Channel 4 News
Friday, April 26, 2013
Politicians often blame immigrants for not doing enough to integrate
into society. But do they know what integration means? Jamal Osman
shares his experience of moving to London from Somalia.
Immigration Nation: one man's journey from Somalia
Politicians often blame immigrants for not
doing enough to integrate into society. But do they know what
integration means? Jamal Osman shares his experience of moving to London
Is integration about mixing with the Brits or speaking
the Queen's English? Is it about dressing in certain ways, eating
certain food, listening to British music?
In my experience,
integration has different connotations for different people. And in my
14 years of living in this country, my interpretation of it has been
At first, I thought integration was about going down the
pub and having a pint, which I couldn't do for religious reasons. Then I
developed an obsession with the weather but found it difficult to
continue talking about it. Later, I became addicted to eating fish and
chips but soon got tired of it.
Today, after all those years, I don't really know what it means to be integrated.
Who knows where I would be?
I came to this country from Somalia in my early 20s with
no family and very little English. It took me two years to be
comfortable with life in London: when I got my refugee status and
started working full-time.
I became more confident using phrases like, "innit", "you know what I mean", and so on.
Like many other immigrants, I appreciate the opportunity
this country has given me to better myself and to achieve something in
life. The compassionate immigration system allowed me to have the same
rights (in most cases) as everyone else.
The generous welfare enabled me to get assistance when I
needed it. The high-quality British education improved my knowledge of
the world and helped me realise my aspirations.
Who knows where I would be had I not come here.
Most immigrants will probably say the same. And in
return, we make positive contributions to the British society: whether
it is great ideas, a hard-working ethic, delicious food and so on. It is
a two-way relationship.
How many of you dine at Chinese, Indian and Italian
restaurants? How many of you call affordable Polish builders when you
want housework done? How many of you take an immigrant cab driver at
weekends? What about the NHS workers who care for you in your hour of
Surely, Britain would be a poorer place without us, immigrants.
And, in my experience, the UK attracts foreigners
because it is the best country in Europe to be an immigrant - in
particular, living in London, where you are surrounded by people from
all over the world. That doesn’t make someone feel like an outsider, but
just another member of a global community.
'Integration about contribution'
I met Marek and Magda, who moved from Poland in 2004.
Both of them work for a small coffee chain they started
with when they came over here. Marek progressed from the warehouse to a
marketing manager, while Magda juggles between looking after their two
sons and doing a shift in a coffee shop.
For them integration is not about who you are but how much you contribute to the society.
Brighton, Mau and Mini came from a completely different part of the
world. Due to a nursing shortage in the NHS, Mini was among the dozens
recruited from the Philippines in 2001. Her husband Mau followed her few
months later and now works as an IT manager.
Others came seeking a safe haven. Fleeing the Somali
civil war, Amal was just a one-year-old when her mother arrived in 1991
with her older brother.
Her mother encouraged them to be good citizens and to make positive contributions.
For immigrants, integration means being a decent human being and working hard.
What British politicians should do is to admit their
failed policies and broken promises rather than accusing immigrants for
wrongdoings. All we are here to do, is to have a better life, and in the
process contribute to the society.
We are not here to give up our own identities and cultures. Why should we? I can be a Somali living in this country.
I am not going to socialise in a local pub when I can find a nearby Somalian cafe.
I will do what I feel comfortable with. And I am sure most immigrants will do the same.