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Racism in British Immigration

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The purpose of this paper is that to highlight what I see as racist, unjust and inhumane elements in Britain's immigration system and the culture of secrecy surrounds it. The permanent residents (who has indefinite leave to remain), central to this discussion not the illegal immigrants and bogus asylum seekers. Also immigration's treatments of people coming over to Britain for a range of other reasons and with papers and visas they expect to be accepted have been highlighted.

Mainly my argument is, compared with other countries, UK is more suspicious of all people entering the country and they discriminate against people from 'underdeveloped' countries.

I have read and quoted from various books in the Immigration subject area. Mainly, Ms. Catriona J. MacKenzie's dissertation "Africans & UK Immigration Controls" for the degree of Masters in Social Work & Social Policy, which has been submitted to the University of Glasgow in 1995 greatly helped me to construct this paper. I also conducted a number of interviews in UK and Turkey with individuals with immigration difficulties. I also made extensive use of the Glasgow University Library.


The membership of individuals in modern democratic societies is marked by the status of citizenship. Those who belong in a given nation-state have documents certifying their membership. More importantly, citizens possess a wide range of civil, political and social rights.

The reality has always been somewhat different. Most nation-states have had groups on their territory not considered capable of belonging, and therefore either denied citizenship or alternatively forced to go through a process of cultural assimilation in order to belong. Moreover, even those with formal membership have often been denied some of the rights vital to citizenship, so that they have not fully belonged. Discrimination based on class, gender, ethnicity, race, religion and other criteria has always meant that some people could not be full citizens. Securing the participation of previously excluded groups has been seen as the key to democratisation.

Nazism and the 'Final Solution' temporarily stigmatised racial-biological thinking after 1945. However, the 'New Racism' that emerged in the 1970s evaded the opprobrium of biological racism and eugenics by superficially relocating difference away from phenotype and genes and on to culture. This has had dramatic effect on nature and appearance of racism in Britain. By camouflaging hereditary qualities as cultural inheritance, it became possible for mainstream politicians to inject racism back into debates about nationality and citizenship. The 'New Racism' has made citizenship itself the site of struggle over conceptions of the nation and national identity.

In the new discourse of racism, culture was taken to define the differences between the British and non-European immigrants. Ethnicity, religion, language and customs were held to render immigrants unassimilable without it ever being necessary to mention racial types. The shifting locus of racism reflected the new realities in British society: the virtual cessation of primary immigration after 1971 on the one hand, and the consolidation of ethnic minority communities on the other. These communities, on their own and assisted by certain race relations legislation, as well as policies of central and local government, began to assert their identities and ethnic agendas. The spear-carriers of white, ethnic nationalism found a new battlefield in multiculturalism. Cultural differences relocated the arena of conflict away from the margins of the nation and to its very core: the constitution, law, education and national religion. Citizenship, no less than national identity and nationality, has now acquired racially polarized meanings.

The current emphasis on the family as the training ground for citizenship and building a block of the nation has racial implications, too. Black family life has been systematically stigmatised and declared inadequate. The implication is that dysfunctional or incomplete black families produce bad citizens -members of the 'underclass'. Hence, citizenship again becomes divisive, racial concept rather than an inclusive, universal one.

Overt linkages between nation, culture, religion and race are present in education policy too. The 1988 Education Reform Act prescribes the teaching of British history to all pupils and places on schools an obligation to provide an act of Christian worship. Successive ministers responsible for recent education policy have depicted this as necessary for the creation of a homogeneous population of loyal citizens. Conversely, Muslim schools are characterized as a breeding ground for dual loyalty and Fifth Columns as well as an alien fundamentalism.

This dangerous recasting of citizenship in the light of a changing sense of nationhood and national identity has not been ameliorated by Britain's entry into Europe. Rather, party politics have led to an accentuation of national chauvinism and the reiteration of a narrow sense of Britishness defined against a farcically demonised 'Europe'. British governments have sought to project on to the European Union their own restrictionist immigration policies and have supported an exclusive, Eurocentric definition of European identity and membership. Sadly, it seems as if the idea of a Europe of diversity is giving way to the notion of European homogeneity behind closely guarded frontiers. British politicians may yet succeed in making a 'Little Europe' in the image of 'Little England'.

Britain after the World War II, like most western European countries, was faced with a chronic shortage of labour. This shortage was in some measure alleviated by the half a million or so refugees, displaced persons and POWs who were admitted to Britain between 1946-1951. Unlike most other European countries, however, Britain was in a position to turn to an alternative and comparatively uncompetitive source of labour in its colonies and ex-colonies in Asia and the Caribbean. Colonialism had already under-developed these countries and thrown up a reserve army of labour which now waited in readiness to serve the needs of the metropolitan economy. And it is to these vast and cheap resources of labour that Britain turned in the 1950s. The periods of economic expansion led to a rise in immigration, periods of recession to a decline - and this sensitiveness of supply to demand characterized the whole 'stop-go' period



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