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HomeNewsIn the limbo of a lost past, migrants are the Nowhere People

In the limbo of a lost past, migrants are the Nowhere People


THE West’s elites are secure in their belief that allowing mass immigration is a humanitarian duty that allows people to escape war, persecution, poverty and any number of things we ourselves are busy legislating out of existence on our voyage to Utopia.

It’s been going on since the end of the Second World War, long enough for us to have strong ideas about how it has worked out. The open borders movement has no doubts, but take a pause. Has anyone ever polled immigrants to find out whether they were satisfied they’d made the right move; or their children about whether their parents were right to abandon homelands that anchored their identity?

Putting aside people like Afua Hirsch and Naga Munchetty who wear their grievances like stigmata, I don’t recall immigrants’ feelings playing much part in the debate, although the question of their satisfaction is of prime importance for them and us. On the answer depends the moral legitimacy of open borders in the West, now encouraged by a UN treaty that Mrs May signed.

Under this treaty, people have a right to emigrate and we have a duty to admit them to our countries regardless of random circumstances like economic crisis or Covid. 

The pro-immigrant lobby talk about migrant bravery in making a dangerous journey; their abuse by traffickers; the living conditions in camps where they stay while waiting for a country to take them in; the struggle for acceptance when they get there, but not so much about whether it was worthwhile over the long haul. Is drab Bradford really better than exotic Peshawar when you’re poor in both but at home in the latter?

It’s something we need to know about, since immigration will be reshaping Britain for years to come and will define whether it is a peaceful and contented place for us all to live together.

The question interests me because I have been a serial immigrant myself, although always a privileged one. Over the years, I have come to realise I’ve been affected, as have my family, by a sense of rootlessness and loss of identity of which I’m conscious every day.

We’re neither one thing nor t’other, which puts us in the same boat as immigrants of every social condition except, perhaps, the jet set who are equally at home in New York, London and Shanghai, never staying anywhere permanently. They don’t exchange country A for country B and that’s that.

I was born in England but grew up in Scotland, where it was made very clear to me by other children I was a foreigner. When I went to London as a Scot, accent and all, I learned I was still a foreigner whom the locals found hard to understand. 

Later, for work, I lived for years at a time in five different European countries where I thought my foreignness didn’t matter. It was later that I realised I was deluding myself. My identity had gradually dissolved. If I went back to Scotland now and said I was a Scot, I can imagine the response – a polite but dry ‘aye, right’.

For the last 20 years, we’ve lived in south west France, where we’re fluent and fit in. But there are daily reminders that we’re foreign and always will be. To our friendly neighbours, we are les Anglais. When asked, I say I’m Scottish, which goes down well with people who have the 100 Years War in their DNA, but what I feel is stateless – nowhere man.

Nowhere man. That’s a terrible thing to be if you’re a second or third generation kid of Algerian origin in a Parisian banlieue or a Pakistani teenager born in Wolverhampton, feeling the pull of elsewhere and of Islam and finding it hard to rationalise your foreignness. 

I think also of my own children, who were born in England but never lived there and will never be truly French. Being foreign is something you can’t escape. Even the US, famous as a melting pot, is peopled by hyphenated Americans who’ve never fully left their origins behind.

Politicians and journalists talk about the wonderful addition immigrants make to our diversity and our economy. They waffle in the language of blah-blah that magically smooths the rough corners of all difficult questions about housing, social services, education and becoming someone new and not quite authentic.

How many immigrants do they know other than those who’ve made it through our system to jobs in politics and the media and are just like us, except that they’re not really? Apologies for returning to Afua Hirsch, but she’s had every privilege England could bestow and lives here, but is not English and doesn’t seem to want to be. I think her confusion is understandable.

What they don’t talk about is what immigrants, some lured by naïvely impossible dreams, have given up without realising that home was unique. Heritage, language, extended family, the house you lived in, the smell of a country, the landscape, the weather, the naturalness and familiarity of it. All the things that made you you and an essential part of a coherent whole.

Immigrants abandon all this to come to Europe, where many will live only marginally better in material terms. They can gather in ghettos, as many do, and try to keep up with the old ways, but it can’t be the same. 

It must border on the schizophrenic for their children who live dual lives inside and outside the home and community. The official ideology of multiculturalism instructs them that fitting in is optional. What’s a teenager to make of that?

We’ve known since Windrush that the real problems arise with the second and subsequent generations. Their parents belonged to the newly-dead empire and were intimidated by the overwhelmingly white and not always welcoming mother country. Their children ask ‘where and who the hell are we?’ 

The media pretended to be astonished that the young men of Pakistani origin who attacked London transport in 2005, killing 56 people, had seemed to be so integrated, so English. They were kidding only themselves. They saw brown Englishmen. The suicide bombers saw an alien way of life that was intolerable.

An 18-year-old Chechen immigrant to France has just decapitated a teacher who had shown the Prophet Muhammad cartoons of Charlie Hebdo fame to his class. Whatever drove the boy to this horrific act, it wasn’t religious piety.

Very different peoples are moving around the world in large numbers. They don’t know us and we don’t know them. History tells us that different cultures mix like oil and water. Homogenous societies have always worked best. Despite that, immigration is the official policy of the EU and UN. 

This is the ugly underbelly of the concept of immigration. Its supporters here blame the associated problems on white privilege. If we could just be a little bit less British, even a bit more like them. But whiteness isn’t the problem. It’s the loss of belonging, which is priceless. 

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Donald Forbes
Donald Forbes
Donald Forbes is a retired Anglo-Scottish journalist now living in France who during a 40-year career worked in eastern Europe before and after communism.

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