Why Celebrating Migrants Is Not Enough

March for Migrant Rights, London Oct 7, 2006Hansika Jethnani, NCAFC International Students’ Rep & NUS International Students’ Committee

Tomorrow, a national day of action has been called, One Day Without Us to celebrate the contribution of migrants to the UK, and to reject the politics of division and hatred. While it is important to recognize the fact that migrants do contribute to society, it is far more vital that we stand up for their rights in our campuses and beyond; and debunk the racist policies of the Home Office.

Celebrations are all well and good but are not enough. The benefits of globalisation and multiculturalism cannot be seen by many. To someone who works over 50 hours a week on two minimum wage jobs to support their family, the ‘wonderful contributions of migrants’ to the economy cannot be felt. The economic discontent faced by many, which so often translates into anti-migrant sentiments, is a result of the failures of liberalism to address wealth inequality, a scenario which is replicated across the world; one which has everything to do with capitalism and colonialism.

Wealth inequalities have never been tackled by ‘liberal’ governments in power.  From Obama’s administration to Blair’s Labour party, these people spent more time cozying up with multinational corporations, putting their business interests at the expense of the socially ostracized. And it is this very liberal mindset, combined with pandering to nationalism and fear mongering that has resulted in the current political climate – a fascist elected as a president of the United States and Brexit whose slogan was ‘Take Back Control’ winning an election.

Moreover, migrants dropping everything to risk their lives in search of better opportunities, is a result of the global crisis of neoliberalism and the remnants of colonisation. The understanding of this is always left out when speaking about migrants. The conversation around immigration needs to move from celebratory to truly highlighting the austerity policies of governments that have left so many people feeling disenfranchised. There is also a need to unite in our struggles: the exploitation of labour faced by a migrant worker is the same exploitation faced by a white British worker, cuts to public services affect migrants and UK citizens alike.

We need a movement that stands up for all migrants and fights against the global crisis of neoliberalism; not one that allies with our Vice Chancellors and big corporations who value immigrants for the wrong reasons. What we need is not nice words from bosses but radical self-organisation, migrants standing up for their own rights and against the rise of racism and fascism.

Because valuing Internationalism is so much more than celebrating the contributions that immigrants bring to society, and this is what we need to be speaking about, in our campuses and on the streets. Join the walk-outs tomorrow!

We must reject the “good vs. bad migrant” rhetoric

good vs bad migrantsAna Oppenheim, Arts SU Campaigns Officer & NUS National Exec

International students are not real migrants, are they? They only come here for a few years and leave. They pay lots of money and fund our universities. They don’t steal anyone’s jobs, are usually middle-class, well-behaved and widely accepted by society. This is why we should defend them.

These sorts of arguments will sound all too familiar to many of us. It comes as no surprise when they are used by MPs and Vice-Chancellors. Sadly, in one form or another, they are often also put forward by representatives of the UCU and sections of the student movement, usually when arguing that international students should be removed from migration statistics.

“Students coming into our country are not migrants, but here to study,” we hear, as if attacks on international students were happening in isolation from the government’s anti-migrant agenda. Yet visa restrictions, NHS charges, landlord checks, and the threat of linking international recruitment to TEF are policies motivated by racism – the same racism that’s behind laws targeting other immigrants in the UK.

A lot of the arguments used to defend international students fit into the wider narrative into migration, where our worth depends on how much we “contribute,” usually followed by “to the economy.” Migrants are good, we hear, because they are doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, or at least clean our streets – not because they are people who deserve the same rights and freedoms as everyone else. Similarly, a common case for supporting international students is that they “fund our universities” – instead of questioning the sky-high fees that students are charged in the first place.

Another common trope is basing a defence of migrants on how much their stories can move hearts, or how well they fit into society’s idea of a perfect citizen. Child refugees are welcome as long as they’re small and cute, not when they look like young men. Anti-deportation campaigns often emphasise that the person at risk is a “good student” and “popular in their community” as if whether or not one deserves basic rights depended on how well they do on their course or how many friends they have. Speaking of international students, many bring up reports about the British public’s positive attitudes towards them, when making a case for less restrictive policies. These arguments pander to existing prejudices and do nothing to challenge hate against the majority of migrants.

We will not effectively fight back by dividing migrants into good and bad, worthy or unworthy, students and workers. Our humanity does not depend on respectability or on how effectively we can be exploited. We can only effectively defend international students by combating racism and xenophobia in all their forms. We need to unite our forces with those facing the same struggles and strive for a world without discrimination based on nationality. There are no good or bad migrants but there are good and bad arguments.