Monday, September 20, 2010

Immigration backlash spreads in Europe

An anti-immigrant party won seats in the Swedish parliament for the first time in an election on Sunday, in the latest sign of a backlash in Europe against immigration.

Below are some of the countries where anti-immigrant sentiment appears to be on the rise or where governments have moved to impose new restrictions on immigration or ethnic groups like the Roma.


Two years after the death of Joerg Haider, the founder of Austria's modern far-right, immigration remains a hot topic.

The anti-foreigner Freedom party, which captured 17.5 percent of the votes at national level two years ago, has called for a special vote on whether to ban minarets and Islamic face veils as part of its campaign for a regional election in Vienna next month. Its leader Heinz-Christian Stache is also angling to become the capital's mayor.


The new government of Prime Minister David Cameron is moving to fulfil campaign pledges to restrict immigration in Britain, which had the second highest net inflow of immigrants in the 27-nation EU last year after Italy.

Among planned measures, a permanent cap on migrants from outside the EU will be set in April. A poll this month showed 64 percent of Britons believe the current level of immigration is making their country "a worse place to live." However, the far-right British National Party failed to make much of an impact in the recent election and is in disarray.


Bulgaria's anti-Roma Attack party became the fourth largest group in parliament last year, winning 9.4 percent of the vote. The party argues for the demolition of Roma ghettos and cutting off social aid to Roma who don't send their children to school.


The right-wing populist Danish People's Party, which warns of a creeping Islamification of Denmark, has been the third biggest in parliament since 2001 and was boosted by a wave of anti-Muslim sentiment after the Mohammad cartoon crisis in 2005.

In the last election in 2007, it won 25 seats in the 179-seat parliament with 13.8 percent of the vote. Some recent polls have put its support closer to 16 percent.


The far-right National Front (FN) of Jean-Marie Le Pen has been a force in French politics since the late 1980s, reaching a high-point in support during the 2002 presidential election.

The FN saw its support fall in the 2007 vote, in part because conservative Nicolas Sarkozy ran a tough-on-crime campaign that drew some of its supporters, but the party rebounded in a regional vote in March.

This summer President Sarkozy launched a drive to repatriate Roma and strip some criminals of foreign origin of their French nationality, drawing fierce criticism from the church, rights groups, opposition parties and the EU. His government is also poised to become the first in Europe to ban full Islamic face veils, known as burqas, in public.


Far-right parties have made gains at state level but have not come near the five percent mark needed to enter the federal parliament. Germany has had a net immigrant outflow in recent years. However, public concerns about integrating the country's large Turkish population appear to be on the rise. Polls showed a solid majority of the public supported criticisms of Muslim immigrants by Thilo Sarrazin, a member of the Bundesbank who was forced out of his job for his outspoken views on the issue. Surveys also show many Germans would consider backing a new party that was tough on immigrants.


The far-right party Jobbik entered parliament for the first time in April 2010 elections, winning 47 seats in the 386 seat chamber and its support has risen ahead of municipal elections on October 3. Jobbik has capitalized on popular resentment toward Hungary's large Roma minority, and said recently that Roma considered a threat to public safety should be placed in highly-controlled "public order protection" camps.


The anti-immigrant, pro-autonomy Northern League, which is part of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's coalition government, has made strong gains in recent elections and increased its influence over policy in Italy. Long a main entry point for Africans seeking entry into Europe, Italy had the biggest net immigrant inflow in the EU last year, but it has clamped down severely in recent years.

Berlusconi's government agreed a deal last year with Libya to send back boats caught trying to cross into its waters illegally. It has also passed tough laws allowing authorities to fine and imprison illegal immigrants. Rome has been openly supportive of France's campaign to repatriate the Roma.


The anti-immigrant Freedom Party of populist Geert Wilders was the third strongest party in a June election and could gain ample influence over policy if center-right parties agree to form a minority government with his support. Polls show that if new elections were held, the party would emerge as the strongest in the country. Wilders, the political heir to populist Pim Fortuyn who was killed in 2002, wants to ban face veils and the Koran, as well as shut down Islamic schools in the Netherlands, whose population of 16.6 million includes 1 million Muslims.


Norway's anti-immigrant Progress Party had its best showing ever in last year's parliamentary election, winning 23 percent of the vote and consolidating its position as the country's main opposition party. To widen its appeal, the party has sidelined some of its hardest immigration critics whose comments were interpreted by some as racist, and has focused increasingly on criticizing Norway's cradle-to-grave welfare state.


The Sweden Democrats, an anti-immigration party which criticizes Islam and Muslims as un-Swedish, won its first seats in parliament in a September 19 election. The party has profited from a backlash against Sweden's liberal asylum policies, which attracted tens of thousands of Iraqi refugees after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

[Note: The Sweden Democrats have been demonized in Sweden and are often referred to as "far-right" but they are in fact little different from any other conservative party except that, unusually for Sweden, they are very critical of Muslim immigration, which is apparently very naughty of them.

A similar party in Denmark has succeeded in getting very tough immigration laws passed so they do seriously threaten the Swedish establishment. There is a lot of public support for a crackdown on immigration in Sweden but that does not translate to similar support for the Sweden Democrats -- as most Swedes vote as they always have done -- JR]


The right-wing populist SVP won 27 percent of the vote, the highest of any Swiss party, in a 2007 parliamentary election. It has thrown its support behind a forthcoming referendum that would allow faster expulsion of criminals of foreign origin. The Swiss voted last year to ban the construction of new minarets.


Australia's Leftist government lacks the will and the realism needed to stop an invasion of boat-borne illegals

IN three swift years, the Rudd-Gillard Labor Government has destroyed Australia’s border security and reduced the asylum seeker issue to a deadly farce. Former prime minister Kevin Rudd was responsible for putting people smugglers back in business when he oversaw a comprehensive relaxation of border controls in 2008. The welcome sign for asylum seekers was well and truly written to order by current Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

Now, the secretary of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC), Andrew Metcalfe, has been forced to write to his colleagues in other areas of the public service begging for assistance to help DIAC meet an “urgent and increasing demand for staff” to cope with the ever-increasing flow of new arrivals. They are, Metcalfe writes, rapidly “approaching the point where we will not be able to meet the demand”.

While Rudd - in his new incarnation as Foreign Minister - jets off to grandstand in New York with the global United Nations panjandrums whose company he prefers, negotiations with East Timor over a possible asylum processing centre have been left to the Government’s newly-minted Immigration Minister Chris Bowen. Only days into his new job, Bowen has essentially acknowledged that offshore processing is on the cards.

Though Labor would rather choke than pronounce the words “Pacific Solution”, the Papua New Guinea Government is already discussing the reopening of its Manus Island detention centre - oops, better call that an “asylum seeker processing centre” - and letters have been flying between Michael Sapan, Governor of Manus Province, and PNG Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare. Sapan has been arguing, quite reasonably, that the Lobrum asylum processing centre could be reopened and that it would be an economic boon to a severely financially stressed area of the country. He evens dares to mention the Pacific Solution.

In the area of border protection, as in so many others, Labor has proven itself to be the party of gross mismanagement. As shadow immigration minister Scott Morrison said yesterday, the level of seaborne arrivals currently in detention because of Labor’s discriminatory asylum freeze, and the extended taxpayer-funded appeals processes, have both contributed to a record detention population of more than 5000 people.

The numbers are staggering. In September, Australia’s detention population included 4527 people who had arrived illegally by boat. This compares to just four people in November, 2007. Under Labor, the number of those held in detention centres has increased by - wait for it - 113,075 per cent. So much for Rudd’s pre-election boast that he would turn them back.

My Daily Telegraph colleague Simon Benson revealed that of 6310 asylum seekers arriving in Australia in the past two years, only 75 have been rejected and returned to their country of origin.

The cost to the nation of Labor’s utterly shambolic approach to border security is now running into billions.

It’s also eating into other areas of critical importance to Australia. As Australia’s Chief of Defence Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston said earlier this week, key defence assets are so overstretched dealing with the incessant influx of boat people that day-to-day operations are being compromised. The constant demand for air surveillance aircraft and patrol boats “means you sometimes can’t do other things”, Houston has admitted.

West Australia has become a dumping ground for asylum seekers. Labor has now admitted that it is expanding facilities at the remote Curtin air base to house boat people, and other possible sites at Laverton and Northam are being explored.

Local communities, such as the one at isolated Leonora, east of Perth, are finding that the boom which was promised as an accompaniment to its detention centre, has not eventuated. Instead of local stores reaping the benefits, supplies are shipped from major operators in Perth. Resentment is growing as residents see detainees access benefits which the locals cannot afford, including fresh produce.

Liberal MP Don Randall, whose Canning electorate is home to a high percentage of immigrants, said there was a perception that the newly-arrived refugees were receiving better access to education and health facilities than long-established migrants. “What do you tell a war widow who can’t get help with housing while recent arrivals are placed at the top of the list because of some obligation to a UN treaty?” he asked.

Meanwhile, at the modern District Court in the centre of Perth, four Indonesian crewmen who brought a boatload of Afghan asylum seekers to Ashmore Reef in June, 2009, are in the middle of trial which is set to run from two to three weeks.

Lorens Lapikana, Anto, Samsul Bahar, Anwah Abdullah, each with his own taxpayer-provided barrister and each with his own taxpayer-funded translator, have been appearing daily to listen as tapes and transcripts from their recorded interviews with DIAC officials on Christmas Island last July are played to a judge and jury. Two of the men had claimed to be aged under 15 but X-rays were taken of their wrists and a radiologist has testified that their probable ages were greater than 19, enabling them to be tried as adults. Though a number of Indonesians have been sent home without charge, probably to relieve overcrowding in the already stretched West Australian prison system, the jurors may decide to add these to the 48 currently serving sentences.

The cost of keeping them in jail serving sentences or among the 74 currently on remand, runs to millions each year.

Despite the claims that more illegal arrivals come to Australia by air, these crewmen are a reminder that boats have brought more people in than all the airlines in the past 11 months. According to Morrison, between July 1, 2009, and June 11, 2010, there were 5233 asylum seekers who arrived illegally by boat and just 541 asylum seekers who arrived illegally by plane (i.e. without visa documentation).

“This means almost 10 times as many illegal arrivals came by boat than by plane under Labor’s failed border protection policies,” he said. “The vast majority of people who arrive by plane and subsequently make an asylum claim do so with a valid visa and full documentation, enabling their claims to be properly tested. The Government’s figures show that 5105 people who arrived by plane during this same period and subsequently sought asylum, arrived with valid documentation.”

Labor is in denial on its failure on border protection, despite the overwhelming evidence of policy collapse. Its strategy was farcical and has proved to be, as forecast, unworkable. This is a crisis, a crisis of Labor’s own making. And it will not be solved while the Gillard Government continues to close its eyes to this fiasco.


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