"I’m an immigrant to the EU, and one of the few members of the European Parliament that’s an immigrant from outside of the European Union. I’m of Indian descent, but I had also lived for some time in Yemen, so I spoke Arabic as well as my mother tongue languages. I came to the United Kingdom from India when I was four years old, and settled in Scotland where I grew up. After many years I became a member of the European Parliament representing London. I am an immigrant, and I have spent most of life working on the topic of migration.
Home is always a very flexible concept, I don’t think you ever feel completely settled. And whatever people say, it’s also an issue of race and colour. You can feel assimilated if you look the same as the rest of society, but for me in the UK and in the European Union, my colour is always going to be an issue. The idea that diversity just means people from different regions speaking different languages is just not true – we don’t see enough people whose origins may lie outside of the European Union, or who have different race and nationality backgrounds, represented in European institutions.
You can be proud to be European and have a multicultural identity, but there will always be a draw to your country of origin, and I feel that this is particularly true for people from visible minorities. In many ways, for us, assimilation is a meaningless concept. Growing up in 1970s Scotland, I experienced all kinds of racism, discrimination and harassment – in the political field it’s more subtle but it’s all around. The numbers of visible ethnic minorities have declined since I first came to the European Parliament in 1999. We do not have the diversity we should have.
For anyone coming in from outside the EU today, I would advise them to preserve their identity and their self-confidence. Barriers still exist for newcomers to the EU, so that confidence will be necessary to overcome them, but opportunities for advancement do exist."
photo credit: iom/thomas Marchal