What would you tell a recent migrant or refugee to the UK to welcome them to our country?
[h4]Welcome to Britain![/h4]
I hope you realise there are lots of Brits who are delighted you’ve come here to add to the rich mix of peoples living on these offshore European islands. If you’ve just arrived in one of our big cities your first bus ride will have shown you how diverse we all are – starting with the driver. Don’t let anyone tell you this is anything new. Britain’s a place where wave upon wave of migrants have made their home. We have had to learn how to live together and most Brits – especially those who remember their parents or grandparents settling here – are delighted to welcome anyone who needs a new start in a safe place. Ninety years ago, my father’s family lost everything in the Russian Revolution. My Dad thought Britain was great because it had its revolution in the seventeenth century and since then it’s been one of the most stable countries in the world.
If you go for citizenship – and I hope that if your longterm future is to be here you will – you’ll have to learn about the way Britain works. You’ll need to know something about Parliament and the justice system and the monarchy. To get you started, you need a day out in London. If you’ve got the money, a great way to see London is from the river. A boat trip from Greenwich to Westminster gives you stunning views of one of the world’s great capital cities – and a commentary to tell you what’s what. If you get off at Westminster Pier you can have yourself photographed propping up Big Ben. You can queue up and listen to a debate in parliament. Sadly, you’ll be divided from the MPs by a thick glass screen, in case you hurl things at them. Politicians get a rough ride in the British media, but we draw the line at throwing things.
You just have to cross the road to see where Will and Kate got married in Westminster Abbey. If it costs too much to go in and look around, you can always go to a service there for free (weekdays at 5pm; weekends at 3pm are some of the best times) – after all, that’s what a church like the Abbey is really for. It’s the place where the Queen was crowned in 1953 – the most recent in a line of coronations lasting nearly a thousand years.
Cross the road again and you can view the new Supreme Court, but only from the outside. Three great British institutions have their place round Parliament Square: the legislature, the church, the judiciary. Each has its part to play in safeguarding the freedoms of British citizens (and those who come here for sanctuary). On the square itself, not far from the statue of Nelson Mandela, you’ll see tents and homemade banners that remind you of another perspective: the world seen through the eyes of the dispossessed, of those with a different story to tell.
[h4]Britain is a country of many stories and you’ve enriched the mix by bringing yours. I hope you’ll take advantage of the freedom here to tell it as often and as publicly as you want.[/h4]