‘Inclusion’ means your culture, identity and experience are accepted and valued. ‘Integration’ forces us to lose our identities.
I have been in the UK since 1997. I’ve buried a lot from those early days but my experiences have shaped how I feel about the concept of integration.
When I first arrived in the late 90’s, there was no restriction on the ability to work for asylum seekers. I began working in market research. My job was to work on buses and ask people questions, largely in predominantly White areas like Dagenham. The way people treated me had a huge impact on me. They made very quick assumptions about the way I looked and my accent. They asked questions like “You don’t belong here”, or “Can I see your passport?”.
They didn’t accept me because they saw me as different. The emphasis on ‘integrating’ means we are expected to be part of the wider majority and forces us to lose our individual identities if they’re seen to be different.
I left the job in market research when I started training to become a teacher. It was here I realised the power of replacing ‘integration’ with ‘inclusion’. Inclusion means your culture, identity and experience are accepted and valued. As a teacher, I saw the emphasis on the word ‘inclusion’ to support everyone, from those who perhaps had learning difficulties to those for whom English was not their first language, to be successful and thrive.
I wish I could say I felt our attitudes had changed over 26 years, but they haven’t. Although in education I think the idea of inclusion is welcomed, the concept of integration continues to be promoted by the Home Office. People arriving in the UK are still expected to shed who they are and subscribe to the wider ‘British’ society.
We are not invaders
The idea of invasion has been around for a long time. I was grappling with it before Suella Braverman stood up in the House of Commons and made that horrible statement about people invading our country via the Channel.
Asylum seekers have been seen as ‘invaders’ who are ‘milking the system’ for a long time. And we’ve been treated with suspicion as a result.
I had been in the UK for just three months when I was stopped and searched by plain-clothed officers. It was January 1998 and it was bitterly cold. I was being supported by Hammersmith and Fulham social services at the time and they had given me a large puffer jacket with lots of pockets to wear.
I was walking when three men rounded me up because they thought I looked suspicious. It was so scary and I tried to run in my state of shock. They told me that they thought I looked “like a drug dealer” in this large coat and that the only reason I could possibly have so many pockets is because I was keeping drugs in them. My English wasn’t as good back then, so when they found a £30 food voucher that social services had given me, they called up social services to check who I was. This had a profound impact on me for a long time.
But despite all the negative things that shaped my early life in the UK, I have positive memories that helped me build my life here. When I was supported by social services, there was a big picture of Albert Einstein in the office. Underneath were the words “Einstein was a refugee”. That stayed with me because it made me feel that it is possible to be both a refugee and successful.
– Written by a member of the MRN community
This blog post is part of our Words Matter x NSW series.