Confessions Of An Immigrant

by Uche Nworah

This is an indictment of the United Kingdom (UK) and other governments as much as it is a confession. Some of these western governments have allowed the nationalists and far rightists in their midst to dominate public discourse lately, and have in so doing subjected immigrants like me to every type of ridicule and shame. We are now public enemy number 1, and are portrayed to be responsible for every crime committed in their lands, as if prison and other lock-up facilities did not exist in these countries before we came.

In emphasizing on the negatives, it appears that our major contributions to economic growth in these countries are now being overlooked, but before wielding the big stick the governments of some of these countries should spare a thought for the millions of undocumented immigrants that work underground in the black economy, as factory hands, office complex cleaners, construction workers, fast food restaurant workers etc. These people are also human beings and labour sometimes for 14 hours a day at below the minimum wage, their services are essential in helping to sustain the economic well being of the west; definitely the citizens of these countries would never touch these menial jobs. Such exploitation and poor work conditions of immigrants were brought to the fore in 2004 by the death of the Chinese cocklers who did back breaking work and were paid only £1 a day.

Focusing more closely on the UK where I live, it appears that Prime Minister Tony Blair has fallen hostage to anti-immigration citizens including the British National Party (BNP), whose scare tactics in the British press can only be compared to the antics of the Ku Klux Klan in America. While agreeing that it is the right of the UK and other governments to control migration in their countries (Nigeria expelled Ghanaians in 1982), globalization however dictates that these countries should also in passing national laws and policies, take into consideration social injustices in the world, as migration derives from them, for example wars, poverty, political instability etc. If we are to believe that the world is now a global village, this also means that we should be our brothers’ keepers and that means also accommodating people who may have been displaced for the reasons earlier mentioned.

The UK’s Home Office is in a mess, poor judgments by past officials led to the release of thousands of criminals who should have been deported, but why should the law-abiding immigrants be made to suffer such incompetence? Every day in the British press, news stories involving immigrants are twisted in the name of political correctness, such sensationalisation of news involving Africans and other immigrants only goes to create a psychological wedge between UK citizens and immigrants, because the two sides now view each other with suspicion. These stereotypes of the immigrant as criminal should not be sustained in the long term because of its damaging effects. It may lead to the immigrant developing a low sense of pride, leading to his withdrawing into a shell thus encouraging and breeding an in-group mentality. It may also lead to the immigrant being denied opportunities to apply his skills in specialized sectors for the betterment of the UK society and economy. The British society may be worse off because in the longer term its ability to compete in the global economy may be undermined, because xenophobia has prevented it from taking advantage of the skills that immigrants possess.

People leave their countries for several reasons, today’s immigrants to the UK are different from first generation immigrants who first arrived to work in the coal mines, and to help build the British underground system, some others who arrived early exploited the close colonial links at the time and arrived to acquire UK education. While majority of the immigrants today including me may be economic migrants, it is still not bad because of the skills that we bring. The UK government somewhat recognizes the contribution that immigrants can make to their economy and have introduced schemes such as the highly skilled migrant programme (HSMP), working holiday visa and others, but for some reasons, the government has repeatedly failed to come to the defence of such schemes and immigrants as a whole by debunking some of the stories in the press concerning the role of the immigrant in the UK society. By not doing so, the UK government may have become its own worst enemy and also the number one enemy of UK immigrants.

It is the liberal nature (to some extent) of the UK society that has seen it attract more immigrants to the country, compared to other EU countries such as Germany, Italy and France, but there is a danger that if current campaign against immigrants in the UK press are not reversed, then the UK may end up like the countries mentioned and be regarded as an unfriendly society too, its reputation as the America of Europe in terms of individual freedom and liberty may be jeopardized. Such a situation will be catastrophic, the National Health Service (NHS) that is run mainly by Nigerian doctors and nurses, the education sector and other key sectors run by immigrant skills may well collapse.

Since I arrived from Nigeria on this migrant journey, which has taken me across many countries, just like most immigrants, I have been through the motions, done and seen it all starting with torture at the hands of the Nigerian military which caught me while trying to escape from Nigeria with fake papers, I had paraded the streets of Cairo (Egypt) while searching for passage to the west, lost some acquaintances while on transit in Turkey en route Greece through a boat mishap which capsized during a midnight run and crossing, was penniless and trapped between the borders of Turkey and Bulgaria on a cold winter night, lived in a concentration cum asylum camp in Blankenburg – Germany, worked as a factory hand loading clothes into containers, had been a door-to-door salesman, washed dishes in a hotel and restaurant ‘setting world records’ in dish washing at each of the stops during my tour of duty, worked as a security guard by night and studied as a student by day, sold fashion goods on the streets and later from the trunk of my car, cleaned offices and factories, once working for 3 months without pay in a factory, only to be threatened eventually by the white lady who was our supervisor at the time that if I dared show up again, she would call the police and tell them that I was an illegal immigrant. When she hired me she knew that I was an illegal immigrant but she and many like her, that feast on the sweat and toil of other immigrant labourers can only get richer and fatter by such inhuman acts.

Since then a lot has also happened to me, I have since become a legal migrant and documented worker and now find my self teaching undergraduate and graduate students, some of whom are also in my earlier situations. Anytime the media attacks on immigrants resurface, I share my story with them, the aim being to let them know that they should remain focused, and not mind all the lies. It is not all immigrants that are criminals, we also have our uses. Our united and collective voices can indeed make a difference, as demonstrated during the recent immigrants’ one-day strike in America, as part of the ‘a day without immigrants’ campaign.

Some people have argued that immigration should be seen as a form of reparation of the wealth of African counties pillaged during the colonial days, such people usually fall into the trap of thinking that the end justifies the means, they would stop at nothing including criminal activities to make it, sad as it is, it may be such people and their “get rich quick or die trying” mentality that are giving bad name to the other law abiding immigrants who simply want to utilize their God given talents and skills and take advantage of the opportunities available in the western societies both for personal, family and even sometimes for the benefits of their countries of origin. This school of thought is flawed because it fails to take into consideration present day realities, just like the other school of thought that chastises immigrants who may have escaped from the harsh economic realities of their home countries, thus willing them to go back to their home countries in order to escape rising nationalist interests in their host counties. Sympathy for the latter argument can only be justified by a renewed move by some of these African and other governments to introduce better policies aimed at restructuring their countries, and increasing socio-economic opportunities for her citizens. The latter may be ideal because of the popular adage which says that East or West, home is the best.

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1 comment

Ikenna May 30, 2006 - 6:06 pm

I agree with most of this. Unfortunately most English people are completely unable to distinguish second or third generation Black British people from illegal immigrants or criminals and it has become acceptable in the UK to hurl all kinds of negative stereotypical racist insults at Black people as long as these comments are prefaced with the words ''I'm not racist but…''

Maybe we should return to our 'home' countries.

Alternatively, perhaps a more proactive, millitant approach to these racists is the stance we need to take.


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