PROTEST: Unregistered migrants stand within tower cranes in central Brussels during a protest demanding they be allowed to work legally in the country, July 2008.
AND PROTEST: Supporters of the the far-right English Defence League (EDL) hold up an English flag during a demonstration in support of Dutch anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders in Amsterdam, October 30 2010. The EDL picket was organiSed to show support for Wilders, who is being prosecuted in the Netherlands for inciting hatred and discrimination against Muslims.
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 "Islamisation" 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 five per cent 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.
Against racism 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 andEurope, 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.
‘Conflict to come’ 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.
Greece In recent months there's been a huge influx of migrants across the land border between Turkey and Greece – 58 000 illegal entries in the first six months of 2010 alone. VOA travelled to Greece and found that once over the border, the migrants' problems are only just beginning.
For Abdul Samat and Nabir Hamad, it's been an epic journey of more than 6000km starting in Bangladesh. They have finally arrived in Greece and they're exhausted.
"We came through India and Pakistan, Iran and Turkey," he explained. "It's taken us 20 days. The journey was very hard and we had no food."
Soon after crossing into Greece, Samat and Hamad were arrested. But like the other migrants sheltering here in Alexandroupolis, 10km from the Turkish border, they were released because detention centres for migrants are full. By all measures, the two are lucky.
Almost all the undocumented migrants entering Europe - about 300 every day from Africa, the Middle East and Asia - cross the Evros River that divides Turkey and Greece.
There are nowhere near enough border guards to stem the flow. Once in Greece, the migrants are in the European Union.
But the crossing is dangerous. Hundreds of migrants lose their lives every year.
For those who do make it over, the battle to start a new life in Europe is only just beginning.
A video was taken outside a police station in Athens where migrants seeking asylum are issued so-called Red Cards. The card allows them to remain in Greece while their cases are being heard. But Red Cards have to be renewed monthly. There's a backlog of more than 45 000 cases.
Amir Hosein is an asylum seeker from Iran, part of a group that set up a protest camp in Athens.
One in the group has just obtained a Greek passport after he and five others went on a hunger strike.
"We ask all the governments of the world to hear our voice," Hosein said. "Are you waiting for our children, six or seven year old kids, to sew up their mouths as well until you pay attention to us and hear our voice?"
Meanwhile, many migrants struggle to survive on the streets of Athens where neo fascists often beat them up.
The United Nations' refugee agency says the situation is a humanitarian crisis and has called on the Greek government to reform its asylum process.
Until that happens, many migrants will find their dream of a new life in Europe has died on these ancient streets in Greece.
Operation Poseidon Police officers from across the continent have arrived in Greece for Operation Poseidon, aimed at securing the EU's border with Turkey, the gateway.
It's the middle of the night overlooking the border between Greece and Turkey. A team of Austrian and Greek police uses thermal cameras to detect migrants trying to cross illegally intoEurope.
"Now we are looking from here to the Greek-Turkey borderline; it is about seven to eight kilometres," an Austrian guard explained.
This border used to separate two countries at war. But with Greece part of the European Union, the Greek-Turkish border now separates the EU from the outside world. An estimated 10 000 people, most from North Africa and South Asia, cross it illegally every month.
European governments have come together to stem the flow. Under a co-ordinating body called Frontex, they are sending officers to aid Greece in securing the frontier.
Many migrants swim across the Evros River between Turkey and Greece. Others try a more audacious route.
At official crossing points like Kipi, officers use the latest technology to detect immigrants hiding in vans and trucks.
"The four sensors can detect the heart beat of a person if there's one on board," a German guard said.
Networks Next to the border point is a fleet of impounded vehicles.
Once the migrants are caught, Frontex officers interview them to learn about the networks used by traffickers.
"I've been interviewing people for 10 years now, and they say, 'We were hidden in the truck or a boat and we have walked through Turkey,'" says Danish officer Michael Ekmann, "and we've said 'Yeah yeah yeah come on please tell us the real story.' And then suddenly you experience it and you say 'Oh dear, it's true.' They really are being transported like cattle sometimes and it's true there are some people earning a lot of money."
In the Greek port of Pireaus, outside Athens, Frontex has opened an office to cope with the huge numbers of migrants arriving in this region, and to stop those who try to slip into Greecethrough the port.
The head of the organisation, Ilkka Laitinen, says that migrants from countries like Morocco, Algeria and even Afghanistan try all kinds of ways to enter Greece.
"It's now more and more possible to fly from northern African countries to Turkey, and Istanbul is the hub where many low-cost carriers are operating, and these flights are fully booked," Laitinen said.
Frontex claims it is having success. But the increased show of force is unlikely to discourage many of the migrants who risk their lives trying to reach Europe's shores.
* Compiled from a series of special reports by VOANews.com
The United Nations refugee agency has called on the EU and its border agency, known as Frontex, to ensure that asylum in Europe is not being threatened in the drive for tighter policing of the EU’s external borders.
Against a background on tough economic reforms and the recent letter-bombing campaign, the local and regional elections in Greece are being complicated by the prospect they could spark a snap national election, with other controversies including a new right for non-citizens to vote.
Gallup International Association poll gives president Sarkisian’s party 44 per cent, while three main challengers alleged ‘machinations’ by ruling party in what – in contrast to 2008 – reportedly was a largely peaceful election.
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