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Global doors slam shut on immigrants

While Arizona's anti-immigrant law gets all the attention, countries around the world are pursuing tough immigration polices on a scale rarely seen in history.

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A government can also deport an EU migrant who is deemed a threat to public security or public health, the justification that French President Nicolas Sarkozy used this summer when he promised to deport Roma who "disturb the public order" and called their camps a source of illegal trafficking and prostitution. Critics accuse Mr. Sarkozy of stigmatizing an impoverished minority. His move to rout and deport Gypsies, Europe's largest stateless group, sparked large public demonstrations and is still drawing protests from EU leaders, French churches, and members of his own government.

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Fear of lost jobs and a drain on public services remain the primary reasons for the hardening attitudes toward immigrants around the world. In South Africa, for instance, the foreigners who have flocked to this prosperous modern economy since the fall of apartheid have come to be seen as rivals for precious jobs in a country with high unemployment.

Following this summer's World Cup in Johannesburg, many foreigners took seriously the warnings of their neighbors of looming violence and fled for their home countries as soon as the games ended. A whisper campaign in the shantytowns and slums of South Africa threatened harm to any foreign migrant who remained in the country. No doubt, many foreign workers recalled the newspaper photo of Ernesto Nhamuave, a Mozambican migrant who was stoned and burned in the slum of Reiger Park on June 14, 2008, while South African police looked on. In all, some 62 people were killed in antiforeigner riots that year.

The resentment among South Africans is rooted in the perception that foreigners are competing for houses, services, as well as coveted jobs. Unemployment in the country stands at 25 percent, and nearly half the population has no regular salary.

"It's easy to see why people would be frustrated," says Miriam Altman, director of the Human Sciences Research Council, a think tank based in Tshwane (formerly Pretoria). "Government policy is actually starting to become a bit friendlier to legal foreign migration, but attitudes among ordinary people are becoming ever more angry."

"In South Africa, you have high unemployment, high poverty rates, and people want houses, but they don't get them," says Ms. Altman. "So then they see outsiders coming in and moving next door."

South Africa may attract the bulk of Africa's economic and political migrants – estimated to be 2 million in a country with 49 million citizens – but it is not alone in having antimigrant sentiment on the continent. In Chad, resentment toward the hundreds of thousands of refugees from Darfur is so high that Amnesty International urged the UN in February 2010 to maintain peacekeeper protection for refugee camps. And as recently as last year, Ugandan citizens seemed poised to push Rwandan refugees fleeing the regime of President Paul Kagame back into Rwanda, in part because of the refugees' toll on the local economy.