‘Change comes from fighting the others battle’

On 14 June I participated in the launch of the EU High Level Group on Combating Racism, Xenophobia and other forms of Intolerance. As civil society we welcomed that we were invited to participate on equal footing with EU member states, and we hope that this practice will be replicated by other EU high level groups. Commissioner Jourova opened with asking the participants whether the situation of racism and xenophobia in the EU has improved since the Fundamental Rights Colloquium in October last year; all answered it hasn’t. Less than a handful raised their hand when Ms Jourova asked how many are Muslims; she concluded that it’s not acceptable that we do not properly involve the communities in policymaking.

‘My children and grandchildren were registered by the Swedish police for being Roma’ told Soraya Post, member of the European Parliament. When the Swedish government recently encouraged citizens to give money to organisations instead of to those begging, the violence increased against Roma people. No member states, not even Sweden, has properly implemented the EU law against hate crime. We cannot afford working on only one ground of discrimination after the other, especially not in times when populism is increasing, said Ms Post.

‘We need to think big and complex’, encouraged Michael O’Flaherty, Director of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA). He called on member states to improve the conditions for victims to report, and to ensure that the reporting is respectful and technically correct. We can build on the compendium of good practices that has been gathered by the member states working group on hate crime, chaired by FRA. Under-reporting and under-recording was repeatedly addressed by different speakers. Denis Roth-Fichet from Council of Europe highlighted the gap between low official figures and figures provided by civil society. Sarah Isal, chair of the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) added that the challenge is also the actual investigation and that law enforcement keeps on denying the bias motive of a crime.

Marianne Vorthoren from the Platform for Islamic Organisations in the Netherlands shared the cases of a Muslim women that was told by the employment agent his clients did not want ‘foreigners, Muslims nor headscarves’, a Muslim women that was hit by a car overheard the driver who was on the phone saying ‘oh no bother, it was just a women with a headscarf’, and a Muslim child in the playground being told by a peer ‘we are not playing with the Muslims’. While reporting is crucial, most Muslims simply want the discrimination to stop. Violeta Naydenova from Open Society European Policy Institute showed a very disturbing movie clip, filmed by a perpetrator that was beating up a 17-year old Romani boy because he said ‘we are equal’, despite their different ethnicities. The video in itself and the fact that the crime was not recognised as hate crime illustrated that we have very far to go.

I highlighted that our members work on many other and intersecting forms of intolerance, such as violence against children, elder, people with disabilities, and people in poverty. We are happy to facilitate our members expertise on these issues in order to raise awareness about how to combat and prevent all forms of bias violence. I also highlighted our call for a broader scope of the EU hate crime law and more exchange of good practices in the field, especially on those grounds not yet protected by the EU (read more in our position paper).

Several speakers also mentioned the link between racism, xenophobia and migration. Greece addressed the contradictions among member states, EU policies and EU bodies, and how populist arguments are taken up by the EU agenda, which only makes the populists stronger. Malta also highlighted that Islamophobia is linked to the debate on anti-immigration and we therefore need to link to the work to the EU Integration Action Plan. Vincent Cochetel from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees stated that while political leaders are crossing the line by using a toxic language on migration, they face no consequences; we need to address that Islamophobia is one of the reasons behind why there is not the same solidarity today as we have seen historically in Europe, said Mr Cochetel.

‘Real change comes from fighting the other’s battles, not our own causes’ said Chantai Suissa-Runne from the grassroot organisations YOUnite and Nieuwwij in the Netherlands, working with bringing the Jewish and Muslim community together. Katrin Hugendubel from ILGA-Europe also called for standing behind each other’s cause, and remarked on the reference that many speakers made to the terrorist attack on a gayclub in Orlando, USA. While many messages last days have been about condemning the terrorism, few has been about standing united against homophobia. Instead of saying ‘I am Orlando’, Katrin encouraged one to say ‘I am lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or intersex’.