I have just had an interview on BBC Radio 4, giving me a short opportunity to comment on the latest projections regarding migration published by Oxford University's Migration Observatory Team. Interesting research, although, as the authors admit themselves, not devoid of limitations. Fair enough. You cannot produce precise numbers, as people "come and go", a kind of revolving door situation, and if they come from the EU member states they can use IDs, not necessarily passports, they are not registered etc. So the figures are not national statistics and they exclude Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Besides, London is included, and, as we all know, capitals are always a sort of exception - global, international and more cosmopolitan.
What I could not say this morning because of a lack of time, was that I am worried because I am sure the headlines will be dominated by one piece of news: "Two thirds of migrants come from the member states of the EU". True - 366,000 out of 565,000, but, again, we will be dealing with another "negative narrative". Looking at other numbers in the study, you could form various other narratives, e.g. out of 7,902,000 "EU-born residents" amount to 2,347,000 and "Non-EU born residents" amount to 5,556,000. This could be interpreted as: "Only 30% of all foreign-born residents in England come from the EU member states".
So it is all in our minds. It depends how you approach the subject. In a globalised world, when you are part of the single market of the EU, people move much easier than in the past. Cheap flights, more opportunities etc. The UK grows faster than a lot of countries, creating jobs and prosperity. You need people to fill in "gaps" in the labour market, to contribute to the budget, to create more internal demand, higher exports and more new jobs.
But let me tell you about another narrative, as well. It is a "human narrative". I get a lot of letters from Poles living here. Some are happy, others are frustrated, some are successful, others are dissatisfied. One thing is certain. They feel they have found their second home here, for which they are grateful. They can build a better life in the UK, a country which they love, respect and admire. But they want something in return - respect for their hard work, more sympathy and understanding, more tolerance and appreciation. I was particularly moved by a letter from a Polish bus driver I received some time ago. Let me quote a few fragments.
Dear Mr. Ambassador,
I am 50 years old and since 2009 I have been working as a bus driver in the UK. The situation I am writing about was the final straw that led me to write this letter. Sadly, I am not the only person that is constantly humiliated during their work. You are my country's diplomatic representative and I believe you should be aware of this. On 23rd December 2014 I was driving the bus route 9. After skipping the Morrison's supermarket bus stop, somebody rang the bell. I heard some voices of discontent. The distance between this station and the next one is 0.1 miles, which is around a 3 minute walk (according to Google Maps). For this British passenger it was enough to make a fuss and insult me. When getting off the bus the passenger and his wife called me "f... Polish bull", "f...Polish bus driver" and "f... idiot".
Mr Ambassador, this happens to me almost every single day. Similar insults are uttered by 12 year old children as well as adults. The company's executives express their regret, but sweep the issue under the carpet. I reported the issue to the Police. I do not know the reason for the bell malfunctioning. It might have been a temporary defect or the passenger applying insufficient pressure on the button. The buses are equipped with CCTV, so hopefully everything will be clarified in the investigation. If it was my fault, I will of course apologise. Nonetheless, this cannot continue! I submit this protest to you, the representative of my country. We work and live here legally. I am asking you to note down my case in your statistical data as another example of insult against Polish citizens. I spend up to 13 hours a day at work (of course including the mandatory break for drivers). Moreover, I contribute to the country's budget more than I take from it. I visit the doctor once a year and since my arrival I have not received any benefits.
Although my "silent" job does not help me learn English, I make progress by studying at one of the Adult Community Colleges. I am passionate about British history and sightsee as much as possible. I visit museums and other interesting places related to the history of this country. It is my way of showing respect towards the United Kingdom and its citizens. My granddad (a commander of the Polish Navy) was here during World War II. My uncles who also fought during World War II are buried here, in Great Britain and not in their beloved Poland!
Mr Ambassador, what can I do more to become accepted as a Polish person in the United Kingdom? By this letter I want to put the spotlight on my situation and prevent it from happening to anyone ever again.
Let's change the narrative. We fought side by side during WWII, we are close allies in Nato and partners in the EU, we are "Europeans", people who believe in the same values, friends and neighbours. It is true that each local authority in England must have experienced change because of immigration. Local circumstances, tensions or problems cannot be ignored. But let us try and think how to integrate migrants better, how to allay fear, fight stereotypes and myths as well as catchy headlines that may tell us half-truths. let's remain brothers-in-arms fighting for good causes.