Why Africans are risking their lives for uncertainty in the UK

Yasin Kakande

The Brexit debate brought forth a political hardline on immigration that has only exacerbated the polarisation of public opinion.  

As a direct consequence of Brexit, once the UK formally separates from the European Union on December 31st, low-skilled migrants from across the world will be denied entry under the Government’s recently announced, stricter immigration policy.

However, according to international journalist, migrant activist and TED fellow Yasin Kakande, himself an immigrant, this stance does not fairly reflect the contribution that migrants bring to our society, nor acknowledge the reasons why some migrants choose to relocate. In this exclusive article, Yasin—the author of new book Why We Are Coming—sets out to explain why African migrants move to the UK, and highlight the economic and social value they bring to their adopted home.

Journalist, migrant activist and TED fellow Yasin Kakande

'Why We Are Coming' is my third book exploring the long history and current developments of global migration patterns as they apply to Africans in the west. I began work on this book in the winter of 2017, at a time when British politicians were discussing African migration in terms that would suit an impending hurricane. And watching the news or reading the newspapers one might think that the entire population of Africa was waiting for boats to migrate to United Kingdom.

At this time, I moved to the US and it was not my first destination. For more than a decade I had worked in the Middle East as a migrant journalist and my exit from both the countries to which I had migrated was ugly. Furthermore, I had tried my best to stay in my homeland of Uganda but the economic, social and political conditions made life, as I envisaged it, impossible. The concept of economic inequality does not characterize adequately the circumstances in Uganda, where everyone struggles to earn a sustainable income and the country’s most valuable resources have been stripped by foreign interests.

I offer the concerned reader an explanation for the migrant crisis, one that is delivered in the first person singular, because I have lived it. I am not a ‘freeloader’. Indeed, I am just like you but come from a world that you can't imagine. I am, however, going to help you to see and understand that world in order that you can empathize with those who leave it in order to come to your country. 

As my book’s title indicates, I have written it to answer the question: why are African migrants coming to the UK, and other Western nations? 

First, I frame this as a moral question in an historical context. Migration is driven by the human desire to escape poverty, corruption and tyranny in the undeveloped and underdeveloped world. As the history books sadly show us, these circumstances are the legacy of the West's unscrupulous interaction with that world: colonialism, slavery, neo-colonialism, dictatorship by proxy, and corporate adventurism. That legacy is deeply enmeshed not only with the society of my homeland but also with that of nearly every country in Africa. So, this story elucidates a complex picture and traces a long, historical arc to explain why migrants flee their homelands rather than staying to resist in the hope of achieving true political and economic reform.

Into the fabric of my historical material is woven a moral thread. The single most important unifying strand of every major moral philosophical ideal in human civilization is the recognition that every human is of equal moral value. Many African migrants see their homeland inundated with long-term, seemingly insoluble, problems. By contrast, they view the West as a lifeboat transporting individuals to a harbour that opens up to a landscape of progress and development. Migrants will take on any risk to get aboard the lifeboat because the only alternative is to drown. The only sensible question, therefore, is why are the people in treacherous water not as important as the people in the boat?

That moral question is central to both the issue and the experience of migration but, putting it aside, we can see both in purely material—economic and political— terms. The UK benefits enormously from the huge inflow of migrants—both documented and undocumented—who provide cheap labour in virtually every sector of the economy, and particularly in those in which their citizens would prefer not to work: the ‘3Ds’ of dirty, dangerous and demeaning jobs. Migrants work in agriculture and hospitality but we will focus here on a sector that is as important as it is neglected: caregiving. As the British population continues to age, the demand for caregivers—mostly immigrants—will continue to rise.

It is these same caregivers who are currently working on the frontline during the coronavirus crisis, risking their own safety to look after Britain’s most vulnerable members: the elderly and disabled. Never has their vital contribution been brought into sharper relief. 

Despite the inflammatory rhetoric of both the Nativist politicians, there are many British who do not see migrants as dangerous intruders. Likewise, the media have investigated and reported stories that contradict and challenge the political rhetoric. Most British understand that some politicians have projected disparaging portrayals of migrants to foment anger, resentment and fear that have led voters to cast ballots without stopping to think about the multidimensional moral, economic and political consequences of their decision.

My overall objective with my book is simple. Migrants are asking only that the truth is acknowledged and that they are allowed to live and work here legally. Like any British citizen, they aspire to become productive and grateful contributors in a land where hard work and commitment are rewarded

Why We Are Coming by Yasin Kakande is out now, priced £15.43 in paperback and £4.64 as an eBook (£4.64). Visit Amazon  

For more information, visit www.yasinkakande.com

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