My life as an immigrant - Refugee Council
March 21, 2005

My life as an immigrant

Date: 20 March 2005
Source: The Observer

Zenobia Biggs, 60, of Siddington, near Macclesfield
I was born in Sheffield, but when I was four months old my father joined the Indian army and I went to Karachi with my mother. I had a very good childhood. I was brought up with the view that I should go to university and I came to England to study at Cambridge.

I had a wonderful time and there was no racism at all. I went back to Karachi and wouldn’t have come back had I not met my British husband, Gerry, there. We got married there, then settled here in 1984. We bought a company – a manufacturing opticians – in 1986 and I have had three children.

I have only had one negative experience because of my race. I applied to become a magistrate and at the interview I was asked if I knew enough about the British way to do the job. It threw me completely because I have never felt a foreigner. But I firmly believe one of the reasons we do not face prejudice is that we are well off. Prejudice to others angers me.

Natalia, 26, South London
I came to Britain from Slovakia as an au pair and loved the independence I had here. I became a nanny and then my family sponsored me to do a degree in marketing and psychology. After I had been in Britain for eight years, my visa ran out. It was March 2004, three months before we joined the EU. I went on a snow boarding trip and when I came back they stopped me at immigration.

I really thought the fact that I had been here so long, paying taxes, educating myself and absorbing the culture meant they would let me back in.

I have suffered quite a bit of racism. I work in a London bar and do the marketing for a graphic designer now. Recently someone was being rowdy in the bar and when I asked them to be quiet they became aggressive, saying ‘Where do you come from?’ After more than eight years I still feel like I fight every day just to be in Britain.

Dr Ike Anya, 34, from Bristol
I initially came to Britain to do a master’s in London and when I finished decided to do specialist training in public health. Generally people have been warm and welcoming, but I have suffered a couple of incidents with immigration. When I had to renew my visa – when I got my first job – I had to go to Lunar House in Croydon and I was appalled at the conditions. We had to stand outdoors for two hours in the middle of winter.

The woman would not help and was quite rude about it, so I left. I was quite upset, so I wrote to my MP and the British Medical Association. My MP wrote back the next day and got in touch with the Home Office minister, who wrote an apology.

I think there is a perception that is being propagated making the word immigrant sound dirty and evil and disease-carrying, and it does upset me. I am proud to be an immigrant.

Taken from the Observer coverage on the new exhibition at the Jewish Museum, see also A new exhibition on the history of migration reveals striking similarities in attitudes over the last 100 years

Links and further information:

The Refugee Council has produced a free Pocket Guide to Asylum for the General Election, Tell it Like It Is: The Truth About Asylum. This link allows you to download a pdf of the guide in English and Welsh and also analyses some of the current press myths about asylum seekers and refugees.