I'm a Greek immigrant who loves Britain – and Ukip is ruining it

Britain used to be tolerant and open, but it's a different country now. I have seen recession-related hate rhetoric at work in Greece and I know its consequences

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The Independent Online

I owe my open-mindedness to Britain. This is where I learned how to accept difference, and this is where I experienced the feeling of belonging for the first time. Coming from Greece, I studied and lived in the UK for five years in the early 00’s, but when I moved here back seven months ago I found a different country to the one I’d left in 2004.

Faragemania”, euroscepticism and the anti-immigration hype have turned Britain into an unwelcoming place. The same country that taught me acceptance is now making me feel apologetic for considering myself part of it. I get weird looks on the bus when I talk on the phone in a foreign language and I feel the need to have a speech in my mind ready to use to defend myself for being yet another EU immigrant.

What worries me most is not whether the UK will stay in Europe or whether I will have the legal right to remain in this country come 2017. It's that the move towards an intolerant mentality will deprive Britain of its greatness.

It has become impossible to turn on the television or listen to the radio without hearing some agitated person moaning about immigration. Sometimes it’s a Briton, others a non EU immigrant explaining to a BBC reporter why the Eastern Europeans must be kept out.

But are people really at fault for being so unreceptive? As a lifelong Labour supporter, who has now turned to Ukip to find safety, said on Newsnight last Tuesday “I never used to be racist, ever. But this government and the things that it’s doing is making me racist.”  He was probably right, but not for the reasons he thought.

The way politicians and media are romanticising this rising “hatred” of foreigners is astonishing.  The anti-immigration rhetoric has become so openly hostile that social division seems only a step away. People are beginning to feel at ease with the idea of hating, targeting and discriminating and they’re unlikely to ignore these feelings even if all immigrants are out.

This is not to say that Britain should open its borders for the whole wide world to enter. I am not in favour of countries being borderless, nor am I trying to fight for my right to stay in this one. Immigration is an issue that has to be dealt with - but it should be dealt with in a less dramatic and more diplomatic way. Britain has always been a multicultural, open society, and introducing prejudice into people’s minds can lead to dangerous grounds.

I have seen recession-related hate rhetoric at work in Greece and I know its consequences. When people get used to hearing extreme views and learn to justify their loathing on moral grounds, it’s hard to control the outcome.

In Greece’s case it started with small, almost amusing, incidents similar to the Farage-egg episode in Nottingham - and escalated to the cold blooded murder of leftist rapper Pavlos Fyssas in September 2013. Let’s hope Britain will not have to face such sad truths.  

I love this country as much as I love my own and I do not want to see it lose its broadminded character. I need it to remain an inspiration of culture and social unity, regardless of whether I will be within or outside its borders.