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UN head gives Europe blunt message on ‘integration’ and immigrants

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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France. Source: UN News

There are times when the United Nations gets it right, and this is one of thise times. The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has delivered a ringing statement to the rightists of Europe, against what he called a new “politics of polarization”.

His statement comes in the week following the extraordinary and unconscionable declaration by Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany, that multiculturalism has failed in Germany and so has integration of foreigners. Ban’s statement, contained in two addresses – to the European Parliament and to the Council of Europe – also comes a month after Nicholas Sarkozy’s government in France deported several thousand Roma to Bulgaria and Romania.

Ban warned Europe against a new “politics of polarization”, discrimination and intolerance over immigration, with Muslim immigrants as primary targets. “Almost seven years ago, my predecessor Kofi Annan stood before you,” he told the 27-nation European Parliament in Strasbourg, France. “In his address, he made an impassioned call for Europe to seize the opportunities presented by immigration and to resist those who demonized these newcomers as ‘the other’. I wish I could report, today, that the situation in Europe has improved over the intervening years. But as a friend of Europe, I share profound concern.”

In a speech earlier to the 47-nation Council of Europe, he highlighted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ proclamation of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family. “That is our base line,” he declared at the session marking the 60th anniversary of the European Convention on Human Rights. “That is our standard. There are no exceptions. In a complicated and connected world, this mission is essentially simple and simply essential.”

Germany's persistent discomfort with migrants. Image: Deutsche Welle

In his address to the parliamentarians, Mr. Ban said Europe has served “as an extraordinary engine of integration, weaving together nations and cultures into a whole that is far, far greater than the sum of its parts. But for Europe, ‘winning the peace’ was the narrative of the last century. “The 21st century European challenge is tolerance within. Inclusion, building diverse communities, is as complex a task as the one Europe faced after the Second World War. None of this is easy,” he added.

Migrants, he noted, suffer disproportionately, whether they are from within Europe or beyond, and he pointed to “a new politics of polarization” as a dangerous emerging trend. “Some play on people’s fears. They seek to invoke liberal values for illiberal causes. They accuse immigrants of violating European values. Yet too often, it is the accusers who subvert these values – and thus the very idea of what it means to be a citizen of the European Union,” he said.

Ban made particular reference to Germany’s history of right-wing nationalism. “Europe’s darkest chapters have been written in language such as this,” he said. “Today, the primary targets are immigrants of the Muslim faith. Europe cannot afford stereotyping that closes minds and breeds hatred. And the world cannot afford a Europe that does this.” In his address to the Council, Mr. Ban cited evidence of backsliding on civil and political rights and a growing anxiety in many developed countries over migration and economic hard times that are used to justify policies of discrimination and exclusion.

Germany's violent, racist and xenophobic rightist groups still organise with impunity. Image: Deutsche Welle

The UN Secretary General also said bluntly that none of Europe’s largest and wealthiest powers had signed or ratified the Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers 20 years after it was adopted. “In some of the world’s most advanced democracies, among nations that take just pride in their long history of social progressiveness, migrants are being denied basic human rights,” he said. “We must respect cultural diversity, while never compromising our fundamental principles and never tolerating intolerance, Lasting social change, including respect for human rights, and particularly women’s rights, cannot be planted from afar. It must take root within societies.”

In a typically clumsy and painfully transparent attempt at camouflaging the Merkel government’s increasingly illiberal position, the German federal government has announced plans for legislation to promote the integration of immigrants into mainstream society. “For a while multiculturalism in Germany was about immigrants living as they wished and not putting integration too much in the forefront,” said spokesman Steffen Seibert at a government press briefing in Berlin. “In everybody’s interest, this society has to act, and the government will act.”

"Demonising the 'other' " as a dangerous political manoeuvre. Image: Deutsche Welle

Seibert said Merkel’s center-right coalition cabinet planned to adopt “concrete” new regulations next Wednesday on immigration policy and residency permits. The legislation would focus on German language courses and combating forced marriages, and make it easier for foreign diplomas to be formally recognized. Deutsche Welle quoted Seibert as saying: “This country is extremely glad to have hundreds of thousands, probably millions, of people with foreign roots who are well integrated. But we also recognize, and perhaps we are stressing it more now than in years gone by, that with some foreigners integration is not happening as it should. In some cases it is quite openly being rejected.”

Seibert’s schizophrenic prose does nothing to explain Germany’s deep-seated discomfort with the foreigner. It’s very label for the immigrant of the 1950s, gastarbeiter, or guest worker, implied that when the ‘guest’ had completed his term of economic usefulness he would cease being the guest by leaving. This is a term that continued to be used by all sections of Germany’s political spectrum even throughout the years when the country claimed it was encouraging multi-culturalism. It did no such thing, choosing instead to raise barriers based on language proficiency, the recognition of educational qualifications and the ‘burden’ on its services. By her contemptible statement, Merkel has revealed the deeply alarming tendency of western European ruling elites to resort to dangerous polarisation in order to disguise the failures of their policies for their own marginalised and economically depressed citizens.