Immigrant Youths in Europe: How different from the natives?

International Migrants Day brings an opportunity to highlight the contributions made by the migrants. However, in the age populism, the challenges on the presence of migrants persist. Nevertheless, the PRIME Youth problematizes the boundaries.

December 18, 2020  

Each year, 18 December International Migrants Day brings an opportunity to highlight and to call attention to the contributions made by the migrants to the countries where they reside. This year, the challenges of the pandemic have more strikingly served to underline the migrants’ contributions to societies across the Western world in a variety of sectors, mainly because they often perform jobs critical to meet basic needs in everyday life. Beyond that, while the most remarkable news of 2020 has been the development of the vaccine against coronavirus, a Turkish-German couple in Germany has emerged as frontrunners in this process. This has been presented as a story promising to challenge the anti-migrant sentiments or resentment, for example, which has become pervasive in German public life over the past decades.

However, in the age of populism, considering the current political, social, and economic context of the European countries, while the legacy of global financial crisis still persists and the refugee 'crisis' has brought many challenges, the escalation of fear and prejudice among the European citizens continue to label the 'other'. Especially, youth with migration background are vulnerable to discourses that culturalise and stigmatize the "other". While their responses tend to be essentialised in the face of current socio-economic, political, and psychological disadvantages arising from globalization-rooted threats such as deindustrialization, isolation, denial, humiliation, precariousness, and insecurity, the youth groups are inclined towards radicalization. Interestingly, young people, whether native or immigrant-origin, have actually similar responses to the detrimental effects of globalization. While a number of native young groups are shifting to right-wing populism, a number of self-identified Muslim youths are shifting towards Islamic radicalism. It is important to point out the reasons or sources about this inclination if we want more dialogue and interaction between different communities of sentiments, and if we want to celebrate migrants’ presence as an expression of defending our universal values.

PRIME Youth: a promising project

To this end, the ERC-funded PRIME Youth Project, conducted by the European Institute of İstanbul Bilgi University, scrutinizes social, economic, political and psychological sources of the processes of radicalization among native European youth and Muslim-origin youth with migration background, who are both inclined to express their discontent through ethnicity, culture, religion, heritage, homogeneity, authenticity, past, gender and patriarchy. The initial findings of the PRIME Youth (Nativism, Islamophobism and Islamism in the Age of Populism: Culturalization and Religionization of what is Social, Economic, and Political in Europe) were already shared in a workshop on 8 October 2020. In exploring the socio-economic, political, and psychological aspects of radicalisation among the European youth, the main question that the project has revolved around, is how and why the youth in Europe, native or migrant origin, generate a populist or even a radical form of reaction. On one side, how and why do some European citizens generate a populist and Islamophobist discourse to express their discontent with the current social, economic, and political state of their national and European contexts?  On the other, how and why do some members of migrant-origin communities with Muslim background generate an essentialist and radical form of Islamist discourse within the same societies?  

The project is still ongoing and will be carried out until the end of 2023. Focusing on the issues of migration, integration, and citizenship in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, and France, the team has so far published four separate country reports that cover the years between 1990 and 2018. However, the substantive contribution will emerge from the field research comprised of in-depth interviews with native youth, and Turkish and Moroccan-origin youth in Germany, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. The team has currently been in the field, although the pandemic has raised some difficulties. Are the initial findings already saying many things to consider? Let’s hear some from Prof. Ayhan Kaya, the Principle Investigator of the Project, of Bilgi University.

How to interpret different forms of radicalisation?

Prof. Kaya has shared some initial conclusions on what the PRIME Youth team has already deduced from the field research. He states “Initial findings of the field research demonstrate that culturalization of socio-economic and political disparities is the most common tactic among native youngsters residing in remote cities such as Dresden, Aalst, Lyon and the Bible Belt cities in the Netherlands to cope with the detrimental effects of globalization such as socio-economic, spatial and nostalgic forms of deprivation. On the other hand, self-identified Muslim youngsters with migration background resort to Islamic radicalization as a way of demonstrating their reaction to the current state of intersectional discrimination, which often appears in the form of anti-Muslim racism”. Together with this, Prof. Kaya however emphasizes that “But the analysis of the interviews also demonstrate that the radicalization processes of these groups should not be interpreted as a negation of democratic virtues. On the contrary, these reactionary forms of radicalization should be perceived as a quest for democratization of democracies. As Robert Young earlier pointed out it is not that 'they' do not know how to speak (politics), "but rather that the dominant would not listen".

Misleadingly portrayed concerns in public debates

The postdoctoral researchers of PRIME Youth also described their objectives and preliminary findings. Metin Koca, who joined the project team in November 2020, considers the project as an opportunity to emphasize the common concerns of youths who are misleadingly portrayed in public debates on the basis of their “incompatible” values. Given that taking “native” and "migrant" populations as two monolithic units is widespread in the anti-immigrant narratives, Dr. Koca argues that PRIME Youth will challenge these narratives at least in two ways: (1) by demonstrating that nativists do not necessarily share the values that they assume to share as opposed to migrants, and (2) by suggesting that people with different values may still share similar concerns. That said, even though it is a starting point, sharing similar concerns is not enough to act together. On the contrary, these concerns may become a dividing factor, even among migrant origin communities. 

In this vein, PRIME Youth postdoctoral researcher Ayşenur Benevento refers to the attitudes of migrant origin Muslims toward newcomers. Despite the acknowledgment there exists about welcoming new immigrants and refugees, migrant-origin Muslims also introduced a dilemma in their own narratives by stressing problems that emerged by newcomers. This indicates integration efforts still require to be pushed forward by the respective countries. Also addressing the identity-construction processes of migrant-origin Muslim youth, Dr. Benevento states that religious affiliation appears to be important for fulfilling varying needs, most importantly keeping calm and having a sense of belongingness.  

by Fatma Yılmaz-Elmas

European Institute, İstanbul Bilgi University