Dr. Ibrahim Sirkeci*
In the last five years, parties standing in the UK elections have been forced to debate immigration. The 2005 elections were full of pretty “bigotted” discourses. The then Conservatives’ leader was appealing to the xenophobic vote by saying “are you thinking what I am thinking”. Luckily his party did not succeed. However, every other election since then has been dominated by far right arguments and policies. During the last decade, small parties with well known xenophobic stances set the scene while major parties tried to avert the tide by surrendering to some of these arguments.
In line with the overall securitisation of migration in Europe and other advanced countries, the UK has moved towards a “tough” stance on immigration. This mainly meant human right abuses for the sake of homeland security and covert torture for millions of immigrants through additional hassles and occasional abuse. The Government’s attempts to control immigration have largely failed. As we know from evidence and experience from around the world, migration control is a myth (See Cornelius, Martin, and Hollifield 1994; Cornelius et al. 2004).
It is no different in the UK. Although by definition and nature we can not know for sure, the volume of illegal immigrant stock in the UK is believed to be between 600 to 900 thousands by now. This added to the 5 million minority population in the country represents a significant issue. The anxieties the British public have are understand- able given the fact that nobody is communicating the pro-immigration argument. Thus these anxieties are largely based on myths rather than reality. People struggling during the crisis, particularly those at the lower end of the welfare league are wrongly placing the blame on immigrants. Welfare gap in the UK has widened even further un- der successive Labour governments. Casino banking in this country and elsewhere led tax – payers money to disappear into bankers pockets not only in the last two years but for decades. Similarly, the little Britain pretending to be a superpower alongside the US over the years caused lives of thousands lost in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as bil- lions of Pounds wasted. These are the reasons for increasing poverty, high unemployment and uneven provision of public services across the UK. Detention camps where thou- sands of asylum seekers kept and a bare room allocated to a refugee couple in a council estate (or ruins) in the most deprived areas of British towns are not and cannot be the source of poverty or any other social problem in today’s Britain.
The pro-immigration argument can be built on any philosophical premises. From an es- sentialist point, we can argue that it is a ba- sic right for people to choose where to live, where to travel to. Many argue that the key obstacles to pro-immigration policies are political and cultural rather than economic. Mass influxes of outsiders often cause worry among the host. At the other end of the de- bate comes the brain drain, a huge cost to sending areas. However, this should never bar the ability to move, a fundamental right.
“…the little Britain pretending to be a superpower alongside the US over the years caused lives of thousands lost in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as billions of Pounds wasted.”
Pierre Sane, Assistant Director -General at UNESCO introducing the book by Pecoud and G u c h t e n e i r e , s a y s “imagine a world without borders, where people had the right to move freely from one country to another, to settle down, live and work wherever they wished” (2007: ix). Even from a utilitarian perspective, the opinion leaders in countries like the UK have an obligation to inform the public that immigration has been a good thing for these countries. Not the “bigoted” views but the truth must be spoken. Majority of doctors and nurses in British hospitals are of foreign origin. A significant portion of researchers in universities are from overseas. Yet, at the same time, millions of Britons are living abroad temporarily or permanently. One should not also forget that at individual and national level, there is a universal obligation to help the others in suffering. Asylum seekers must be welcomed and treated with dignity.
“Even from a utilitarian perspective, the opinion leaders in countries like the UK have an obligation to inform the public that immigration has been a good thing for these countries.”
The key lies in the fact that solutions for many problems we face in the world today require some sort of a transnational cooperation. Environmental issues, poverty, disarmament, diseases, population growth, ethnic conflicts are all crying for global cooperation. Therefore, the nature of our lives and problems also points to pro-immigration.
Perhaps the Icelandic Volcano put everything into a context for us. The 6 days of eruptions and ash clouds spreading over Western Europe left millions of passengers stranded where they were as well as costing hugely for airline industry and other related industries. Excluding the indirect costs to other industries and the troubles passengers and families went through; the total bill of the ash cloud for Europe is expected to be over £2 billion. This can be something to use as a scale measuring the potential costs of zero – immigration policies if applied in Europe.
The world populations are strongly mixed with each other. Wherever you go in the world, no matter developed or developing country, you would simply see sizeable immigrant communities exist. Moreover, this is not a new phenomenon. The human history is full of mass migrations creating and recreating nations and countries. Nevertheless, pro -immigration governments taking charge is still very utopic. Similarly “open borders” will not be a reality anytime soon. There are big political and cultural obstacles for these changes. However, there is hope and more importantly a growing need for it.
* Ibrahim Sirkeci is a Reader in Demography at European Business School London, Re- gent’s College, London, UK. He is also the editor of Migration Letters journal. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com
1) Cornelius, Wayne A., Philip L. Martin, and James F. Hollifield. 1994. Controlling immigration: a global perspective . Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press.
2) Cornelius, Wayne A., Takeyuki Tsuda, Philip L. Martin, and James F. Hollifield. 2004. Controlling immigration: a global per- spective. 2nd ed. / edited by Wayne A. Cornelius. [et al.] ed. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press; London: Eurospan.
3) Pécoud, Antoine, and P. F. A. de Guchteneire. 2007. Migration without bor- ders: essays on the free movement of people. Paris: UNESCO Publishing; New York: Berghahn.