Facebook; the bastion of modern social interaction. This morning I saw a message pop up in my news feed from a friend from my home town. He was ranting about immigrants in the UK, and how they shouldn’t be here. His post got 30 likes. The likes were from other people in my home town. How had I grown so far away from these people? They were voicing their opinions together like a choir of Sun and Daily Mail headlines, and awash with some outdated ideas of international obligation and expectations. After I thanked my lucky stars I escaped from such a narrow-minded fortress, I had to think. Where exactly did our paths diverge? And really, who’s right here? How can we really know? One of the wonderful things about the UK is you are born in a society where every opinion can be shared. We have that freedom. The world is a richer place for opinions from all corners, and I for one am happy that there are people who disagree with me.
I come from a small town. It has it’s problems, but overall it is a pretty affluent place. There are few people living there who are not white. Is this the reason for such rejection of immigration? I left there a long time ago and have since lived in cities that are much more liberal and open-minded. These cities are full of a fantastic array of cultures, merging into a patchwork of wonderment that enriches the lives of all the citizens. Is it the fear of the unknown that forces these rants from my former friends in small town England? Intimidated by immigration, are they rejecting it from personal experience, from media manipulation or from some primal defensiveness against ‘the other’? I would probably find more of their fears easier to understand if the campaign behind them wasn’t so flawed and, in some instances, racist. I’ve seen a fair amount of EDL posts doing the rounds over social media, with recent posters being people who only a few months ago were condemning UKIP and their anti-immigrant vitriol.
Let’s get something straight though. There is a big difference between a migrant and a refugee. Migrants have made a choice to leave their homeland in search of different opportunities abroad. these people can enrich an economy and make a country a more diverse and fulfilling place to live. These people are under no threat, and are merely trying to better themselves. Refugees, however, are fleeing persecution and danger based on their religion, culture, ideology or beliefs (amongst other reasons) and are desperately seeking assistance. These people are vulnerable and in need of help. How can we leave them all to themselves with no offer of help? Especially, as evidence may show, we may be partly culpable for some of the problems they face?
I’m just one person, with one set of opinions. I’m no more right or wrong than the next person. Yet I find it strange that there can be others who have such contrasting views to mine, when we are presented with exactly the same evidence. That said, I’m sure my ideas about immigration can be brushed off as naive and narrow-minded by people who believe different things to me. While we all call each other wrong, what is getting done to help the people that need it, no matter where they may be?
Nobody likes a scrounger, a dole thief or a lazy sponger. Immigrants are accused of heading to the UK to take dole money away from British citizens. Do people genuinely believe that all the immigrants are arriving to look for an easy life? They may be looking for an easier life, as in, to live in a country not at war, or to have a home that isn’t constantly raided by bandits.
If immigration in the UK feels a little out of control recently, that’s because it has reached unprecedented levels since 1997 due to the Labour government’s relaxation of key immigration laws, most notably between 2001-2011. That being said, a lot of this led to foreign workers bringing skills to key industries. It’s no coincidence that we have a lot of immigrants working as nurses. Having the NHS means we need cheaper labour to keep it running.
So how, friends, can you get so angry at immigrants coming here to try and build a better life and build a better country, when Starbucks is here and doesn’t pay it’s share of tax? If you want to hate an immigrant, start there! It’s an American business that is basically gaining an almost monopolous (this wasn’t a real word, but it is now) hold on its industry, and it’s doing it without putting back into the economy it is taking from. Or how about these wars we keep fighting? Is it a Polish nurse’s fault our economy is having a tough time, or is it probably more about a £1 trillion trident defence system?
But I digress. I am getting away from the crux of my point. I’m not here to wholly rally to the aid of immigrants on mass. I’d rather talk about those who have no choice. I wouldn’t get so angry at a Syrian refugee when I knew my country had just bombed the shit out of that country. Some will claim that ‘it’s not our problem to fix these countries and their problems’. Well, that may feel like an easy answer, but if we actively interact with that country’s stability, I would count that as making it our problem to deal with. Again, these are my definitions and not others. Who’s really right? Can anyone ever truly be?
Immigrants are every day people like you and me. Do you know who aren’t? The banks! OK, so I’m being a little hysterical. The banks are run by humans, not lizards or aliens. But, I ask you, do you see more of yourself in a poor immigrant who is trying to work hard for their money and support their family, or in a greedy banker who gambles people’s savings and lives in a separate, meta-world where poverty and war are nothing more than buzzwords on a list of things you don’t need to care about?
Put yourself in their shoes.
We are a spoilt country, one that doesn’t even realise how lucky it is! You popped out of a vagina in the UK and won the lottery in life. You haven’t faced war, destitution, famine; you’ve had Hollyoaks and X-Factor, Cornettos and page 3! Lucky, lucky you! But really, did you do anything to deserve this better life? Are you a better person than any of these immigrants? Is it your wonderful accent? Or your understanding of the complicated intricacies of British social interaction and politeness, or a smattering of knowledge about our mighty history of kings, queens and world war 2? Is it some belief that because your grandparents survived the threat of Fascism, you somehow earned this privilege?
Go ahead and call me one of them. I am a second generation immigrant. My mother is African. She’s South African mind, but her family still left that continent to escape economic hardships, and came to the UK seeking a better future. My granparents were Dutch/Welsh/I have no idea. I don’t really care. I was never one of those kids at school that claimed to be two tenths Arabic, a quarter Irish, a fifth Scottish, a sixteenth Inuit and three quarters English! I am just a white guy who grew up in Southern England. I have a British passport, my own teeth and a degree in a subject nobody should ever accrue £30,000 in debt while attaining. Yet I won the life lottery by popping out of some knickers on the British isles.
This whole ‘us’ versus ‘them’ thing needs to stop. These are people, just like us. Helping them will not ruin our country. Now is not the time to be selfish. You want more money in the economy? Go on austerity marches, occupy government offices and force the government to change its stance on letting big business get away with murder. Don’t throw stones at other little people and let the government rub its greedy hands together while it watches us in-fight and get nowhere.
I’m also biased because I am currently living as an immigrant in Asia. I work hard for my money, and I contribute to the economy with tax, bringing a needed skill to this country. There is some resentment here of foreign workers, and a feeling that the ‘old ways’ are being eroded by outside influences. I have seen first hand a watered down version of what it must be like for some immigrants in the UK. It’s easier for me because I’m an ‘expat’, so I’m not for a second trying to compare my experience with that of an immigrant fleeing a war zone to look for solace in the UK. I am no refugee. All I’m saying is I understand the feeling of being an outsider, of not being fluent in the local language, and of trying to fit in to a society that is completely different from the one I was raised in.
In this modern world of quick access to information and a global narrative on the problems in the world to do with inequality and the huge difference between the rich and the poor, I am shocked that I still know people who get physically sickened by immigrants coming to the UK for a better life. How can these people still be so ignorant to the reasons why these immigrants come here? The UK has systematically utilised and perpetuated suffering and poverty in various countries around the world for the best part of three centuries. It would be naive and short-sighted to believe that a country like ours could wage wars in these far flung countries and then not expect at least some of the civilians from these states coming to knock on our door for help. When you decimate someone’s homeland, you must, surely, expect them to need your help?
I am not trying to start a discussion. I’m actually sick to death of this whole topic. This was a culmination of listening to so many of the people I call friends ranting about immigrants, and me just wanting to stick my two cents out there. They say you should avoid writing a passion piece. It’s easy to lose perspective, and for your words to be coloured by your own experiences rather than reflecting a semblance of truth. Maybe I’m completely wrong. Maybe I just don’t get it. Though so far, nobody has put anything remotely intelligible forward that has anything near the power to make me think differently. Until someone does, I’ll continue thinking as I do; we are humans, and so are the refugees and immigrants. What would you want for your family if you were the crying father on the Greek beach? What would you do if you were the dead Syrian boys father or mother? If the shoe was on the other foot, I feel we would all be acting the same way. And damn, wouldn’t it just completely suck if we got the same level of compassion as we are giving now.
Before I depart, allow me to finish with a quote:
*** drops mic ***
Special thanks to artur84 and khunaspix @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.
© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015