'This is my country. It welcomed us both. What do you say to that, Mr Howard?'

What does it mean to be British? If you are Michael Howard, the Conservative leader, it means vowing to restrict arrivals and turn away refugees (despite being the son of one). But what if you are a first-generation immigrant who came to Britain believing it to be an inclusive, welcoming place? Steve Bloomfield goes to Birmingham to find out
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'The Tories do keep playing the race card at election time'

'The Tories do keep playing the race card at election time'

Navid Haq, 42, left Kashmir in 1974, aged 11. He manages K2, a Kashmiri restaurant in Moseley.

I would define myself to a great extent as British - British-Kashmiri. Being British has provided me with so much. There are whole sets of values you adopt: values of tolerance, justice, social justice. One of the beautiful things about living here is that, irrespective of your background, you are treated similarly to the indigenous populations.

The Tories play the race card at most elections. Enoch Powell did it in the 1960s; Thatcher did it ... But Britain has changed an awful lot. Racist attitudes you saw in the 1960s have gradually disappeared. The NHS is working because of immigrants - qualified doctors and nurses are coming in and doing those jobs. There is a real shortage of people doing labour-intensive jobs like in the building trade, plumbing. People from the rest of the world can make a positive contribution in those areas.

But what has happened post-11 September is shocking. At some point in history a community has always been blamed. It was Jews or Irish; now it's Muslims. If you are from a Muslim background, you are thought of as a terrorist or suicide bomber. You begin to feel it can lead to you losing your civil liberties.

'When we came here, it was for the benefit of the country'

Kulvinder Kaur, 48, moved to Britain from Punjab in 1960. She lives with her husband in Sparkhill and works at the Longbridge car factory.

I remember the first day at the infant school feeling I was the odd one out because I was the only Asian person. I was so scared. The other children were interested to find out more about me but were wary.

I have mostly good memories of growing up. We were the first Asian family on our street and they'd say, "You are in your pyjamas." I picked English up easily. It was harder for my mum, staying at home.

We all feel Birmingham is home. I've lived in Britain for 44 years. I wouldn't say I'm British or Indian or Sikh. There is a part of you that wants to keep your roots. You still want that identity as a Sikh; maybe in the next generation some won't feel the same.

I've worked all my life. When you see people claiming stuff you think, "Why are they getting money for sitting around doing nothing?" When we came, Britain needed people. It was to the country's benefit, not just the migrants'.

Everybody should have a right to asylum if they're under threat, but the bogus ones reflect badly on us. I've said I'm Sikh because I don't want them to assume I'm a Muslim.

'I escaped Saddam's bombs, but people still think I am a terrorist'

Arian Taugozi, 29, fled Iraq in 1988 after the chemical bombing of his home town, Halabjah, by Saddam Hussein. He returned in 1991 after the 1990-91 Gulf War, but fled again in May 1999.

Britain has become like a homeland. I will finish my courses and see what happens in Iraq. I might go back in another five, six years - but maybe I will stay.

My brother lives in Sweden. I see myself as British. As a Kurd, I am proud of the support the British Government gave to the coalition to get rid of Saddam Hussein. In 1988 there were about 43 students in my class - now just five of us are left alive. I was not just looking for a place to live, I needed to escape.

People I have talked to are fine with me. But [others] think I must be a terrorist. When I first came to Britain, eggs were thrown at us - people were swearing at us. People read the newspapers and they think I got a house and £500 a week.

The Conservative Party is wrong, especially at this time when we're talking about Auschwitz. How can Michael Howard say, "It was all right for my father to come here but it's not all right for other people's fathers to come here"? The Conservative Party helped Saddam Hussein, they helped other dictatorships. Lots of people sought asylum here as a consequence of their policies.

'I feel at home. I have been here now for more than half my life'

Jeslyn Carwin left Jamaica in November 1963 and headed for Britain to get married. Now 62, she has lived in Oldbury, West Midlands, ever since.

At first we shared a house with lots of other people: 12 altogether; it was packed. There were other Jamaicans in the factory where I worked so I didn't feel out of place. I couldn't get used to buying winter clothes - I didn't want to be all padded up.

In Jamaica it's more friendly - you look out for people. Here it's not really the same. Maybe it's the way people are brought up. They said racism was rife but I haven't suffered that much. I had six children, but one died. After they had grown up I went to college. I did a community-care course and worked with senior citizens. I'd visit them in the home and get them help if they needed it. I enjoyed it very much.

My eldest girl is a social worker. One son is a carpenter, another has a business, one works in a bank and one goes to college. I'm proud of them all.

I feel at home here. I've been here more than half my life. In Jamaica there was no social security. Here it has helped me out. I wouldn't have been able to leave my husband otherwise.

'You have to open windows to let in air'

Wing Yip, 66, came from Hong Kong in 1959. He set up his own company supplying Chinese food to restaurants and immigrants. The business is now worth £70m.

I came to England at the right time. If I came now the opportunities wouldn't be there. I found Britain very peaceful. The people would go out of their way to help you. The police called you sir. When I set up my business I had nothing to lose.

I used to think there was a lot of racism. We would get people coming into our restaurants after 10pm who were aggressive. Now I realise it was just because they were drunk. They would have been like that to anyone.

I feel British, but I can't take my roots away. My children have picked up Brummie, but I sent them to China to study for one year. They have to understand their history.

Immigration is a good thing. You have to open some windows to let the fresh air in. If you locked the windows,we would be suffocated. But immigration must be controlled. Political asylum is different altogether. The two should not be confused.

'There is tolerance here. I have faith in the British'

Karima Kadi-Hanifi, 45, left Algeria in 1980 on a student visa. Warned against returning, she stayed in Britain and married her English partner, Patrick. She works as a linguist for South Birmingham College.

Our dream had been to settle in Algeria. Patrick would do photography and I would work at the university in Algiers. But when the troubles started in 1988 my parents said, "Whatever you do, don't come back."

I am British and have citizenship but even now I sometimes think of Algeria as home. I'd like to go back one day. My dream would be for my two daughters to live there for a few years to see what it is like. Part of me thinks I shouldn't die here.

I find there is more tolerance in Britain. There have been situations where white people have defended me. I still have faith in the British people. I've not experienced much racism, but when I was at university, someone had written across a wall "fucking Arab". I was so shocked. I know it's naive but I had always thought Arabs were respected for their contribution to history. Now we are sometimes used as scapegoats. Since 11 September, you feel the police could come any time, knock down your door and take you away.

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