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The Future of Immigration in the West

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Author: Gbenga Badejo
Posted to the web: 8/25/2006 7:36:14 PM

Gbenga Badejo



When I first published ‘Six Things Africans Living Abroad Must Note’ late 2003, I was pretty certain that the points highlighted were inevitable, I did not however, expect that the precipitating foundation will be laid so soon. I also did not envisage the wave of responses the article will generate worldwide.  Immigration is an emotive issue in Western countries often generating equal passion from protagonists and antagonists alike.  Some immigrants play it safe with ‘let a sleeping dog lie’ approach; they are content with acquiring their British, European or North American citizenship rather than dwell on the dynamics of immigration.  Other immigrants see racism in every situation and wrongly equate it with immigration control.  Whatever, the position, no one is completely immune to the vagaries of immigration.


Many things have happened in the last four months that convinced me that just as religion has become the central issue in the current clash of civilisation between East and West, future clashes would centre on immigration and citizenship particularly between North and South.  Although increasing migration from the Southern hemisphere to the richer and desirable North seems to be the problem; strangely, the catalyst for a backlash and the politics of immigration varies from country to country and even between the continents.


For example, the United States, - essentially an immigrant nation - decided in April 2006 to erect a Berlin-style wall to seal off its borders against migrants from its poorer and persistent immigrant-supplying southern neighbour, Mexico. The Bush administration’s rationale was to secure the support of Congress and Republican hardliners in its plan to regularise 14 million illegal immigrants currently working in the US.  No doubt, the hardliners were grudgingly happy - (they get a wall to prevent future immigrants); the 14 million Hispanic workers are definitely happy – (they will get their papers); President Bush is happy – (he is seen as a strong leader who can make tough decisions, he has also sewn up Hispanics vote for the Republican Party for life).


Apart from the politics around the Hispanic vote, 9/11 has seriously altered the psychology of Americans from its post cold-war open policy. Unlike Europe, and apart from scattered incidents like Pearl Harbour and 9/11, America does not have the experience of war and terrorism on its doorstep. America is therefore unschooled and ill-prepared for the diplomatic doggedness of handling domestic attacks, so its response can only be irrational and understandably indiscriminate.  The treatment of travellers at American airports bears witness to this.  Just as George Bush and some Americans believe Africa is a country, how can you trust America to know the difference between a Nigerian whose main aim in life is figuring out how to become a millionaire from say a religious terrorist aiming for martyrdom. 


Despite the horrors of 9/11, it is disturbing that America the guarantor of liberty and freedom will concoct such a thing as Guantanamo.  It just isn’t America to do so.  If you are not convinced of this, just imagine what will happen if China or Russia had publicly set-up a camp where inmates are held without trial for more than three years.  With this in mind, the questions to be asked are: What does the future hold for immigrants in America?  Will America ever take steps in the future to deny certain rights to immigrants? Could America differentiate between its citizens?  Some will argue that this is already happening.


The backlash to 9/11 is isolationism. No one can predict the depth and reach of this phenomenon, but we are already witnessing its beginning through Gitmo, the Mexican wall and the gradual erosion of liberty of which America used to be chief cheerleader.


Europe is beginning to sing the same tune in its racial disharmony.  This phenomenon is not so much about racism but because of pressure on housing, medical care, employment and the likes - issues that affect ordinary people on the street.  Local people are angry and complain that they wait 7 years for a flat; but immigrants don’t. Ironically, the cheerleader in Europe is ‘The Netherlands’, once Europe’s most tolerant and immigrant-sponging nation. Now, its hard-line Immigration Minister, Rita Verdonk has introduced the toughest immigrant test in Europe thus far.  From January 2007, immigrants will be expected to put in 600 hours of coursework if they wish to stay in the country.   The proposal will cover some naturalised Dutch citizens although EU citizens living in the country are excluded.   In other words, if this law is passed, citizenship will count for nothing as French or German citizens living in Holland will have more rights than a naturalised Dutch citizen.  Controversial it may be, this proposal has struck a chord with many Dutch citizens of whom 1 in 10 now openly admit to being racist - a frightening phenomenon that is replicating itself across the continent.


Governments in Europe and particularly in the UK may pretend that all is well; however, the people know better, they know enough in the UK for example to conclude that politicians are suffering from selective amnesia.  In the UK, most people acknowledge the fact that immigrants have a stronger allegiance to their home countries and that many never really think much of the British way of life. They know that immigrants can take refuge in their countries after committing crimes. They also know that however much diversity and integration are preached by politicians, the reality and horror of the 7/7 bombings in London and the Madrid bombings is that there is a clash of culture and civilisation.  Black immigrants should realise that the situation is aggravated by the fact that one of the terrorists involved in the London bombings was black.  The people are beginning to react, the media are stoking the fire, and no one can predict what the future holds.


Current developments in the UK include the following:


·        A recent Sunday Times poll shows a serious and widespread public concern about immigration with a majority of the sample agreeing that it is bad for Britain. According to the poll, 14% of people strongly agree that immigration is “generally good” for Britain - with 30% taking the opposite view.


·        Foreign Doctors who have spent thousands of money to train went on a demonstration in April after a new government law reduces their prospects of securing employment. This is due to the influx of doctors from Eastern European countries. In the same month, the Nurses’ Union reported that thousands of foreign nurses already in Britain are unable to work because of the NHS financial crisis.


·        The ultra right wing BNP won more seats at the May local elections in the UK.  They have muscled on to mainstream policies, they have identified issues that other Political Parties have failed to address and are claiming to offer mainstream alternatives.


·        It was reported that about half a million people have travelled to the UK from Poland since it joined the EU two years ago.  A report even suggested that there are more Poles in London than in Warsaw.  Recently, I spoke to a London-based Albanian (Eastern European) who complained that although he has lived in England for over a decade, he now finds it increasingly difficult to find work in the building trade because new immigrants from Eastern Europe are undercutting him by up to 80% on price.  There you go!


·        Bulgaria and Romania will join the EU in 2007 or latest 2008 bringing an extra 30 million people.  These countries are largely poor and their citizens will compete for jobs with other immigrants particularly in the UK, which is the destination of choice.


·        You are caught on camera 300 times in any 24 hours in the UK – unwitting participants in a Big-Brother house nation.


·        HOME Secretary John Reid called for a cap on immigration to the UK early August.  He warned that mass migration is the “greatest challenge facing European governments”.


·        Both the Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce and the Director of Human Resources Policy at the Confederation of British Industry have argued for a re-think of the open-door policy to migrant workers.


It is difficult for anyone to predict with certainty what the future of immigration will be in the West.  What is not in doubt is that the trend (as highlighted above) shows we are heading for turbulent times.    


Given that Africa contributes a sizeable proportion of migrants to the Northern Hemisphere, the strategy must surely be to make Africa liveable.  It is common knowledge that labour migrates in the direction where it is needed and most appreciated; therefore, no one can fault those who choose to move to the West.   However, they must realise that in a world where resources are scarce and terrorism is prevalent; racial profiling and immigration backlashes will be the norm.  Immigrants will have to face up to Western governments that are reluctantly but determinedly adapting to the changing times.


The genie is out of the bottle; the future of immigration in the West understandably does not look good.   I wish I am wrong. What I wish more than anything else however is that Africans all over the world will work harder to make our countries liveable and attractive to its people.

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