50% of Italians and Poles view Muslims negatively, study finds

More than 50% of Italians and Poles have a negative view of Muslims, according to new research which reveals worrying levels of xenophobia in several European countries.

A study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that 61% of Italians and 56% of Poles expressed a negative view of Muslims in their country,

Anti-Semitism is also high in both countries, with one in five Italians and one in four Poles viewing Jews unfavourably. In contrast, less than one in 10 French and British people expressed similar views.

Xenophobia has seen a revival in Europe of late, with the rise of far-right and nationalist parties such as the Front National in France and the Pegida movement in Germany.

The study, which also surveyed four other EU nations, was conducted after the Charlie Hebdo shootings and kosher supermarket attack in Paris earlier this year.

Interestingly, although anti-Muslim sentiment is high in several European countries, the survey reported that there was not a dramatic increase in Islamophobia following the attacks. Three-quarters of French people voiced positive opinions of Muslims, while favourable views of Muslims increased by 8% and 11% since last year in the UK and Germany respectively.

Some 1.5 million Muslims live in Italy. However, Islam is not a formally recognised religion in the country, despite being the second biggest religion, and the country's Muslim population are served by just two official, purpose-built mosques, forcing many having to pray in parking lots, warehouses and even a former sex shop.

At 92%, French respondents expressed the most favourable views towards Jewish people of all the countries surveyed.

Eight in 10 Germans said they viewed Jews in Germany positively, despite the German interior minister announcing earlier this month that Anti-Semitic attacks rose by 25% last year.

A German Anti-Semitism committee established five months ago recently added two Jewish members to its ranks after failing to include any at its inception.

Roma communities generated the greatest negative sentiment, particularly in Italy, where they have been vilified by the far right of Italian politics. 86% of Italians expressed negative views of Roma compared to just 9% positive.

This negative opinion is reflected elsewhere in Europe, with six in 10 French seeing Roma unfavourably and similar sentiments expressed by more than a third of British.

Spain gave the most positive reception to Roma, with 58% of Spaniards expressing positive views.

Matteo Salvini, the leader of Italy's right-wing Northern League party, has repeatedly said that unofficial camps housing thousands of travellers should be razed to the ground, and Roma communities in the capital Rome are reportedly facing a spike in forced evictions as the city clears the camps before a Vatican festival beginning in December.

The number of Muslims in Europe is predicted to increase by 63% to 71 million by 2050, when adherents of Islam will make up more than 10% of the total European population. Europe's 1.4 million Jews are expected to gradually decline to around 1.2 million by 2050.

Around 10-12 million Roma live in Europe, with six million in the EU, making them Europe's largest ethnic minority. The EU's Agency for Fundamental Rights estimates that 200,000 Roma live in Italy, with almost 100% living at risk of poverty.