home About Comics Features Get involved Contact
Sports Direct have been widely criticised for the conditions at their Shirebrook distribution centre, known locally as “the gulag”. Pic source: Flickr #waronwant Creative Commons

Stories of Migration

Migration histories can vary, with some people arriving as asylum seekers, refugees, students, or through family already residing in the UK, while others are escaping extreme poverty or political oppression. Loretta Trickett argues that understanding hierarchies of vulnerability, and how different groups access information, is vital in helping new and emerging communities prosper.

Organisations need to understand not only how the people arrived in the country but also where different migrant groups have settled, in what numbers, and how and where they may be accessing information. Listening to stories of migration helps us understand the different ways in which people come to be in the UK, how they transition into life here, and what barriers they face. It is important to note that the routes of entry affect people’s networks, ability to work, and expectations. The experiences of those arriving as economic migrants as opposed to refugees are different.

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), a refugee is someone who ‘fled war, violence, conflict or persecution and have crossed international borders to find safety in another country.’ Refugees are unable or unwilling to return to a country s/he/they are fleeing due to a well-founded fear of persecution. Whereas there is no universally accepted definition of migrants, these could be people who move within and outside of a country’s borders for various reasons; improving a standard of living is one example. There are also asylum seekers (those who require protection of another country, but not every asylum seeker receives a refugee status). There is also another category, such as internally displaced (those who flee war, natural disaster or persecution but do not cross international borders).

In the comic ‘I’m Only Happy When it Rains’ Mrs Tóth, the ‘human Google’ provides a migrant's guide to getting by in British culture.

Our data revealed that patterns of migration affected initial contacts, information about the UK both pre and post-arrival and patterns of integration. In contrast to economic migrants, other respondents had often arrived through crisis situations rather than through economic choices, the source of information for these respondents was usually the Vulnerable Person’s Resettlement Scheme, where they were allocated a caseworker to help them assimilate into UK life. Individuals fleeing war or conflict are often more vulnerable and may have no family members in the UK, and little if any English language. While there is a necessity, therefore, to highlight the significance of a hierarchy of needs for all migrants upon arrival, with the most immediate needs of shelter, food and safety being the top priority, we should also remain mindful of a hierarchy of vulnerability which may impact upon the extent of need.

Most people assimilate into British life to various degrees depending on their social contacts and ability to find work.

Organisations need to know not only how people arrived in the country but also where different migrant groups have settled, in what numbers, and how and where they may be accessing information. Often service providers do not account for the developments within and between migrant groups. For example, our interviews with Polish migrants found that directing service provision through the church might not be the best option, as the younger generation may not attend church as much due to long hours at work. They may also find difficulties from the church with regards to issues around cohabitation and contraception. There are sometimes geographical sites that are accessed by large numbers of migrants. An example of this in Nottinghamshire can be seen in Newark, Mansfield and Worksop, where local factories employ large numbers of EU migrants, including Greencore, a local sandwich factory in Worksop and Sports Direct in Mansfield. Other sites in Newark included a local Catholic primary school where a significant number of children were from Eastern European families residing locally, mostly Polish. There is, therefore, a need for alternative secular places to flourish and for service providers to be aware of such spaces and to respond accordingly.

Most people assimilate into British life to various degrees depending on their social contacts and ability to find work. The majority of people are in menial labour-intensive jobs with long hours, which afford them little time to socialise with others. They tend to have connections with a limited number of other migrants either from their own or other backgrounds, forming the so-called ‘micro’ communities.

Migrant groups in our study were mostly involved in ‘micro’ rather than ‘macro’ communities and were influenced by their own particular ‘pattern of migration’ within which they felt sufficiently ‘integrated.’ It appeared, therefore, that for our respondents ‘Britishness’ was mainly about ‘being able to get by’ while retaining their own culture and background to a greater/lesser extent.

For the majority of the migrant groups that we interviewed, it was either their migrant communities or other migrants that had helped them to assimilate into British life to some degree. This is represented in the comic ‘I’m Only Happy When it Rains’ by Mrs. Tóth – the ‘human Google’ who provides a guide to getting by in British culture, and by the English classes held by Maamon in the comic ‘What is Coming’.

Such contacts satisfy their cultural and social needs, offering a sense of belonging, connectedness and community. Such contacts continued to provide practical resources in respect of culturally sensitive services, religious worship facilities, ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) classes, interpreters and access to cultural cuisine. New communities value leisure activities that bring them together with family and friends, with integration often occurring through leisure practices, such as attending religious services and community events which involve the sharing of food – the latter was a key practice that brought migrants together, and the reason ‘I’m Only Happy When it Rains’ is set in a community garden.

The findings from this research would suggest it may be time to rethink established ideas around ‘community cohesion’ and how public organisations should consider targeting different migrant groups.

Taken from Dr. Loretta Trickett and Amanda Hanson with James Walker and Mahad Haq, ‘New and Emerging Communities,’ August 2019.

Share this feature:


Mentioned in this article

Migrant workers at the Sports Direct factory, Shirebrook War on Want activism