By Geerte Verduijn

In 1911, Agnes Ferguson decided to leave her life in Scotland and headed to the United States of America. Dating back over a million years, migration is no new phenomenon. Yet media reports of citizen’s animosity against migrants intensify in frequency. With David Cameron referring to ‘a swarm’ of refugees, and foreign secretary Philip Hammond predicting ‘a threat to the EU’s standard of living and social structure,’ explicit opinions now have reached the United Kingdom’s government. When expressing such worries however, there are several things the British might want to take into account. 

First of all, the country’s fairly recent past. It is interesting to see how easily is spoken in generalized terms – ‘the swarm’, ‘Africans’ - when addressing great groups of migrants, as if all that is foreign is homogenous. Meanwhile, when referring to ‘our country’, the outspoken Britain’s seem to conveniently forget ‘’their’’ ancestors who massively migrated to the furthest corners of the world. Those journeys moreover showed that migration is not a priori negative. It has even been argued that the presence of refugees can supply a country with labor and stimulate economic growth. Is the British standard of living really as threatened as its people fear?

On the other hand, even comparing current affairs with past migrations of the British would not suffice. While Ms. Ferguson was ‘enticed by alluring pictures of the Canadian prairies,’ and economic migration is still happening, the motives of many refugees anno 2015 have exceeded such luxuries. People are fleeing from ‘apocalyptic’ civil wars, willing to risk their lives trying to reach safer ground.

How long does it take before people get used to a certain standard of living? Before having Maslow’s first needs fulfilled and owning the most powerful passport in the world starts to weaken their empathy for the less-lucky or unknown? Perhaps the British should reconsider the treasured but ‘threatened’ social and institutional structures that allow them to make such impassive statements when human lives are at stake.