UK / Europe — 08 August 2005

Immigration is a matter of serious concern for many people in Europe. In some European nations immigrants get the blame – arguably unfairly – for many of societies ills. Although immigration could help many European countries with their problems of ageing populations and the need to compete with new Asian economies, the fear of foreigners seems to be always be present amongst their publics. In this regard Europe can learn several lessons from the treatment given to immigrants by the Islamic civilisation when it existed

Throughout much of Western Europe the issue of immigration seems to be a matter of serious concern and unease. While the freedom of capital and goods is accepted as integral components of a globalised world, the free movement of people is still rejected by the world at large, especially those who live in the West. During the recent United Kingdom general election, many pre-election polls indicated that a large percentage of the British population viewed the subject of immigration and asylum as one of the most important problems facing the country. Similarly in post European-referendum polls in the Netherlands and France it was found that opposition to Turkish membership of the European Union was a key reason why many voted against supporting the EU constitution. In this article we examine why immigration in the UK and also throughout Western Europe is viewed as a problem and suggest how the immigration challenges would be handled differently in a society based on Islamic legal tradition and principles.

The issue of immigration and asylum in the UK

The Conservative Party, the main party of opposition in the UK, focused on immigration as a key issue during the 2005 general election campaign. The Conservative leader Michael Howard framed the issue of immigration in a major speech he made to Conservative party members on the 10th of April 2005 in Telford when he said, “For too many years immigration has been a no go area for political debate. If you said you thought that too many people were coming here, you were branded a racist. Well – let’s be clear. It’s not racist to talk about immigration. It’s not racist to criticise the system. It’s not racist to want to limit the numbers. It’s just plain commonsense.” He went on to say, “There are, literally, millions of people in other, poorer, countries, who would like to settle here if they could. Britain cannot possibly take them all.” He went on to outline the Conservative plan to address immigration – he said, “We’ll introduce an annual limit to immigration set by Parliament – and we’ll stick to it. We’ll put in place 24-hour security at ports to prevent illegal immigration. We’ll set up a dedicated British border control police with the sole job of securing our borders. We’ll introduce an Australian-style points system for work permits – giving priority to people with the skills Britain needs. And we’ll take genuine refugees from the United Nations – rather than simply accepting those who are smuggled to our shores.”

And although Michael Howard went on to lose the general election, the Conservative party’s focus on immigration seemed to resonate with voters, as evidenced by the many polls conducted during the election campaign. The discussion of this issue was not limited to politicians but was also widely reported in British newspapers. Readers of popular UK tabloid newspapers such as the Daily Mail or Daily Express were presented with headlines such as “A door we can’t close” (Daily Mail) and “Stop the Asylum invasion” (Express). Other media stories suggested that immigrants were pouring into the country; that some were coming into the country just to get medical treatment causing the NHS to divert hundreds of millions of pounds on so called “health tourism”; that immigrants were causing record levels of TB and HIV in Britain and had led to some London boroughs having TB rates higher than those in China and parts of India and Africa. Some of the tabloid articles claimed that Britain was becoming an overcrowded island; that its transport system and public services were not coping with the extra burden; that many new houses were going to be built for immigrants and that British first time buyers were going to be priced out of the housing market. The critics also argued that immigrants were taking away employment from British citizens; that hundreds of millions of pounds were being spent on providing legal aid and free housing to asylum seekers; and that there was an unknown number of terrorists amongst asylum seekers and illegal immigrants, posing an unacceptable threat in a post 9-11 world. All in all, they concluded that Britain had taken more than its fair share of asylum seekers and immigrants, and should not be a light touch or accept any more.

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