Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Migration watch

In August 1972 the murderous dictator Idi Amin gave the Asian population in Uganda 90 days to pack their bags and get out of the country. Amin had accused the Asians of being bloodsuckers leeching off the Ugandan economy and stirred up the majority black African resentment against them. Some 50,000 Asians were forced to leave and of those about 30,000 who were British passport holders came to Britain. Many arrived with little money, having lost savings and businesses in Uganda, and they had hardly any possessions. 

Britain didn’t exactly welcome the Ugandan Asians with open arms. Cabinet papers disclosed in 2003 reveal that the Conservative government at the time tried to find a remote island where they could be settled. Ministers were worried about race relations and feared that the country would be inundated with immigrants from other African countries. The Ugandan expulsion took place only four years after Enoch Powell’s infamous ‘rivers of blood speech’. Yet, the influx of Ugandan Asians proved to be a positive experience for Britain with many of them establishing and building successful businesses and making a significant contribution to the community. This is a story of how our nation has been enriched by the presence of those who, however begrudgingly, we received in their time of need.

On Thursday the Office of National Statistics publishes a report on migration levels under the last government. Some organisations have already been given access to the figures including Migration Watch. I’d be surprised if you haven’t heard of Migration Watch and their Chairman Andrew Green as they tend to be quoted and interviewed whenever immigration is in the news. Now I don’t know why Migration Watch were given advanced access to the ONS figures but I’ve read how they have interpreted them and not surprisingly the Daily Mail ran the story. Green always claims that his organisation is simply presenting the facts and rejects any accusation of racism or being anti-immigration. However, I can’t remember one single story or statement produced by the organisation that presents immigration in a positive light, though there are a few rather grudging acknowledgements of the need for some population movement in and out of the country.

Green contributed an article on the ONS statistics, again published in the Daily Mail, and in it he rails against what he sees as a conspiracy to silence debate on the subject of immigration: Labour are accused of an immigration conspiracy and of gross incompetence; employers’ organisations of colluding to keep a supply of cheap labour; the middle-classes are guilty of enjoying exotic restaurants and cheap domestic help; the BBC is condemned for having a multi-cultural bias. Green praises the present government’s immigration policy although he warns the Conservatives that their Liberal Democrat Coalition partners ‘can be expected to make difficulties’. There is an insightful response offered on Migration Watch’s  and Green’s statements by Michael White. In his article, White dismisses Green’s claim that this was all a deliberate government conspiracy and challenges the spin that he has placed on the ONS findings.

My fear is that we are now trapped in a vicious spiral when it comes to public debate and political discourse on the matter of immigration. Our politicians seem convinced that taking the toughest of stances is a vote winner, despite the fact that businesses and universities are warning of the potentially damaging consequences of severe restrictions on immigration. I would cite the infamous Question Time debate (Oct 2009) featuring Nick Griffin of the BNP when the three main political party representatives tried to outdo each other in declaring how strong they were on this subject. It was the one part of the programme where Griffin looked at ease as the others scrapped over his turf. I hear virtually no one today in the political arena speaking positively about the benefits of immigration, nor of the contribution being made to the economy and wider society by those who have made this country their home.

So I wait to see what tomorrow’s Office of National Statistics report says about immigration and then I will watch to see how the facts are spun and selectively presented to fit the wider political narratives. But I’ll also be thinking about those in our communities who already face hostility, suspicion, resentment and violence because they are immigrants and I’ll be remembering these words:
‘You must not mistreat or oppress foreigners in any way. Remember, you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.’ Exodus 22:21

1 comment:

Robert said...

My stepdaughters were caught in the fighting in Sierra Leone in 1997, as a result of the time it took to get my wife's status sorted out after the wedding. If they weren't so dead set on making it hard for people, I wouldn't ave had two traumatised girls to deal with. One of them is still suffering.

My wife is a Social Worker, one f the girls is training as a nurse and trhe otrher as a psychologist. That's three much needed workers we'd have been without if the likes of Migration Watch had their way.