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UN human rights watchdog lashes out at Italian, Austrian immigration stance

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse: UN launches investigation into immigration policies of governments in Italy and Austria; physical and emotional scars of Toronto van attack on pedestrians are still healing

Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories

Far-right-wing activists wave Italian flags in Rocca di Papa, near Rome, on Aug. 28, ahead of the arrival of more than 100 refugees and migrants from the Italian Coast Guard ship Diciotti after a 10-day standoff. The UN is concerned about Italy's increasingly restrictive immigration policy. (Gregorio Borgia/Associated Press)

Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.


  • The UN's human rights watchdog is launching an investigation into the immigration policies of the populist governments in Italy and Austria.
  • The National's Adrienne Arsenault is in Colombia, reporting on the waves of Venezuelans at the border as they flee the crumbling political and economic situation in their nation.
  • The physical and emotional scars of the van attack on Toronto pedestrians are still healing.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here

Immigration backlash

The UN's human rights watchdog is launching an investigation into the immigration policies of the populist governments in Italy and Austria, citing concerns over reports of a "sharp increase in acts of violence and racism" against migrants and visible minorities.

Michelle Bachelet, the newly installed UN high commissioner for human rights, announced the measure in her first speech this morning in Geneva. She called for a more rational and generous global approach to those fleeing conflict, persecution and poverty.

"Historically, people have always moved in search of hope and opportunities. Erecting walls, deliberately projecting fear and anger on migrant communities … such policies offer no long-term solutions to anyone – only more hostility, misery, suffering and chaos," said Bachelet, former president of Chile, who took over the agency Sept. 1.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, at the opening of the 39th session of the Human Rights Council at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, on Monday. (Salvatore di Nolfi/EPA-EFE)
"It is in the interest of every State to adopt migration policies that are grounded in reality, not in panic; which provide opportunities for safe, regular movement instead of forcing people to take lethal risks."

Bachelet called out the United States for its now-abandoned policy of separating migrants from their children at the border, denounced the governments of Nicaragua and Venezuela for acts of repression against their own citizens, and expressed dismay over the "gross human rights violations" of Myanmar's military. But it's her direct challenge to Europe's increasingly restrictive immigration policies that is making waves.

She focused on the efforts of Interior Minister Matteo Salvini to close Italy's sea ports to NGO-operated migrant-rescue ships, suggesting that the leader of the right-wing League party has blood on his hands.

"This kind of political posturing and other recent developments have devastating consequences for many already vulnerable people," said Bachelet. "Although the number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean has fallen, the fatality rate for those making this treacherous crossing has, in the first six months of this year, been even higher than previously."

Salvamento Maritimo sea search and rescue agency personnel pull migrants from a boat stranded in the Strait of Gibraltar during an operation with the Spanish Guardia Civil that saw 157 migrants rescued on Saturday. (Marcos Moreno/AFP/Getty Images)
So far this year 71,779 migrants have reached Europe via sea routes, down from 125,613 at the same point in 2017, and almost 290,000 by the end of the first week of September in 2016. There have been 1,565 deaths so far in 2018.

It didn't take long for Salvini to react.

"We do not accept lessons from anyone, let alone from the UN," the Italian firebrand told reporters. "They should first focus on other members where fundamental human rights are being violated every day."

Anti-racism organizations in Italy have been warning of a sharp spike in violence against new arrivals, African immigrants and Roma since Salvini began his high-octane campaign against the migrants this spring. By their latest count, there have been two murders, 14 shootings and 56 assaults against such visible minorities since June.

Salvini is also facing pressure from within.

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini delivers a speech at the Ambrosetti Economical Forum in Cernobbio, Italy, on Saturday. He responded to UN criticism of Italian immigration policy on Monday saying, 'We do not accept lessons from anyone, let alone from the UN.' (Daniel Dal Zennaro/EPA-EFE)
On Friday, prosecutors in Sicily announced a criminal probe into whether his refusal last month to allow 144 rescued migrants to disembark from a Coast Guard ship for 10 days constitutes "illegal confinement."

Salvini responded with a taunting live-broadcast on his Facebook page thanking the prosecutors for giving him "more power." The interior minister claims that 50 of those aboard the Coast Guard ship, mostly citizens of Eritrea, have "disappeared" since coming ashore.

The European Union is set to announce yet more measures to strengthen its external borders this week in an attempt to further deter migrants and dampen rising anti-immigration sentiments within the bloc. The Austrian government has proposed dispatching soldiers from member states to back up the efforts of European coast guards.

But Europe remains on edge following clashes between far-right and leftist protestors in Germany late last month, after a fatal stabbing in the city of Chemnitz that has been blamed on two Middle Eastern immigrants.

People take part in demonstrations on Sept. 1 following the killing of a German man in Chemnitz, Germany, that has been blamed on immigrants. (Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters)
Today in Paris, a knife-wielding man attacked and wounded seven people along the Bassin de la Villette, a canalside park in the centre of the city. The assailant was eventually brought down and disarmed by pétanque players who pelted him with heavy metal balls.

Initial reports suggest that the man is an Afghan immigrant, but police say there is no indication that the attack was linked to terrorism.

Escaping Venezuela's chaos

The National's Adrienne Arsenault is on assignment in Colombia, reporting on the waves of Venezuelans at the border as they flee the crumbling political and economic situation in their nation.

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Scars of the van attack

The National producer Melissa Mancini covered the tragic attack in Toronto in April when a van mounted the sidewalk and mowed down pedestrians. She's been following up with some of the injured to find out how their scars — both physical and mental — are healing.

Often survivors aren't ready or able to tell their stories immediately after a tragedy changes their lives. The news cycle moves on, another sad story takes over the headlines and we may not hear their stories.

This was the case after a man driving a rental van hurtled down Yonge Street on April 23, killing 10 and injuring 16.

The National reporter Ioanna Roumeliotis and I were two of the first journalists on the scene that day. We covered the attack for days, filing stories about what happened, the people who were killed, a hero police officer and the grief of a city.

But we didn't get to talk to any survivors that week. Many of the victims sustained catastrophic, life-altering injuries and weren't ready or able to talk about what had happened to them.

One of those women is Beverly Smith. She lost her legs in the attack. She let us capture the struggle of daily therapy appointments and her fight to get some independence back.

Toronto van attack survivor Beverly Smith is working to rebuild her life after losing both her legs on April 23, as well as suffering trauma that has made it difficult for the former librarian to read. (Albert Leung/CBC)

"I'm just sorry to everybody that this has already happened to, because it's horrible," her son told us. "And anyone who this hasn't happened to, don't take life for granted."

You can watch Ioanna's interviews with Smith and another survivor of the attack, who are both working to put their lives back together, tonight on The National on CBC Television and streamed online.

- Melissa Mancini

Quote of the moment

"We will not cooperate with the ICC. We will provide no assistance to the ICC. We will not join the ICC. We will let the ICC die on its own. After all, for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us."

- John Bolton, Donald Trump's national security advisor, threatens the International Criminal Court with dire consequences if it continues with plans to probe alleged U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan.

U.S. national security adviser John Bolton. (Martial Trezzini/Keystone via Associated Press)

What The National is reading

  • Canada is selling fewer armoured vehicles to Saudis than envisioned (CBC)
  • Trump administration to close PLO office in Washington (Al Jazeera)
  • Sweden's ruling party hits election low as far right grows (CBC)
  • California tries new tack on gun violence: ammunition control (NY Times)
  • Canadian mining firm finds giant gold rocks in Australia (BBC)
  • VW investors seek $11 billion in damages over dieselgate scandal (Reuters)
  • The killer in the next cubicle (The Atlantic)
  • Montreal Canadiens trade captain Max Pacioretty (CBC)

Today in history

Sept. 10, 1972: Esposito fires back at fans complaining about Canada-Soviet hockey series

It was an unlikely rallying cry, but Canadian to its very core. After a 5-3 loss to the Soviets in Vancouver in Game Four of the 1972 Summit Series, the big centre poured his heart out in the post game interview, begging disappointed fans not to boo their national team. "We know. We're trying. We're doing the best we can," he said. "They've got a good team." The public shaming did the trick. When Team Canada's plane landed in Toronto the next day, there were 3,000 cheering fans on hand to greet them. And Canada went on to win three out of the four games in Russia, taking the series with Paul Henderson's iconic goal.

With his best hangdog face, Phil Esposito scolds heckling Canadian fans after Game 4 of the Summit Series in Vancouver. 1:09

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About the Author

Jonathon Gatehouse

Jonathon Gatehouse

Has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, including seven Olympic Games and a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey.