May 7, 2006: Immigration Sparks Backlash In Europe
Immigration sparks backlash in Europe
An increasing number of voters may be turning to parties running on anti-immigration platforms.
By Don Melvin
Sunday, May 07, 2006
BARKING, England Peter Taylor sat on a bench in the East London suburb of Barking on a recent day, gloomily surveying the sea of Asian and African faces around him.
“There's just too many foreigners coming in,” said Taylor, a 49-year-old disabled forklift driver who is white. “There ought to be tighter controls.”
The number of immigrants in his East London suburb worries Peter Taylor, 49. In the upcoming elections, he's considering voting for the British National Party, a right-wing group accused of ties to neo-Nazis.
As a working man, Taylor has been a lifelong supporter of the Labor Party of Prime Minister Tony Blair. No more. In local elections Thursday, he planned to vote for the British National Party, a right-wing fringe group accused by critics of racism and ties to neo-Nazis.
Taylor is not alone. There are indications that the demographic changes caused by immigration, combined with a perceived lack of assimilation by new ethnic groups, are provoking a backlash in Britain and elsewhere in Western Europe.
As in the United States, the benefits and drawbacks of immigration are the subject of sharp debate. Nearly 600,000 immigrants moved to Britain in 2004.
The Parliament member from Barking, Margaret Hodge, who is a minister in Blair's government, said she found while campaigning recently that eight of 10 white families in Barking were tempted to vote for the British National Party, or BNP.
Indeed, in last week's elections, the BNP scored its best showing ever, roughly doubling the 20 or so local council seats it held and winning most of the seats it contested in Barking. Labor took a pounding.
Immigration has been an issue in Western Europe for years, and parties running on anti-immigration platforms have on occasion shown electoral strength in Austria and France.
The backlash against immigration also has spread to Holland, Denmark and Norway, among others.
“And these have been traditionally liberal countries,” said Charles Westin, a professor at Stockholm University.
Governments, responding to political pressure, are tightening immigration rules. As of March, people applying to live in Holland, for example, must take a test to prove they understand the country's language and culture an exam reported to require 350 hours of study.
And the interior ministers of the six largest European Union countries have proposed that immigrants be required to sign “integration contracts” promising to learn the languages of their host nations and respect Western freedoms.
Massoud Shadjareh, chairman of the London-based Islamic Human Rights Commission, said he believes that, by and large, immigration is not the real issue.
“The underlying racism is sneaking back into our society and being legitimized,” he said. Polish immigrants are praised as hard-working contributors to society while the contributions of hard-working blacks and Asians go unsung, he said.
In Britain, the BNP's spokesman denied that the party is racist or that it has neo-Nazi ties, although he admitted that party founder John Tyndall was “interested” in Nazism. Tyndall, who was expelled from the party, died last year.
“They call us extreme,” said the spokesman, Phil Edwards. “Anybody who wants to fill this country with foreigners and destroy British jobs is an extremist. . . . Why the hell should people have to put up with all this bloody immigration?”
It is a message that seems to be resonating with more and more people. “The way I see things going, the BNP is the only party that's listening to people,” Taylor said. “The major parties, like Labor and the Conservatives, they just brush it under the carpet.”
In general, governments have done a poor job explaining that immigration is often desirable and even necessary, said Jean-Philippe Chauzy, spokesman for the Geneva-based International Organization for Migration. “Europe, especially aging Europe, needs migrants,” Chauzy said.
According to the 2001 census, Britain's minority ethnic population was 4.6 million, or 7.9 percent of the country's 60 million total.
In Barking, as Sikhs and Muslims, Africans and Asians strolled along the pedestrian-only main street, lifelong white residents seemed to be struggling to come to grips with a neighborhood radically changed.
Tivader Brainer, 70, who emigrated from Hungary 45 years ago, said he has always voted Labor. But this year, he'll abstain.
“You come up here on market day, you hardly see a white man,” he said. “My street used to be all white men. Now it's only one white man that's me.”