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  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 11:03 am on February 28, 2012 Permalink | Reply
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    Germany´s neo-Nazi terrorism: time for reflection 

    By Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH Pro Igual

    In February 2012, German Chancellor Angela Merkel had apologized to the families of the victims of apparent hate crimes for the failure of the German state to find and prosecute perpetrators. The so-called “döner murders” of mostly ethnic Turkish entrepreneurs had taken place between 2000 and 2007, but had remained unresolved until a recent and accidental discovery of the neo-Nazi link.

    “Most of you were abandoned in your time of need. Some relatives were themselves for years suspected of wrongdoing. That is particularly oppressive. For this, I ask for your forgiveness,” stated Ms. Merkel.

    Establishing the neo-Nazi connection to the murders had prompted soul-searching among the German authorities trying to understand how and why so many hate crimes against immigrants could have been overlooked for so long. The answer to this mystery may be closer than many think, as Ms. Merkel´s apology stands in a stark contrast with her earlier speech on the failure of multiculturalism in Germany. Then, in no uncertain terms, the German Chancellor suggested that the immigrants bore at least partial responsibility for failing to integrate… or to leave:

    “We kidded ourselves a while, we said: ‘They won’t stay, sometime they will be gone,’ but this isn’t reality.”

    That is the crux of the problem, isn´t it? Immigrants would not leave. Immigrants would not put their lives on hold while giving their best years and energy working in host countries. Immigrants would go on to have families and children. Immigrants would not abandon their identity, culture, religion, food, or dress code. And so they are charged with being responsible for inspiring distrust, hate, or envy, or all of the above. The long tradition of xenophobia and blaming (perceived) outsiders for political, economic, or social failures of the country is carefully omitted.

    Of course, immigrants are still needed, just as they were needed after the WWII rebuilding their host country from the ruin in which extreme xenophobia and racism had left the entire continent. Today as ever Germany depends on the immigrant labor to power its economy. This is why Ms. Merkel´s belated apology, albeit welcome, seems somewhat disingenuous and self-serving. But genuine or calculated, this is a high time for reflection, in Germany and elsewhere, as to who their real enemies are.

    There is poignant symbolism in the “döner murders” affair. The law-abiding, entrepreneurial immigrants were slain by German criminals that hardly made any contribution to German society. However, even the reputably efficient German police could not escape the usual stereotyping and by default looked for perpetrators among the immigrant community. That, despite the growing evidence that the threat of violence emanates not only or not as much as from immigrants or minorities, as from poorly educated, disenfranchised, racist and increasingly extremist majority youths falling prey to clandestine yet highly organized right-wing organizations. Suffice it to mention the Breivik´s killing spree in Norway and his ideological influences to underscore the reality of the threat.

    While even mainstream politicians across Europe try to score cheap victories by engaging in demagogic populism and indulging public intolerance with myths about immigrants “stealing jobs,” “scamming welfare,” or “engaging in terrorism,” the much deadlier threat comes to fruition: the neo-Nazi terrorism.

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  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 5:31 pm on June 5, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Bulgaria, , , , , , , integration, , , , , , , UK   

    Institutions cannot improve 

    Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH Pro Igual

    A piece of news caught my attention recently: conditions in Bulgarian institutions for children with disabilities have improved following a damning report on human rights abuses there. Well, it´s good to know. But I cannot shake off a nagging feeling: is it good news or bad news that the institutions have “improved”, if they still exist?

    The institution, by its nature, creates two classes of beings: one in the position of power, and the other powerless. And we all know that power corrupts, especially such absolute and unchecked power that the staff of the residential institution usually have over vulnerable people in their “care.”

    Last year, the report by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee revealed that hundreds of deaths of children with mental and physical disabilities took place due to appalling lack of care, staff negligence and even physical abuse in the state-run “care homes”. Now, we are told, somebody is actually giving these children food and checks their medications. Deaths in the care homes will now be more thoroughly investigated and surprise official inspections are supposed to prevent abusive practices. So we are told.

    But we have also been told by the Bulgarian government that all residential institutions for people with mental and other disabilities would be closed down by 2014 and replaced by community-based supports. So, why hasn´t the government closed the “care homes” as soon as their horrendous practices came to light? Why (and how) exactly have their conditions improved? Have the authorities put material resources – surely not unlimited – into the institutions to “improve” them? If so, what of the pledge to close down the institutions?

    And just before someone brings up the “our country is poor” argument for not switching to community-based services, it is utterly disingenuous to claim that the level of economic development of a country has anything to do with the treatment in the institution. (Not to mention that community-based services may actually be less costly than institutions.) The most recent undercover media investigation in a UK care home has convincingly demonstrated that even in that prosperous country, with centuries of humanist values, the situation of institutionalized people is not that different from a situation in an impoverished or “transition” country. It is the very nature of the institution that makes abuse not only possible but almost inevitable.

    So, rejoice not that the conditions in the Bulgarian institutions have “improved”, because just about anything would qualify as an “improvement” in a place where children were starved, abused and neglected to death. Rather, keep asking — when will the last institution be closed down, in Bulgaria and elsewhere? Institutions simply cannot “improve”!

     
  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 9:04 am on October 1, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , integration, , , , , ,   

    And some more horror stories 

    By Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH ProIgual

    Upon recently reading the piece How Many More Horror Stories Do We Need to Hear and watching the clip that accompanies it, I felt big, walnut-sized goosebumps on the skin. A good Spanish word “escalofriante” describes well the emotion.

    The article was written by Judith Klein, a long-time colleague and friend of mine. She directs the Mental Health Initiative (MHI) program at Open Society Institute, the program that for years has been advocating for deinstitutionalization of people with mental disabilities and providing community-based services that allow their integration in society.

    I personally learned about the issue of rampant institutionalization and abuse of human rights of people with mental disabilities just a few years ago, when the report on cagebeds by Mental Disability Advocacy Center (MDAC) came out.

    At that time I honestly thought that following the damning MDAC publication things would change immediately, because it was a national embarrassment for each and every country involved. Since it was news to me and that was my human reaction, I really believed that everyone who just learned about the cagebeds for the first time would also react this way. Especially people in power — they tend to be cockiest about their country´s reputation.

    Apparently not. Apparently bureaucrats already know all about it, but continue maintaining and financing establishments where atrocities like cagebeds are possible. And so we continue hearing horror stories of institutional abuse of people with mental disabilities.

    There are many vulnerable groups out there: women; refugees; elderly; prison inmates; marginalized ethnic, religious or sexual minorities. Sometimes, when the proverbial  last straw breaks their back, so-to-say, they at least can collectively protest or riot to get attention to their plight and to negotiate improvements in their condition. But institutional inmates with mental disabilities do not even have this last resort.

    Unfortunately, my guess is there will be many, many more horror stories to come. But I think, no matter how disturbing, they should keep coming to light. Somebody has got to stir up public and bureaucratic feelings. So that if not out of elementary human compassion, then at least out of professional embarrassment — and possible sanctions — people in a position to do something about deinstitutionalization would act.

     
  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 8:43 am on September 19, 2010 Permalink | Reply
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    Article “While France Deports Roma Gypsies, Spain Integrates Them” 

    Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH Pro Igual

    An informative, if somewhat embellished, account of integration initiatives of Roma in Spain was presented in Time magazine in an article by Andres Cala “While France Deports Roma, Spain Integrates Them.”

    Some of the most relevant facts are as follows:

    • Spain spends c. €36 million a year on Roma integration, making good use of EU´s social funds.
    • About half of Spanish Roma are homeowners; only an estimated 5% still live in makeshift camps.
    • Practically all Roma in Spain have access to health care.
    • Practically all Roma children start elementary school (although only about one third actually finish it), and an estimated 85% of Spanish Roma are literate.

    Furthermore, the article notes:

    Spain’s two-pronged integration approach has been instrumental in those results, pairing access to mainstream social services with targeted inclusion programs. For example, Roma can have access to public housing and financial aid on the condition that they send their children to schools and health care facilities. Then there’s the Gypsy Secretariat Foundation Acceder program, which experts say is one of the best integration initiatives in Europe. The program takes young, unemployed Gypsies and teaches them technical skills and helps them earn the equivalent of a high school degree. At the end, they are placed in jobs through a series of agreements with private companies.

    While the Time article may gloss over some of rather serious issues, such as deeply rooted prejudices, discrimination and other racism-related problems Roma experience in Spain on a daily basis, the question posed by the article in the end appear a legitimate one: can the rest of Europe replicate Spain’s success?

     
  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 8:59 pm on July 11, 2010 Permalink | Reply
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    Saving on Roma health rights is bad economy 

    Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH Pro Igual

    Analysis of various barriers for Roma access to health care in Southeast Europe suggests that money – for better or worse – is now rivaling discrimination, which traditionally was among the major deterrents.

    For better, because at least money is color-blind (or so we believe). This means that a paying person is guaranteed access to the best available health care regardless of his or her background, as long as there is money to pay for it. For worse, because money denotes dehumanization of healthcare: a poor person can be left without vitally important treatments. Incidentally, the majority of Roma may fall into this category.

    But paradoxes arise when some doctors or hospitals try to save money by refusing what seem to be expensive procedures for people who cannot pay, but then end up providing them much more expensive procedures for free, as a matter of emergency, since withholding necessary preventive treatments can and often leads to complications of all sorts.

    A few examples follow.

    • A pregnant Roma woman in Romania was refused a Cesarean in an overdue delivery (Caesareans are evidently expensive). But after her unborn baby died, and a host of complications occurred, her uterus had to be removed (which is a much more expensive procedure than the Cesarean). Given it was an emergency operation, it was free. That, on top of potential charges for doctors/the hospital if the patient decided to sue for negligence and/or malpractice. Where exactly was the saving here is difficult to see.
    • A Roma boy in Macedonia broke his arm but the doctor didn´t do a very good job with the cast. When the boy´s arm swelled and the family brought him back to the hospital, the doctor did not find time (an expensive commodity) for giving it a better look. The arm subsequently developed a gangrenous infection and had to be amputated, with the boy´s life endangered. Obviously, there were no  bills for the boy´s family, and as soon as the court´s decision is out in this highly publicized case, the doctor/hospital might have to loosen their purse strings to compensate the boy for the life-long disability caused. Again, it is hard to see any savings here.
    • In Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, and other countries in the region Roma are routinely denied tests capable to detect health problems early on and to prevent the development of serious illnesses. State-provided mammogram, ultrasound, and other tests and specialists are systematically “overbooked” whenever Roma patients need or request them. (By the way, the same services are available at any time, for a fee, as “private.”) But as a result of withholding preventive treatments, the state often has to provide more expensive emergency and rehabilitation procedures, naturally for free.

    The list can go on indefinitely, but the point is: saving on Roma health and health rights, shows to be bad economy.

     
  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 9:48 am on June 16, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , integration, , , , , ,   

    Cutting some budgets may be a good thing 

    Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH Pro Igual

    Budget deficit and impending cuts, most commonly in public sector, are on the news every day. There is a lot of uncertainty about who will be affected and to what extent. But usually there is understanding that budget cuts are a bad thing. But I keep thinking about one human rights report I had a chance to edit last year, about the mental health care budget in Romania. That report made me think differently about certain budget cuts.

    The report was written by the Institute for Public Policy (IPP) and among other things it presented some figures about the costs of running institutions versus community-based services for people with disabilities. Contrary to popular beliefs, community-based services are not more expensive than institutions-based services. Actually, community-based services are sometimes several times cheaper (sic!) than institutional ones. And as to the outcomes, one need not be an expert to figure out that life in closed, remote institutions can turn even a healthy person into a wreck.

    Many people in Eastern Europe dread of a possibility to end up in some nursing home when they are old, and certainly would not choose to live there. People in Eastern Europe also often take pity on orphans or abandoned children who end up in institutions, again because people have a pretty good idea of what is happening inside. Life in institutions can be especially devastating for people with disabilities, especially mental or developmental, who do not even have that choice of where to be. The IPP report referred to dozens of unexplained deaths of patients in Romanian institutions.

    But what did strike me most was that  if the data on comparative costs were available to the government (and they surely were in case of Romania), how come the government did not immediately jump at an opportunity to save money by starting to switch to community-based services? Wouldn´t it be a rational thing to do? Even in a healthy economy, there are always areas that badly lack funding. Ways to redistribute funding from wasteful and inefficient projects to cost-efficient and necessary ones, seems to me, should always be on the government radar. Perhaps, there are some other concerns that I do not understand, like public dislike of the idea. But that surely cannot and should not trump rational cost-efficiency (not even mentioning humane) considerations. Or am I still missing something?

    In any event, there are now budget cuts on the agenda in Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, and other countries badly affected by the current economic crisis. Perhaps, the governments — with a bit of help from NGOs — should seize on it as an opportunity in disguise for deinstitutionalization. Then, if done wisely, the budget cuts can actually turn out to be a good thing leading to the closure of expensive and ineffective institutions for people with disabilities and/or mental health problems and the shift towards community-based services and care.

     
  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 7:10 pm on June 10, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , integration, , , ,   

    Halfway through the Roma Decade: going anywhere? 

    Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH Pro Igual

    An opinion piece on the debate site Has the Decade of Roma Inclusion made a difference for Roma in the communities? is highly critical of the absence of the tangible progress of the Roma Decade to date.

    To be fair, many Roma and non-Roma civil society organizations work hard on various issues of concern to Roma, and often achieve remarkable results. But as some rightly point out, these organizations worked before the Decade, definitely would have worked without the Decade, and most likely would continue working long after the Decade. Others, however, and specifically some of the big international names that were so enthusiastic prior to the Decade launch, do not seem quite as active as many would have expected. Of course, speeches are still being periodically made, and Roma-related and Decade-related conferences and events are being attended faithfully, but that spark seems to be gone. What is left is more like a lip-service than a heart-felt effort.

    EU is one such example. It seems, after the then Commission´s composition had changed, the Roma Decade lost both its protagonists and its drive. The EU Roma Strategy is still missing, despite persistent calls from a wide range of Roma organizations to adopt one. There are other big players, too, that have not been heard much from since the Decade.

    And it would be entirely inappropriate to try and bring economic crisis as an excuse for diminished activism. First, because it would just stress that Roma issues are so unimportant to them that anything else, by default, acquires higher priority. Second, because, if anything, at times of economic crises — and international organizations can bet their annual budgets on it — Roma are guaranteed to be affected more and more severely than anyone, and therefore there are more, not less, reasons to ensure the Decade´s proper implementation.

    It is no wonder that without continued international support and pressure only limited progress has been reported with the implementation of the Decade´s objectives in the participating countries, half-way through the Decade, as evidenced by the Decade Watch monitoring. And it is no wonder that Roma are becoming somewhat disappointed with the Decade´s achievements.

    Decade partners need to step up their involvement, if the Decade to lead somewhere. Surely, grass-roots NGOs must do their bit — nothing without the Roma. But as mentioned before, they have been doing their job anyway and did not need the Decade for that. But if other partners committed themselves to the Decade, they too should stick to the agreement and do their bit in good faith. Otherwise, why did they even bother getting involved?

     
  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 5:28 pm on April 21, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , integration, , , , , , , ,   

    Yes, Western women can wear miniskirts in Muslim countries. 

    Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH Pro Igual

    A school in Pozuelo de Alarcon (a district in Madrid) recently became embroiled in a controversy over a Muslim girl wearing a headscarf to school. The school authorities banned the veil in school. Muslim activists, concerned that this prohibition might spread across other schools, are resolved to challenge the ban in courts.

    There are two interesting aspects in this case. First, as is quite common, anti-veil advocates claim that because in Muslim countries Westerners in general and Western women in particular are not allowed various freedoms, Muslim women in Europe should not be allowed to wear a veil (among other rights).

    Well, the fact of the matter is that the most insistent on wearing veil are very often Western women-converts. And since they are at home in Europe, it is hard to trace a logical connection between the alleged lack of freedoms for Europeans in Iran or Saudi Arabia and proposed limitations on the rights for European women in Europe.

    But actually, this maxim “they don´t let us, so we won´t let them” is not entirely accurate. Most of Muslims, let´s say in Spain, come from Morocco. And it appears that the Spanish women are not forbidden from wearing mini-skirts in Morocco. So, the reciprocity argument against the headscarf seems void of any serious basis.

    The second issue is that another uncalled for anti-headscarf regulation — and ensuing debate — completely overlook the fact that the local Muslim community has been for years peacefully coexisting with the majority community. Why would anyone want to disrupt this over a rather silly issue is beyond comprehension. But the disruption is very likely in this, and possibly many new cases that can now spring up like mushrooms after the rain.

     
  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 2:59 pm on April 16, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , integration, , , , , , ,   

    What is to be learned from success of right-wing parties across Europe? 

    Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH ProIgual

    The most recent electoral gains for another ultra-nationalist party, this time in Hungary, where anti-Roma Jobbik shoot from nowhere into the tie for the second largest chunk of seats in the parliament, brought up another round of discussions about the economic crisis´ impact on the voters. Mainstream politicians, especially the left-leaning, are going to get it wrong again. It is not the crisis per se. It is not even deep-seated xenophobia in many European voters. It is simplicity with which right-wing/nationalist leaders explain their message to the voters, something that the more sophisticated politicians do not seem to be capable of, and that keeps costing them votes.

    If we remember the previous elections to the European Parliament in 2004 (not at all a crisis period, on the contrary, a period of economic boom), right-wing parties had made considerable gains there. And elections, for example, in the early noughties in the Netherlands when Pim Fortuyn´s message was so well received, the country was not doing too bad economically, either. So, without discounting an economic crisis as a factor,  let´s admit that on its own it is not a decisive factor for people voting for right-wing parties.

    The message of xenophobic parties is always quickly dismissed by the mainstream and especially left-wing counterparts as not worth talking about. But perhaps this is a mistake? Perhaps, the message, and especially the way it is presented, needs to be dissected, studied and in some ways even used? Just listen to the brilliant simplicity of “2 legs bad, 4 legs good,” or “foreigners steal our  jobs.” Trying to explicate that foreigners actually take jobs that natives do not want and make contributions to economy through paying taxes, work product, etc., somehow muddles up the message.

    Perhaps, some liberals or even centrists are too well-educated and too sophisticated and that becomes a problem? Instead of using simple words, black-and-white images, and clear/memorable slogans they delve into all sorts of shades of grey — and get lost in translation, or even in their own message.

    Of course life, and any public issue, is more complicated than black-and-white. But the European voters have grown accustomed to information presented with a lightening speed, whether it is a toothpaste commercial or presentation of a political platform. To be ahead of the game, mainstream politicians should refine their message — without losing its integrity. And who knows, maybe when pro-diversity, pro-immigration, pro-inclusion politicians learn to present their messages with similar, enviable simplicity of their opponents, the political landscape of many European countries might become quite different.

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  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 7:43 am on March 7, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , integration, , , , , , ,   

    Intelligence is a subjective matter 

    Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH Pro Igual

    It is interesting to read definitions of intellectual disability. They are vague and conditional.Perhaps, rightly so. Deciding who is intelligent and who is not, who is capable and who is not, is after all a very subjective matter.

    I have met some minority children with Down´s syndrome and other specificities that professionals would define as intellectual disabilities. Being from families where two (or more) languages were routinely spoken at home, these children grew up bilingual. A bilingual person with an intellectual disability defies any definition. How many so-called “normal” people in the US, UK, Spain, or other country with a widely spoken language ever master a second language? So, who is disabled then?

    The other day I had an urgent post delivery. It was brought by a man whom professionals would also define as having an intellectual disability. However, he has a paid job (a postal carrier), he drove a vehicle (which means he had passed a test to get a driving licence, which is more than I managed, with my academic degrees). In short, he is a full member of society, which chose to include him, support him, and which benefits from his social inclusion (in the form of taxes, work product, and non-expenditure on institutional and other costs), as much as he does.

    What a contrast to countries in Eastern Europe where abandoned children are institutionalised and often are neglected to the point that they do not master elementary skills, which puts their development on the level with those who were born with inherent developmental disabilities. Then the states pay for this neglect with life-long disability pensions. And it hurts to think that just a portion of the money some states spend on keeping people with disabilities locked up, where they are invisible, unwanted and abused, could be enough to support them to become rightful, contributing members of society.

     
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