NEWS - Archive May 2007

Headlines 25 May, 2007


25/5/2007- The municipalities have voiced their support for the amnesty scheme that will grant residence status to asylum seekers who entered under the old Aliens Act and have been living in the Netherlands for a long time. The Association of Netherlands' Municipalities (VNG) announced on Friday that its members support the implementation of the amnesty. The administrative accord was agreed with State secretary for Justice Nebahat Albayrak last month. An important condition in the accord is that municipalities no longer provide shelter for asylum seekers who have exhausted the procedure and been definitively refused asylum. "The municipalities are prepared to stop providing emergency care and will do so," the VNG said on Friday. The association did add that municipalities do have a responsibility to care for people in need however. This responsibility to provide care has been the subject of public debate in the run up to the definitive amnesty arrangement. Amsterdam alderwoman Marijke Vos writes on the website of green-left GroenLinks that stopping emergency care is a lamentable agreement. State secretary Albayrak will discuss the definitive amnesty scheme in the cabinet meeting today. If the ministers approve the proposal it can presented in full after the meeting. The VNG has urged repeatedly over the past few years for a more generous amnesty arrangement. The organisation is glad that "the accord will bring an end to years of uncertainty." The municipalities will be given EUR 55 million towards housing and integration of the group in question. They still want to discuss with the state secretary what criteria will be attached to the granting of these funds however. The amnesty will be granted to asylum seekers who applied for asylum under the old Aliens Act (before April 2001) and who can show that they were still in the Netherlands in 2006. It is still not clear how many people this includes.
Expatica News



25/5/2007- A report by a pan-European rights watchdog warned of an "increasing climate of hostility" towards Muslims, cases of persistent anti-Semitism, and violations against Roma or gypsy populations, "singled out as a particular target for racism throughout Europe." ‘’Europe’s traditional values of tolerance and welcome are giving way to a dangerous rise in hostility towards foreigners, Eva Smith-Asmussen, the Danish head of the Council of Europe’s Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), told reporters in Paris. « We’re starting to shut people out of our communities, it’s a very sad development," Eva Smith-Asmussen, she added. "Europe is built on values like taking a humanitarian approach, tolerance," she told a press conference to mark the release of ECRI’s 2006 annual report. "But it looks as if all of a sudden the most important thing is security, and other things have to be sacrificed." "If anything is threatening our peace and security in Europe, it’s discrimination," Smith-Asmussen said, warning of a "truly dangerous" trend. In its report on the Council of Europe’s 46 member states, ECRI found that "the overall picture as regards contemporary forms of racism and racial discrimination is complex and worrying." Across Europe, ECRI said it was "deeply concerned by the negative climate of opinion" which it said was "fuelled by some media and also by the use of racist and xenophobic arguments in political discourse."

Migrants, refugees and asylum seekers are the most affected by the rise in hostility, according to ECRI. It said xenophobic discourse enjoyed a "free rein" in countries struggling to make the transition to multicultural societies, where foreigners were made scapegoats for economic difficulties and crime. "On the subject of immigration, the tone of political debate has not only hardened considerably, but has also tended to stigmatise entire communities, notably foreigners," it said. The fight against terrorism had in some cases led to the adoption of discriminatory legislation, it warned. Calling on member states to combat discrimination on the ground, ECRI stressed that successful integration of minorities was "a two-way process, a process of mutual recognition, which has nothing to do with assimilation." Smith-Asmussen said the trend towards greater discrimination had been observed "in every country in Europe, even in countries that used to be very open, forthcoming, like the Netherlands." "Even social-democratic parties whose ideology is about protecting the weak, the welfare state, it’s like they don’t see that if you’re an immigrant or a refugee, you’re also part of society."  "Is this really a society we want?" she asked. "It is important that European countries realise what is happening and do something about it." "To accept other people and other values is an old, old European virtue. It’s sad to see it disappearing," she said.



24/5/2007- The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) criticizes Finland’s practice of granting temporary residence permits to a growing number of asylum seekers. These so-called B-permits have been granted to applicants whose asylum applications have been turned down while it has not been possible to deport them. According to ECRI’s third report on Finland, which was published today, the problem is that the holder of a B-permit is not entitled to a number of basic rights, including the right to work and to family reunification. The Commission announced that it is "seriously concerned" about this fact. "ECRI urges the Finnish authorities to discontinue the practice of issuing residence permits which do not grant access to basic rights to persons who are allowed to stay in Finland", the report states. The report also notes that in practice some children with B-permits have not been allowed to go to school in Finland.

ECRI draws up reports in four- to five-year cycles, containing its analyses and recommendations regarding racism and racial discrimination in each of the member states of the Council of Europe. The previous report on Finland was published in 2002.
In its third report on Finland, ECRI notes that Finland has "strengthened its legal and institutional framework against racism and racial discrimination", which is reflected for example in the establishment of the post of Ombudsman for Minorities. Finland’s first Ombudsman for Minorities, Mikko Puumalainen, started his work in 2002. However, the report implies that certain problems related to racism and intolerance persist, and there is a need for a more consistent public commitment against racism. "ECRI also strongly recommends that the Finnish authorities take further steps towards a demonstrable and consistent public commitment against racism and racial discrimination in all its forms." Only 2.5 per cent of the total Finnish population are immigrants. However, the number is growing - five years ago the proportion of non-citizens living in Finland was only 1.8 per cent. ECRI notes further that both the upward trend in the number of non-citizens and the recently adopted Government Immigration Policy Programme aimed at promoting work-related immigration indicate that integration is becoming a more topical issue in Finland.
Helsingin Sanomat



European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) publicized a report on Azerbaijan in Paris today.

24/5/2007- The report reads: Since the publication of ECRI first report on Azerbaijan on 15 April 2003, progress has been made in a number of the fields highlighted in that report. In the area of education, access to public school for children of non-citizens without legal status has been improved and measures in favour of teaching human rights as well as minority languages have been taken. "State Programme on improvement of the living conditions and raising employment for refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs)" was adopted in 2004 and is currently being implemented. A procedure for granting the status of refugee was put in place and some asylum seekers have already obtained refugee status on this basis. However, a number of recommendations made in ECRI first report have not been implemented, or have only been partially implemented. There are still cases of racist and inflammatory speech or the promotion of religious intolerance by some media, members of the general public and politicians, particularly against Armenians, Russian citizens from Chechnya and members of some religious minorities. The unsolved conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh continues to have a negative impact on the climate concerning Armenians.

"In this report, ECRI recommends that the Azerbaijani authorities take further action in a number of areas. It recommends in particular that they provide officials in the judicial system with more training on the importance of adequately applying criminal law provisions to combat racism and intolerance." It asks that a specialised body be set up to combat racism and racial discrimination and that the civil and administrative law provisions prohibiting racial discrimination be strengthened. Measures should be taken to solve the problems linked to the lack of legal status of some categories of non-citizens living in Azerbaijan. Khazar Ibrahim, head of Foreign Ministry press center told that Council of Europe as respected body should approach issues very objectively. "There is no problem between confessions, ethnic groups and nations in Azerbaijan. Tolerance and understanding culture in Azerbaijan have its ancient roots. The only problem is conflict with Armenia and this emerged because of Armenians policy. Armenian aggressive policy led to the occupation of Azerbaijan territories and deportation of many Azerbaijani people from their homes. Unfortunately, Council of Europe ignores the policy of ethnic cleansing carried out by neighboring Armenia, releases unrealistic information on Azerbaijan. It said Azerbaijan suffers from lack of information on racism and intolerance. This is absurd. In comparison with other states, Azerbaijan does not need it as it is already part of Azerbaijani history and culture," he underlined.
Today AZ



24/5/2007- French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen on Thursday said he planned to stay on as leader of the National Front party despite his poor showing in the presidential election. Le Pen, 78, had been expected to step down due to his age and pave the way for a new leader of the party that has been a fixture of French politics for 35 years. "There will be a congress in November and I will then present my candidacy," Le Pen told RTL radio, adding that he was confident of winning a new mandate. "The head of the National Front remains uncontested for the time being." Le Pen won 10.44 percent of the vote in the election, taking the fourth place, his worst score since he made his first run for the presidency in 1974. It was a far cry from the 2002 election when the far-right leader stunned the nation by winning enough votes to beat Socialist Lionel Jospin and stand against Jacques Chirac in the runoff. Acknowledging that his party had sufferd "a little blow" from this year's election outcome, Le Pen said he planned to nevertheless lead the National Front into next month's parliamentary elections. The National Front currently does not hold any seats in the 577-member National Assembly. President Nicolas Sarkozy's governing Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party is expected to win a strong majority in the June 10-17 vote that would give the rightwing leader free rein to push through economic reform. In the presidential election, Le Pen lost votes to Sarkozy whose campaign pledge to get tough on immigration and crime appealed to the far-right leader's supporters. Le Pen had campaigned on a platform that called for halting immigration which he argued was threatening France's economy and way of life. He accused Sarkozy of copying his ideas.
Expatica News



23/5/2007- New French President Nicolas Sarkozy made immigration a central issue of his campaign. Now, his new minister for immigration and national identity says its time to start paying immigrants to leave the country. France is home to over 5 million immigrants -- and the new conservative-led government doesn't plan on making things any more comfortable for them. While the new regime in Paris is determined to curb illegal immigration, it is also looking to encourage legal migrants to reconsider their decision to stay in France -- by paying them to go back home. New immigration minister, Brice Hortefeux, confirmed on Wednesday that the government is planning to offer incentives to more immigrants to return home voluntarily. "We must increase this measure to help voluntary return. I am very clearly committed to doing that," Hortefeux said in an interview with RFI radio. Under the scheme, Paris will provide each family with a nest egg of €6,000 ($8,000) for when they go back to their country of origin. A similar scheme, which was introduced in 2005 and 2006, was taken up by around 3,000 families. Hortefeux, who heads up the new "super-ministery" of immigration, integration, national identity and co-development, said he wants to pursue a "firm but humane" immigration policy. The new ministry was a central pledge in Nicolas Sarkozy's election campaign, who had warned that France was exasperated by "uncontrolled immigration." He was accused by the left of playing on public fears of immigration during his campaign, in an attempt to appeal to the supporters of the far-right National Front. In the end, Sarkozy won comfortably with 53 percent, and Hortefeux says this shows that the French people have clearly decided on what immigration policy they want. He also pointed to an opinon poll in the Le Figaro newspaper, which found that three in four people in France approved of the ministry.

Since he was appointed by the new president last Friday, Hortefeux has insisted that "co-development" will be an important plank of French immigration policy. He argued that the system of voluntary return can be seen as a means for investment in developing countries. He said that the method of transferring funds via returning immigrants to their country of origin was a better policy than providing aid for development. Hortefeux is also talking tough when it comes to dealing with illegal immigration, insisting that there are no plans for a mass legalization of the estimated 200,000 to 400,000 illegals in France. The new minister voiced concern that the majority of legal immigration into France was that of existing immigrants bringing in relatives, while only a small proportion were granted visas due to their professional skills. "To be integrated, you need language skills and a professional activity," he told RFI, and said he is considering introducing a language test to prospective immigrants. France is home to an estimated 1.5 million immigrants from mostly Muslim North Africa and 500,000 from sub-Saharan Africa, according to the 2004 census. Asked on RFI about how the notion "national identity," fits into the new ministry -- the term has been fiercely criticized by the French left -- Hortefeux said: "This should not be understood as something menacing, but on the contrary, it is initiative with the aim of bringing coherence."
Spiegel Online


FAR FROM WAR, BUT NOT AT PEACE(Chechen asylum-seekers)

Thousands of Chechen asylum-seekers biding their time in the Alps feel the perilous pull of their homeland.
By Vladimir Kovalev, freelance writer living in Vienna

24/5/200- There are some things Roman Shamayev will never forget. Dead bodies of civilians and soldiers, destroyed tanks and cannons, crying children, apartment buildings in the Chechen capital of Grozny covered with thousands of holes left after brutal artillery assaults. Shamayev, a former Chechen army commander, lives far away from such scenes now, but they are still with him, just as they dog the memories of the tens of thousands of Chechen refugees living in Western and Central Europe. And just as many plead their cases to West European governments, hoping to be allowed to stay, they long, too, to return home. Some are even compelled to do so, either by governments who reject them or by thuggish Chechen authorities who threaten loved ones left behind. For many, staying or leaving becomes a matter of – someone’s – life or death. Shamayev came to Austria several years ago, shortly after being seriously injured in the second Chechen war. After giving orders in the separatist Chechen army for more than a decade, he is one of roughly 20,000 refugees who fled the region to come to Austria in the past several years. “From the first war in Chechnya I remember [dead] children and people lying on streets, being eaten by birds, cats and dogs,” Shamayev recalled during an interview in a Vienna restaurant last month. “Once I mixed up a container of dead bodies with ammunition. I was told there were a number of cargo cars at the train station in Grozny that we thought were delivering weapons for the Russian army. When I opened one, I saw corpses, corpses, and corpses of Russian soldiers lying frozen, stacked up,” he said. “I don’t remember battles themselves. I never remember battles. I do remember, of course, the guys I was with during the war, but engagements themselves I try not to remember. People have a tendency to forget what they don’t want to think about,” he said. More than two years after moving to Austria and recovering from his wounds, Shamayev works with Chechen refugees who live in camps in the Alps waiting for permission to stay. He has found a role, and a haven, but the calm sits uneasily on him. “It’s [too calm]. It’s just ... as a rule a person gets lost if he’s removed from the thing he’s done most of his life. And it’s hard to find yourself in that case,” he said. He believes that someday he will return to Chechnya, provided the breakaway republic becomes more stable and secure.

A perilous place
In talks last year with Russian President Vladimir Putin, then-Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel suggested that his country would send back the Chechen refugees if certain conditions in the republic improved. He did specify which conditions, but according to human rights advocates, the essentials have not changed. “[The refugees’] safety cannot be considered without looking at the precarious security situation in the Chechen Republic as a whole,” warned a 2006 report by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). “Despite the fact that the UN deemed the security situation improved in Chechnya in July 2006, the situation remains complicated, unstable, and dangerous. Every day [aid organizations] register violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in Chechnya, including extra-judicial executions, disappearances (including of women and children), illegal arrests, torture, hostage-taking, destruction of property, and looting. There remains a serious threat from landmines and unexploded ordnance,” the report said. People still disappear frequently in Chechnya, according to Civil Assistance, a nongovernmental organization that worked on the report with the NRC. “Human rights violations continue to take place in Chechnya. It happens that some unidentified armed persons come in the night and arrest people without explaining why,” said Yelena Burtina, a co-director of Civil Assistance. “Sometimes such detainees are found later, but it happens, not rarely, that they are detained and charged on evidence from testimony other people have given under pressure or after torture. In some cases, detainees are later found dead or thrown onto the road badly beaten,” she said. “These tactics resemble the political repression in the USSR in 1937.

Such repression continues in Chechnya, not on the same scale as several years ago, but the fact is, it takes place regularly.” One typical case is that of Iliyas Azimov, who was allegedly arrested without explanation on the evening of 28 July 2005. The NRC report said he was abducted from a residential complex for former refugees in Grozny by masked men who drove up in cars without number plates. His mother, sisters, and neighbors were beaten, according to information collected by the NRC. When residents of the complex blocked one of the major highways in the city the next morning to demand his release, the police tried to disperse them by shooting into the air and then at the ground by their feet.  Azimov was later released without charge, but only after appeals from the local branch of the Russian human rights group Memorial to Alvaro Gil-Robles, the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, and to the human rights ombudsman of Chechnya, who provided Azimov with a lawyer. “The Chechen interior minister explained that he had been suspected of murder and denied that masked men or unmarked cars had been used during his arrest. In the absence of prompt outside intervention – which was possible only because a human rights conference on Chechnya was under way in Kislovodsk at the time – it is unlikely that the incident would have been resolved in a satisfactory manner,” the NRC report said. Providing security for refugees and for Chechen citizens in general was acknowledged recently as a problem by Romzan Kadyrov, the new Kremlin-backed Chechen president, who nevertheless tried to downplay it. “The problem of security existed in the Chechen Republic before. Now, according to statistics, it is the region’s fourth-biggest issue, and social and economic problems are more urgent,” the Regnum news agency quoted Kadyrov as saying in April. “Step by step we are trying to solve the question of the returning people who left the republic. For instance, the regional Akhmat Kadyrov Fund [named after the former Chechen president] buys destroyed apartments and hands them over to Kumyks, Russians, Chechens. They are all our people, and we want them to come back to our city,” Kadyrov said. Kadyrov has been repeatedly linked to torture and political persecution of his opponents by the international press and human rights advocates. He denies the accusations.

The new Chechen president’s assurance of a new era in the breakaway republic apparently rings hollow to the many refugees who have arrived recently in Austria and continue to seek asylum there. About 30 people a day submit applications for asylum status in Austria, according to the Institute for the Danube Region and Central Europe, a Vienna think tank whose experts are often called in by Austrian courts to assist in examination of cases of Chechen refugees. About 5,000 Chechens have asylum status in Austria, and about three times that number are awaiting a decision in refugee camps in the mountains or just hanging around illegally, claiming that they have escaped from the war. Some 70,000 to 80,000 Chechen refugees live in the European Union, according to Hans-Georg Heinrich, a political science professor and researcher at the institute. Heinrich said Austrian legislation is likely the most liberal in the EU for Chechen asylum-seekers. While Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia often reject applications, Austrian law demands only that the newcomers prove they are Chechens by speaking the language and by showing on a map the region in Chechnya where they come from. Some claim falsely to be Chechens. Occasionally, the institute’s specialists discover Russians from that country’s southern regions, such as Krasnodar, masquerading as Chechens, Heinrich said. Some refugees, but still only a few, have begun trying to return, whether because they miss their families or are being pressured by authorities in Grozny, Heinrich said. “I have an anonymous case of a guy who served as a security guard for Ramzan Kadyrov. He told me, and I can’t vouch for the truth of what he said, that he had broken with [Kadyrov] and left for Poland,” Heinrich said. “He was called by Ramzan Kadyrov on his mobile phone and Ramzan allegedly told him that his father had been arrested, and that if he did not return his father would be killed. This is an unverified story, but these are stories that I keep hearing,” he said. “Some of them want to return because they want to see their relatives. I keep hearing from relatives of these people and representatives of Russian NGOs that some of them been arrested, some of them were not. It’s in Chechen hands,” he said.

Returning home then, has become a new kind of Russian roulette, a game of life and death that the refugees would rather not have to play. Roman Shamayev will not play it, even though after 14 years of fighting battles in Chechnya, he has not given up hope of seeing his homeland again. “I want to return some day. I have some plans there,” Shamayev said.
Transitions Online



23/5/2007- The trial of a high profile case started in St.Petersburg on 23 May with seven young men, three of them minors, accused of attacking 20-year-old anti-fascist musician Timur Kacharava, and his friend Maxim Zgibai on 13 November 2005. A group of ten young people were involved in the murder of Kacharava who was stabbed five times in the neck and died shortly afterwards. Zgibai was also stabbed and seriously wounded. Kacharava was a well-known activist and opponent of xenophobia in Russia as well as a supporter of the homeless. It is widely believed that he was targeted because of this work. All seven people on trial are accused of hooliganism and incitement of ethnic hatred but only one of them is also charged with murder – with a motive of hooliganism – and attempted murder. The alleged organiser of the crime remains on the wanted list and a separate case has been initiated against him. On the first day of the court hearings, some of the accused admitted partial guilt and the minors protested innocence, saying that they were only watching.

Journalists and anti-fascists are observing the trial. The Antifascist Information Group has announced that anyone needing photographs of Timur Kacharava for publication can contact it by writing to Timur Kacharava is just one of a growing list of anti-fascists murdered and attacked by nazis in Russia in recent years. On 19 June 2004, in St. Petersburg, Nikolai Girenko, an expert on right-wing extremism, was gunned down in his apartment. On 16 April 2006, in Moscow, Alexander Ryukhin, an anti-fascist activist, was stabbed to death on his way to a punk concert. On 22 December last year, in Moscow, Tigran, an anti-fascist activist, found a bomb on his staircase and on 27 March 2007, in Izhevsk, Stanislav Korepanov, a supporter of anti-fascists, was beaten by nazis, sustaining injuries from which he died a few days later.
SOVA Center for Information and Analysis



25/5/2007- A gay rights march planned for Sunday looks likely to get messy. Some 150 people, including five European legislators, a State Duma deputy and faux-lesbian pop duo t.A.T.u are expected to take part in the march in central Moscow, organizers said Thursday. But police said they would break up the march, which they called illegal. Ultranationalist activists promised to show their ire by throwing stones, eggs and tomatoes. Nikolai Alexeyev, a leading gay rights campaigner, said the event would go ahead no matter what. "Of course, we fear [violence], but we will still go out," he said. Organizers said they would release the time and place of the march at a news conference on Saturday afternoon. "Otherwise the march might not take place," co-organizer Alexei Davydov said. Participants from Europe will include lawmakers Volker Beck of Germany, Vladimir Luxuria of Italy, and three members of the European Parliament, including Marco Cappato of Italy, Alexeyev said. Duma Deputy Alexei Mitrofanov of the Liberal Democratic Party confirmed his intent to participate through a spokesman Thursday. Alexeyev acknowledged that city authorities had not authorized the march, but he said they had not banned it either. City Hall's point man on security, Nikolai Kulikov, has contradicted Alexeyev, saying he personally handed the activist a rejection notice. Mayor Yury Luzhkov faced fierce criticism from human rights activists both at home and abroad last May when he forbade gay rights activists from staging a march. An attempt to march despite the ban was overwhelmed by ultranationalists and militant Orthodox believers throwing smoke bombs. Several of the participants were injured and detained. Alexander Belov, head of the ultranationalist Movement Against Illegal Immigration, said Thursday that many of his activists would take to the streets Sunday, along with members of Orthodox and monarchical organizations. He said they would be armed with stones, rotten eggs and tomatoes. "Unfortunately, I will not be able to come and throw a stone myself because I will be on a trip to another city," Belov said. "Perhaps some other time."  Police spokesman Yevgeny Gildeyev said officers were preparing to block the march. "Moscow authorities have banned the march, and we must prevent it," he said. He refused to elaborate, other than to say "all police departments responsible for security in the city" would take part Sunday.
The Moscow Times



Some Finns took part in Hitler’s birthday celebration in Tallinn

23/5/2007- A total of seven Finns have been banned from entering Estonia on suspicion of association with "extremist and racist movements", Estonian Ministry of the Interior representative Katrin Vides revealed on Tuesday. A ban on entry has been imposed on two more Finns because of their criminal backgrounds. The Estonian daily Postimees reported on Tuesday about three Finns, who were banned from entering Estonia at the beginning of the year for a ten-year period because of alleged neo-Nazi connections.
The men have denied the allegations and have appealed against the decision. According to the Tallinn-based Finnish police liaison officer, embassy counsellor Ari Lahtela, the number of imposed bans on entry is not significant considering the vast number of Finns travelling to Estonia each year. "It also does not compare to the number of Estonians who have been banned from entering Finland", Lahtela continues. The recently-published Estonian Security Police annual report establishes that last year "skinheads" aspired to create an umbrella organisation in Estonia. International contacts were established, and the skinhead ideology was spread at so-called private parties. The three Finns who have appealed against the entry-ban took part in one such gathering, which was a fancy dress party organised on the anniversary of Adolf Hitler’s birthday in Tallinn last year. "Around 25 individuals were present, 15 of whom could be identified from a photograph", the organiser of the party, Risto Teinonen, 47, says. Teinonen, who is of Finnish origin, received Estonian citizenship in 2002 for services rendered to the government. Lately the Estonian Security Police has been keeping a keen eye on Teinonen’s doings. In Estonia, Teinonen is involved in the "New Europe" association. The organisation has reprinted the books Hitler the Liberator and Hitler and Children from the German occupation period. The latter of the two has also been published in Finnish, German, and English. According to Teinonen, the books were reissued merely as samples of the German propaganda of the period for those interested in history. In conjunction with the recent disturbances in Tallinn, politician Dimitri Klenski, who utilised the opportunity to get visibility in the streets, used the same books to demonstrate to the foreign media that there is fascism in modern Estonia.
Helsingin Sanomat


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