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The ECRE Weekly Bulletin provides information about the latest European developments in the areas of asylum and refugee protection.ECRE is a pan-European alliance of 90 NGOs protecting and advancing the rights of refugees, asylum seekers and displaced persons.If you would like to know more about ECRE’s advocacy work, policy positions, press releases and projects, please visit our website at www.ecre.org, find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

     
30 October 2015
  
ECRE
EUROPEAN DEVELOPMENTS
NATIONAL DEVELOPMENTS
REPORTS & NGOs ACTIONS
INTERVIEW
  

ECRE

‘Crossing boundaries’: ECRE mission to Hungary finds worrying barriers to accessing asylum

An ECRE delegation, as part of the Asylum Information Database (AIDA) project, undertook a fact-finding visit to Hungary at the end of September in order to gain an in-depth understanding of the new border procedure applied at the Hungarian border and the conditions facing asylum seekers in the new transit zones. ECRE concluded that by shutting off access to protection through physical and legal barriers, the Hungarian asylum system contravenes international refugee law and EU asylum law.

Although ECRE acknowledges that Hungary has faced important challenges in 2015 as a result of the dramatic increase of the number of arrivals of asylum seekers at its borders and on its territory, the mission concluded that the authorities’ main response has criminalised persons seeking international protection and has shifted responsibility for refugee protection to other countries in the region. This has been the result of swiftly adopting a series of measures that have primarily undermined access to the territory.

The new Hungarian border procedure brought in on 15 September was found to be particularly problematic, as asylum applications are examined in an extremely fast procedure, in a state of detention and with little access to quality legal assistance, and in practice denies applicants the right to rebut the safety presumption in their individual circumstances.

Further, the report also found that, although the use of asylum detention had been used less in recent months, it is increasingly being used again. Key reasons for concern relate to the lack of adequate systems for identifying vulnerable applicants in asylum detention centres and the deficiencies in the judicial review of the lawfulness of detention, including the questionable practice of organising court hearings on the premises of asylum detention centres.

ECRE’s report makes several recommendations to the Hungarian authorities, including urging them to take the necessary steps to ensure full compliance with their obligations under international refugee law, to end the detention of asylum seekers on the basis of the “safe third country” concept, as well as recommending that European Union Member States do not transfer applicants for international protection to Hungary under the Dublin Regulation.

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ELENA publishes Information Note on Dublin Transfers post-Tarakhel

ECRE/ELENA have published an information note which provides background to the Tarakhel judgment of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), which ECRE intervened in. In this judgment, the Court prevented the transfer of an asylum-seeking family from Switzerland to Italy under the Dublin Regulation, as there were no guarantees that they would be treated in a manner that respected their human rights, given the poor reception conditions there and their vulnerability. The ruling was particularly important as it called into question the viability of the Dublin system and its compatibility with fundamental human rights, as well as making it clear that it could not be presumed that other European States are safe for asylum seekers. In its aftermath many legal challenges have been mounted against Dublin transfers across Europe.

The information note discusses the case law prior to the judgment and then gives an in-depth analysis of the judgment itself. It goes on to examine how it has been interpreted by the European Courts, before focusing on interpretation and policy developments in selected states, highlighting good and bad practices.

The analysis argues that the ruling is relevant to all parties to the European Convention of Human Rights and should be sufficiently taken into account when assessing their human rights obligations under Article 3 in relation to the removal of asylum seekers to another state. They should also ensure that the special needs of this particularly vulnerable group are guaranteed prior to the transfer. This requires an individualised assessment that takes into account the personal circumstances of the applicant and the general situation in the state of proposed transfer.

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AIDA Legal Briefing raises concerns over refugee status determination procedures and appeals carried out in detention

ECRE has published its fourth Asylum Information Database (AIDA) Legal Briefing on the legality of examining asylum claims in detention and its impact on human rights. While the refugee status determination procedure attracts certain guarantees for an asylum seeker, these guarantees depend to a great extent on the procedural environment in which the asylum process takes place in. Given the increased use of administrative detention in some Member States when assessing an asylum claim, the brief intends to analyse the effects of detention on asylum procedures and on the determination of a claim.

The brief argues that given the individual rights at stake within an asylum process, such as the right to be heard and the right to an effective remedy under the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, the complexity of the procedure, language barriers and the numerous amount of tasks which the asylum seeker must undertake as a consequence of a detention order, refugee status determination procedures and appeals carried out in detention often cannot guarantee basic procedural rights.  The brief concludes that detention can be unlawful from the perspective of procedural rights as the conditions that detention gives rise to are difficult to reconcile with the safeguards required by an asylum procedure.

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EUROPEAN DEVELOPMENTS

EU and Balkan leaders agree on 17 point plan to avoid a “humanitarian tragedy” along the Western Balkans route

An emergency meeting was called by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, which took place on 25 October, to agree on concrete, immediate measures to respond to the unprecedented increase in refugees and migrants along the Western Balkans route from Greece to Germany.

The measures included in the 17 Point Plan became operational the following day and focus on information exchange, discouraging  refugees and migrants from travelling onwards to another country, supporting them by providing shelter, increased cooperation to manage the movement of people, border management and stepping up action against smuggling and trafficking. The Leaders’ Statement emphasises that all countries should respect their responsibilities and obligations under international law and treat refugees and migrants in a humane manner. They underline the importance of solidarity and cooperation rather than unilateral action.

In the press conference following the meeting, Juncker stated that the immediate imperative was to provide shelter as “it cannot be that in the Europe of 2015, people are left to fend for themselves, sleeping in fields and wading chest-deep through rivers in freezing temperatures.” As such, leaders should commit to increasing their capacity to provide shelter, rest, food, health, water and sanitation to all in need and ensure sufficient temporary accommodation along the Western Balkan route. Greece announced that it would increase its reception capacity to 30,000 places by the end of the year, with UNHCR funding another 20,000 places. A further 50,000 places will be established along the route with the support of UNHCR.

They agreed to strengthen their ability to register arrivals at the point of first entry into the EU and exchange information on the size, movement flows and presence of vulnerable groups within their territory. Frontex will assist with registration, fingerprinting and monitoring and 400 police officers are to be deployed to Slovenia this week to assist with border control.

Human Rights Watch have welcomed certain aspects of the plan but have emphasised the importance for “governments to carry out this plan in ways that put saving lives and protecting people as the highest priority and protecting borders and sovereignty second”, given its potential to divert asylum seekers and block them from getting protection.

The Council of the EU called an extraordinary Justice and Home Affairs’ Council meeting on 9 November in Brussels, aimed at reinforcing the European response to the implementation of measures decided so far and to potentially decide new measures.

The European Parliament discussed the outcome of the meeting at its plenary session on 27 October, with Martin Schulz commenting that “promises are made and not delivered upon… what suffers are the refugees and the cohesion of the European Union”. On the same day, the Commission reported on the progress of the plan of action, informing that all leaders had nominated contact points to monitor its implementation, Croatia had activated the EU’s civil protection mechanism for material support to help cope with the numbers of refugees and asylum seekers and emergency funding had been granted to Greece to support it.

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EU cooperation with third countries fails to ensure protection to refugees and legal migration opportunities

In October 2015, a study commissioned by the European Parliament highlights persistent weaknesses and imbalances of EU cooperation with third countries on migration and asylum.

Most programmes, notably under the EU Global Approach to Migration and Mobility, focus on irregular migration, including measures on border control, return and readmission of migrants not eligible for international protection. Contrastingly, few activities aim at strengthening refugees’ protection in countries of origin and transit, at reinforcing the link between migration and development or addressing the absence of legal migration opportunities.

Existing programmes, such as the Regional Development Protection Programmes, offer limited resettlement opportunities, are too broad in their scope, or lack coordination and local ownership. Moreover, many activities aim at improving institutional capacities, from which refugees and migrants may not receive concrete benefits. Therefore, policy monitoring and evaluation should not only focus on outcomes, but also on the effective impact on the people concerned.

The study further maintains that EU external and internal funding, invested in migration and asylum projects, are fragmented and sometimes pursue different objectives. Thus, they often result in dispersion of funds or lack of coherence and, consequently, of visibility.

The implementation of EU cooperation programmes is further undermined by the lack of competent staff to plan, implement and monitor projects.  Member States prefer developing external actions through bilateral agreements, rather than undertaking collective engagements. At both the EU and national level, the study recommends policy makers to undertake legally binding agreements, instead of political commitments that frustrate monitoring of compliance regarding the rights and safeguards of refugees and migrants, including social rights, admission and integration.

Finally, the study concludes that given the insufficient measures concerning the external dimension of migration and asylum, the European Agenda on Migration represents a missed opportunity, considering the current refugee crisis.

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NATIONAL DEVELOPMENTS

‘Hotspot’ opens in Lesvos, but reports of conditions on the island remain worrying

A ‘hotspot’ registration centre for people newly arriving on the Greek island of Lesvos, jointly operated by Greek authorities and European Union agencies, was opened two weeks ago in Moria (16 October). The ‘hotspot’ system is part of the EU’s action to assist frontline states who are facing disproportionate migratory pressures, and aims to swiftly identify people in need of international protection for relocation to other EU Member States. The launch of this was hailed by European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos, as a signifier that ‘the mechanism established begins to gradually deliver results’.

However, a recent rise in the number of people arriving on Lesvos has reportedly left many without shelter or access to basic amenities. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), over 48,000 people crossed from Turkey to the Greek islands, despite worsening weather conditions between 17 and 21 October, with over 27,000 arriving in Lesvos in this five-day period. The IOM said that these large numbers had left many local authorities unprepared.   

NGOs on the ground were reporting that the increase in arrivals of people, coupled with bad weather, had created life threatening conditions, with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) calling attention to the inadequate reception conditions. MSF also reported on having to treat people for hypothermia who had been waiting for registration for three days.

An IRIN article corroborated these reports, and said the introduction of ‘hotspots’ appeared to add to ‘confusion and increase the suffering of refugees’, noting that many people have to wait for registration without water, toilets or shelter. This included women with young children, pregnant women, and people with disabilities - all of whom were often not identified as persons with particular needs, according to Human Rights Watch.

In light of the high number of people arriving, the European Commission awarded €5.9 million of emergency assistance to support Greece in implementing the hotspot concept, with the additional funding to cover the costs for the transportation by ferry of at least 60,000 persons in needs of international protection from the Eastern Aegean islands to mainland Greece.

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NGOs take French authorities to court and demand urgent emergency measures in Calais

On 26 October, several aid groups lodged a complaint with a court in Lille in an attempt to force France to take the necessary emergency measures in Calais. The humanitarian agencies, actively giving aid in the camps, blame French authorities for lacking the will and resolution to solve the inhumane conditions of the 6,000 refugees living in the area.

The 'recours en référé' is conducted by Médecins du Monde (Doctors of the World) and Secours Catholique (Caritas France), with La Cimade, la Ligue des droits de l’Homme, Amnesty International France, Acat-France, ELENA-France et le Mouvement contre le racisme et pour l'amitié entre les peuples (MRAP) supporting.

The joint appeal marks an unprecedented cooperation of these French NGOs who demands that the camp should be dismantled and its inhabitants accommodated in adequate housing. They base their request on the violation of these refugees fundamental rights, forced to live in a slum, often referred to as ‘the jungle of Calais’.

With winter around the corner, the French government has been criticised for not doing enough for those living in conditions which have been described by various NGOs as ‘worse than a refugee camp you would see in a war zone’.

“There are 6,000 people living in deplorable conditions. And everyone knows it. It’s a disaster. France is the sixth largest economic power in the world. We have the capacity to at least provide food and water for these people. This is not a question of a lack of capacity or know-how or means. It’s just a question of political will and them not wanting to take charge of the situation correctly,” said Jean-François Corty, Programme Director for Médecins du Monde.

"This situation is not worthy of a country like France. It is equally unworthy of a country like the United Kingdom and of a community like the European Union," Le Monde newspaper wrote, in last Sunday’s editorial.

Recently, France’s interior minister announced that heated tents would be sent to the camps and that security would be reinforced. Some refugees will be offered accommodation for a month in different parts of France and concerted efforts would be made to persuade those migrants in Calais to seek asylum in France, as 2,000 places will be made available.

French aid groups say these attempts are just examples of "constant improvisation" in the government's policy towards Calais, leaving no alternative but to take the French government to court.

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Western Balkan Brief 16-23 October: Summary

On the morning of 19 October the border between Serbia and Croatia at Berkasovo was closed. Refugees, prevented from entering Croatia, and having endured challenging weather conditions, were not offered any kind of assistance. Most refugees who reached the Croatian border, from Greece, had been travelling in dangerously overcrowded trains along the Western Balkan route, through Macedonia, Serbia and Bulgaria. International organisations and NGOs continued to provide humanitarian and medical assistance, as well as information and legal aid. According to  news reports, Croatia closed the border because the Opatovac temporary reception centre was overcrowded. This related to  the Slovenian decision to impose a daily limit of 2,500 people entering the country. On the evening of 19 October, the crossing point at Berkasovo was re-opened, allowing small groups of refugees - between 50 and 100 - to enter Croatia at irregular intervals. Priority was given to the most vulnerable.

Refugees were stuck at the border for hours without shelter, under freezing temperatures, in the mud and scattered garbage. Many spent the night in the open. UNHCR stated that living conditions are at their most basic, as people do not have access to sanitation or hygiene services. Supplies of food, raincoats and water remain insufficient. So far, humanitarian assistance was only provided by international organisations and NGOs, such as UNHCR, the Red Cross and MSF, which deployed two mobile clinics.

Concurrently, between 15 and 22 October, the Macedonian police, in cooperation with the Macedonia Young Lawyer Association (MYLA), together with UNHCR’s support, registered 24,489 people who expressed their intention to seek asylum; most of them being Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis. During the same period, around 5,800 refugees arrived on a daily basis in Macedonia.

As of 17 October, approximatively 4,000 refugees each day have been registered by Serbian authorities in Presevo. On 18 October, in just 24 hours, 10,000 refugees were registered in Presevo; many of them were children and pregnant women. Most refugees enter Serbia from Macedonia, but an increasing number are also crossing from Bulgaria. According to the NGO, Amity,  registration capacities need to be increased at the Negotin crossing point at the Serbian-Bulgarian border. In Negotin and Dimitrovgrad, additional medical teams are needed. Refugees approached by journalists on the ground reported injuries from violence perpetrated by the Bulgarian police.

Between 15 and 22 October, in Macedonia and Serbia, international organisations and NGOs continued to ensure humanitarian and medical assistance, as well as information and legal aid. UNICEF provides children with psychological support and other basic services. During this period, hygiene and living conditions have improved at the Vinojug Reception Center in Macedonia. In Serbia, in case Presevo capacities would be insufficient, a registration centre in Bujanovac was established to allow registration for 1,500 people every day and to provide refugees with food and medical care.

On 25 October, the Heads of State and the governments of Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia agreed on a final statement on the Western Balkans Migration Route which puts forward 17 operational measures to be implemented as of Monday 26 October.

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UN Human Rights Chief condemns inhuman treatment of refugees and migrants in detention centres in Czech Republic

On 22 October, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein strongly criticised Czech Republic for its treatment of refugees and migrants in detention centres. The systematic detention for up to 90 days, strip-searches to confiscate money and the extremely poor conditions of the detention centres were defined as systematic human rights violations.

Detention based on migration grounds seems to be a regular practice aimed at discouraging people to come to or transit through the country, the High Commissioner stated. Detention is used to return people to the country they arrived from. However, while some countries, such as Austria, accept the returnees, other countries – Hungary or Greece, for example - do not. In practice this means that the detention is prolonged for up to 90 days, at the end of which, people are released with an order to leave the country. NGOs condemn the practice as they believe the detention serves no actual purpose, and is therefore illegal. While the country ceased to detain Syrians transiting to the Czech Republic to reach Germany or other European countries, detention is still used for other nationalities.

High Commissioner Zeid reported credible allegations that people in detention are strip-searched to confiscate their money, which is then used to pay for their own detention: people are charged with a daily cost of 250 crowns (around 9 €) for their involuntary stay in detention centres. As a result, when they are released they are often destitute or heavily indebted with the country that detained them. People who have been able to challenge the detention in court have been released. However, most detained refugees are not in a position to swiftly challenge their detention because they do not receive information about free legal aid and NGOs’ access to detention centres is very limited.

The Czech Republic is one of the few countries that voted against the quota for the redistribution of asylum seekers under the EU relocation mechanism. Czech President Miloš Zeman, who was also criticised by the UN human rights body for his “Islamophobic” statements, rejected the accusations from the UN.

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REPORTS & NGOs ACTIONS

Italy must improve reception and protection for asylum seekers, particularly for children

A report commissioned by the Italian government on reception conditions for refugees and migrants in Italy was published on 15 October. In the report, asylum and migration experts raise concerns over the fact that 70% of asylum seekers and refugees in Italy are being hosted in temporary facilities and that asylum procedures remain too long. In addition, there is a lack of protection guarantees for asylum-seeking children. The report suggests that part of the solution is to expand the Protection System for Asylum Seekers and Refugees (SPRAR) across the regions, given the successful experience of local projects that have been implemented so far.

The report highlights that at present Italy lacks a reliable information system that ensures the adequate identification and referral of asylum seeking children, and argues that protection systems for unaccompanied children need to be improved, for example with the establishment of first reception facilities where children could receive identification and screening.

The report also provides an overview of recent developments concerning the application of the European Agenda on Migration in Italy, including the relocation scheme and “hot spots”. In the report, migration experts call for a necessary revision of the Dublin Regulation in light of its inefficiencies. Moreover, any measure concerning fast-track procedures or provisions regarding ‘safe countries of origin’ must ensure that each asylum seeker’s claim is considered on the basis of her/his individual situation and rights.

As of 10 October 2015, 100,000 asylum seekers and refugees live in reception facilities in Italy. In 2015 most asylum seekers came from Eritrea, Nigeria and Somalia. The number of unaccompanied children has increased by 73%.

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EU Fundamental Rights Agency: fingerprinting must not violate fundamental rights of asylum seekers

A focus paper from the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) puts forward a list of recommendations for authorities when taking fingerprints of asylum seekers to ensure that this process does not violate fundamental rights.

Under EU rules, all asylum seekers crossing borders must provide fingerprints for the EU’s fingerprinting database, Eurodac. This system is meant to allow for the swift identification and registration of asylum seekers to ensure the functioning of the Dublin system, which determines the Member State responsible for examining asylum applications.

ECRE has in the past expressed their concern over the proposed use of detention against asylum seekers who refuse to be fingerprinted on the grounds of establishing identity or nationality. In the same vein, FRA called for the deprivation of liberty to be used only as an exceptional measure when trying to obtain a person’s fingerprints.

Further, noting that there are limitations on how to enforce the obligation to take fingerprints so as not to violate fundamental rights, FRA compiled a checklist to assist authorities and offices assigned to taking fingerprints. It also has examined the impact of refusing to give fingerprints on the principle of not sending people back to life-threatening situations (non-refoulement), the right to liberty and the protection from disproportionate use of force.

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INTERVIEW

ECRE interview with Halleh Ghorashi, Professor of Integration and Diversity at VU University Amsterdam: refugees’ integration should start from the very beginning of a stay in a new country

It breaks my heart when I think that I had a chance to be successful and to rebuild a life, but I could be them, and they could me, if there was a different time and a different place.”

The so-called “refugee crisis” has turned the attention of States towards “managing the flows” of people seeking international protection in Europe. While the main discourse has focused on securitisation and on immediate reception and assistance capacities, integration has been neglected. Integration is an indispensable two-way process for the refugee and the State, and is key for the successful establishment of an individual in a new society.

The ECRE Weekly Bulletin interviewed Halleh Ghorashi during ECRE’s Annual General Conference in The Hague (14-16 October 2015), where she gave a keynote speech on the crucial importance of initiating the integration processes at the very beginning, from arrival, to ensure a sustainable and durable protection solution. Professor Ghorashi reflected on her own experience as an asylum seeker and  what has changed, since then, for better or for worse.

Halleh Ghorashi is Full Professor of Diversity and Integration in the Department of Sociology at the VU University Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Professor Ghorashi came to the Netherlands in 1988 as a refugee from Iran. She has published extensively on topics such as identity, diasporic positioning, cultural diversity and emancipation, with a particular focus on the narratives of identity, (forced) migration and belonging in the context of growing culturalism.

What are the specificities of the integration process of refugees, and how is it different from the integration of migrants?

The experiences of refugees and migrants are quite different, and that has a high impact on their integration processes. For example, refugees were forced to leave their countries and most of the time they do not know when they can go back.

Because people leave so much behind, and have such horrible pasts, the first years of a stay are crucial in their integration process. It is paramount to focus on having a good start: refugees have to be able to really make something of the present for the future. They need to be able to give the past the place that it deserves, so that they can prevent it from overshadowing their whole lives.

It is essential to have a connection with society, to be able to learn the language, to have meaningful contacts with the natives of the new country, and to work. Work is indeed essential to rebuild a new life. Moreover, in the first years after arrival, the energy is at its fullest, so it is very important to capitalise on this positive energy and to give people the chance to integrate from the very beginning.

In your own experience as an asylum seeker, and especially as a woman asylum seeker, were you faced with any specific challenges in your integration process?

Well, this is interesting. I come from Iran, which is an Islamic country and I am myself a born Muslim, though not a believer Muslim. In Iran, I have been fighting against the regime. I was an activist, fighting for human and women’s rights, for democracy and freedom. In this sense then, my being an activist put me in a different position, or at least that is what I thought.

But when I came to the Netherlands as a woman from an Islamic country, I was shocked to be faced with all the stereotypes about Muslim women present in the Dutch society: the image Dutch people had of me was that of an un-emancipated woman, of someone who is always following the husband, and being dominated by the men of her family. This image really shocked me and that is when I realized I had a lot to do to change this perception.

This has been my work in a way: as an academic, to engage with societal debates through my research, and to try to challenge this image that people face, that individual refugees face every day. This was my biggest challenge in the beginning.

What is the role of religion and of national identity in the integration process of refugees in a new country?

To start with national identity. For my PhD I have done a comparative research on the positioning of refugees in the Netherlands and the US, and there I could see that when the idea of national identity is a closed one – that for example, a Dutch (sic. person) is only someone who has lived in the country for three generations, with a certain skin colour and with a certain perfection in the language, then if you do not have those characteristics you will never truly become Dutch. When there is this closure in the identity, it doesn’t allow newcomers to be part of it and to share it.

In the US, on the other hand, I realised that although the “American identity” may seem a very patriotic concept, it is still quite inclusive of differences. If you think about the construction of the US identity, it has been all about migrants. In a sense the construction of American identity is that migrants “made” the country, so it is more inclusive to diversity as the result of migration, yet of course exclusive towards native Americans.

During this research, I realised that when the national identity is inclusive it makes possible for migrants and refugees from different countries –  even for the first generation refugees and migrants –  to be part of that identity, to claim it and to embrace it. In most European countries though, that is not the case: the national identity or the construction of the national identity is a closed one, it is actually a national identity which stands as opposed to refugees and migrants who enter the country.

Talking about religion, there is an even stricter closure in national identities, especially towards certain religions. Islam has now clearly become the most problematic feature of the migration discussions in most European countries. In this sense, when there is such a negative image of a specific religion, and of people who practice that religion, it is extremely difficult to think of them as “one of us”, so there is a lot of work to be done to create connectedness. 

There is clearly nowadays a lot of fear of Islam and of groups coming from Islamic countries, but at the same time there is a lot to be gained from people coming from those countries. We have to embrace these possibilities instead of focusing on fears and impossibilities.

Read the full interview on our website: ECRE interview with Halleh Ghorashi
 
 

EVENTS