Mon, Feb 14, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Taking cues from other countries on immigrants

By Chi Chun-chieh 紀駿傑

According to recent newspaper reports, the German Marshall Fund of the US, an institution dedicated to promoting better understanding and cooperation between North America and Europe on transatlantic and global issues, released the results of its third-annual “Transatlantic Trends: Immigration” survey on Feb. 3.

The survey investigated the general attitude toward immigration among adult citizens in eight countries on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean: Canada, the US, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and the UK.

The situation in the UK and attitudes toward immigration are worth examining. Of note is the finding that, of the eight countries studied, British people were found to have the most negative attitudes toward immigrants.

This is despite the fact that the UK does not have the highest immigration rate among these countries, its unemployment rate is lower than that of both France and Italy and it has suffered much less -immigration-related social unrest in recent years than France has.

More than half of all British people, for example, feel that immigrants are crowding them out of jobs they could otherwise have taken, therefore stealing their livelihoods.

Another piece of news that echoes the results of the immigration survey was British Prime Minister David Cameron’s speech on Feb. 5, in which he declared that the multicultural approach that had been implemented by previous British governments had failed.

According to Cameron, the new Conservative-led government was considering a different approach and would adopt measures intended to build a stronger national identity among people living in the country.

If we look at these two reports together, it seems that it would be difficult for the UK to avoid a new wave of anti-immigration sentiment, as the longstanding policy of multiculturalism is reaching a crucial crossroads.

In the past few years, the ongoing eastward expansion of the EU has resulted in a great increase in the visibility of immigrants from eastern Europe throughout British society. In a society where the unemployment rate has been close to 8 percent for some time, this could well result in the deepening of the negative attitudes toward immigration among many people.

Although Cameron did not actually spell it out in so many words, it was very likely that the main factor behind his statement was the extremist activities and statements by some Muslims in the UK following the Sept. 11 terror attacks, together with concerns about the breakdown in social order that this extremism could lead to.

The British example makes it very clear that even in a society with a rich and longstanding multicultural experience, there still exist many different possibilities and factors that could set off a backlash that would affect the past willingness of the local population to accept immigration.

Although it is very unlikely that there is a comprehensive set of preventative policies and measures that could help us deal with this kind of reversal in attitudes, we should promote long-term efforts to enhance education, push for immigration friendly policies and elevate the economic status of immigrants.

This would most likely be the best and most effective way to prevent a situation similar to the current anti-immigration trend in the UK from occurring in Taiwan.

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