Xenophobia is defined as the fear or hatred of strangers and their culture. Initially it was described as a psychological disposition of people towards foreigners but in recent times it is used to describe intergroup relations in the context of mass migration. It has emerged as a social and human rights issue in the wake of growing number of conflicts between immigrants and non-immigrants in a slew of countries across the world.
On a personal level xenophobia causes anxiety or nervousness in the proximity of foreigners and in some severe cases can lead to complete isolation. Sufferers try to avoid people of different races, ethnicities or religions. To the outside world they seem ignorant or biased, while the real cause of their behavior is a fear they cannot control. The reasons for this kind of disorder are usually past traumas caused by wars, foreign occupation, terrorist attacks or rejection by a foreign community.
The most common form of xenophobia in the last decades, however, has been manifested as rejection, fear and hatred of an ethnic group by the society because it is not considered as part of that society. The group may be comprised of recent immigrants or already settled members of the community. In many ways xenophobia is similar to racism but differs in that racism is based on the ideas of race superiority, while xenophobia feeds on the ideas of differences between cultures. Both lead to stereotyping, prejudice, bias, discrimination, intolerance and even aggression. Negative stereotypes and prejudice describe foreigners as terrorists, thieves, drug dealers and drunks. Foreigners are blamed for the rise in unemployment and crime, spreading of aids and other diseases, corruption of public officials and parasiting on tax-payers money.
Xenophobia can take many different forms, such as humiliating and offensive comments about the out-group, hate speech, bullying of minority children at schools, violence of locals and police towards immigrants, ethnic cleansing in an area and mass expulsion from the country. Xenophobic clashes have been reported in most countries across the globe as societies have become increasingly diverse. Mass migration, which started in the early 20th century, is seen as a stable trend, which presages more xenophobia.
The mechanisms that lead to mass xenophobic attitudes have not been fully studied yet. Anthropological research has shown that genetic similarities breed fondness while the unfamiliar is avoided as dangerous. Collective fear is considered a potent force in creating a strong solidarity in ethnic groups. Affiliations around the notion of protecting its own interests estrange the group from what is outside. Ethnic identification and nationalism, which are intensifying in opposition to globalization, could also act as catalysts to xenophobic isolation. Group aversion is not only directed at people perceived as foreign but also at their culture, values and life-styles. They are seen as posing threat to maintaining national identity.
Prejudices that create negative opinions about national or ethnic groups and assumptions of cultural superiority also play an important role in fuelling xenophobia. Xenophobic manifestations can be explained with the justification suppression model of prejudice created in 2003 by Christian Crandall and Amy Eshleman of the University of Kansas. It suggests that prejudices, formed on the basis of social, cognitive and developmental factors, are not directly expressed but are suppressed by social norms, beliefs and values. People seek justification to express their disliking of the other group and at the same time maintain their self-esteem. In the case of xenophobia, ideology and mass media unlock the mechanisms that inhibit prejudices and provide justification and release. Seeking sensation, media often quote unrealistically high migration numbers. Crimes by foreigners usually take center stage on news broadcasts. On the other hand, politicians instigate xenophobic attitudes for their own ends, such as winning votes at times of elections, diverting attention from unresolved economic and social issues or offsetting outside influences.
Economic factors also play an important role in determining attitudes to foreigners. At times of economic boom migrants are needed to fill in shortages of low skilled labor, deficiencies in qualified staff or for a quick transfer of technologies through the import of professionals. Despite their otherness, migrants are at best tolerated during times of plenty, but when resources become scarce the community turns on them. In an economic recession and rising unemployment, the fear of losing one's job and social status makes one look for a scapegoat. The members of the in-group believe they are more entitled to the wealth and resources of their country than their foreign peers.