This country is no longer safe for immigrants

With the 2015 Immigration Act, forsaken EU directives to take in more refugees, Prevent and restrictions on spousal visas it is hard to see how the UK government could make things any worse

Rebecca Omonira Oyekanmi
Saturday 25 June 2016 13:59 BST
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Nigel Farage put immigration at the heart of his campaign
Nigel Farage put immigration at the heart of his campaign (EPA)

Much of liberal Britain woke up this morning (or went to bed) believing they’d encountered a different side to the country. That 17 million odd people voted to leave the EU was an indication of racism and xenophobia, it was immediately decided that this was anti-migrant vote. The shock and surprise was palpable. There’s a petition circulating on social media calling for a second referendum and jokes about London leaving the UK.

Yet this collective howl has been a long time coming. Data published by the Guardian newspaper from a British Social Attitudes survey in 2014 found that increasing numbers of Brits admitted racial prejudice. These attitudes haven’t developed in a vacuum. Media reporting on migration has barely developed from bogus asylum seekers in the 90s. Instead, thanks to politicians and journalists, migrant has become a catch-all term for ‘other’. It might mean refugees, Muslims, Eastern Europeans or Black Africans in Calais, depending on the day. Nigel Farage’s “Breaking Point” poster is a case in point. He used an image of bedraggled Syrian refugees to illustrate an argument about the cons of free movement for EU migrant workers. In reality, Brexit will mean very little for the refugees dying in the Mediterranean. Britain already opted out of various EU directives which would force it to take part in responding to the refugee crisis or taking in people in need.

Scotland, London and teenagers speak out against Brexit

This mess of myths and misinformation has been packaged in a way that both dehumanises the vulnerable migrants and prevents solidarity from working class Brits screwed over by the same unequal distribution of global wealth that drives much migration. I regularly interview people from both groups and their oppression is the same. I met both Diego and Simon* when reporting on the housing crisis in London. Both faced imminent eviction from their homes and struggled to eke out a living the city.

Diego is Spanish and works as a cleaner for multinational finance companies. He loved London but increasingly felt unwelcome in the city; most of his colleagues could barely afford to travel to work. Watching the city glistening from afar, the packed bars and restaurants, he knew London was not for him. “I think London is becoming a city for rich people.”

And Simon said pretty much the same thing. A white working class unemployed builder being booted out of the council flat in Notting Hill that has been in his family since the 60s. An identical property down the road sold for £730k. The council couldn’t offer Simon alternative housing and he’d spent most of his savings and was now reliant on benefits. Incidentally, Simon mentioned migrants, a vague comment about foreigners able to access social welfare more easily than someone like him.

It is difficult to predict the impact of Brexit on migration policy in future simply because it’s already pretty dire. The Immigration Act of 2014 and 2016 and its various amendments has kick started the process of criminalising movement and policing people who appear ‘other’. The heavy handed policing of young black and brown youth across the country has been empowered by the Prevent agenda. British people earning below a certain income already face restrictions on who bringing foreign spouses to live with them here in the UK. Not to talk of destitution and incarceration of hundreds of refused asylum seekers and migrants. And even before Brexit, social welfare lawyers report a rising number of destitute Eastern Europeans with various restrictions on their access to benefits and housing.

I don't think people who voted Brexit are racist, but what’s the motivation of the rich elite that spearheaded the leave campaign from the right? The same survey I mentioned earlier quotes work by Dr Grace Lordan, an LSE academic, looking at social attitudes since 1983. On rising racial prejudice she reported “that the group that recorded the biggest rise was white, professional men between the ages of 35 and 64, highly educated and earning a lot of money. Their attitudes may directly affect others as many will have managerial responsibilities.”

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