Originally published: Project Syndicate, 5 September 2018
Even as the flow of refugees into Europe dwindles, anti-immigrant sentiment continues to rise, and is now being expressed violently in some areas. Economic factors probably play an important role, but to understand opposition to immigration also requires taking evolutionary psychology into account.
The rate at which migrants are arriving has diminished considerably almost everywhere in Europe since the huge inflows seen in 2015. Yet migration continues to dominate political debate throughout the European Union. This suggests that populist, anti-immigrant sentiment is not actually being driven by claims that mainstream politicians cannot defend Europe’s frontiers.
The decline in new arrivals to Europe began well before anti-immigrant political leaders took power in Italy or immigration pressure nearly toppled Germany’s ruling coalition. It is largely the result of EU efforts, such as the agreement with Turkey to prevent Syrians from crossing into Greece, its cooperation with Libyan militias, and the massive pressure it has placed on the Sahara transit states to close their borders. Thanks to these measures, Europe has become a de facto fortress against migration.
So why does immigration remain at the top of many Europeans’ minds? There are reasons to believe that more than economic issues are at stake.
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