Immigration Statistics – Should Size Matter?

The latest migration statistics will be published on the 26th February.  I can already tell you that net migration is up, because that is the trend for now. I can also tell you that you have already survived this ‘invasion’, because it happened in the last three months of 2014. So, what’s the fuss?

This is the last set of numbers to be released before May 7th, and as our Prime Minister made a “no ifs, no buts” pledge to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands by the general election, this will be an opportunity for the Opposition and the media to bash him for making promises he cannot keep.

There is something simultaneously naïve and sinister in the drama of the migration numbers publication ritual and the subsequent debate. There is this whole choreographed demand for accountability, with the Prime Minister’s “no ifs, no buts” pledge repeatedly quoted in an attempt to embarrass the government. The moral outrage is soon replaced by calls to ‘control borders’, over which we have allegedly ‘lost control’.

All this is done with a complete disregard for the facts, the rule of law or the feelings of 7 million immigrants who will have to endure a new wave of xenophobia.

The fact is that the British border is safe, and enforcement is a borderline Soviet-style. Last year we held nearly 30,000 people in indefinite (yes, indefinite) immigration detention. It is hard to digest that 800 years since the Magna Carta, people can be locked up with no judicial oversight. More than half of them are never removed, and more than £16 million had to be paid in compensation to wrongfully detained.

As far as the rule of law is concerned, the wilful ignorance is displayed over the right of European citizens to go and live anywhere in the Union. As much as we’d like to exercise that right for ourselves, let’s face it, many people feel that although ‘all animals are equal, some animals are more equal than others’.

Which brings us to feelings. We all have them, all kinds, and all the time.  But one’s feelings of fear from immigrants, usually based on myths, trump the feelings of immigrants who have to live with the consequences of dehumanisation. The ‘I am not racist, but’ is followed by ‘people have legitimate fears’, which is then supplemented with ‘we have had enough of your political correctness’ and ‘we have the right to freedom of speech’.

I agree. It is inaccurate to call those who object to immigration racists. Some of them are xenophobic too. The unreasoned fear of that which is perceived to be foreign, intersects here with a prejudice against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior. They often claim, that objecting to immigration cannot be racists, because  they are ‘just’ objecting to the process by which people of a different race (or religion) come to live in our country and expect to be treated with dignity and as equals.

This perception-based policy-making which is intended to appease fears is destroying the lives of British citizens too. They have to earn way above living wage in order to bring their foreign partners to the UK. There is nothing wrong with expecting people to look after their family and not rely on benefits. But if the foreign spouse is working, their income is not counted towards the income threshold required. In this case, as in many others, the reduction in statistics and the appeasement of fears trumps feelings of love and basic human right to family life.

When we have irrational fears in any other aspect of our existence, we seek to reassure and educate using evidence. Like the famous AIDS campaigns in the 1980s, when HIV positive people experienced stigma based on fear and ignorance. But, when it comes to immigration, the response is to fuel the fear through ineffective policy measures.

Asking for some honesty from politicians may be naïve on my part, but how about some backbone and reality check. Translated into numbers, this new approach would just boil down to ‘size does not matter’.  Let’s look at the place where it doesn’t. In the tiny nation of Qatar, which is essentially a city in the desert, 94% of the workforce and 70% of the total population are immigrants.  Qatar is not the best example in relation to treatment of migrant workers, but neither are we. The point here is that Qataris have somehow survived these huge numbers of immigrants, without loosing their minds or the control over their border.

What is the worst that can happen if there are a few hundred thousand extra people living in our country? They are studying, working, obeying the law, and paying their way. And I am not even going to start on the great things that come out of the synergy produced by the coming together of diverse ways of life.

So on the 7th of May, I will not be looking at political parties or their empty rhetoric, or manifesto promises which they will most certainly break, but I, and 4 million like me, will be looking for some backbone in the immigration numbers hysteria. Size should not matter. No ifs, and no buts.

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