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19th Jan 2020

Hungary links Roma to jihadists in Syria

Hungary’s minister of justice Laszlo Trocsanyi on Monday (19 October) said there is a risk Roma could end up in Syria as foreign fighters alongside jihadist or other radical groups.

Speaking at a conference in Brussels, the centre-right Fidesz minister said the some 12 million Roma in Europe “could be a target for radicalisation,” according to Hungary’s spokesperson.

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  • Around 5,000 EU nationals have gone to Syria to fight alongside radical Islamist groups in Syria (Photo: Freedom House)

Roma are among the most discriminated minorities in Europe.

Roma in Hungary are segregated in schools, some don’t have access to water, and their average life expectancy is shorter than the national average. Around 700,000 are estimated to be in Hungary.

Hungary’s EU presidency had spearheaded an EU-level strategy on the Roma in the past, but activists say it is paying lip service to integration efforts.

The Budapest-based European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) has documented numerous cases of abuse against the minority in Hungary. A contact said they are also discriminated at the work place and that some of the women in the recent past were sterilised by force.

Asked why a Roman Catholic Roma would choose to fight alongside radical jihadist groups in Syria, a Hungarian spokesperson said “it is because they are deprived people and they are usually more exposed to radical views”.

The spokesperson said the minister’s position “was just a hypothesis” that had not yet been fully explored and that their plight should not be neglected.

Hungary has no known foreign fighters, but is instead used as a transit for some heading to Istanbul via Budapest and then onwards to Syria.

Trocsanyi was among 18 justice ministers around the EU gathered in Brussels for a conference on "criminal justice response to radicalisation".

Foreign fighters

Estimates suggest there are up to 5,000 European nationals that have fought along militant groups in Syria. Around 500 EU nationals are thought be in Syria at the moment.

Some, but not all, are fighting to create a caliphate under the Islamic State banner.

Austrians of Chechen backgrounds and Chechens granted Austrian asylum are now fighting in Syria after Russia started its bombing raids earlier this month.

According to Austria’s justice minister Wolfgang Brandstetter, they are leaving to fight Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, Russia's ally, because of their hatred for Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Brandstetter said Austria has detained around 33 foreign fighters. Of those, six have been sentenced.

In France, the foreign fighter movement is more developed.

Around 3,000 people in France are being prosecuted and 1,800 are involved with networks in Syria and Iraq.

“One hundred and thirty three French nationals are deemed to have died in suicide attacks,” said French justice minister Christiane Taubira.

She said 344 French detainees have been identified has having committed or suspected of having committed terrorist attacks. Of those 33, had a previous prison record.

“That means that there is a 15 percent of radicalisation potential within our prisons”, she said.

Despite the relatively low numbers, ministers and EU officials want to claw back recruitment into terror groups inside prisons, set up integration programmes for returning foreign fighters, and counter online propaganda.

A September 2013 United Nations Security Council directive requires all member countries to use penal law against anyone who is a foreign fighter or is preparing to commit terrorist acts.

“At the same time we have to find solutions and mechanisms to be able to give ‘flexible answers’ and ‘flexible answers’ does not always mean penal sanction”, said Luxembourg’s justice minister Felix Braz.

Braz said it would be a challenge to implement the UN resolution and, at the same time, try to integrate people without sending them to jail.

Internet Forum

The EU, for its part, says it can help with funding, training programmes, and on improving coordination between national judicial systems and prosecutors through its agency Eurojust.

Some ministers also spoke about extending Ecris, the European criminal records information system, to include non-EU nationals.

EU commissioner for justice Vera Jourova told reporters that “one of the most worrying radicalization sources is now online and is much more difficult to follow or prevent”.

She said online hate speech has the potential to incite violence. The commissioner has already met with some of the largest social media companies.

Now the Brussels-executive wants them to help remove online content. The plan is to launch a so-called Internet Forum with the firms at the start of December.

Concerns are emerging on how to guarantee freedom of speech if private companies are allowed to police the Internet without oversight.

But Jourova said that, while the internet is “a free zone, it must not be outside the law”.

Clarification

EUobserver, on 23 October, amended this article, to say: ‘Hungary’s minister of justice Laszlo Trocsanyi on Monday (19 October) said there is a risk Roma could end up in Syria as foreign fighters alongside jihadist or other radical groups, according to Hungary’s spokesperson.’

The original article said: ‘Hungary’s minister of justice Laszlo Trocsanyi said there is a risk Roma could end up in Syria as foreign fighters alongside jihadist or other radical groups’.

The amendment was made following a complaint by Mr Trocsanyi that the original version misrepresented his statement in an EU conference, in Brussels on 19 October, entitled ‘Criminal justice response to radicalisation’, on the subject of jihadist radicalisation and foreign fighters in Syria.

Mr Trocsanyi said at the conference that Roma ‘could be a target for radicalization’.

As part of its due diligence, EUobserver contacted the Hungarian permanent representation in Brussels to ask if he meant they could be a target for jihadist radicalisation and could end up as foreign fighters in Syria. The representation’s official spokesperson, Dora Bokay, after consulting with the relevant ministry, confirmed that this is what he meant, in an extensive phonecall conversation with EUobserver and in writing.

Mr Trocsanyi subsequently denied that this is what he meant.

EUobserver has offered Mr Trocasnyi to personally clarify what he meant, in the form of an op-ed or in the form of an interview. We are currently awaiting his response.

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