Saturday

10th Apr 2021

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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • 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.

Turkey and Nato meet, plan IS-free zone

Turkey is meeting Nato allies in Brussels to discuss its anti-terrorist operations amid reports it will co-operate with the US-led coalition to create a buffer zone in Syria free of Islamic state militants.

Frontex chief: 'about time' MEPs probe his agency

Some 14 MEPs have created a group to probe allegations of rights abuse by the EU's border agency Frontex. Its head, Fabrice Leggeri, welcomed its creation and said it "is about time".

Romania denies forcing migrant-boat back to Turkish waters

Romania's ministry of internal affairs wrote to Frontex claiming it did not engage in any illegal pushbacks of people on rubber boats into Turkish territorial waters. The country says it followed EU engagement rules and Greek orders.

LGBTI fears over new Polish member at EU institution

A letter sent to the European Economic and Social Committee by a group of cross-party MEPs fighting for LGBTi rights expresses fears that a recently-appointed Polish member may try to undermine those rights.

News in Brief

  1. Turkey blames EU for sexist protocol fiasco
  2. France to close elite civil-service academy
  3. Covid-19 cases in UK drop 60%, study finds
  4. White House urges 'calm' after Northern Ireland riots
  5. Italy's Draghi calls Turkey's Erdoğan a 'dictator'
  6. Slovakia told to return Sputnik V amid quality row
  7. EU risks €87bn in stranded fossil fuel assets
  8. Obligatory vaccination not against human rights, European court says

Feature

Covid-hit homeless find Xmas relief at Brussels food centre

The Kamiano food distribution centre in Brussels is expecting 20 people every half hour on Christmas Day. For many, Kamiano is also more than that - a support system for those made homeless or impoverished.

Top court finds Hungary and Poland broke EU rules

EU tribunal said Hungary's legislation made it "virtually impossible" to make an asylum application. Restricting access to international protection procedure is a violation of EU rules.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region can and should play a leading role in Europe’s digital development
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market

Latest News

  1. The Covid bell tolls for eastern Europe's populists
  2. Four deaths after taking Russian Sputnik V vaccine
  3. Post-Brexit riots flare up in Northern Ireland
  4. Advice on AstraZeneca varies across EU, amid blood clot fears
  5. Greenland election could see halt to rare-earth mining
  6. After 50 years, where do Roma rights stand now?
  7. Why Iran desperately wants a new nuclear deal
  8. Does new EU-ACP deal really 'decolonise' aid?

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us