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ISLAM

Couple to take burqa ban to Euro court

 

A French Muslim husband and wife living in Britain are to challenge France's ban on full-face coverings at the European Court of Human Rights, their lawyer said on Thursday.

 

Couple to take burqa ban to Euro court

A French Muslim husband and wife living in Britain are to challenge France’s ban on full-face coverings at the European Court of Human Rights, their lawyer said on Thursday.

The couple lodged an application at the Strasbourg court to challenge the French government over the ban on wearing Islamic veils, which they argue is “unnecessary, disproportionate and unlawful.”

They claim it restricts their right to free movement across the EU, according to documents sent to the court. The wife is seeking £10,000 (€11,200, $16,400) in damages for the alleged human rights breach.

The couple live in central England with their two children. They have chosen to remain anonymous, citing “considerable hostility” in Britain and France to Muslim women wearing the full veil in public.

“The case clearly is of importance to my clients,” said lawyer Robina Shah, of the Immigration Advisory Service in Birmingham, central England.

“As a result of the ban they have had to leave their country of nationality, as the ban restricts their freedom of choice, and that of their daughters.”

France in April became the first country in Europe to apply a ban on the wearing of full-face coverings, including the Islamic niqab and the burqa.  

The decision triggered a political storm, with rights activists accusing French President Nicolas Sarkozy of targeting of one of France’s most vulnerable groups to win back votes from the resurgent far right.

In the latest case, the documents sent to Strasbourg say the couple want to “reside and work in France” but the ban means “they have considerable reservations about living there on a permanent basis.”

The principal applicant is the husband who “expects and instructs” his wife to wear the burqa and the niqab. But she “respects and follows” her husband’s instructions of her own free will, the Strasbourg court is being told.

Her lawyers argue Muslim women in France are “not able to exercise their rights free from coercion, harassment and discrimination.”

“The applicants, as French nationals exercising EU rights to free movement in the UK, have no alternative remedy other than an application to the (European) court,” say the lawyers.

POLITICS

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.

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