When a hostel for asylum-seekers in the eastern German state of Saxony was raided at 3am by men wearing combat gear and carrying truncheons, the sleeping occupants feared an attack by neo-Nazis. As the men were forcibly pulled from their bunks, a Syrian national was struck on the back of the head and fell unconscious.
At Zaventem airport in Brussels, a woman entering the country said she was seeking asylum, only to be punched in the face as soon as she uttered the word. In Paris, a black refugee was knocked from his motorcycle in the 18th arrondissement and then beaten up by the driver. A young African in Lisbon was punched and kicked and forced to stand in front of a high-pressure hose.
What these and other violent incidents throughout Europe over the past two years all have in common is not that they were carried out by skinheads or right-wing extremists, but that they were the actions of members of the security services. The assaults were by policemen, border guards and immigration officials, the very people responsible for protecting the public from such attacks.
Sylvanna Foa, of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said yesterday that such attacks are taking place 'all over Europe, especially on those people who are requesting asylum' because their lives are in danger in their own countries. Some 500,000 asylum-seekers tried to enter Europe last year. 'It's a problem of recession, racism and changing attitudes with people getting fed up,' she said, commenting on a report by Amnesty International which accuses the police in Europe of widespread human rights abuses.
'These people are humiliated and treated like dirt (by the authorities), and once they are allowed in, they are fair game for the skinheads and other racists.'
Despite the growing body of evidence that racial attacks by the authorities are on the rise, there is no sign of any action being taken at Community level to address the problem. For the first time, the European Parliament will discuss human rights abuses within the Community next Tuesday. However, the report being debated speaks only of protecting the rights of European citizens, not those who bear the brunt of attacks. The Parliament, which is keen to see Europe's immigration laws tightened up, says it intends to mount what it calls a 'media campaign' against intolerance.
Unlike the United States, which takes racial attacks very seriously - especially those committed by the police or other security officials - the Community appears to take scant, if any notice, of such incidents. Where a 'bias incident' committed by a police officer in a US jurisdiction would call for a thorough public inquiry, in the Community such incidents are met with a wall of silence.
'In the United Kingdom, for example, victims of police ill- treatment have taken their cases to the civil courts, where in several recent cases tens of thousands of pounds have been paid out by the police - without ever admitting their liability,' Amnesty said yesterday.
In 1991 the Metropolitan Police paid pounds 40,000 to Leslie Burnett, the landscape gardener attacked on his way home, without the police accepting responsibility.
'Sadly, cases such as this are far from unusual. In country after country in Western Europe, police have been involved in ill-treatment and torture where the race of the victim appears to have been a factor and all too often those responsible have not been brought to justice.'Reuse content