Monday, 31 May 2010

Better integration for new arrivals

Vast amounts of media coverage are given over to the need to 'integrate' immigrants into the UK and the immigrants are usually blamed when this doesn't happen properly.

But real integration isn't to be found on the pages of the Home Office's Life In the United Kingdom book (which is now required reading for all would-be non-EU immigrants) any more than reading the Highway Code teaches us to actually drive a car.

Talk to anyone who has actually arrived in the UK from another country (whether as on a temporary basis or as a permanent settler) and the story is one of confronting a wall of British reserve and sketchy information. A common result of this is that immigrants collect in cliques of their fellow countrymen, cliques which can often become quite insular and entrenched and which do not help them fit in (let alone improve their English)

What is badly needed is practical direction for people who arrive here so that they can meet and learn from long-term residents quickly. It is ironic that if you are fleeing persecution or are an international student (both of which normally imply only temporary residence) there are helpful organisations such as Refugee Action and International Students Associations to assist you. If however you've managed to jump through all the appropriate hoops and are planning to make the UK your permanent home then you're pretty much "on your own sonny."

As a city which is generally at ease with people of different origins, shouldn't Leicester be leading the way once more by instigating some sort of pro-active integration assistance for people who move here? It doesn't even have to apply just to foreigners - arriving in a new city can be just as daunting for British citizens.

My suggestion is that we need some sort of 'Arrivals Club', perhaps loosely based on the International Students Association model. This would welcome newcomers wherever they are from but also strive to make sure that they are influenced by people who have lived here for years instead of disappearing into the cocoon of cliques. As well as benefiting immigrants this would also give Leicester people an opportunity to show off their city which wouldn't do civic pride any harm either.

A survey earlier in the year found Leicester to be the "third unhappiest place in Britain" and suggested a reason being "people in Leicester were less likely to live near family and less likely to have close friends to call on in an emergency". What then could be more important for the well-being of the city than making sure newcomers integrate well, make good local connections and put down local roots?

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