The migrant witch hunt

by | Jun 8, 2017 | Uncategorised | 0 comments

by Lucy Alty

The misrepresentation of migrants as a ‘swarm’ of asylum seekers hoping to ‘leech off of our welfare system’ and ‘steal our jobs’ is an ever-growing theme within the media and politics, most significantly to me here, within the UK, but also across much of Europe and the US. Dubbed ‘the migrant crisis’, I prefer to refer to this occurrence as ‘the migrant witch hunt’.

The mainstream media and a large cohort of politicians are actively and repeatedly inciting resentment and hatred towards migrants through headlines, photographs and statements. Reports such as this go far to scaremonger and misinform the public. Both the media and politicians are members of institutions that we, the public, should be able to look to for fair, trustworthy guidance and information, yet instead we are met with falsifications, misrepresentations and much distortion of facts and images regarding the numbers of people coming to our country, and the reasons that they are moving here. Through a bombardment of images and reports of ‘boat people’ that we are subjected to, these institutions are perpetuating an anti-immigrant rhetoric by creating and playing on anxieties of the public. Most notably, in the current climate there is much anxiety over Islam and its place within Europe (Meer 2013) and of racialised ‘others’.

Politicians and the news create and use this fear to form a constructed social reality for the public, where we only see a small section of migrants who are portrayed as undesirable. For example, refugees have been heavily publicised as a racialised ‘other’ that will threaten our values and culture, crossing borders in their masses in what could be perceived as threatening ways. It is difficult to state whether the media tries to create such fear merely to sell papers, or whether they have their own agenda, but we should remain wary of the fact that numerous members of the Tory party have close links to, and even write for, our news (see Michael Gove, Boris Johnson and George Osborne). The recent attack of a young asylum seeker by a mob of 30 in Croydon just goes to show what devastating consequences can result from the fear and hatred created by the media.

Theresa May made her views on immigration clear during her speech to a Tory conference back in 2015, where she claimed“there are millions of people in poorer countries who would love to live in Britain, and there is a limit to the amount of immigration any country can and should take” . Her inclusion of the terms ‘millions of people’ and ‘poorer countries’ go far to add to the belief that there are masses of poor, undesirable people travelling here to take jobs and welfare. She’s even suggesting we have reached our limit; that the country is at full capacity. Such suggestions would frighten anyone. We note that politicians have a habit of ignoring the facts and statistics, making broad and rather brash claims. Someone ought to point out to Mrs May that the two largest types of migrants to the UK during 1991-2015 were students and wealthy people with permanent jobs already set up for them here, as per the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford.This somewhat contradicts her sentiment.

Public opinion is being increasingly shaped and intensified against these people that are perceived as ‘the other’, with much of the media painting them in an almost sub-human light. In recent years as the conflict in Syria has intensified, newspapers have bombarded us with images of overcrowded boats crossing oceans, where individuals are packed together in such a way that they are dehumanised to viewers. Such images, alongside terms such as ‘swarm’ and ‘crisis’, add to May’s notion that we as a country are full to the brim. This suggestion that we are being overrun with asylum seekers is simply not accurate when you look at the statistics. British Red Cross cite an estimated 117,234 refugees living in the UK, just 0.18% of the total population, and our country actually receives hundreds of thousands fewer applications than other countries within Europe, such as Germany and Sweden. But surely a country with resources such as ours, that actually played a role in heightening tensions in the conflict in Syria as well as destabilising Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan, could do more.

It is evident that migrants are used as a focus onto which to shift blame, blame that really belongs to the failings of our own government. The notion that they come here just to use and abuse our NHS and are therefore ruining it is farcical to me, particularly when the NHS has historically relied on migrants to save it, providing us with nurses and doctors that we have desperately needed in the past. The Office for National Statistics itself has stated that, as a country, we need migrants to keep our service industries going, in particular our health service.  Yet once again, politicians seem to be ignorant of the facts; chronic underfunding of the NHS and cuts made to social care have resulted in the crisis the NHS is currently facing, as pointed out by Owen Jones. It’s also been recognised for at least a decade that the demographic of our population is biased towards the elderly, as people are living longer. As the birth rate isn’t keeping up, we need migrant workers to fill positions and pay taxes to fund pensions and services. The belief that immigrants are overcrowding our country, drying up our resources and killing our NHS was a significant motivation for many votes in favour of Brexit. This scares me as more power is being placed in the hands of the true perpetrators, the Conservative government, who are attempting to gain absolute power through the recently announced snap election. The rise in hate crime that we witnessed over the days following Brexit, of which a large proportion was aimed at immigrants from outside the EU, many of them Muslim, is evidence of how misinformed many members of the public are, and how strong a role the constructed social reality created within the media and perpetuated by many politicians actually plays within the minds of the public.

The blame game played by our MPs and the misrepresentation of migrants within the media is having devastating effects upon our political landscape and upon attitudes within our society. Don’t support a government that produces policies that legitimise hostility (Mulvey, 2010), don’t be ignorant to Tory manipulation and don’t be scaremongered into hating the ‘other’. We live in a diverse society within a globalised world from which we benefit massively, and that is something to be celebrated.

Meer, N. (2013). Semantics, Scales and Solidarities in the Study of Antisemitism and Islamophobia.Ethnic and Racial Studies, 36(3), 500-515.
Mulvey, G. (2010) When policy creates politics: the problematizing of immigration and the consequences for refugee integration. Journal of Refugee Studies, 23(4), 437-462.
Image Credit: Polly Nor.


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