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Growing anti-immigrant sentiment and Islamophobia were among key trends in 2015, says Council of Europe anti-racism body

May 26th 2016

The ongoing migration crisis and the terror attacks were the key factors that influenced public debate and policies in Europe in 2015, said the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) in its annual report published today.

With Europe is witnessing an unprecedentedly high number of migrants and asylum seekers fleeing war, persecution and poverty, the commitment of many European countries to human rights-oriented migration policies was brought to the test.

Some governments resorted to restrictive border crossing measures, deterring migrants and asylum seekers from staying on their territories and criminalising the provision of aid to irregular migrants thus needlessly blurring the legal boundaries between abetting human trafficking or migrants’ smuggling and providing humanitarian assistance, the report says. In other countries, however, a “welcome culture” developed, where authorities and local volunteers dedicated their time and resources to assist the arriving people. In the second half of 2015, scepticism about the local ability to cope with the increasing number of migrants and asylum-seekers was voiced, against the background of openly xenophobic and islamophobic public debate and a number of attacks against reception centres.

“Countries need to combat racist violence and implement integration policies for migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees”, said Christian Ahlund, Chairperson of ECRI. “The principle of fair distribution is a key element for the development of effective policies in this delicate area.”

The terror attacks in Paris in January and November, and in Copenhagen in February further added to the islamophobic sentiment and were misused by populist political parties to stir up prejudice and hatred against Muslims in general. Council of Europe Secretary General Jagland warned against this trend: “In some places we see the mainstream chasing after populists, and they are playing a dangerous game. We must be unapologetic in our efforts to fight hate speech, promote tolerance and inclusion to help our societies stand together through these difficult times.

 (Click to enlarge picture) Another trend noted by ECRI is antisemitism, which increased further in 2015, after levels had already peaked in many countries in the preceding year. ECRI also observed continued discrimination against Black persons, Roma and Travellers, and LGBT persons, even though the situation of these groups and the success of policies aimed at assisting them varies considerably across the continent.

Austerity measures exacerbated the situation of vulnerable groups in many countries in Europe; the budget cuts also affected institutions working to prevent and combat racism and intolerance, and undermined their effectiveness, ECRI notes.

Via the ECRI website