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Iraqi Association Comment


Iraqi Association Comment

Immigration debate must not go awry

The debate over immigration has in recent months rightly risen to prominence as one of the most important issues facing this country. The recent report the Economic Impact of Immigration by House of Lords led to negative and alarmist headlines. Professor Robert Rowthorn of Cambridge University says that new figures from the Office for National Statistics are further proof that a mass influx of foreigners is keeping our boys and girls out of work, and keeping them "Neet" (Not in education, employment or training.) It is true though that since 1997, the numbers of young people who are "Neets" has risen by around one third. But it would be wrong to lay the blame solely at the feet of the immigrant and refugee population.

We encourage meaningful discussion instead of added ammunition to fear headlines and bigotries. It is true that voters feel strongly about immigration and often blame it for a range of ills from drugs to the cost of housing. Some such anxieties are justified; some are not. Local authorities might struggle to cope with an influx of people - schools might find their classes unexpectedly bolstered by children with no command of English. But British people don't need help from foreigners to engage in crime and antisocial behavior. Meanwhile, the xenophobic headlines fuels public concern over immigration, only to promote racist agenda. Fueling tension is not new, between 1895 and 1909, Armenians arrive from the Ottoman empire.

Newspapers predict a "foreign flood" of seven million refugees "swamping" Britain; DH Lawrence and HG Wells advocate eugenics. In fact, nearly two million Britons emigrate between 1871 and 1910 - significantly more than the number of people arriving. Yet in 1905 the government passes the Aliens Act, placing restrictions on Britain's borders for the first time. While in 1964 race was an election issue, a Conservative MP is re-elected in the Midlands thanks to the slogan: "If you want a nigger for a neighbour vote Labour." Labour comes to power, and passes the Race Relations Act. When the globalisation started to dominate the world, the asylum seeking became a hot topic for many politicians and media headlines. Asylum seekers received many hostile names such as "Bogus" then this has changed to "Scroungers" followed by "illegal".

If Britain is to be a cohesive society, its citizens must be able to speak to each other and share the same essential liberal, democratic values. Although immigration is a contentious issue but realism should not be about politics of bigotries. We need to have an efficient and properly managed immigration system, and should be applied on all newcomers regardless of their nationalities.

The Lords report ignored to take testimonies from the immigration stakeholders in this country, neither grass root groups nor frontline agencies which deal with minority ethnic groups of immigrants and refugees. These groups offer valuable and essential data and information. The Lords failure to take testimonies contradicts with the spirit of community cohesion and integration. A further economic benefit - ignored by the Lords committee report - that frequently, migrants by their very readiness to take the risk of abandoning their roots to make a new life, they have shown themselves to be ambitious and energetic, and perhaps entrepreneurs. Therefore, in the absence of valid adequate regular data and quality information, it is wrong to predict and assume conclusions.

The fact remains that, 'there is no mystery that immigrants go where there are jobs,' said Stephen Castles, Oxford University's professor of migration and refugee studies. Europe's economies need migrants for longterm demographic reasons: across the EU fertility is declining, the indigenous working population is ageing and shrinking, and businesses need migrants in order to grow.' The fact is that you can't have economic prosperity without migrants. There is no other way any country that tries to prevent migration is dooming itself to a stagnant or declining economy. Since 2004, a large proportion of low wage labour migrants have come from Eastern Europe. But significantly, many of them have no aspiration to become British, or even to stay in Britain for long. They come, they work, some stay, some leave. This is a new model of migration: not as a one-off bid to start a new life, but as a constant and fluid trade. So the debate is coming to be framed less in terms of a legacy of empire - people resettling from former colonies - and more about globalisation - people selling their labour in a global marketplace where, at the moment, UK employers are buying. By extension, the political arguments have shifted away from race and towards economics.

Exiled communities, for instance, Iraqis have been coming here since late 1930s. Many of them settled with successful businesses and trades, some with household British brand names. They fled home country persecution and sought sanctuary. It is nave to dismiss the cultural, social and economic contributions which many Diaspora communities have made to this country. Refugee communities are making a significant contribution to this country, and they treat this country as their new home. However, refugees are not migrants. What makes refugees different from other categories of migrants is their need for international protection and their right to seek and enjoy protection in another State. The real barriers to integration and social cohesion, irrespective of ethnicity, are poverty, lack of social mobility and violent political ideology.

March 2008

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