Saturday, 4 February 2012

They’re Taking Away our Jobs!

Refugee Camp - Calais

There are few more divisive issues than immigration. It’s not a subject for a dinner party unless you like people shouting at each other. Xenophobes claim that immigrants come here for our generous public benefits. Pro-immigrants try to prove that immigrants work hard, taking jobs that the locals don’t like to do anyway. The British tabloids know that an immigration “scare story” will sell copies.

Here are recent headlines from the Daily Express:



The injustice of it all!

And so to our Tory Government was elected with a pledge to reduce UK immigration from hundreds of thousands a year to tens of thousands. They’re facing an impossible task, as most immigrants come from EU countries and have a right to work in the UK.

Coming from the US, I’m familiar with the never ending debate on what to do about our borders in the face of migration pressures that never seem to ease. Build a fence and shoot immigrants on sight? Unsurprisingly the issue is hot in the current US presidential race. The debate is much the same across European countries.

For an excellent article on immigration, see the recent article “Europe at Bay” by Jeremy Harding published in the London Review of Books.

While I have no energy for the political discussions, I’m deeply concerned about the issue. People migrate for economic, political, religious reasons. For thousands of years they’ve braved every danger to secure a better life in another land. During the coming decades, global warming will be major cause for mass migration --- northward to cooler climates. Countries close to the equator and low lying lands, will first bear the brunt of rising temperatures. What would you do when faced by hunger, in a land that no longer supports you? You'd move. Today there are refugee camps near Calais with thousands of immigrants trying to cross the Channel to the UK. Tomorrow we’ll be faced with boat people. How will we respond to the challenge?

Our attitudes in the face of social stresses will determine the sort of world we will create. A dystopia from a science fiction book, where immigrants are incarcerated or shot? A lifeboat swamped by too many people? A multicultural multi-ethnic society?

In my novel Gaia’s Children, and in the short story, The Lottery, my protagonists take in illegal migrants in the face of social opposition much in the way that many during WWII took in Jewish families. I wasn’t trying to make a political point for or against migration, except to say that, when the s***t hits the fan, many indigenous people will host migrant families, whatever the cost. My intuition found partial confirmation in Harding’s article, where he writes:

Plenty of people are disturbed by the consequences of European immigration policy, whatever they think of the principles. In France, when the Interior Ministry began detaining illegal immigrant children at the school gate in 2006, there was a surge in political fostering by indigenous families. Dozens of French children acquired temporary siblings, as their parents took in threatened minors. This radical solidarity prefers the moral case over any argument about national borders. In France, the deportation of Jews in the 1940s is still a vivid precedent.

In Scotland attitudes to immigration are softer than in the rest of the UK. Scotland is still largely mono-cultural, with low diversity, owing to its lower levels of immigration. In a recent survey, Scots support higher immigration targets compared to the English. Though the issue is still divisive, there’s an increased perception here that immigrants, rather than subsisting on benefits, are here to create a better life by working for it. Polish migrants are viewed as hardworking, educated and entrepreneurial. So far Scotland has fewer migrants from warmer climes compared to the rest of the UK, maybe because the place is so bloody cold. Something that may change with global warming.

While I don’t advocate open borders, or an electric fence around the country, I’d like the debate to shift from where it's been stuck for decades. We must first acknowledge the fact that people migrate from country to country. It's a pattern that will never change. Migration will continue, especially in the face of global warming. Building fences and destroying migrant camps won’t stop migration. In facing this fact, we can shift our thinking away from our fears to discover more creative solutions.


  1. Glad to see you are making good use of your LRB subscription!!

  2. Is it not sad how easy it is for people to complain. Unemployment? lol. Go to google now and type in customer service jobs and see what comes up. The British You can have your personal opinions about immigrant and make soo much noise on the internet but the government is not ready to listen to individuals but what benefits the nation as a whole. If immigrants are in general bringing a lot in and that is affecting a handful of people, why should the government scrap everything? British colleges and schools are mostly funded by international students. Do you think UK will be an attractive place for international students when its mono-cultural. What makes people think British are not immigrants in other peoples'country. Vote the BNP and England will stay immigrant-free but I wonder who will make importation deals with UK. Definitely not moi>

    1. As I said, it's a very complex issue. I'm more interested in the human rights side thaqn in the politics. How do we treat eaqch other?

  3. England moved to different countries in the world, lived there as traders and ended up ruling them. Is England having an immigration scare like they did to other countries in the early to mid 19th century. The immigrants have no intention to rule or make England their colony but to work and pay taxes. Why is it so difficult for people[The British] whose forefathers travelled all over the world to accept people in their land? The only sense I can gather is the people against migration are very selfish and not realise that this country would not have got this far without them migrating to different countries. People do not want to talk about it because it makes them look stupid not accepting immigration

    1. I think you're right on. Thank you for the comments