A while ago, I put up a FB post asking if we weren’t we all migrants in some form? I found this was an emotional topic and not everyone agreed with exactly who/ what a migrant is. When I met fellow author Jule Owen, we got to talking about this and she said that not too many people in the UK today can claim to be ‘pure’ British for most are migrants in some form. Coming from someone who I perceived as being as close to 100% British as possible, I was intrigued and asked her to write about it. This is what she said:
There’s been a lot of discussion recently about migrants and refugees, with wildly differing sentiments and opinions on how to handle the refugee crisis mainly caused by the situation in Syria, but augmented by political and environmental crises in many other countries.
London is full of migrants. It’s hard to go anywhere without seeing a representation of the many faces of the world. I grew up in a white northern working class environment, which even before I understood what I really felt, I found stifling and limited. Personally, I have benefitted hugely from the melting-pot diversity of London. I have made friends who have enriched my life with their different stories of the places they grew up in, their families and their cultures, different to mine. I experience that difference as something that adds to, not detracts from my own story. But I also find a ridiculous amount of common ground, shared beliefs and experience. We all share the same basic emotions, hopes and fears and we all have the same basic needs. The difference has always been like spice to me. Homogeny is something I find at best dull and at the worst frightening.
But many people find this diversity threatening. Some people, a sizable minority it turns out, want to shut down the country to new-comers altogether.
I’m not going to debate the particular issue of the Syrian refugees here, but the issue has acted as a catalyst for a debate that was already brewing through the general election. I happened to be travelling throughout the south of England during the election and I was dismayed to see the amount of UKIP signs around. The reason for the trip was partly to start to find somewhere other than London to live. And I realised that these places, with the UKIP signs, could never be home to me. I am a white, middle class British woman, and I find UKIP Britain a foreign country. What’s more so do my other white, middle class friends. London does that to you. It changes you for life. In this particular way, I wish the whole world could be a bit more London.
This whole experience has made me really think about what is going on when people want to return Britain to being British. Do they mean return it to being “white”? UKIP doesn’t seem to like central and eastern Europeans either, from what I understand. So is it some kind of family tree thing? Do you have to have a purely British family history to avoid deportation? I have a very British family tree, but a number of my best friends are descended from German Jewish migrants, or have various Europeans in their ancestry. And how far back do we go? Four generations? Ten? Who decides?
Perhaps it’s because I have a leaning towards science and history that the notion of a “pure” Britain irritates me. There’s simply no such thing in fact. It’s nonsense. Britain is a country made up of migrants. As is every other country in the world, barring, ironically, some small communities in Africa, where people haven’t actually moved much for tens of thousands of years.
We all came out of Africa, in several waves of migration. We moved about over thousands of years. The first human settlers to Britain were Neanderthals, not Homo sapiens. The first settlers of our species relocated from what is now the coast of Spain. People buried at Stonehenge, have been DNA tested and a proportion of them came from Europe.
There was a surprisingly large amount of travel from Europe to prehistoric Britain, in varying numbers. One of these latter groups, settled only a few hundred years before the Romans came. We call them the Celts. Many of us like to think of them as the true British people. But they were migrants too.
The Romans stayed here for five hundred years, their soldiers were from all over their Empire, including, get this, Syrians. Inevitably, their soldiers stayed and married and had children with the locals. So some fine “British” people are almost certainly walking around with the blood of ancient Syrian soldiers pulsing through them.
Then there’s the Saxons from Germany, and the Angles from the small strip of land between Denmark and Germany, from where England gets it’s name and the term Anglo-Saxon comes. So our names for ourselves are even European.
Then there were the Vikings, of course, from which large numbers of people on the Eastern side of the country are actually proud to be descended even though they were slave traders, psychotic thugs, common thieves and rapists.
Then there was the Norman invasion and the language of government became French for four hundred years – hence the “English” language having over 100,000 French derived words in it. Things settled down after that, but there has always been a steady stream of incomers.
In the sixteenth century, England took in Huguenot (French protestant) and Flemish refugees, fleeing religious persecution. Their arrival caused an economic boom, as they brought superior lace making skills with them. Dutch settlers to East Anglia, brought land drainage expertise, which turned swampy ground into highly productive arable farms.
Should we have turned away Nathan Mayer Rothschild, a German Jew from Frankfurt, when he came to Manchester at the end of the eighteenth century? Not only did he start a business empire that made his family – at its peak - the richest in modern history, he also financed the Battle of Waterloo.
Last year, the CBI Director General, John Cridland, drew attention to the hard economic benefits of immigration to Britain, saying that it had actually helped keep economic recovery on course. Research from UCL shows that migrants from the EU, make a positive net contribution to the economy of £2,732 per year.
Angela Merkel may have come across as the most compassionate politician in Europe recently, but I really don’t think her decision was just about morality and German history. I think she understands that Germany needs educated, self-motivated young people to help its economy, especially as its own population is dwindling. I think she understands migration is essential to the health of a country. Personally, I just think it’s what we do as humans. We are all migrants.
About Jule Owen
Jule Owen was born in the North of England, somewhere between Snowdonia, the Irish Sea and the Pennines, and now lives in London, UK. She spent many years working in online technology, latterly in the video games industry and is fascinated by science, technology and futurology. Her books are her creative response to the exponential growth of technological innovation in the era of climate change. Find Jule Owen on her website
Buy her new scifi, time-travel novel, The Boy who fell to Earth >