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The deaths of another 27 migrants who were trying to cross the Channel is a scar on our consciences

In his speech to the annual Labour party conference in October 2001, the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair described the state of poverty in Africa as "a scar on our consciences".

On the contrary, I believe that the real scar on England's consciences is the mistreatment of those attempting to enter the country in search of political asylum. The blatant disregard of the plight of asylum seekers resulted in the death of 27 migrants in the English Channel off the coast of Calais when their dinghy sank on the 25th of November.

In 2000, the United Nations General Assembly declared the 18th of December to be International Migrants Day, marking a day every year to reflect on the role of migrants in our societies, their positive contributions, and the challenges they face in achieving their full potential and capabilities. 

This year, we will pass the day grieving and struggling to come to terms with the death of the 27 migrants, as well as the additional bad news that the Borders Bill has been voted through parliament, meaning we now fear the prospect of this becoming law. 

The Nationality and Borders Bill is a proposed Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom relating to immigration, asylum, and the UK’s modern slavery response. Many immigration campaigners are concerned that the Borders Bill will make it extremely difficult for those fleeing political persecution in their home countries to seek political asylum in the United Kingdom. Commenting on the Nationality and Borders Bill, Ana Banda, a Coventry-based immigrant from Malawi, said “the bill is shocking, I still have hope that it will be reversed”.  

I, too, dread the  prospect of this draconian bill becoming law. I believe immigrants are making positive contributions to the UK economy. 

According to a report published by the Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration (CReAM) at University College London, immigrants from outside the EU countries made a net fiscal contribution of about £5.2 billion, thus paying into the economy about 3 percent more than they took out. In contrast, over the same period, natives made an overall negative fiscal contribution of £616.5 billion. The report showed that immigrants to the UK who arrived since the year 2000 have consistently made positive fiscal contributions regardless of their area of origin. 

Similarly, a 2010 research paper observed that immigrants – particularly highly-skilled immigrants - play a positive role in productivity developments in industries which are classified as ‘skill intensive’. In many innovation-intensive sectors, cross-border flows of people and hence ideas and knowledge make important contributions to innovation and thereby contribute to growth in output and productivity

An immigrant nurse from South Africa, Thandiwe Khumalo, told me that she is very happy working as a nurse in the UK, and she also believes that the NHS would struggle to provide nursing services without migrant nurses like her. “Like other nurses and medical workers in UK hospitals, I am contributing vital services through working in the NHS,” Thandiwe said.

In another interview, a migrant key worker at a nursing home in Birmingham, Shuvai Dambaza, said that she strongly believes that care homes in the UK would struggle to cope with demand for social care services in the absence of the services that are being provided by migrant care workers like her. “In recent years, I have noticed that there is a significant increase in the number of migrant care workers at the many residential care homes where I have worked in the UK,” Shuvai said.

Against the backdrop of the research findings mentioned earlier and the views of the two health and social care workers I interviewed, I am of the strong opinion that migrant workers are a solution to the challenges facing the social care sector in the UK. In this regard, it is indeed unfortunate to witness the approval by MPs of the Home Secretary’s controversial Nationality and Borders Bill that will make it difficult for vulnerable people to seek asylum in the UK. (This legislation will now pass to the House of Lords.) In view of these figurative walls being built by the Home Office, there is now more need than ever for progressive forces in this country to discuss ways to invest in integration at the local level to support migrants and create cohesive communities.  

As we mark International Migrants Day on the 18th of December, we should remember with sadness the deaths of the desperate migrants, who included five women and a girl, who were trying to cross to the UK in search of a better life. The day is also a reminder that human rights are not ‘earned’ by virtue of being a hero or a victim, but are an entitlement of everyone, regardless of origin, age, gender, and status. 

The theme for this year’s International Migrants Day is #ItTakesACommunity. It reminds us of our interdependence, our common humanity, and the unique contributions we collectively make to our shared communities.

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About the author

Selbin Kabote is a Zimbabwean-born Birmingham based journalist. Selbin has worked for many years as a media trainer in the UK. He worked with migrants and asylum seekers to arm them with the media tools that they need to speak in the media and in public life. The tools also enable them to create their own media platforms for the purpose of telling their stories.

Before coming to the UK many years ago, Selbin worked as a Sub-Editor for the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation-ZBC in Zimbabwe and as a journalist producer for the external broadcaster of the South African Broadcasting Corporation - Channel Africa in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Selbin is an activist who believes in the power of highlighting positive arguments for migration as he is of the strong opinion that many migrants who come to settle in the UK have the will and capacity to make the country a great place.

This article is part of our Voices of the Economy series. The project brings together the economic experiences and opinions of people from a range of different backgrounds and showcases voices which are not heard as often when we talk about the economy. To find out more and share your own story, click here.

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