Immigration and Xenophobia by JAIR - Jadavpur Association of International Relations
IndraStra Global

Immigration and Xenophobia by JAIR - Jadavpur Association of International Relations

History is replete with instances of massive upheavals caused due to migration. Sometimes resulting in invasion and sometimes in pogroms, they have time and again caused monumental changes in the meandering course of history. It will not be too much of an untruth to state that migrations have shaped the contours of history in a significant manner. Sometimes immigrations are seen as welcome extra hands for work or security and at other times they are seen as unwanted extra mouths to feed. In the current scenario however, the preponderance of the latter is most alarming and is a rising concern for the scholars of social sciences.

The recent bombings in USA and a dastardly attack in Woolwich has again brought this issue into the centre stage. Consistent rise in immigration from the third world to the developed west has steadily added fuel to already existent racist sentiments there. Rising population of migrants alters, sometimes significantly, the demographics of a developed nation. With changed demographics, ethnic issues are bound to increase. Questions of ethnicity, identity and multiculturalism come into the fore and gives rise to the cosmopolitan and ethno national debate. The situation is worsened if economic crises take place and immigrants take away jobs and hinder livelihood of the natives of a country. And that is exactly what has come into being in Europe. Virtually unchecked migration has fuelled ethnic tensions on one hand while the economic crisis has ravaged livelihoods. With fewer jobs and more unemployed youths on the streets, there is a general feeling that immigration is to blame, the reason being had there been fewer immigrants eating into the jobs, the natives would have more jobs available. This sentiment has caused an upsurge against immigrants many a times in history. Immigrants become soft and easy targets during recessions and economic meltdowns. In the past few years too, xenophobia against immigrants have been on the rise. Far right parties have sprung up or gained prominence and their muscle men have been instigating racist violence against these immigrants. As a counter the immigrants have also started their own political reaction to this, by  forming their own terrorist outfits based on religion or ethnicity. Thus there is a situation of multi-layered violence in Europe and USA. Politically the left wing has always advocated the notion of multiculturalism. On the other hand the far right has talked of ethnocentric extreme nationalism. The far left has emerged as a strong reply to the far right and the failure of the centrist parties. Thus Europe is now divided into two camps which are at loggerheads. As the mainstream parties are unable to cater to need of the hour, the people seem to look more at the extremes of the political spectrum.

Life for the people, especially the immigrants is becoming harder by the day. The far left and the far right parties are gaining votes while radicalization of the immigrant communities is leading to the mushrooming of terrorists and hardliners. Here we take a look at some of the different types of violence, problems and xenophobia which is resulting from this situation. We are taking a few case studies as examples for our purpose.

United Kingdom

‘No Eastern Europeans’ read a sign outside a fishery in the county of Warwickshire, United Kingdom. The owner of the Dog Lane Fishery, Mr. Eddie Whitehead, who had put up the sign in January, 2013, admitted that he is not a racist, but forthrightly blamed the immigrants from the eastern part of the continent for losses worth £10,000 that he had incurred. The 75-year-old man had accused the eastern Europeans of stealing his fish and had said: “Over in Poland or wherever they come from it’s a specialty that what they catch they eat, but they’ve got to realize they’re in England.” (BBC News) And although the sign was removed months ago and allegations of racially-motivated crime are being investigated by the police, political analysts refuse to treat the incident as an isolated case and are eager to highlight it as a reflection of the “broader social and political climate in the UK, in which prejudices and stereotypes about immigrants are ripe.” (Lana Pasic: “UK Xenophobia turns against Eastern Europeans”, Al-Jazeera)

Indeed, such a claim might not be an over-reaction considering the xenophobic feelings that has engulfed the United Kingdom in the recent past; something that has found voice through Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron himself, when he raised concerns about the phenomenon of “benefit tourism” while referring to the impending removal of work restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians in the United Kingdom from the beginning of the next year. At times of financial crises such as the one under which Great Britain is reeling at present, it is quite natural to blame the immigrants for the deteriorating conditions of the state. Critics are quick to blame the Tony Blair led Labour Party government for the relaxation of the immigration rules in an era of economic boom allegedly causing the present condition in Britain. Even the current leader of the Labour Party, Mr. Ed Miliband, has acknowledged the “undesirable consequences” of the opening up of British doors, promising a review of the party’s stand on the topic of immigration.

Such a transformation in the political scenario of United Kingdom in the recent years has been aggravated by the emergence of far-right parties in Britain such as the British National Party (BNP), the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and the English Defence League (EDL). With resentment rising among the whites in the United Kingdom regarding the economic conditions of the state and the fear of being categorized as a minority in their own nation, the right wing groups are quick to cash in on the situation, rallying against migrants and carrying out campaigns that often border on the offensive. There is no denying the fact that right wing populism will remain. Such a trend was in display in the 2012 French presidential elections when the right wing National Front party leader, Ms. Marine Le Pen, proved to be a serious contender to the established political heavy-weights.
         Xenophobia in the United Kingdom and in the western world in general, has also been intensified in recent times by acts of terrorism. The wounds of the September 11 attack in New York and the July 7 attack in London are still fresh. With the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan conjuring up tensions between Islamic groups and individuals and the western world, Islamophobia inevitably gives a new dimension to xenophobia, with the targets being particularly from the Arab world and South Asia. The incubus of such animosity is reflected in the murder of 75-year-old Mohammed Saleem in Birmingham at the end of April 2013, which was as gruesome as the murder of the Drummer Lee Rigby on 22 May, 2013 in Woolwich, by two radicalized Islamists acting on their own, extracting revenge for what they believed was “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” against the injustices caused by British soldiers in the Islamic world. Such acts of terror only help in fuelling the already strained relationship between the two communities, and presents opportunities for backlashes. It is in such critical times that the government and the law enforcing agencies need to tread cautiously in quelling any form of violence, isolating the sociopaths and encouraging rational discussions on the effects of immigration; something the British government did manage to do to a certain degree when faced with anti-Muslim threats from the English Defence League after the Woolwich attack.

Immigration is a highly debated phenomenon with multi-dimensional aspects – it is quite impossible to investigate this in isolation in a globalised world. It beckons for the integration of productive individuals into the society through comprehensive measures that assures the ascent of the community in general. Perhaps a ray of hope emerges from the story of  Mohamed “Mo” Farah, the Somali-born British athlete who, after winning the gold medals in two different events in the 2012 London Olympics, churned pride among British nationals when he said “This is my country and when I put on my Great Britain vest, I’m proud.”


Norway has always demographically been a relatively homogeneous country, but there have been always minority groups like the Sami, the Roma and Finnish ethnics in the northeast. Immigration from third world countries started relatively late in Norway. In 1998, Norway's immigrant population was 244,700, namely 5% of the population.

In August 2011, the terrible attacks on youth, civil servants and leadership in Oslo gave a grim jolt to Norwegians. This slaughter was targeted at destroying confidence in Norwegian society and values. Around the world, people who value democracy have expressed their condolence, offering expressions of solidarity with the people of Norway.

Xenophobia has raised its ugly head in Norway too. Unemployment among immigrants in Norway has risen to 7.9%. Legally, employers are obliged to prevent discrimination based on immigrants' ethnicity, skin, colour and religion. However, only about 50% of the employers have adhered to this legislation, according to the report of the research foundation FAFO, Diversity and Equality in the Workplace. The number of immigrants to Norway has been growing during the last few years, mostly from Africa and Asia. However, NRK reports that whilst the number of unemployed Norwegians is decreasing, figures for unemployed immigrants are on the rise. Norwegian employers have a long tradition of xenophobia. Immigrants from non-Western countries have been discriminated against in Norwegian working life for the past 20 years. One cannot ignore the fact that immigrants take up many jobs, leaving the natives unemployed. Consequently, anger and frustration builds up, racial discord increases and the immigrant communities fall in the first line of attacks.  The indubitable link between far right activists and xenophobia reminds one of the Oslo attack in 2011. It is in many ways the inevitable outcome of the blighted hopes of the multicultural ideal.

The right wing populist and the xenophobic parties enjoy a great deal of support among the Norwegian population. These parties have made major gains in many European countries. Such a climate is bound to accentuate animosity and increase the possibility of events such as the Oslo massacre. It is high time to challenge the anti-immigrant and anti-Islamic sentiment. Little can be done to sway the opinions of the racists. The idea that the immigration is responsible for the lack of jobs, housing or lower immigration means a lower crime rate must be problematical. 

Unfortunately, the mainstream politicians have responded to the advance of the far right not by challenging its prejudices but by believing that the only way to stem support for such groups is by promising to further cut back on immigration. However, history offers many telling examples of the tragic effects of myopic, exclusionary politics. One cannot play to the gallery of prejudice and expect social wounds to heal.


The Boston blasts triggered a wide manhunt operation and the convicts were pin-pointed to be two immigrant brothers from the war-torn region of Chechnya in Russia. The elder of the two, Tamerlan Tsarnaev was shot down by the police while the younger brother Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is in custody awaiting his trial. Interestingly, Dzhokhar had become a US citizen in the September of 2012. The incident gave a leeway to the anti-immigrant voices in the Congess to halt the Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) bill. The Bill, formulated by a bipartisan team of 8 senators (Gang of Eight), allows for around 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the US acquiring legal citizenship of the country. It is an effort on the part of the senators to embrace these undocumented immigrants in the mainstream and enhance their calibre to contribute to the well being of the country. Salutary efforts towards integration are offset however, by the xenophobic attitude of the authorities, as was evident when an immigrant, who was injured in the blasts, was detained and questioned just because he happened to be a Saudi national. Steve King, a Republican of Iowa commented, "We need to be ever vigilant. We need to go far deeper into our border crossings to take a look at the visa-waiver program and wonder what we are doing." Mr. King's remarks seem to be too early and even immature to say the least.  In fact, the tragedy of the Boston blasts would be compounded if the push for the much needed immigration reform were derailed through a deadly combination of over-reaction and xenophobia. Parallels can be drawn from the 9/11, when President Bush had initiated talks with Mexico regarding passage of people through the Mexico-US border, but were derailed after the attacks.

Delay in the reforms could prove costly not only for families and communities, but also impairs industry. Diversity Inc's recent global research report indicates that companies are grappling with issues of cultural competence for immigrants and a greater understanding of how distinct local cultures affect the workplace. Moreover, incidents of violence and terror cannot be prevented just by illegalizing immigrants. There will never be a foolproof way to discriminate the "potentially dangerous" immigrants from the safer ones. True, there needs to be greater scrutiny of new immigrants who enter the borders but, the 'fear of the foreign' must not deter millions, who swear allegiance to the American nation. Meanwhile the Gang of 8 released the CIR bill and subsequently got it through the Senate by a majority of 68-32 in the last week of June and it now awaits the nod of the House. However, regardless of the bill's political future, its passage was a significant moment for the immigrants- a moment to rejoice.

South Africa

South Africa again hit the headlines for its xenophobic violence. The history of xenophobic is intimately tied with South African history. In 2004, the South African migration project published a report stated that the democratic ANC government switched to aggressive nation building which resulted in the intolerance towards foreigners and refugees. In fact, the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) stated that police officers of Johannesburg area are convinced that most undocumented immigrants are involved in crime. In 2012 a group, South African Black Association became fanatic and was ready to attack immigrants in Mayfair. Mayfair remains as a homeland to many immigrants groups from Somalia and Bangladesh. South Africa shows its terrible legacy in xenophobic riots among which the incidents of the year 2008 took at least 62 lives.
In the year 2008 Mpumalanga witnessed a great xenophobic violence. Local residents began their protest with the complaints for access to water, job, and electricity. But they shifted their notice to immigrants and foreign business owners in the Siyathemba township of Balfour. Marauding crowds sabotaged the business of Ethiopian, Pakistani, and Chinese shop owners.   Several foreigners were brutally assaulted or harassed. Dislocated foreigners took shelter at Balfour police station. In the year 2010 after removing the former South African president Mr. Thabo Mbeki, the new Government proposed many plans to offset the curse of xenophobia. On 20th May 2008, an armed crowd attacked their foreign neighbours, resulting in a xenophobic clash at Reiger Park of South Johannesburg. South African people are feeling defeated in the competition with foreign business. Moreover, the ANC Government & South African President Mr. Jacob Zuma after his succession on 10th May 2009, showed flexibility towards some three millions Zimbabwean immigrants in South Africa. This flexibility instigates fears of dislocation.

South Africa has become a new avenue for powers politics and China and India’s quest for South Africa’s energy resources. This is creating an encroachment of South African economy. Moreover South Africa is enriched with mines and minerals which attract foreign investors. South Africa is replete in mining industries but these industries are exclusively focused on the production of the private gains for the financial stake holders in mining ventures. The ownerships of those industries are mainly foreign ownerships reflecting the country’s colonial past. This is a significant reason behind South Africa’s anti immigrant psyche.

The solution to immigration and xenophobia will have to be very pragmatic, diplomatic, politically correct and just. While xenophobia is a curse which must be deterred and for that the economy has to regain its buoyancy, one also needs to look into the question of unending and unmitigated immigration. While such rates of immigration must be curtailed, the international community must look into how the immigration rate can be controlled, especially by reducing poverty, ending civil wars and other political problems back home. This is a task that the greater international community must keep in mind.