People: Voices

Rise of the radical right

By Haley Johnston ’16

In the summer of 2015, I interned at the Peace Bridge Newcomer Center, a refugee claimant center on the Canadian-American border, where I met migrants from more than 30 countries. Their incredible stories taught me about the Canadian immigration system from the people who were at its mercy. 

Coincidentally, the end of that summer saw the beginning of a migrant crisis in Europe. I viewed the events that unfolded from the perspective of someone who had worked with refugees firsthand — an example of how I had the opportunity to synthesize my experiences abroad with my interests in cultural and globalization studies throughout my four years as a global studies major at Rider.

Before this crisis began in Europe, I had already arranged to study abroad in Granada, Spain, for the first semester of my senior year. The months I spent in Europe were formative on several levels. I saw Europe react to the crisis firsthand. I was there for some of the most pivotal moments — Angela Merkel’s decision to open Germany’s doors to all Syrian refugees, and later, the horrific backlash fueled by the attacks in Paris. I was witness to major changes taking place on the global stage, allowing me to study and experience it all firsthand.

I spent my final semester at Rider writing my thesis on the reaction of four European countries — France, Italy, Germany and Hungary — to the migrant crisis. Each of these countries’ unique reactions corresponded to their individual cultures, locations and political climates. As I came to discover in my research, each had to balance its identity as a member of the European Union with its identity as a sovereign state. 

A plan formulated by the European Commission to combat the buildup of migrants along the EU border made this further complicate an already tense political climate. It requires EU member states to take on a certain number of refugees according to the nation’s population size, GDP and other factors. The plan has been interpreted as an infringement of national sovereignty and security by some and a grossly insufficient reaction by others.  

While in Spain, I saw the presence of radical right-wing parties increase throughout Europe. News coverage portrayed noticeable unrest in various countries as parties that had always been dismissed as fringe groups began to win seats in regional and even national parliaments. When I began my thesis, I chose to investigate the extent to which the migrant crisis had served as a catalyst for their increased popularity in order to exemplify the disparate desires of the EC and civilian populations. In each country I studied, I found evidence of a rise in popularity among the most radical far-right parties throughout 2015. Even in Germany, where migrants have been welcomed warmly by the majority of the population, a significant minority has banded together to oppose the acceptance of Muslim migrants.

Such blatantly racist rhetoric might seem uncharacteristic of Europe, but in a way it represents the globalization of a misconception — that of migrants as freeloaders or, worse, terrorists. If there is one trend that I came to understand through the writing of my thesis, it is that humanity is still very much torn between a desire to act with empathy and a hesitation to open up due to a deep-seated fear of the unknown. Creating new policies could reverse this trend, but only if the policies are well-informed. 

This summer, I started taking classes at Dartmouth College to earn my master’s degree in globalization studies. I have been fortunate to stumble upon a passion at a time when it has become especially relevant, while surrounded by supportive friends, family and Rider faculty. My life goal is to contribute to my field through research and pave the way for human-centered policy creation. 

In my future studies, I hope to analyze the ways in which transnational human rights policy is implemented, both successfully and unsuccessfully, in various cultural contexts. If I can understand why some policies work well in certain areas and not in others, perhaps I could help to customize the implementation processes in order to ensure that the policy is adopted successfully.

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