27 July 2011
By Fatma Yýlmaz Elmas, USAK Center for EU Studies
The Immigration phenomenon, as with the emergence of every new crisis in Europe, is being taken out of the social field and imprisoned in security policies. Thus, the perception of “the others” that has been an inseparable part of contemporary European history gets more and more inveterate during times of crisis.
In times of crisis, socio-economic structures are usually reshaped against immigrants. During these periods, where worries such as anxiety over the future, social distrust, and debate over “national identity” take over, the “alien label” that is ascribed to immigrants appears more often. Burdened with all the sins of a crisis on their shoulders, immigrants get placed at the left, right, and center of fervent debates. Generally, what benefits the most from the situation is “cheap populism”. The political mindset that transforms a crisis into propaganda against immigrants, on one hand, attempts to take advantage of immigrants in the election campaigns; on the other hand, the governments, by taking measures on immigration, struggle to divert the reactions of public. While the extreme right has gained ground by legitimizing their rhetoric and is on the rise, a shift to the extreme right also frequently becomes apparent in the rhetoric of the center. During the recent period, the rise of the extreme right in France, Netherlands, Belgium, Finland, Austria, and Hungary has become a tangible example of this trend. Sarkozy’s rhetoric against immigrants in France and the actions that are taken against Gypsies in particular are the signs of the typical political tendency for the rhetoric of the center to shift to the extreme right. The Inheritance of 9/11: Securitization of Immigration
The paranoia created by the events of September 11 and the lingering irritation caused by the economic crisis burdened immigrants in different dimensions. September 11 in the US and Madrid and London bombings in Europe, caused attention to be diverted toward immigrants. The terrorist attacks, via triggering people’s fear of foreigners, brought immigrants and refugees to the focal point of racist rhetoric and actions. The attempt at reading the terrorist attacks based on a so-called relationship between religion and violence, particularly in the West, established Muslims as the “internal threat” in European public opinion by naming them “the others of the others”. The prejudicial reports that have been on the news, exploitations of the issue by political parties, and also certain extreme reactions brought the “immigration” issue under the banner of “security” instead of “sociology”. Consequently, right after the terrorist attacks in London in 2005, the estimated proportion of people who view Islam as a threat had gone up to %53. As a result, the reactions in Europe gave birth to destructive outcomes against immigrants. The verbal and physical offences aside, while the working conditions of Muslim immigrants in particular have deteriorated, the doors of companies have also been closed for one fifth of the people in Europe with a name of Arabic origin.
The Bill of Crisis for Immigrants: “Jobs in England Belong to the Englishmen”
The economic crisis that began in the US and today involves Europe is emerging as a burden left for immigrants to bear on their shoulders. The victims of increasing unemployment in most European countries are immigrants that possess an unemployment rate twice that of other Europeans. Moreover, there exist unemployed people who lost their legal status and were then expelled from the country or lowered to illegal immigrant status. In addition, certain governments also toughened their immigration policies as a means of fighting the economic crisis. European countries, Greece, Italy, England, and Spain in particular stiffened policies by reducing work permits, paying incentive bonuses for immigrants to leave, changing visa conditions, and making family unification tougher. On one hand, the immigrants are being kept away from the job market; on the other, they remain exploited under the deteriorated workforce conditions. Particularly the people with no bargaining options, even contractual ones, as a result of widespread unemployment are obliged to accept these deteriorating conditions in order to keep their residence rights.
Yet the real problem is that the negative effects of the economic crisis may change social perceptions and the issue might contribute to extreme right tendencies. The general tendency during an economic crisis is to increase competition for limited public resources and the disdain for social welfare expenses. Mostly, even though it is inappropriate, the situation turns out to be an anti-immigrant protest. As a matter of fact, in 2009, protests by English workers shouting “Jobs in England belong to the Englishmen” are tangible examples of this. The political outcome of social reactions is the proliferation of extreme right-wing rhetoric throughout Europe. The extreme rightists that had remained marginal in the past are recently on the rise in Europe. In fact, they struggle not to lose the electorate’s support for their rhetoric to centrist parties, which had previously been nervous about the rise of the extreme right.
The Schengen Crisis and “The Scandinavian Beirut Syndrome” of Europe
Nowadays indeed, the immigrant crisis following the riots in the Middle East and North Africa is an example of the political tendency that has been gaining ground in Europe during recent years to turn events into crises. Accordingly, the crisis that followed Italy’s Schengen visa grants to Tunisian refugees caused widespread calls for border controls in the Schengen zone. While France sent the immigrants that came from Italy back, the center-right government in Denmark initiated controls over German and Swedish borders. All these decisions are significant blows to the right to freedom of movement, which is the basis of European integration. Moreover, they are evaluated as signs of the distrust among the European Union members. The Danish People’s Party leader, by saying that “If they [Swedes] want to turn Stockholm, Gothenburg or Malmoe into a Scandinavian Beirut, with clan wars, honour killings and gang rapes, let them do it. We can always put a barrier on the Oeresund Bridge” summarized the current state of mind of European people.
In short, when the immigration phenomenon is taken out of the field of sociology and attached to politics or security policies, we end up having to confront these issues. The “other” perception which runs parallel to the Europeans’ past becomes more inveterate when the ground is manipulated by politicians during times of crisis. More importantly, the policies that are presented as “solutions” in order to overcome the crisis are legitimizing negative perceptions in the minds of European people toward immigrants. Accordingly, Denmark’s attitude formed via its perceptions toward immigrants, who are already there to be burdened with guilt beyond its rising walls, is exemplary of this trend.
*This comment is previously published on ANALIST Journal, July Issue, 2011.