Why are Europeans xenophobic?
Fortress Europe: Are refugees adequately received in Europe?
Robinson: Yes, increasingly. The preparatory conference in Strasbourg helped and the process on the way to Durban also promoted this, because non-governmental organizations have been involved and a global alliance against racism and xenophobia has started to be formed. Governments are paying more attention to this issue also because of the world conference. And in my opinion, the world conference must, in turn, provide impetus at the national level to deal with these problems.
Reimer: In your opinion, are there particularly vulnerable minorities in Europe?
Robinson: It is significant that the situation of the Roma became visible with this world conference and they also feel it. Some have said: Now the silence has finally been broken, our voices are heard, we want to participate in Durban. This also applies to my home country Ireland and to the Sinti. And the fact that the trafficking of defenseless people without identity documents is perceived or the danger of a fortress Europe - all these issues are getting more attention because the conference is taking place in Durban.
Reimer: You warned against a fortress Europe in Strasbourg. Are refugees adequately received in Europe?
Robinson: No, I think every country could do more! Perhaps it starts with more public education, with an approach that enables refugees and asylum seekers to be seen from a much more positive side. We are now celebrating the 50th birthday of the UN High Commission for Refugees. The UN Refugee Agency focused on the term "respect", not passive tolerance, but the effort to understand that is inherent in respect for the individual. I believe that more could be done at all levels, by teachers, local politicians, in the media, to make it clear how human rights are strengthened when there is a protective framework for refugees and asylum seekers. In addition, the European states, with their aging populations, need immigrants to help them cope with the future.
Reimer: One of the outstanding conflicts in preparation in Geneva and later in Durban was the call by the Africans to the former colonial powers and those who profited from the slave trade, such as the USA, to apologize for slavery and to pay compensation. What do you think?
Robinson: I am encouraged that there is progress in facing the past as a world community. The negotiations at this preparatory conference have been significant so far and I believe there will be a breakthrough in Durban. The past will be treated in an appropriate way that will enliven the struggle and global alliance against racism because it brings us closer together as a world community if we are able to recognize the importance of slavery.
Reimer: Does that mean that people speak of appreciation and not excuse?
Robinson: The choice of words that is emerging is that remorse and deep regret is felt worldwide and that there is an awareness that words alone are not enough, but that there must also be a kind of practical proof of solidarity towards such countries, whose development opportunities through mass slavery and colonialist ones Exploitation was permanently impaired. These are very important questions and for the first time we are making progress here.
Reimer: The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has already more or less brought the first two world conferences against racism to failure and something similar is threatening here too. How should it be dealt with?
Robinson: This is a particularly difficult dispute. In my opening speech for the ongoing preparatory conference, I made it clear that it was not appropriate to bring up the issue of Zionism as racism again in the style of the earlier UN resolution. This resolution was repealed in 1991. We need a language that corresponds to a conference that aims to achieve something for victims and promote understanding and reconciliation. But here, too, I am impressed with the seriousness with which the negotiations are being conducted in view of the very difficult situation in the Middle East. And if this continues, we can look forward to a breakthrough in Durban.
Reimer: The Durban Declaration and the program of action to be adopted there are not binding on the states under international law. What needs to be done so that the conference will show concrete results?
Robinson: That is the importance of the action program; this is about implementation. Racism problems affect every country. Therefore, every country should be encouraged to develop a national plan to combat racism, discrimination and xenophobia. These can be laws, for example the ratification of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, it can be legal aid for victims or educational programs, the use of commissions for racial relations - if they exist - or national human rights commissions. And it would be important to me that young people not only take part in the youth forum in Durban, but that they really feel that it is about values that we want to advance.
Link: Interview as RealAudio
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