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Combating hate against migrants: parliamentarians need to be brave and lead

Strasbourg, 30.10.2013 – Parliamentarians need to be brave in standing up for positions that may not be popular, especially when it comes to dealing with migrant issues in a time of economic crisis, the Chair of PACE’s Migration Committee has said.

Speaking to NGO activists on Saturday at a conference near Prague on combating hate-speech and hate-crime, Anne-Mari Virolainen (Finland, EPP/CD) said: “Parliamentarians have a duty to lead and not just follow the people.”

Citing the case of Leonarda, the Roma girl expelled from France, she added: “Politicians need to stand up when necessary – in this case because of the way in which the expulsion took place […] and because the 15-year-old girl was sent back to Kosovo, a place she had never been brought up in.” Political leaders should also refrain from xenophobic rhetoric, particularly during election campaigns.

Ms Virolainen called for “a quantum leap” in making anti-racism laws across Europe more effective, noting the “radical change” in thinking in the United Kingdom following the botched investigation into the killing of black teenager Stephen Lawrence. More countries in Europe needed to face up to “institutional racism”, she pointed out.

Referring to the tragic disaster off Lampedusa a month ago, she said this should act as “a wake-up call to politicians across Europe that the fortress policies of Europe are not working and are not humane”.

Ms Virolainen was giving the key-note speech at the “Wipe out hate – United in solidarity” conference organised by UNITED, one of the largest European networks against racism (25-30 October 2013).

The conference brought together around 80 participants from nearly 30 nations – many of them young or from a minority background – to discuss the rise of far-right, xenophobic and racist movements, hate-speech and hate crimes, as well as popular perceptions of migrants and refugees.