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10 years of combating racism

Palais de l’Europe, Room 1
Strasbourg, Thursday 18 March 2004

Immigration and the fight against racism

Immigration is the subject of ongoing debate in all Council of Europe member states. And immigration and the fight against racism are inseparable issues, particularly with regard to policies on immigrants with or without legal status, asylum seekers, refugees and the victims of trafficking in human beings.

ECRI is concerned about the racist and xenophobic tone that the debate concerning immigration takes on in some cases. This is compounded by the prejudices and stereotypes regarding non-citizens that are sometimes to be heard in political discourse and the media. In some countries, the views propagated by extreme right-wing political parties have a negative impact on public opinion towards immigrants. Other political parties are influenced by this, as can be seen during election campaigns and also when they come to adopt their immigration policies if elected.

Increasingly restrictive immigration and asylum policies and practices are therefore tied up with the feelings of xenophobia and hostility found in the population at large and in public debate. This is both because such policies and practices are influenced by these trends and also because the introduction of stricter measures heightens the negative perceptions among the public, who tend as a result to see immigrants and asylum seekers as a danger and a threat to society. In ECRI’s view, however, public debate should instead focus on the undeniable contributions that immigration makes to European society, especially in economic and cultural terms. In this respect, it would be good for such an approach to be reflected in education at all levels, for instance in history teaching.

As far as immigration is concerned, it has to be acknowledged that immigrants without legal status, asylum seekers, refugees and the victims of trafficking in human beings are particularly liable to be affected by racism, xenophobia and intolerance.

Immigrants without legal status are in an insecure position and are vulnerable to various human rights violations. In some cases, it may be necessary to introduce legalisation procedures to prevent abuses involving illegal employment and exploitation.

ECRI believes that it is important not to render the right to claim asylum meaningless by making the procedure inaccessible and imposing conditions for granting asylum that are more restrictive than provided for in the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol. The detention of asylum seekers must be limited as far as possible and asylum application procedures must comply with human rights requirements in all respects, which means, in particular, that they must not take too long.

ECRI recognises the need to combat trafficking in human beings. Women and children are particularly liable to fall victim to such trafficking, especially in connection with prostitution and/or forced labour. Measures to combat trafficking in human beings must never penalise the victims but must enable those responsible for exploiting them to be prosecuted, while the victims themselves must receive all the necessary protection from states.

Lastly, immigration is not possible without integration. ECRI consistently advocates the adoption of immigration policies that do not generate any discrimination on grounds of ethnic origin or nationality between non-citizens, while also calling for measures to help build integrated societies in which immigrants can take part. If it is to be effective, an integration strategy must include education, especially learning the language of the country concerned, employment and culture and also, after a certain period, participation in public life and access to the country’s citizenship.