Xenophobia follows US terror

Amnesty International says government curbs on immigration are adding to the anti-Arab backlash.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

The hateful phrase "Avenge USA - kill a Muslim now" might appeal only to a few extremists in the north of England, where it was spray painted near a mosque shortly after the attacks on New York and Washington. But, in the wake of the Sept. 11 tragedy, the graffiti illustrates a swelling mood of xenophobia in Europe and beyond, claim immigrant groups and activists.

And, although governments say they are doing their best to curb such sentiment, the steps some are taking to tighten their immigration policies are not helping, the activists complain.

"In the name of fighting 'international terrorism,' governments have rushed to introduce Draconian new measures that threaten the human rights of their own citizens, immigrants, and refugees," Amnesty International said in a report last week.

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But government officials say these efforts aren't driven by xenophobia. They are simply enforcing existing laws in order to ensure public safety.

"The reinforcement of the fight against illegal immigration is also the reinforcement of the fight against terrorism," Foreign Minister Josep Pique told the daily El Pais recently. As in the US, Muslims and Arabs in Europe are coming under the closest scrutiny.

In the gritty Madrid barrio of Lavapies, for example, historically the Spanish capital's immigrant district, Moroccans say they are accustomed to glares from their neighbors and harassment from the police. But, since Sept. 11, the international fight against terrorism is now on their doorsteps.

"Police intervention has grown," says Yacine Bouzid, a Moroccan who has lived in Madrid for five years. "The police walk into our restaurants and ask for [immigration] papers, and when you don't have them, they throw you in jail," he says. "It has always happened, now it happens more."

Mr. Bouzid does not think the police believe he or his friends are potential terrorists. Rather, he sees their increased zeal as a way to put pressure on Moroccans. "They care about us going home more than about any bomb," he says. "The police look at Arabs, and all they can see is bad."

Some Spaniards are concerned about a recent influx of illegal Moroccan immigrants. The arrest of several Moroccans in Spain for alleged links with Osama bin Laden's Al Quaeda terrorist network has strengthened such feelings.

"Most Spaniards don't want Moroccans in the country, but politicians can't just talk against immigration. They claim to be tolerant, that nobody is xenophobic or racist," says Antonio Hueso, a social worker with the Association of Moroccan Immigrant Workers in Madrid. "Now, they are putting immigration in the same pool as terrorism so as to be able to talk against it."

In Britain, where the government last week announced new measures to clamp down on illegal immigrants, the fight against terrorism will likely curb asylum seekers' chances of finding a haven, warns Tauhid Pasha, head of legal policy for the independent Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants.

As well as implementing new immigration controls, the British government has announced it would like to give the courts powers to detain indefinitely terrorist suspects who arrive from abroad.

"Unfortunately, the Home Secretary [interior minister] has not made a clear distinction between actions to prevent terrorism and protecting the rights of asylum seekers," says Mr. Pasha. "The two issues have been mixed up."

The issues of immigration and terrorism are also intertwined in Australia, where the government last week passed legislation that prevents people who are refused refugee status by a cabinet-appointed tribunal from appealing to a court. Human rights groups argue this violates the rule of law by curbing judicial review of bureaucratic decisions.

Illegal immigration "can be a pipeline for terrorists to come in and use your country as a staging post for terrorist activities," Defense Minister Peter Reith said.

In Germany, government plans to relax restrictions on immigration - so as to attract much-needed skilled immigrants into the high-technology sector - are likely to be put on hold as a result of the Sept. 11 attacks.

"You have to ask yourself if it makes sense to try to achieve the immigration project at a time when internal security is the dominant subject for the public and political parties," says Bernd Knopf, spokesman for the federal commissioner on foreigners. Muslims in Germany are under a particularly close eye because three of the suspects in the US attacks lived in Hamburg.

Last week, mosques throughout the country opened their doors to non-Muslims in an 'open door' invitation to visit.

In a bid to stem racist attacks, most European leaders - like their US counterparts - have gone out of their way to stress that they do not see the war against terrorism as a war against Muslims: German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, for example, recently held a very public meeting with German Muslim leaders.

Amnesty International's report welcomed such moves, but warned "there is a danger that as the world's political leaders focus on combating 'terrorism' from abroad, a climate is engendered in which racism and xenophobia can flourish."

The report cited scores of hate crimes against Muslims, Arabs, and others mistaken for Arabs, in the United States, along with attacks on Asian immigrants and mosques in Britain, Poland, Holland, Denmark and Ireland.

It is a bitter irony, says Mr. Hueso, the Spanish social worker, that Muslims should become indirect victims of an attack carried out in the name of Islam.

"I knew that those who would be most hurt - besides those who died or who lost loved ones in the attacks - would be Muslims all over the world," he says.

Lucian Kim in Berlin, Sara Miller in Madrid, and Andrew West in Sydney contributed to this report.

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