Since the end of the war period in Europe, the west has been exposed to the constant flow of migrants and immigrants. 2015 witnessed a refugee crisis that put more pressure on European countries in terms of providing settlement for the displaced refugees. Furthermore, many European citizens were now exposed to the refugees from culturally different areas. The rise of Islamophobia is closely linked to the refugee crisis as the flow of migrants accelerated a deeply rooted racism in a predominantly wide area of population. The issues of immigration were on the far-right’s political agenda for a long period of time and the lack of cultural integration of refugees led European citizens to become more cautious of them, so the popularity of the right-wing parties was rising. Arguably the refugee crisis of 2015 led to the higher electoral success of the far-right parties as their anti-immigration agenda and policies were getting more popular among voters. Andreas Steinmayr, for example, argues that the German far-right party “Alternative for Germany” became the third-largest party in Germany in the 2017 election, gaining 12.6% of the vote mainly due to their anti-immigration rhetoric targeted at the native population. Such success comes from the far-right agenda on immigration being very similar to the views of an average far-right voter. Radical right parties see immigrants as a problem; as a threat to the national identity; a major cause for criminal and social unrest; the reason for unemployment; and some see them as abusers of the nations’ welfare system. As the media portrayal of the refugees becomes more and more negative, the support for the far-right parties rises. Thus, on a macro level, the refugee crisis increased support for far-right parties massively, making them more successful in the election and more influential on the immigration laws. As the amount of asylum seekers applications grew, the support for the far-right grew in accordance (see Figure 1). Therefore, the refugee crisis, in a way led to the electoral success of the populist parties in Europe; Austria was governed by a coalition between a conservative and populist party, same as Hungary has been governed by the right-wing alliance Fidesz–KDNP since, arguably, 2010. All this happened in the 21st century, and every country with the far-right party in the government adopted very strict policies on immigration, showing how successful their anti-immigration, nationalist and xenophobic rhetoric and policies are in Europe. Moreover, there is an indirect influence of the far-right populist parties on the left or conservative parties in order to compete for electoral success. As far-right successfully addresses immigration issues, other parties across the whole pollical spectrum are also choosing to shift to this issue, sometimes even replicating, far-right slogans and arguments, in order to undermine their political appeal.
Many western European ring-wing governments were already adopting stricter immigration policies even before the refugee crisis happened in 2015, so the anti-immigration agenda was not new among the right-wing parties. But the crisis, indeed, allowed for even harsher policy implementation. The election of the People’s Party and Freedom Party coalition in Austria in 2000, allowed the government to focus on anti-immigration laws, and in 2001, the government passed new integration law forcing every asylum seeker to take the language courses; however, the government would only pay 50% of the costs. Similarly, in Italy, the alliance between Bossi and Berlusconi after the 2001 victory of the center-right government, also passed more restrictive immigration laws. In 2002, the “Bossi Fini” immigration law, proposed by the National Alliance and the Lega Nord, was passed, amending the Turco-Napolitano law that allowed foreigners to come to Italy before securing a job. The new law introducing criminal sanctions for those entering illegally, and immediate deportation if caught without the residence permit, which can be obtained after becoming employed. There were some failures with this law; the latter measurer was never strictly implemented, as it would prevent the foreign workers to renew their residence permits if unemployed. So anti-immigration belief existed before the migrant crisis, which further reinforces that belief after 2015. In 2018 the right-wing populist government in Hungary, passed a “Stop Soros” law, banning any assistance to the undocumented migrants, for which the European Commission has taken Hungary to court. It is the same government that put up a fence to stop the flow of about 400.000 refugees traveling through Hungary during the migrant crisis. And this is just a small example of the successful anti-immigration policies of the right-wing populist parties.
Populist parties also have a widespread indirect influence on the anti-immigration policies of other governments. Their opponents are adopting a stricter immigration policy, fearing that the voters will turn to the far-right parties. In the 2019 election campaign in Denmark, Social Democrats, who are considered to be a “central left” implemented a xenophobic attitude in order to maximize the number of voters. They have adopted the rhetoric of the far-right on the immigration policies in order to secure a national election victory. Denmark is one of the Scandinavian countries that is known for its absurd and aggressive anti-immigration policies due to the rhetoric of the far-right. While the far-right “Hard Line” party for “ethnic Danes”, has been openly calling for deportation and ethnic cleansing of Muslims; the liberal government of 2018 accepted a plan to send all denied asylum seekers to a nearby Lindholm Island, as they will be face persecution in their home countries. UN has been criticizing such an aggressive measure as Lindholm island was used by scientists for a laboratory and crematorium to research animal and human’s contagious diseases such as H1N1 – swine flu, and another influenza A viruses. The far-right “Hard Line” party suggested going further with this idea so it will not only affect asylum seekers but also the foreigners that came to work in the country. Such policies, arguably, were approved due to voter’s concern over immigration issues. As far-right has been long known for its xenophobic and anti-immigration attitudes, the conservatives in 2018 and the left in 2019 had to adopt a stricter immigration policy to secure their victory in a national election. Thus, while this is not a straight policy implemented by the far-right government, their indirect influence is undoubtedly visible, so not only they are successful in their anti-immigration policies in European countries, but they are also very effective in their influence on other parties regarding immigration issues. While Philip Lutz argues that the far-right parties are more effective in their influence on the policies concerning the immigrants’ rights rather than on the numbers, the case of Denmark stands out as a clear opposite example as the government is trying to limit the number of refugees in the country. Therefore, the government approach to immigration clearly shifted to more restrictive due to the far-right rhetoric.
As Denmark decides how to send the rejected asylum seekers to a nearby island in order to control the number of refugees in the country, the populist government of Italy simply did not allow a vessel carrying 629 refugees found in the Mediterranean Sea, to dock in 2018, ignoring international humanitarian law. While Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini did not allow Aquarius to disembark, declaring all Italian ports to be closed to NGO ships, or any rescue ship, the government of Spain, with the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party in the government, on another hand, decided to allow the ship to arrive in their port. Such an event shows how important the ideology of the government is as two countries have embraced opposing political ideologies – the left and the right. So, one country is prepared to fulfill the requirements of international law and “embrace the values of the European Union – belief in universal citizens’ rights, solidarity, and loyalty among member states”, while the other adopted more aggressive immigration policies driven by the populist ideology of the government. Thus, there is a correlation between the governing party ideology and their immigration policies. The right-wing populist parties are adopting more aggressive policies in order to battle immigration, especially forced migration. Many countries with the right-wing government have been successful in their anti-immigration policies and limiting the number of refugees as well as, surprisingly, their human rights. Moreover, one can see that not only far-right governments in power are successful in adopting those aggressive policies, but they are also exceptionally successful in influencing other parties in government to adopt a similar procedure as a way to compete for an electoral victory.
As one can see the left-leaning and conservatives parties are adopting more strict immigration strategies in order to secure an electoral victory over the right-wing populist parties, there is also an argument that the left, conservatives, and the right-wing are coming closer in their beliefs and policies mainly concerning immigration issue. In 2017 the conservative party, led by Sebastian Kurz in Austria formed a coalition with the populist Freedom Party. The plans of a conservative party were leaning rather towards the right, adopting mainstream far-right policies and some critics labeled him as “Alpine Trump”. In his speech on 13 of October, to mark one year since his victory, he clearly showed that he has more of a populist’s agenda by saying “Those who do not put clear limits on migration will soon start to feel like strangers in their own land.” One can see his interest are lying in the national identity and culture, thus in 2017, a coalition with the populist Freedom-Party (FPÖ) made Austria the only Western European country that has a far-right party in government at that time. While being in power their program focused closely on fighting Islam and any rejection of Austrian values and norms by the foreigners, especially by migrants and refugees. Some would see his restrictions as policies for refugee integration; others would name them simply absurd and racist. There was a proposed ban on funding for the religious organization, as well as a stricter control over what’s preached in mosques and what’s taught in the Islamic schools. This shows not only a successful discourse of the far-right and their influence but also the successful implementation of the xenophobic policies, ignoring Article 1 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights that “all people are born free and equal in dignity and rights”.
Thus, far-right parties gained a lot of support in the wake of the migrant crisis and this support continues to rise. As the anxiety over the large flow of migrants, caused by the different cultural backgrounds of refugees grows in European countries, far-right parties are becoming more appealing to the citizens with their anti-immigration political agenda. Once right-wing parties were becoming successful in electoral campaigns and entering the government’s offices, there has been a gradual change from a liberal approach regarding migration policies to a more restrictive one. Many countries with populist parties in government have already experience anti-immigration laws, mainly limiting the right of the forcibly displaced migrants fleeing their countries during armed conflicts. Not only populists are successful in passing strict and exclusionist immigration laws as they view immigration allegedly as a threat to the nation-state, which nonetheless makes them successful in influencing their opponents to adopt anti-immigration rhetoric and policies in order to compete for electoral success. Instead of fixing a broken asylum system in Europe, right-wing simply adopted a xenophobic discourse, which was disturbingly successful among its citizens.