The above doesn’t, of course, apply to all British people just some (perhaps many) and it certainly appears to be a prevalent attitude. My father came to Britain in 1963 and I at age four: I’m not sure if that makes me an immigrant as I was naturalised, but it definitely makes me of immigrant heritage. As long as I can remember (I’m 42 now), I’ve witnessed immigrant bashing in this country whether proverbially or even at times literally. It seems to be a favourite pet topic of populist politicians and a source of constant complaint. Immigrants are often otherised, vilified, demonised and horribly mistreated.
Immigrants are blamed for much that is wrong with British society; they are accused of taking our jobs, but also, our benefits, (so which one is it?), for crime, for anti-social behaviour and even accused of being rapists. Some complain less about white immigrants from places like New Zealand, South Africa and Australia (of which there are significant numbers) and more of immigration from places like Africa and South Asia (so what is the real issue?). Such attitudes are deeply unfair, lacking balance, ahistorical and replete with double standards.
It may not occur to some but Empire of the kind we the British had (spanning a quarter of the World at its peak) was a form of immigration. British emigration to places like New Zealand and Australia changed the faces of these countries forever. In India, for instance, our rule lasted circa 200 years; a time in which we carried out a proverbial rape of India. India’s share of the World economy when we arrived was 23% by the time we left it was 3%. During our time there we literally looted India (loot being a Hindi word). Local industries were destroyed, onerous taxes were deducted (and sent back to Britain), massacres were committed, and many millions died in preventable famines. Moreover, so that we could divide and rule, we solidified and exacerbated religious and caste differences resulting ultimately in the partition of the subcontinent at our departure. There was a similar story in other parts of the World.
Christopher Columbus’s voyage (or migration) to the America’s led to local people being exposed to European diseases like the flu, and chicken pox wiping out large swathes of natives. There was a similar story with British and European migration to what is the now the United States, with native tribes being wiped out; with many now confined to reservations and facing deplorable discrimination. The British imprint is all over Hong Kong: even today many British people are living and working in Hong Kong with English being widely spoken.
On the back of Empire and the English language, a similar pattern of British emigration (if less brutal) is still visible today. There are British people literally living and working in almost every country on the planet, but of course, we prefer to refer to ourselves as ‘expats’. Approximately 5.5 million Brits (nearly 1 in 10) live abroad permanently with at one point circa 2000 leaving every week. Preferred destinations are places like Australia (with approx 1.3 million British migrants) the US (750,000), Canada (700,000) and New Zealand (315,000).
There are some 750,000 Brits in Spain where we have effectively colonised some of the Costas, British style greasy spoons, pubs and clubs are ubiquitous with barely a local to be seen and not a word of Spanish heard. There are also significant numbers of long-term British immigrants in places like Dubai, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the Caribbean and more. This doesn’t include holidaymakers or those migrating temporarily. It’s a safe assumption that in many cases little effort is made to learn the local language or even to integrate.
When net migration is considered (that is the people emigrating versus those immigrating) while there are indeed more who come to Britain than leave, the numbers don’t suggest we are being swamped by migrants. Further much of the migration is short-term (for work and study) whereas British emigration is often long-term. The idea that immigrants come to Britain to claim benefits also doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. According to a study by the UCL, in the ten years between 2006-2016 immigrants made a net contribution of 20 billion pounds to the UK and in fact, many are barred from several types of benefits until they attain permanent residency.
The link between immigration and crime isn’t supported by evidence either. A 2013 report by the LSE concluded that there was no causal impact of immigration on crime…contrary to the ‘immigration causes crime’ populist view expressed in some media and political debates. A 2008 report by the Association of Chief Police Officers found that national crime rates had continued to fall despite rising net migration over a number of years.
Many immigrants also contribute positively to British society. For long term immigrants, particularly those who arrived in large numbers in the 1960’s came here to do the jobs that White British people didn’t want to do: but needed doing. In fact, this country has become heavily dependent on immigrant Labour a fact even acknowledged by the former Conservative Mayor of London Boris Johnson when he opined ‘London would fall like Sparta’ without migrants.
A third of all doctors practising in the UK are of immigrant heritage; of which the vast majority are from India (Brits of India origin make up circa 1% of the population). At one point the richest man in Britain (Lakshmi Mittal) was an immigrant from India. Immigrants or those of immigrant heritage contribute in every area of British society: the economy, culture, the arts, sport. People like Anthony Joshua, Amir Khan, Idris Elba, Sadiq Khan, Mo Farah being only a small number amongst many who have excelled in their respective fields.
An elderly gentleman who grew up in the 1950s reminded me recently that the average British High Street was a pretty bland place back then especially as far as food was concerned. It was only with mass migration in the 1960s that food from different parts of the world became available in this country. Curry-a perfect accompaniment to beer-has unofficially become the national dish in this country. It might be wise to remember some of this when we next sit down for a Chinese takeaway and complain about those ‘bloody immigrants’.
By Faisal Khan