Photographs by
Les Stone.
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The Changing face of Europe.
 

The pictures on the following pages were taken in the autumn of 1998 when photographer Les Stone spent two months in Europe on assignment for a US business magazine compiling a photo-story on immigration. The resulting set of images focuses on the people who are immigrants. Some are refugees who have fled their homelands or been exiled due to war, famine and economic or political reasons.

It is a huge subject to cover in just two rainy months in Europe and in no way do these images purport to show a definitive story about immigration. One thing is for sure however, what we see here is a glimpse of the human face behind the immigration issue in Europe.

In today's Europe governments wrestle with figures and quotas for immigration, a continent without internal borders may be an economic goal but socially and politically it is often viewed as a threat to the stability of the region. Why should that be the case? The answer reflects deeply on the psyche of individual states; racism and xenophobia are certainly still alive in Europe.

For many in Europe multiculturalism simply defines the music they listen to or the food they eat, inside them there is something to being British, or French or whatever, that they expect no one from outside can ever really appreciate. It is in defense of this that racism is allowed a voice. The opening up of borders to immigrants is seen as a threat to the "British way of life" for example. Does this really serve our patriotism? Or is it perhaps a sign of a more sinister institutionalized nationalism?

 

On the other side of the coin there is much to celebrate as Europe is forced to confront its traditional attitudes. The youth do seem more open to this changing landscape than the older folk, after all, much of today's European immigration emerged from the displacement and resettlement of populations during and after the Second World War. From the 1950's onward many countries invited foreign workers to rebuild their economies.

In the prosperous Europe of the 1990's we are more educated and have a more global perspective than ever before. For the new Europeans, many who themselves are only the first or second generation children of immigrants, the absorption of others from rich and diverse cultures is more readily seen to enrich than to erode their own cultures.

There is a long way to go, however, before Europe accepts immigration and confronts its exclusionary policies. Politicians herald their humanitarian response to the current crisis in the Balkans whilst still plotting to create "Fortress Europe" with draconian immigration laws. It is not enough to revel in self congratulation over compassion for refugees, opening one's door is one thing, putting out the welcome mat with sincerity is another.

As one Italian member of the European parliament wrote recently when comparing Italy with the United States: "Italy is no Ellis Island, our doubts and contradictions are light-years away from the powerful beacon that the torch of Lady Liberty represents". (JL).

(Above: Ethnic Albanians from Kosovo wait in a refugee center in Italy.)

 

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