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"Central Europe as a space of transnational migration: An introduction to the contributions in this issue"

Max Haller, Roland Verwiebe

Österreichische Zeitschrift für Soziologie, 41 (4), 2016

Migration is one of the most challenging scientific and policy issues today. In recent times, it showed up in dramatic events and led to significant changes of the political landscape in Europe. The most dramatic phenomenon was the flow of over a million refugees in 2015 and early 2016 from war-torn countries in the Near East (Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq), over Turkey, Greece, the Balkan states and Hungary toward Austria, Germany and Sweden; over 3000 people died when crossing the Mediterranean Sea from Turkey to Greece. In the months of the arrival of the Near-East refugees in Austria and Germany in late 2015, popular attitudes to accept and provide them with shelter and food was overwhelming, supported by the political decision to open the borders for them; in recent times, however, popular attitudes have changed and German chancellor Angela Merkel who gained worldwide publicity and sympathy with her sentence “Wir schaffen das” (We will achieve this) now faces the danger of losing a larger share of her voters at the next national elections. Second, we can observe a continuous rise of right-wing and far-right political parties in at least half of the EU member states. This is the case most notably in Austria, Switzerland, France, Hungary and Poland, but takes place also in Scandinavia.1 All these parties argue for a limitation of immigration, a reduction of benefits for immigrants and refugees, and a preferential treatment of national citizens on the labor market. A third significant event was the Brexit when 51.9% of the Britons voted to leave the European Union (EU) on June 23, 2016; in this vote, the issue of immigration played a central role. A reason was that Britain was among those countries which opened their labor market immediately after the accession of ten Eastern European countries to the EU in 2004. As a consequence, a massive influx of immigrants from there took place (alone from Poland about 600,000); of the 2.1 million EU citizens living in Britain, most are from Central and Eastern Europe as well as from Portugal, France and Spain.

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