Immigration and empathy 1


How many of you out there have dreamed of moving overseas in order to either benefit from the better weather, job availability, lower cost of living, better work-life balance etc? Plenty of you, I’m sure. The pursuit of a better quality of life is a natural one, and as the world gets smaller, due to faster transport and better lines of communication, the possibility of pursuing this ‘better life’ is becoming ever more attainable, and is completely socially acceptable. Historically, Britain is a nation of emigration rather than immigration, to the extent that in less prosperous times (such as the late 19th century), the government has gone so far as encouraged the poor to leave their homeland in search of a better life!

 

In the 19th century, British people were encouraged to emigrate in order to escape poverty (Source: Punch, 1848)

In the 19th century, British people were encouraged to emigrate in order to escape poverty (Source: Punch, 1848)

So why, when the shoe is on the other foot, do a significant proportion of people suddenly see things in a very different way? When considering immigration, the idea that people may be making the difficult decision to leave their homes and move to Britain simply to try to improve their family’s quality of life (even when they know they might be faced with animosity from the British public) seems to be lost. Instead, the assumption is made that the sole reason immigrants come to Britain is to steal all of the lovely resources that we’ve worked so hard to build without even attempting to give anything back in return. It saddens me that I now even hesitate to use the work ‘immigrants’ as it seems to have such negative connotations.

 

Click this image to view the destinations of migrants by country (via a very nice slopegraph)

Click this image to view the destinations of migrants by country (via a very nice slopegraph)

 

The British, on the whole, are lucky. If you were to rank all of the countries in the world according to quality of life (and numerous people have tried) then Britain (or the UK) comes pretty high up. For example, the in the United Nations’ Human Development Index and World Happiness rankings, the UK is ranked 26 out of 187 and 22 out of 156 respectively. It seems however, that with privilege comes a feeling of superiority. By having the fortune of being born into a rich country, we seem to have the right to look down upon those who do not. Or what’s worse, we look down upon those who have come from the ‘wrong’ country who happen to be trying to make a better life for themselves. There are exceptions to all rules, but I’m sure that with every example of an immigrant taking advantage of the system, we could find an example of a British person doing the very same thing. In fact, we can now unequivocally say that recent immigrants to the UK are actually less likely to be receiving benefits and social housing than those already living here, and have paid more in than they have taken out. So why do so many people see immigrants as second class citizens?

So, whilst I recognise that there are limits to a country’s resources, let’s try to show a bit more empathy to those who uproot their lives in an attempt to improve it, and be proud of Britain’s cultural diversity.


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One thought on “Immigration and empathy

  • Reply
    Sam

    I find the very sudden rise and the elaquly sudden fall to be very strange. I can understand the Civil War in 1861 dissuading more people from immigrating to America, but the sudden drop seems to be a few years previous. Maybe it was caused just by the growing tension between the North and the South? I also don’t know how to explain the rise. What happened around 1845 that would cause such a drastic rise in immigration?