‘Some EU governments’ consent helps rise of Islamophobia’



Thomas Hammarberg
Council of Europe (CoE) Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg has said that as some EU governments take a tolerant stance regarding the arguments of the extremist right in Europe, xenophobia and Islamophobia gain strength, resulting in more border controls and restrictions on immigration.

“Border control management and restrictive immigration policies are being sharpened step by step in Europe today, and one of those reasons is that Europe has been affected by xenophobia and Islamophobia,” he told Today’s Zaman, answering our questions after addressing a group of government representatives, international organizations, academics and nongovernmental organizations that gathered in ?stanbul on Feb. 17-18 for a seminar on the human rights dimensions of migration in Europe. Some political parties in governments don’t take the role of defending the agreed-upon human rights standards but begin to compromise with the extremists, Hammarberg pointed out.
“That’s unfortunate because it legitimizes the extreme-right position. They should instead stand out and argue why we have the human rights standards, why xenophobia is not right and Islamophobia is not acceptable,” he also said.
The extremists comprise about 10-15 percent of the populations in many countries of Europe, Hammarberg underscored, as more extremist political parties are achieving political success in local, national and European elections.
“They are a problem, of course but I am focusing on the other political parties which compromise with them instead of making it very clear that they don’t accept their propaganda. That’s where the real problem is today. Then extremists think that if even prime ministers repeat what they say, then they’re right. It is time to scrutinize the arguments of extremists because they are not right,” he said.
Hammarberg also said that their interviews with immigrants reveal that they experience problems in their daily lives. “They are subject to discrimination when they seek jobs and say that they are Turkish and Muslim,” he said.

He also pointed to the way the minaret issue was discussed and the referendum in Switzerland where voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional ban on minarets in a 2009 referendum that has been condemned by human rights defenders and Muslim groups in Switzerland and abroad, including Turkey. “There have been arguments that democracy and Islam cannot exist together. Turkey showed that they can,” he added saying that Turkey is seen more and more in that regard.

When it comes to EU candidate Turkey’s expectations for visa liberalization with EU countries, Hammarberg said there needs to be more direct contact between Turkey and Brussels regarding the issue.

“It doesn’t work in reality to draw a line between Turkey and the rest of Europe because people move between Turkey and the rest of Europe. There needs to be more direct contact between Turkey and Brussels. Of course, there are accession negotiations, but this is a more concrete and urgent issue,” he said.

Turkey says its nationals must be able to travel to EU countries without first obtaining a visa. The EU has insisted on a series of preconditions, including Turkey’s introduction of biometric passports in line with EU standards and the signing of a readmission deal, taking into consideration that Turkey has become a major transit point for illegal immigrants from Asia and the Middle East trying to reach EU countries.

CoE seminar on human rights of migrants begins

A group of international participants gathered in ?stanbul yesterday to address the human rights of immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees, as it is estimated that there are more than 5.5 million irregular migrants in the European Union and more in other parts of Europe.

“No country is immune to the problem. And Turkey is at the crossroads of immigration as far as location goes,” said Interior Ministry Deputy Undersecretary Zekeriya ?arbak, who represents the Turkish Chairmanship of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers, opening the seminar.

The seminar on Feb. 17-18 will provide a forum for exchanging views on the discrepancies between European migration laws and practices and human rights standards.

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg pointed out in his opening remarks that as people desperately try to reach Europe, some drown or suffocate in the back of smugglers’ trucks.

“There is a striking lack of empathy for these people,” he said. “European countries tend to see this population as a security threat. These foreigners are not criminals; they are guilty only of having aspired to a better life, a job or, in the saddest and most distressing cases, protection from persecution,” he added.

During yesterday’s session, participants discussed the general human rights challenges Europe faces and the treatment of unaccompanied migrant children. The final session of the seminar today focuses on migrant smuggling in Europe, affecting especially the Euro-Mediterranean member states, which often serve as transit points for further migration to other European countries.

Meanwhile, Turkey made a 50,000 euro contribution to the office of the commissioner at the opening of the seminar, which is attended by academics, representatives from Council of Europe member states and migration experts from intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations. Yonca Poyraz Do?an ?stanbul

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