“Voices from Slough” A socio-historic empirical analysis of Somali asylum seekers, refugees and EU Somali compared to Accession Eight (EU8) Polish economic migrants

Mel Cox

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis bonds with contemporary debates as regards global migration and settlement in Britain. It investigates aspects of their impact on developing relations in the country’s increasingly expanding multicultural society. Located in the post-2004 controversy generating politics-of-immigration debate, it contributes fresh insight into understanding the notions and issues arising. It does so by way of an empirically focused study of two migrant groups; Somali refugees, asylum seekers and secondary-migrants, and Polish (EU8) economic migrants. It is explicitly cross-disciplinary in nature. Discussion is given over to foremost issues of similarity and difference perpetuating the group’s parallel but also different existences. Assessment is made of empirical testimonies, drawing out understanding of each protagonists interface with each other and their diverse connections with wider British society. This sought to enable enhanced understanding of the complex migration and settlement phenomenon and presents a contemporary socio-historic map of the scrutinized communities in a regional setting. It fills specific knowledge fissures, drawing fresh attention to unresolved debates surrounding multiculturalism, cohesion and exclusion as well as suggesting some new-connections between them.
Its results support the view ‘white’, EU-citizen Christian Europeans remain more tolerated, accommodated and welcome in Britain than ‘black’, refugee/asylum seeker or secondary-migrant, Muslim Africans. The protagonists had cultural histories intersecting appreciably with Britain’s over significant periods of time and each group represented a migratory ‘fourth-wave’ in contemporary Britain. These historic relationships had diverse bearings on degrees of tolerance. The extent to which ‘welcomes’ were extended varied. The protagonists had never been diametrically compared in this way before. Both were newly arrived to Britain in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. The protagonists were contrasted in a framework of four material differences, namely black’ and ‘white’ skin-colours, refugee/asylum seeker and European Union (EU) economic migrant legal statuses, Muslim and Christian religious affiliations and lastly African and European countries of origin. Noteworthy cultural similarities, for example the respective transient and commuting natures of the Somali first-wave and the Polish (EU8) fourth-wave, did not straightforwardly unite the groups in any meaningful way or at any level. Importantly, differences and similarities between them presented significant examples of Britain’s predisposition not to truly accept migrant ‘other’ although to be more tolerant of some migrants than others.
In the context of increasing globalisation and the need to accept twenty-first century multicultural, ethnic and religious characters and realities, this thesis focuses on dissimilarity and likeness between the protagonists. This was achieved by exploratory historic, theoretical and contemporary comparisons between them. The histories of Somali and Polish migrants in Britain have remained, by and large, under-researched, the low numbers of Somali ostensibly marginalized in Britain to the point of invisibility, without cohesive representation, and the Poles, until May 2004, under the radar and reasonably well organized, assimilated and self-contained as a relatively small component within British multicultural society. The difference between each protagonist was pertinent in distinguishing and categorizing how they were viewed from broader society perspectives. The Europe-wide unlocking of the British labour market in 2004 once again highlighted the existence of Britain’s ethnic minority hierarchy. Affordable mass transit, Britain’s pull-force as an economic and cultural magnet and the evermore exposed British ‘racist’ character fed into government attempts to recruit essential-workers.
The notion of parallel-lives was examined through each protagonist’s experiences, anecdotal evidence and tangible settlement outcomes witnessed first-hand during the field work. This thesis’ conclusions contribute to the wider community cohesion debate informing policy makers of the significance that material differences have in the lives of lesser investigated ethnic minority groups and communities living and working in Britain.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Ansari, Humayun, Supervisor
Award date1 Feb 2015
Publication statusUnpublished - 2015

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