warning the country, where unemployment stands at just over three percent, "is facing "a dire lack of qualified labour." The Socialists, Switzerland's second largest party, which in the last poll inched up slightly from the 18.7 percent of the vote they won in 2011, also want to broaden the debate to include cleaning up the Swiss banking sector and improving ties with the EU. Socialist vice-president Roger Nordmann warned a shift to the right in parliament could have dire consequences, especially if it hands more influence to SVP, who he accused of "playing to xenophobia". And politicians may have a hard time convincing voters that Sunday's vote is important — with major shifts in power a rarity, Switzerland's parliamentary elections generally fail to inspire much enthusiasm and turnout has not passed 50 percent since 1975.
Moreover the Swiss can have a more direct impact in referendums held every three months on different issues as part of the country's direct democratic system. But experts insist the stakes are high this time. In December the new parliament will elect Switzerland's Federal Council, or government, with the seven posts traditionally shared among the major parties from right to left under a tacit decades-old agreement dubbed "the magic formula". Despite being the largest party, SVP currently holds just one government post, but has its sights set on securing a second seat. "One out of seven seats may not seem important, but it is in fact, since that will determine the balance of power," Sciarini said.
© The Local - Switzerland
Spanish archbishop warns against 'Trojan horse' threat from refugees
A Spanish archbishop has called into question whether Spain should be welcoming refugees, asking "are they completely trustworthy?"
14/10/2015- The Archbishop of Valencia, Cardinal Antonio Cañizares, sparked controversy on Wednesday when he questioned whether welcoming refugees to Spain from Syria was such a good idea. "What’s happening in Europe?" the Catholic bishop asked. "This invasion of immigrants... are they completely trustworthy? Where will it leave Spain in a few years?" Cañizares was speaking during a forum on Europe and the Mediterranean organized by the New Economic Forum. He also raised the question of whether refugees were coming to Spain "because they were being persecuted" arguing that "many are not". He called for "clarity" and to see "who is behind all this". "We must be clear headed and not let everyone in, because today it could be someone who gets along very well, but it is in fact the Trojan horse for European societies and specifically Spain." Cañizares is so stranger to controversy and was criticised in 2009 for claiming abortion was worse than child abuse when he said:
"What happened in some schools cannot be compared with the millions of lives that have been destroyed by abortion. It has legally destroyed 40 million human lives."
Poverty in Spain
The Spanish archbishop also played down reports of increased poverty in Spain, arguing that "you don’t see any more people than before on the streets or living under bridges." He said claims were "exaggerated" and that Spaniards needed to "recognize the economic recovery" in Spain. The cardinal's words contradict those of his boss. Pope Francis recently urged "every Catholic parish in Europe" to take in a refugee family, setting the ultimate example by putting up a Syrian refugee family in a Vatican apartment.
© The Local - Spain
Almeria Province political parties are urging councils to declare their towns ‘refugees welcome’ zones.
14/10/2015- Nijar and Almeria City have already done so and they are now joined by Mojacar, where a plenary session voted unanimously to assist refugees from war zones. “Conscious of the grave situation, the town of Mojacar should remain true to its tradition as a meeting place where different nationalities and cultures live in harmony as well as its tradition of unquestionable humanitarian goodwill and international cooperation,” the council declared. The town hall will create a register of families who wish to take refugees into their homes or other properties that they own and support them during the time they are in Mojacar. Residents interested in collaborating are asked to contact the town hall’s Social Services department. Nijar Town Hall voted in September to become part of the network of ‘refugees-welcome’ towns. The motion proposed by Alexis Pineda, Deputy Mayor and IU party spokesman, was approved by all parties on the council. “This is least we can do when faced with the destabilisation and destruction of prosperous countries like Syria or Libya,” Pineda said at the time.
© Euro Weekly News
New reports on combating racism and intolerance: AUSTRIA, CZECH REPUBLIC and ESTONIA
13/10/2015- The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) today published monitoring reports on Austria, the Czech Republic and Estonia, analysing recent developments and outstanding issues and providing recommendations to the authorities. Despite certain positive developments, ECRI notes, there are challenges ahead.
ECRI reports, among the main problems, antipathy towards migrants and online hate speech at worrying levels, despite integration policies and awareness raising.
Fifth report on Austria
ECRI expresses serious concern over the lack of progress in eradicating segregation of Roma children in schools and the prevalence of anti-Roma hate speech in political discourse.
Fifth report on the Czech Republic
Concerns remain, such as higher unemployment in regions which are predominantly Russian-speaking, or the unsatisfactory implementation of the new linguistic policy in the upper secondary school
Fifth report on Estonia
© The Council of Europe - ECRI.
EU Commission concerned by Hungary's migration laws
The EU Commission has expressed concerns over Hungary's new and amended migration laws in a letter sent last week which asked for clarification.
13/10/2015- The letter, published earlier by Hungarian media and now on Statewatch, a non-profit organisation committed to transparency, was sent on 7 October and was signed by the Commission's director general for migration and justice. The letter challenges recent Hungarian legislation that seems to fast-track people seeking refuge back to Serbia with a ban on entering the EU for a year. "Applications for international protection made at the border in a border procedure are systematically declared inadmissible on the basis of the fact that applicants have transited through Serbia," the letter states. It asks the Hungarian authorities to explain how the new border management is compatible with EU law, as reportedly only around 100 people are registered at the transit zone daily along the Serbian border and a decision dismissing their request can be made within an hour.
The Commission is concerned that asylum seekers are not interviewed by the authorities, their story is not being heard and they have no means to challenge the concept of Serbia being a "safe country". The EU executive is also worried about reports that people are not given proper information free of charge and have difficult access to free legal assistance, or interpretation. It also questions the circumstances of detention for asylum seekers, who are not told why they are being detained and how can they appeal against their detention. The Commission expresses serious concerns over how asylum seekers can fully exercise their right to challenge the rejection of their application, given the lack of information, legal assistance and short deadlines. The letter also asks for figures on how many requests for international protection were dismissed, how many of them were appealed, and how many concern children and other vulnerable asylum seekers.
The Hungarian authorities have two weeks to reply, and further communication is expected before the Commission could open an official investigation into whether the Hungarian legislation is in line with EU law. The Commission is concerned about the lack any specific procedure or safeguards for children, and whether illegal border crossings are not dealt with unproportionally, with the possibility of up to eight years prison sentence for damaging the border fence. The Commission is also concerned about the use of military in managing the borders and says that their conduct must respect EU rules. Hungary's government tweaked legislation in July and September to set up and protect the border fence along the Serbian frontier, sped up asylum procedures and gave extra rights to police and military in border management.
More than 320,000 people fleeing war and persecution have crossed into Hungary so far this year, with most headed to Austria and Germany. Since Hungary put up the razor fence in August, hundreds continued to climb over or crawl under it even after the new legislation came into force on September 15. There have been more than 400 fast-track trials of migrants since then, mostly Syrians and Iraqis, charged with the crime.
© The EUobserver
European Parliament Set to Lift Immunity of Hungarian MEP
12/10/2015- The European Parliament on Wednesday is set to take an unprecedented step and lift the immunity of one of its members accused of spying for Russia. Hungarian prosecutors over a year ago asked the European Union’s parliament to waive the immunity of far-right politician Béla Kovács, so he can be put on trial for espionage, facing up to eight years in prison if found guilty. At a parliamentary hearing behind closed doors on Monday, members in the legal affairs committee overwhelmingly voted in favor of lifting Mr. Kovács’ immunity. The full assembly of the 751-strong European Parliament on Wednesday is expected to endorse that decision.
Mr. Kovács, 55, hails from the far right Jobbik party in Hungary and was re-elected last May as member of the European Parliament. A Hungarian parliamentary committee in May 2014 found there was “solid” evidence he spied for Russia, an accusation which he strongly denies. Hungarian security services tracked Mr. Kovacs for four years, Hungarian government officials say, during which time they said he met covertly with Russian diplomats and traveled to Moscow on a monthly basis. Following Russia’s annexation of Crimea last year, Mr. Kovács was one of a handful of MEPs who traveled to Crimea, at the invitation of local pro-Russian authorities, to observe the so-called independence referendum. The U.S., the EU and the United Nations condemned the vote as illegitimate.
Péter Krekó, director at the Political Capital Institute, a Budapest-based research center looking at party funding, says Mr. Kovács made his fortune in Russia and Japan and was instrumental in turning Jobbik into a pro-Russia party. “In its early days, Jobbik was quite anti-Russian. But after Mr. Kovács joined, in 2005, and became one of the main donors, the party gradually shifted in favor of Russia,” Mr. Krekó says. Mr. Kovács has not hidden his pro-Russia sympathies throughout his political career, but says they are benign, not a sign of spying activities. “The least we can say is that he was a strong lobbyist for Russia and possibly brought Russian money into Jobbik… But I am not sure he is a real spy, because as an MEP you do not have access to important information,” Mr. Krekó says.
Political machinations by the conservative government of Viktor Orban also complicate the matter further. The timing of Mr. Kovács’ being exposed as a spy, just before the EU elections last year, “had certainly political motives, to cause some reputational damage to Jobbik,” says Mr. Krekó. Kremlin’s ties with the far right are not a Hungary-specific phenomenon. Similar suspicions of Russian money bankrolling the anti-EU, xenophobic parties exist in several EU countries, notably in France where Marine Le Pen’s Front National is being investigated about its party funding. None of its MEPs — neither Ms. Le Pen nor her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen — have been accused of spying for Russia, however.
© Wall Street Journal - Real Time Brussels Blog