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  • Print publication year: 1995
  • Online publication date: December 2012

9 - Labour migration to western Europe after 1945


As we reach the end of the twentieth century, ‘Fortress Europe’ confronts immigrants and asylum-seekers trying to enter western European countries. It is difficult to recall that half a century ago governmental policies were very different. As the British, French, Russian and American tanks rolled into German-held Europe at the end of the Second World War, they confronted millions of displaced persons. Yet, despite the chaos of this period, the war-torn economies of western Europe needed labour and, within two to three years, all the displaced persons were settled.

One must not imagine that all were absorbed without difficulty. Within the British ruling class, for example, fine distinctions were drawn between those from the Baltic States who were seen as ‘superior types’ who would easily be assimilated and those from south-east Europe who were seen as ‘alien Slavs’ or ‘simple peasant types’ and were considered less malleable immigrants. And, despite the horrors witnessed by the British troops as the concentration camps emptied, the recruiters from the British Ministry of Labour only managed to find 3000 suitable Jewish immigrants (Cohen 1994: 75–6; Kay and Miles 1992: 124). So, in short, behind the need for labour there remained a deep-seated fear of the foreigner. As Anwar construes it, Britain sent out and received millions of ethnically similar migrants, yet the existence of an ‘immigration problem’ was only proclaimed once non-white Commonwealth labour migrants were attracted to the metropolis.