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EDITORIAL - Anti-immigration fervour and Great Britain

Published:Thursday | January 8, 2015 | 12:00 AM

New measures announced by Great Britain will ultimately alter the immigration landscape as the anti-immigration fervour grows in that country. For Third-World citizens such as Jamaicans, Great Britain was always a magnet for those in search of educational and other opportunities for advancement.

Now, it seems there will be fewer opportunities for bright, ambitious Jamaicans to study and work in Great Britain in the future. The debate has been raging in Europe for years. And with general elections set for May this year, immigration has emerged as a serious political issue being considered by the British electorate.

Opponents of immigration point to the strain on schools, hospitals and other public services posed by thousands of immigrants, some of whom risk their lives in decrepit boats from Africa to reach their shores.

A recently conducted opinion poll found that seven of every 10 Britons wanted immigration to be stopped or reduced. But there are those who feel that Britain and the rest of Europe are obliged by virtue of history to welcome persons in need of sanctuary. Indeed, there is a sense that, as the Mother Country, Britain should be more willing to provide opportunities for its former subjects.

MOVEMENT WITHIN EUROPE

Although more than half of the migrants to Great Britain are from outside of Europe, persons within the bloc known as the European Union, where the principle of free movement is embraced, and countries including Italy and Spain, are also crossing the border into Great Britain.

Data on global migration for the year 2005 indicated that nearly 190 million persons, or three per cent of the world's population, do not live in the country of their birth. This data paints a vivid picture of how people continue to move around in search of new experiences and opportunities.

The movement of criminals as part of this criss-crossing of borders cannot be overlooked in the debate about immigration. Criminals, whether they are seized by religious fervour or those who are simply greedy, have made things bad for other law-abiding citizens who wish to pursue their dreams. In many instances, it is these criminals who parlay their brutality and violent methods that have driven fear into the hearts of communities.

This may explain why immigration has become such a divisive issue. Anti-immigration protests have been reported in Germany and Northern Ireland, and the anti-immigration arguments are also tinged with anti-Muslim undertones, with some in Germany, for instance, decrying the Islamisation of Europe.

REGULARISATION

The immigration question is also engaging the American Congress as President Barack Obama seeks to implement sweeping changes to regularise millions of undocumented immigrants who live in the United States.

Is it not a fact that immigrants such as those who made the trek to Britain in the 1950s contributed more to the development of society than they ultimately received? They were prepared to undertake many of the low-skilled jobs that enabled society to function, and even thrive, and these were jobs that the British worker was not interested in doing.

As an indication that things have not changed that much in Britain over these many years, the media reported recently that a British factory was seeking to recruit Hungarians to make sandwiches for grocery chains because they could not find local workers interested in such low-paying repetitive work.

British Prime Minister David Cameron seemed to understand the contribution of immigrants when he remarked recently: "We are Great Britain because of immigration, not in spite of it."