“We all benefit from living in a mobile world”

Sunday 6 April saw London’s Young Greens host Racism on the Rise, a day of discussions and workshops centred on reclaiming the immigration debate from the likes of UKIP, whose language dehumanises migrants.

Opening the event, Green Party leader Natalie Bennett said:

“This is a two way street – free movement applies to all of us. We have within us an innate wanderlust, and we all benefit from being in a mobile world.”

The afternoon saw a lively debate on the positives and negatives of immigration. Journalist and author of Chavs, Owen Jones, argued that the blame for government failures to tackle a lack of housing, jobs and school places was increasingly being placed on immigrant communities. But journalist Sunny Hundal disagreed, pointing out that racism was at its height in Britain during the prosperous 1960s, when jobs were plenty and immigrants relatively few:

“Now immigration is high, the number of people saying there are too many immigrants is the lowest it has ever been. It’s not economics that’s driving this – it’s cultural.”

Green MEP candidate and Roma researcher Violeta Vajda explained that we cannot change our culture without talking openly about our preconceptions about immigrants:

“We all have prejudices. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. But none of us benefit from having those messages in our head. We need to get these messages out into the open.”

Controversy was sparked with a question from the floor: do we need immigration controls? There was agreement that, at the moment, controls are necessary. But, offering an optimistic vision of the future, Jones talked of the need to eradicate factors that force people to move, such as poverty, war and inequality:

“We live in a world of misery and barbarism and injustice. It is my view that this is a transient phase. When we eradicate those things we can have open borders.”

With international students representing such a major component of net migration, as more than 218,000 came to study in Britain in the year to last September, the morning session focussed on the experiences of those that make up this backbone of higher education.

Discussing the juxtaposition of this Government’s increasing hostility towards international students and UK businesses’ growing focus on trading worldwide, Green MEP candidate Amelia Womack said:

“In the UK we are closing down opportunities for people to have that international experience.”

In workshop sessions on community organising and building a positive narrative on immigration, strong methods of opposing UKIP’s scapegoating tactics were proposed. It was pointed out that issues like housing and jobs can unite diverse communities, and that the language of the both the left and right ignores the people behind the cold, hard statistics of immigration. London Green Party Co-ordinator Benali Hamdache encouraged groups to build stories that get to the heart of why individuals move from one country to another – whether it was to escape hardship, build a future or experience another culture.

The message of the day was clear: if we want to hold onto our rights to freedom of movement, we must stand up for immigrant communities at home. In the year ending June 2013, 320,000 emigrants left the UK. As Natalie Bennett said, this is a two-way street.


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