MOVED ALONG: African migrants from Sudan and Eritrea are forcibly removed by Italian police from their camp
“We are here because you were there” is the apt response given to the xenophobic reaction to immigration in Britain. The truth is that most people migrating to Britain have an affinity with the Motherland that had presided over the ‘Empire on which the sun never sets’ spanning from the East to the West.
In the months and weeks leading up to this migration crisis, Britain has been awash with political talk about the need to control immigration and several pejorative references have been made about migrants: they are benefit cheats, they are taking our jobs, they are changing the diversity and character of villages and towns and anything that can, has been hurled against them.
All the political parties are at it, even the Liberal Democrats and, surprisingly, Labour whose former leader – the son of an immigrant – had carved into his 10-foot stone commandments that he would control immigration and even had the coffee mug made to prove it.
All this talk has come about because of the fear that they needed to get the votes of UKIP sympathisers. Last year, the home secretary had caused vans to be sent around warning about what would happen to illegal immigrants and soon after the elections there was talk of penalising landlords for letting property to illegal immigrants.
University students have also been threatened that they would not be allowed to work in Britain and would be sent back to their countries of origin after graduation even before they can attend their convocations.
And yet when politicians make these statements and suggest that there needs to be an intelligent discussion on immigration, all we get is the same media-influenced reactions, bunching genuine with failed asylum seekers, mixing refugees with economic migrants and suggesting that those who have been migrants here for several years are also somehow in the mix and the cause of all the problems in Britain.
All it took for the position of politicians to unravel was the sight of defiant refugees refusing to be accepted in the reception and detention centres in Hungary, having a standoff with the police after invading the train stations and then deciding to walk across to Austria to their preferred choice of Germany.
BORDERSIt took the sight of a young boy washed ashore – a failed bid for a better life – to show the world that all this talk of tightening and strengthening of borders and putting up more barricades, preventing desperate immigrants from invading the choicest holiday spots in the Greek islands is really hollow.
The prime minister suggesting that those trying to enter Britain were a swarm, and the foreign secretary that more immigration would turn the UK into a third world country was seen by most as being insensitive to the plight of desperate and vulnerable people.
The prime minister has now attended a flurry of conferences in Europe and has considerably softened his stance on immigration conceding that despite the fact that Germany is prepared to take 10,000 immigrants now, Britain must agree to take 20,000 over a period of five years.
Perhaps the time has finally come for that intelligent conversation about immigration, one that allows the other side to speak.
Some academics claim that Germany will be able to absorb a larger share of migrants because their population growth rate is falling but net migration is rising in Britain – the papers screamed that net migration was now over 300,000, less than 0.46 per cent of a population of 64 million and that 25 per cent of children born in the UK were born to mothers who were born outside the country.
This was supposed to alarm all that migration is not good for this country, but it seems that no one wants to really listen to people like Boris Johnson who knows that, at least for the London economy, migration is good.
No one also wants to listen to the mass of people who demonstrated at the weekend with the new Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, that the government has grossly underestimated the issue and that the Syria problem is no longer about bombing but more about what to do with the mass of those who are fleeing the conflict there.
There are several reasons why people migrate – to flee from a war-torn country, to seek political asylum because they fear for their life, to seek a better way of life either by going to study or going to another country where they would make their dream of a better life come true.
They try all sorts of ways to migrate legally and it is when this fails that they are declared illegal.
TURNING POINT: The image of Aylan Kurdi’s lifeless body provoked an outpouring of public sympathy
Most refugees and asylum seekers have the motivation and the drive to leave their conflict area and need some initial support to settle in but once settled, they end up contributing to the economy.
Most economic migrants do not need any support; they are here for a better economic life and the only way that can be achieved is not on benefits but through hard work – whether it is two or three jobs. It does not make sense for any government to allow them to be exploited by agents whilst they are contributing economically.
Diversity is an issue, but we need to get over it. Many countries have borrowed from the British political system, legal system, the religion, food, culture, way of dressing,manners and outlook and the language. Most are ready for a British way of life which they unconsciously regard as better than their own, and we must be proud of it.
Those who come here to study and work before they go back home, imbibe the protestant work ethic which they take back. That is the way in which Britain continues to influence the rest of the world to be a better place.
The disdain for migrants confuses most people because whilst Britain is keen to intervene in the Middle East and Ukraine and Libya and Iraq so that those countries will be more democratic, should they not be more welcoming of those from these countries who directly suffer from the adjustments of these interventions?
It is not only military intervention that makes countries a better place, it is not even the imposition of Western values of democracy and capitalism; the charm offensive works better as the world becomes a more globalised place.
British technical assistance is welcomed all over the world and provides an entree for British businesses to make even more profit than is spent of foreign aid.
Britain must welcome the economic contribution that arises out of this diversity because much in the same way as the prosperity of Britain was dependent on the diversity of its colonies and it must embrace the diversity of migrants now in this country so as to benefit economically. That is what America has always done, that is what Germany is doing now and that is what France will be doing to ensure that it achieves sustainable economic growth.
Ade Sawyerr (@adesawyerr) is a partner at Equinox Consulting,www.equinoxconsulting.net a management consultancy that works on social and economic issues affecting disadvantaged communities in Britain.