What next for the African ‘illegal immigrant’ in UK?
Posted Thursday, October 17 2013 at 01:00
These “illegals” have been contributing to the UK retirement system, paying UK taxes and are worthy of protection of UK laws.
It may sound alarmist but there is some truth in it: the United Kingdom, the most popular destination for years for immigrants, is fast shutting its doors to “illegal immigrants”. Unlike stowaways who risk their lives to cross into Europe from North and West Africa or “boat people” most of these immigrants arrive in the West for the first time legally. Their initial authorised stay expires along the way for different reasons. Once out of status, options for regaining that legal status dwindle and before long they have to assume an “anonymous” status.
In the 1990s, Britain embraced a wave of foreign arrivals to bolster its crumbling higher education infrastructure. Stripped of guaranteed funding, many institutions were forced to shop abroad for students. For the government, this policy had other benefits. These included a ready supply of cheap labour.
The young arrivals were full of youthful vigour and health; they did not impose a strain on the National Health Service. Most categories of other legal immigrants like family-based immigrants come with more problems. Where the younger immigrants freely assimilated in Western society, the second category not as much. Coming in with a “family” rather than “skills” tie, the pressure to adapt to their surroundings was much less.
Most Western societies after the Second World War came up with a concept of a “safety net”. No one should go hungry, for example, in a world of abundance, and no one should go without shelter or a minimum level of healthcare. Along the way, the courts and the legal system turned the “safety” net into a system of mandated benefits guaranteed by law.
It did not matter much whether there was someone working harder or others pulling out more than they put in. Some of the immigrant communities became comfortable with the latter. Radical politics and politicians built a mountain mole out of this - after all, it had a face, probably a different colour and spoke a different language.
The unequal equilibrium between cautious governments, politicians, and businesses on one side versus populists on the other side could not last long. Misguided by a concept of a homogeneous society rich nations like Germany and Japan which did not open their doors as much as the French, English and Southern Europeans find themselves trapped in a demographic trap where senior citizens 65 and older are now almost one third of the population.
In Europe, the EU expanded its frontier up to the Russian borders. The East Europeans, unlike the black immigrants, came with new positive attributes. First they represented markets that registered on the radar of many economies. If they did not represent markets for tangible goods they represent good markets for more difficult to discern goods like debt- if you ask the Greeks. In a subtle way they also put European history once again as a whole. The English royal family has German roots, but the Windsors are Greek, Danish, and East European in short order. Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy is a son of a Hungarian immigrant.
New Europe presented a concept of a “purer” Europe. Being admitted into the EU did not come as a walk-over. Candidates for accession had to fix their politics, economics and social policies. To partly insulate themselves against massive overruns over their borders by the new Europeans, an EU directive delayed free emigration and eligibility for benefits for a number of years.
The UK won some waivers which expire in 2014. Where the consolation used to whip up support used to play up their ability to integrate, the fear is that these new immigrants will now be fleeing the excesses of market capitalism that the growth of the EU and the Euro have exported to their poorer neighbours.
Short of exiting the EU, which some in the UK want to do, the politicians are assembling around a newer package. It is “tough on borders” and “benefits tourism”. It will deport more and stories of deportees in hand-cuffs are likely to increase.
A few naive people think all the anxieties of our dear brothers and sisters can be resolved by electing just one more MP to Parliament. A few others may be of the view that a “desk” at Foreign Affairs can cut it. We need to start preparing outreach missions in these foreign cities to provide legal and social services to those immigrants who want to stay in the UK or other countries. These “illegals” have been contributing to the UK retirement system, paying UK taxes and are worthy of protection of UK laws.
After all, our economy that failed them in the first place is not a picture of “bouncing health” yet. One of the longest harm to the anonymous, unlike those who can freely travel, is the inability to regularly return home to set up roots.
If we have found it fit to send the caliber of a professor as High Commissioners to the UK; we expect some hardball than simply buckling down to accept the latest memo from Home Secretary Theresa May.
Mr Ssemogerere is an Attorney-at-Law and Advocate.