By Gwyneth Lonergan, Sociology/Research Institute for Cosmopolitan Cultures, University of Manchester
Recent weeks have seen multiple stories in the media about government attempts to restrict the rights and freedoms of migrants, whether the Immigration Bill currently under debate with its intention to limit migrants’ access to the NHS, or the furore around the Home Office’s infamous ‘Go Home’ campaign. As immigration and citizenship is regulated by the national government, the national scale may seem like the obvious field for migrants and their supporters to resist xenophobia and marginalisation. However, the local scale can be of great significance for migrants struggling against exclusion. After all, most immigrants settle in cities, and use the resources they find in these cities in their struggles against exclusion. Local governments may not be able to overturn national government restrictions against migrants, but they can contribute to the creation of cities that are supportive of migrants and provide significant resources, both material and cultural.
Local governments can seek to include migrants in city life, even where this subverts or contradicts national government policy. Thus, for example, while the national government has a monopoly on determining who has the right to vote, a city can use other mechanisms to include non-citizen residents in decision-making processes, e.g. community forums and consultations. Similarly, a local government can allocate grants (however few in these days of austerity) to organizations supporting migrants. Cities can also include migrants in more subtle, but significant ways, by contributing to the construction of a local ‘sense of place’ that is multicultural and understands migration as a key element of local history and identity. Cultural festivals that acknowledge and celebrate the contribution of migrants to the city might be one way of doing this. An inclusive sense of place greatly influences the environment in which migrants live, and the quality of their interactions with other residents. While racists and xenophobes can be found anywhere, a local identity that stresses the importance of inclusion and multiculturalism may encourage residents to view migrants positively and to offer their support to vulnerable migrants. It can further provide migrant social movements with cultural and moral resources.
It is important, of course, not to overstate the power and influence of local government, particularly in the UK where the central government is especially powerful when compared to other EU countries. Furthermore, the development of migrant-friendly local policies are often part and parcel of a wider neo-liberal strategy to construct a ‘cosmopolitan’ local identity and attract investors, tourists and upwardly mobile young professionals. While said policies may still be of benefit to migrants, particularly economically privileged migrants, their neo-liberal character can exacerbate the economic exclusion of poorer migrants. Nonetheless, given the importance of the local scale to migrants’ struggles, we must consider how local policy can be used to support and include migrants.
As part of Policy Week, there will be a roundtable discussion on Tuesday 29 October from 10-12 about how local policy in Manchester can be used to make the city more welcoming to migrants. Confirmed speakers include representatives from Europia, Migrants Supporting Migrants, and Refugee Action.
To register for this free event, please visit http://www.policy.manchester.ac.uk/week/list/migrants-in-manchester-list/