The immigration debate should see beyond xenophobia
By Sam Ogunnowo
Immigration and the refugee crisis have been hot topics over the past few months and the debate has highlighted the rising xenophobia amongst some sections of Britain.
The emergence of UKIP and the Conservative party success in the last election showed that those who vote are voting for right-wing politics. The working class suffering from austerity and inequality has not, unfortunately, come together to fight the oppressing measures, but to blame the outsider. Debates have lent themselves to xenophobic views and language, and immigration has become the biggest public concern in politics.
The support for UKIP, Britain First, and similar organisations has risen over the past 16 years. UKIP’s core political identity is about immigration and getting Britain out of the European Union. The party’s appeal comes also from Nigel Farage who, in comparison to David Cameron’s Eton pompousness, seems like a lad you could have a drink down the local with. There seems to be a consensus, among their supporters, that it is all the fault of immigration and that being able to control British borders will solve the issues in welfare, public service and unemployment.
UKIP’s growth nationally has increased from 7% in the 1999 European elections to 27.5% in 2014, highlighting higher concern for immigration during times of economic crisis. It reminds me of whenever the English football team gets knocked out of the World Cup, and the pundits always say there are too many foreign footballers in the Premiership, instead of the much simpler statement that England suck at football. We need to reframe the discussion.
It is not just parts of the white working class who have these views. Prime Minister David Cameron called refugees a “swarm,” while Home Secretary Theresa May said that “mass immigration” would make it impossible to have a cohesive society. Similarly, newspapers like The Sun and the Daily Mail push dehumanising, anti-immigrant rhetoric.
There is nothing happening in our society now that has not been seen before. The established media is blaming immigrants for strains on public resources and the welfare system, instead of highlighting that a company like Facebook only paid £4,327 corporation tax in 2014. Big businesses are given loopholes that allow for tax evasion or simply for paying small sums of tax that are rarely discussed in a public setting, especially in comparison to the headlines that immigration gets. The idea behind giving big business loopholes is that if you make them pay high tax they will take their jobs elsewhere, but this view is completely turned upside down when the discussion is about the rest of society. It is claimed that bankers need bonuses to keep them working at a high standard, but youth, for example, shouldn’t receive housing benefits because that would de-motivate them to work.
The common lines regarding immigration we have all heard before are that “they are coming here to steal out jobs” and “they are coming here to take advantage of our welfare system.” Incredible isn’t it, that these views are commonly held by the same people?
Immigration is a popular topic because it always provokes emotional reactions. It is popular because people tend to fall on the polar opposite views; immigration is either good for the economy and provides us with cultural diversity or damaging to public infrastructure, resources and British culture. People tend to forget that immigration is not the only political issue.
There is nothing wrong with being concerned about immigration, but a problem arises when the debate encourages xenophobia. The way in which migrants and refugees are discussed has become demeaning and dehumanizing. Migrants and refugees are people too, and I hope we remember this in the future when we debate immigration. And you know we will – as it is our favourite topic.