migrants et réfugiés


  • REFUGEE RIGHTS: ‘It’s about finding ways to make refugee voices stronger’

    CIVICUS speaks to Evan Jones of theAsia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN) about the challenges that refugees face in Asia and civil society’s work to help realise refugee rights.


    Evan Jones

    Can you tell us about your network and what it does?

    APRRN is a civil society network with around 400 members across Asia and the Pacific, stretching from Iran to South Korea and Taiwan and down to New Zealand. We’ve existed for 10 years and our main aim is to advance refugee rights in Asia and the Pacific. We push for legislative and policy change in the region to help refugees have sustainable lives and access to the same rights as everyone else. Our key purpose is advocacy, and underneath this there are three pillars of work: first, capacity strengthening for our members, through training and courses in areas such as refugee law, advocacy, working with the media and gender; second, information sharing across borders about best practices, contacts, resources, skills and communication ideas: if there’s a good development that’s happened in one country, we’ll try to connect civil society organisations (CSOs) in other countries to share lessons learned and possible ideas to adapt; and third, advocacy on the national, regional and international levels.

    In recent years we’ve been working on building refugee self-representation and putting refugee voices front and centre of everything we do. A refugee, someone with lived experience, is the chair of our entire network and the chairs or deputy chairs of many of our working groups are either still in refugee situations or have been earlier in their lives. Throughout our advocacy, we make sure that refugees are present in everything we do.

    What are the key current movements of people in the region, and what are the main reasons that drive people to become refugees?

    We have movements of refugees both from outside the region into the region, and also within the region. Specific refugee populations vary from country to country and also in size. In Malaysia, for example, there are about 180,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, a number of whom have arrived after the 2017 exodus. Others have been there for decades, eking out an existence, often on the fringes of society. In Thailand, there are a significant number of Pakistani refugees from religious minorities, along with groups of Hazaras from Afghanistan, Uighurs from China and Montagnards from Vietnam. In South Korea, there are refugees from Yemen. There are many populations in almost every country across the region.

    There are a number of reasons why people are forced to flee their homes, ending up as refugees in Asia. One is religious persecution. This has been clearly evident with the decades-long persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, alongside persecution of Christian minorities such as the Chin. The Ahmadi Christian minority of Pakistan are another example of a population that has been subject to ongoing religious persecution.

    Aside from refugees fleeing religious persecution, many individuals are also fleeing persecution due to their race, nationality, or membership of a particular social group. Because often ethnic minorities are targeted, we see a sizable amount of people fleeing countries such as Afghanistan, Cambodia, China and Pakistan. Other groups include those fleeing generalised violence and civil war, for example in Syria and Yemen, LGBTQI community members fleeing persecution on the basis of their sexual identity and individuals fleeing despotic regimes such as North Korea’s.

    Refugees often find themselves in Asia for a number of reasons. For some, capital cities like Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta were the only places they could afford to travel to at short notice and with relatively easy visa requirements. For example, in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, people from most countries can get a visa on arrival. Palestinians, Somalis and Yemenis can still get a visa on arrival in Malaysia, one of only a handful of countries around the world where they can do so. Many people came to these hubs thinking they would only be transit points, intending to claim asylum in Australia, Canada, or elsewhere, and then got stuck in these countries because they weren’t able to travel further.

    What are the key challenges refugees face?

    There are generally no local protections. There are usually no safeguards from detention, no capacity to work and no access to education and healthcare. Refugees struggle to attain almost all their human rights. This situation is common in most countries in both South and South East Asia.

    One of the biggest challenges, in Asia as well as globally, is the lack of durable solutions for refugees. Many have been and are expected to be here for years or even decades. With record numbers of refugees, no longer is it the norm nor can it be expected that refugees will be resettled in months or even years. Now, many have no real prospects of resettlement, with the number of resettlement spots globally having dropped so significantly. Under one per cent of all refugees in the world will ever get resettled, and the situation is even worse in Asia.

    Particularly in South East Asia, detention is a key concern and a continued focus of our advocacy. Instead of detention being used as an option of last resort it is quite often the norm. In Thailand for example, UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency) cardholders are subject to arrest and detention if they are unable to produce a valid passport or visa. The detention centre is, in essence, a jail, where refugees are often held indefinitely until they either return home – which is not really a possibility – or get resettled, which is also unlikely for many people.

    Access to a legal right to stay is extremely difficult for people with a passport from refugee-producing countries. It’s hard to maintain or extend a visa in many countries around the region. If you’re from Afghanistan, Somalia, or Sudan, for example, often one of the restrictions to maintain a visa is that you’re expected to go home and then come back, which obviously isn’t an option for refugees. In some countries like India, we are seeing a worrying rise in racism and xenophobia, where refugees from some Muslim countries are being requested to ‘return immediately’ and told that they ‘are no longer welcome’.

    A further worrying trend that we are seeing is the use of extradition. States both within and outside the region are using extradition as a tool to have refugees forcibly return to countries from which they’ve fled. Sadly, we are quite often seeing states where refugees have sought protection going ahead with these extraditions. In essence, we see them buckling to the weight or political interests of neighbouring governments.

    One such example that made world headlines was the case of Hakeem al-Araibi. Hakeem is a Bahraini refugee who lives in Australia and was held in a Thai prison for three months, from November 2018 to February 2019, pending extradition back to Bahrain, after going to Thailand on his honeymoon. There was also the case of Sam Sokha, the Cambodian political activist, who was famous for throwing her shoe at a billboard of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, an act that was filmed and widely shared on the internet. She was arrested in Thailand in January 2018 and held in the immigration detention centre even though she had a UNHCR card recognising her as a refugee. The Thai government allowed an extradition request to be processed and sent her back to Cambodia, where she’s currently serving a prison sentence. Another case is Praphan Pipithnampron, an activist from Thailand who fled to Malaysia, claimed refugee status and was then extradited back to Thailand with the agreement of the Malaysian government. These examples show a clear and fundamental breach of the principles of refugee protection. Even with UNHCR status, the lack of legal protection leaves refugees in precarious situations across the region.

    Access to work is another major challenge. There are generally no special provisions for refugees to access work unless they happen to have come on a business visa with work rights and have maintained their visa. The lack of labour rights for refugees impacts on all other rights, including their ability to obtain food and shelter, access education and pay for healthcare. Interestingly, there have been a few small positive steps towards addressing this. A few years ago, the Malaysian government instigated a pilot project on work rights for Rohingya refugees, for a very limited number of 300 people. Whilst the initiative was a failure, the fact that the government even initiated such a program indicated a notable shift towards recognition of work rights. It shows that work rights are now on the agenda.

    Access to education differs country by country, but broadly speaking, it’s very problematic across the region. In Malaysia, there’s no capacity for refugees to access primary education. Malaysia has a reservation against the Convention on the Rights of the Child that means refugee children aren’t able to access state schooling. In Thailand, despite there being a progressive ‘education for all’ policy, practically it’s still quite difficult for refugee children to be able to attend school. This is because of the costs, the requirement to have basic Thai language skills and concerns about xenophobia and racism. Schools may not want to receive children who don’t have the relevant immigration papers or who look or sound too different.

    Across the region more broadly, there is also a hidden but major concern regarding a lack of access to tertiary education. From the perspective of states, and even many CSOs and service providers, tertiary education is seen as something that far surpasses basic needs. However, without this access, there remains a large refugee population who are simply left to linger in a state of under-productivity. They are not only unable to work, but they also cannot improve the skills and expertise that would help them grow personally and professionally if they were resettled or even decided to return home. This is starting to change just a little, and there are some positives here. For example, Japan has opened up 20 scholarship spaces for Syrian refugees, and some universities in Malaysia have also begun to offer dedicated spaces and scholarships.

    Healthcare is also problematic. Often refugees have to pay upfront for healthcare before they can be reimbursed by CSOs or the UNHCR. Refugees often fear that if they go to hospitals when they lack the correct documentation they may even be referred to immigration authorities.

    What are the challenges refugees face from anti-rights groups and majority populations?

    There were three pronounced examples over the past year of majority religious groups mobilising against minorities in the region. In South Korea in June 2018, 500 Yemenis arrived on Jeju Island. Almost immediately there was a huge outcry from the public, church groups – particularly conservative Christian groups – and the media. This fanned what was partly an anti-refugee sentiment but was more strongly an anti-Muslim sentiment that swept through the country and became conflated with refugee issues. It connected to the anti-migrant, anti-Muslim rhetoric that was coming out of Europe, and showed how these two have become intertwined. Within weeks of the story hitting the headlines a petition with more than a million signatures was sent to the president’s office requesting that South Korea pull out of the 1951 Refugee Convention. Thankfully the government didn’t go down this track but there have been high-level talks about how potentially South Korea could modify its domestic legislation for refugees and wind back some of its protection for refugees.

    In Sri Lanka, the 2019 Easter Bombings in Colombo gave rise to an immediate anti-Muslim public sentiment, which affected the refugee population in Sri Lanka, which is significantly an Afghan and Ahmadi Pakistani population. Several hundred fled from Colombo to the city of Negombo and went into hiding. Some stayed in a police station for several weeks of their own volition for protection and others were supported by CSOs. UNHCR was so concerned it sent additional staff to try to expedite cases and look at emergency resettlement out of Sri Lanka because of the fear of retribution and abuses against Muslim refugees.

    The third example was what we saw in Myanmar with the Rohingya. Anti-Muslim rhetoric and sentiment have permeated through Myanmar society. The Rohingya are denied citizenship and viewed as associated with terrorism. This resulted in what many are calling a genocide.

    Given these challenges, how is civil society in the region trying to respond, and what have the successes and challenges been?

    Negative stories dominate the discourse, and we try to counter this by placing refugees’ voices front and centre. This is something that is being supported quite strongly within the region, from Australia and New Zealand, but also now from within South East Asia. Civil society groups are realising that it is refugee voices that are the most impactful, and civil society is trying to amplify these voices to show the agency and contribution of refugees. In Malaysia, for example, there is now a completely self-organised group, the Refugee Coalition of Malaysia, where Afghani, Eritrean, Rohingya, Somali and Sri Lankan refugees are all coming together by themselves, putting forward their messages. They are offering training and they have learning centres. This is a really positive development. CSOs are trying to facilitate and support these developments.

    There’s also awareness-raising with the public, and with local host communities, the media and government. The media are stakeholders with potential for huge good but also huge harm, depending on their messaging. Many CSOs are trying to engage better with the media, including through media training. Misinformation is a major issue in some countries, such as in Myanmar, where both before and after the upsurge in violence there was a lot of anti-Rohingya messaging. However, in other countries, such as Thailand, refugee stories are rarely covered by local media.

    Over the past few years, there has also been a definite shift towards building connections with parliamentarians across the region. There has been a lot of work in trying to find champions within governments and trying to get them to work for refugees within governments and across borders. One organisation we work with quite closely that has done excellent work on several issues, including refugees, is ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Parliamentarians for Human Rights. They have a network of members of parliament in each country where they share information and strategies and use their status as elected officeholders to try to support rights.

    As well as positive shifts on labour rights and education in Malaysia, the government there is also looking at possible ratification of the Refugee Convention. Another positive move in Malaysia which shouldn’t be underestimated is that the government is speaking more openly about the issue, and in many cases speaking the right language. Five years ago you would not have seen the Malaysian government speaking out bilaterally or within ASEAN about the atrocities in Myanmar. Now the government is quite strong in calling attention to the situation in Myanmar and has also spoken out about other vulnerable populations, such as the Uighurs in China. They seem to be heading in the right direction.

    Another positive development has come in Thailand. Despite the fact that there is still immigration detention, in January 2019 the Thai government signed a memorandum of understanding to release mothers and children from the immigration detention centre to live in the community. This might seem a small win, but it was a practice that went on for so long. It was a change largely driven by civil society advocacy.

    Elsewhere there are regressions, as with the anti-refugee sentiment in South Korea. There are still a million-plus Rohingya sitting in camps in Bangladesh and there’s the growing prominence of the Uighur detention camps in China. There have been other headline stories this year, such as that of Rahaf Mohammed, a Saudi Arabian woman who was fleeing from Kuwait to Australia and was stuck in a hotel within Bangkok airport. So even when we see governments in the region appearing to move in the right direction, all of a sudden they do something that takes them back again, such as threatening to return refugees for the sake of maintaining diplomatic relations. But we can have some cautious optimism that things are progressing in the right direction.

    What more could be done to support refugees and the civil society that supports them in the region?

    While the Refugee Convention is still incredibly important, this is no longer the pinnacle and the sole focus of our advocacy. We have states that have signed it that completely ignore it. So now we’re looking for tangible legal and policy changes on the ground.

    International civil society can help by keeping things on the agenda. Asia as a region is quite often forgotten and underrepresented globally. The huge refugee movements and protracted situations in Asia are often completely overlooked. A million Afghanis have been in Iran for 40 years with several million more in Pakistan. There are 100,000 Myanmar refugees on the Thai border along with the million-plus Rohingyas in Bangladesh. Compare this to headlines about migration in Europe and the USA and you’ll soon realise that our perception of refugee crises is skewed. There are these massive populations that don’t make the same global media impact and don’t get the attention they deserve. Keeping things on the agenda is really important.

    Cohesive messaging and cohesive action are also important. We all need to be able to work together to share resources and best practices, understand what is happening in other regions and learn the lessons that can be applied. I think in civil society we tend to look at the same things again and again: we look at national governments, the United Nations, we talk to ourselves a lot, but I think there are under-utilised mechanisms, such as ASEAN, the European Parliament and the private sector. I think in sensitive situations, such as with the Uighurs, the European Parliament could be lobbied to put pressure on ASEAN, which could then put pressure on the government of China. We need to look outside the box at how we can utilise regional platforms and also have other countries exert their influence in the region.

    People such as Abdul Aziz Muhammat, who spent years in the Australian government’s detention centre in Papua New Guinea and campaigns for refugees’ rights, should inspire us, and he should be a person we all aspire to be. He’s had such a traumatic life and so many things have gone against him, but he remains so positive and so ardent about supporting other populations. He continues to speak up for those left behind after him. To see refugees who have gone through everything and still fight for other refugees is inspiring. It’s about finding ways to make refugee voices stronger.

    Get in touch with APRRN through theirwebsite andFacebook profile, and follow@APRRN_ on Twitter.


  • BRAZIL: ‘Discrimination and hate speech are becoming normalised’

    Dariele SantosAs part of our 2019thematic report, we are interviewing civil society activists, leaders and experts about their experiences of backlash from anti-rights groups and their strategies to strengthen progressive narratives and civil society responses. CIVICUS speaks about migrant workers’ rights with Dariele Santos, the young founder of Instituto Alinha, a social enterprise focused on improving the work and life conditions of migrant workers employed in the fashion industry.


    When and why did you decide to create the Alinha Institute?

    When I was in college I had several jobs with which I supplemented my scholarship, and one of those jobs involved research on immigration issues, and more specifically about Latin American immigrants employed in the clothing industry in São Paulo. That’s when I began to speak with migrants and I learned about their precarious life and work conditions, that is, about the reality of the production chain in Brazil’s fashion industry.

    Brazil encompasses all steps in the production chain of this industry, from cotton production to garment manufacturing. The fashion industry is spread throughout the country, but its final link, the manufacturing of clothing, is highly concentrated in São Paulo, employing mostly migrant workers. Production is highly outsourced; clothing brands subcontract with sewing workshops that are involved in the various phases of the manufacturing process. The more workshops that are involved in the process, the more difficult it is to exercise some control and the more labour protections are lost. Many of these workshops are small and family-run, and function in the family's home, with all members of the family working, and getting paid by the piece. People work up to 90 hours per week because they get paid very little for each piece that they produce.

    When I learned the stories of these migrant workers, I began to realise the huge dimensions of the problem, and I also realised how little I had known about it, and how little we know in general about the fashion industry chain: we don't care the least about how the clothes that we wear are made. The problem of the huge inequality and injustice in the fashion industry chain is completely invisible. It is a super-luxury industry that generates a lot of money, but to the same extent, it is a chain of enormous exploitation.

    Along with a friend, I started thinking about starting a social enterprise that would apply technology to solve this problem, and we launched Alinha in 2014.

    What does Alinha do to improve the working conditions of migrant workers?

    The idea is simple: Alinha provides advice to sewing workshop entrepreneurs so that they regularise their businesses and guarantee adequate security and reasonable deadlines and pay, and connects them with clothing manufacturers and designers interested in hiring a workshop, thus ensuring fair conditions for all parties involved.

    More specifically, we begin by visiting the sewing workshops that sign up to receive advice, and we assess their deficits in order to recommend what they should do to get out of informality. We look at areas such as their forms of contracting, their health and safety conditions and their equipment. In our second visit we bring a work safety specialist. These workshops have a lot of fire hazards, because they store large quantities of cloth and tend to have precarious electrical installations; to make things worse, usually many children live in the houses in which the workshops operate. Once the safety assessment has been done, we prepare an action plan aimed at regularising the workshops or aligning them with labour and safety standards - hence our name of Alinha. We do it in plain language and translate the laws for workers. We provide the basics of accounting and help workshop owners calculate the required investment and how it would impact on product prices. Once the improvements have been made and we consider that a workshop has reached a minimum security and formalisation threshold, we upload its details to the Alinha platform so that it can get it in touch with brands and designers. Brands and designers come on our platform because they seek to change the way they produce and are willing to guarantee fair payment terms and deadlines. So we connect them.

    The prices of these products are surely higher than those of products made under conditions of extreme exploitation. Have you managed to convince consumers that it is worth paying more for them?

    We're on it. We know that it is important to connect consumers because they have enormous power in their hands: when choosing the brand they are going to buy, they can make the decision to support one that guarantees fair working conditions. But consumers can't really choose if they don't know which brands have contracts with our aligned workshops. That is why we have a platform where the aligned brands place data that users can check - for example, that they are making a certain number of pieces with such and such workshop, so that after the information has been added to the Alinha platform, the workshop can confirm on the phone that they are indeed making these pieces, earning a certain amount per hour, and working with such and such deadlines. When all the links in the production chain confirm the information, an identification code for the piece is generated to be placed on the garment’s label, so that the final user can track the garment’s history. All information and confirmations are stored in Blockchain, so that there is more security and trust in the information.

    We are also in the process of making a short film that tells the story behind the clothes, based on the story of a Bolivian migrant seamstress. The presentation of an individual’s story seeks to generate connection and empathy: we want the consumer to see a woman who has dreams and hopes similar to their own. We seek to ask the consumer a question: which story would you rather choose, one about exploitation or one about decent work?

    Do you think that the situation of migrants in Brazil has recently worsened?

    The problem of migrants is not recent; it comes from long ago. There are many migrants who have lived here, and worked in terrible conditions, for decades. Migrants who work in sewing workshops in São Paulo are mostly Bolivian, although there are many from countries such as Paraguay and Peru as well. Many of them first emigrated from their countries to Argentina, but when the 2008 financial crisis hit they moved to Brazil. The political and economic conditions back then - the Lula government and a period of strong economic growth - made Brazil a better destination.

    But it is difficult to be a migrant in Brazil. It is the only non-Spanish speaking country in the region, so difficulties in communication and access to information abound. Migrants without legal documentation or formal employment are afraid all the time. The psychological pressure is very strong: people refuse to leave the sewing workshops because they are afraid of being caught and forced to leave. Migrants fear the consequences of demanding their rights.

    While the migrant workers’ exploitation is not a new problem, and migrants’ fear isn’t new either, the situation has recently worsened. The new president, Jair Bolsonaro, represents the far right, and his discourse is extremely xenophobic. He places himself above the laws and above all democratic guarantees. His message to migrant workers is: ‘be thankful for all the good things you have here, and if there is something you don't like, you’d better leave’. The fact that hate speech is coming from so high up is emboldening people who always thought these things, but in the past would not say them and now feel it is legitimate to do so. In this sense, discrimination and hate speech are becoming normalised.

    This situation is replicated in various spheres. It is a dangerous time for activists working on human rights, environmental rights, women's rights, LGBTQI rights, black and indigenous peoples’ rights and migrants’ rights. There is a lot of fear because going against the government poses high risks. This has been clearly seen in the cases of Marielle Franco, the LGBTQI activist and councilwoman from Rio de Janeiro who was murdered in March 2018, and the LGBTQI congressperson and activist Jean Wyllys, who recently left Brazil because of threats against his life.

    Fortunately, not all Brazilians are receptive to Bolsonaro's discourse. We live a situation of high polarisation. While many have indeed moved towards the far right and have adopted nationalist positions, many people are also increasingly convinced that what needs to be done is to guarantee more rights to more people.

    In this context, what can rights-oriented civil society do?

    Civil society moves within narrow margins. Our strategy is to generate a discourse that creates empathy among public opinion rather than a confrontational discourse permanently criticising the president because this would create trouble with a broad sector of society that would immediately reject it as leftist. We are going through tough times: it is not advisable to announce that you fight for human rights because human rights are associated with the left rather than viewed as things that belong to everyone. That is why we find it more productive to focus on real people and their stories, to show the photo of a flesh-and-blood person and ask our audience, 'don’t you think this woman is a hardworking person, who is struggling just like you, and who deserves better working conditions, who deserves to get ahead?'

    It is really quite tragic to have to hide the struggle for human rights because it is not seen as a legitimate cause. Since President Bolsonaro was elected, a lot of activists have had to leave Brazil. Those who have stayed are being forced to choose: if they want to continue doing a direct, head-first kind of activism, they need to be willing to take risks. Nowadays, mine is a sort of diplomatic activism: I sit down to speak with businesspeople and I need to be open to chat with people who don't necessarily think like me or do things the way I think they should be done, but with whom I can achieve some progress.

    What international support does Brazilian civil society need to continue working?

    Although it may not seem obvious at times, because Brazil is considered a medium-high-income country, Brazilian civil society needs all kinds of support to continue working in this hostile environment. In my particular case, I was very fortunate to receive support from the Goalkeepers Youth Action Accelerator programme, which seeks to accelerate progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This programme supports a group of young activists who are using data in innovative ways to address SDGs 1 to 6, that is, to seek solutions to local development challenges related to poverty, hunger, health and well-being, education, gender equality and water and sanitation.

    This support has been super strategic, since it included funding, technical support and connections, and allowed me to acquire new tools. Many more initiatives like this are needed, because Brazilian civil society is shrinking, and not only because of the political climate but also because of the economic crisis that has been going on for several years. According to a recent study, more than 38,000 civil society organisations closed their doors in Brazil between 2013 and 2016, and many of them used to provide basic services to vulnerable populations. The segment of civil society that has suffered the most is the one working on development and human rights advocacy: more than 10,000 organisations that closed down used to work in favour of minorities, such as black people, women, indigenous people and LGBTQI people, and the rights of communities.

    Civic space in Brazil is rated as ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with Instituto Alinha through itswebsite or itsFacebook andInstagram pages.


  • CHILE: ‘Anti-rights groups become stronger when their narrative emanates from the government’

    hector pujols

    As part of our 2019thematic report, we are interviewing civil society activists, leaders and experts about their experiences and actions in the face of backlash from anti-rights groups and their strategies to strengthen progressive narratives and civil society responses. CIVICUS speaks to Héctor Pujols, spokesperson for Chile’s National Immigrant Coordination. The Coordination is a network that brings together activists and organisations that work for the defence of the human rights of Chile’s migrant population and advocates for legislative advances and the implementation of inclusive public policies towards migrant communities. 

    Can you tell us what kind of work the National Immigrant Coordination does?

    The Coordination is a network of organisations, migrants’ groups and movements; we think that migrants need their own organisations. The Coordination has existed since 2014, but many organisations that are part of it, especially those of Peruvian immigrants, have been around for 20 to 25 years. Our membership is diverse and includes cultural organisations; thematic ones, dedicated for instance to labour or housing issues; sectoral ones, such as the Secretariat of Immigrant Women; those that are territorial in nature, linked to particular communes; and others that are organised by nationality, and seek to provide spaces and opportunities to Argentine, Ecuadorian, or Peruvian communities.

    One of the Coordination’s main tasks, although not the only one, is political advocacy at the national level to improve the inclusion of the migrant population. We do it by organising ourselves as migrants, and coordinating with other organisations, including unions and civil society organisations of other kinds. 

    What does the Coordination think about the draft Aliens Law currently under debate in the Chilean Senate?

    Historically, at least in contemporary times, Chile has not had a flow of immigration of comparable dimensions to other Latin American countries. The phenomenon increased in the 1990s, with Bolivian and Peruvian immigration flows, but it has been over the past 10 years that it has become more significant, with an increase in the number of immigrants coming from other countries in the region, mainly Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and, more recently, Venezuela.

    In this context, about five or six years ago talk began about the need to update the 1975 Aliens Act, which had been established in the context of the dictatorship and had a national security focus. This law views the migrant as a foreign agent, an ideological agitator, someone who seeks to import the revolution. When this law was made during the dictatorship, the migrant that lawmakers had in mind was the typical one of times of the Popular Unity, Chile’s former leftist ruling party – Argentinians, Cubans and Uruguayans who came to support the leftist government or were seeking safe haven after fleeing other governments that persecuted them.

    The new migratory context is quite different, and there has been broad consensus that the 1975 law does not conform to the current reality. For years the Coordination and other organisations have been demanding a new legal framework that enables the inclusion of the migrant population.

    However, the debate has been complex and over the past year, after President Sebastián Piñera‘s inauguration, the government introduced a very similar bill to the one they had already submitted to Congress in 2013: one that shifts the focus from the foreigner viewed as an external agitator towards the foreigner as an economic asset, whose value depends on how much money they bring in their pockets. A complex debate ensued in which Chile has tried to position itself in the world by adopting a visa system similar to those of countries such as Australia or Canada, without the understanding that the migratory context and the characteristics of immigration in Chile are not the same as in those countries. This bill has already been passed by the House and is now in the Senate.

    We think that, if passed, this law would greatly encourage irregular migration, which is already a big problem in Chile. It would encourage people to arrive as tourists and overstay their visas, with no prospect of regularising their situation even if they get a job. An irregular migratory status negatively affects access to all rights – to health, education and even to decent work. A person who cannot sign an employment contract will work anyway, because they have to make a living, but they will do so in much more precarious conditions. In sum, on the surface the bill adopts civil society discourse on the need to renew the legal framework, but it is fundamentally an anti-rights initiative.

    The exercise of civic freedoms by migrants seems to have intensified. How do migrants view themselves in relationship to their citizenship status?

    I think we do not see the exercise of our rights to organise, mobilise and claim our rights as tied to any citizenship status because the Chilean Constitution equates citizenship with nationality, as a result of which foreigners cannot be citizens. However, the Constitution also establishes that after five years of residence foreigners are allowed to vote. And regardless of length of residence or the rights assigned to us by the Constitution and the laws, in practice we exercise other rights that are related to being a citizen - we organise, mobilise and do political advocacy, even though this is banned by the Aliens Act.

    The Aliens Act lists attacks against the interests of the state and interference with political situations of the state as reasons for expulsion. The ways it is interpreted and enforced are very arbitrary: it always results in the expulsion of people with progressive or critical views, rather that people with far-right political leanings. Not long ago, in 2017, some young Peruvians were expelled for having books on Marxism. The Coordination submitted an amparo petition – an appeal for the protection of basic rights – and won, but the expulsion order had already been executed and they were already out of the country.

    This was not an isolated case; there have been several others. An Italian journalist was expelled because he did visual communications for the mobilisation process of a very important union. A Basque colleague was also expelled because of his involvement with the indigenous Mapuche communities; he was accused of having links with ETA, the Basque terrorist organisation. This was proven false but he was expelled anyway. All this happened under the administration of former President Michelle Bachelet, that is, independently of the incumbent government’s leanings.

    You were in the middle of the discussion of the bill when calls for an anti-migrant mobilisation began. Who were the groups behind this mobilisation?

    These groups were not new. They had already made another call before but it had not resonated as it did this time. These are groups linked to a long-existing far right, the kind of far right that never dies in any country. Although perhaps its presence declines at times, it always remains latent, waiting for the opportunity to resurface. These are groups that defend the dictatorship but know that if they go out to the streets to shout ‘Viva Pinochet’ many people will reject them. So they find different themes that allow them to further their narrative. For instance, they took advantage of the salience of the rejection of so-called gender ideology and joined anti-abortion marches, and now they are working around the issue of immigration.

    Far-right groups are characterised by an extremely simple and exclusionary discourse: the other, the one that’s different, the one coming from outside, the stranger who is not Chilean – they are the enemy, because they are the cause of all the country's ills. These groups come from various places, but they all find protection under the current government’s institutional discourse, which blames everything on immigration. Weeks ago, President Piñera said that the increase in unemployment in Chile was caused by the arrival of migrants, even against his own Minister of Labour’s denials. His former Minister of Health said that the increase in HIV/AIDS in Chile was the migrant population’s fault. This institutional discourse, based on falsehoods, is taking root and is being taken advantage of by far-right groups.

    What explains the fact that this time around they have had more of an appeal than in the past?

    These groups become stronger when their narrative emanates from the government. The proposals put forward by the far right are the same as the government’s: for example, to deny healthcare to people with under two years of residence and to eliminate access to education. The government says, ‘let’s take rights away from immigrants’ and these groups move just one step further and say, ‘let’s kick immigrants out’. The underlying diagnosis is the same in both cases: we are being invaded, they are coming to take our jobs, they are coming to take our social benefits, Chile First.

    Additionally, in this case social media is playing an amplification role. These groups have learned how to use social media. They learned a lot from Brazil’s experience; some actually travelled there to support then-candidate Bolsonaro. The skilful use of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter allows them to reach a wide audience –­ the Chilean who is going through hard times – to whom they offer a simple explanation and a solution: you can't find work; the fault lies with immigrants; the solution is to throw them out.

    You mentioned a curious phenomenon: ultra-nationalist far-right groups that become internationalists, by networking, collaborating and learning from their peers in other countries.

    Yes, there is an ongoing international process in which the Chilean far right learns from what the Argentine far right does, and the Argentinian far right learns from that of Brazil, and so on. The narratives we have heard in Chile are an exact copy of those used by the extreme right in Spain, where the phenomenon of the far-right Vox party emerged almost a year ago. They are an exact copy, even though the Chilean reality is very different. In Spain, the claim that migrants take up all social support was very intense, and in Chile the same discourse was attempted, since it is an international tactic, but not surprisingly it had less of an impact because social support in Chile is very limited. So it is not always working for them; it is a matter of trial and error. But these groups do form a network that is becoming stronger internationally, which is very worrying.

    These groups summoned a mobilisation against immigrants that was scheduled for 12 August 2019, but in the end the march did not materialise. Can you explain what happened?

    The call to the march was spread through social media, and a far-right influencer, a member of one of the organising groups, called on protesters to bear arms to defend themselves against the anti-fascist groups that had summoned a counter-demonstration.

    In Chile it is necessary to request an authorisation to hold a street mobilisation, and in the capital, Santiago, the Municipality is in charge of giving the authorisation. After several conversations, and under pressure from socialorganisations and the Bar Association, which requested that the permit be denied, the Municipality did not authorise the march. There were some isolated incidents caused by about 20 people who attended notwithstanding, but not much else happened.

    The Coordination convened another event on the same day, given that it was complicated for us to support the counter-demonstration held by anti-fascist groups in light of the limitations placed on immigrants’ rights to political participation. On that very same Sunday morning we held an event at the Museum of Memory, a space dedicated to the victims of the dictatorship. The focus of our call was the rejection of hate speech, which today happens to be targeted against immigrants but at other times has been targeted against women or against those who thought differently, and which leads to the practices we experienced under the dictatorship. When you dehumanise a person then you can then torture her, drop her body into the sea or make her disappear. That was our response. Around 150 people attended, which is not that many, but it should be enough to show that we are also part of this country and that we have memory.

    What strategy should adopt the civil society that advocates for the human rights of migrants in the face of anti-rights groups?

    These groups are here to stay, and they have already planned a new demonstration for 7 September 2019. The prevalent narrative focuses on an alleged migrant invasion, so ours is a dispute for common sense, a long-term struggle. We work in a strategic partnership with progressive and democratic movements, but these need to put aside their paternalistic attitude towards the migrant population. We do not want to be treated as helpless people in need of assistance; that is why we are an organisation of migrant persons, not an organisation that defends the rights of migrants. We do not want paternalistic aids; we want equal rights.

    Civic space in Chile is rated as ‘narrowed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with the National Migrants’ Coordination through itswebsite, read Héctor Pujols’blog or follow@HectorPumo and@MigrantesChile on Twitter.


  • DROITS DES MIGRANTS : " Les discours haineux sont motivés par des relations de pouvoir inégales et des stéréotypes négatifs "

    martin pairet

    Dans le cadre de notre rapport thématique de 2019, nous interrogeons des militants, des dirigeants et des experts de la société civile sur la manière dont ils sont confrontés aux réactions hostiles de la part des groupes anti-droits. CIVICUS parle de la montée des discours haineux en Europe et des stratégies de la société civile pour y faire face avec Martin Pairet, responsable des Réseaux chez European Alternatives, une organisation transnationale de la société civile et un mouvement citoyen qui promeut la démocratie, l'égalité et la culture au-delà de l'Etat-nation.


    European Alternatives se concentre sur la promotion de la démocratie au-delà des frontières. Dans quelle mesure êtes-vous préoccupé par la montée du nationalisme autoritaire en Europe ?

    European Alternatives s'efforce de soutenir la démocratie à travers le continent, et notre analyse actuelle est que la démocratie n'est pas assez mature et que les droits fondamentaux nécessaires au fonctionnement de la démocratie ne sont pas respectés en Europe. Le processus de dégradation des pratiques et des institutions démocratiques s'est déroulé sur un certain nombre d'années, au moins une décennie, mais s'est particulièrement accéléré avec la crise de l'hospitalité que nous connaissons actuellement face à la migration. Cette crise de l'hospitalité est avant tout une crise des valeurs européennes. Nous défendons le principe de solidarité et la création de nouvelles formes de communauté transnationale, et nous voyons exactement le contraire - la normalisation des mouvements et partis anti-droits dont le discours est amplifié par les médias, et les réseaux sociaux en particulier. C'est ce qui se passe dans tous les pays d'Europe, et en particulier dans les pays où les hommes politiques ont beaucoup à gagner avec une politique anti-migrants, comme en France, en Allemagne et en Italie.

    Considérez-vous cette situation comme le résultat d'un déficit démocratique ou d'un non-respect des droits humains ?

    Je pense que c'est un peu des deux. Il existe en fait un profond déficit démocratique et, ces dernières années, on s'interroge de plus en plus sur la manière dont les décisions sont prises à tous les niveaux - local, national, européen et mondial. Les gens réclament une plus grande représentation et une participation significative dans les processus décisionnels, par le biais de mécanismes tels que les référendums organisés à l'initiative des citoyens. Il y a beaucoup d'autres exemples que nous avons vus ces dernières années en Europe, de personnes s'organisant pour combler les lacunes des institutions représentatives et s'impliquant dans la prise de décision, par exemple à travers des Assemblées de citoyens. Beaucoup de gens ont l'impression que leur voix n'est pas entendue et se sentent donc impuissants - ils ont le sentiment que quoi qu'ils fassent, ils ne pourront pas changer les choses et ne reprendront pas le contrôle de la politique, ce qui signifie qu'ils n'auront pas leur mot à dire sur les décisions qui affectent leur vie et qu'ils ne pourront contrôler leur avenir.

    En ce sens, la démocratie est assez faible, et les gens ont de moins en moins d'espoir que quelqu'un occupant un poste de décision puisse vraiment comprendre leurs problèmes et leurs craintes, auxquels le système ne prête pas attention et n'est pas en mesure de répondre. C'est à ce moment que le nationalisme, l'extrémisme et la haine commencent à augmenter et que les discours haineux deviennent attrayants. Et dans ce contexte, il devient très difficile d'entendre le discours sur les droits humains, parce que ce n'est pas nécessairement quelque chose à quoi les gens se réfèrent ou auquel ils se connectent toujours, car il est assez abstrait. Les organisations européennes de défense des droits humains ont travaillé dur pour faire face à la crise humanitaire, mais elles ont parfois sous-estimé le pouvoir des émotions, et de la peur en particulier, et ne se sont donc pas concentrées sur la manière de répondre à ces craintes, ce qui a été problématique.

    Dans votre analyse de la crise actuelle de l'hospitalité, vous vous concentrez sur les discours haineux. Comment définiriez-vous cela ?

    Le discours haineux est un phénomène complexe qui ne peut pas vraiment entrer dans une définition simple. En fait, il n'existe pas de définition internationalement acceptée du discours haineux, et chaque État membre de l'Union européenne (UE) a sa propre définition juridique. La définition utilisée par le Conseil de l'Europe inclut toutes les formes d'expression qui propagent ou amplifient la xénophobie et diverses formes de haine et d'intolérance. Le discours haineux va à l'encontre des droits humains, c'est donc une forme de discours anti-droits. C'est aussi un phénomène social qui a été amplifié par les réseaux sociaux dans le contexte de relations de pouvoir de plus en plus sociales également liées à la crise économique et financière et au fait que le pouvoir financier et économique est concentré dans quelques mains. Mais les stéréotypes jouent aussi un rôle important. Je dirais que les discours haineux sont motivés à la fois par des relations de pouvoir inégales et par des stéréotypes négatifs.

    Ces dernières années, la normalisation des discours haineux a contribué à la radicalisation des personnes et des groupes contre ceux considérés comme " l'autre " : les attaques contre les groupes marginalisés, notamment les femmes, les LGBTQI, les Roms, les migrants, les réfugiés et les communautés religieuses minoritaires, se sont répandues sur les réseaux sociaux et le discours de haine se transforme progressivement en violence effective. C'est pourquoi nous avons constaté une augmentation des crimes haineux.

    L'un des problèmes, et la raison pour laquelle il est important d'avoir une définition claire du discours haineux, est que, bien qu’il soit une forme de discours contre les droits, une tentative de le réglementer et de le supprimer peut mener à la violation d'autres droits, et particulièrement d'un droit fondamental, le droit à la liberté d'expression.

    Bien que les droits des femmes, des LGBTQI, des personnes de couleur et des peuples autochtones doivent être respectés, leur droit d'être traités équitablement et avec respect peut parfois entrer en conflit avec la liberté d'expression. Il est donc important de savoir où tracer la ligne et comment identifier ce qui relève de la liberté d'expression et ce qui constitue un discours de haine ; et ce qui peut être fait à ce sujet. Mais il s'agit d'un processus très dynamique et les définitions changent continuellement, en partie à cause de l'essor des nouvelles technologies. Au fur et à mesure que de nouvelles formes de communication voient le jour, nous devons nous demander si tel ou tel discours est un discours haineux. Où est la limite ? Certains commentaires ou communications visuelles que l'on retrouve sur les plateformes médiatiques constituent-ils un discours haineux ? La distinction entre ce qui est ironique et ce qui est sérieux peut être difficile à saisir en ligne.

    Où, en Europe, la situation est-elle la plus préoccupante ?

    Le problème prend des formes différentes selon les endroits. Un exemple concret de cette situation préoccupante est celui de l'Italie, où il y a eu une augmentation significative des crimes haineux entre 2017 et 2018. En raison de l'utilisation de différentes méthodes de collecte de données, il est difficile de savoir dans quelle mesure ceux-ci ont augmenté, mais il est évident qu'ils ont fortement augmenté lorsque l'extrême droite est arrivée au pouvoir.

    En Italie, les discours haineux ont ciblé spécifiquement les réfugiés et les personnes de couleur. Cécile Kyenge, membre italienne noire du Parlement européen, est victime d'agressions racistes depuis des années. Lorsqu'elle a été nommée la première ministre noire du gouvernement d'Italie en 2013, elle a reçu des insultes racistes de la part du parti d'extrême droite de la Ligue. En 2018, une fois que le leader du Parti de la Ligue, Matteo Salvini, est arrivé au pouvoir, ils ont porté plainte pour diffamation contre elle, pour avoir accusé le parti et ses dirigeants d'être racistes !

    Il est très révélateur qu'un crime haineux ait été commis le jour même où Matteo Salvini a été assermenté comme Vice-Premier Ministre, le 3 juin 2018. Un migrant malien de 29 ans a été abattu (en anglais) par un homme blanc qui passait en voiture et lui a tiré dessus avec un fusil. Il a été tué alors qu'il ramassait de la ferraille pour construire des cabanes, aux côtés de deux autres migrants qui ont également été blessés. Ils vivaient tous dans un village de tentes qui abrite des centaines de travailleurs agricoles mal payés. Il s'agissait clairement d'un exemple de discours haineux transformé en acte, puisque cela s'est produit quelques heures à peine après que Matteo Salvini eut averti (en anglais) que, maintenant qu'il était au pouvoir, "les bons moments pour les sans-papiers étaient terminés" et que "l'Italie ne saurait être le camp de réfugiés de l'Europe".

    Le fait que l'extrême-droite ait accédé au pouvoir ou non fait une différence, ce qui devient évident lorsque l'on compare l'Italie et l'Allemagne. Les discours haineux sont également en hausse en Allemagne, mais dans ce cas, une nouvelle loi (en anglais) a été adoptée à la fin de 2017 pour réglementer les discours haineux en ligne. Cette loi exige que les plateformes de réseaux sociaux éliminent rapidement les discours haineux, les " fausses nouvelles " et tout matériel illégal, et elle semble avoir été très efficace pour réduire les discours haineux en ligne. En revanche, l'Italie ne dispose pas d'un cadre juridique aussi solide et le contexte n'est pas non plus propice à une révision du cadre juridique. En résumé, la montée des discours haineux en Italie est le résultat du mélange d'un environnement politique régressif et de l'absence d'une législation forte.

    Dans les cas de la Hongrie et de la Pologne, les gouvernements ont également réagi vigoureusement contre les migrants. Ces exemples sont particulièrement intéressants parce qu'il n'y a parfois pas de migrants dans certaines parties du pays, surtout à la campagne, mais il peut quand même y avoir des politiques anti-migrants même dans des endroits où il y a très peu de migrants. Cela a beaucoup à voir avec qui est au pouvoir et quel discours est livré par les dirigeants et diffusé sur les réseaux sociaux. Et si les discours de haine peuvent cibler divers groupes particuliers, je pense que dans la situation actuelle en Europe, ils commencent toujours par les migrants et les réfugiés, puis s'étendent à d'autres groupes marginalisés. Nous l'avons vu avec le Brexit au Royaume-Uni : la campagne référendaire a été imprégnée d'un discours anti-migrant, mais divers groupes de personnes qui n'étaient pas des migrants ou des réfugiés ont été de plus en plus menacés par des approches d'exclusion, qui ont fini par viser quiconque était différent, avait une apparence ou un langage différents.

    Existe-t-il une législation au niveau européen pour lutter contre les discours de haine ?

    Il n'y a rien de spécifique contre les discours haineux, mais parce qu'ils constituent une violation de tout un ensemble de droits, il existe un large éventail de règles applicables, telles que la décision-cadre sur la lutte contre certaines formes et manifestations de racisme et de xénophobie au moyen du droit pénal. Il y a aussi l'Agence des droits fondamentaux, une agence financée par l'UE qui collecte et analyse des données et effectue des recherches sur les droits fondamentaux. Elle fournit une assistance et une expertise aux niveaux européen et national, notamment dans les domaines de la non-discrimination, du racisme, de l'intolérance et des crimes de haine. Enfin, il existe un Code de conduite pour la lutte contre les discours haineux illégaux en ligne que la Commission européenne a récemment approuvé avec Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter et YouTube, qui vise à permettre aux utilisateurs des réseaux sociaux de donner librement leur avis en ligne et sans crainte de subir des attaques motivées par des considérations de race, couleur, religion, origine nationale ou ethnique, orientation et identité sexuelles, handicap ou autre. Elle vise également à faire en sorte que les législations communautaires et nationales en matière de lutte contre le discours  haineux soient mieux appliquées dans l'environnement en ligne dans l'ensemble de l'UE. Mais le processus d'adaptation de la législation européenne est lent et long, et l'UE ne dispose pas toujours de mécanismes suffisants pour tenir les États membres responsables lorsqu'ils ne se conforment pas à la législation.

    Que peut faire la société civile pour contrer les discours haineux, à part faire pression pour obtenir des changements législatifs ?

    Il existe de nombreuses stratégies qui peuvent être utilisées pour contrer efficacement le discours haineux. Bien sûr, il est important de modifier la législation pour garantir qu'elle couvre toutes les formes de discrimination et de discours de haine, mais il est également important - et très difficile - de sensibiliser la population. La prise de conscience de leur droit à l'égalité de traitement doit tout d'abord se faire auprès des personnes visées par les discours de haine. Même parmi les citoyens européens, nombreux sont ceux qui ne connaissent pas exactement leurs droits. Il est donc important de partager l'information avec la société civile et d'encourager les groupes de la société civile à la partager davantage.

    Le rôle des autorités locales et des organismes publics tels que la police est également essentiel pour garantir le droit à l'égalité de traitement, et le fait qu'ils agissent ou non face aux discours de haine fait une différence. Il est donc important que la société civile travaille avec ces acteurs pour qu'ils puissent reconnaître les propos haineux et agir contre eux.

    En outre, la société civile peut faire mieux dans le domaine des stratégies de communication pour protéger les droits fondamentaux en général. Cela nécessiterait un investissement dans le renforcement des capacités, étant donné que les connaissances requises ne sont pas uniformément diffusées. Les acteurs de base n'ont pas nécessairement les moyens de faire ce genre de travail, mais c'est souvent ce genre de travail qui a le plus d'impact sur les groupes affectés, car il est essentiel pour les aider à atteindre ces groupes.

    Il faut beaucoup plus d'investissements pour contrer les groupes haineux en ligne, car le contenu en ligne peut avoir un impact bien au-delà du contexte pour lequel il a été formulé. Selon des études sur le discours antisémite, les gens ont tendance à se sentir menacés par ce qu'ils voient en ligne, quel que soit l'impact direct sur leur réalité, de sorte qu'il est clair qu'il faut investir davantage pour contrer cet effet.

    Comment European Alternatives travaille-t-elle pour contrer les discours haineux ?

    Nous nous efforçons de mettre en contact les groupes qui travaillent sur des questions similaires et de combler les lacunes en matière de capacités. Nous y sommes parvenus grâce à une série d'activités de formation sur la lutte contre les discours haineux et le radicalisme d'extrême droite en Europe centrale et orientale. Il est important de réunir des militants et des citoyens de différents pays, car il est très difficile pour les gens de comprendre qu'il ne s'agit pas de phénomènes isolés qui se produisent dans leurs communautés, mais plutôt que beaucoup de communautés vivent la même chose et qu'il existe une gamme de solutions qui ont été essayées dans divers contextes locaux pour y remédier. Il est très important que ces échanges se poursuivent, parce que nous avons vu qu'ils fonctionnent : nous voyons des organisations qui collaborent au-delà des frontières et échangent des expériences qu'elles peuvent adapter pour lutter contre le discours haineux dans leur propre contexte.

    Il est également essentiel d'investir autant que possible dans l'éducation civique et l'éducation aux droits humains. Nous le faisons par le biais d'un cours en ligne sur la lutte contre les discours haineux en Europe, qui est basé sur le dialogue en ligne maintenu avec nos partenaires. Les vidéos sont open source et sont disponibles sur notre chaîne YouTube. Nous avons une liste de lecture appelée " Countering Hate Speech" (Contrecarrer les discours haineux), pour qu'ils puissent être regardés en séquence. Le cours offre aux participants l'opportunité d'accéder à des contenus d'experts développés par European Alternatives et de mettre en avant leurs propres expériences, valeurs et perspectives tout en s'engageant avec leurs pairs à travers un échange virtuel. À la fin du cours, les participants apprennent même à planifier et à organiser une journée d'action contre le discours haineux.

    Grâce à ces activités, nous essayons d'atteindre un grand nombre de jeunes. Le dialogue entre les individus et entre les communautés est essentiel parce que sur les réseaux sociaux, il y a de moins en moins d'espaces où les gens peuvent avoir une vraie conversation dans un environnement sûr. Et le dialogue est tout à fait efficace pour sensibiliser et réfléchir à des stratégies collectives.

    Je pense que la raison pour laquelle nous continuons dans cette voie, c'est parce que nous pensons qu'il ne peut y avoir une démocratie qui fonctionne bien lorsque les gens ne sont pas respectés. Le respect de notre humanité commune est une condition préalable à toute réforme démocratique.

    Prenez contact avec European Alternatives via son site web et sa page Facebook, ou suivez @EuroAlter et @MartPirate sur Twitter.


  • SWEDEN: ‘Swedish civil society needs to defend democracy at the grassroots level on a daily basis’

    Anna Carin HallAs part of our 2018 report on the theme of reimagining democracy, we are interviewing civil society activists and leaders about their work to promote democratic practices and principles, the challenges they encounter and the victories they score. Following Sweden’s September election, CIVICUS speaks to Anna-Carin Hall, press officer at Kvinna till Kvinna (Woman to Woman), a Swedish civil society foundation that seeks to strengthenthe role of women in conflict regions by collaborating with women’s organisations and supporting their work to promote women’s rights and peace. Its advocacy focuses on six thematic areas: safe meeting places, the empowerment of women’s rights defenders, increasing women’s power, women’s participation in peace processes, power over one’s body and security for all.

    Sweden’s September election saw support fall for the established centre-left and centre-right parties and rise for the far-right Sweden Democrats. What factors lie behind this result, and what broader trends do you think it points to?

    First, I must emphasise that my answers reflect my own personal opinions rather than those of the organisation I work for. Kvinna till Kvinna is a politically and ideologically independent organisation and has only taken one single standpoint regarding the elections – against what we see as the Sweden Democrats’ anti-feminist policy.

    That said, the drop in support for social democratic parties, for example, is an ongoing trend all over Europe, and not just in Sweden, so one answer could be that this global trend towards a more traditional, nationalist and authoritarian climate finally got hold of Sweden, too.

    Part of the explanation is, as always, fear of globalisation, as traditional jobs move out of Sweden as a result of cost-efficiency thinking, and a large influx of migrants over a short time span, particularly in 2015, create a heavy pressure on the Swedish welfare system, including education and health services, as well as housing shortages.

    Before the election there was also public discussion about the gap between urban and rural areas in Sweden, and around health services shutting down in remote areas. Support for the Sweden Democrats is more common in regions with low education, low income and high unemployment.

    Nevertheless, the Swedish economy is still very strong, and Swedes are in no way suffering economically because of heavy immigration. But large migration centres set up in the countryside have altered the makeup of the population very quickly, causing tension in these places. Additionally, long-term studies in Sweden have shown that for many decades public opinion has been less pro-immigrant than the policies of the dominant parties, and the Sweden Democrats are now being able to capitalise on this.

    Apart from the economy, insecurity issues have also been used to stir anti-immigrant sentiment. A rising level of spectacular shootings among criminal gangs in some immigrant-dominated suburbs has attracted the attention of both Swedish and international media – one of those events was even mentioned by US President Donald Trump, who incorrectly implied that it had been a terrorist attack – and alt-right websites have used these politically a lot.

    Longer term, do you expect support for far-right causes to continue rise, or do you think it has peaked?

    There are different views on this. Some analysts say that the Sweden Democrats have become popular because the other parties in parliament have tried to shut them out. As a result, the Sweden Democrats and their supporters have been able to play the role of victims and claim that the political elite does not care for the views of the common people. Some therefore argue that the Sweden Democrats should be included in the government, and refer to the case of Finland, where Sannfinnlandarna, a nationalist party, reached the government and showed themselves unfit to govern, as a result of which support for them rapidly dropped. This is suggested as one potentially easy way to get the Sweden Democrats off the agenda.

    Several analysts have predicted that the Sweden Democrats will rise a bit more in the next election and will then start to lose popularity. The explanation for this would be that the right turn in the Western world will eventually fade out - but this is really just an assumption, with not much in terms of facts to support it.

    Are these trends indicative of rising currents of xenophobia and racism? If so, how have the more mainstream political parties responded to these and how have they impacted on rights-oriented civil society?

    There is a discussion in Swedish media right now regarding whether support for the Sweden Democrats is driven mainly by xenophobia and racism. Some opinion-makers claim this is the case, but there are surveys pointing towards the fact that Swedes think that the problem is failed integration, rather than immigration itself. Swedish society hasn´t been able to provide immigrant groups with proper education in Swedish, guidance about the Swedish community, decent jobs and so on.

    The change in the political climate manifests itself in, for example, more outspoken discussion of the costs of immigration and its impact on the Swedish welfare system. We can also see a more vivid discussion around cultural or traditional behaviour, such as honour crimes, with some claiming that for too long Sweden has not taken a strong stand against this and avoided several conflictive issues around immigration and integration that were considered culturally sensitive.

    The normalisation of the Sweden Democrats, a party that originated in the Neo-Nazi movement of the 1970s and 1980s, has also led to a louder alt-right Neo-Nazi movement in Sweden, which though still low in numbers, gets a lot of media attention. Several alt-right media outlets are spreading fake news about crime rates among immigrants. Alt-right groups are also making threats, spreading hatred and running smear campaigns in social media. This climate may very well lead to self-censorship among pro-immigration, feminist and LGBTQI groups.

    Mainstream parties have responded to all of this by moving towards a more moderate immigration policy and placing higher demands on immigrants – for instance, by introducing new requirements that they must meet in order to receive social aid and subsidies. Rights-oriented civil society groups are still trying to raise their voices in favour of a generous immigration policy based on humanitarian values, but they aren’t getting much attention these days.

    How is civil society working to combat xenophobia, racism and right-wing populism in Sweden, and what else could it do to build support for human rights and social justice?

    Open racism and xenophobia are in no way tolerated by the vast majority of Swedes, and several local rallies have been staged against racism and the Neo-Nazi movement both before and after the elections. Rights-oriented civil society has prepared for a long time to counter these trends, but stills needs the support of large groups of everyday people to have an impact on official discourse and the public conversation.

    Swedes take great pride in their open society and will likely defend the free press, the freedom of speech and gender equality, among other values. Threats and hatred against immigrants, journalists, feminists and LGBTQI activists get much attention in the media and several political actions have been organised to prevent them from happening. So, if a right-wing government forms with silent or open parliamentary support from the Sweden Democrats, we will likely see a lot of strong reactions from the political and cultural establishment as well as from civil society.

    In the long run, Swedish civil society needs to work to defend democracy at the grassroots level on a daily basis, and maybe it also needs to go to the barricades to build opinion and change what could turn out to be a dangerous course of history.

    Civic space in Sweden is rated as ‘open’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with Kvinna till Kvinna through its website and Facebook page or follow@Kvinna_t_Kvinna on Twitter.