Europe’s right-wing shift: The harrowing reality for BIPOC

Europe is witnessing one of its most significant right-wing shifts in the last decades – dividing European society more than ever before and increasing the feeling of alienation for BIPOC

The riots in Dublin on 23 November 2023 made many people feel unsafe, but also made many reflect on whether Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) will ever be able to live in Europe without experiencing alienation and xenophobia. Just a couple of weeks ago, the German nonprofit newsroom Correctiv leaked details of secret plans of the German right-wing populist party AFD to deport millions of foreigners and BIPOC with and without German citizenship to North Africa.

Events such as these affect the well-being of BIPOC, by creating a sense of discomfort and estrangement, leaving them behind with the feeling of the “Other” in their own countries. Despite this reality, some might question whether the situation is being overdramatised.

The riots in Dublin left students in Dublin with mixed feelings. A student at Trinity stated: “I’ve never once felt any real fear due to my race, or ethnic background to the extent I did that night. To know that messages were spreading about people from immigrant/non-Irish backgrounds being targeted made me feel very ashamed of the country that I was born and raised in.”

“It is a mistake to see that episode as a one-off reaction”

Pranav, a former student at Trinity said: “It is a mistake to see that episode as a one-off reaction. It was a calculated, well-planned mob that drew on the resentment that had been brewing for a long while due to immigrants in Ireland.” Others stated that they were surprised about the riots and anti-immigrant sentiments in Ireland, as they see Ireland as much more liberal than other European countries.

The events were an indication that, despite Ireland’s deep history of immigration and emigration, anti-immigration sentiments are not something that Irish society is immune to. Furthermore, the recent increase of xenophobia against Asians, Antisemitism and Islamophobia in Europe has led students with an immigration background to feel more unwelcome in their own countries than ever before.

Jenny, a German-Vietnamese student, described her experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic: “I was actively avoided on the streets, I was spat at in school, people coughed at me – it was hell. I wouldn’t wish [that] on anybody. My mother, a grocery store clerk, was harassed by multiple customers asking whether she ate bats.”

Another student living in Ireland described how, while some of her experiences of racism have been “quite extreme and heavy, involving racial slurs and violence”, the ones that affect her the most are the “smaller” encounters that they deal with on a daily basis. Mariam, a student at Trinity with Egyptian roots agreed, adding that feeling truly at home in Ireland is more difficult than they had thought it would be:  “I don’t feel like I fully belong, I have pretty much adapted the Irish accent since I moved to Ireland seven years ago but yet I still feel out of place most of the time.”

The events of the last couple of months have led BIPOC to feel not only unwelcome but also insecure; insecure about our place in society, the future of our families and how long we will be able to call Europe home. I asked students whether they would consider leaving Europe if the rise of the right continues.

Mariam says that she is considering leaving Ireland: “I do think that is an option for me, especially if I were to start a family where my future children will be of color. Considering that racism has not improved and has become more prominent. If anything, this does make my future here feel compromised.”

While most agree that leaving Europe out of fear for their safety could be an option, others are resisting.  Haluk, a German student at Humboldt University Berlin with Turkish roots says that he would not know where to go: “I don’t want to leave, I was born here, went to school. I belong to this country.”

Farah, an Egyptian student who has lived in Germany for almost three years has already taken the step and decided to return to Egypt and continue her studies there: “Just as much as the high-level authorities seem very concerned about my presence and my opinions as a Muslim and an Arab, I have become very concerned about staying in Germany and wasting my energy and hope on a country that does not want me as I am. So, I have decided to return to Egypt, even if I have to settle for fewer material opportunities.”

Sakiye, a German student with a immigration background on the other hand, described how she would prefer to remain in Germany as a kind of protest: “I don’t feel comfortable leaving Germany yet because I just don’t want to make space for more racism and racist people. The more hostile the environment becomes for me and others, however, the more I might consider this.”

However, many BIPOC feel left alone and believe that their concerns are being ignored. A Trinity student with Nigerian roots stated, “anti-racism needs to be discussed more often in political spaces in Ireland.” Nawal, a former Erasmus student at Trinity from Italy and Morocco agrees: “I do feel like racism is not taken with the concern it needs [to be], at least not in Italy, where experiences of discrimination and blatant racism are a matter of everyday life.”

“It is the responsibility of every citizen living … in Europe to defend democracy to protect those who are experiencing xenophobia”

Even though each interviewee had a different outlook and feeling toward the current rise of right-wing populists, they did have one thing in common: most agree that Europe has an issue that is currently overlooked by society, governments and the mainstream media. The current President of Germany Frank Walter Steinmeier recently called for more solidarity against right-wing populism, saying “the future of democracy does not depend on the volume of its opponents but on the strength of those who defend it .” And according to many of the students of color, who were interviewed, it is the responsibility of every citizen living in Ireland, Germany, Italy or any other country in Europe to defend democracy to protect those who are experiencing xenophobia.