By Linda Ekblom Jacobsson
“We are concerned, but we are not afraid, and that’s why we are here today”, Nazek Ramadan, founder of Migrant Voice said and kicked off the Migrant Voice third annual conference, The immigration debate: the facts, the rhetoric and the voices; initiating an inclusive debate and raising alternative voices and messages, on Saturday.
The Migrant Voice network was started three years ago and grew out of a concern that everyone was talking about migration except migrants themselves. Well, during this two-day conference, a large group of migrant activists, experts, and organisations (and a minority of native Brits) did nothing but exchanging views, listening and learning about migration.
Participants engaged with the workshop ‘Building our key messages for the debate’.
I found it enormously enabling and promising to hear about such diverse backgrounds, and yet so similar views on what needs to be done to change the current path of negativity in public discourse on migration. What I appreciated the most was the very concrete approach taken to this task. Out of the workshops a hands-on toolkit was developed to help organisations, activists and politicians reach out with a clear positive message on migration. I think that everyone across Britain and beyond who are concerned with migration issues would benefit greatly from this empowering message, and therefore I have made an attempt to summarise it into bullet points below. So here it is, the ‘draft Manifesto for Migrants’ (credit to all participants making their important voices heard):
- Humanise migrants. We need to bring in empathy, humanity, and individual stories of migrants in the discussion of migration. ‘Migrants’ is not a number; it’s not a big scary entity coming at us; migrants are people with personal experiences that we need to learn from. Do not accept the presentation of numbers; numbers are always presented as too many.
- ‘Integration’ needs to be demystified. Integration cannot be about erasing a person’s past, or changing their religion and language; it is about learning about a new society and its’ system. And this is a process that will have to take some time.
- Border control is not the answer, planning is. Migration wouldn’t be a problem if we planned better. Migrants are coming to this country and we just have to deal with it. Planning for housing, employment and social services is a lot more constructive and forward-looking than creating restrictions.
- Ask the question: why is change bad? As a woman, I certainly think that things are a lot better now than 50 years ago. Change is normal and inevitable, just as migration. Ever since the ancient Europeans made it here from Africa, humans have migrated to new places in search for refuge or better opportunities. Do not buy the claims that it is “human nature to fear the unknown”. It is not my human nature so don’t impose that on me!
- Speak up against the false assumptions on migration. Much of what is said about migration is perception, not facts. Bring in the facts and show that migrants are from everywhere.
- Point to the consequences of UK foreign policy, which is in fact contributing to displacing populations from many places in the world.
- Talk more in terms of neighbours, not strangers. Bring back a sense of community and remind people that migrants are the bus drivers driving their kids to school; they are selling them the paper on their way to work; they are picking the peas for their dinner, and they are performing surgery on them when they are injured.
- Do not agree with the premises of the question ‘how much immigration is enough?’ Instead, ask the question: “are we doing enough for migrants; what else can we do?” The real problem is the assumption that migration is a problem, rather than a necessity and an opportunity.
- Be more political. In times where politicians across the whole political range have failed to constructively discuss issues of migration, and instead are running scared in the direction of UKIP when they are loosing votes; we need to be braver, bolder and stand up and take the debate. Show that migrants are ‘us’, not ‘them’; or “I’m a migrant, get over it”.
- Migrants do not steal jobs or bring the economy down. On the contrary, migrants create jobs through their own entrepreneurship and innovation, and they bring capital into Britain. In fact, some of the richest taxpayers in Britain are migrants. Other than that, migrants tend to take the part-time, low-wage, highly flexible jobs that native citizens don’t want. Let’s see what happens if all migrants left or stopped coming completely, shall we? Britain depends on migrant labour. Moreover, it is not only Brits who are struggling to get a job these days – everyone is struggling!
- Make the charm offensive. Promote how beautiful it is to have people from many different countries living here.
- Restrictive migration laws affect everyone, not just migrants. If we want to avoid discriminating against people who ‘look like migrants’, we have to enforce identity controls on everyone. The new minimum income requirements on the right to bring in spouses from non-EEA countries do not just affect migrants, but all Brits equally.
- Migrants, unite! The migrant population of the UK is big. If we unite our voices and speak up, we will make noise.
Linda is a Swedish migrant to the UK, an intern with GRAMNet and a PhD student at the University of Glasgow. Her research takes interest in the representation of victims trafficked for sexual exploitation versus other forms of labour in the policy discourse in Sweden.