Regional ‘burqa ban’ up for vote in Switzerland

People walk by electoral posters of the committee against the facilitated naturalization, reading “Uncontrolled Naturalization? No”, with the illustration of a woman wearing a burka at a train station in Zurich in this February 7, 2017 photo. (AFP)
Updated 21 September 2018
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Regional ‘burqa ban’ up for vote in Switzerland

  • Switzerland’s government last year opposed an initiative aimed at creating a nationwide burqa ban

GENEVA: A second Swiss canton will vote Sunday on whether to introduce a regional “burqa ban,” a controversial law that would prohibit all face-covering garments in public spaces.
The ballot in northeastern St. Gallen is to be held as voters across the country also determine whether a moratorium on genetically modified crops should become a full-out ban.
St. Gallen is expected to follow the example of the southern canton of Ticino, where a law was introduced two years ago which appeared to be aimed at burqas and other Muslim veils.
A text stipulating that “any person who renders themselves unrecognizable by covering their face in a public space, and thus endangers public security or social and religious peace will be fined” was adopted by lawmakers in St. Gallen late last year.
That law passed the regional parliament with support from the populist right and center parties — but the issue is being put to the people after the Green Party and Young Socialists demanded a referendum.
The text, first drafted following uproar in the canton over a girl who wore a full-face veil to school, is problematic, according to Fredy Fassler, a socialist in charge of security and justice in St. Gallen.
It does not define when a woman wearing a burqa constitutes a danger, and critics “worry the sanctions will be unpredictable and arbitrary,” he told daily newspaper Le Temps.
Switzerland’s government last year opposed an initiative aimed at creating a nationwide burqa ban, saying it should be up to the regions to determine if such measures are appropriate.
All Swiss voters will eventually cast ballots on the issue after the populist right-wing Swiss People’s Party gathered the 100,000 signatures needed to put any subject to a referendum as part of Switzerland’s famous direct democratic system.
At the national level, the Swiss will vote Sunday on two schemes linked to agriculture and food security, urging a shift toward more environmentally friendly and Swiss-based food production.
The “Fair Food” and “Food Sovereignty” initiatives appear set to fail and are opposed by the canton of Bern, which warns they could send prices skyrocketing and might violate Switzerland’s international trade obligations.
Stefan Legge, an international trade expert at the University of St. Gallen, agreed with the government’s opposition to the initiatives.
“The agricultural lobby is trying hard to isolate itself from the rest of the economy and international competition,” he said.
The “Food Sovereignty” initiative, which has the backing of Switzerland’s powerful farmers’ union, calls for a range of measures, including turning a moratorium on genetically modified organisms (GMO) into a total ban.
That moratorium was introduced after a 2005 referendum and has been extended three times to date. It is due to expire in 2021.
Polls indicate people widely oppose GMO use in the country, but despite early signs of support, the initiative looks doomed to fail, according to a survey published this month by the Tamedia group.
Observers put the initiative’s shrinking popularity down to another element baked into the text: the call for imports to be limited to food produced under the same social and environmental norms as those applicable in Switzerland.
“No serious analyst can say it is the GMO ban that is sinking the initiative,” Michelle Zufferey of the Uniterre union said.
She pointed out that the GMO aspect had barely been mentioned.
“It is the fake arguments about massive price hikes and a lack of choice and about efforts to isolate Switzerland that have hurt our initiative,” she insisted.
Swiss President Alain Berset himself warned in a recent interview with Le Temps that if the initiatives were to become law, it would “lead to a price hike.”
“For now, unfortunately, everyone cannot afford organic,” he said.
He also warned that “imposing Swiss standards on imported food goods would violate agreements reached with our trading partners as well as World Trade Organization rules.”


Italy’s Salvini lays down law for migrant rescue ships

Italian Deputy Prime Minister and League leader Matteo Salvini takes a picture with a supporter, as he leaves the Senate upper house parliament building after a news conference in Rome, Italy March 8, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 31 min 10 sec ago
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Italy’s Salvini lays down law for migrant rescue ships

  • Salvini, whose anti-migrant rhetoric has boosted him in the polls, has repeatedly vowed to find a way to ban all ships with rescued migrants from entering Italian waters

ROME: Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini on Monday launched a fresh crackdown on charity ships which rescue migrants off Libya and bring them to Italy.
“The ports have been, and remain, CLOSED,” Salvini said on Twitter, as his office released an eight-page directive on the laws regarding rescue operations — laws it said some aid vessels had been breaking.
The minister, who also heads up the anti-immigrant League party, has repeatedly declared Italian waters closed to NGO rescue vessels, leaving several of them stranded at sea in the past in a bid to force Europe to take its share of asylum seekers.
While he acknowledged in his directive that helping those who lives are in danger was a “priority,” he warned that there must be “sanctions” for those who “explicitly violate international, European and national rescue regulations.”
“Nor must the real risks that the group of migrants may conceal individuals involved in terrorist activities... be overlooked.”
The “passage of rescue ships in Italian territorial waters” was “detrimental to the order and security of the Italian State,” he said.
The directive was issued just hours after an Italian charity ship rescued 49 people off the coast of Libya, under the nose of the Libyan coast guard, before requesting permission to disembark the migrants in Italy.
NGO ships have drawn fire from Rome by attempting on occasion to stop migrants being taken back to crisis-hit Libya, which human rights organizations insist cannot be considered safe for repatriations.

“It has happened that ships... have come to the aid of migrants in non-Italian SRRs (Search and Rescue Regions) and have disregarded the orders of the competent SAR (Search and Rescue) authorities,” Salvini said in the directive.
Ships rescuing migrants in areas of the Mediterranean that fall under Libyan responsibility, during operations not coordinated by the command center in Rome, have no right to seek Italy as a port of safety, he said.
He accused the ships in question of “carrying out the rescue on their own initiative and then heading toward European maritime borders... in violation of international maritime law.”
Salvini also took issue with charity ships that set sail for Italy rather than other ports.
“Nor are the Italian coasts the only possible landing places in the event of rescue events, given that the Libyan, Tunisian and Maltese ports can offer adequate logistical and health assistance... (and) are closer in terms of nautical miles.”
Salvini, whose anti-migrant rhetoric has boosted him in the polls, has repeatedly vowed to find a way to ban all ships with rescued migrants from entering Italian waters.
He also insists Europe must do much more to help house asylum seekers.
Europe has been wrestling with divisions over how to handle the problem since the migration crisis of 2015 when more than one million people arrived on its shores, many of them fleeing conflict in the Middle East.