Sensing Voter Fears, European Governments Get Tough on Immigration

Jill Lawless, AP, Apr. 3

LONDON—Immigrants to Britain may soon have to do more than just fill out forms. They may have to know where Cockneys live, how many British households have pets, and what goes into a traditional Christmas dinner.

Such topics could form part of “a Britishness test” the government is proposing as it heads into a general election facing rising voter anxiety over the notion that the country is being swamped by immigrants who are keen to embrace British jobs and British welfare, but not the British way of life.

Britain is just one of a host of European countries where politicians are responding to immigration angst. Prime Minister Tony Blair is campaigning on the slogan Your Country’s Borders Protected, while the opposition wants immigrants tested for HIV. Stricter Dutch laws threaten thousands of asylum-seekers with deportation. France is considering a special immigration police force, and Germany’s ruling coalition is facing uproar over allegations that lax visa procedures opened the door to criminals.

Polls suggest the politicians are reflecting the public mood, with unemployment in some countries above 10 per cent and overburdened welfare systems widely perceived as besieged by deadbeat immigrants.

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Moderate parties, whether left-or right-leaning, have jumped on the bandwagon, arguing that to forestall a really dangerous anti-foreigner surge, tough policies are needed to choke off illegal migration and stop migrants “asylum shopping” for the most generous host country.

“We will never maintain the tolerant, diverse nation of which we can be so proud, unless we have the strict controls that keep it so,” Blair says.

France’s government has proposed creating a special police force to keep out illegal immigrants. Germany’s backlash against its previously lenient approach has lately been highlighted by a furor over revelations that immigrants who poured in from the former Soviet Union under a relaxed visa policy turned out to include criminals and women forced into prostitution.

The Dutch government has introduced steep visa fees, restrictions on foreign marriages and compulsory integration classes. The government has vowed to deport 26,000 rejected asylum seekers by the summer of 2007.

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