A piece I wrote on the rhetoric around immigration used by politicians and the media and the need for an alternative narrative was published last week on openDemocracy.
Most people, apparently, agree that immigration is out of control in the UK. Supposedly we all think immigrants are to blame for lack of jobs and housing. Public opinion seems strongly behind harsh measures being taken to stop immigration. This scapegoating and stereotyping of migrant groups is becoming an ever more prominent feature of British life.
Politicians and the press are locked in a cycle of ever-heightening anti-immigrant rhetoric that they present as ‘what people really think.’ The current debate does not address how government and media have been instrumental in the creation of anti-immigrant narratives.
Media outlets often inflate or speculate about numbers of asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants. Newspaper and TV images play into the dominant stereotype of the young dangerous man breaking into Britain and threatening ‘our’ communities. 31 percent of headlines and 53 percent of text about asylum across all newspapers has negative connotations. Language used to describe immigration is highly hostile across all newspaper types, with ‘illegal’ and ‘bogus’ the most commonly used terms to describe immigrants and asylum seekers.
In addition to mis-reporting, there is also ‘over-reporting’. In 2002, for example, 25 percent of Daily Mail and 24 percent of Daily Express articles were about asylum.
Challenging this thinking seems hopeless, but each of us can start by refusing to use terms such as ‘illegal’, ‘bogus’ or ‘criminal’. In doing so at an individual level, we start to reconceptualise a range of experiences of migration that fall outside easy labeling. This avoids inaccurate generalisations that allow separation of immigrants into a class of people seen as sub-human. In this way, we move from encouraging and colluding with the exercise of state power to actively resisting it.
For more information, do follow Action Against Racism and Xenophobia, read Bad News for Refugees and look through the Migrants’ Rights Network website. For voices of immigrants themselves (seldom heard in public debate on this), I recommend reading Migrant Voice.