by Mary O’Driscoll
Despite the visceral reaction that some may experience at the sight of the terms ‘far-right’ and ‘youth movement’ sat next to each other, the rise of anti-immigration far-right youth movements in European countries cannot be contested. Not only are far-right political parties moving closer to the mainstream, but young people are getting involved in movements opposing immigration. The values of far-right nationalist political parties such as National Rally (previously known as National Front) in France, Austria’s Freedom Party, and the League in Italy have been embodied in youth movements such as Generation Identity- a group that made the jump across the channel to the UK in 2017. With the painfully hypocritical border-focussed rhetoric of Trump’s United States, and the equally ironic anti-immigration discourse of a Brexit Britain, many people are under the impression that ‘Western’ countries are too generous to newcomers.
However, there are many different types of migrants who impact the UK in different ways. For example, someone seeking asylum will only be granted it in the UK if they meet the eligibility criteria put in place by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the European Union. Moreover, refugees are granted certain rights by the UNHCR’s ‘Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees’ meaning that Britain has a duty to provide refugees with safety if it is deemed necessary. The circumstances in which a refugee makes their home in the UK differs drastically from those of an economic migrant, for instance, so the suggestion that immigrants are a drain on society is too vague to have strong grounding. However, The Migration Observatory at Oxford University have noted that ‘studies examining the fiscal impact of migrants have been estimated at less than +/- 1% GDP’ which perhaps puts the media’s sensationalised spin of the consequences of immigration into perspective. The deeply critical approach to immigration is made further frustrating by the general ignorance and refusal to acknowledge the impact of Britain’s imperialism on countries whose citizens are now migrating to the UK. An example of this is individuals born in India, which according to The Migration Observatory, make up 8.8% of migrants in the UK. Yet India is a country that Britain has left with multiple scars of imperial dominance. It is thoughtless to consider British history without recognising that it is intricately interwoven – mostly negatively – with that of many other countries which consequently makes anti-immigration youth movements problematic in their insistence on understanding their area as a solitary entity like ‘Great Britain’ and ‘Fortress Europe’.
The deeply critical approach to immigration is made further frustrating by the general ignorance and refusal to acknowledge the impact of Britain’s imperialism
In spite of this bleak picture, in the UK there is hope. Although there is still much uncertainty as to how much Britain’s racial tolerance has improved, the rise in conversation surrounding LGBTQ+ rights, feminist issues, and racial inequality suggests that over the last few decades in the UK we have moved from socially more conservative views to more liberal ones, particularly amongst young people. However, far right youth movements such as Generation Identity (GI) disrupt the progress that the UK has made in the last few decades to work towards a society of acceptance, understanding, and inclusivity – much of which has been achieved through the rise of widespread communication, globalisation, and social media. Instead, they are utilising communication advancements as a tool to shift what can be considered acceptable discourse, so that ultranationalist and Islamophobic discourse becomes normalised. Their use of YouTube videos, social media, and their own websites inevitably create an online echo chamber community for the young far-right; one that has been made physical amongst the European GI by their eerie Hitler-youth-resembling fitness camps and their action to physically prevent asylum seekers crossing through a section of the French Alps.
It is to the testament of compassionate young Brits that groups like Generation Identity have not yet grown to the extent they have in other European countries. Rather than choosing animosity, many young people are questioning the often-limiting ethical rules they have grown up with and are ensuring that their ethical views have a broader and more inclusive scope than that of the generation above. Despite the attempt at insult in the ‘snowflake’ label, a willingness to alter one’s opinion when presented with new knowledge is one of the strongest qualities of millennials and generation z-ers; an attribute that is repeatedly proven as young people adapt, stand up for their rights and causes, or stand as allies for minority groups who are still forced to fight their battle.
Although Brexit Britain is currently experiencing a constant rise in xenophobic discourse, there are movements working to counteract this culture of hate throughout the country. An example of this is ‘Stand Up To Racism’(SUTR) which offers people of all ages and backgrounds an opportunity to be part of a movement promoting inclusivity, multiculturalism, and an understanding of the commonality of humanity.* Their aim is to promote a message of unity at a time when ‘a racist offensive is sweeping Europe, with governments and the right-wing media using migrants, refugees and Muslims as scapegoats for an economic crisis and wars they did not create.’ Their protests are frequent, and cover a range of issues, whilst their popularity is growing which is exceptionally important when there are increasing far-right movements to contend with. They have organised large protests to take place on Saturday 16th March 2019 in London, Glasgow, and Cardiff.
On a more local scale, students in Norwich are taking action to help create a more compassionate environment for refugees in the city. The Art History Society at the UEA have organised an exhibition with the theme of ‘Connection’ in aid of New Routes, a refugee integration charity based in Norwich. Emily Simmons, Event Coordinator, notes that the aim of the exhibition is to ‘encourage students and visitors to think more about how they can help – be that volunteering for charities like New Routes, or simply being more understanding and welcoming when having conversations concerning these issues.’ Addressing the media’s role in making the settling process harder for refugees who have often already experienced great difficulty prior to arrival in the UK, she notes that ‘so much of what we see in the media pushes negative stereotypes that make it harder for those who have to seek refuge in the UK’. The exhibition, which will be held in Nunns Yard, St Augustines Street from 15th-17th March, puts an emphasis on breaking stereotypes and creating a sense of community and connection that transcends culture, nationality, and ethnicity. Many proactive seemingly small-scale steps like this can have a deep impact on our ability to understand and feel compassion for people in drastically different circumstances. In a time of disconnect, emotional detachment, and desensitisation, small acts of rebellion through empathy hold real importance.
*The connection Stand Up To Racism has with the Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP) must be noted. The work SUTR do is important and has been successful in unifying large numbers to draw attention to a crucial common cause, however the SWP has been linked to rape allegations which must be called out and challenged if they are to continue leading this cause.
Featured image CC BY-SA 3.0 Haeferl
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