Migrants’ Rights Network: Refusal to face the realities of migration opens the door to racism

by , under Don Flynn

Migrant Tales insight: This excellent piece by Don Flynn sounds very familar to what the anti-immigration Perussuomalaiset (PS) are doing in Finland to get people to vote for them in the MEP elections on May 25. PS chairman Timo Soini has spoken at Ukip gatherings on a number of occasions and are in many respects political and ideological soul mates.

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Don Flynn*

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To understand migration we have to get beyond the numbers and look at the political and economic realities which are driving it. A failure to give an adequate account of this bigger context will open the door to the new forms of racism peddled by the anti-immigration parties.

Two morning news items give a good idea of the way in which immigration continues to trawl across both the realities and mythologies of the British nation.

The first of these is the comment, from the Polish ambassador, Mr Witold Sobkow, on the news that the migration of citizens from his country to the UK is down from its peak of 88,000 in 2007 to 29,000 in 2012.

The second is the opening shot in UKIP’s election campaign for the European Parliament, which features a poster with the legend “There are 26 million people in Europe looking for work. And whose jobs are they after?” The answer seems to be a finger putting directly back at the reader.

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In stirring up these troubled waters we should say at the onset that numbers, big or small, have seldom served to clarify what is really going on as far as immigration is concerned. If an apparently large number of people arrive into the country in one particular year it is not because “they” have suddenly decided to come after “your” jobs.

We are making a big mistake if we are to assume that immigration is a prime factor in deciding the political and economic trends of the day. Levels of immigration, rather than leading, ought to be seen as following a consequence of the political and economic balance of forces shaping up our future.

Back in 2004 the eight states which had once been a part of what was called the “Soviet bloc” found themselves inducted into a club where the rules and terms of membership were tilted in favour of the long-established insiders.

One of the ways open to them to adjust to these new realities was through the free movement of their citizens. The initial impact of joining the single market had been a drastic reduction in the size of the public sector and the loss of large numbers of jobs as their economies had to adapt to the new realities of a single market. From the standpoint of Europe as a whole, the new right of Polish, Slovak, and other nationalities of the ‘EU8’ functioned as a safety valve which reduced some of the pressure and tension which existed during this period of adjustment.

The figures cited by the Polish ambassador should be read as evidence that the balances of power are shifting in Europe as the economy of his country at least has emerged as a fully functioning free market economy. Migration to the UK has fallen by two-thirds not because of any reduction of the predatory desire of Poles to come after our jobs, but because opportunities are so much better at home.

As far as the UKIP poster campaign is concerned, the big question seems to be whether it can be considered racist. Racism is usually taken to mean an ideology which ascribes certain attitudes or attributes, such as greed, laziness or stupidity to the innate qualities of a racial group, transmitted either by its genetic inheritance or its cultural milieux.

My view is that UKIP is fanning the flames of racism with this poster campaign by using an iconography, embedded in the visual impact of its text and the threatening, pointed finger, which associates ingrained selfishness with the ‘they’ who are after ‘your’ job.

No doubt the party leadership will feel that it has equipped itself with any number of get-out clauses which will allow it to claim that this is not the message truly embedded in the imagery of its campaign, but few will be fooled by this evasion.

The deliberate disconnection between the economic context of joblessness in Europe and its presentation as a matter of ‘you’ versus ‘them’ reaches out not towards rational appraisal, but the visceral sense of alien threat which nurtures deep-seated racist anxieties.

On the evidence of today’s news, political and economic reality goes in one direction, and the trumpeting of anti-immigrant ideologues goes in another. We will have to wait and see if the ordinary citizens who will be called upon to vote in the elections for the European Parliament next month decide to base their understanding of the world they live in on the one or the other. Whatever the outcome, a big part of our collective future rides on their collective decision.

Read original story here.

This piece was reprinted by Migrant Tales with permission.

* Don Flynn, the MRN Director, leads the organization’s strategic development and coordinates MRN’s policy and project work. he is a regular and sought-after speaker at conferences, seminars and lectures on behalf of MRN. 

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