Updates, commentary, training and advice on immigration and asylum law

Should I stay or should I go?


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It is a question faced by all immigrants. To be uprooted from your own country, culture and kinship network leads to enormous dislocation and can be deeply traumatic. Living in exile is difficult, whether it is the result of forced movement or is voluntarily undertaken. Migrants of both variety often summon the courage to make the move by kidding themselves into thinking that it is a temporary move, just for a few years until the trouble dies down or to earn enough to move home, settle down and set up a business.

Many policymakers and immigration decision makers fail to understand that these two motives often coincide. The supposed dichotomy between refugees and economic migrants is a false one. One thought going through the mind of almost any refugee is that he or she wants to live somewhere where, if need be, a new life can be forged.

Today it is reported that migrants from the European Union accession states are beginning to think that they will stay for longer than they originally planned. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation funded research in 2002 and 2004. In October 2002, six months after the accession states joined the EU, 6% of migrants from the accession states thought they would stay in the UK permanently. In 2004 the percentage was 29%.

The only surprise is that the percentage in 2004 is so low. Going backwards is always hard to do and can feel like an admission of failure. Having invested so much energy and effort in leaving their friends and family behind, finding accommodation and jobs, learning the language and integrating into British society (it is difficult to imagine life without the Poles in particular), it is inevitable that more and more will want to stay.

There was an hilarious link on the Today programme this morning with another story about migrants in Spain. I wish I had made a note of the exact words of the link, which I now have to paraphrase: ‘Eastern European migrants aren’t integrating very well into British society, unlike in Spain where migrants have set up their own political parties…’

Apparently in Alicante, near Benidorm, the migrant parties (mainly representing Brits, unsurprisingly) have actually gained more votes than indigenous Spanish political parties. Spokesmen were quoted as saying that this will enable them to sort out these corrupt dagos and their annoying building regulations. It is difficult to conceive of a finer example of migrants integrating into the host society than Brits around Benidorm adopting the local culture and language and generally blending in. I’ve been there (there is a beautiful limestone landscape and some superb climbing rock away from the coast) and it was almost impossible to identify the Brits. In fact, I thought to myself over a chicken tikka masala, I’m not sure there really were any Brits out there at all. Benidorm is a paradigm of the monocultural homogenisation that Trevor Phillips advocates, rather than the multicultural society pushed on us by muesli-munching, sandal-flapping lefties.

At least, I suppose, it was useful to make the link between migrants into Britain and migrants out of Britain. A lot of British people assume we have a God given right to populate other countries, but how dare Johnny and Jane Foreigner think there is some sort of reciprocal arrangement?

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The Free Movement blog was founded in 2007 by Colin Yeo, a barrister at Garden Court Chambers specialising in immigration law. The blog provides updates and commentary on immigration and asylum law by a variety of authors.