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Immigration Backlash Troubles Europe

Thousands of protesters marched against racism in Europe, 2010

From Sweden in the north to Italy in the south, far right politicians -- with anti immigration platforms -- have fared well in recent elections across Europe. Many of them campaigned against what they call the "Islamization" of Europe. As tensions rise across the continent, many analysts point to the economic crisis as the cause of the lurch to the right.

In September, when Sweden's far right Democrat party won seats in parliament for the first time, shockwaves were felt way beyond its borders.

A country often seen as a European social model appeared to be turning against its non Scandinavian immigrants, less than 5 percent of the population. The Democrat's leader was triumphant.

"We are prepared to take responsibility and I assume that the other parties are also prepared to take responsibility for the country, because that is what it is about now," Sweden Democrat Jimmie Akesson said.

After the results came out, thousands of protesters marched against racism.

"It's a very terrible situation because I have grown up in a country where everyone in my surroundings has always been very tolerant, and this is the first time that I have experienced such a thing," one protester said.

But despite this sentiment, far-right, anti-immigrant parties continue to progress across Europe.

Many, like the Freedom Party in the Netherlands have gained votes on an anti-Islam platform.

Geert Wilders, the party's head, now wields considerable power in the coalition government. VOA spoke to him before the June elections.

"I have nothing against Muslims but I believe that Islam is a totalitarian ideology and it goes against our freedom," Wilders said. "We are fighting for the freedom of the Netherlands and Europe, and that's why we are proposing that."

In France and in Italy, far right parties have also made gains in recent elections. In July, France became one of the first European countries to ban the full Muslim veil. Politicians said it conflicts with French values.

Many analysts trace the anti-immigrant wave to the economic crisis. Migrants are often blamed for undercutting wages, taking people's jobs or welfare payments from the state.

German historian Juliane Schutterle believes immigration will be the defining conflict of the 21st century.

"I think the conflict to come probably is not the East-West conflict, but the debate on migration and integration, particularly with the Muslim minority. This is what we are discussing in Europe and Germany," Schutterle said.

Despite the political climate, hundred of thousands of migrants still arrive on Europe's shores every year.

Many are finding they're not as welcome as they hoped.