Good morning. I want to thank the Committee for providing the opportunity to discuss what is emerging as one of the most important issues confronting the future of Europe: the status and means of social inclusion for people of African descent.
For more than 20 years I have worked with minority communities and NGOs, including people of African descent, in Europe focused on issues of human rights, immigration, racial equality, and intolerance. This work included several years as Assistant Director of the 1990 Trust, a black human rights organization based in the UK. In that and other capacities I also worked with governments and regional institutions, such as the European Union and the Council of Europe regarding these concerns.
Although the oldest skull ever found in Europe belonged to an African, and even African Americans have been living in England since the late 1800s, for most people in Europe a settled presence of black people is viewed as a relatively new phenomenon. In fact, there have been several waves of blacks to Europe since the end of World War II. In England, France, the Netherlands, and even Germany, black migration was critical to the rebuilding of Europe. Waves of blacks came to Western Europe to drive the buses, nurse the sick, and sweep the streets of its great cities. In Eastern Europe, communist states from Russia to Poland to Yugoslavia welcomed African students, scholars, artists, and other professionals as part of an effort to aid liberation movements and newly-independent states. These new populations merged with older small black communities.
However, in both Western and Eastern Europe, blacks and other minorities were never fully integrated into these societies. First, they have often been the target of violent, racist attacks. Skinhead and neo-fascist organizations in Russia, Austria, Germany, and other states have specifically targeted blacks and a number of individuals have been murdered in recent years.
Second, there remain persistent disparities in the social arena. In housing, education, health care, and other areas, blacks in Europe are at or near the bottom. In the UK, one of the few states where racial statistics are kept, black students are expelled at 2-3 times the rate of White Europeans, have an employment rate that is 18 percent lower than the general population (57%-75%), and are 50 percent more likely to die of a stroke.
Third, racial issues are also acute in the realm of criminal justice. Police violence, deaths in custody and disproportionate incarceration are major concerns in England, France, Spain, Germany, Italy, and a number of other states in the region. Again, in the UK, black people are six times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police, and three times more likely to be arrested than whites. In France, police-community tensions erupted into deadly riots in 2005. The racialization of crime and the criminalization of a race both are having a devastating impact on black communities in Europe.
Fourth, blacks are also suffering from the often harsh, unfair, and discriminatory immigration policies that exist in the region. Anti-immigrant sentiments are rampant and not just restricted to the far-right, making it difficult to pass needed reforms.
First, it is important that states begin to collect social and economic data on the situation of racial and ethnic minorities in the region. Understandably, the history of Nazism, fascism and ethnic cleansing has generated a reluctance to gather racial data, but the lack of empirical data continues to hamper the development of concrete policies that can effectively address the social exclusion of Europe minorities.
Second, there is a need to strengthen the content and enforcement of anti-discrimination laws and policies. The 2000 Race Directive from the EU provided a foundational framework for constructing polices that can address discrimination. However, the legislation only covers EU member states, and is focused on anti-racism. Legislation must begin to address the issue of racial equality and means by which progress can be made to close the disparities that currently exist and are growing.
Third, along these lines, it is critical to establish effective and empowered government agencies that are focused on anti-discrimination. These entities should be built in such as manner that they maintain independence from political parties and narrow government interests. The United Nations has outlined specific guidelines on the development of these types of government-related bodies.
Last and perhaps most urgent, there is a need to include the voices of black communities in the development of anti-discrimination and equality policies. A wide range of black and anti-racist NGOs have developed over recent years but have too often been excluded from the policy debates that are critical for the communities they seek to represent.