Friday, March 03, 2006

neighbourhood effects of immigration

Why do government agencies and their contracted service providers send new immigrants to the most disadvantaged and deprived areas? Areas which already have crap housing, high unemployment, crime problems, poor services and few local amenities. Are they trying to increase deprivation? Are they content to see community tensions rise?

The 39 New Deal for Community Areas, which constitute some of the most deprived neighbourhoods in England, have a relatively large proportion of people seeking and granted asylum within them. And the Home Office's cluster areas for the dispersal of asylum seekers seem to have been transplanted directly onto the 88 local authority districts which, according to the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit, have the highest levels of social exclusion.

The consequences of these settlement patterns is detrimental to all concerned, both the new immigrants, and the existing population. There's a clear link between a person's prospects in life, and where they live. Living in an area of deprivation will restrict access to jobs, and limit political influence. This ensures the continuation of disadvantage, poor housing, and the economic divide. The government's settlement policy only serves to compound existing deprivation and exclusion, whilst increasing community tensions.

There is a weird notion that the placement of groups of new immigrants into existing communities will enable social interaction, and consequently result in mutual understanding and tolerance. Evidence shows this to be a nonsense. In existing socially mixed neighbourhoods social interaction does not occur, so how will the adding of ethnicity to the equation change that? Regular contact does not necessarily encourage cultural exchange, in fact it can deepen prejudices.

New immigrants are more likely to be subject to harassment, abuse and violence in areas where the settlement of immigrants is uncommon. In the odd area where the resident local population was consulted and kept informed of arrangements for new immigrants, this increased risk was offset. Myth busting, adequate support for new residents (but not at the expense of the existing residents) and better community resources were issues that had to be tackled in order to aid acceptance. In other words, the local community had to be fully involved, and not have their meagre resources further squeezed. However this level of participation is an all too rare occurrence. In most cases the concerns of existing communities are not just disregarded, they are not even sought.

But the main question remains; why are new immigrants sent to areas that are already so deprived as to severely damage their resident community without the added pressures of an additional disadvantaged group of people? They all deserve so much more.

Neighbourhood experiences of new immigration
Reflections from the evidence base
David Robinson and Kesia Reeve

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