Think EU-MED

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Israeli-Palestinian Movement “Combatants for Peace”

مقاتلون من اجل السلام / לוחמים לשלום

An open dialogue, cultural initiatives and exchanges between Palestinians and Israelis are rare and difficult to obtain. The ongoing military conflict, fixed prejudices and imaginaries, and a lack of openness in the region are hindering are joint dialogue for mutual understanding. However, there are a few civil movements who try to break down these collective barriers and raise the consciousness in both societies in regard to this bloody conflict.

The non-violent resistance group “Combatants for Peace” is the very best example that a jointly movement for a better relationship is possible. It is a civil movement jointly established by former Palestinian militants and Israeli soldiers in order to promote a peaceful solution of two states (according to the Oslo Treaty) through dialogue and non-violent means. The bi-national movement “Combatants for Peace” leads a pacifist struggle against the occupation, fights for peace and justice in various joint actions. The activist’s goal is to enhance trust and solidarity between Palestinians and Israelis and, in the end, lead their societies out of the vicious cycle of conflict.

“Combatants for Peace” was formed in 2005 by a group of 12 Israeli soldiers from the Israeli army (IDF) and four former Palestinian fighters, mostly from the Fatah movement. Both sides took an active role in the violent struggle in the region and decided together to drop their arms.
They become convinced that a military solution to the conflict is impossible and motivated to talk to each other” "Initially we were full of fear, but we learned that we're all human and can talk together,” said Palestinian Fatah fighter Sulaiman al-Hamri to the Jewish Journal. After a series of meetings, the group of Israelis and Palestinians jointly expressed the desire to fight peacefully for a solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and formed the “Combatants for Peace on Pessah” in 2006.

Today the movement consists of more than 250 activists involving also non ex-military participants who gather in weekly group dialogue meetings. But dialogue is not the end in itself, but rather a starting point for a number of concrete actions and real change in the area. For instance, the movement engages to help Palestinian farmers who have limited access to their fields due to military presence or who face harassment from settlers. The Combatants remove road blockages that tears the Palestinian villages apart, assist in the re-building of demolished houses and provide cultural and social activities such as tours of east Jerusalem, lectures and nonviolent demonstrations.

In a press release Raed Hadar and Avner Wishnitzer, Palestinian and Israeli coordinators of the movement emphasise: “We believe that only by joining forces, will we be able to end the cycle of violence, the bloodshed and the occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people. We no longer believe that it is possible to resolve the conflict between the two peoples through violent means; therefore we declare that we refuse to take part any more in the mutual

Recently, the efforts of the “Combatants for Peace” were honoured with the 4th Euro-Med Award for Dialogue between Cultures 2009. The award, an initiative of the Anna Lindh Foundation and its partner Fondazione Mediterraneo, promotes the dialogue between cultures shared by the 43 countries of the Union for the Mediterranean. The official Ceremony was held in Stockholm, on 21st of September 2009, the International Day of Peace.

Please visit:
Jewish Journal: Former Israeli and Palestinian fighters push for peace—together

Anna Lindh Euro Mediterranean Foundation:

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Italy and Recent Developments in the Area of Asylum

Lampedusa, Sicily or Sardinia... when you hear about these Italian islands in the Mediterranean you won’t automatically associate these spots with beaches and holidays nowadays but rather with floods of refugees, reception centres and human rights abuses. The Italian policy of intercepting migrants and refugees without giving them a chance to request asylum has aroused sharp criticism, as many legitimate refugees and asylum seekers are forced to get back to places where their lives are threatened. This rough immigration practices are also strongly criticised by the European Union, although the Union’s own incapacity to carry out a European solution is highly related with the problems in the Mediterranean Sea.

The European Union has so far failed to enforce a common European treatment of asylum claims and until there are not adequate systems to offer safety to asylum seekers and refugees who need it across Europe, the story will continue. Ten years after the establishment of the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice (AFSJ), the achievements in the area of Asylum have been plain-spoken modest. The security discourses have taken precedence on the European agenda and the priorities have shifted towards issues relating to external frontiers and undocumented immigration, which has conjured up images of a “Fortress Europe”.

In 2008, there were nearly 240,000 asylum applications lodged in the EU and just 13% of applicants were granted refugee status. 193 690 first instance decisions were made on asylum applicants. There were 73% rejections, 13% applicants were granted refugee status, 10% subsidiary protection and 5% authorisation to stay for humanitarian reasons. (Eurostat, 2009) The Hague Program called for an improved asylum regulation, common procedure and uniform status for asylum seekers as the so-called Dublin Regulation, defining that the first EU member state that a migrant enters examines the asylum application, has been unsatisfactory. Various approaches, such as the Asylum Procedures Directive, Reception Conditions Directive, or the Qualification Directive should harmonize the conditions, procedures, and the rights conferred on the status of refugees or asylum applicants in the different EU countries.

However, the level of harmonization is still relatively low and the national authorities and courts do not always correctly apply the EU’s directives. The situation is particularly critical for rejected asylum seekers who are often times forced to work in substandard conditions, exploited, or taken into trafficking networks. The EU’s measures to protect these victims of exploitation and trafficking are inadequate. The recent Employers’ Sanctions Directive proposal on Third country nationals (TCNs) working illegally and the proposal for a “Return Directive” illustrate the predominant trend to focus on illegal residence and working, and repressive security measures rather than on protecting the migrants’ rights.

Nevertheless, the Commission is pushing for standardization and, in December 2008, it presented an asylum package that should change the European legislation by setting minimal standards for asylum seekers at the point of their arrival - Measures to improve the asylum system and strengthening asylum seekers' rights specific standards must be guaranteed in terms of “housing, food, clothing, health care, financial benefits, and freedom of movement and access to work.” (European Parliament, 2009) Furthermore, the creation of a European Asylum Support Office and asolidarity” clause to unburden greatly affected EU members such as Malta, Italy, and Greece is foreseen. On May 7, 2009, the package was adopted by the European Parliament which called for a binding mechanism to be set up before 2012.

In the meantime, it is feared that unilaterally national initiatives will further gain ground and violate international law, as the case of Italy demonstrates. In May 2009, Italy started its highly controversial return policy with joint naval patrols in Libyan territorial waters and a bilateral agreement with Tripoli. In order to combat illegal immigration, Italy rejects every boat approaching the Italian coastal borders and the Italian coast guard sent all migrants back to so-called reception centres in Libya. A new Human Rights Watch (HRW) report illustrates the bad treatment and inhuman conditions in this Libyan centres to which all of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees are sent regardless their official status in international law. Libya has not ratified the international convention on refugees and treats all returned people as illegal immigrants, regardless of their legal status. Many of them are refugees and asylum seekers from conflict zones such as Somalia or Darfur who would have a right to international protection. The Human Rights Watch Report stresses that 2008 about 75 percent of the people coming to Lampedusa were asylum seekers. As a consequence, the irregular boat migrants to Sicily, Lampedusa and Sardinia fell by 55 percent in the first six months of 2009 compared to the same period the previous year according to the HRW. Frontex statistics show a 31% decrease in the number of migrants detected heading towards Italy and Malta in the first half of this year compared to the same period last year.

On 21 September 2009, a Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting was held in Brussels to discuss actions in the area of irregular migration, joint EU Resettlement Programme, asylum issues, unaccompanied minors and a report from the European Commission as a follow-up on the European Council conclusions of 18/19 June 2009. The Italian case was not high on the agenda despite of UN critics that fundamental human rights standards of refugees have to be respected. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, recently called the current European asylum policy “dysfunctional” and urged EU Member States to help refugees who are fleeing from conflicts in their countries.

Human Rights Watch: Pushed Back, Pushed Around
Eurostat: Data in Focus, 8/2009, Asylum applicants and decisions on asylum applications in Q4 2008 European Parliament: Press Release: 07.05.2009 Council of the EU: European Council conclusions of 18/19 June 2009
Council of the EU: JHA Council conclusions 21 September 2009