WASHINGTON (CN) – As illegal immigration has increased in Europe, so have the “ineffective and counterproductive” racial profiling practices of European police, said experts at a Monday meeting of the Helsinki Commission. “Ethnic profiling is targeting people because of who they are instead of what they have done,” Rachel Neild said.
Neild from the Open Society Institute, which is funded by George Soros, called profiling humiliating, hurtful and ineffective, saying at a Helsinki Commission briefing on Capitol Hill that the practice is accusatory in nature and erodes trust in police.
Muslims, blacks and gypsies are three to 14 times more likely to be stopped by police than a white person, depending on the region, Neild said. And in Moscow, the chances go up to 21 times as likely.
These ratios are higher than in the United States or United Kingdom, where there are strong traditions of immigration. In the U.S. and UK, even the worst areas for racial profiling are substantially lower the European numbers, the witnesses said. In areas where racial profiling is most prevalent in the U.S. and UK, police stop minorities eight times more than whites.
The increases come amid bursts in illegal immigration, which have ignited more serious tensions in countries like Spain and Italy that have historically been sources of emigration. These once homogenous societies are just feeling the effects of attracting immigrants.
In just the last decade, roughly five million people have immigrated into Spain, which now holds 46 million.
No one on the three-person panel promoted racial profiling, but proponents say the practice simply acknowledges the visible trends among certain groups of people.
France, which drew global attention during racial riots in 2005, has set numeric targets for capturing illegal immigrants. Neil said the quotas encourage racial profiling.
And Israel has promoted behavior profiling instead of racial or religious profiling — like whether someone is wearing a heavy jacket on a hot day. But Neild and Jamil Dakwar from the American Civil Liberties Union said that certain practices are tied to religions or ethnic groups and that such profiling could easily become religious or ethnic profiling depending on how it is applied.
Some European social services promote reporting of people who grow beards or stop shaking hands with women. “They haven’t caught anyone doing any of these things,” Neild said.
The United States, under the Obama administration, gives higher scrutiny to visiting citizens from 14 countries, most of which have a Muslim majority.
Neild described one European study where police cracked down on Gypsy women who would steal from shops during the afternoon, lining the inside of their bags with aluminum foil to fool the detectors.
She said that while the pattern that it was Gypsy women who were stealing was unfortunate, police searches on them were sound because the searches were based on the pattern of theft, the time and the place instead of on ethnicity.
She said police would be more effective by focusing on criminal activities, or on suspicious queues apart from race.