Magazine article Geographical

Pride and Prejudice: Xenophobia and Negative Media Stereotypes Are Blinding Many Britons to the Fact That Immigrants Represent an Extremely Valuable Import

Magazine article Geographical

Pride and Prejudice: Xenophobia and Negative Media Stereotypes Are Blinding Many Britons to the Fact That Immigrants Represent an Extremely Valuable Import

Article excerpt

If immigration is nothing new, neither is the hostility--a fearful form of incuriosity--with which new arrivals are greeted.

Take, for example, a letter in The Times railing against the foreigners who are "replacing English workers and driving to despair men, women and children of our blood". Or a reporter in the Evening Standard ranting about the "flood" of migrants "too lazy to work ... They spend night after night in the neighbourhood haunts, gambling away the last coin that should have gone to their underfed wives and children, and returning home to rave afresh against society." Here's a Daily Mail column arguing that Britain is being ruined by criminal migrants. "Even the most sentimental," it says, "will feel that the time has come to stop the abuse of this country's hospitality by foreign malefactors." And there goes the Conservative member for Stepney, crying that "East of Aldgate one walks into a foreign town ... The modern Englishman is in constant danger of being driven from his home, pushed out by ... the off-scum of Europe."

If these remarks sounds antiquated, that's because they are. The letter in The Times was published in 1887. The politician, Major Evans-Gordon, was MP for Stepney in 1890. The article in the Evening Standard was published in 1904, the comment in the Daily Mail in 1910. The resentment of foreigners is a well-established British reflex and goes way back, to the era when a foreigner was someone from the next county.

Perhaps history really does repeat itself. Certainly, we're once again surrounded by pungent newspaper headlines warning of imminent collapse: "Sick migrants will swamp our wards" (the Sun); "Five hundred immigrants every day to swamp Britain" (the Express); "Migrant invasion warning" (the Sun again).

It isn't easy to keep a level head in this atmosphere of fear and mistrust. So here are a few things we could, in our panicky moments, recall.

First, we could remind ourselves that we have an obvious historical (if not moral) obligation to those parts of the world where our own interests have inspired migration. For example, Western intervention has made life extremely difficult in areas such as Albania, Afghanistan and Iraq. And the pattern of today's migration, in terms of family unification, continues to reflect the dislocations and connections formed during the age of empires. What makes Britain think that it can disengage from its colonies without a backward glance, having milked them for profits for two centuries or more?

Connections and affections had developed that couldn't so lightly be annulled, indeed, such was the power of imperial education that many Commonwealth citizens had a solemn reverence for the mother country. (One quality imported by migrants is an unexpected one: patriotism.) Britain has tried to forget the role played in its own history by people from overseas. It isn't universally known, for instance, that almost a third of the British Army in the First World War wasn't British, nor is it evident in remembrance parades.

The second fact we might recall is that the UK is only moderately brushed by the global migration flow. According to UN figures, there are an estimated 19 million expatriates across today's unruly globe and only two per cent manage to make their way here. This can lead to some embarrassing oversights. London recently began negotiations with the Tanzanian government in an attempt to export, with the help of a 4 million [pounds sterling] aid package, a group of Somali refugees. …

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