Here’s what I had to say in my opening remarks at the #ReactWales event down in Swansea, hosted by the European Parliamentary Information Office.
The motion was that;
“Wales’ cultural life has been enriched by European immigrants.”
Thank you for the opportunity to be here tonight, and thank you for involving young people and students in this debate. Young people appear to be far more comfortable about living in a globalised world, and often hold differing views to people from older generations, and it’s important that we’re a part of setting the future direction of our country and our political discourse.
Whilst discussing immigration, it’s hard to separate discussions based on politically held nationalistic views, with intelligent discourse on the impact and effect of immigration.
The academic and public pulpit has to be used responsibly if we are to regain control on the immigration debate.
I will be approaching this motion from the viewpoint of a student, and the importance of migration in education, including education as a vehicle for immigration. We also hold the view that we now live in a global village – whilst we need a sensible approach to immigration, we cannot allow discussions about the world and global society and the failure to achieve global equality and respect for human rights, for example, to be hampered by nationalistic sentiment.
Since 2011/12 nearly 14,000 UK students have used the ERASMUS programme to study abroad, contributing to the sharing of our culturally embedded values and beliefs, and contributing to the sharing and championing of values such as human dignity, liberty, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights on which the European Union is founded.
Those students coming to Wales from poorer countries who return home are highly beneficial to those left behind, enriching and diversifying our education system, and greatly contributing to young people’s understanding of the global world in which we now live.
Students however are not only beneficiaries of migration.
As a country we are net beneficiaries and have the potential to benefit further. The student movement is calling to see international students removed from net migration figures altogether, and granting international students the right to stay in the UK post graduation to seek employment.
The Conservative’s intention to masively reduce the net immigration figure for Britain would almost certainly leave a large black hole in our Higher Education system, which is now highly dependent on student fees since the UK Government’s policy change in 2010.
39% of postgraduate students are from outside of the EU, contributing over £200m to Wales’ economy, creating jobs, boosting our businesses, and allowing us to compete internationally.
A report commissioned by the University of Oxford showed that international students bring a net economic benefit of over £120m to the Yorkshire and Humberside region alone, far less than the cost of those EU migrants earning jobseekers allowance or housing benefit
– a commonly used reason to justify the vilification of immigrants and immigration.
Beyond our education system, European students studying in Wales take part in a wide range of cultural activities such as drama and sports, diversifying and expanding the views of young people beyond those of modern Wales and modern Europe.
Eisteddfod Llangollen is a perfect example of how Wales has embraced a fast globalising world, celebrating music, dance, costume and culture from nations around the world, enriching a Welsh cultural tradition that dates back to the 12th Century.
We also cannot forget the financial benefits of the EU and of immigration.
The new Pontio arts centre in Bangor, North Wales will bring the best of Welsh, UK, EU and International culture to communities across the North Wales region. This will not only open up the arts to a wider audience, but will open up, values, beliefs, history, and cultures, other than our own, to a wider audience through the arts.
The project has received £12.5m from the European Regional Development Fund, which will be put to use in developing and enhancing communities, business, and innovation in Wales, which allows our small country to compete on a national and international level.
The EU also provides billions in funding to promote and support cross-border co-operation to help support the transnational development of culture and creativity, which ultimately benefits our businesses, our culture, and our economy.
This is without the billions in which Wales has received since 2000 to support our poorest regions, our farming industry, our culture and heritage, education and innovation.
In his 1968 speech Rivers of Blood, Enoch Powell said,
“We must be mad, literally mad, as a nation to be permitting the annual inflow of some 50,000 dependants, who are for the most part the material of the future growth of the immigrant-descended population. It is like watching a nation busily engaged in heaping up its own funeral pyre.”
Paul Collier a Professor at the University of Oxford said that the passion underpinning opinions on migration is fuelled by identifies and fears.
However, we cannot grant vitriolic views of immigration, where the gulf between the strength with which opinions are held and the depth of ignorance on which they manage to remain afloat a place in our society.
We cannot stop talking about the world as a global village, with small countries such as Wales fast globalising. We have to keep in mind the wide gap between poor and rich countries, which sees many people migrate.
This gap has been called the moral horror story of our time, and to ignore and reject immigration is to ignore and reject the fact that our global village is yet to achieve equality, fairness, democracy, human dignity and liberty, and a respect for human rights, even in 2014.
Professor Collier said that the difference in the incomes is ultimately due to differences in political and social structures, and these dysfunctional systems persist because they are embedded in the identities and narratives of local cultures – people migrate to seek a better life.
Like every other human being, it’s all about survival. Migrants from poorer countries are often escaping the consequences of their systems, and in 2014 50% of international students surveyed by the National Union of Students said that they felt unwelcomed by the UK government.
Immigration in and out of Wales and the UK allows us and almost forces us to share the story of equality, liberty, and dignity across the world – migration allows us to stand taller when talking to countries across the world about the values that we all take for granted.
To conclude, the ultimate message is that the social effects of immigration outweigh the economic, and therefore social influences should be the main criteria for a field of policy that is widely lost in 2014.
We should be proud to champion the diversity that exists in our society and communities as a result of the free movement of people and labour which the EU grants, and proud to champion the values of liberty, equality, and dignity, which are not only the building blocks for the European Union, but the core values and beliefs of our society.