PBS NewsHour

UN Ambassador: Others countries support fight against Islamic State

WASHINGTON — The United States’ ambassador to the United Nations says other nations are pledging support for the fight against Islamic State group militants.

But Ambassador Samantha Power on Sunday would not name those countries or detail their level of involvement.

She says more than 40 countries have spoken in support of the campaign against Islamic State group fighters, and they will announce their own plans in their own time.

French forces last week joined combat missions. Saudi Arabia has offered to help train moderate anti-Islamic State group fighters.

Power spoke on Sunday morning programs as the U.N. General Assembly prepared a week of high-level meetings, many of them about the growing militants’ threat in Iraq and Syria.

President Barack Obama is heading to New York to lead some sessions.

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Fearing eviction, Hungary’s Roma wonder ‘are we next?’

I lived in Budapest, Hungary for two years and never spent more than a few hours in Miskolc, the country’s third largest city just a two-hour drive from the capital.

But unlike Budapest, which has been flourishing with a rising population, music festivals and “ruin pubs,” Miskolc hasn’t weathered the democratic transition nearly as well.

Once at the center of Hungary’s industrial sector, Miskolc’s population has been shrinking since the 1989 democratic transition. Its factory doors closed, and today the city’s unemployment rate well outpaces the national average.


The city of Miskolc, Hungary, which was once at the center of the country’s industrial sector, now has an unemployment rate that well outpaces the national average. Credit: Asia Der/NewsHour

This summer, I returned to Hungary to report on the country’s growing tension with its Gypsy, or Roma, community, which makes up anywhere from five to 10 percent of the overall population. Before leaving the U.S., I spoke to Roma advocacy groups and human rights organizations. All said Miskolc was the place to go.

Around 25,000 Roma people live in Miskolc, mostly in Roma-majority neighborhoods, and their situation is currently in peril.

The city plans to demolish more than a dozen of these neighborhoods, citing high crime and poor sanitation. And instead of replacing the housing, the city will compensate evicted tenants on the condition they purchase a new home outside the city limits.


A group of Roma whose neighborhood is slated for demolition gather outside of a neighbor’s home. Credit: Asia Der/NewsHour

We interviewed city and community leaders, but our most critical stop was in one of the Roma neighborhoods slated for demolition. I’d prepared myself for something like the photos I’d seen of slums like Ferentari in Bucharest, Romania. But instead the breezy, tree-lined streets were a welcome break from the summer heat. The low houses were freshly painted, courtyards swept, kids chucked water balloons and rode bikes. It was hard to imagine this community as an epicenter of crime.


Jozsefne Nagy, 55, a Roma, stands next to her home she was evicted from in August. Her door had been nailed shut by local officials. Credit: Asia Der/NewsHour

We met a 55-year-old grandmother, Jozsefne Nagy, who grew up in Miskolc, worked an industrial job, and like most of Miskolc’s Roma, is now unemployed. She was evicted in August and showed us where the door had been nailed shut.

Peeking inside through a broken window, we could see the wallpaper she’d put up in her modest home. She showed us a newspaper photo of her belongings being hauled outside.


A newspaper photo from August shows workers removing Nagy’s belongings from her home. Credit: Asia Der/NewsHour

“There were so many policemen you couldn’t move,” Nagy said. “They just kept saying: ‘Out! Out!’ I repeatedly told them we don’t have any debts, but they just kept repeating themselves.”


NewsHour Weekend Producer Stephen Fee interviews Nagy with an interpreter in Miskolc. Credit: Asia Der/NewsHour

Nagy’s neighbor sat beside my translator and me listening to our conversation. Later she told us her children had been terrified when the eviction began. “Are we next?” they asked. She had no idea what to tell her kids.

I sat at a picnic table with a few residents who talked about their own uncertainties. Neighboring communities had already signed petitions saying Miskolc’s displaced residents wouldn’t be welcome in those towns.


NewsHour Weekend Producer Stephen Fee talks with Roma citizens in Nagy’s neighborhood who say they are uncertain whether they, too, will be evicted from their homes. Credit: Asia Der/NewsHour

“The goal wasn’t to evict those who don’t pay, but to evict Gypsies,” Nagy said.

City leaders, though, weren’t the villains they’d been made out to be.

In fact, the deputy mayor was downright wonky. He showed us schematics and crime data, and explained this wasn’t about ethnicity but about demolishing an impoverished slum. It’s about providing a better future, he said, for a city that’s had a turbulent 25-year transition. He seemed offended at the suggestion that demolishing the neighborhood was about getting rid of the city’s Roma.

But with more than half of Hungarians believing that criminality is in Roma blood, political analysts we spoke to say it’s hard not to see the city’s policy as political pandering.

This autumn, the city’s center-right government faces a serious challenge from the country’s upstart far-right party, Jobbik, which has built its reputation on anti-Roma sentiment. And the left-wing mayoral candidate, a former police chief, was suspended from his duties after disparaging the city’s Roma minority. Gabor Varadi, a Roma community leader in Miskolc, told me the Roma have no political allies.


A still from a campaign video shows Hungary’s upstart far-right party, Jobbik, which has built its reputation on anti-Roma sentiment.

Hungary is at a turning point. Prime Minister Viktor Orban says he wants to abandon liberal democracy, preferring an ‘illiberal state’ akin to Turkey or Russia. The government has tightened its control over the press and state finances — political opposition has withered. A Harvard study in February pointed to increasing discrimination against not just Roma but other ethnic minorities, too.

How Hungary handles the situation in Miskolc — and its integration issues nationwide — is a crucial test of the country as an inclusive democracy. And the global community will be watching.

Watch the full report from Hungary from NewsHour Weekend’s Stephen Fee below.

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Promising Roma crackdown, far-right party gains ground in Hungary


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STEPHEN FEE: Just a two-hour drive east of the capital Budapest, Miskolc is Hungary’s third largest city with 160,000 residents. And on its outskirts this summer, we met 55-year-old Jozsefne Nagy in the courtyard of her former home.

Nagy, her daughter, and three grandchildren lived in this city-owned apartment for three years — until they were evicted this past August.

JOZSEFNE NAGY: “We didn’t know we’d have to leave. My daughter left in the morning to go for her job training program. She went to school and the kids were here, and I get a call from the neighbors that they’re moving my daughter out. Kids and all.”

STEPHEN FEE: Nagy rushed home to a chaotic scene. A newspaper photo from that day shows men hauling the family’s belongings outside.

JOZSEFNE NAGY: “There were so many policemen you couldn’t move. They just kept saying: Out! Out! I repeatedly told them we don’t have any debts, but they just kept repeating themselves.”

STEPHEN FEE: And she’s not the only one facing eviction. City officials plan to demolish this neighborhood of around a thousand people, whether the tenants have paid their rent or not.

GYULA SCHWEICKHARDT, DEPUTY MAYOR, MISKOLC: “The people who live there are poor, and users and drug dealers have appeared, which is something the city must deal with in some shape or form.”

STEPHEN FEE: But Nagy says she and her neighbors are being thrown out for a different reason.

JOZSEFNE NAGY: “The goal wasn’t to evict those who don’t pay, but to evict Gypsies.”

STEPHEN FEE: Here in what was once Hungary’s industrial heartland, the vast majority of Miskolc’s Gypsy — or Roma — population is unemployed. The evictions are the latest chapter in a history of strained relations with their non-Roma neighbors.

It’s a tension that’s hardly unique to Miskolc — or even Hungary.

Since their ancestors arrived in Europe from India some 600 years ago, Roma people have been enslaved, expelled, and ethnically cleansed. Hundreds of thousands were slaughtered during World War II.

More recently, France deported thousands of Roma who overstayed visa requirements in 2010 — the EU’s justice minister called the expulsions ‘a disgrace.’

Fears of crime have motivated anti-Roma feelings across Europe. And headlines about Roma criminal rings help drive those perceptions.

DOCUMENTARY NARRATOR: “Across Europe, thousands of children are being forced on to the streets to beg and steal.”

STEPHEN FEE: A 2009 BBC documentary called “Gypsy Child Thieves” focused on Roma pickpockets.

But unlike those cases, Roma in Hungary aren’t migrants — they’re citizens. And in Hungary, fears of Roma criminality have driven the popularity of a nationalist political party called Jobbik.

Founded just ten years ago, the party netted 20 percent of the vote in this year’s parliamentary elections. The group describes itself as a ‘principled, conservative, and radically patriotic Christian party.’

SZABOLCS POGONYI, CENTRAL EUROPEAN UNIVERSITY: “Through the presence of a very strong, openly anti-Roma far-right party, anti-Roma talk, rhetoric and even policies are becoming mainstream.”

STEPHEN FEE: That’s Szabolcs Pogonyi. He chairs the nationalism studies department at Budapest’s Central European University. A disclosure: I worked at the university for two years.

SZABOLCS POGONYI, CENTRAL EUROPEAN UNIVERSITY: “They were the first party which got into parliament and openly spoke about what they call as ‘gypsy criminality’ — that is openly linking crime and ethnic background.”

STEPHEN FEE: Three years ago in the Hungarian town of Gyongyospata, disputes between Roma and non-Roma over property crime erupted into a confrontation. As this video from the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union shows, Jobbik party members along with other groups marched in the streets. They railed against what they called “gypsy crime,” promising to protect the villagers. Critics say it was a campaign of intimidation against Roma.

Pogonyi says levels of anti-Roma feelings in Hungary have been consistent since the early 1990s. But the Jobbik party, he says, is the first political bloc to capitalize on those feelings.

SZABOLCS POGONYI, CENTRAL EUROPEAN UNIVERSITY: “People living particularly in rural areas, poor rural areas have the sense of being abandoned by the government. I mean, they face petty crime, and they realize that the government — the authorities do and can do nothing. And at that point some people appear and they say, we will protect you.”

STEPHEN FEE: Jobbik leaders declined our interview requests, but on their website, they defend the term ‘gypsy crime,’ calling it ‘a unique form of delinquency, different from the crimes of the majority in nature and force.’

I asked Roma journalist and advocate Erno Kadet if there was validity in using a term like ‘gypsy crime,’ especially when crime rates are higher in some Roma-majority communities.

ERNO KADET, ROMA PRESS CENTRE: “The way I see it the problem is –- and they are perfectly aware of this, the Jobbik party -– that by using the word Gypsy and the word crime in the same sentence, it brands everyone. I don’t think there is a single Roma, a single credible Roma leader, who says there are no criminals among the Roma population, just as there are a substantial number of criminals among the non-Roma population. But they say it’s because of poverty, not because of belonging to a certain ethnic group.”

STEPHEN FEE: In Hungary today, 70 percent of Roma live below the poverty line and 85 percent are unemployed.

Government spokesman and former social inclusion secretary Zoltan Kovacs says the country is working to improve conditions for Roma — but those plans will take time.

ZOLTAN KOVACS, GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN: “It’s impossible to have a breakthrough. I mean, there’s a complete agreement in professional circles as well as in politics that you have to be very consistent actually on applying these measures on the long run. That means at least ten years. The Roma issue has been with us not only for the past couple of years or decades — it’s a six hundred years old issue. We’ve been living together with the Roma communities for the past couple of centuries.”

STEPHEN FEE: “You know, someone might say if they listen to this interview, that the rhetoric that we’ve been living with the Roma — with us — that you’re already separating yourself from people who are Hungarian citizens, right?”

ZOLTAN KOVACS, GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN: “It’s an ongoing debate actually, even with the Roma themselves. They also use this terminology, that us and them, so you like it or not, this differentiation on both sides is present.”

STEPHEN FEE: Back in Miskolc, deputy mayor Gyula Schweickhardt designed the plan to eradicate the city’s Roma majority neighborhoods.

GYULA SCHWEICKHARDT, DEPUTY MAYOR, MISKOLC: “We don’t think the question is whether someone is Roma or not; city leadership is not approaching this as an ethnic or racial issue. It is in fact sad that the issue has been raised as one at all. We approach it as an endeavor to eradicate an impoverished slum.”

STEPHEN FEE: The city isn’t replacing the housing, but will pay evicted tenants up to $8,500 to find a new home. But on the condition they buy homes outside the city and not return for five years. Already, surrounding communities have signed petitions saying they won’t welcome Miskolc’s displaced residents.

Local Roma leader Gabor Varadi concedes the Roma neighborhoods have their social problems. But that destroying them will only lead to conflict.

GABOR VARADI, ROMA COMMUNITY LEADER: “I think the solution is not to evict people and relocate the problem to another settlement, or to throw families out into the street. If we do that the problem gets bigger and creates more tension.”

STEPHEN FEE: After facing so much difficulty, I asked Jozsefne Nagy — evicted this August from her neighborhood on the fringes of Miskolc — if she wants to stay here in the city.

JOZSEFNE NAGY: “Yes, definitely. Definitely. We were born here and we’d like to die here. We went to school here, we spent our life working in the factory here, at the waste plant. I don’t want to leave. The children go to preschool here and to school. They are heartsick. All of them. We’re terrified, like everyone else who lives here.”

STEPHEN FEE: Since the eviction, she’s moved in with another one of her daughters, also in the same neighborhood. But with the city planning to build a parking lot here once demolition is complete, Nagy’s days here are almost certainly numbered.

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Thousands of Syrian Kurds flee to Turkey after Islamic State attacks

         Kurds walk by Turkish soliders after crossing into Turkey near the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province, on September
         19, 2014. Several thousand Syrian Kurds began crossing into Turkey on Friday fleeing Islamic State fighters who advanced into
         their villages, prompting warnings of massacres from Kurdish leaders. AFP PHOTO/ILYAS AKENGIN (Photo credit should read ILYAS
         AKENGIN/AFP/Getty Images)

Dozens of Syrian Kurds walk on Friday near Suruc, a southeastern province in Turkey. Thousands of Syrian Kurds began crossing into Turkey on Friday after Islamic State fighters attacked their villages in northern Syria. Credit: Ilyas Akengin/AFP/Getty Images

Thousands of Syrian Kurds have fled to Turkey since Friday after Islamic State fighters attacked dozens of villages, and are said to be planning attacks on a north Syrian border town, according to a Reuters report.

About 60,000 residents have left their homes as Islamic State fighters moved closer to the town of Kobani. The Islamic State group was said to be within six miles of the town on Saturday.

The Islamic State has killed at least 11 Kurdish civilians in the villages it has invaded near Kobani, with more than 300 Kurdish fighters having crossed into Syria from Turkey late Friday to help deter the jihadists, according to Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“Islamic State sees Kobani like a lump in the body,” Abdulrahman told Reuters. “They think it is in their way.”

Kurdish forces have evacuated at least 100 villages since the attacks began on Tuesday, with the region’s Kurds fearing a massacre in Kobani.

A farmer who crossed into Turkey said the Islamic State attacked his village, Celebi, with heavy weapons as Kurdish forces attempted to fight them off with light arms, Reuters reported.

“Clashes started in the morning and we fled by car,” said farmer Lokman Isa in an interview with Reuters. “We were 30 families in total.”

As of Saturday night, officials said thousands more were still waiting to cross the border into Turkey.

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