Manchester and Liverpool are amongst the most diverse cities in Europe with Liverpool being one of the few places in Britain where ethnic minority populations can be traced back over dozens of generations. Its location as a port city looking towards Dublin has resulted in a significant ethnic Irish population, many of whom built our roads, railways, and canals. The city is also home to one of the first ever Afro-Caribbean communities in the UK, as well as in Europe.
During the Industrial Revolution, hundreds of thousands of Welsh people migrated to the North West of England to work in the coal mines. They made their homes in Liverpool, Chester, Skelmersdale, Widnes, Halewood, Wallasey, Ashton-in-Makerfield, and Birkenhead, places that all still have notably high populations with Welsh ancestry. More recently Liverpool was one of the first cities to publicly state it would welcome and is providing sanctuary for those who fled the Taliban, including many women and children.
Meanwhile, Manchester enjoys the status of being one of the most linguistically diverse cities in Europe with more than 200 different languages being spoken on the city streets according to a report that published its findings in 2013.
The Great Atlantic Migration from Europe to North America which began in the 1840s remains the largest mass migration in history with approximately 30 million people leaving their homes for a ‘better life’, a large proportion of whom were from Ireland and Germany. Meanwhile the forced migration of 12.5 million enslaved Africans to plantations across the Americas denuded the continent of human capital along with aggressive colonial plundering of natural resources and cultural artefacts.
Migration issues today
Fast forward to the 21st century where the effects of climate change along with seemingly intractable conflicts in Africa and the Middle East have resulted in an influx of refugees, asylum seekers, and people desperate to escape unsustainable lives.
We should note, however, that those without citizenship both here and in the EU face an uncertain future with limited access to services, not being allowed to work, and forced to live on state benefits and charity, often subject to appalling racism. The asylum process can take years meaning that people seeking sanctuary live in a prolonged state of anxiety not knowing if they will be deported back to the countries from which they fled.
This is of particular concern in respect of women who are likely to have experienced sexual violence at every stage of their journey. The situation of LGBTQ+ is also concerning as many countries remain dangerous for non-binary people. African Rainbow is an organisation dedicated to supporting LGBTQ+ people of African heritage and the wider Black and Asian Minority Ethnic groups with a base in Manchester.
The Greater Manchester Muslim-Jewish Forum is a shining example of how people from different ethnicities and faiths can live together in harmony and share each other’s culture. The Forum organises events to mark religious festivals with visits to mosques and synagogues, film screenings, picnics, quizzes and so on. Forum members stand together against all forms of hatred, mindful of the pain and suffering caused by violent and genocidal acts such as the massacre in Srebrenica and recent terrorist attacks including the murder of Jo Cox.
A crisis of solidarity
We need to remind ourselves that the European project was born from the ashes of two world wars which saw mass displacement, as well as the murder of six million Jews, and more than half a million Roma, along with thousands of gay men, trade unionists and people with disabilities.
Up until 1941 Hitler encouraged Jewish families to emigrate, with 340,000 abandoning their homes and businesses in Germany and Austria to escape an increasingly hostile environment. Sadly, a majority of the 100,000 who relocated to other European countries ended up in death camps and many who travelled further afield were refused entry. This included passengers on the Saint Louis which had sailed from Hamburg to Florida in the hope of docking in Cuba but was then turned back. Of the 908 passengers, 254 are known to have subsequently died in the Holocaust.
If European (and ergo British) values mean anything they should motivate us to create a culture of welcome for those forced to leave their homes. Instead, we see pushback in the English Channel, barbed wire fences in Croatia, Danish revocation of residence for Syrian refugees, the criminalisation of humanitarians, and the instrumentalisation of the crisis by populist leaders such as Orban and the Belarusian dictator Lukashenko.
When it comes to refugees there is a crisis of solidarity in Europe and the UK’s reluctance to properly participate in European and global agreements regarding shared responsibility for the world’s most desperate people is a stain on our country. This is particularly shameful in the case of unaccompanied child refugees who could face a raft of highly suspect and invasive procedures such as x-rays and dental examination as part of an age-assessment process if Priti Patel’s nationality and borders bill progresses in its current form.
We need better migration policies
Pre-pandemic more than 50 percent of those on the move across the world were women and children. With an ageing population threatening to destabilise labour markets in Europe, we need to increase the pool of those willing to roll up their sleeves and join the workforce. During my time as an MEP and subsequently working for City of Sanctuary, I met many skilled and entrepreneurial migrants, and bright, intelligent refugee children desperate to be in school in the hope of eventually going to university so they could become doctors and engineers amongst other things.
Forward-thinking migration and integration policies would see these migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers not as problems or a threat to our European societies but as part of the solution to creating a safe, secure, prosperous, and more equal society.
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