"Planes of them" we were told by one lot. "A crisis waiting" others told us. Some even suggested for we should lock up our children and hide. This is how some corners of the UK media brought in 2014 by perpetuating an ideological agenda aimed at yet again clouding the debate over immigration. Since my last article on why this debate needed to be based on facts and figures, it's become evident that fiction and exaggeration are yet again prevailing when it comes to discussing immigration.
As someone who moved away from the motherland last year to gain experience of working overseas I now class myself as an immigrant, because that's exactly what I am. I don't buy this idea of being a "British expat" living abroad - it's a term that we will only apply to ourselves to shake off the immigrant label, yet we never hear of the "Romanian expats", or the "Italian expats" who live and work in the UK. We never hear complaints from the Spanish media about the 1million British who live in Spain, often in communities with other Brits. Yet the UK media obsess over stories of people claiming they are, "strangers in their own communities" with lots of lots of strange foods being sold in markets. We never hear grumblings when British people go abroad to live in the South of France and don't bother to learn the language or buy UK products from specialist shops. Yet the Secretary of Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles boldly declared last year that, "immigrants must learn English". And unsurprisingly enough we never hear of the thousands of young people who head to the Mediterranean each summer to find work in bars as "stealing local jobs", yet that's the exact response a 20 year old job seeker from Bucharest would be given were they to move to the Brighton to work in a coffee shop.
When I moved to Belgium my understanding of both French and Dutch was somewhat limited but I have been learning and slowly I am getting better - although I will forever have a little chuckle at the Dutch word for art (go look it up for yourself). I have mostly socialised with people who have moved from the UK and buy the odd box of Twinings tea in the specialist shop near me. Moreover, a few months ago I began looking for another internship in Brussels which I was lucky enough to get - would I therefore be accused of stealing opportunities for Belgians? I also benefit from the public services on offer from the Belgian federal government such as subsidised health care, yet I have never been branded a "benefit tourist". I am no different to someone who has moved to the UK for the first time or the other 2.2million other Brits living elsewhere in the EU - yet the response the majority of us immigrants receive is a welcoming one from locals, which is in stark contrast to the situation for those moving to the UK.
The tone of some stories printed in our national press have been disgraceful in condemning entire nations to being made up of criminal, low-skilled citizens who are not fit to live on our so-called island utopia. One Daily Mail article informed us all by stating: "The influx of Romanian migrants has led to an explosion in crime in this country". I how wonder would the tabloid press react if the Spanish government flirted with the idea of limiting the number of Brits who were allowed to live in the Costa del Sol because they were all lager louts who were too rowdy? Or how Conservative backbenches would greet the news of France clamping down on Brits living there because they made no effort to integrate within local communities?
As a child I was always told not to have double standards, as it wasn't only impolite, it was plain stupid. But that's exactly what's happening with how with the tone of debate that some in the media are pushing, downright idiotic and based on mere scaremongering. We cannot allow the UK to become isolated by pushing away immigrants who bring talent, knowledge and skills to our nation's economy - exactly like the millions of Brits who take their home-grown talent all across the world in search of a new challenge.
It's at this point that we need to remind ourselves that geographically we may be on our own, but as John Donne wrote, "No man is an island".