The British Immigrants in the British Society / By Gëzim Kikija

Britain is the host of a vast number of immigrants from all over the world. It is the land where some come to save their lives from the cruelty of war, others to escape the invisible killers of the 21st century: famine and fatal epidemics, homelessness and abuse, anarchy and dictatorship, hopelessness and all sorts of man-induced misery. In the brighter side, some may come to find themselves in this great land of opportunities, where every dream can be fulfilled. I am convinced however, that, whatever the reason the immigrants enter the British land, once they set foot in it, their first impression is a sense of relief, of happiness perhaps, a sense of hope that life might, once more, smile at them again. I know this, because I am an immigrant. And, as one, I may speak for the others: thank you Britain.
Looking at the impact of immigration on the British life, however, I often ask myself: are we the immigrants genuinely thankful to Britain for the shelter it has provided for us? Unfortunately, my answer can not be “yes”.
It is arguably true that, with our contribution to the economy growth, we have also brought to the British society more inter-ethnic conflicts, more religious conflicts, more thefts and abuse, more strain in workplaces and schools, more bullying of the children, more dirt in the streets, and finally, more tenacious expressions: “my culture”, “my faith”, “disrespectful”, “honour killing”, all of which have put more strain to the British question: What must the immigrants do to be allowed to stay? What must they not do to be deported? What must they do to be called “British”? What must they not do when they are British?
As immigrants, we must take responsibility to answering at least some of these questions, so that one day they are not asked anymore. And a good one to start with, is perhaps: What can we the immigrants do to establish healthy relationships between each other, and to live in Britain as responsible and fully committed citizens, within the norms and the law of the British society? We can certainly do a lot.
Do not consider yourself a foreigner in Britain. Many immigrants do not consider Britain as their home country, but rather as a faraway land where they wish to stay until their plans are accomplished, and then return to live the rest of their lives where they came from. Others do intend to live in Britain forever, but they are tightly bound to a non-British identity. According to a street survey by the Commission for racial equality (CRE), carried out in the Greater London, West Midlands, Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire, most immigrants concluded that “it was important to remember where they came from”1. Some African Caribbeans (25 – 45 years old) felt that knowledge of the past was important for self-respect, and that use of their preferred terminology demonstrated that they were respected by others1. The general perception of the Indian immigrants (25 – 45 years old) was that “they were British, but they liked to stick to their own culture, and they were Asian”, whereas both Pakistani and Bangladeshi young people felt that Islam was central to their identity, “providing a moral and social framework for their lives and behaviour, and that everything else came afterwards”1. Based on these CRE findings, it is obvious that there is a strong ethnic solidarity amongst British immigrants, which, in my opinion, is a significant drawback from cultural and racial harmony in the British society. Multi-cultural friendship can be an excellent counteraction to the “thickening” of the ethnic walls, and we would all be better at it, if we did not feel as foreigners in Britain.
Participate. Participating in social events, such as in workshops on culture diversity in community centres, attending the libraries, or visiting and anticipating in local refugee centres, could bring together immigrants of different ethnicities. This would be particularly important in increasing awareness on cultural harmony, and defusing ethic solidarity and social isolation.
Learn from other cultures. We could use our homeland cultures to mobilise and bring together immigrants of different ethnic backgrounds. A good example of this is the well known religious tolerance of the Albanian immigrants. The people of Albania inherit a great tolerance towards their religious background. Albanian Muslims and Christians have lived, and continue to live, in total harmony, with unconstrained marriages between the two groups, and with the Christian and Muslim clerics exchanging wishes and paying visits to each other during religious celebrations. This, arguably unique example, of Albanian religious harmony could be considered as a “light in the darkness”, for the infamous Muslim-Christian tension in the western world.
Help. I remember when I was first introduced to the idea of voluntary work, eight years ago, in the Lewisham College in London, just as I was entering my second year in Britain. Initially, the idea sounded strange and unfair to me, but it all made sense three years later, when I decided to volunteer for a few weeks in a local charity organisation in southeast London. I felt more settled in my community after volunteering, more open to people, more confident to look for a job, more willing to raise my voice for my own needs. My point is, there are numerous establishments around Britain involved in the integration of immigrants in the British society. The Albanian British Cultural Project in London, lead by Mr Kastriot Berberi, is one example. As immigrants, we could support the valuable work of such establishments, if we picked up the phone and asked them how we could be of use, as volunteers, even for two hours a month. We could probably be very useful and the consequence of our benevolent work could be felt within our community.
Raise the voice, not the fists. According to the CRE, many immigrants who have experienced racial abuse decide to take matters on their own hands, because they have lost trust on institutional support. Immigrants aged 18 – 25 years old felt particularly vulnerable to this perception1. However, retaliation is not the way out of racial conflicts, I believe. It would probably trigger more hatred and violence, thus enhancing the ethnic barriers even further. Raising the voice in stead of the fists would probably resolve the problem better. If speaking to the police seems in vain, inappropriate, or impractical, there are other places to refer to, such as Citizen Advice bureaus and local racial equality councils.
In conclusion, as immigrants, we must think of the consequences that our lifestyle and behaviour have on the British society. We would help Britain to help us, by at least getting on well with each other, and acting as decent British citizens, in spite of our status here. This, in my opinion, would be a genuine “thank you” for what Britain has done for us. After all, this is the country where we eat, work and sleep. It is, therefore, our home. But to those fellow immigrants who would not agree with this statement because it threatens their sense of identity, I would say: never forget: Britain has, at least, provided you with a home. And the least you could do to enjoy it, is get on well with the members of your new family.

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