Every time I pick up the paper or turn on the television it seems that someone somewhere is claiming that Britain is drowning in a sea of immigrants, who are threatening our economy- not to mention diluting and suppressing our ‘cultural values’. Indeed from Nick Robinson’s ‘Truth About Immigration’ to Nigel Farage’s regular appearances all over the news stations, barely a day goes by when we can avoid getting cannonballed with statistics and opinions trying to tell us what to think about immigration.
This has been particularly evident in the past few weeks as Britain has lifted working restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian workers. On New Year’s Day the more news attentive of you may have noticed the heated debates and flood of hysterical reactions across the media, with some expecting the number of immigrants to reach far above 50,000 over the course of the new year period. Come the New Year, this expectation failed to materialise. The number put down to “hysteria and hyperbole made principally by UKIP and fear of UKIP”, according to Atul Hatwal, of the Migration Matters Trust.
Indeed Nigel Farage graced our television sets with a recent appearance in which he claims Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech was “true” to large portions of the country. Agreeing with Powell’s statement in his 1968 speech stating that, due to increases in immigration, the indigenous population will find “their wives unable to obtain hospital beds in childbirth, their children unable to obtain school places, their homes and neighbourhoods changed beyond recognition, their plans and prospects for the future defeated…”
While politicians are busy engaging in heated debates over the ideal immigration policy for Britain (i.e. the one that will get the most votes in 2015), and the media is constantly pushing for the most controversial views on the topic they can manage, the hysteria is largely ignoring the effect on the young people of Britain. Young people contacting ChildLine for counselling about racist bullying in 2013 is up 69 per cent on the previous 12 months, with more than 1,400 children complaining of such issues, coinciding with a rise in immigration discussions. Indeed Sue Minto, head of ChildLine, has stated that “There’s so much more of a focus in the news at the moment about immigrants… it’s a real discussion topic and children aren’t immune to the conversations that happen around them.” and “Some children are being told, even if they’re UK born, to pack your bags and go back where you belong. It is very worrying, it’s a big increase. This past year, it really seems to be something children and young people are suffering with.”
Additionally, ChildLine has noted a particular increase in Islamophobic incidents, as have the charity Show Racism The Red Card (SRTRC). James Kingett, of SRTRC, said: “We work with around 50,000 young people every year and issues around Islamophobia have been very prevalent over the past 12 to 18 months. That idea that all Muslims are terrorists or bombers is a particular problem. We’re getting that from kids with no Muslim classmates through to those in diverse schools with many Muslims.” The effect of media is also seen as a problem for SRTRC, Kingett adding: “The rhetoric at the moment around immigration is incredibly pervasive. The prominence of the immigration debate may have had a knock-on effect, filtering down in classrooms.” He also mentions the impact of far-right organisations such as the English Defence League as a contributing factor in the rise of racist bullying towards young people.
It is clear that debates over immigration are not happening in a vacuum, for British adult eyes only. It is also evident that the debate is often misrepresented, with politicians such as Nigel Farage taking centre stage in many interviews, while moderate voices are ignored due to fear they may not entice as many viewers. I’m not calling for a curtailment of free speech, but variety of opinions and a greater emphasis on fact over conjecture in our media is definitely needed. If not to give us a break from seeing Nigel Farage on our television who knows, it might just might a child’s life easier?