The UK’s history of immigration will forever be tarnished by our collective memory of colonialism’s oppressive tendencies and its innumerable atrocities. Due to this less than flattering element of our no-so-distant history I am sure many still view the United Kingdom as a fairly unwelcoming and ultimately intolerant society. If this short article does nothing else than even begin to convince you otherwise I will be eminently satisfied.
After much legislation reform throughout the 20th Century Britain can now be considered an ethnically diverse, multicultural society. It has taken the better part of a century, two world wars, Irish Independence, an initiation into the European Union and countless revocations of outdated laws but I think we are finally on our way to being considered a tolerant country, distanced from our colonial past.
As far as I know our immigration policy is now generally fair, just and impartial. The country accepts people of all backgrounds, provided they don’t have a criminal record and plan to work or study in the UK. Yet after minimal investigation some elements of our immigration policy are still cause for concern. Before research I believed the UK to allow all refugees and asylum seekers into the country under international law. We do, but reluctantly. For years politicians have attempted to placate outspoken members of the public by aiming to reduce the number of asylum seekers not considered to be refugees. As in every country some members of society just don’t like change.
On the other hand our current attitude toward illegal immigrants is optimistically open-minded. Numerous pressure groups and even the Mayor of London (thank Christ for Boris) are working on establishing amnesty for illegal immigrants; perhaps due to the fact that (according to Public Policy Research) it would take 20 years and £12 billion to deport said immigrants, yet it’s at least a step in the right direction.
Millions of the current UK population are foreign born. This can most likely be attributed to the mass influx of immigrants post-WWII from the EU and former colonies such as India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Caribbean, South Africa, Kenya and Hong Kong. I would like to think the majority of these minority groups have not experienced discrimination or been met with hatred in my home country but that simply isn’t true. Like every country with moderately lax immigration laws we have our racists and morons stuck in the past. The BNP (British National Party) are just one such example; run by a former National Front member (the National Front was a whites-only, supremacist political party – for greater insight watch the Shane Meadows film This Is England – Great film. Dumb party), their opposition to immigration, demands for stringent immigration laws and blind racism are enough to make anyone embarrassed to be called British. Though I suppose the backlash, their nature as a periphery party (long may that continue) and inability for any sane person to take them seriously is cause for hope.
Perhaps the most infamous opposition to immigration to the UK came in the form of Enoch Powell in 1968. A renowned public speaker and revered politician, Powell’s ‘River of Blood’ speech is an everlasting reminder of how even the most intelligent of us can have warped world views. Yet even forty something years ago these views were met with outrage and indignation, many (including The Times) branding the speech just plain evil. I suppose then these reminders of our intolerant past can aid us to some extent. They can serve to slap us in the face, tell us to wake up and realize there’s still work to be done. Maybe in some Utopian future, parties like the BNP that hark back to our antiquated past will themselves be resigned to the history books. Maybe.
Perhaps my view is slightly skewed – I have only ever lived in Leicester and thirty minutes outside of London – places where all cultures and walks of life intermingle. I’ve never really thought in depth about UK immigration– my neighbors are Bangladeshi, a Pakistani dude runs the corner shop and the Burger joint opposite my house, the bus driver is from Vietnam, my English Lit professor is of Indian descent, my mates are from wherever – that’s how it’s always been. I had to think hard to come up with those examples, purely because for me, after twenty years on this earth Britain has never been anything other than a wonderful mess of cultures and peoples. I hope to preserve that experience and share it with others by working toward ridding our country of any remnants of intolerance. There’s a long ways to go but we’re getting there, at a very British pace.