I have taught hundreds of students and carry out research in British migration history
I was born in Germany and have been living in the UK for six years now. Prior to coming to the UK I lived in New Zealand to do my PhD. My connection with – and deep love for – the UK, however, goes back longer than my arrival in early 2009. I first visited the UK when I was 12 years old and immediately liked it. It’s fair to say that I am particularly fond of Scotland, a connection that dates back over 15 years when I first came to Edinburgh to start my voluntary social year, working at a home for people with special needs. I liked it so much that I came back a few years later to continue working there, while also studying at Edinburgh University thanks to an Erasmus scholarship. I would describe myself as an expat German, affinity Scot and European at heart. With a bit of Aotearoa in it to boot.
I am deeply concerned about the current political goings on in the UK. Simply put: I am appalled by how the main political parties have jumped upon the populist Ukip bandwagon. What concerns me most is the unacceptable level of hypocrisy in the debate. The tenor appears to be that migration is a problem, but really only with respect to some people. And in any case, it only seems to work one way. So while it is, for instance, a problem for EU migrants to move freely to Britain, it is of course (or so the debate goes) perfectly fine for British people to enjoy the benefits of free movement and retire in Spain or France. Or, for a more personal example: I can no longer count the number of people who have told me ‘but we don’t mean you’ when speaking in ill-chosen terms about immigrants from the EU and elsewhere. Well, that’s wrong: I am an immigrant from the EU. And so you are talking about me.
What worries me is that migration and, by extension, the EU, have become what I would call an ‘all-purpose easy answer': easily employed in diverse situations to explain, and seemingly offer a solution, to significant problems facing Britain today. From the overburdened NHS to the benefit system and concerns over unemployment, many a politician has begun to default to a response that directly or indirectly relates the issue in question to migrants from Europe. In most of these cases there simply is no evidence to support such claims. It certainly is my firm belief that the majority of the problems Britain faces today have nothing to do with increased levels of migration. Rather, they are the direct result of consecutive years of systematic undermining of both the welfare state and social services – and, by extension, the very fabric of British society.
British people have migrated around the world for hundreds of years, have benefited from opportunities abroad, have made positive and some not so positive contributions in many countries overseas. As a migration historian that much I know for sure. Those employing populist anti-immigration rhetoric would do well reading up on that history.
In Britain itself immigrants have made incredibly rich contributions. Let's celebrate these contributions and look at the positive impact immigrants have made. Without it the UK would not be the culturally rich and diverse country it is - and should remain.