Far-right parties in Europe have called refugees streaming into the region “terrorists”, a “ticking time bomb”, and a Muslim “invasion” that will bankrupt nations and undermine Europe’s Christian roots.
For now, that has hardly helped their dreams of winning power in elections.
In many countries, they have found themselves out of step with a wave of public compassion for refugees, prompted by images such as that of drowned toddler Aylan Kurdi, washed up on a Turkish beach in August.
However, political experts say that, as long as the crisis goes on, the compassion may wear thin and far-right parties could gain momentum.
“If we’re not able to tackle this issue, if we’re not able to find sustainable solutions, you will see a surge of the extreme right across the European continent,” said European Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans.
The far right has had success in places: anti-immigration parties have risen in Italy and the Netherlands, thanks to charismatic leaders.
Hungary’s governing Fidesz party, led by the raucous premier Viktor Orban, has moved sharply right, partly stealing the thunder of nationalists there.
A Swedish right-wing party has benefited from a backlash over that country’s status as Europe’s most generous to refugees.
However, across Europe as a whole, virulent rhetoric has lately done more harm than good for parties at the extreme of the political spectrum looking to expand.
“The refugee crisis has exacerbated reactions,” said François Gemenne, migration expert at Sciences Po in Paris.
“We’ve seen both the best come out of people, with an unprecedented wave of solidarity from people wanting to help, and the worst with a big wave of people who have been ranting and raging with racist and xenophobic comments.
The far right has pointed to daily scenes of migrants pushing against police lines, cramming through windows to board trains or creating long traffic jams as they walk down motorways.
“Masses of young men in their twenties with beards singing ‘Allahu Akbar’ [God is greatest] across Europe; it’s an invasion that threatens our prosperity, our security, our culture and identity,” Geert Wilders, a Dutchman and one of the most prominent far-right politicians, said earlier this month.
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