Xenophobia Not Foreign

From the March-April 2001 Trumpet Print Edition

It’s an odd word, one of the few that begins with x in the English language. Yet xenophobia has been increasingly used as a term to describe the trend toward the ostracization of foreigners in certain European countries. It does not help to allay the worst fears of the thinning ranks of World War ii veterans to hear in which countries the xenophobic trend seems to predominate.

Literally, xenophobia connotes a deep dislike of foreigners. With the trend having taken hold in Italy and most particularly Germany over the past decade, Spain is the most recent country to join the ranks of those countries featuring public demonstrations against migrants. The right-of-center governing Popular Party in Spain fulfilled an election pledge in January by legislating a tough new law on immigration.

As in Italy and Germany, there have been predictable outcries from the left and from migrant groups at efforts to curb migration in Spain. Thousands demonstrated in Madrid, calling for a more positive attitude to immigration. But in reality these countries are caught in a cleft stick. On the one hand, as they increasingly move to the right politically, their anti-foreigner stance increases. They want to limit the social, cultural and economic problems caused by increased enclaves of migrants unwilling to adapt to the ways of their country of adoption.

Yet the reason that so many foreigners are now resident in those countries is to supply an increasing labor shortage (created by falling population rates in Italy, Germany and Spain in particular), at lower wage rates than citizens of natural birth. Exacerbating this equation is the anticipated influx of cheap foreign labor from the east that will eventuate following enlargement of the EU in 2004.

Very simply put, as these countries reach a point of less-than-zero population growth, they need to import labor in order to continue developing and expanding their economies. Yet as they import labor, social tensions rise.

The outcome must eventually be not a ban on migration, as that would be self-defeating. Rather it will be tougher controls on the movement and demographic spread of migrant populations. For some time, some Turks in Germany have been impounded within razor-wire-topped walled compounds, ostensibly to protect them from being harmed by rankled local citizenry. If this practice extends to other European countries, it should send a shudder through those with memories long enough to recall the concentration of migrant labor, in Europe, under significantly more onerous conditions 56 years ago.