The immigration debate, always a contentious one, is once again at the forefront of the news as we approach the end of 2013. In recent months the press has been dominated by comment and debate regarding the possible effects of the lifting of restrictions on Romanian and Bulgarian nationals working and living in the UK, which has led to articles like this one in the Daily Mail, claiming that the arrival of these new migrants will be a flood and spark civil unrest in the UK.
David Blunkett, a former Home Secretary, has warned of the problems he fears will be caused by the arrival of a “flood” of Romanian and Bulgarian workers, while Nigel Farage of UKIP has warned that the UK will be committing “economic suicide” if it doesn’t take measures to stop the anticipated flood of migrants.
This month the Sun claimed that the European Commission had said that “there were over 600,000 benefit tourists in the UK”, a claim that was later proven to be completely false, to the point where the newspaper was forced to issue a correction admitting its story was based on no evidence.
It seems that, while mass immigration is clearly a subject for debate, there is a large part of the UK media focusing in the wrong place and asking the wrong questions. At present we have some sections of the popular press choosing to focus on what is essentially anti-migrant rhetoric and the printing of articles with seemingly little purpose other than whipping up fear and mistrust of the issue. That seems a rather dangerous path to tread, pandering to popular myth about migration and immigration, rather than dealing with the legitimate questions which the issues raise – the inability of the current system to cope with the movement of people.
The UK is a country that has been shaped by mass migration over a thousand years or more (which makes protestations against immigration of those involved with organisations like the EDL somewhat ironic). That being the case how did we allow a system for dealing with the mass movement of peoples to become the creaking, underfunded public infrastructure that it is now?
Surely the questions that should be asked in the press are “How will we deal with those that do arrive?” and “How can we help these migrants can attain their goals of finding a better life both for themselves and their families while becoming valuable members of their new communities?” Migration itself is not the problem – our lack of infrastructure and the almost xenophobic attitude of the popular press is the problem.
These articles warning of social unrest and division between communities may well become a self-fulfilling prophecy as opinions of entire communities are formed based on the widely-reported actions of a relative few, with all the problems that will entail. There is only one way to change this. A debate on immigration into the UK needs to happen, but for it to be truly valuable right now, the entire focus of the debate needs to change from discussion of those who “may” come to the country to a far more important topic-improving what happens once they get here.