It’s time for EU institutions to take measures to combat xenophobia and discrimination

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Anti-racism protest. Torino, April 2013. [Joel Schalit]

In many EU member states, racist attacks and hate speech against migrants or ethnic minorities with a migration background are a daily reality. National migration and asylum policies lead to further exclusion, marginalisation and discrimination against third country nationals.

Nicoletta Charalambidou is Vice-Chair of the European Network Against Racism.

In Greece, 143 incidents of racist violence against migrants or refugees were recorded in 2013 by the Racist Violence Recording Network. This situation calls for concrete policies and measures by EU institutions that will effectively address the situation on the ground.

This will not be an easy task. The European Parliament now includes a number of MEPs using and supporting an outright xenophobic narrative against third country nationals. The Commissioner-designate for Home Affairs, Dimitris Avramopoulos, has been pushed by the Greek government to get this portfolio to ensure that it can to impose its vision of migration on the rest of Europe. Yet Greece has been condemned repeatedly by the European Court of Justice and European Court of Human Rights for systemic failures in abiding with its obligations under EU and international law as regards asylum seekers, refugee protection and respect for human rights. 

In this context, the new European Parliament and the new Commissioners must acknowledge the following:

  • The EU is currently faced with a serious problem regarding the rise of racism, xenophobia and discrimination against third country nationals and racist discourses targeting this particular group.
  • Increasingly stringent external border controls, asylum and migration policies  – with the economic crisis also used as an excuse – can only fuel racist and xenophobic discourses against third country nationals and policies that socially exclude and further marginalise them.
  • The EU must reposition itself and take immediate measures to apply the principles upon which it was initially founded, i.e. democracy, the rule of law, respect of fundamental rights and equality, when dealing with migration and asylum.

Migrants make a significant contribution to the economic, social and cultural life of Europe, but this contribution to European society is more often than not absent in political and media discourses. On the other hand, a number of discriminatory and exclusionary practices prevent migrants from effectively participating in society, resulting in a waste of many talents.

EU institutions must therefore take ambitious measures to break down these barriers. If equality is one of the EU’s founding principles, different treatment of third country nationals and different access to rights, depending on nationality or legal status, be it refugees, asylum seekers, highly skilled or unqualified or seasonal workers, should no longer be acceptable. The principle of equal status for equal work should always apply. Ensuring that third country nationals participate in the political life of the EU and its member states would also enable their voice to be heard and taken into account when adopting measures that directly or indirectly affect them.

Finally, the shared competence of the EU with its member states on migration matters should no longer be used as an excuse by the EU and/or its member states not to adopt an international legal standard such as the International Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and the Members of their Families.

It is time for the newlyformed EU institutions to start a sincere and constructive dialogue amongst them but also, and most importantly, with civil society at the national and EU level. This will help them address current shortcomings in the EU’s migration, asylum but also social and employment policies, which negatively affect third country nationals and make them vulnerable to xenophobic and racist violence and discourses.