World Service debates UK attitude to Africans



BBC World Service’s Africa Debate for November discusses how welcoming the UK is to African migrants.

Recorded in a church in Slough, Berkshire, BBC Africa presenter Akwasi Sarpong will host a panel of experts, including Fiona Mactaggart, Labour MP for Slough; Dr Dalhatu S Tafida, Nigeria’s High Commissioner to the UK; and Kahiye Alim, who is an immigration lawyer and Conservative Party representative. Together with a specially invited audience of politicians, academics and African migrants, the panel will examine the impact the new Immigration Bill could have on the UK economy and business, and on African communities.

Other key guests include representatives from UKIP and pro and anti immigration campaign groups. The BBC’s Afrique, Somali and Swahili services will also be hosting a debate from Slough on the same topic.

The Coalition has imposed a number of strict new measures aimed at reducing immigration as a whole and, specifically, curtailing abuses of the UK’s liberal immigration rules. Changes to student visa legislation have been the subject of heated debate within the communities most affected. Even more draconian policies have been mooted, such as the deposit of “up to £3,000” the government planned to demand from tourists from select “high risk” countries before they would be allowed in. There is little doubt that Africans in particular feel unfairly targeted – especially in light of Prime Minister David Cameron’s plaintive overtures in the Asian sub-continent.

Lorries have been sent onto the streets of London carrying the billboard message, “In the UK illegally? Go home or face arrest.” But the frequently uttered contention that goes something like: “If you’re here legally, you have nothing to worry about,” is quite simply crass. I am aware that many of those “in the UK illegally” look just like me, a Black Briton from birth. I am also acutely aware that this fact is not lost on the British indigenes. I would, therefore, not be worried by the presence of a van, but discomforted by the notion that just one person I am sharing the street with might be prompted to even look at me askance because of it.

In addition, the new immigration bill being debated in Parliament would force landlords to check the status of tenants or face fines; see bankers making checks before offering accounts; make temporary migrants pay towards the cost of the National Health Service; and urge registrars to inform the Home Office of planned weddings between UK citizens and those from outside Europe, in an attempt to cut down on ‘sham marriages’.

The Africa Debate programme airs on Friday 29th November and marks the end of a week of programmes on BBC World Service focusing on the issue of migration.