The upcoming UK general election appears to be too close to call. Regardless of who wins on May 7th, it is clear that one of the issues that has been contentious in the run up to but also after the elections, will be the issue of 'migrants' / diaspora / expats or whatever the terminology that is issued to describe them. Whilst UKIP is guilty of shamelessly playing the migrant card to a dangerously xenophobic level, the other political parties haven't really shied away from the debate, knowing that in the fluctuating economic climate, migrants become easy whipping boys. In addition certain elements of the media led by certain individuals have succeeded on jumping on an anti migrant train for their own commercial and publicity interests. If you are part of this loud club of minority opinion, then it is clear that migrants are a problem!
Yet the reality as is often the case is a marked 180 degree opposite of what these shrill voices claim it is. Few campaigns have sought to address the issues of migration and diaspora such as the campaign called "I am an Immigrant" which had recent posters on London undergrounds. There have been few studies that have also attempted to look at the positive contributions not only for migrants or diaspora towards the UK, but how they also contribute greatly (and by extension, promote a greater UK investment) in their countries of origin.
One such small piece of work undertaken in the last 2 years has tried to highlight the contributions of around 2.8 million people of the diaspora communities in the UK and makes for very interesting reading. If understood it potentially has implications for how such communities' social capital can be expanded for greater contriution to the UK and how the UK govt can extend its 'development footprint' in many countries around the world that it supports with overseas development assistance (ODA).
The work carried out by the organisation BUILD (Building Understanding through International Links for Development) entitled BUKDIP (Building on UK Diaspora International Partnerships) Illustrates that whilst diaspora communities contribute nearly as much in remittances as the entire population contributes through the aid budget, they also contribute greatly to the UK. They are more likely than most to pay taxes and less likely to claim benefits; and, although only 4.4% of the population, they account for 9.7% of employees in strategically important sectors. These are important figures to be cognisant of in this upcoming elections because for example as the report claims, "If every member of the diaspora stopped working, the NHS and other parts of UK plc would collapse". Yet despite this, the poorly informed characterization in debates on migration, terrorism and welfare that sitgmatise diaspora and migrants, have allowed a disproportionate focus to be placed on the diaspora. This in turn has led to isolation from national and local government as well a decline in social cohesion. The threats to the diaspora where action was required from others include: Increased xenophobia, arising from attitudes to migration, terrorism and benefits debates; Misconceptions: e.g. "scrounger" imagery for good tax-payers and low benefit claimants
The report advocates for a new approach with regards the diaspora which involves the recognition of diaspora as an integral part of British society and for greater engagement with government and private sector. In doing this, there are opportunities for increased impacts. With more effective engagement with the diaspora, the UK government (and INGOs) can effectively extend their development / humanitarian footprint within countries of heritage. In addition, the social capital of the diaspora can be utilised to make positive contributions to the UK communities. For example the net contribution to the UK economy is £3 billion.
Yet there is a character to engaging with the diaspora playing field that complicates matters. The diaspora communities, whether they are numerous and powerful; a minority struggling for a voice; or even an influential tiny cadre, have undeniably, as strong a history of internecine strife and struggle as they do of cooperation and collaboration. They often bring with them conflicts from their countries of heritage or their vision of their country of heritage is frozen at the time in which people left. Thus they can be removed from some of the real grassroots and political dynamics taking place in their countries of heritage. Nevertheless it is against this framework of potential inter and intra disagreement and division, that there is a need to engage with diaspora organisations and build and sustain links with them. In addition, there should be linking, between and within diaspora communities-and certainly diaspora hub, to diaspora hub.
In this day and age, the notion of partnership though is that in reality no organisation can operate in isolation in today's complex world. The partnerships are about encouraging institutions to work across traditional boundaries to enhance their core competencies.
Genuine cross cultural, diaspora partnerships, give back to both donors and recipients, who realise that cultural contacts alter fundamentally the way in which they interact, giving them the power and strength to work cooperatively.