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EU project finds low levels of immigration tolerance around Europe

The results of a survey on perceptions of migrants and migration make worrying reading for those concerned about integration and tolerance in Europe. The survey, carried out as part of the EU-funded FEMAGE (Needs for female immigrants and their integration in ageing societie...

The results of a survey on perceptions of migrants and migration make worrying reading for those concerned about integration and tolerance in Europe. The survey, carried out as part of the EU-funded FEMAGE (Needs for female immigrants and their integration in ageing societies) project, drew upon the views of 21,000 native citizens in eight European countries: Austria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia. Two thirds of respondents in the Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia thought that there were too many foreigners in their country, while nearly half of Austrians held this belief. In all countries, respondents were found to have more negative attitudes to foreigners than positive attitudes, with many negative views stemming from labour market disadvantages brought about by the presence of foreigners. In the Czech Republic, Eastern Germany, Hungary and Poland, more than half of those questioned believed that foreigners take away jobs. Policy-makers often say that immigration is a partial remedy for population decline. This is clearly accepted by the majority in Finland, where 7 out of 10 are in favour of such immigration, and only 1 in 10 is against. But this form of immigration is unacceptable to others. Only 5% of Estonians and 8% of Czechs favour 'replacement' immigration. The project team found a clear dividing line between the Western participating countries and those from Central and Eastern Europe. In Western Germany for example, only 13% of respondents claimed that there is no room for foreigners. This figure rose to 40% in Hungary. Worryingly, more than half of those surveyed in every country shared the opinion that an increase in foreigners favours the spread of crime and terrorism. In the Czech Republic as many as 8 out of 10 people agreed with this statement. Differences of opinion were also evident within countries: respondents with a lower level of education or a lower income were more likely to have negative views of migrants and migration. 'People with a weaker educational capital or economic situation are more prone to fears of the economic competition that comes from foreigners,' states the FEMAGE report. In Western Germany, more than half of those asked agreed with the statement 'the presence of foreigners is positive because it allows an exchange with other cultures'. In the Czech Republic and Estonia, only 30% of respondents aligned themselves with this statement. The survey also found a correlation between traditional, conservative views of gender roles and migration. 'The more individuals advocate the traditional position of women in the family, the more they express negative attitudes towards immigrants in all countries studied,' reads the report. When asked about integration, many cited learning the host country's language and abiding by its customs and rules as the most important indicators. An overwhelming majority of respondents in six countries (all but Austria and Poland) said that foreigners who have not integrated after five years should return to their country of origin. The percentage of people agreeing with this statement ranged from 59 in Western Germany to 85 in Hungary. Most of those surveyed were against involvement in political life and the decision-making process via voting rights as a means to integration. Only 48% of Finns questioned thought that voting rights should be conferred after five years of residence, while the figure sank to 20% for Hungary. 'This meaning of integration and the prevalence of agreement that non-integrated foreigners should return to their own country, which cut across all countries irrespective of the lower or higher levels of xenophobia observed, appears to leave little scope for the policy discourse of multiculturalism as egalitarian mutual adaptation,' warn the project partners. The FEMAGE project is funded under the 'Research for policy support' section of the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6). The results are expected to facilitate the introduction of measures for economic and social integration of immigrants, and in particular immigrant women. The project is also intended to give an overview of the long-term needs for migrants and their integration in ageing societies, and integration processes and services.

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