Politicians and the media have a lot to say - mostly negative - about “refugees” or “asylum seekers”. What they never say is that in reality the people of Britain are made up of successive waves of refugee immigrants and that in the last few centuries millions of people have left Britain as refugees for other countries.
IMMIGRANTS TO BRITAIN
Ever since prehistoric times successive waves of people have migrated from Europe into the British Isles: Celts, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Danes, Normans - as many of our surnames indicate. More recently, in the seventeenth century hundreds of thousands French Protestants, Huguenots, fled to England to escape religious persecution. Their energy and initiative made an important contribution to the industrial revolution and their French surnames are still widespread, e.g. Courtauld, the textile firm.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries millions of Irish people had to flee their homeland because of the political-religious persecution and economic exploitation they suffered at the hands of the English ruling class. Paradoxically, many of them came to England where they made up an important part of the industrial working class required by the growing industrial economy. Many people in Britain have Irish surnames which means that a considerable percentage of the population are at least partly of Irish descent. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries hundreds of thousand of Jews fleeing persecution in the Russian Empire settled here and made a significant contribution to business and the professions.
After World War II, tens of thousands of displaced Poles and Ukrainians settled in Britain, especially in the East Midlands. Also large numbers from the Caribbean and the Indian sub-continent were encouraged by the Government and employers to come to Britain to fill the growing labour shortage, especially in public services. In recent years many poor migrants from Eastern Europe have come here to do low-paid work.
There was never an original, “authentic” British people. Rather we are made up of successive waves of immigrants and the knowledge and skills they have brought are one of our strengths.
MIGRANTS FROM BRITAIN
Over the centuries millions of people have left Britain because of political, religious and economic pressures. It was from villages in North Notts that the religious dissenters who became known as the Pilgrim Fathers set out for America to live free from the religious persecution they suffered in England. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries hundreds of thousand of Scots had to leave because of the “clearances” by wealthy landlords driving them out of their farms and many Welsh people migrated, e.g. to Patagonia, at least partly because of attempts by the British state to suppress their language.
In England the major factor driving millions to migrate in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was poverty. Hardship and destitution drove them to seek new lives in countries such as the USA, Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Latin America, etc.. Within living memory many orphaned children were forcibly resettled in Australia. For these reasons many of us have kin, both near and distant, in many of these countries. Even today tens of thousands of people leave the UK every year in search of better lives abroad.
Over the years, Britain has received many refugees but let us not forget that many refugees from Britain - political, religious, economic - have been received and accepted in many other countries.
LET’S STAND TOGETHER
The descendants of refugees should be sympathetic to the plight of refugees. If people in Britain in the past had not accepted previous “asylum seekers” - our ancestors - then many of us would not be here now! Some politicians try to distinguish “genuine asylum seekers” from “economic migrants”. Most of the migrants trying to get into Britain now from places such as the Middle East and parts of Africa are fleeing poverty, but poverty brought about by political and religious strife. It is a spurious distinction and we should not fall for it. Instead, we should welcome desperate people less fortunate than ourselves. That’s what many of our ancestors did and many others of our ancestors were accepted elsewhere. We should do the same.
The media are always coming out with scare stories about immigrants taking away jobs and homes from people already here. Racists and fascists latch onto this propaganda to try to stir up hatred against some ethnic groups. These attempts to divide and rule are a diversion from the problems which threaten us all: falling real incomes, unemployment and housing shortages. We should not be taken in but stand together to defend ourselves against those who want to divide us.
PEOPLE IN BRITAIN:
UNITE AND FIGHT!