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SEXUAL ASSAULT

Voices emerge to counter rape stigma

Dark-skinned men in Norway are feeling the stigma of a recent wave of “after hours” sexual assaults in which roughly half of the attackers were asylum seekers from war-torn countries.

Bashe Musse is one of those feeling the negative glare. Musse, a Somali, told broadcaster NRK that  assailants described as Somali in recent rape cases had him worried about the reputation of a community he describes as predominantly law-abiding.

“Not everybody, but a lot of people have put a face to the rapist as a person not of Norwegian extraction," Musse told NRK.

This weekend, he and around 100 others walked around Oslo with volunteer street patrol group the Night Ravens who, with their fluorescent yellow vests, joined police in keeping an eye on the capital’s poorly lit neighbourhoods. Police this weekend doubled the number of beat cops, horse-mounted sections and cruisers in an effort to dissuade would-be rapists.

Although recent research has revealed some 87 percent of rapes reported to police happen inside Norwegian homes, it’s the 13 percent taking place “on the street” or “after clubbing” that have made national headlines this year. The number of such cases reported in Oslo this year has now reached 51, more than double the total for all of 2010, NRK reports.

Many politicians have reacted strongly to the fact that many of those rapes were committed by asylum seekers. In one recent attack, two girls were attacked outside Oslo S train station by five asylum seekers from Central Asia.

“The rapists are raping the entire reputation of immigrants,” Liberal Party MP Abid Raja told newspaper VG.

One of those joining the Night Ravens to make Oslo safer for women was an Asian immigrant who was herself raped in a brutal attack four years ago. Louzia Louhibi, 21, told VG she now asks women walking alone at night if they would like to be accompanied home.

Norwegian police said they were now planning to visit asylum centres to inform newcomers about the criminal consequences of rape in Norway, NRK reports.

POLITICS

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.

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