By Michaël Privot
21 March is International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Yet discrimination continues to affect the lives of many ethnic and religious minorities throughout Europe in access to education, employment, housing, goods and services as well as in how they are treated by the police and criminal justice system.
This is evident in the European Network Against Racism’s latest Shadow Report on racism in Europe, launched on the occasion of this International Day and based on data collected by anti-racist civil society across Europe.
A common trend exposed in ENAR’s 2011/2012 Shadow Report is the de-prioritisation of equality and integration issues across Europe and even a regression in some countries, largely as a result of the economic crisis – although this contradicts economic common sense that stresses that strong investment in equality policies mitigates the impact of the crisis by sustaining consumption and increases the resilience of the labour force.
Another worrying conclusion is that the public perception of immigrants, asylum seekers, Roma and other minorities remains very negative in almost all countries. This has also been exacerbated by the economic crisis, as evidenced in reports by Greece, Spain and Portugal, where it has become common to accuse immigrants of contradictory evils such as stealing job opportunities, working for less pay, or living on social services and perpetrating violent crimes.
This year’s report also includes the first pan-European qualitative survey on Muslim communities in Europe, which shows that Islamophobia, or discrimination against Muslims, is widespread in many European countries and that prejudice towards Muslims is often more visible than that affecting other religious or ethnic minority groups. Manifestations of Islamophobia include discrimination and violence towards Muslims, criminal damage to Islamic buildings or identified as such, and protests against the building of mosques even in countries, such as Poland, where some Muslim communities have been established and integrated for centuries and where mosques and churches are barely distinguishable. Muslim women and girls are particularly affected, facing an extreme form of double discrimination on the basis of both their religion and their gender. In France for instance, 85% of all Islamophobic acts target women.
In addition, anti-Muslim and anti-immigration discourses, promoted and exacerbated by both extremist and mainstream political parties, are fuelling discrimination and preventing ethnic and religious communities from being able to participate fully in the European society and economy. This scapegoating and deviation from the ‘real issues’ is used by many politicians to deflect increasing criticism against ideological austerity measures that have a disproportionate impact on the majority of the population.
Despite some positive measures taken in some countries to tackle discrimination, the situation remains dire and needs to be addressed urgently. A strong anti-discrimination legal framework alone is far from enough to combat discrimination. It needs to be accompanied by close monitoring and strong enforcement measures, as well as a decisive political commitment to invest in action to curb racism and to ensure equality and protection of human rights for all in Europe.
Today more than ever, it is vital that we make happen this Europe that respects and promotes equality, diversity and fundamental rights, and which recognises the benefits of a racism-free Europe for a vibrant European society and economy. Politicians must show leadership and convey the message that equal access to jobs, accommodation and schooling are not just a moral option but a crucial duty to build a dynamic and cohesive society. They should also promote the benefits of migration and diversity for European social, political, cultural and economic prosperity and prevent the formation of reservoirs of “wasted talents” of migrants and ethnic and religious minorities in Europe. Despite decades of increasing vilification, the latter are determined to be key players of the new move towards inclusion and equality that millions of citizens and residents are calling for today in Europe. Europe is at its best when it embraces, nurtures and values the talents of all its people.
Michaël Privot is Director of the European Network Against Racism (ENAR), a network of local and national anti-racist NGOs throughout Europe which stands up against racism and discrimination and advocates for equality and solidarity for all in Europe.