As we count down towards Christmas my thoughts began reflecting on the issues of immigration. This is partly because the Biblical narrative itself has a lot to to say about immigration. For example, the Isrealites were immigrants in Egypt for about 430 years. One can also argue that Jesus was an immigrant if we consider that he had an heavenly citizenship before venturing to earth to fulfil the purpose of saving us by being with us (Immanuel). The whole point of the incarnational process, that is, Jesus becoming like one of us, was that he integrated himself to his new environment. In addition, when Jesus’ life was in danger because of King Herod, his parents fled to Egypt where they could be considered asylum seekers for a while before they went back to live in Nazareth in Galilee. The recent release of the results of the 2011 census has brought about public discussion on the subject of immigration. This is due to the rise in the increase of the so called “foreign born residents” in England and Wales since 2001. Part of this increase is that fewer than half the people living in London are white British. The result of the census seemed to have alarmed people in certain quarters and have led to talks about integrating multicultural Britain. Ed Miliband and the labour party has started talking about One Nation Ideal as a community cohesion strategy. This talk about integration has been part of the agenda of the coalition government and one evidence of this is David Cameron’s pronouncment of the death of multicultural Britain by stating that State multiculturalism has failed.
What I found very interesting is that in all the talks about integrating multicultural Britain, it appears that immigrants are seen as scape goats that have to be sacrificed to acheive this end. What do I mean by this? The rhetoric seems to be that immigrants are segregated and are living in separate communities therefore we have to integrate them. This seems to be portrayed as the general picture as if all immigrants do not want to integrate. My line of work brings me into contact with a lot of immigrants and one of the cries I have heard from them is, ” We want to have English people as our friends” or “We are looking for places to meet English people” After hearing these comments I often wondered and at times realised that their very next neighbours are white English people. This raises the question of whether this immigrants have been given the chance or opportunity to become their friends? If some immigrants are willing and are happy to integrate then the question is why does it appear not to be happening? I do agree that there are some immigrants who live in separate communities and are not making any effort to integrate, but it must be mentioned that this is also true of British people living in Spain, France and Australia. It will however be wrong to make this lack of integration of few immigrants as a general picture of all immigrants in this country. To do this is to ignore the evidence of those immigrants who have enrolled in ESOL classes and English language courses so that they can be able to have conversations with their white English neighbours and engage with the community. As someone who has gone through the status of immigrant in this country and now can be regarded as a “foreign born resident”, I have made it my daily business since I came into this country to integrate myself and there are others like me whom I have met. If the government is talking about integrating immigrants can they also address the issue of white flight (white people moving out or leaving because of the presence of ethnic minorities) which commonly happens when ethnic minorities move into a white residential area, school, pub, Church or any other social institution.
Another myth the public discourse on immigration is perpetuating is the stereotype of all immigrants as taking advantage of the benefit system. I know that there are immigrants who are taking advantage and are abusing the system, but lets not forget that there are also white British who are doing the same. I am not condoning people abusing the system, I am only stating that people are generally abusing and taking advantage of the system. But I also know that there are lots of immigrants who since they arrive in this country have no recourse to use public funds. I can boldly say that since my arrival in this country I have never use the benefit system and I am not planning to do so. To think that all immigrants use the benefit system or abuse it in some ways is to portray the image that all immigrants are poor and needy people, but that is not the case as there are well to do immigrants who are actually contributing to the sytem through taxes and other means rather than taking from it. Mo farah is an example of an immigrant now foreign born resident who has contributed to the British society through sports. It is fair to also add at this juncture that immigration through tourism and other means also generate money for the British economy.
Immigration will always be a contentious issue so long as there is the idea of otherness which if misplaced leads to fear. This is played out in the Biblical story of Israel in Egypt when suddenly there was a new Pharaoh who did not know Joseph and he feared when he realised that the Israelites were increasing in the land. What did he do? He decided to use the Israelites as scape goats by devising a system to annilate them. This story is reminiscent of the times Jesus was born as Herod who feel threathened by this new arrival decided to eliminate Jesus by annilating all the male born from 2 years and below. As we celebrate Christmas let us welcome and be hospitable to our neighbours whether they be fresh immigrants, foreign born residents or white British indigenes. This is the spirit and essence of Christmas!