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The EU must reaffirm tolerance while discussing further anti-terror strategies, says human rights organisation

29 January 2015

As EU justice and home affairs ministers meet to discuss counter-terrorism measures in Riga today following the Paris attacks in early January, Minority Rights Group International (MRG) urges governments to refrain from adopting any measures that could stigmatize Muslim communities and to stand up firmly for the protection of all persons living in the EU, regardless of their religion and culture.

The informal meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Council takes place on 29-30 January in Riga, Latvia and will lay down the main parameters for a counter-terrorism roadmap to be decided on 12 February. MRG urges EU Member States to discuss policy changes to combat Islamophobia in the EU and implement them as part of the anti-terrorism roadmap.

“While we understand that EU governments must take concerted action following the recent tragic events in Paris, the fact is that some far-right and ultra-conservative parties are deliberately using those incidents to gain wider support for their messages of hate,” says Neil Clarke, MRG’s Head of Europe office. “EU officials in Riga must make it clear that they won’t allow further division and will combat this worrying phenomenon with as much dedication as they pursue fight against terrorism.”

While there has been an increase in Islamophobia in recent years in the EU, verbal and physical assaults against the Muslim community have intensified in the aftermath of the killings at the offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine, followed by an attack on a Jewish kosher supermarket in Paris.

Most physical attacks on Muslims and their property occured in France, with the majority taking place within a week of the tragic incidents. France’s National Observatory Against Islamophobia recorded 60 incidents between 7 and 14 January, including twenty-six mosques around France being subject to attack by firebombs, gunfire, pig heads, and grenades. Muslim-owned businesses were targeted with bomb attacks, not to mention racist graffiti and other forms of verbal intimidation.

In Germany, 25,000 people participated in a rally on 12 January in Dresden, organized by the far-right PEGIDA, whose head resigned after posing as Adolf Hitler and using derogatory language about refugees.

MRG welcomes steps by leading EU politicians who embrace the fight against racism and Islamophobia. The unity march in Paris on 11 January right after the massacre and the participation by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a Muslim community rally on 13 January were highly visible acts, signalling the importance of tolerance in Europe.

“Ministers in Riga need to build up a momentum for unity and solidarity between all communities in Europe and close the doors on further actions or policies of anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment”, says Neil Clarke, MRG’s Head of Europe office.

Far right and ultra-conservative politicians are using the attacks to justify their anti-immigration policies. The far-right National Front in France, the right-wing UK Independence Party, the far-right Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, the Swiss People’s Party and the ultra-conservative Fidesz in Hungary have all argued in favour of cracking down on immigrants.

There are 14 million Muslims living in the European Union, comprising 3.8 per cent of the total population of the EU. Although there is no Europe-wide data collected on Islamophobia, national statistics show a worrying sign: in 2013, 500 Islamophobic hate crimes were recorded in the UK and 691 Islamophobic acts in France.

Notes to editors

Interview opportunities:

  • Neil Clarke, MRG’s Head of Europe office, Minority Rights Group International
  • Minority Rights Group International is the leading international human rights organization working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples. We work with more than 150 partners in over 50 countries.

To arrange interviews, please contact MRG’s Press Office.