21/06/2016 12:46 BST | Updated 22/06/2017 06:12 BST

It's Time We Celebrate Immigration


Immigration has become one of the fundamental and most divisive issues in the EU referendum debate. Yet, immigrants who live in the UK are not being given a voice often enough to share their experiences at a time when it is more important than ever.

My parents are immigrants - a mix of German, Italian, French and a sprinkle of Polish. I've lived in the UK for almost all my life and I identify wholeheartedly as British. But I'm also European, an identity some Brits wish to reject.

This EU referendum has become about British identity - the social, economic and political underpinning of it and who qualifies to be a part of it. Between 1993 and 2014, the UK foreign-born population increased from 3.8 to around 8.3 million. It is clear that, over time, to be British is to be diverse.

Whilst it is highly contentious that leaving the EU will stop immigration and all the problems Brexiteers attribute to it, the increased focus on the issue has inflamed scaremongering that is detrimental to the public's view of immigrants.

UKIP's recent anti-migrant poster, which critics compared to Nazi propaganda footage, appears to be the peak of recent vitriolic depictions of immigration. As the daughter of immigrants, it is particularly uncomfortable and distressing. After all, how does this sort of antagonism manifest itself towards those already here?

Living in London, a melting pot of cultures, I spend every day surrounded by first, second, third generation immigrants like myself. Their ethnicity or place of birth is entirely irrelevant. Instead it is their varied perspectives and skills that enhance our ability to work, live and interact together.

Many of my friends and family who, like me, are first or second generation immigrants know well what it feels like to be asked over and over 'but where are you really from?' Many have experienced worse instances of xenophobia or racism. Often, this stems from a sheer lack of understanding of what it feels like to be told you don't belong and made to feel like an outsider. This can be particularly jarring when you have lived in the UK for decades or your whole life.

With current anti-immigration rhetoric that is being bandied around, there needs to be a counter-movement, embodied by the 'I Am An Immigrant' campaign which raises awareness of more accurate and positive images of immigrants in the UK. We should be proud to have immigrants all around us, contributing to our society and economy and creating the very fabric of modern Britain.

It is one of the hardest challenges anyone can face, to leave your home country and start afresh, a psychological and emotional adjustment you cannot ever fully understand until you do it yourself. Yet, it makes such a difference when some of those around you are welcoming and non-judgemental - an experience my parents had upon their arrival in the UK nearly 30 years ago.

In the coming weeks and months, I hope the public discourse will revive this country's tradition of inclusivity and open-mindedness, values that make me proud to be British. The loyalty and patriotism of immigrants is worth just as much as any British-born citizen. London Mayor Sadiq Khan spoke of his late Pakistani father throughout his campaign and said in his acceptance speech, "He would have been so proud today that the city he chose to call his home has now chosen one of his children to be the mayor." I hope more public figures will continue to celebrate immigration.

Let's remember it is the prospect of a better life or simply falling in love with this country, its people and all that it stands for which has brought immigrants like my parents to Britain for centuries. That is why many of us are here today.