Immigration was one of the hot button issues in the UK’s internal debate over whether to leave the European Union.
The country’s citizens arguably had good reason to make the issue paramount. Immigration has indeed risen sharply over the last several years, particularly since lower income eastern European countries joined the EU—and with that, access to its open borders. That’s coupled with humanitarian crises elsewhere that have propelled hundreds of thousands of refugees to seek European shelter.
But a recent survey (pdf) of British people revealed that they’re particularly worried about immigration from one country: Turkey. Not a country with a civil war, or huge deprivation from which citizens are fleeing. Not a country with open borders to the EU.
It’s particularly surprising because Turkish immigration to Britain isn’t on the rise. Furthermore, when compared to other immigrant groups, the UK’s current Turkish population is tiny.
Overall, the survey of 1,668 adults revealed that 70% thought immigration had been too high in recent years. Respondents were asked whether more immigrants from various countries should be allowed into the UK, versus the same amount, less, or none at all. Net scores were then derived from the answers, with the US coming out as the most “popular”.
The UK’s Turkish population was around 72,000 in 2015, according to the Office for National Statistics, making it the 31st largest. The Poland-born population in 2015, by contrast, was 831,000, overtaking Indians as the largest immigrant population for the first time.
The UK’s Turkish population has been relatively steady for the last five years, ONS data show:
So what’s going on? One big reason may be fear of Turkey joining the EU, which has been a subject of intense—and often unpleasant—debate for years. In a pre-Brexit UK that could have led to more open borders between the two countries, though it isn’t clear that would be the case now the UK has voted to leave the union.
Turkish membership also isn’t on the cards any time soon, even though the EU in April made concessions in exchange for Turkey’s dubious help with its refugee crisis. Recent political upheaval has reduced the likelihood of the country joining the bloc. A coup attempt and associated violence could also have swayed respondents’ answers, since the survey was carried out on Aug. 24 and Aug. 25.
But another conclusion is the British, some of whom are feeling particularly embattled as an island with high immigration, and feel threatened by Islamic extremism and the terrorist attacks associated with it, are simply fearful of their closest Muslim-majority neighbor.
If that’s the case, they could relax. Turks aren’t trying to get to the UK in large numbers, and have been consistently not doing so for years.