01/09/2015 09:51 BST | Updated 01/09/2016 06:59 BST

What Responses to the Migration Crisis Reveal About Racism and Populism in Europe

Debates surrounding the current asylum and migration 'crisis' in the European Union reveal high levels of structural islamophobia, anti-migrant racism and populism. A recent declaration by the Slovakian government that they will only take in Christian refugees from Syria is the latest in the series. European countries should refrain from discriminatory, protectionist, holy mission-type migration and asylum policies.

Proposals to pick and choose asylum seekers to be relocated or resettled in an EU country based on religion, race or ethnicity are clearly discriminatory and go against States' obligations under the EU Charter of fundamental rights. But such patterns also highlight the underlying Islamophobia and Afrophobia in the current migration debate. The fact that mainly African and Muslim migrants are losing their lives trying to reach Europe should be taken into consideration and raises the question of EU Member States' and media reactions to these deaths, opposing Christian and Muslim migrants.

Slovakia is not alone in this respect. British, Bulgarian, Czech, Dutch and Hungarian government representatives and politicians have recently made xenophobic comments about migrants. Poland took in some 60 Christian-only families from Syria in July. The Baltic States are also becoming increasingly anti-Muslim, and in Lithuania there is a discussion about banning the wearing of the burka to prevent Muslim migrants from coming to the country.

European States' responses also feature other human rights violations, including police abuse at external borders, and a whole drive to outsource border control to accessing countries.

From an anti-racism perspective, the level of hatred and segregation against Muslim and Black migrants and asylum seekers cannot be tolerated in Europe. The European Union, and the European Commission in particular, must be firm in enforcing the fundamental right to non-discrimination in relocation agreements. EU asylum laws specify that individuals who qualify for international protection on individual merit cannot be denied it. If this provision is not respected by EU Member States, the European Commission has a duty to launch infringement proceedings.

The right to international protection should by no means be restricted because of one's particular religion or belief. It should not be based on the host community's lack of willingness or discomfort to integrate a (small) refugee population, or Islamophobic positions (in the worst cases).

Beyond this, these forms of hate and discriminatory speech are serious, not just because they infringe upon fundamental rights, but also because such comments by elected representatives and opinion leaders can fuel violence and attacks against migrants. In Bulgaria for instance, according to civil society organisations, 20 physical assaults, 14 attacks on places of worship, and 8 incitements to racial hatred took place in 2013 in Bulgaria. The groups most targeted by racist violence were Muslims, followed by asylum seekers and migrants. In Germany, several arson attacks against refugee accommodation centres have taken place recently and the number of acts of aggression against refugee homes has reached 202 so far this year.

It is therefore essential that EU and national authorities step up efforts to implement their international human rights obligations and to combat xenophobia, Islamophobia and Afrophobia, including by condemning such forms of hate speech and ensuring migration and asylum policies respect basic human rights and dignity.