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Twenty-First Century Crusades?

Prediction 1: Continued tension and backlash against Muslims in Europe

Economic crisis fuelling racism in Europe, report warns
Valentina Pop

The economic downturn has led to a rise in discrimination, racism and xenophobia in Europe, particularly in EU countries such as Italy, Slovakia and Hungary, the latest Amnesty International report on human rights shows.

"The marginalisation was heightened in 2009 by fears of the economic downturn, and accompanied in many countries by a sharp rise in racism and hate speech in public discourse," the annual report reads.

It cites Italy for having passed new legislation as part of a security package establishing as a criminal offence "irregular migration", which would deter irregular migrants from accessing education and medical care for fear of being reported to the police.

This is especially the case given existing provisions in the criminal code obliging teachers or local authority employees to report all criminal acts to the police or judicial authorities.

The UK government is criticised for having put behind bars Iraqis who were rejected by Baghdad when flown back to the country, an expression of the "encroaching prison culture" when dealing with irregular migrants. In December, the Royal Colleges of Paediatrics and Child Health, General Practitioners and Psychiatrists issued a joint statement calling for an immediate end to the administrative detention of children under Immigration Act powers on the basis that it was "shameful", "damaging", and "permanently harmful to children's health".

In Germany, irregular migrants and their children have limited access to health care, education, and judicial remedies in cases of labour rights violations.

Segregation of Roma continues to be a serious problem in central and eastern Europe, but also in Italy, where "unlawful forced evictions" drive them further into poverty. Italy also passed new legislation enabling local authorities to authorise associations of unarmed civilians not belonging to state or local police forces to patrol the territory of a municipality, a measure which "may result in discrimination and vigilantism", especially against Roma.

Slovakia stands out particularly for Romani children segregation, with the Roma Education Fund reporting that almost 60 percent of them are put in special classes for mentally disabled, although they were not diagnosed as such. Local authorities are criticised for engaging in forced evictions and even erecting walls to separate Roma settlements from the rest of the community.

Bratislava is also suspected of turning a blind eye to sterlisation of Romani women, even though it has announced legislative measures requiring health workers to seek informed consent for such procedures and introduced the new criminal offence of "illegal sterilisation". However, according to the Centre for Civil and Human Rights,the Ministry for Health Care failed to issue any implementing guidelines on sterilisations and informed consent for health workers.

Eight Romani women lodged a complaint with the European Court of Human rights claiming their infertility is a result of a sterilisation procedure performed on them during delivery in an eastern Slovakian hospital. A similar case was finalised in Hungary, after eight years of national and international legal proceedings, with the Ministry of Social Affairs announcing it would provide financial compensation to a Romani woman sterilised without her consent in 2001.

Hungary's political and economic "upheaval", with an IMF lifeline translating into public sector wage and social programme cuts, has proved a fertile ground for the far-right party Jobbik, with its strong anti-Roma and anti-Semitic agenda.

The Hungarian police beefed up its special task force to 120 officers to investigate a series of attacks against Roma, which cost the lives of at least nine people, including women and children.

In July, the Budapest Court of Appeal issued a legally binding ruling banning the Magyar Garda, a paramilitary organisation linked to Jobbik. The court ruled that the Magyar Garda's activities overstepped its rights as an association and curtailed liberties of the Roma. But later in July, Jobbik announced the relaunch of Magyar Garda, and one of its newly elected members of the European Parliament wore a Magyar Garda uniform to the first parliamentary session in Brussels.

Authorities in a number of countries continued to foster a climate of intolerance against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities, making it harder for their rights to be protected. In August, the Lithuanian parliament adopted a controversial law that "institutionalised homophobia", by potentially prohibiting any discussion of homosexuality, impede the work of human rights defenders and further stigmatize LGBT people.

"Member states of the EU continued to block a new regional directive on non-discrimination, which would simply close a legal protection gap for those experiencing discrimination outside of employment on the grounds of disability, belief, religion, sexual orientation and age," the report notes.

Italy and Malta are also singled out for their anti-immigrant stance and the practice of pushing back boats coming from across the Mediterranean, sometimes without assessing the needs of the people on board.

"In May, the lives and safety of hundreds of migrants and asylum-seekers on three vessels in the Mediterranean were placed at risk first by a squabble between the Italian and Maltese authorities over their obligations to respond to maritime distress calls, and then by the Italian government's unprecedented decision to send those in the boats to Libya a country with no functioning asylum procedure without assessing their protection needs," the report reads.

Countries such as Greece and Malta "routinely" detained migrants and asylum-seekers, and in inappropriate conditions.

Amnesty International also criticises the "effective and transparent accountability" for human rights abuses in the context of the secret rendition and detention program of the CIA after 2001, in which scores of EU countries were involved.

A German parliamentary inquiry into German involvement in renditions concluded in July 2009, but exonerated all German state actors, despite compelling evidence to the contrary.

The methods, evidence and findings of an investigation into the existence of an alleged secret prison in Poland, finally begun in 2008, still remain secret.

Several European states ignored the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights against the return of suspects of terrorism to countries where they were at risk of torture.
 

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