Zagreb - One of the biggest challenges facing Europe today is how to ensure the successful integration of people of migrant background and newly-arrived migrants and refugees, as well as other socially excluded minorities such as Roma, an international conference was told in Zagreb on Thursday.
The two-day conference, called "Protecting human rights and strengthening democracy in Europe", was organised under the high patronage of the Speaker of the Croatian Parliament to mark the 25th anniversary since the establishment of the office of Human Rights Ombudsman in Croatia. The conference focused on topical issues such as combating terrorism, freedom of expression, ensuring a harmonious coexistence of different social groups through integration and respect for diversity, and the role of human rights institutions in safeguarding democracy and the rule of law.
In her address, Human Rights Ombudswoman Lora Vidović said that Europe was now facing the consequences of an economic crisis and challenges such as populism, intolerance and even xenophobia. She said that governments were resorting to security policies which "instead of being based on universal and European values are undermining human rights in response to terrorism."
The Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Željko Reiner, said that Parliament's patronage of the conference "is yet another confirmation of Croatia's commitment to the highest values of democracy and human rights." He noted that this was the first time that an event not organised by the Croatian Parliament was taking place in the Parliament chamber.
Reiner said that present challenges such as the migrant crisis and terrorist attacks in Europe "should encourage us to unite rather than put our mutual trust and cooperation to the test." He said that every citizen had the duty to promote and protect human rights and freedoms and thus contribute to peace and tolerance in society.
Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muiznieks said that sometimes in fighting terrorism laws were adopted that directly affected freedom of the press. He also spoke of some governments using the fight against corruption or the fight against terrorism as an excuse for exerting pressure on nongovernmental organisations.
Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) Director Michael O'Flaherty said that FRA was closely following developments in connection with migrants in Europe, adding that the situation was worrying. He said that many migrants died on their way to Europe, conditions at reception centres were bad and there was a lack of solidarity. He said that the situation with regard to Roma in Europe was terrible.