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Europe's far-right gains raise migrant fears for future

June 11, 2024

Far-right gains in France and Germany during the EU elections 2024 leave migrants fearing for their futures. Concerns over increased discrimination and restrictive policies grow as Europe shifts rightward.

Protesters march along a wide avenue in Paris, in the center a young woman wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh and another holding a sign admonishing the political left to unite
On Sunday, several hunded people in Paris protested against the victory of the French far-right National Rally in European electionsImage: Raphael Lafargue/abaca/picture alliance

It would appear that France has taken a turn toward the far right. A color-coded map  published by the French daily paper Le Monde showing a breakdown of the 2024 European election results by towns and cities appears almost entirely brown, indicating voters' support for the right-wing European political grouping, Identity and Democracy. Only after taking a closer look can readers identify smaller pockets of color on the map that indicate support for other European groupings.

In France, the nationalist, right-wing National Rally (RN) party got 31% of the popular vote — twice what went to French President Emmanuel Macron's centrist alliance. Following this, Macron moved to dissolve France's parliament and called for snap elections at the end of the month.

As France prepares for another round of elections, many in Europe are concerned that RN, the party of right-wing populist Marine Le Pen, could end up in power during Macron's final two years in office. But one segment of society is particularly concerned: Migrants, and those with an immigration background.

Worried about their future in France

Raja Ali Asghar, a senior member of the Pakistani political party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, in France, first came to Paris from Pakistan 35 years ago. "Immigrants living in France are worried about their future," he told DW.

"Right-wing political parties have always had a particular view against immigrants," he said. "In [a right-wing] government, the problems of immigrants will increase."

He expressed concern that migrants would be put at a disadvantage when seeking employment and accessing social benefits.

"I think that the problems of immigrants will increase in Europe next year," he added.

A public junction box displays election posters for Marine Le Pen (r) and Jordan Bardella (l)
Marine Le Pen (r), president the of the National Rally's parliamentary group, and Jordan Bardella (l), the National Rally's lead candidate for Europe, have been gaining popularity in FranceImage: Samuel Rigelhaupt/Sipa USA/picture alliance

Satar Ali Suman, who immigrated from Bangladesh 24 years ago and operates several restaurants in Paris, agrees.

"Everybody knows that extreme right-wing political parties do not like immigrants, and especially Muslims," he told DW. "Immigrants living in France are fearful about the coming days," he added.

'Fascism has arrived'

French author Emilia Roig was more direct: "Acknowledge that fascism has arrived," she wrote on Instagram. "Let's speak in the present tense. Denial isn't helpful, it makes things worse."

The French social outreach organization Ghett'Up that works with young migrants in the working-class Paris neighborhoods also commented on the looming snap election. "We need to switch into combat mode," the organization posted on X, formerly Twitter.

In the fall, Austria will also face fresh, national elections. There, the right-wing populist Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) topped the recent European polls, overtaking the conservative Austrian People's Party (ÖVP). 

In Italy, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's far-right, neo-fascist Brothers of Italy party also won the majority of votes.

Overall, the far-right factions of the European Parliament have experienced a surge in power.

'Fairy tale about protest voters'

In Germany, no party garnered as many new votes in the European election as the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD). In recent months, domestic intelligence services have classified the AfD as "suspected" extremist and three German states have determined the party is "certified" right-wing extremist.

Two of these states, along with a third, will be holding state elections in the fall. In all three, the AfD emerged from the European elections as the clear favorite. 

This has many in Germany worried. One of them is Aiman Mazyek, secretary-general of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany.

"It's not just a problem for the migrant community but for democracy as a whole," he told DW. "I think some parts of our democratic parties haven't understood that yet."

The AfD was no longer a fringe party, he said, it had become a major political party, at least in eastern Germany. "I'm tired of this fairy tale about protest voters," he said, referring to the popular assumption that the AfD gathered most of its support from disgruntled voters hoping to "shock the system" by electing a political outsider.

"These are people, who veil themselves ideologically but know full well that this is a right-wing extremist party," he explained.

Eyüp Kalyon, secretary-general of the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB), one of Germany's largest Muslim organizations, told DW he was "seriously concerned" about political polarization in the wake of Sunday's elections.

"We've taken note that extreme [political] margins — left and right alike — constitute the majority in several states," he said. "Both directions take populist and protectionist positions and are poisoning the political climate."

Right-wing terror attacks

In Cologne, the European election coincided with the 20-year anniversary of the right-wing terrorist attack in its shopping district Keupstrasse, popular with Turkish families. At the time, investigators blamed the nail bomb attack that injured 22 people on the "criminal environment" in the district. Only years later did they link the attack to the extreme-right terrorist cell the National Socialist Underground (NSU), which was inspired by racism to commit at least 10 murders.

Cihan Sinanoglu, head of the National Monitoring of Discrimination and Racism office at the Berlin-based research center for integration and migration, DeZIM, posted on X that he found the AfD's success a "reality hard to bear."

Meral Sahin runs a shop in Cologne's Keupstrasse and co-chairs the Keupstrasse syndicate, which represents the community's interests. "It's incredibly sad to see how all of Europe is leaning toward to right," she said in response to the European election results.

"What does this mean for all of us? I think most of us don't know," she told DW. Sahin said that many along Keupstrasse had tried to do their part. But she added, "more needs to be done — everybody has to contribute."

Growing threat

In January, an investigative report on a secret meeting of right-wingers and extremists discussing so-called "remigration" or deportation, of anyone with a non-German background, fueled debates to ban the AfD .

A large crowd holds up various flags and banners supporting diversity and against right-wing extremism, including a prominent flag that reads "FCK AFD"
In Leipzig, some 15,000 protesters rallied against right-wing extremism one day before the European electionImage: Jan Woitas/dpa/picture alliance

Tahir Della, a member of Initiative Black People in Germany (ISD), told DW that concerns among migrant portions of the community had not been adequately addressed.

"Instead, many [politicians] are worried about losing voters, losing trust, and thereby losing power," he said. "When these movements grow and gain momentum, it also increases the threat for people of color, migrants and refugees."

Police and counseling centers have warned that crimes motivated by right-wing political ideology, especially racist and antisemitic violence, are on the rise in Germany.

Looking back at the results of the European elections, many fear this development has not yet come to a head — not just in Germany, but across the entire continent.

Younas Khan (in Paris) and Elmas Topcu contributed to this report. This article was originally written in German.