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European Voters, in a Shift Rightward, Are Turning Against Unchecked Immigration From Africa and the Mideast

After 25 years in the political wilderness, Dutch anti-immigration politician Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party doubled its vote and came in first in Holland’s parliamentary elections. In Ireland, a man of Algerian origin allegedly stabbed three school children in central Dublin. Hundreds of young people rioted, chanting “get them out” with one man waving a sign: “Irish Lives Matter.” Thursday, Finland closes all eight of its eastern border crossings, accusing Russia of sending this month 1,000 undocumented migrants, largely from Africa and the Middle East.

From the Irish Sea to Lapland, Europeans increasingly appear to want to shield their continent from uncontrolled migration from their impoverished southern neighbors. On the surface, Europe’s diversity is manageable. Of the 448 million people in the European Union, only two percent are from Africa and four percent are Muslim.

However, Europe’s neighbors have the world’s highest population growth rates and the world’s lowest economic growth rates. According to the World Bank, the EU’s gross domestic product per capita is $54,249. That is 13 times the $4,200 average from Morocco to Lebanon, just a boat ride away from Europe. The EU average income is 32 times the $1,690 average in sub Saharan Africa.

With the exception of Israel, which enjoys a European standard of living, the Middle East is economically stagnant. The IMF in a recent report warns of its “concern” about “the region’s near-zero percent growth rate during the past 30 years, when all other developing countries as a group grew at 2.5 percent per annum.”

While Black Africa has economic hot spots, it is not providing the jobs for a region with the world’s highest birth rate — five children per mother. In 1950, Africans made up 8 percent of the world’s people. By 2050, 25 percent of the world’s population will be African. One-third of all people between 15 to 24 will be African.

In Europe, where the population is aging and starting to shrink, fears of the demographic future are influencing politics today. Many anti-immigrant positions excoriated as “far right” are becoming mainstream, or, as some say, “the new normal.”

During his 25 years in the Dutch Parliament, Mr. Wilders, with his peroxide blond hair and calls to close mosques and Islamic schools, was long seen as a fringe figure. But last year, another 400,000 asylum seekers entered Holland, squeezing an already tight housing market in a nation of 18 million. This fall, Wilders, the longest-serving member of parliament, campaigned against the “asylum tsunami.”  Last week in his victory speech, he promised to end the “immigration tsunami.” “The Dutch will be Number 1 again,” said the man sometimes called “the Dutch Donald Trump.” “The people must get their nation back.”

The impact can be seen across Europe. In France, the leader of the National Rally, Marine Le Pen, the country’s strongest voice for cutting immigration, leads in polls leading up to the 2027 presidential election. Sending congratulations to Mr. Wilders, she posted on X: “Many peoples in Europe want to control the massive and anarchic immigration.”

In Germany, 300,000 immigrants are expected to apply for asylum this year, almost double last year’s number. In a recent poll by Deutschlandtrend, two thirds of respondents wanted cuts in immigration. Last month, the leading anti-immigration party, Alternative for Germany, scored unexpectedly well in elections in Hesse and Bavaria, two states outside the rightist party’s traditional eastern German base. On a national level, AfD now regularly tops 20 percent support in the polls, making it the second most popular party in Germany.

“Everywhere in Europe, we see the same right-wing wind blowing,” Belgian hard-right leader Tom Van Grieken said after Mr. Wilders’ victory. The chairman of Vlaams Belang, Mr. Van Grieken said: “Migration was clearly the central theme in these elections.” 

With migration into Europe hitting a level not seen since the Syrian exodus of 2016, Britain, Denmark, and Germany want to fly asylum seekers to Africa for processing. Two weeks ago, Britain’s Supreme Court ruled the government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda was unlawful. Undeterred, Prime Minister Sunak, a Conservative and the son of Punjabi immigrants from East Africa, makes his slogan: “Stop the Boats.”

Adopting a similar strategy for migrants without visas, Prime Minister Meloni is doubling Italy’s “repatriation camps” to 20, from 10, and increasing maximum stays to 18 months, from three months. Earlier this month, Ms. Meloni signed a deal with Albania to build two Italy-funded and controlled detention camps in Albania. Prompting Ms. Meloni’s action, 152,216 migrants had arrived in Italy by boat as of Monday, almost double the rate of last year. In a poll last month, two-thirds of respondents said they did not think that Ms. Meloni was capable of handing the flow of migrants.

Sweden, traditionally seen as having a liberal, open-arms view of asylum seekers, is preparing legislation that would mandate tough controls. Under proposals promoted by Sweden Democrats, the hard right partner in the governing coalition, municipalities and public officials would be compelled to report illegal immigrants. Asylum seekers already in the country would be encouraged to leave. Reasons for deportation could be expanded from committing crimes to having unpaid debts.

Last Friday, a Reuters survey found that 10 of the 27 European nations in the EU’s Schengen zone reintroduced this fall border controls in an area that is supposed to be of free movement. In addition, Finland is closing its entire 830-mile long land border with Russia. Peeved over Finland joining NATO six months ago, Russia has seized on Europe’s hot button issue. Immigrants from Afghanistan, Kenya, Morocco, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen bicycled to Finnish border crossings, abandoned their bicycles in the snow, and asked for asylum.

Finland called it a form of “hybrid” warfare against their nation. Estonia and Latvia, two other NATO nations with borders on Russia, said that last week Russia also pushed dozens of immigrants without visas to try to enter their countries. Until recently, Russia border guards did not stamp out of Russia travelers without Schengen visas.

Many complaints are economic. Britain spends around $3.7 billion a year putting asylum seekers in hotels. In Germany, where courts have ruled that refugees are entitled to the same welfare benefits as German citizens, the nation spends about $53 billion a year caring for refugees — the same amount as it spends each year for defense.

Some analysts say that Europe should embrace African and Arab immigration. “Immigration on a far larger scale than anything yet seen is the only thing that can prevent Europe from becoming an empty amusement park filled with cathedrals, forts, palaces, and other celebrated cultural relics from a grand but fast-receding past,” a former West Africa correspondent for The New York Times, Howard French, wrote last month in Foreign Policy.

“Europe will have to get over the all-too-easy-to-sell delusions of right-wing extremist or populist politicians who promote the notion that closing the continent’s gates and policing its borders can save it from difficult change,” Mr. French added. Judging by election results, Europeans are going in the opposite direction.