Immigrants: the more the merrier
Forget all the talk of scroungers, trafficked victims or migrant-polluters: two new films show us the human face of mass migration.
It is true that many migrants leave home under duress, because of economic, social or political constraints in their place of birth. But the tendency to see migration simply as a consequence or cause of trauma, rather than as an expression of human agency or as an enriching experience, means that migrants are more often than not viewed as victims disempowered by circumstances beyond their control. In truth, there can hardly be a clearer manifestation of the desire to take one’s destiny into one’s own hands, or to widen one’s horizons, than by taking the decision to leave home and travel across the globe.
The victimisation of migrants can be seen in the fact that while refugees and asylum seekers often find sympathy because of their harsh experiences, those who migrate simply because they want to, or because they need to earn money abroad, are often demonised as ‘scroungers’ without a good enough reason to ‘come over here’. Simply wanting to see the world or to meet new people – these are not viewed as strong enough justifications for free movement around the world.
In contrast to this narrow discussion of migration, The More the Merrier, a new short documentary film produced by the London-based charity WORLDwrite, makes the case for unfettered freedom of movement for all, for any reason whatsoever. (See a trailer for the film below.) Partly shot at a debate on migration at last year’s Battle of Ideas Festival in London, the film examines global inequalities when it comes to opportunities to seek a better life outside of one’s city or country of origin.
The More the Merrier is premiering in London this weekend, along with the short film Cash Back, which examines the positive impact of remittances on the developing world – that is, money sent back by African, Asian and Latin American ex-pats working in the West. WORLDwrite has clearly not attempted to present a ‘balanced’ view on migration. No, these films are unashamedly on the side of free movement for all, and they are about puncturing some of the most common misconceptions about migration today.
Did you know, for example, that only three per cent of the world’s population live outside the country in which they were born? As Philippe Legrain, author of Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them, points out in the film, most migration happens within not between countries, and mass migration occurs mostly within the developing world. So much for Britain and other Western countries being ‘swamped’ by outsiders.
A key message of The More the Merrier is that migration does not simply have consequences for individuals, but also for present and future society as a whole. Bruno Waterfield, Brussels correspondent for the UK Daily Telegraph and a contributor to spiked, points out in the film: ‘The desire to move on, to look for something better, or even to seek a new world, is the germ of the history-making impulse…’ He argues that ‘even if born out of despair or political defeat, migration still represents a striving or a struggle not to be a passive victim of circumstance’.
Interspersed with archive footage of some of the most iconic images of migration – from ships jam-packed with Europeans at Ellis Island, New York, to migrants arriving at St Katharine Docks in London along with shipments of exotic goods like silk, spices and birds of paradise – The More the Merrier puts migration into an historical perspective. It shows the diverse motivations of those leaving home, from Jews escaping pogroms in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to Third World residents today trying to overcome poverty and Westerners choosing to study, work and holiday abroad.
While we in rich countries take it for granted that we can move around more or less unhindered, we often expect others to stay put or to have very particular motivations for settling in, or even visiting, foreign countries.
The WORLDwrite films humanise the movement of people, and therefore make a crucial and valuable intervention into the debate about migration. The message of the films is both intelligent and critical, highlighting perspectives which are usually hidden beneath a barrage of media headlines that tend to highlight the ‘corrosive’ effects of mass migration, or portray migrants as hapless victims of circumstance.
Nathalie Rothschild is commissioning editor of spiked. The More the Merrier and Cash Back premiere on Sunday 20 April at the Vibe Lounge, 91-95 Brick Lane, London. Speakers at the event include Philippe Legrain, author of Immigrants: Your County Needs Them; Claire Fox, director of the Institute of Ideas, and Nathalie Rothschild, commissioning editor of spiked.
UPDATE: Watch spiked‘s Nathalie Rothschild speaking at
the film launch
(courtesy of Friction.tv)