I am an immigrant and we are all to some extent migrants: Mobility and migration in the 21st century

It's been 18 months since I posted to my blog. A lot has happened. The New Year in 2019 feels like an approproate moment to start posting again. Here's a short comment on migration and mobility in contemplation of a recent research report in the IUSSP Newsletter today.

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Reading this research report on 21st century mobility and migration patterns prompts me to ask myself whether what we are seeing in the 21st century is 'new', in the sense that human migration and mixing across the Earth's surface have been a 'thing' for more than 100,000 years* already and the reasons for people to move and mix (and move and mix again) have always been as various as the conditions under which people live, and are therefore hugely complex. Indeed, migration is an important part of what it means to be human; if anything, fixed settlement and even the concept of 'family' are probably the 'new' phenomena, given that agriculture is only 10,000 plus years old.

What is perhaps new - at least given our own rather limited time hoizons - is the preparedness and capability to move often, to third and fourth destinations, to view one's current location and life-purpose as a way-point rather than a destination, to move back and forth frequently, to move between multiple residences in different countries and continents, for families to establish more dispersed spatial relationships, and therefore for individual and familial mobility to involve a greater number of journeys and be more complex in their aggregate.

These patterns, I think, are what conservatives in receiving communities in developed countries around the world are finding it hard to acknowledge, understand and accept. This is perhaps because they tend to view (judge?) established settlement and continuous living as a close family unit within a single community as a normative 'good', and departure from those patterns as perhaps a 'bad'. Hence Theresa May's 'citizens of nowhere' speech to the Conservative Party’s annual conference in October 2016.

Over the longer term, the recent increase in the number of migrants is really roughly equivalent to the increase in world population overall, so the proportionate increase isn't large. However, what the authors might point out is that resident European populations have not increased much in recent decades, even declined in some countries. So the increase in migrant numbers, while roughly reflecting overall global population increases, ends up being a significant proportionate increase of incomers for European citizens and governance systems to absorb. Moreover, the authors do emphasise that displaced migrants as a proportion of migrants overall is rising. Tie these to an increasingly individualistic, even libertarian, European society and politics, and resentment or conflict are potential outcomes.

I am an immigrant

My own story is interesting in this respect, I think. I’m a British citizen living in Sheffield for around 20 years and I’m a father in full-time paid employment. On the surface at least, I conform to conservative norms about settlement, community, family and more. However, I’m not just descended from migrants from long ago - I am an immigrant. I was born in Kenya. And I’ve migrated since then; first to the UK, then to Spain, then Japan, then back to the UK. To who knows where next?

When my parents returned to the UK I didn’t. Not because I didn’t go with them, but because I hadn’t lived in the UK in the first place! Britain was a brand new country of residence for me. I didn’t ‘return’. And I didn’t volunteer it, since I was a young child wholly dependent on adults. It would be easy to gloss over the fact that I was at the time effectively a displaced migrant by arguing my parents were British ‘expats’, but I would argue that the difference between my case and those of Syrian or Nicaraguan children migrating to the UK or USA with their parents today is merely one of degree, not of fact.

It is often the case that expats and immigrants are considered different, one intending to return at a later date, the other intending to stay in their destination, raise a family and die. But the story of mobility and migration in the 21st century tells us that these two terms are simplifications, sometimes used careflessly or ignorantly for another set of darker values that are rooted in false notions of original community and blood; which can be understood as at least in part related to race.

For me, what this story - a story that we need reminding is as old as humanity itself - reveals is that we need to acknowledge ourselves as being first and foremost as a part of a single human species, connected with each other and with our ancestors, and living interdependent with other species on Earth together. Our future survival depends on it, and will probably be decided one way or another this century.

*The Out-of-Africa hypothesis puts the beginning of Homo Sapiens’s migration anything from 115,000 to 300,000 years ago. Though recent research shows that we are all, to some extent, descended from archaic humans (Neanderthals & Denisovians etc.) too, who were resident in Europe and Asia at least 500,000 years ago.

Why Did I Vote for Britain to Remain in the EU? - Immigration

This morning at 8.45 I voted for Britain to remain in the EU. I've considered many issues and had lots of discussions. I've been involved in plenty of arguments, and even laughed at some jokes and absurdities generated by this once in a generation event. But the main reason that I voted 'Remain' was to do with immigration. Here's why.

In 2001 I returned to the UK to settle down, having spent nine of the previous fourteen years in Japan, culminating in completing the writing up of my PhD at Doshisha University and beginning my first post-PhD academic job teaching at Niigata University. I love living in Japan, but Britain is my home, so I wanted to build my career here, for personal as well as professional reasons. But something extraordinary happened to make things quite complicated; in a nice way.

I fell in love with a wonderful woman from Germany. Indeed, I was fortunate enough that she decided to come to Britain to make a life with me and we got married. We went backwards and forwards to Japan and we had a baby girl who is now my 7 year old cheeky daughter. We're divorced now, but I feel very privileged because I now have the most amazing daughter whom I am so proud of.

Let's take ourselves back and imagine what might have happened if the UK in 2001 had not been a member of the EU, and visa restrictions applying to non-UK non-EU nationals had been similar at that time to the restrictions in place today. It is very likely that my daughter would never have been born, because under those conditions her mother would not have been allowed to settle in the UK. And I am doubly lucky because now I am able to see my daughter whenever I like because her mother lives just ten minutes walk away from me in Sheffield, and remains in the UK partly because of EU regulations on the free movement and settlement of EU nationals within EU space.

I know of many people that have found happiness in their relationships and had children as a result of the free movement of people across borders within the EU. There is a substantial community of international marriages between EU nationals in Sheffield, and I am sure this is matched by other cities in the UK. For me this is the most important issue helping me to decide to vote for Britain to remain at the heart of the EU. You have to understand that I grew up in a society where, just 30 years or so after the end of World War Two, it was routine for people to openly express hatred of German people without embarrassment. Many British people at that time had lived through the war themselves, including my own father and mother, and memories of that tumultuous conflict were still raw. The EU has contributed enormously to changing that atmosphere for the better.

A dense network of personal relationships, and the children that come from them, is the best foundation for creating lasting peace and friendship between nations. More than anything else it is this that prevents countries from harming each other. This was and is the underlying principle of the Treaty of Rome in 1957 and the subsequent development of the EU. It is much more important than trade. In facilitating the free movement of people for this purpose the EU has succeeded spectacularly well. I am proud to say that I have been able to benefit personally, in a very substantial way. I don't exaggerate when I say that, had Britain not been in the EU in 2001, and had present day restrictions on spousal movement been in place at that time, then I would probably not be a father today.

I have many friends who are currently enduring stress and difficulty due to Britain's draconian spousal visa restrictions. I sympathise very greatly and, personally speaking, I think those restrictions are shameful. They are a black mark against Britain's international reputation as a tolerant, civilised and liberal country. However, those restrictions are Made in London, not Brussels; the EU does not require Britain to put those measures in place. No other EU country that I know of has equivalent visa regulations. If Britain leaves the EU when voting in the referendum concludes at 10pm tonight, the restrictions placed on the movement of partners and spouses of British citizens will in all likelihood be made more draconian, not less, as a post-Brexit government puts yet more energy into reducing numbers of migrants.

That is why this morning I voted for Britain to remain in the European Union.