Red Doors and Red Wristbands Question Whether We Really Want to Integrate the Immigrating

Allegations of red wristbands and doors have left asylum seekers bar(red) and scar(red) this week. Symbolic of danger, this colour visually highlighted the deliberate marginalization of asylum seekers across the UK. G4S’s ‘red doors policy’ was reported to have singled out asylum seekers living in Middlesbrough, making them targets of public abuse. A similar scenario in Cardiff, as residents of Lynx House were allegedly forced to wear red-coloured wristbands at all times.

The widespread controversy surrounding rumours of such measures reveals increasing concerns about immigrants’ ostracism. The negative impact of these radical segregation measures on the immigrants themselves is obvious; just as worrying are the damaging repercussions for our society as a whole. This practice of economic and social marginalisation is laying the foundations for our own ghettoes equivalent to French banlieues renowned for their high crime rates and insecurity, eroding all sense of social cohesion. There’s no shortage of debate about regulating on-going migration, but the challenge of integration, just like the immigrants themselves, is here to stay, yet more neglected.

Integration leading to a more unified, harmonious society is at odds with the dangers of creeping assimilation

Integration is clearly a controversial topic, when opinions are still divided about the issue of immigration itself. We are all aware of the key arguments against integration: a fear of job-snatching foreigners deemed to be shamelessly abusing the benefits system; the pervasion of immigrants’ alien cultural values at odds with our own society and the premise that newcomers’ isolation is deliberately self-imposed.

But there is another spanner in the works: the conflation of integration and assimilation; similar terms and frequently used, but often confused. What actually is the difference? Put simply, assimilation refers to the practice of erasing cultural differences to form a single national identity, whereas integration incorporates these differences within a community; assimilation entails the stripping of cultural identity, integration allows for a healthy state of plurality, social cohesion and a sense of belonging.

The “culturally sensitive” often confuse the two, wary of imposing “British” values on distinct ethnic groups. For them, integration is a taboo; they fear a surge in the government’s nationalist, culturally intolerant policies and a resultant loss of ethnic identity. In fact, this is a fundamental misunderstanding of integration. Integration leading to a more unified, harmonious society is at odds with the dangers of creeping assimilation.

effective and sympathetic integration must become top of our political agenda

Policies superfluous to the objective of social unity naturally fall into the category of assimilation. Was France’s burqa ban really necessary for a more cohesive society? The multicultural nature of the UK, where different religions are more easily tolerated, reveals the nation’s relatively integrated landscape. But despite our arguably liberal society, there are surely certain criteria necessary for effective integration; speaking English is one of them. Yes, there is a diverse range of ethnic and religious groups in our country, but English is the predominant language. It seems therefore inevitable that non-English speaking individuals are alienated. The mandatory English exams taken by foreign university students to study in the UK are a logical requirement. How would they engage in an academic course, let alone function in everyday society, faced with this language barrier? So it is reasonable to expect immigrants to embrace learning English as an essential part of an integration process and their own social and economic well-being.

Yes, Cameron’s £20 million project offering free English lessons to Muslim women has been negatively framed; the Prime Minister’s narrow association of non-English speaking Muslim women with a tendency towards extremism, has unleashed a torrent of justified criticism.

However, this outcry has detracted all attention from the fundamental advantages of learning English; benefitting both ostracized immigrants and society as a whole. Of course, Cameron’s policy needs tweaking. How can we deport Muslim women for failing certain language requirements, whilst hoards of British expats continue to settle on the sunny coasts of Spain, with a vocabulary limited to ‘otra cerveza, por favor’? Sending these women back to their home countries on these grounds reveals the true migrant-curbing objective of the project. What’s more, offering these lessons only to Muslim women has turned a potentially positive measure of integration, into one of discrimination.

Nevertheless, whether you’re in favour of the UK borders remaining open or being closed, in light of the reality of continuing migration towards Europe, effective and sympathetic integration must become top of our political agenda. This will certainly not be achieved through schemes with underlying anti-immigrant motives, so that Cameron can finally do away with his “bunch of migrants”.

Instead, we need to quit tiptoeing around the delicate topic of integration, erase the negative associations with assimilation and start formulating positive measures of inclusion to pave the way towards a more unified society. English lessons for all without the mandatory exams, kick-starting immigrants’ greater contribution to society to everyone’s advantage, would be a good start. Learning to speak the UK’s official language is a gateway to greater social and economic mobility, not a means of cultural assimilation.

Hannah Beard

More about the author

About the author

Hannah is currently doing a Masters in International Relations and has a French and Spanish undergraduate degree from Oxford University. She has done various work placements abroad, such as in a Peruvian Human Rights NGO and a language school in France. As well as writing, she hopes to pursue a career as an academic researcher for an international think tank.

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