Reflecting on tolerance and equal rights

15th March 2007, Comments 0 comments

Research Europe-wide shows that discrimination and racism is a growing problem. We take a look at the full picture.


After the annual Europe-wide Action Week Against Racism (AWAR) last month, organisers called for all Europeans to reflect on issues such as tolerance and equal rights. The campaign, run by United For Intercultural Action (UFIA), aims to spotlight the issue of racism and discrimination from a non-governmental perspective.

"Discrimination and racism are dangerously growing today in different forms all over Europe," says 'Paola' of UFIA.

This is demonstrated by EUMC figures showing that immigrants, especially Muslims, are over-represented in low-paying sectors of the economy. Immigrants also tend to be disproportionately represented in areas with poorer housing conditions, and often fail to meet educational standards. Their unemployment rates are higher than average.

"Roma are a particular target for racist violence and crime...Members of the Jewish community continue to experience anti-Semitic incidents. Rising 'Islamophobia' is an issue of particular concern. In effect, in spite of some heartening examples of good practice, I stand here today unable to say that there has been a substantial improvement with regard to racism and xenophobia in the EU Member States," said Anastasia Crickley, Chairperson of the EUMC Management Board.


Housing has become an area of particular concern for antidiscrimination advocates as more and more advertisements are explicitly rejecting foreigners. Expressions such as "no foreigners" or "no immigrants accepted" have been found in newspapers in Spain, Italy and France. Although this is punishable by law, it does not appear to have acted as a deterrent.

In Germany, some housing companies attempt to find the right “mixture” between Germans and immigrants. They have introduced a threshold of no more than 20 percent of foreigners by each apartment complex.

"Trying to find the 'right mixture' implies, apparently, to be particularly cautious with people from Islamic countries as well as with non-ethnic Germans," said an EU report on racism and xenophobia in 2006.


In 2005, The Centre of Equal Opportunity and Opposition to Racism in Belgium recorded 1,022 reports of racism compared with 994 in 2004. It said 15 percent of reports involved racism at the workplace; the highest figure in 15 years.

According to the study 'Employment and Labour Market' by the Federal General Management, in June 2004, 23.2 percent of all 'active'(15-64 years) foreigners were unemployed compared to 10.3 percent of the active native Belgian population. The average unemployment rate of EU nationals in the Belgian labour market is 16 percent, whereas Turkish and Moroccan nationals have the highest unemployment rates with 45 percent.

In France, two studies derived from the 1999 census have shown that immigrants are confronted with a much higher unemployment rate than those born in France, and is notably higher for those of North and West African origins. Research has shown that even when education levels are equal, immigrants of non-EU backgrounds experience higher unemployment rates.

The Netherlands is further proof that foreign workers are disadvantaged in the labour market due to stereotyping and discrimination. Many employers said that they did not employ foreigners "to avoid risks". Employment agencies and banks reported that customers would sometimes make it known in advance that they did not want employees from ethnic minorities.


Education has a decisive impact on person's future employment opportunities. Inequality in this sector leaves many immigrants and minorities behind and unable to break out of the lower economic echelons. Migrants and minorities tend to enrol in schools with lower academic demands. They are over represented in vocationally oriented tracks and special education. They finish school earlier and have higher drop-out rates.

Most schools are now introducing second language courses and a more diverse teacher body as well as more multicultural curricula. These programmes vary in quality and extent and their practical significance is often not evaluated.

EUMC studies on "perceived discrimination" show that many migrants and minorities have been subjected to harassment, discrimination, and prejudice, including some extreme right-wing xenophobic incidences in schools.

Racist violence

Racist violence can take a variety of forms including verbal abuse, graffiti, harassment, arson, vandalism and physical assault, and remains a persistent problem throughout Europe.

It is very difficult to compare statistical data from each country as only two EU countries (France and the UK) are keeping thorough records of incidents of racial violence. In most EU countries, attacks on ethnic minorities are not recorded as racially motivated. Many countries, such as Spain, Italy and Portugal, have no official records at all. However, that is not to say that racist violence is not an issue.

"Most Member States still lack the necessary data to monitor how social and economic policies affect their ethnic communities…As a result, some ethnic minority groups may experience discrimination without adequate response from the state," said Beate Winkler, Director of the EUMC.

Is it all bad?

There are many examples of good practice with some governments and NGOs working toward creating greater public awareness on racism and improving their recording of racially motivated crime. However, further steps need to be taken. Improving educational achievement, granting equal treatment in employment, guaranteeing equal access to housing and promoting involvement in public life are further fundamental issues to be confronted.

For more information on AWAR visit

6 April 2007

Madeleine McCormack is a freelance writer from Australia, now based in the Netherlands. 

[Copyright Expatica 2007]

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