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Brexit: an Immigrant’s Perspective

Written by  Queen's Journal Wednesday, 03 August 2016 11:21
Brexit: an Immigrant’s Perspective
Photo credit: Auston Chhor/Queen's Journal

by Ramna Safeer in Kingston

The hate towards immigrants that has risen exponentially after the Brexit vote is sending chills down my spine an ocean away.  

According to the BBC, several mosques in London were sent a suspicious white powder with “Paki filth” scrawled on the envelopes. Britain’s National Police Chief’s Council reported a 500 per cent rise in hate crime incidents just before and after the referendum.

As a daughter of two proud immigrants, who planted their Pakistani roots in Canada a few years after their marriage, I can’t help but feel targeted.

While dozens of post-Brexit comments on my social media attempted to steer attention away from the anti-immigrant focus of Campaign Leave, I couldn’t help but wonder what the “take back control of our borders” rhetoric and its violent aftermath must look like to Britain’s many immigrants. 

Racial prejudice

Taha Khan is a university student and Youtuber living in a town just outside Cambridge. His Pakistani parents moved to the United Kingdom 13 years ago from Saudi Arabia, where they were also immigrants. 

The post-Brexit atmosphere is definitely a racially charged one, Khan said, with underlying tensions bubbling to the surface.

“When I go to the villages and towns around Cambridge, where I live, they predominantly voted Leave,” he told The Journal over the phone. “That changes your preconceptions about people when you know that they might have voted on racially prejudiced lines, you’re a lot more wary.”

Khan, who is Muslim, said he and his family might be reacting subconsciously to the exponential rise in hate crimes against Muslims. 

“The sharp increase in confidence of racists has led to the sharp decrease in confidence of minorities to be visible,” he said. 

The end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan is called Eid. Celebrated by billions of Muslims across the globe, Eid is a chance to spend time with family and wear cultural clothing such as shalwar khameez — a cultural outfit often worn by Pakistanis on special occasions. 

Due to the upsurge in attacks against Muslims, Khan said Muslims may be feeling increasingly hesitant about wearing such clothing in public and in general, not being “outwardly Muslim”. 

“On Eid, I wore trousers and a shirt. Now that I think about it, I don’t recall it being a conscious choice, but I didn’t wear a shalwar khameez, maybe because it’s such a white area. We kind of live invisibly in this predominantly white city.” 

"Independence Day"

According to The Independent, British Muslims are experiencing a rampant rise of faith-based attacks, particularly people who outwardly identify as Muslim, such as women who wear the hijab — even though British Muslims aren’t exactly few and far between. As of 2011, over two million Muslims called Britain home. 

As the referendum result was finalized on the night of the vote, leader of the Leave campaign Nigel Farage claimed that June 23 would go down in history as the country’s “Independence Day”.  

As a colonial and imperial superpower that once exercised an often violent control over what is now India, Pakistan and Bangladesh — and given the backlash against these same people following the referendum — Farage’s “Independence Day” isn’t just ironic. It’s downright mockery. 

Without the benefits and resources that Britain reaped from these colonies, there would be no “great” in Great Britain. But with one word, five letters, “Leave”, Britain has turned its back on the millions of immigrants whose lives are woven into the country’s history, while halfway around the world, I still feel the violent consequences of the referendum. 

This comment first appeared in the Queen's Journal. Safeer is the Journal's editorials editor.

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