The Biggest Challenge

In a frank, honest and considered article, ACCR Chair Mr Mohammed Al-Rahim talks candidly and compassionately about immigration and British society in the modern world.

The ACCR Chair, Mr Mohammed Al-Rahim, talks candidly and compassionately about immigration and British society in the modern world.

Over many years of working in the voluntary sector and with BME communities, and in my discussions with people at various levels within relevant organisations, from the frontline support services to the Management and Board, there has existed a number of issues that challenge the very nature of such organisations and the work they do. In particular, over the last three or four years, with a larger arrival of asylum seekers, refugees and economic migrants, an inappropriate atmosphere of resentment and defensiveness, along with changing legislation, has made the work of campaigners, managers, and development and support workers very difficult.

Dealing with a small minority of asylum seekers who it would appear are not genuine, is one of these challenges. Some people come to this, or indeed any, country, in order to inappropriately use the systems and programmes that are there for the genuine majority who need them. It is often a false perception that Britain is a haven for this kind of abuse of the system. However, the reality of today, of the privations which some asylum seekers face in Britain, challenges this claim. Sleeping on the streets without food, without care and attention and with no ability to work can never be considered a haven.

Furthermore, it is very important to recognise that stereotypical ideas of immigrants, especially of African people, that they are inept, slow or incompetent, are completely false and do not assist integration at all. Imagine a person who had been working for thirty years as a doctor or a senior engineer, who then has a total disintegration of his family, socio-economic and political environment, and moves to Britain to seek safety.

Not only does this person have issues of language and cultural barriers to overcome, perhaps resulting in them taking a menial job to survive, they also often have to deal with multiple bereavements, economic dislocation and loss of family support they had in Africa. Then add in the problem of being a different race.

Immigration is a very sensitive issue, not least for voluntary organisations involved in this particular work, because any in-depth attempt by those organisations to discuss this minority or deal with it creates an environment where one can be branded a racist or an anti-immigrationist, or your words can be used or misconstrued to support the racist and xenophobic agenda. The anti-foreigner lobby often parade themselves as patriotic people trying to preserve a way of life, although that way of life no longer exists. Indeed, originally it may have been built on false perceptions because although life for some classes was one of affluence and recreation, for other classes it was one of abject poverty and deprivation. Or otherwise their views are a perception based on an idyll – a concoction of racial inaccuracies and false premises that do not represent the true nature of the history of the peoples of their country. This is not a phenomena of any one country, but a syndrome that exists all across all the world, regardless of race, in one form or another.

Most countries of the world have histories of migrations, invasions and resettlements, whereby the indigenous population assimilated or absorbed other cultures. In my observations Britain is not in danger of losing its culture but is certainly transforming it into a varied, exciting, vibrant and healthy multiculturalism, with many interesting facets, that in its potential will be ahead of the rest of the world and something for Britain to be extremely proud of. If we truly grasp this multi-cultural opportunity and empower its socio-economic potential, we can create the ability for modern Britain to be a greater world leader. I believe this is, and will continue to be, a testament to the integrity, compassion and sense of justice of the British people. This makes Britain a wonderful country to live in, of enormous freedoms and intrinsic fairness. No wonder people want to live here.

The reality of a multicultural Britain is that the “new British society” has, and will have, a globally diverse cultural reality, that is and will continue to be more powerful and realistically pragmatic in dealing with the modern technological and economic world. Diversity is globally empowering; it does not have to be fearful, limiting and threatening. This global relevance makes Britain ideally placed to work with countries across the world, for the good of the economy as well as the social, cultural and political development of the world.

Perhaps one of the challenges for many organisations is the minority of people who come to abuse Britain’s fairness and compassion. There are enormous numbers of people who suffer the most horrendous personal tragedies, deprivations and emotionally scarring events, who come to Britain to receive compassion, understanding and a period of healing and assistance, who end up being totally misrepresented by a small minority of opportunists and people who take advantage of the voluntary organisations and the systems which are in place to protect the vulnerable. They take up a great deal of time with inappropriate claims.

This, I repeat, is a small minority, though a visible one. It is this visibility which gives the impression that there are more of these false people than there really are and we should never let this visibility distort our view of the whole complex issue of immigration. They are of all nationalities and races. Of course in Britain we have people who are members of the indigenous population who do similar things. It is therefore our responsibility as organisations to weed out and firmly challenge all such individuals, equally and without prejudice.

How do we go about this? We need to be very honest and forthright with people that such behaviour is unacceptable. We need to examine clearly each individual case. This is an assessment process, not a judgemental process, and it is vital that the people who really need help get it and resources are not dissolved by the advantage-takers. But let us be clear and willing to talk about this, not defensively but proactively, whilst not giving any ammunition to the xenophobes, isolationists and those with leanings towards extreme views.

We also need to show a greater understanding and compassion for people who are trying to do better for themselves and their families when they arrive here. People sometimes have a tendency to look at an asylum seeker one-dimensionally. Often an asylum seeker has left large numbers of their family in the area of abuse or deprivation which they have escaped from. This puts pressure on them to seek as much support and money as they can from the host community. This is quite normal and is very different from the advantage-takers and opportunists. It is important therefore that people really try to understand asylum seekers’ situations. It is not easy to understand the level of need evidenced by individuals who have arrived in this country and still have problems in their home country. Often there is the idea that just arriving to a place of physical safety like the UK solves all their problems. Unfortunately this is not so.

And then these issues all impinge on the international issues of democracy, fair trade and a need to have concern for the devastating effect in the world of diseases such as HIV / AIDS, especially the severity of the situation in certain parts of Africa, which has reached truly horrendous proportions.

So where do we go from here? Organisations and the people within them need to come together proactively, as they indeed do to some degree at present, to try and address these issues in a compassionate and effective manner without feeling threatened by those with xenophobic or racist views. We need to create new systems and awareness of the real plight of people. This is an ongoing subject. The difficulties in some countries of the world are constantly changing – many definitely for the worse, though some, fortunately, for the better. Information, knowledge, bridge-building – all of these activities are very important.

We are very fortunate in Birmingham to have a great city in which, over the last few years, communities have reached out to work together, to understand each other and to face the challenges of modern life.

Our humanity is always going to be the thing which unites us. We need to be prepared to tackle the things which divide us.

I really do not think many people wish to live in a homogenised, one-dimensional world, without an interesting and rich, varied and diverse cultural life. Yes, there are a few who might, but with each decade they become fewer and fewer. There is now, evidentially, no doubt that Britain needs people with skills and professional training, to become nurses, doctors and to fill many other categories of vacancies which are crucial to society. Our aging population and declining workforce makes this a necessity. Evolution of our world moves on, technology changes us. It is important that we grow as a humane and civil society as well as technologically.

It is time that acceptance of a world that transcends stereotypical prejudice begins, and the time of divisions is ended. We in Britain must grasp the enormous potential and opportunities of a pre-eminent, diverse, global multi-culture and its relevance and power to interact with the modern world, to lead the way in rendering all the old world views and its inherent cultural and religious divisions irrelevant.

Perhaps this is an ideal, but I would encourage all of us not to lose sight of the fact that humanity’s ideals have often become tomorrow’s fact. I believe that we live in better world than we did yesterday and what we need to strive for is to find ways and means to put humanitarian ideals into practical, daily, realistic application. If we all join together this will make the challenge of creating a just and compassionate world easier to face.

This article has been written to encourage positive debate and, therefore, if you feel you have comments about the issues in this article or would like to extend the discussion further, please contact us at The ACCR.

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