What do the following people have in common: Albert Einstein, Freddie Mercury, Mo Farah, Rita Ora and Alphonso Davies?
These famous icons have all escaped war and migrated to a country they deemed ‘safer’ in the hope for a better life.
Throughout the history of the United Kingdom, there have always been immigrants traveling to the country in search of a better life.
And today, as the topic becomes increasingly entrenched in national discourse, it’s more important than ever to highlight the unbelievable value that immigration has brought to the UK — not just through key additions to our culture and diversity, but through the introduction of people who have helped make this country as great as it is.
The language we are currently hearing in what passes for a national conversation on migration has become as debased as most of the arguments, until the very word ‘migrants’ is toxic, used to frighten us by conjuring up images of a ‘swarm’ massing at our borders, threatening our way of life.
People from the UK moving abroad to pursue their career or financial interests, meanwhile, are ‘expats’, never emigrants or migrants.
Politically charged expressions such as ‘economic migrants’, ‘genuine refugees’ or ‘illegal asylum seekers’ should have no part in dialogue about migration. This is a story about humanity. Reporting it should be humane as well as accurate. Sadly, most of what we hear and read about ‘migrants’ is neither.
The language used in the media is inflammatory and dangerous. We are talking about human beings. Humans who have found themselves in both tragic and terrifying circumstances, through no fault of their own.
Five years ago, Torbay came together as a community, with a united purpose, as it has always done; to help those who had found themselves displaced due to war. Who could forget the horrific image of the body of baby Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian refugee, lying lifeless on a sandy shore.
The baby, along with his parents and older brother, were fleeing the war in Syria when the rubber boat they were in capsized – only the father survived.
As a community we united; wanting to help and we knew that it was down to sheer luck, that it wasn’t us making a perilous journey in a rubber boat. Lorry loads of tents, sleeping bags, clothes and food were sent to those in need. I accompanied the lorries and saw first hand the horror so many were forced to live in.
Five years on, the same hate-filled rhetoric of a ‘swarm’ and an ‘invasion’ has returned to our front pages. While the world battles with a global pandemic and recession, we seem to be focusing our anger and resentment on those fleeing war and persecution.
During my role as an advisory teacher with Devon County Council’s ethnic minority and traveller achievement service, I worked with refugees and asylum seekers. The numbers in Devon alone were minimal; the thousands reported to be descending on our shores each day, is an outright lie.
Having experienced horrendous trauma and tragedy, everyone I worked with wanted to contribute to our society to say ‘thank you’. They weren’t here to take our benefits, our houses or overstretch our health service.
These people were here to rebuild their lives; as doctors, as teachers, as engineers.
People, just like us; who enjoy the same things as us, are motivated by the same things – the only difference being where they were born.
I know one day, that those who seek to build division among humanity will no longer win.
If we lean into what’s tearing us apart, if we take time to understand why we’re so divided - and, crucially, if we remind ourselves that this actually is not the worst it’s ever been, and that it can get better - then the door can open to another way of living and being and relating to one another.