Protest in Slovenia Over Proposed Anti-Migrant Law

Here are 16 shots taken during a small rally in Ljubljana, Slovenia, this afternoon where about 50 people gathered in front of the national parliament in opposition to an anti-migrant law proposed by the government earlier this month.

The ‘I Feel Love’ slogan in the sign at top is a play on the current national tourism slogan, ‘I Feel Slovenia’, with ‘Love’ highlighted in the country’s name. Cute, no? Here, the latter is replaced by ‘človek’, or person, which matches nicely with Amnesty International Slovenia’s migrant theme, ‘Gledam begunca, vidim človeka’: ‘I look at a refugee, I see a person’.

Amnesty International Slovenia organized the event as a sharing of refugee’s testimonies and stories, read at the gathering by AI members. A few asylum-seekers also took to the mic to share some of the difficulties they’ve faced while playing the asylum waiting games in Slovenia (and elsewhere), some for upwards of a year, and in one extreme case, nearly five.

 

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Sharaf, asylum-seeker from Afghanistan, in Slovenia for nearly five years

 

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Afghan asylum-seekers Sharaf (r) and Norla (l) speaking at an Amnesty International rally in Ljubljana

 

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Sharaf in front of Slovenia’s parliament building

The law in question is actually a series of proposed amendments to the Aliens Act that would grant the government authority to clamp down on legally-binding asylum provisions in exceptional circumstances and for a limited time.

Those ‘exceptional circumstances’ are best illustrated by the migrant wave in 2015 and 2016, when some 500,000 asylum-seekers passed through Slovenia along the so-called Balkan route.

Among the most contentious of the amendments would give police the power to turn down and turn back asylum-seekers and applicants at the border, a provision critics say is unconstitutional in Slovenia, counter to EU law and contrary to international rights granted to asylum-seekers.

Amnesty International, in a statement, urged parliament to reject the legal changes as they “would deny refugees and asylum seekers the protections to which they are entitled under international and EU law”.

“Stripping people fleeing for their lives of their right to claim asylum and pushing them back at the border is a breach of international and EU law. Instead of treating refugees and asylum-seekers as a security risk, the Slovenian authorities should recognise their responsibility to protect people who have made terrifying journeys and risked everything in search of safety,” said Gauri van Gulik, Amnesty International’s deputy Europe director.

“The new legislation will be used only if migration would be endangering the public order and internal security of Slovenia,” Interior Minister Vesna Györkös Žnidar said at a press conference on January 5.

 

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Yahya, an asylum-seeker from Afghanistan, has been in the region for more than a year-and-a-half: one year in Austria, five months in Croatia, and the past six weeks in Slovenia

 

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Yahya, an asylum-seeker from Afghanistan, stands before a sign that reads, ‘We need the possibility of a safe life’.

 

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Zahar, an asylum-seeker from Afghanistan. He’s been in Slovenia for ten months.

In a statement, Gauri van Gulik, Amnesty International’s deputy Europe director said the changes “would deny refugees and asylum seekers the protections to which they are entitled under international and EU law”.

“Stripping people fleeing for their lives of their right to claim asylum and pushing them back at the border is a breach of international and EU law. Instead of treating refugees and asylum-seekers as a security risk, the Slovenian authorities should recognize their responsibility to protect people who have made terrifying journeys and risked everything in search of safety.”

In a statement issued on 17 January, The Council of Europe, the continent’s chief human rights watchdog, was also highly critical.

“Slovenian parliamentarians should reject amendments to the Aliens Act that are contrary to international human rights and refugee protection standards by which Slovenia is bound,” Nils Muižnieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, said when making public a 12 January letter he sent to Milan Brglez, the President of Slovenia’s National Assembly.

“These provisions are contrary to Slovenia’s legal obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, which unequivocally prohibits refoulement and collective expulsion of foreigners, and to the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights, which affirms that member states have the legal duty to provide adequate procedures and remedies for the effective and individual assessment of protection needs of migrants”, said Commissioner Muižnieks.

“Slovenia has a legitimate concern to manage the migratory flows at its borders, but this must be done in a manner that upholds the human rights of migrants, including every individual’s right to seek and enjoy asylum if they have protection needs.”

“If adopted, these measures would not only tarnish Slovenia’s image as a country fully committed to human rights, but they would also risk provoking a domino effect in the region”, Commissioner Muižnieks added.

The letter in full is here.

 

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Ahmed, an asylum-seeker from Syria, addressing the Amnesty International gathering. “Syria is my mother,” he said, “Slovenia is my mother.” He’s been here for 11 months.

 

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Zaher, an asylum-seeker from Syria, addressing a rally in Ljubljana

Here, those are very much considered minority voices.

Backed by all three coalition partners, the major opposition party SDS and with wide popular support, the law is all but assured passage when the expected vote takes place next week on what will likely be a slightly modified final draft. According to a poll published on Monday by the daily Delo, 86 percent of Slovenians back the measures. Nearly half believe that the criticisms expressed by the Council of Europe and rights groups like Amnesty aren’t justified.

Those attitudes and numbers aren’t surprising given the populist backlash here, much of it ugly, when the migrant wave was at its peak about 14 months ago. But it doesn’t align well with international law.

Notes AI’s van Gulik:

“This bill resembles similar efforts of Slovenia’s neighbours – most notably Hungary but also Austria – to seal their borders to those fleeing horrors of war. It rides roughshod over both the right that every individual has to ask for asylum and the obligation Slovenia has to fully assess each claim.”

More from AI’s statement:

Rejecting an asylum seeker or a migrant at the border without due process and consideration of their individual circumstances is a pushback, and is prohibited in all circumstances under EU and international law, Amnesty International highlighted.

The rights group also said that the new legislation doesn’t include sound safeguards against the risk of torture or persecution upon return to another country (the principle of non-refoulement) and potential chain refoulement, i.e. returning people to a country where they could be exposed to torture and ill-treatment.

For example, migrants and asylum-seekers denied entry to Slovenia and returned to Croatia could further be at the risk of being returned to Serbia or Bulgaria “where reception conditions are inadequate”, or to Hungary “which flagrantly ignores EU and international law”.

“The government claims that people whose life or health would be in danger would be excluded,” van Gulik said. “But how would the government even identify these people if it circumvents proper assessments altogether?”

Eight more shots below.

 

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I Feel Love - Parliament Ljubljana 1

 

At a pro-migrant rally in Ljubljana Slovenia January 2017

 

All images © Bob Ramsak 2017. All rights reserved. High resolution images available.
For stock or editorial use please get in touch.

 

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  1. paula graham says

    So very sad.

  2. Brad Nixon says

    Humanizing, and we can use all the humanization we can get. The signs are extremely clever. Thanks for explaining them to those of us lacking the necessary skills. Carry on.

    1. Bob R says

      Thanks, Brad. Great post on the Women’s March in LA.

  3. jebusandandrea says

    Mind boggles me how a lot people don’t see refugees as humans. Sad world we live in. The rise of populism is beyond troubling. My mind still can’t quite believe Trump is President and have to remind myself it’s not a dream. I like you covered this post, feels intimate with the refugees.

    1. Bob R says

      It’s ugly in many places around Europe, here too. How emboldened people have become to openly dehumanize others, especially on social media, is very disconcerting. Some of the comments I deleted on a related post on Facebook yesterday were appalling.

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