Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
Opinion Editorials, January 2023
How climate migrants will impact Europe and help drive the rise of the far right
The effects of climate change are pushing more people to leave Africa and the Middle East for wealthier, more temperate nations like Germany Governments must look to ease the financial burden and costs in key sectors such as housing, energy and heath care to reduce the far-right’s appeal amid the influx of migrants
Members of the far-right, anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany display placards during a protest in Binz on September 16, 2017. The main placard reads: “Burkas? We prefer prefer bikinis.” Photo: AFP
The December arrests of 25 far-right members of the Reich Citizens movement sent shock waves across Germany and Europe. The group was planning to overthrow the German government and even install a new army to lead the nation.
Among its members were several high-profile Germans, including teachers and judges. Despite these startling developments, it is also pertinent to remember that far-right extremism has grown significantly over the past few years in Germany.
This has best been seen in the attempts by the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party to enter mainstream politics. It was established in 2013 and, by 2017, had grown to be the third-largest political party in the nation with about 12 per cent of the vote share.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the AfD grew more conspiracist in nature, with increasing ties to former US president Donald Trump and groups such as QAnon, which is known for its propagation of extreme conspiracies. This included questioning the intensity of the virus as well as the benefits of vaccines. These groups are also known for their scepticism of the European Union as a political entity and their rejection of democracy.
However, what drives them most is their rabid anti-immigrant sentiments, coupled with rampant Islamophobia. The AfD and other far-right groups are linked to an increasing number of hate crimes against migrants, and specifically Muslims. Among the stated reasons for their growth is the disenfranchisement of the people and mistrust of the government.
While the far-right’s actions cannot be justified, their concerns are legitimate and affect Germany as a whole. Three major interlinked crises illustrate these concerns. First, Germany faces a massive housing crisis, with rents having risen sharply in the past decade.
Moreover, increasing demand and low supply has led to many residents being unable to find houses even if they are able and willing to pay high rents – a scenario that is unimaginable in many parts of Southeast Asia, for example. The crisis is so acute that some tenants have taken properties for a year or two and paid all the rent up front to ensure they have somewhere to live and will not face eviction.
Coupled with this is the energy crisis Germany is currently facing. That stems from a combination of transitioning to green energy and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has led to increased prices of natural gas across Europe.
This has resulted in skyrocketing electricity prices in Germany, with some residents struggling to pay for heating in an erratic winter with intense cold spells. In a country where temperatures can regularly drop below zero degrees Celsius, it has also caused severe health problems for many who cannot afford to keep their heating on.
Vehicles drive through the winter landscape in the Eifel region in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, on January 26. Photo: DPA
This is linked to the third crisis – the strain on medical infrastructure, given the high number of respiratory illnesses during the winter of 2022-23. Germany’s medical sector is gasping for breath, having buckled under the stress of dealing with Covid-19 amid a shortage of hospital beds.
The supply of doctors and nurses remains low, leaving those who remain overworked and exhausted. In addition, wages have been depressed because of inflation, leading to several major strikes across the country. Last year alone saw medical personnel from some 500 hospitals taking part in strikes for better working conditions and wages.
Taken together, this triple whammy threatens the basic necessities required for a dignified life, leaving many feeling disenfranchised. While the cause is a cocktail of domestic, regional and global issues, the far right often focuses only on foreigners and immigrants as the source of the problems, and their message has resonated amid the current domestic crises.
Against this backdrop, climate change will become an overarching facilitator of these problems, especially in Europe. The most important impact will come from climate migrants, an ill-defined but growing category of refugees who have had to leave their homelands.
This can be because of climate disasters such as hurricanes, floods and droughts or due to the long-term impact of climate change, including desertification, wells drying up, and increasing temperatures. Last year, estimates of the number of climate migrants ranged from 20 million to 40 million, with a forecast of at least 1.2 billion by 2050.
Many look to move from regions such as the Middle East and Africa to Europe, given the milder weather there. The rising number of these migrants is likely to worsen the cycle of hatred while also burdening critical sectors in the countries where they move to without adequate measures in place to absorb the newcomers.
In this regard, governments in nations such as Germany must look to ease the financial burden and costs in key sectors such as housing, energy and medical infrastructure, among others, in addition to running counterterrorism and counter-extremism operations.
Only with a concerted effort to alleviate the problems in each of these sectors can the government hope to mitigate the impact of climate change and reduce the appeal of right-wing extremists.
Mohammed Sinan Siyech is a doctoral candidate at the Islamic and Middle East Studies Department at the University of Edinburgh and a non-resident associate fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. He was previously a senior analyst with the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, Singapore. Sinan has written and spoken extensively on issues pertaining to security, terrorism, extremism, foreign policy and religion in South Asia and the Middle East.
How climate migrants will impact Europe and help drive the rise of the far right | South China Morning Post (scmp.com)
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