Immigration is neither good nor bad

MRCF’s Executive Director, Zrinka Bralo’s blog is featured in today’s Comment is Free on the Guardian. To see Zrinka’s original post, visit

[h4]The failure of politicians like David Cameron to see immigration as neutral perpetuates a circular debate of numbers, controls and blame[/h4]

David Cameron’s speech on Thursday was a perfect example of everything that is wrong with the debate on immigration. He starts off by identifying “concerns on the doorstep”, “myths have crept in”, pays a bit of lip service to “benefits of immigration” and then launches into “controls”, “cuts” and “abuses”. He, of course, leans into lazy Brits on welfare who do not want to do dirty jobs and his speech is full of anecdotes about immigrants abusing the system.

These are all very familiar arguments about the phenomenon of migration. But one thing that most politicians miss is that migration is neither good nor bad. It just is. Adding value judgments becomes problematic because when we talk about immigration, we are in fact talking about immigrants. When the prime minister, or others in power, talk about immigration as bad, abusive, criminal and threatening, they pass judgment on every person that migrated to this country. They are undercutting the work of every migrant that has made this country great. Is it a surprise that people are so afraid of the other?

So if you have a foreign-sounding name (like me), look and sound a bit different (like me), the message is: you will never belong here no matter how hard you try to integrate, because you should not have been here in the first place. While you were cheating your way into our country, our universities, our marriages and taking away our benefits, you were also too hard working, and willing to do our dirty jobs, and making our poor British-born welfare claimants lazy.

The truth is, like everything that has to do with human beings, migration is complicated. Migration is an experience, and most people once they reach their destination just want to get on with their lives, work, study and raise their families.

This government has fallen into the same trap as the previous one – it is making policies based on negative perceptions and fears rather than addressing immigration as a neutral social phenomenon that can be as beneficial or as damaging as we make it. Sadly our government has a fantasy that if it can prevent people from coming and staying here, it will solve all our social problems.

Constantly talking about immigrants as the problem detracts from the real reasons behind the shortage of social housing, unemployment and cuts in public services. As long as we think that immigrants can somehow be stopped before they reach our shores, we will be stuck in this circular debate of numbers, controls and blame.

The citizens of Britain, including migrants, are caught in a crossfire of mixed messages that does not increase understanding about the issues most important to them. Migrants are left to deal with the backlash that has serious consequences for our treatment and rights and we are left with no voice, regardless of how well we speak English.

A true debate will be possible when we all accept that immigration is an inescapable global phenomenon. For this to happen, we need visionary leadership to distil and address other serious issues that fuel emotions behind the smokescreen of the tough immigration debate.

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