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The Debate About Integration


Integration of migrants in the United Kingdom, more culturally and socially different than British people, can give way to creating a much more diverse society. It would beget stronger communities of people more aligned to British interests and more eager to erase out the presence of any form of extremism, prejudice or intolerance towards sundry people.

Migration is a relatively old concept for this country because there have been many people over generations who have come to live in the UK from across the world, owing to the British Empire. Apart from gaining new skills and working hard to provide for themselves and their families, they have contributed magnanimously to their neighbourhoods and localities. It is an English tradition to treat people no matter how different from us with fairness and respect.

In recent years, with the enlargement of the European Union, there has been much talk about increased immigration, with about 22 percent of people considering race relations and immigration an important issue but no developed formal integration program exists in the country. Migrants from the EEA form the largest overseas-born group in the UK, while migrants from outside the EEA rarely settle in the UK or earn British citizenship through naturalisation.

Integration is vital to the creation of a more robust national identity. It can help prevent the rise of growing unemployment, educational underachievement, welfare dependency, social segregation, increased costs to the public purse and community tensions. Initiatives that could act as a basis for successful promotion of integration include: funding for local projects in areas with significant numbers of new migrant arrivals, community cohesion policies such as summer youth programs, school-twinning projects and ethnically mixed housing policies. Furthermore, increased civic participation amongst migrants in religious, political and cultural capacities can also contribute to integration.

For short-term migrants, such as overseas students and migrants unlikely to take up British citizenship, such as EU migrants, separate incentives for better integration during the time they are in the UK needs to be introduced, such as promoting integration in student environments, housing and the labour market.  Migrants mostly choose to live together in the same area, owing to a dependency culture, where they tend to depend on one another for work or housing. This largely sees migrants interacting with other fellow migrants, giving rise to segregation.

The Coalition government has aims of limiting migration by the next general elections in 2015 and recent changes to settlement and naturalisation processes reflect this goal, with a resulting much less coherent policy structure than that of the previous Labour government, which had introduced both the citizenship test and maintained strict English Language requirements.  Prime Minister David Cameron has branded Britain’s long-standing policy of multiculturalism as ineffective, highlighting active promotion of equal rights, the rule of law, freedom of speech and democracy as requirements for a stronger national identity.

In the early 1900s, the Coalition government permitted over 250,000 refugees from Belgium to arrive in the UK because the German army was advancing. After being tended to by the War Refugees Committee and the Local Government Board, the Belgians settled in comfortably; the Local Government Board had played a crucial role in the integration process at the time, encouraging host communities to set up Belgian Refugee Committees. The committees consisted of 2,500 volunteers by 1916 and there hasn’t been public engagement of this sort in the integration of migrants since then. Polish migrants also came in large numbers to the UK, over 200,000, during and after the Second World War. The government was involved in the settlement of the Polish, dispersing them around the country in jobs such as mining, agriculture, manufacturing and the new service industries.

Ed Miliband has urged greater proficiency in English as a requirement for better integration of migrants, as part of his One Nation ideal. One of his proposals included prohibiting immigrants with a low proficiency in English from certain public sector jobs which require increasing contact with people, such as domestic workers. He has also stated that local authorities should slash their translation services if it would protect their budgets for language classes, in an effort to teach more people English.

The Shadow Justice Secretary, Sadiq Khan, further elaborated on Miliband’s proposal for a higher proficiency in English for immigrants, by stating that although some care sector workers, such as nurses and care workers, do a great job without possessing a high proficiency in English, it has led many elderly people, fluent in English, to express concern about being unable to communicate with their care sector workers. Furthermore, he mentioned the role local authorities play in helping immigrants integrate, by means of funding the translation of local newspapers into other languages, and how the money could be put to better use by teaching local people English instead, so that they are able to read the local papers in English and also communicate with their British neighbours, spurning about better integration.

Poverty exclusion needs to be at the top of the agenda to promote better integration amongst migrants, so that better neighbourhood relationships with British people can be nurtured. Many new and established migrant residents have a sense of community and share the same concerns as their fellow British neighbours, but local tensions which are sometimes targeted at migrants, hinder this progress. Migrants therefore need to be made to feel welcome into the country and introductory talk sessions for when they arrive to Britain, where helpful information on topics such as: renting policies, affordable housing options, their local council, the Metropolitan police, access to healthcare, insurance options, their legal rights and how to find jobs, can help with that.

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