Around the world the spectre of reaction, of racism and xenophobia is rearing its ugly head as the economic crisis begins to bite - not that reaction, of racism and xenophobia ever went away, it just was simply more carefully hidden. Just as in the '30s, the scapegoating of minorities, especially the Roma and Muslims, has ceased to be a spectator sport and is rapidly becoming official government policy across the board - again, not that it ever hasn't been, it was merely more covert:
France has banned the burqa and is using fingerprinting to create biometric records of the Roma it forcibly removes from the country (giving them €300 and getting them to sign a piece of paper doesn't stop it from being a forced removal), as well as introducing a swingeing immigration Bill that will, amongst a long list of contentious measures, severely restrict the rights of refugees in detention and introduces measures specifically targeted against Roma.
Italy, which has ratcheted up the anti-immigration rhetoric and massively increased its anti-foreigner legislation in the past couple of years as well as unleashing a series of violent pogroms against Roma and African migrants, now wants to introduce its own ban; in Milan they are currently bulldozing Roma camps and Milan's vice mayor, Riccardo De Corato who is a member of Berlusconi's ruling party and is in charge of handling the camps, is quoted as saying "These are dark-skinned people, not Europeans like you and me ... Our final goal is to have zero Gypsy camps in Milan".
The Netherlands minority government, as a quid pro quo for gaining the support of dyed-Ayrian Gert Wilders (less than affectionately known as Wilders-the-beest) and his neo-fascist cronies, is also planning a ban; then again the Dutch have their own Roma 'problem' where 10,000-15,000 Roma, many of whom have been in the country for 30 years and have Dutch citizenship, face intractable social problems such as disproportionate unemployment, school truanting and mental health problems.
Switzerland was first in the long line of countries to enact anti-Muslim legislation with its ban on minarets and the veil, its patently racists citizenship system and the openly xenophobic Swiss People’s Party with its 64 seats and 29% of the vote in the most recent Federal Assembly elections. And now there are proposals to automatically expel all non-nationals who are convicted of a crime before they serve any jail sentence, a development that other EU countries are watching with interest.
In Sweden the Sweden Democrats, a party that repeatedly claims to be opposed to racism, is also riding the wave of covert (and not so covert*) xenophobia - a longing for bygone days of nostalgia-filled fantasy of a world without foreigners, a neverneverland preserved in aspic - and has won 20 parliamentary seats in the recent election on an Islamophobic platform; this against the backdrop of increasing numbers of Swedish deportations, especially to Iraq, something that has been condemned by the UNHCR.
Then there are the Danes, rapidly making their mark on the European scroll of shame with their recent copycat Roma expulsions and calls by the ruling right wing liberal party Venestre for migrants to be paid only half the national minimum wage rate.
Germany is also in the news, and not just for Bundesbank executive Thilo Sarrazin very public anti-semitic remarks. The Council of Europe and UNICEF both recently condemned Germany's expulsion of Kosovan Roma; mainstream German politicians claiming that there should be an end to all Arab and Turk migration or that immigrants should face an intelligence test; and to top it all, Angela Merkel has just claimed that German 'multiculturism' has 'failed', blaming immigrants for 'not fitting in' (as Pickled Politics puts it) - "At the start of the 60s we invited the guest-workers to Germany. We kidded ourselves for a while that they wouldn't stay, that one day they'd go home. That isn't what happened." - of course not, would you integrate when you were so obviously merely a tolerated 'guest arbieters' and were specifically excluded from citizenship?
In Austria far right parties like the FPO (Austrian Freedom Party) and the BZO (Alliance for Austria's Future), both not that different in policies from Hitler's NSDAP, are widely accepted as legitimate political parties by a population that can poll 53% in agreeing with the claim that asylum seekers "are more criminal than other society groups"; and there are widespread racist attacks on refugees and asylum seekers by neo-Nazis and skinhead groups and a police force condemned for its racism by Amnesty International.
And that is only a handful of European countries and we haven't even mentioned the call by the UN for all European countries to stop enforcing Dublin II returns to Greece because of the appalling conditions in the Greek detention centres, prisons and police cells. “All these detention facilities, with the only exception of the one in Chios (island), were totally overcrowded ... filthy, with very, very bad ventilation and lighting, and general conditions were just appalling,” according to Manfred Nowak, the UN special rapporteur for torture and other cruel treatment. The Special Rapporteur's preliminary report repeatedly complains of lack of access by detainees to toilets and showers, lack of access to outside yards for up to two years, lack of blankets and warm clothes amid plunging temperatures and inadequate medical care, detainees having to sleep on the floor for weeks on end, that many people had respiratory, skin as well as psychological problems. "Such conditions of detention clearly amount to inhuman and degrading treatment, in violation of Articles 7 and 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights."
Or the UNHCR concern over Iraqi deportations following the widespread decisions, including that in the UK by the Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber), by EU states that Iraq is now safe enough for them to begin mass deportations of Iraqi refugees. This despite the fact that the autonomous Kurdish region has itself suspended permission for flights carrying detainees from landing in Irbil.**
Or the fact that the EU has taken advantage of Gaddafi's attempts to exploit the prevailing attitude within Europe by asking for €5bn a year to prevent hundreds of thousands of “ignorant” Africans from “turning Europe black”. This provided an ideal opportunity for the EU commission to outsource even more of its border protection and abuse of refugees to Libya, a country that does not even accept the concept of 'asylum seeker' and who has one of the worst human rights records when it comes to their treatment. The deal, worth up to 60m euros (£52m, $83m) in aid over three years, is tied to some vaguely worded agreement on Libya's part to 'protect migrants' rights' but doesn't go as far as stipulating that Libya sign the UN Convention on Refugees.
Then there is the rise of the Tea Party and the canonisation of that (someone who is being sued by the Federal government for wingnut Sheriff Joe Arpaiocivil rights abuses, Maricopa Office of Management and Budget have found that his Sheriff Department has misappropriated $50m in funds, his treatment of prisons has resulted in lawsuits that have cost the County more than $43m in settlement claims during his tenure) for his plans to set up anti-immigrant vigilante patrols.
Against this backdrop, things in the UK are not that different following the advent of a Tory government, with extra-added LibDem legitimacy, and its harebrained scheme to return levels of immigration to the 1990s (although most would obviously prefer 1890s levels), is also thinking of introducing a policy of forcibly returning asylum seeking children to their countries of origin in flagrant convention of a whole tranche of international treaties as well as cutting back further on the already meagre financial support refugees receive prior to their cases being processed.
We've also had the reform of the Legal Aid budget that, led directly to the closing of Refugee and Migrant Justice, Birmingham City Council's massive publicity exercise stating that it was going to end its contract with the UK Border Agency to house asylum seekers in order to prioritise 'locals'. Yet Birmingham has a housing stock of 65,000 homes and it houses only 190 refugee families i.e. they occupy only 0.3% of the homes. Eye catching but hardly significant. Wolverhampton has followed suit and is also going to evict the families of asylum seekers it provides housing to, all 124 of them, thus making a less than 1% dent in their waiting list of 13,405. And then there's been Chris Keates, the general secretary of the teaching union NASUWT, and Jonathan Ellis, director of policy and development at the Refugee Council, warning of the possibility of the government's immigration and education policies creating "apartheid in our schools" through the segregation of communities and increased racial tension. And the baying of the tabloids to follow France's Roma lead. Not forgetting the widely criticised [see also] decision to begin deporting Zimbabwean refugees just when the coalition government is reaching another crisis point in advance of next year's elections, the increasing repression of the MDC by the police and violence by ZANU-PF cadres.
* Per T K Wahlberg, who stood in the recent election and came 26th on the Sweden Democrats party list, recently caused a furore by claiming that Africans have a 'rape' gene'.
** Not to mention the UNHCR's Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Erika Feller, warning that the increasing criminalisation of the asylum process "has serious protection consequences for refugees and breeds its own secondary problems for states, including racism and xenophobia" and the Global Migration Group's claim that “[a]lthough States have legitimate interests in securing their borders and exercising immigration controls, such concerns cannot, and indeed, as a matter of international law do not, trump the obligations of the State to respect the internationally guaranteed rights of all persons, to protect those rights against abuses, and to fulfil the rights necessary for them to enjoy a life of dignity and security.”