1 Day Without Us

Open Britain – One Day Without Us is a campaign that promotes the massive contributions of immigration to the UK. The 17th February marks the campaign’s national celebration day. Migrants are vital to the NHS, our education system, public services, the manufacturing industry and agriculture. Migrants are part of our families, they are our friends, our neighbours. We meet them on the street, on the bus, in our favourite restaurants. But in recent years, immigration has been an increasingly contentious issue. Prejudices persist, making integration harder and reducing community cohesion. There is little public debate about the positives of immigration for our communities. To find out more about the importance of immigration for our society, we spoke to the Baytree Centre, a social inclusion charity working with migrant women and girls in Brixton. Many of the women and girls face multiple barriers to social inclusion, such as lack of English language skills and employment opportunities, difficulties to integrate into local communities, poverty, isolation and complex mental and physical health needs.

Rosanna, the Baytree Centre’s Volunteer and Youth Development Manager, explained to us why migrants are important for London and the UK.

Do you think immigration is important for (21st century) Britain? If so, why?

As well as contributing substantially to economic growth and development of capital, immigration contributes to the dynamism, innovation and creative spirit that 21st century Britain prides itself on. So much of what is amazing about our country is the result of the brilliant minds and hard work of people from all corners of the planet, and now, as always but perhaps even more than ever, we are seeing the need for a united society that is driven by acceptance and inclusion in the face of dangerous bigotry and divisive hatred. This is a globalised world with a global economy, and Britain should be a nation that prides itself on its welcoming diversity and the huge potential that comes from it.

How does immigration change society and cities such as London for the better?

Exposure to learning about alternative ways of life, traditions, beliefs, and attitudes enables an expansion of horizons, a realisation that there are people who live differently to you. Establishing communities made up of people with differing ways of life leads to bonds formed on empathy and acceptance, which means that societies and cities become united, strengthened by their welcoming of difference and their simultaneous certainty of shared humanity and right to dignity.

You provide ESOL classes to immigrants. Why is speaking English important for integration into British society and local communities?

Arriving in a country that one has never been to before with no knowledge of that country’s primary language is an incredibly scary and alienating experience. Being able to access services that allow immigrants and refugees to begin to develop their English speaking skills in an environment that is more supportive and enabling and less overwhelming than, for example, a supermarket or school, means that they are empowered to integrate themselves into local communities, and live their lives to their full potential. Speaking English is integral to the confidence-building process that is necessary to exploring and establishing oneself in a new area and community, and enables people to communicate and form relationships with a much greater number of people – and we all know how important friends are.

Do you think the UK is an open country towards immigration? What needs to change?

There are many thousands of people in this country who are open towards immigration. For this number to increase, and for these people to have a real impact on changing attitudes and increasing the UK’s openness, more of those who feel strongly about welcoming immigrants should show that strength of feeling. There are many ways to do this: one could make an effort to learn as much as they can about the current crisis, fundraise, and raise awareness by sharing information throughout local communities and social groups. We strongly believe that the way to achieve the greatest impact, however, is for people to offer their time to support centres, organisations and charities like the Baytree Centre that support immigrants and refugees in integrating into their new society directly.

Have you noticed a change in perceptions or discrimination since Brexit?

Brexit was, in some communities, a platform on which people with racist or misinformed views and attitudes felt enabled to voice them. This has been extremely damaging to people’s livelihoods, mental health and physical wellbeing, and has led to many citizens feeling intimidated, terrorised, and, in some cases, having no choice but to give up the life they had established for themselves and move elsewhere. Discrimination is more widespread in communities, and, worryingly, schools – we have seen a rise in racially-driven bullying. These spaces, local communities and places of learning like schools, can be the remedy to this sad change, however: these are the spaces in which people can come together, share experiences and be educated on the reality of Brexit, and how we can make it a positive process for our country.