After the EU summit on migration, it seems clear that the member states will adopt a tougher course: border fences, external controls, deportations. There is no real preoccupation with the causes of flight and expulsion, but rather a policy that is supported by fear of immigration and shows certain basic populist patterns.
A fair and reasonable distribution of refugees within the EU was not even discussed, Europe’s isolation was the only result. In Germany and Austria, many municipalities have reached the limits of their capacity and can no longer offer the refugees adequate accommodation due to the high number of caregivers. Advice and help can also only be provided to a limited extent. So far, governments have been relying on the voluntary commitment of citizens to replace state welfare. EU members such as Hungary, Poland and Slovakia continue to refuse meeting their responsibilities and accept contingents of refugees. Brussels should be able to exert more pressure here!
At the same time – once again – populists are fueling fears of foreign infiltration, the “Muslim invasion” into Europe, and the loss of national identity. European migration policy has been going in circles for years, and the merry-go-round will only come to a standstill if the 27 states find a stable balance: on the one hand in responsibility for protecting and controlling the external borders and on the other hand in the solidarity distribution of refugees among the 27 states. The Swedish Presidency should not be expected to lead the way on solidarity issues. Their motto is: deportation and deterrence. And it’s being shared in more and more countries.
Sweden’s course: deportation and deterrence
The Swedish government launched a new campaign last month that aims to change the country’s image as open and liberal in the long term: Refugees please stay outside, there is no longer a welcoming culture in Sweden – that’s roughly the message. Minister Stenergard stands for the turning point in Swedish politics, which she recently described with the controversial sentence: There is a “shadow society” shaped by migrants and it must now be “eradicated”. In a recently published article, Stenergard compared the “fateful year” 2015 in Germany and her home country. She came to the following conclusion: “Sweden and Germany emerged from the migration crisis in 2015 with the same bitter experience: goodwill and optimism alone are not enough for successful immigration. Many people have been fantastically involved and helped. While Germany has largely managed to cope with the challenges that followed migration, the development in Sweden has been the exact opposite.” In addition, people with extreme religious or political views would be allowed to subvert and influence social institutions. There are ideological blinkers that prevent necessary and far-reaching reforms. A grueling debate would only now lead to a clear and precise reform agenda in Europe far too late, a paradigm shift that the Swedish Council Presidency would now tackle.
The new Swedish migration policy is described as follows: Offenders are to be expelled on a larger scale. And everyone whose way of life is considered unsatisfactory, for example due to close contact with terrorist organizations, should be able to be deported after a fair trial, even if they have not been convicted of a crime. Anyone whose asylum application is rejected must leave the country as quickly as possible. Yet too few return home, and too many end up in a dangerous, growing shadow society. Municipalities will no longer be allowed to pay social benefits to people illegally staying in the country, and the period after which people can reapply for asylum after being rejected is to be extended beyond the current four years. But if there is a commitment, it will be a real commitment, which offers good conditions for becoming part of Swedish society. Those who come to Sweden must learn Swedish immediately and be able to support themselves. Effort and performance requirements must be met for a person to receive welfare benefits.
Great Britain: Criticism of uncontrolled immigration is not xenophobia
Unease about immigration in the UK has been simmering beneath the surface for some time. Much has been written in recent years about how Brits’ anti-immigrant attitudes have eased significantly after the EU referendum, although the number of immigrants has remained broadly flat between 2016 and 2019. This has stunned some: it was the opposite of what they would have expected after the victory of a campaign variously described as fueled by racism, fascism and xenophobia. But in reality, it simply revealed the liberal elites’ ignorance of the real dynamics driving the Brexit vote.
Of course, the reason many people voted for Brexit was to reduce immigration. There were both cultural and economic factors affecting this, the result of the very high and sustained immigration that took place under the Blair, Brown and Cameron governments. But it was also about sending a message to the country’s political establishment: In any election, citizens had signaled their desire for tighter border controls, only to be ignored. In this sense, immigration became the focus of the Brexit promise of greater popular sovereignty: not because of xenophobia or racism, but because the political void between rulers and ruled had crystallized there. It was mainly about accountability and democracy, not about race or hatred of foreigners, which explains why the vote to leave also had strong support among ethnic minorities.
According to the Home Office in London, 2.8 million visas were issued in 2022. While this represents an 18% decrease compared to 2019, Office of National Statistics estimates that total net migration for the year through June 2022 was 504,000, far higher than the previous record of 330,000. In particular, work-related visas rose to almost 400,000 – 80% more than before the pandemic in 2019 and the highest number of work visas issued in a 12-month period since the data series began in 2005. The source of immigration has also changed fundamentally: the Net EU immigration has steadily declined since 2016, while non-EU immigration has increased – mainly from countries like India (worker visas have increased by 90%), the Philippines (93%), Nigeria (399%) and Zimbabwe (1,500%). This means that immigration is becoming more culturally, ethnically and religiously distinctive.
A significant increase in migrants and asylum seekers entering the country illegally has also been noted. According to official figures, more than 2,300 migrants have crossed the English Channel on small boats this year alone, with over 1,000 migrants arriving in the first two weeks of February alone. Overall, a record 45,728 people arrived in the UK in 2022, almost 90% of whom were adult males – a staggering 2,000% increase on pre-pandemic levels.
And crucially, a disproportionate number of asylum seekers are being housed in some of the country’s poorest areas, without local governments and residents having any say in the matter. The North East and Red Wall areas host 13 and 7 times as many asylum seekers, respectively, as South East England. Knowsley itself is the second most deprived district in England and suffers from serious problems such as unemployment, ill health and child poverty. All of this leads to a renewed stiffening of attitudes towards immigration compared to the last few years.
So perhaps unsurprisingly, according to the data released, a majority of Brits think immigration is too high, with 34% totally agreeing. Interestingly, the results are more or less the same across all socio-economic groups, although, as might be expected, resistance to immigration is particularly strong in the country’s poorer areas: the Midlands, Yorkshire and north-east England.
What does that tell us about Britain? What is driving this shift in attitudes towards immigration? Are we to believe that 34% of the country is racist? There is very little evidence to support the claim that entrenched xenophobia is to blame. Rather, the country has become incredibly tolerant and less racist over the past few decades. If one thing is clear, it’s that racism is definitely not on the rise. A 2019 EU poll ranked the UK as the least racist of the 12 Western European countries surveyed. This underscores the fact that one can resist high immigration while at the same time being positively attuned to immigrants. Thus, previous polls have shown that not only does a majority of white working class want a reduction in immigration rates, but so do a majority of non-white respondents.
Those who expose themselves to a high personal risk by entering the country illegally are often fleeing horrific situations: war, poverty and persecution. But that also means they tend to hail from disproportionately lawless societies. It is therefore not unreasonable that people are concerned about the sudden arrival of undocumented young men into their communities, of whom they know little.
Similar assessment in Ireland
Immigration is not only used to lower wages, but in the context of social cuts and austerity measures, it can lead to increased competition for scarce and declining public resources and infrastructure. It is for this reason that Irish trade unions and social democracy there have historically generally been opposed to immigration. It also explains why even of those who support less immigration overall, 76% support more immigration of highly skilled people – which wouldn’t make sense if people were primarily interested in stopping immigration altogether.
However, opposition to immigration is not just about economics. It also has to do with the fact that, unlike the cosmopolitan elites, the majority of voters continue to see themselves as national citizens who want to live in a community with some sense of a shared collective identity. In fact, several studies show that national identity remains the strongest form of collective identity for most people worldwide. A country’s national identity can be to a large extent an ‘imaginary’ construct. It can also be difficult to pin down as it encompasses customs, culture, history, language, religion and social mores. But it does exist and has very ‘real’ effects, creating – and giving rise to – common bonds among members of a territorially defined community.
Contemporary progressives like to defame the nation-state as intrinsically fascist. But modern concepts of national identity are still incredibly “progressive” in the traditional sense of the word, based on transcending individual differences – gender, race, biology, religion – to create cultural-political identities based on participation, equality, Citizenship and Representation. Crucially, however, this is not unlimited: by definition, a society is characterized by borders and a relatively stable membership. As national identity continues to evolve, the pace of that change is everything.
Criticism of immigration in Ireland is not primarily driven by racism or xenophobia, or even a rejection of immigration per se, but by a desire to have a say in the form, pace and volume of immigration. This is not an argument against immigration or the development of a country’s national identity. For the Irish, it is an argument for respecting the right of a national community to have a say in the pace and shape of such development. The prevailing opinion in Ireland is to take in as many people as possible who have escaped hellish situations – many of which were also caused by Western intervention. But how that is to happen is ultimately decided by the people who live here.
All publishing rights and copyrights reserved to MENA Research and Study Center.