How do we talk about immigration?

By Robin Thomson

‘Immigration’ may be the dirtiest word in British politics today. Whether it’s the crowds in Calais, risking death in the tunnel, the bedraggled families camping in Athens, or just the prospect of strangers taking our jobs and our culture, our politicians compete with each other in alarm and distaste. Even those who deplore their harsh language insist that we must deal with the ‘problem’.

This kind of language doesn’t help us, either in responding to the plight of those trapped, or in understanding the bigger picture of changes that affect us all.

That is why Ram Gidoomal prefers to talk about ‘diaspora’, as it “more accurately captures the movement of people and their sense of culture and heritage” (The benefits of diaspora, Rathbone Review, Summer 2015, pages 41-43).

This timely article reminds us that people are moving all the time for a range of valid reasons, some as refugees and asylum seekers, some as illegal immigrants, but most to find opportunities for themselves and their families. Each of these categories of people has brought benefits to the
host country – new ideas, cultural richness and increased dynamism and entrepreneurship. Diaspora people “have to be flexible, innovative and culturally adaptive,” Ram says.

David Cameron said the same thing two years ago: “Immigration has brought significant benefits to Britain, from those who have come seeking a safe haven from persecution to those who have come to make a better life… in the process they have enriched our society by working hard, taking risks and creating jobs and wealth for the whole country.” (quoted in The truth about the people and numbers in loud and furious migration debate, Jonathan Portes, Guardian, 1st August 2015)

So how should we respond? With greater compassion for those facing unimaginable hardships for themselves and their families. With prayer for leaders across Europe and around the world, to deal effectively with the source issues as well as to manage the flow of people in the best interests of all, seeing the long term benefits as well as the short term pressures. Above all, with love and hospitality. Here is an opportunity for Christ’s followers, especially those of us from the diaspora, to offer loving service and share good news. (The New People Next Door, Lausanne Occasional Paper No 55).  The Jubilee Centre has taken this up with plenty of excellent suggestions in their recent booklet Immigration and Justice: How local churches can change the debate on immigration in Britain.

At the very least each of us has a responsibility to counter alarmist voices, and to encourage discussions based on facts.  It would be good to hear this more clearly from our pulpits and from our leaders – whether they be media commentators or politicians.