Friday, October 1, 2010

EU announces legal action vs. France on Roma deportation

As France repeatedly defied the bloc’s warnings and calls to end its controversial immigration policy, the European Union on Wednesday announced to take legal actions against the European nation for failing to protect the rights of EU nationals.

The EU’s decision came after a fierce clash between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the executive body of the bloc during last month’s meeting of EU leaders. Director of Belgium’s Open Society Institute Heather Grabbe said that they were on more solid ground doing it this way.

"However, it doesn’t send a signal about discrimination. I applaud it if it is effective, but they need to follow through on rooting out discrimination," Grabbe said referring to European Commissioner for Justice Viviane Reding’s allegations that France was treating immigrants in a discriminated manner.

The decision will further strain relations between the EC and the Sarkozy administration. Under the EU laws, which France signed in 2004, all member nations must protect ethnic groups.

However, the commission has singled out France by claiming that Paris failed to incorporate minimum EU standards in protecting those groups into national legislation.

It has also threatened to take legal actions against other EU countries like Italy and Spain, which have introduced controversial measures to stop immigrants’ inflow in their countries.

As a first step, the commission has sent a letter asking a series of questions from Paris instead of simply charging it for a discriminatory application of European law. If France fails to give satisfactory answers to the commission, Brussels will take them to the European Court of Justice, which could compel France to bring their laws in accordance with the EU rules. It could also impose fines on French government.


Expulsion from Australia looming for Afghans

Hundreds of Afghans seeking asylum in Australia face an increased chance of being sent home after the Gillard government lifted its controversial freeze on processing their applications.

Announcing the end of the freeze, new Immigration Minister Chris Bowen yesterday flagged an increase in deportations. "The percentage of successful refugee claims is likely to be lower than in the past," he said.

But he refused to release advice the government had received about the situation facing Hazaras, who comprise the majority of Afghans seeking asylum, when they return home.

Refugee advocates questioned whether it had become safer to send people back, saying 2010 had been the most violent year in Afghanistan since 2001.

They also blasted the government for introducing the freeze in the first place, saying it had led to bottlenecks and overcrowding in detention facilities. More than 2000 Afghan asylum seekers are now awaiting decisions, including about 1200 who arrived after the freeze started.

The opposition said yesterday's decision confirmed that the freeze on applications by Afghans had been an "election fix" from the start. "The government's grounds for introducing the freeze in April were bogus then and remain bogus today," immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said. "The decision to lift the freeze is an admission by the government that this was a failed policy that should never have been introduced."

It was former immigration minister Chris Evans who ordered the suspension of processing of new refugee claims from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka on April 9. "What the pause says is that we think conditions are improving," he said at the time.

But a report released by the United Nations in June said violence by insurgents had increased and suicide bombings had tripled from the year before. And in Ghazni, where Mr Bowen said many of the asylum seekers were from, deputy governor Mohammad Kazim Allahyar and his son died in a suicide attack this week.

The move to send more Afghan asylum seekers home also comes after the opposition called on the government to bolster Australia's military commitment in Afghanistan in a bid to provide more protection for troops already on the ground.

Since the freeze on new applications was announced, approval rates for Afghans who arrived in Australia beforehand have fallen from about 90 per cent to 30 per cent. Mr Bowen flagged more rejections to come, and said he was working with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the Afghan government to facilitate people's safe return.

Amnesty refugee co-ordinator Graham Thom said the government deserved no congratulations for overturning a ridiculous policy. "The only outcomes of this farcical approach have been negative, including major bottlenecks in the processing system and significant overcrowding in Australia's immigration detention facilities," he said.

Families with children were now likely to spend close to a year in remote detention facilities as a result, he said. "This is manifestly unacceptable."

The Human Rights Commission welcomed the end of the freeze, saying it had created differential treatment of asylum seekers based on race.

Refugee Council of Australia chief executive Paul Power said the freeze had been untenable from the outset. "The fact the government was continuing to process applications from before April 9 on the information they had available undermined any claim that they had insufficient information to process those after," he said.

Said Edmund Rice Centre director Phil Glendenning: "Our concern is that 2010 has been the most violent year in Afghanistan since 2001, and most victims of the increased violence have been civilians, especially women and children. "Our research in Afghanistan has found that a number of returnees from Australia and their children were killed upon return and many today live with the well-founded fear of persecution they sought to escape. We can never do this again."

The Greens said the freeze on applications had magnified anxiety, frustration and trauma in detention facilities.


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