May 21 - A quarter of Britons list it as a top concern, one in five in Germany. With joblessness still at record highs in some parts of the continent, immigration is one of the hottest issues of the European elections. But are foreign workers more of a pro than a con for economies struggling to recover from recession? David Pollard reports.
It takes two minutes to jump this fence. It could lead to a lifetime of change. The triple barrier between Morocco and Spain's North Africa enclave is seven metres high, but that doesn't deter Keita Mohammed. He's already spent months travelling from Mali across the deserts of Algeria to get this far. SOUNDBITE (French) MIGRANT FROM MALI, KEITA MOHAMMED, SAYING: "The only reason why we move to Europe is because we have to. Economically, logistically, technologically Europe is very strong. Politically, and I would say even morally they have the head." Legal or not, immigration is a hot election issue. France's National Front could gain 25 seats in the European parliament. UK voters are expected to put the anti-immigration, anti-EU UKIP ahead of mainstream parties. And in Germany, where cities from Munich to Hamburg are, it's claimed, overwhelmed by migrants, the issue is already mainstream, according to interior minister Thomas De Maiziere. SOUNDBITE (German) GERMAN INTERIOR MINISTER, THOMAS DE MAIZIERE, SAYING: "The number of immigrants from Bulgaria and Romania and the social problems linked to some of them can be managed nationally but in certain regions it is alarming, and the rise in numbers is alarming. So we must take measures to avoid this becoming a problem for the whole of Germany." Other numbers offer a more complex view. Immigrants to Britain pay more in to the economy than they take out. In Germany and France they are a net drain - but in part that's down to higher pension payouts to ethnic German immigrants from the former Soviet bloc, and to France's older-than-average immigrant community. And as for the feared mass wave of immigrants from Bulgaria and Romania: it's yet to come, according to some who already have, like Bulgarian Doctor Kapreljan, who has lived in Germany for decades. (SOUNDBITE) (German) BULGARIAN PHYSICIAN, DR. KAPRIEL KAPRELJAN, SAYING: "The immigrants were here before. It's just that until January 1, 2014 most of them worked here illegally. After January 1, they could be legally employed. This means that the big wave from Bulgaria and Romania which was expected simply is not happening." If that's the reality, then why the rash of new fringe parties like Greece's Golden Dawn? One view is that, in the aftershock of the debt crisis, extremist groups from Holland to Austria are finding supporters by meshing together two issues: immigration and opposition to the EU. Matthew Goodwin co-wrote the first academic study into Britain's UKIP. SOUNDBITE (English) DR MATTHEW GOODWIN, SAYING: "The nature of concern that people hold over migration is that, well, Romanians and Bulgarians are threatening the British way of life. So it might not make any sense, it might be very diffuse, but it's very powerful. So the pro-EU camp, I think can win the argument but they need to get to grips with that particular aspect of it." Voters are left to choose between a series of conflicting images. The unemployed masses of Europe's recession, competing for sympathy with the masses from north Africa adrift at sea as they bid for a new life.