Great Britain, a diverse country for decades, is now superdivers


A SHIELD IN in front of the Willesden Food Center, a convenience store in northwest London, advertises the following foods: Afghan, African, Albanian, Arabic, Brazilian, Bulgarian, English, Greek, Iranian, Latvian, Pakistani, Polish, Romanian and Turkish. The shopkeeper may want to add more countries to the list, but is running out of space.

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It is a fair reflection of an amazingly diverse corner of the capital. At the last census a decade ago, Willesden Green Parish (which has now changed slightly) was nearly 9,000 out of a total of 15,500 foreign-born people. No immigrant group came close to dominating. The largest from Poland was only 799. Numerous countries, from Angola to Zimbabwe, each supplied a few dozen people. Since then, new groups like Syrians have emerged.

If the 2021 census releases detailed results, a few years from now will likely show that more places are now resembling Willesden Green, with not only many immigrants but also extremely different ones – a pattern some scholars refer to as “superdiversity”. . This is caused in part by changes in immigration and in part by the real estate market. It’s mostly, but not entirely, a good thing.

Many people who came to Britain in the second half of the 20th century had a connection with the country, says Madeleine Sumption of the Migration Observatory, a think tank. Many came from Ireland or Commonwealth countries like India, Jamaica and Pakistan. They often had families in the UK: in 1991 more than a quarter accompanied or joined others. That started to change around the year 2000. Since then, most of them are workers or students who often become workers after graduation.

Most prominent and politically controversial are the many Eastern Europeans who came between liberalization EU Migration in 2004 and the door slamming at the end of 2020. According to the annual population survey, Poles and Romanians are now the second and fourth largest foreign-born population groups. But Britain has also seen a lot of smaller waves that amount to one big movement. The number of Brazilians has increased from 28,000 to 101,000. The number of Filipinos – many of them work in the NHS– has increased from 63,000 to 153,000 (see graphic). The UK now has more people born in the Philippines than Jamaica.

As a result, the immigrant population has diversified. In 1981 the top five countries of origin (then on the order of Ireland, India, Pakistan, Germany and Jamaica) accounted for 46% of all non-UK born people in England and Wales. In 2001 the top 5 were 35%; In 2019 only 32%.

This trend is likely to continue. Britain’s exit from the EU End of free movement from Europe, which is likely to mean slower migration from Poland and Romania. But moving from somewhere else is easier because the salary limit has been lowered for people with job offers. From July 1st, foreign students can work for two years after completing their studies. This will likely encourage more settlements by Chinese – the largest group of international students, but only the 10th most foreign-born group overall.

The other cause of superdiversity is the dissolution of ethnic enclaves. Earlier generations of immigrants tended to group, partly because they were discriminated against and partly because it was relatively easy. There was space for cities: London’s population fell by more than 2 million people between 1939 and 1991. Racism is less common these days, and housing is so expensive that newcomers have to settle where they can afford it.

The result is mixed, multi-ethnic districts that differ from traditional enclaves. Ahmed Bassaam, a Somali refugee who is now a community worker in Willesden, notes that English is the predominant language in local shops and mosques. Given the multitude of mother tongues, he says: “English is the only way for us to communicate with one another.” Mr. Bassaam, who has developed a fondness for Brazilian fizzy drinks and Turkish bread, also argues that superdiversity is good for the stomach.

However, it does have some drawbacks. In the absence of a dense network of compatriots to interpret and explain, immigrants in extremely mixed areas can have difficulty understanding the school system or health services. As a small group among many, they find it difficult to gain political power. Tom Miller, who represents Willesden Green on the local council, notes that he and his two local councilors are White British.

Superdiversity can also be confusing for the host society. The Commonwealth immigrants who arrived in the late 20th century played up their Britishness, says Sunder Katwala of British Future, a think tank. That made it pretty easy for the natives to accept, though many still took their time. The immigrant bazaars that are now forming are harder to understand. But at least the food is good and the signs are in English.â– 

This article appeared in the UK section of the print edition under the heading “Here Comes Everyone”


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