Thursday, April 30, 2015

A pro-immigration campaign takes off in the UK

There’s been something funny happening on the London underground recently, and I definitely don’t mean the fact that my local train station is about to close for nine months (not cool, TfL, not cool). These little posters have been cropping up all over the tube, and I have to admit, when I first saw one, I did a double take:





There’s a lot to like, and a quick spin around Movement Against Xenophobia’s website (where you can also download the rest of the poster series) shows that the posters were born from a frustration with an overpoliticised conversation surrounding migration to the UK. That’s a sentiment that I understand, as someone who has not only immigrated here (immigrated? Am I an expat? A Brit? The world may never know…) but who also has a number of friends both here and in the US who have immigrated and contributed wonderful things, yet are made to feel a bit… well, alien.

For those of you already stuck in the US news cycle’s endless yammering about the 18-month-distant US presidential election, my condolences. But there’s going to be a major election here next week, and my eternal joke is that I’ll be voting UKIP, the party that has become, fairly or otherwise, known for making us immigrants feel a wee bit unwelcome. But they’re not the only ones – I’m the first one to say that the United Kingdom has a problem with nationalism and xenophobia.

The number of comments I hear a day (presumably because I’m considered “one of the good ones” or something) is mind-boggling, and makes me worried about what other foreigners get subjected to around here. So I’m pretty happy to see a group take a stand by pointing out the good that immigrants can do in their new countries.

I can easily round up a list of people in my life who have struggled through the labyrinthine immigration restrictions in Britain, contributed their skills and tax money, and still don’t live here with any sense of permanence or welcome. It’s a shame to learn that a country I really love, and have found to be incredibly warm and friendly, also by and large wants to restrict the flow of people coming here. Moreover, there is a strong push toward legal migrants “adopting British values” (whatever that means) and a significant proportion of people that evidently believe immigrants should not “have the same rights as Britons” (see Figure 1 in the previous link). Of course we should; that it would be questioned at all is deeply offensive.



News of the recent boat crossings that have left hundreds dead in the Mediterranean, as well as the pointed refusal of the UK's leadership to fund search and rescue missions, is objectively heartbreaking. The justification for not saving immigrants/migrants/refugees coming to Europe is that they don't want to encourage more people to come here; these posters actively refute the faulty premise that immigrant=welfare drain, refugee=burden, or economic migrant=scheming opportunist (for more on why the language of immigration matters, this podcast is definitely worth a listen).

I recently heard someone use the phrase "immigration as an entirely economic transaction." These posters hit on that awkward place between pragmatism and emotion where immigration actually happens. Yes, these folks have all contributed wonderful things to their new country, and I like to think I do, too. But it takes more than just economics to make people change countries; they have to love their new place, too. And this campaign is, hopefully, one more way to illustrate that we're here because we want to be.

We're here because there's something about Britain that still strikes us as pretty great.

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