NEWS - Archive February 2012

Headlines 24 February, 2012

HUNDREDS MARCH FOR TOLERANCE IN OULU (Finland)

Fresh off last weekend's attack on two immigrants in Oulu, hundreds of people marched for tolerance in the city on Friday. The procession culminated with Imam Abdul Mannan presenting a plea for peace to mayor Matti Pennanen.

Last Saturday's deadly pizzeria shooting in the city left one Moroccan man dead and another seriously injured. Demonstrators called on Oulu decision makers and police to promote tolerance in the community. They also want officials to step up efforts to make the city more secure for immigrants as well as the native Finnish population. A similar procession was held in Helsinki on Friday, moving from the Central Railway Station to the Parliament House. The latest racially-flavoured incident has been a pause for reflection for inhabitants, as it was preceded by two other violent acts towards foreigners. Earlier this winter a newspaper deliveryman sustained serious injuries when he fled a hostile situation by jumping from a balcony. A similar situation occurred a few weeks later when a young man died after falling from the sixth floor when trying to flee a bad situation. While police say neither event was the direct result of xenophobia, altercations with Finns preceded both incidents. Online debates on racism in Finland have raged since a local Finns Party councillor praised last week's pizzeria shooter. Finns party leader, Timo Soini, said the man was likely to be expelled over the comment.
YLE News

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EUROPEAN COURT CENSURES ITALY OVER AFRICAN MIGRANTS

23/2/2012- The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Italy violated the rights of Eritrean and Somali migrants by sending them back to Libya. The 13 Eritreans and 11 Somalis were among a group of about 200 people who left Libya on three boats in 2009. Two of the 24 have since died. The court ordered Italy to pay each migrant in the case 15,000 euros (£13,000; $20,000) in damages. Last year Italy suspended a 2008 deal with Libya on sending migrants back. The Grand Chamber judgment in the case of Hirsi Jamaa and Others v Italy found that the applicants had been exposed to the risk of ill-treatment in Libya and of repatriation to Somalia or Eritrea. That was a violation of Article Three of the European Convention on Human Rights - prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment. There was also a violation of Article Four of Protocol Four - prohibition of collective expulsions, according to the judges' unanimous ruling. The Grand Chamber judgment is final, meaning it is legally binding on Italy. The judgment was welcomed by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), which called it "a turning point regarding state responsibilities and the management of mixed migration flows". The UNHCR had presented its position to the Strasbourg court, saying states had an obligation not to forcibly return people to countries where they faced persecution or serious harm.  The court said that in 2009 Italy conducted nine operations at sea to intercept migrant boats, in line with the bilateral deal signed by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and the late Libyan leader, Col Muammar Gaddafi. On 26 February 2011 Italy announced that it was suspending the agreement because of the unrest in Libya. In their plea to the court the migrants said the Italian authorities who shipped them back to Libya did not tell them where they were going or check their identities. Once in Tripoli they were handed over to the Libyan authorities.

Effort to trace migrants
Thursday's ruling came after the Italian Council for Refugees had argued that the migrants' rights had been seriously breached, as they had been denied any chance to claim sanctuary in Italy. According to the court, 14 of the migrants had been granted refugee status in 2009 by the UNHCR in Tripoli. But the anti-Gaddafi uprising in 2011 disrupted contact between the applicants and their legal representatives. The lawyers are currently in contact with six of the applicants, four of whom live in Benin, Malta or Switzerland and some of whom are awaiting a response to their request for international protection. One applicant is in a refugee camp in Tunisia and is planning to return to Italy. In June 2011 refugee status was granted to one of the applicants in Italy after he had clandestinely returned there. The 2008 Italy-Libya deal amounted to an official apology from Italy to its former North African colony. Italy agreed to pay $5bn in reparations in return for greater Libyan co-operation on stopping illegal migration. Fewer migrants risked the perilous voyage as the interceptions at sea led to boatloads being sent back. However, during the Arab uprisings in the first half of last year there was a sharp increase in the number of African migrants arriving in Italy in overcrowded boats.
BBC News

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REPORT: WORRYING STATUS OF REFUGEES IN MONTENEGRO

The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, ECRI, has issued its first report on Montenegro, expressing concerns over the status of refugees in the country. 

22/2/2012- The legal status and housing of people who fled Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia during the wars of Yugoslav dissolution is assessed as problematic. Some of them face segregation and risk becoming stateless, it is highlighted in the report issued on Tuesday. Although they are commonly referred as refugees, around 17,000 people from Kosovo, Bosnia and Croatia in Montenegro were given the administrative status of either “displaced” or “internally displaced persons”. This hampers their access to social, political and economic rights, ECRI’s experts state. In order to resolve the complex status of refugees, Montenegrin government has given them right to apply for the status of foreigners with permanent residence. However, many of them do not have necessary documents like birth certificates and passports from their countries of origin. ECRI urged Montenegrin authorities to remove this obstacle. The risk of not becoming neither citizens nor foreigners primarily concerns Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians, who came from Kosovo during the NATO bombing in 1999, and were either never registered at birth or lack proof of registration. ECRI also expressed concerns over the housing of refugees from Kosovo. The camp in Podgorica’s outskirt Konik, where 1,500 of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians live, constitutes de facto segregation. “Living conditions there are inhuman and hazardous”, reads the report. The report advises closure of the Konik Camp and provision of standard accommodation to its inhabitants. ECRI is an advisory human rights body of the Council of Europe, composed of independent experts, which monitors problems of racism, discrimination on grounds of ethnic origin, religion and language, as well as xenophobia and anti-Semitism.
Balkan Insight

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ARKAN'S TIGERS ON TRIAL FOR CRIMES AGAINST ROMA (Serbia)

Belgrade’s Special Court held a preliminary hearing on Wednesday for the trial of Serbian former paramilitaries charged with war crimes against Roma in July 1992 

22/2/2012- According to the indictment, the leader of the group, Simo Bogdanovic, also known as Sima Chetnik, and seven other members of the paramilitary unit Arkan’s Tigers, have committed war crimes against 23 Roma civilians in the villages near the town of Zvornik, Bosnia and Herzegovina, in July 1992. The Serbian Prosecution Office for War Crimes filed charges against Simo Bogdanovic, Damir Bogdanovic, Zoran Stojanovic, Tomislav Gavric, Djordje Sevic and Zoran Alic in April 2010, while Zoran Djurdjevic and Dragana Djekic were accused in December 2011. Bogdanovic’s group allegedly killed at least 22 civilians and threw their bodies into a pit near the town of Zvornik, and raped and sexually maltreated three women, two of them underage. Women were raped daily and over a long period of time.

The accused are also charged with the destruction of important historical and cultural heritage sites. According to the indictment, they blew up a mosque in the village of Skocic by setting the explosives under its foundations. The Serbian Prosecution Office is running four separate cases related to the events in Zvornik, since the town was the site of some of the most brutal crimes during the Bosnian war. Zvornik, a city on the river Drina close to the border with Serbia, was occupied in May 1992 when the Arkan Tigers, a Serb paramilitary unit backed by the Yugoslav People’s Army, JNA, entered and expelled most of the non-Serb population and killed more than 1,000 people. The leader of the Arkan’s Tigers, Zeljko Raznatovic, known as Arkan, was killed in Belgrade in 2000. His unit was created under the control of the state security in Serbia, but it acted independently during the wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo.
Balkan Insight

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OSCE PERSONAL REP URGES STATES TO TAKE HATE CRIMES AGAINST MUSLIMS SERIOUSLY

22/2/2012- In view of the Oslo massacre last summer and the spate of neo-Nazi serial killings in Germany, the OSCE Chairperson’s Personal Representative on Combating Intolerance and Discrimination against Muslims Ambassador Adil Akhmetov expressed concerns over the feeling of insecurity among Muslim communities across the OSCE region. “Although the efforts of the Norwegian and German authorities to bring to justice those responsible for such heinous crimes are commendable, there remain serious concerns about the effectiveness of measures to combat manifestations of intolerance, in particular hate crimes, and discrimination against Muslims,” Akhmetov said.

Akhmetov warned about the risk of “falling into the error of categorizing such deplorable crimes as isolated acts of certain marginal personalities”, and urged OSCE participating States to look into the broader context and address the root causes of racism, xenophobia and intolerance. Emphasizing the importance of international and regional co-operation in combating intolerance and discrimination against Muslims, he encouraged participating States to make use of OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights’ tools and programmes concerning hate crimes and tolerance education. ”Participating States should also work with the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly to determine appropriate ways to review periodically the problem of intolerance against Muslims,” he added.

Ambassador Akhmetov recommended the following measures to combat hate crimes motivated by intolerance against Muslims: promotion of educational activities and raising awareness about racism, xenophobia and intolerance against Muslims; putting in place mechanisms to ensure effective transfer of information from intelligence services to the police to help prevent crimes against Muslims and others; as well as supporting programmes to monitor and report about hate crimes against Muslims and to provide assistance for the victims.
The OSCE

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22/2/2012-  Alexis Callus, a Nationalist party candidate for the Safi local council who had resigned in 2005 when his racist comments on a far-right website were made public, has denied having ever used the council's facilities for far-right activities. Callus, who is a nephew of Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi, has denied a report appearing in General Workers Union daily l-orizzont, which said Callus had used the council's facilities to make copies of a poster for a meeting by far-right firebrand Norman Lowell, and offered the local football ground to his "extremist right-wing friends". L-orizzont reported minutes of a council meeting held in February 2005, three days after Callus's resignation, in which Labour councillor Edwin Bonello stated that nobody from the council was informed of Norman Lowell's public meeting which he held on 22 January, 2005. Bonello alleged that it was clear Callus was aware of the activity when he had produced a poster for the event, and that he had also offered the Safi football ground for free to his "far-right friends for a five-a-side" which he also posted on a far-right internet forum.

Callus, formerly Safi's deputy mayor and now running again for the council, has denied the allegations. He also said that he had taken responsibility for the comments he posted on the internet, and resigned his councillor's post. Writing under the pseudonym Operazzjoni C3, Callus was a regular poster on Ave Melita, a far-right internet forum that attracted media attention as immigration became more of a critical issue in 2005. Callus, then aged 24, called for a "Partit Nazzjonalista Veru"; one of his deleted messages, which was then retrievable from the internet thanks to other fascists who reproduced it elsewhere, Callus said that Turkey might be useful within Europe, only to host unwanted Africans. "If Turkey would consume the migrants from Africa (due to their cultural similarities), I think Turkey can become the compost heap of Europe and free our country from the unwanted waste," Callus wrote.
Malta Today

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HUNGARIAN POLICE ON HUNT FOR ELUSIVE 'BUDDHIST GYPSIES'

22/2/2012- Local police in the east Hungarian settlement of Sajókaza are calling on local Roma (Gypsy) families to declare their religious affiliations in writing in connection with an ongoing investigation into last October’s national census. István János Lázi, head of the local Roma government council, told Index.hu that police are trying to obtain permission from the Roma to use their personal data as part of an investigation against Buddhists. During the census about 300 Roma individuals formerly declared that they are Buddhists, and the police are suspecting foul play because Roma are traditionally Catholics. One of the “suspects” is Lázi himself. The portal said many Roma named the Buddhist church as their religious denomination on the census form because of the Buddhists’ efforts to help the Roma. According to the portal, the investigation is pointless because resident were not required to provide their names, only their address, on the census forms, and therefore it will be nearly impossible to identify the individuals in question. Still, if you were wondering whether there is any group more persecuted than the Roma in Hungary, now you know that there is: Roma Buddhists.
Pestiside

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21/2/2012- The far-right Swiss People’s Party, the country’s largest, on Monday accused the government of inaction and abuses in dealing with a surge of asylum seekers. “The number of asylum applications is exploding, crime increases, the costs of asylum progressing from year to year,” the SVP said in a statement, lamenting that processing takes up to four years. “The Swiss asylum policy is now marked by abuses, absurdities and by inaction and confusion,” the party said. More than 22,000 people applied for asylum last year, the largest number since 2002 and a 45 percent increase from 2010, according to official figures. The main countries of origin were Eritrea, Tunisia and Nigeria. The SVP said it suspects that many asylum seekers are in fact economic migrants. A leading figure of the party Christoph Blocher said those who are rejected should be deported more quickly. Proposed revisions to the asylum law “will bring no improvement, quite the opposite,” Blocher was quoted as saying by the ATS news agency. The anti-immigrant SVP has drawn international criticism over several of its campaigns, including calls to ban minarets and expel foreign criminals. It has also been slammed over advertising depicting white sheep kicking a black sheep off the Swiss flag. Yet despite a drop in support in October legislative elections, the SVP remains Switzerland’s largest party, though it has only one cabinet member under a so-called “magic formula” power-sharing agreement. The SVP, which last week filed a request for a referendum that would impose a cap on immigration, wants Switzerland to reintroduce border controls.
AFP

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SVP IN HOT WATER OVER RACIST SLOGANS (Switzerland)

The local Widen branch of the far-right Swiss People's Party (SVP) has struggled to explain why it published racist slogans on its website that initially came form from a satirical anti-SVP website.

21/2/2012- The initial reaction to the racist slogans was one of outrage. But then, causing great embarrassment to the party, it turned out that the slogans and images had actually been taken from an anti-SVP satirical website, stupidedia.org, a play on the popular online encyclopedia, Wikipedia. Quite how or why these comments found their way onto the Widen website is a mystery. It is unclear whether the Widen party had appreciated the satirical nature of Stupidedia, which describes the SVP as a band of fools. “The SVP has a somewhat limited vocabulary”, the website says. “Words such as tolerance, human dignity, international agreements and helping those in need are unknown.”

“I was mortally upset,” Andreas Glarus, the SVP member for Aargau told online news website 20 Minutes on Monday. “The images were outrageously stupid.” Glarus believes that those responsible were not thinking about what they were putting online and that they were totally naïve. He wants local party training to be given in order to prevent such an embarrassment happening again, 20 Minutes reported. Items copied from the satirical website included terms such as “dirty Slavs” and “Turkish pigs”, which had originally been used to parody the racist nature of the party. The small print on the images derided the messages they purported to support. The images were quickly removed from the SVP Widen website.

“This just shows how the SVP really thinks - racist and xenophobic,” said Ivica Petrusic, Vice-President of the organisation, Secondos plus, which represents migrants’ rights in Switzerland. The President of the Federal Commission against Racism, Martine Brunschwig Graf, wants an explanation both from the local Widen branch as well as from the Swiss umbrella SVP organisation, 20 Minutes reported on Monday. “This is a perverse form of xenophobia, probably illegal and completely unacceptable,” she said. The SVP has sparked controversy on a number of occasions, and is infamous for its campaign posters, which are considered racist and xenophobic by many.
The Local - Switzerland

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FRENCH MUSLIMS CALL FOR PROTECTION AGAINST GROWING ISLAMOPHOBIA

Muslim groups say Islamiophobic crimes coincide with national campaigns led by politicians like Claude Guéant

24/2/2012- Muslim leaders in France have called for stronger legislation and more Government focus to tackle the surge in Islamophobic crimes in the country. Their pleas came a week after a series of mosque vandalisms and extremely controversial right wing outburst by France’s Interior Minister. The most recent attack on a French mosque occurred in the Glonnières district of Le Mans where the mosque walls were found covered with graffiti reading “Islam out of Europe”, “No Islam” and “France for the French” on January 31. Three days earlier on January 28 a mosque in Miramas was also daubed with Islamophobic slogans along with the name of Front National presidential candidate Marine Le Pen. It was the second time in four months that the mosque had experienced such an attack. On January 17 fascist graffiti was painted on the wall of a mosque that is under construction in Montigny-en-Ostrevent. The graffiti read, “President Adolf” or “Hei” in reference to the Nazi salute. “Heil Hitler”. A Celtic cross and a man doing the Nazi hello were also drawn. Two days later on January 19 two pigs’ heads were left at the site a mosque is being built in Nanterre. One pig head was left outside the other inside.

Most recently, a report released by the Paris-based Islamophobic Crime Monitoring Group indicates that the number of Islamophobic attacks in France increased by 34 percent in 2011 in comparison with the previous year. Abdallah Zerki, head of the Group, said he had written to French President Nicolas Sarközy - who once referred to Islamophobic crime as “insignificant” – and said Muslims are as equal citizens of France as Christians and Jewish people. “The actions and threats that have been the subject of formal complaints to the police and gendarmerie have increased from 116 in 2010 to 155 in 2011, an increase of 33.9%,” said Zekri. According to Zekri there were 38 major violent incidents and arson attacks aimed at French Muslims, mosques and Islamic centres, an increase from 22 in 2010. “I wish that President Sarközy, to whom I sent a letter in December, makes a statement and denounces these unspeakable acts. In short, he should seek to allay the concerns of Muslims who are citizens just as Christians or Jews, “said Zekri.

Head of the French Islamic Council, Haydar Demiryürek, said research conducted by his council also indicated a rise in Islamophobic crime. “Some people were jailed over arson of mosques, but still legislation in this area is inadequate. The Government should focus on this, condemn Islamophobia and adopt better legislation.” A spokesperson for the Muslim Youth Association told The Muslim News there is a feeling among French Muslims that Sarközy is “playing down” the growing Islamophobia to “extend his political career in the forthcoming Presidential elections.” “The President was at the forefront of the niqab (face covering) ban law, although few French Muslim women actually wear it. He is trying to capture the right-wing vote aware of the growth far-right parties across Europe – to acknowledge the growth of anti-Islam violence in France would result in him admitting that his policies alienated Muslims and made them targets [of hate crimes],” she said. That sentiment was recently echoed by socialist parliamentarians who accused the rightwing interior minister Claude Guéant of flirting with Nazi ideology.

Earlier this month Guéant said that “not all civilisations are of equal value”, and that some civilisations, namely France’s, are worth more than others. The Socialist Serge Letchimy, from Martinique, accused Guéant, Sarközy’s most senior adviser of being the President’s mouthpiece for rightwing views to court voters from Marine Le Pen’s far-right Front National. Letchimy said he refused to apologise. Jean-Marc Ayrault, head of the Socialist parliamentary group, said Guéant’s “repeated provocations” had damaged the political climate. Some in Sarközy’s own camp had distanced themselves from Guéant in recent days. “He makes a better minister than ethnologist,” said the former Prime Minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin. However Collective against Islamophobia in France aka Collectif Contre l’Islamophobie en France (CCIF) have dismissed left-wing political parties taking the moral high ground in tacking discrimination insisting: “Islamophobia infects all political parties.”

CCIF member Marwan Muhammad said: “Both left wing and right wing politicians resort to it in order to send electoral messages to those (mainly on the far right) who perceive Muslims’ visibility in France as a problem. Only the arguments used differ: conservatives claim that Islam is not compatible with the traditional Judaeo-Christian European identity and that Muslims need to assimilate into the pre-existing model. “Left wingers come to the same conclusion from a different angle. They concentrate on women’s rights and the threat of allegedly backward religious practice; even though conservative religious groupings like the Taliban do not exist in France.” Muhammad said surge in Islamophobic crimes “coincide with national campaigns spreading Islamophobic propaganda, whether it is the right wing’s ‘national debate on Islam’ or the left wing senatorial bill on banning the hijab even in the private sector.”
The Muslim News

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