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Why Europe’s young are increasingly anti-immigration

Anti-immigration sentiment is spreading across Europe. Credit: Getty

May 30, 2024 - 10:00am

Analysis by the Guardian has uncovered growing opposition to immigration among younger generations in the EU, contradicting accepted wisdom about the nature of support for anti-immigrant political parties. This trend is feeding Right-wing gains predicted at EU elections in early June and may have far-reaching implications for the bloc’s future.

While baby boomers are generally the most likely to hold anti-immigrant views across the EU, young people have increasingly negative opinions on the topic. Among those aged 15-24, negative attitudes towards immigration from outside the EU rose from 32% in 2019 to 35% in 2023, while negative attitudes among those aged 25-34 rose from 38% to 42%.

Growing anti-immigration sentiment among the young has the potential to significantly shift EU policy. Indications that these sentiments will continue to grow over time could force mainstream political parties to adopt a harder stance in order to stop bleeding votes to Right-wing forces, such as by adopting “Rwanda-style” policies or tougher border checks of the kind already introduced by several central European countries. In addition, the increasingly cross-generational nature of anti-immigration sentiments may make consensus on stronger anti-immigration policies easier to reach at the EU level.

The “affordability crisis” in housing could be a driving force behind this anti-immigration feeling. It has left many young people with a simmering feeling of resentment, based on a belief that older generations in some ways had it easier than they do. A report published this month found that the proportion of employed young people still living with their parents in the EU has spiked; in Croatia and Slovakia, countries which have seen a particularly marked increase in anti-immigration sentiment, 65% and 60% of working people aged 25-34 live with their parents respectively.

Add to that the increasing sense of alienation that young voters feel in their home countries and the fact that loneliness and isolation across the EU are strongly correlated with youth, it’s easy to see why anti-immigration sentiment is on the rise among the young. Although neither the housing crisis nor the breakdown in social cohesion can be attributed solely to migration, it’s no great leap of the imagination to link these two era-defining factors to huge levels of immigration seen in the past decade.

Perhaps one final factor is the urban-rural divide. Indeed, hostility to migration tends to be most strongly associated with rural areas where issues in modern living standards are particularly stark. Young people in such regions, living with poorer services and fewer opportunities, may view mass migration into larger cities as a further threat to jobs and driver of cultural disruption which they would not welcome in their own regions.

Resentment about the failings of modern society may give rise, among some young people, to nostalgia for the past and for the lost countries in which their parents grew up. Such a transformation may, over time, normalise reactionary political opinions among the young — especially on the issue of immigration and its impact on society.


William Nattrass is a British journalist based in Prague and news editor of Expats.cz

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Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
24 days ago

Or perhaps they recognize that unrestrained immigration from the Third World has been a political, economic, and social disaster, and seek to limit it for that reason. It’s possible for people on the right to hold positions for logical, practical, and principled reasons, and not because of some hidden agenda, you know.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
24 days ago

Amen. Don’t obfuscate the situation by claiming we are against immigration. That’s not what is going on. It’s clearly becoming a replacement!

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
24 days ago

As my sons put it they have been cheated of their birth right

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
23 days ago

Those were always held in sufferance by the elites.

Walter Marvell
Walter Marvell
24 days ago

Correct. And yet 95% of political ‘debate’ on state media about the surge in rental property prices, the surge in delays for GP appointments and NHS waiting lists STILL omits any mention of the cause; uncontrolled mass migration 1.2 million people arrived just last year, following the mind boggling 6 million plus who have arrived since Blairite free movement in the 90s. A big black hole swirls where core truth should be. Get ready for 5 weeks of Leftist nonsense omitting all references to mass migration, lockdown, the abominable quality of our public sector and the suffocation of our regulatory Machine – its just Tory cuts, Brexit, Orsterity and failure to tax the Rich that is to blame. Orwellian dystopia.

Andrew Vanbarner
Andrew Vanbarner
24 days ago
Reply to  Walter Marvell

It’s also true that culture matters. Body odor and dress. Language. Attitudes towards women and minorities. Values many of us take as a given – free speech, private property, self defense, personal safety, the freedom to consume things like alcohol or pork. Monogamous, non-consanguinous marriages.
These things do in fact matter.
In the South African setting of “Cry, the Beloved Country” we can clearly see, albeit in a novel, what happens when two largely incompatible cultures try to share the same land. One society remains, in the end, and it isn’t always the western one.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
23 days ago

Never, it seems.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
23 days ago

I agree, but you are tilting at windmills there. The author didn’t in any way imply that there was a “hidden agenda” in the anti mass immigration position

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
24 days ago

I did think about this when I read about Labour wanting to lower the voting age to 16 in the UK. The only rationale I could think of to explain this brainless scheme was to try and increase the likelihood of Labour being able to stay in power.
A truly cynical ploy – but, as this article suggests, one which may possibly backfire if Britain’s youth (start to) think along the same lines as their counterparts on the continent. There again, I can’t imagine Britain’s young people really flocking to the parties currently available on the right (Reform, Tories) which would exploit the concerns driving the rightwards drift.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
23 days ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

The rationale might be that 16 year olds have the right to do many things, including serving in the armed forces and marry. It’s arbitrary what the exact age should be. Of course politicians will seek electoral advantage in administrative changes as they do in many other areas.

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
24 days ago

“normalise reactionary political opinions”

As opposed to the bright, “you will own nothing and be happy”, feudal-technocratic, “poorer than your parents” future ?

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
24 days ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

To be reactionary is to oppose social change and hanker after the previous state of affairs. It is customarily used as an insult by leftist but of course if the social change is for the worse being reactionary is being rational.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
24 days ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

“The pure reactionary is not a dreamer of abolished pasts, but a hunter of sacred shades on the eternal hills. The reactionary does not aspire to turn back, but rather to change direction. The past that he admires is not a goal but an exemplification of his dreams.” ― Nicolás Gómez Dávila

Ian McKinney
Ian McKinney
24 days ago

There is hope if the kids are seeing sense…

Jo Jo
Jo Jo
24 days ago

Far as I know, and others think similarly, there has as yet been no concrete, understandable reason for the mass migration. Perhaps if we had a plausible explanation, we might be more supportive of the policy.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
24 days ago
Reply to  Jo Jo

It is the free stuff

james elliott
james elliott
24 days ago

It most certainly is the ‘free stuff’ from the mass immigrant perspective – I think what he is asking is why Western governments are so manically convinced on promoting mass immigration even as it so obviously is a disaster.

A certain amount of controlled, properly regulated immigration is healthy – a million a year coming in is near suicidal.

j watson
j watson
24 days ago

The recent EU Migration pact already shows they are grasping the issue insofar as relates to illegal migration, and the June elections adding focus. Whether enough remains to be seen. The Tunisia arrangement seems to be making some difference but of course the smugglers will likely just move more to Libya. The issues driving the smuggling industry are multiple – warfare and breakdown in certain countries, basic profit motive, and deliberate malign strategy on part of some players – i.e Putin. It’s poss post EU elections consensus emerges to amend ECHR and enable Rwanda type deals. Whether sufficient Rwanda options available might poss become the issue. Remember UK had to shop around quite a bit before got an arrangement outlined and whether it would have worked beyond more than a handful never tested.
As regards Legal migration – Govts already have the ability to limit this. As we’ve found in UK the problem is an unwillingness to be honest about the trade-offs. Whilst less pressure potential on public services, (although migrants, despite the mythology, pull much less on public services as they are younger) UK Govt clearly calculated the consequences were much greater if they turned down the industry requests.
To add in UK our lack of ID cards a factor in creating additional flows. Labour flew a few ‘kites’ on this a couple of months ago to test opinion. The young may well support it as all have smart phones. I’m wondering whether this will get mentioned when manifestos released here in UK?

Andrew R
Andrew R
24 days ago
Reply to  j watson

The honesty lies in companies and universities recognising that their business model cannot rely simply on the special pleading of importing hundreds of thousands of people year on year.

Susan Grabston
Susan Grabston
24 days ago
Reply to  j watson

Tony Blair is part of the global digital ID idea so expect Labour to bring it forward. They want to link it to CBDCs. UK law to enable digital ID was snuck quietly through parliament about 18 months ago. The CBDC infrastructure is in construction. Welcome to the digital gulag. .you can check in, but you can never leave.

Paul Thompson
Paul Thompson
24 days ago

While few are more anti-illegals-scum than am I, the arguments and data here are not persuasive. 32-35% is not a massive shift. Left out of this is another key factor – the rise in AirBnB and similar tools, which allow easy sequestration of large amounts of rental units to the short-term market. In the US, there is a strong impact of private equity purchasing houses and converting them into rentals. All of these have a huge impact on housing.

Andrew Vanbarner
Andrew Vanbarner
24 days ago
Reply to  Paul Thompson

In the US, zoning, construction, real estate, and landlord-tenant regulations are almost entirely to blame for our housing shortages in major cities.
That said, when your rent is more than half of your after tax income, and homeownership a financial impossibility or nearly so, the sight of luxury hotels filling up with Central Americans and Haitians is bound to cause some resentments.

Jay Chase
Jay Chase
24 days ago

This is false. The wealthiest towns in Orange County and San Gabriel Valley, both very desirable areas near LA, are seeing most of their homes purchased by foreign nationals, paid for in cash. And not just communist party princelings and factory owners from the People’s Republic of China, towns like Yorba Linda and Irvine have foreign elites from all over the world buying up virtually all the available housing and land. I hear a wide variety of languages spoken in both towns, but little English. Talk to a realtor from the area, the only way American families can compete is by leveraging their parent’s wealth against the foreign nationals offering cash above asking price.

Jay Chase
Jay Chase
24 days ago
Reply to  Paul Thompson

In the area I live in, which is very wealthy, a large percentage of the homes, possibly a majority, are now purchased by foreign nationals. Add in 2-3 million irregular economic migrants and legal immigrants per year and there is no way there wouldn’t be explosive pressure on housing prices in the US. Most desirable US housing markets, which were at one time cohesive, high-trust communities, are now swarming with migrants, international students and foreign elites. There’s a reason Vancouver now has a 15% tax on foreigners buying up their property.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
24 days ago

Please stop larding up stories with loaded terms like “hostility” and “resentment” when everyday language such as noticing reality are far more applicable. One doesn’t have to be a (gasp!) boomer to notice that the wholesale importation of people who are hostile to the native culture will not end well.
Further, this drama has played out over the majority of young people’s lives. They have seen the impact on Germany, Sweden, Belgium, and the UK. There is nothing “reactionary” about seeing reality play out in real time before your eyes.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
23 days ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Immigration is much too high, but it does the cause a disservice to make extravagant and hyberbolic claims. I speak to many migrants in London and they are not “hostile ” to the native culture, and indeed often express their gratitude to this country for the opportunities they have. Of course they do certainly come from different cultures, and this will have a long-term impact on our society.

Those people from Muslim societies are most difficult to integrate because of he prestige and importance of Islam far exceeding that loyalty to any particular nation state. However the people who are most hostile it seems to me to traditional western society are people from our own culture and ethnicity.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
23 days ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

In the United States, Muslims, for the most part, have assimilated into our culture. The exception would be the Somalis in Minnesota. (Or it might be Michigan.) Representative Ilhan Omar, who is a Somalian (sp) ,seems to only represent them them rather than all of the people in her district. Sorry about the spelling problems. I’m usually much better. Oh, well.

Arthur G
Arthur G
24 days ago

Is there any plausible argument that mass migration hasn’t made Europe a worse place? Are the poorest, most violent, and repressive neighborhoods in every European country not filled with migrants from the 3rd World who reject European norms and values?

Francisco Menezes
Francisco Menezes
24 days ago

Capitalist love immigration. It lowers the wages and pushes the assets prices, notably real estat, up. That is very right wing. In case you have forgotten it. Left used to fight for a decent wage for the man so that he could house and feed his family. Modern society fails according to plan. A temple economy that produces nothing than rent seekers and BS-jobs. That especially worries young people, because it is their future that gets stolen from them. How dary you!

John Tyler
John Tyler
24 days ago

Perhaps “the young” have more good sense than the politicians, educated elite and Marx-inspired utopians.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
23 days ago

I have never heard or read anyone say anything good about the massive illegal immigration underway into the West. Who speaks out on behalf of it since the now-notorious Angela Merkel left and what are their arguments? In spite of the growing affront taken, the hordes continue to arrive from benighted lands.

Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
23 days ago

When the migrants pour in by their millions, they soak up all the available low-cost housing, jobs, health care services, and so on. Looking to rent? The price for tiny cramped corner may be all you can afford. Need a job? All the quick, easy work has been taken. Need a doctor? A two-week wait has expanded to two months.

Kevan Hudson
Kevan Hudson
21 days ago

Looks like Canada is on a path to 1.6 million new residents this year with over 400,000 so far in January to April.
The years of 2022 and 2023 saw well over 2 million new inhabitants in the country.
The Liberal government promised to slow it down at the end of 2023 but that clearly is not happening.
Undoubtedly this will make healthcare and housing even worse.
Nobody knows exactly how many illegals there are in Canada with one NGO migrant activist saying it could be 20,000 to 500,000 people.
No more nonsense governance please.