Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Immigrants in London

London is a multi-cultural city. Its geography and history as a trading centre have made it inevitable that all types of people have found their way here. The commonwealth immigrants act of 1962, Britain’s membership in the EU, the acceptance of legal immigrants seeking asylum and the countless illegal immigrants have all contributed to the sometimes overwhelming migration of nationalities.

Here are some interviews with immigrants living in London today.


Victoria – Eastern Nigeria

How old were you when you came to England?

I was 18. My parents weren’t here. I came here to meet my husband who had been here for about a year.

What was your perception of England before you moved here?

Because the British brought us Christianity, I thought this nation would be full of things to do with God.

And did England fulfill your expectations?

Initially I was disappointed by what I found in churches. There weren’t many people there. As time went on I came to realise why the English did not go to church very much. They used to go to church and God blessed them, the English have gotten too comfortable with their blessings so they have forgotten where their blessings came from. They thought they came from their own power and their own minds so they have turned their backs on God because they think they no longer need him. They have everything materially, but do not realise, as we are finding out now, that you need God for your spiritual and emotional well being, your stability and family. You must raise your children to know right and wrong. People have become selfish and opinionated.

Do you think that the multitude of faiths in London make it hard for Londoners to know which God to worship?


God says if people want to find out the truth, they will. Some magazines and things on the internet that you are not supposed to look at, people still find those things and find out what they want to know. If people want to discover which the true faith is, they will. Christianity is not about what you do, it is about what God has already done. Many people can’t understand that, particularly men. They want to feel proud of what they can do. They want to grow a beard and wear something on their head or whatever. In heaven everybody is equal.


Do you think Londoners can learn from Nigerians about faith?


Many Nigerians are born again. There was a time when the Lord got me to pray for this nation. During that prayer, the Lord reminded me that although many Black people are with Christ in this country, the revival is going to come through the English. He said he is allowing us to relight the lamp of the Englishman which has been quenched. The Englishman will carry the beacon that will bring revival to the country.




Abu – Bangladesh

How old were you when you came to England?

I was about 4 months old. My grandparents migrated from Bangladesh for economic reasons in the 1940’s; they used to work on a ship. My parents brought me here to be with my grandparents. Many people were coming here at the time because of the state of affairs on the Indian subcontinent. Issues of poverty and so on. Many people came from the village in the 40’s and slowly more came in the years that followed. In 1971 after the war with Pakistan more people claimed asylum after experiencing abuse at the hands of troops.


Have you been back to Bangladesh?


When I was 14 I went back and spent a couple of months there. That’s about it. It’s a second home for us but we associate ourselves more with the UK than Bangladesh.

What do you think was attractive about Britain for your parents to want to raise you here?

They were seeking a better way of life in terms of economics and technological advancements. Recently things have been changing. There are many third and fourth generation Bengalis in the UK. When our grandparents came it was a non religious migration, it was for secular reasons. They kept their religion to themselves. Now the youth are learning more about Islam and we are using it to challenge the many problems of this society; drugs, alcohol abuse, rape, prostitution. All of these things. We live in the community and we see it and speak of an alternative. We speak of a solution. We believe Islam is the future for the UK and for Whitechapel.


How do British and Bengali Muslims differ?


In the Indian subcontinent you’ll find Islam is a way of life. Everyone is a born Muslim. Many people will live their whole life without having to study Islam. There is no conflict. Here we find it is different, we have Christians, Hindus, Atheists and religion becomes a conflict. A Muslim may have difficulties in the work place, he needs to pray five times a day, eat Halal food, he is not allowed to drink or go clubbing. We find that some Muslims are treated as second class citizens. This is bringing a change in the Muslim community. We believe we are here to stay but we could compare the current system to apartheid, with the new terrorism legislation that is being enforced.

Do you think any positive progress has been made in Britain with regards to Muslim relations?

Religion is a dirty word in Britain. In the bible it says leave Caesar to Caesar and God to God. In other words let Jesus stay in the church and Man will decide what happens on the streets. With Islam, it is a complete way of life. It has an economic system, a social system, a political system, a judicial system. The Sha’ria is a complete way of life. We as Muslims are not allowed to adhere to a judicial system dictated by man. There is a conflict between democracy and Islam.

Do you think your parents foresaw such conflict when they brought you here?

Nobody did. Not even the British government. If they knew there would be a challenge to their systems of democracy, socialism and capitalism in the form of Sha’ria they would not have allowed Muslim immigration into Britain on the scale it was allowed at that time. This is now a police state, with the stop and search laws, Muslim’s houses being raided, CCTV in all the local mosques, Muslims being spied on and being asked to join MI5 and spy on other Muslims. There is a war against Islam.




Thomas – Lithuania


How old were you when you moved to London?

It was 10 years ago, I was 21. I had been working as a policeman back home; the place became too small for me. I wanted change. I wanted a career. I split up with my first love. I decided to change something. I was going to go to the States, but I couldn’t get a VISA so I came here for half a year to stay with friends, but to be honest I got stuck.

What kept you here?

I fell in love again, with an English girl. Now I work as a chef.

What difficulties did you face moving here?

I got home sick for the first couple of years but it wasn’t very difficult. Of course I was hungry before I learnt English; I wanted to meet new people in this multi-cultural open minded place. I encountered discrimination when I lived in Devon, only in rural places but not in London. Most of the hostility comes from non-English people and maybe some snobby English people who might call me a foreign bastard, but it doesn’t matter.

How does the reality of London differ from your preconceptions?

I find it very dirty compared to Lithuania. It’s more multi-cultural than I anticipated. The drug culture of Britain is very widely spread. Somebody who doesn’t know about heroin or crack may not understand that another world exists in every part of London. If you have never been with such people, you would have no idea. The media doesn’t even cover 10% of the reality. It’s horrific.




Marie Choy – New Zealand.


How old were you when you moved here? And what were your reasons for coming?

I was 27, I wanted a change from the small town I was living in, I felt like I wanted something different. It’s quite a normal thing for New Zealanders to travel. I didn’t come here with the intention to settle although I kind of had a vague idea that I probably wouldn’t go back to New Zealand. I came here initially for two years and really enjoyed it so I ended up staying.

How does the reality of London differ from your preconceptions?

I didn’t have much of an idea of what to expect. I thought there would be a lot more of the clichéd English stereotypes. I thought it would be a lot cleaner. I guess the thing that surprised me most is just how many people from different countries there are living here and how they bring all their culture with them. I didn’t expect places like Whitechapel to exist. I expected it all to be more white I suppose.





Kevin – Born in America, raised in West Germany.


Why did you come here?

I’m 22, my parents sent me here when I was 16 to learn English because my dad is American and he wanted me to speak English. Back then, there wasn’t a big future in Germany. I wanted to work in fashion so I came here to pursue that.

How does the reality of London differ from your preconceptions?

I had a textbook image of the English in my head before I came here. I thought there were lots of castles everywhere and everyone spoke the Queen’s English. The typical stereotype wasn’t true.

Do you like it here?

I love it. When I first came over, some people asked me if I was a Nazi and if I liked Hitler and things like that. That freaked me out a bit, being only 16. London is also quite dirty. I do love the people and I like how international it is and I quite like the weather. I’m probably the first person who’s said that. There’s a buzz about the city, everyday it is different, you can do something every night. There’s a great vibe here in all these different parts, Camden, Shoreditch, East Dulwich, that’s what I like.




Olivia - Sweden

Why did you come here?

I came here when I was 20 because I was offered a job as an au pair, so I just took the chance and I went.


How does the reality of London differ from your preconceptions?

I didn’t really have any. At that point I thought all of Europe was the same. I found London was more like India than Sweden. It’s very different. I really like it though.

What do you like about it?


I really like that its multi cultural. There are so many people from all over the world. I love to travel and I like to meet people from all over the world, try food and experience culture from everywhere.

Do you ever miss Sweden?

Not really, I never miss Sweden that much. I am thinking of going back to study, as I have better opportunities for education there. I can study there for free.

Is there anything you don’t like about London?

I make hand crafts and jewellery. If I go to Spain it’s more relaxed, I can sell stuff on the streets, but I can’t do that here. I don’t like the whole surveillance state, the police and all the propaganda everywhere. Everybody being suspicious of everybody. Also the bureaucracy, all the weird forms you have to fill out about your ethnicity and stuff. It’s also quite hard to make money here, especially if you want to make it on a day to day basis.

Words and Photos: Tom Rowsell

Published: State of Play, 2009


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1 comment:

  1. I like this article, it's honest and thoughtful

    ReplyDelete