Anti-immigrant rhetoric has secured seats for numerous political parties in Europe in recent years
Anti-immigrant rhetoric has secured seats for numerous political parties in Europe in recent years

Despite fewer migrants and refugees entering Europe, anti-migrant rhetoric is on the rise, the UNHCR warns. Commissioner Filippo Grandi warns of an exacerbation of that rhetoric ahead of the European Parliament elections in May.

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) anticipates a rise in anti-immigrant rhetoric ahead of European Parliament elections in May, despite a stark decrease in the number of migrants and refugees coming to Europe.

The UNHCR said about 116,000 migrants and refugees entered Europe in 2018, a major decrease from the 172,000 in 2017, 360,000 in 2016, and more than 1 million in 2015. This was the largest refugee influx on the continent since World War II.

Commissioner Filippo Grandi said the politization of migration made it impossible for some countries to allow even a small handful of refugees and there was little hope of change before upcoming elections, where anti-immigration and populist parties are expected to do well.

"I forsee an actual exacerbation of that rhetoric in the next few months, unfortunately," Grandi told Reuters.

Time for compromise

Grandi told Reuters that humanitarian candidates understood that anti-immigrant dialogue won a lot of votes for certain politicians, but he believed there could be comprimises on migrant and refugee issues following the May elections.

"In the end it is in the interest of everybody, even these (populist) leaders, to find solutions," he told Reuters.

Populist and anti-immigration parties and candidates have performed well in countries such as Poland, Italy and Hungary in recent years, and hope to add more seats in the EU assembly.

Risky journey

Though the number of migrants and refugees arriving in Europe has fallen, thousands have gone missing or died in the Mediterranean Sea attempting to reach mainland Europe in recent years. Grandi said that is because there are fewer rescue boats (ten in 2015, two now) and because people are taking increasingly more dangerous routes to Italy due to the country's tough stance on immigration.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) says that more than 4,000 migrants and refugees have died trying to cross the Mediterranean for five consecutive years.


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