UK: Language key to saying 'I belong to Glasgow'

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sat Nov 29 14:10:33 UTC 2008

Language key to saying 'I belong to Glasgow'

29 November 2008

Learning English appears to be a major factor in how successfully, or
otherwise, 'A8 migrants' adapt to their new life in Scotland, reports
Michael Howie
'IT'S funny," says Magda Nieradko, 24, "when I talk to my mother on
the phone and say I'm just going back home, she thinks I mean Poland."
Magda's roots are in Stalowa Wola, a town in the south-east of the
country where her family still lives –but "home" is now more than
1,000 miles away in the east end of Glasgow. Magda's experiences of
migrating to Scotland, along with thousands of other people who have
settled here following the enlargement of the European Union in 2004,
have largely been positive. But others have found it more difficult to
settle, often finding the language barrier too big to cross.

A broad spectrum of experiences enjoyed, and in some cases suffered,
by so-called A8 migrants since moving to Scotland are highlighted in a
report published this week by the British Council. Magda's is one of
the many contrasting stories told in Migrant Cities, which compares
the lives of Poles, Slovaks and other eastern European migrants in
nine cities, including Glasgow, Cardiff, Bucharest, Athens and Tirana.

She arrived in Glasgow at the start of a gap year, which she filled
working in bars, hanging out with new friends and improving her
English. She stayed with a Polish friend, who had recommended Scotland
as a "nice place to live". Magda returned to Poland to finish her
social policy degree – but by then the building blocks of a new life
in Scotland had been laid.  "The biggest factor in my decision to move
back was that I had met my boyfriend, Paul. But I also really liked
the country – it's small but with many cultures, which surprised me."

Magda now lives with Paul in a flat in the city's Dennistoun area. She
landed work helping Polish job seekers at a recruitment agency, while
also volunteering for an equality advisory group, where she is now
delighted to be working full-time. Some clients at the West of
Scotland Regional Equality Council are themselves eastern European
migrants who feel they have been unfairly treated by employers,
landlords, or public services. Some are struggling to access housing
and other services because of language difficulties.

Language skills is an issue that, according to Magda, is "crucial" to
migrants' experience of Scotland. "I have felt really welcomed in
Scotland. But I think where people have had problems, it is because of
misunderstandings due to the language difference. "I think if you make
a real effort to learn the language, you will get much more out living
in Scotland. But people who do not try to learn the language will
perhaps feel like they don't belong." One Slovak Roma, Katarina, 34,
has found life difficult, partly because neither she nor her husband
speak much English.

Both have had jobs, but Katarina became pregnant and had to stop
working at the recruitment agency.

"We call about housing benefits, but they only speak English. We can't
give them information we need because we don't understand. And
everything is always postponed. We thought Glasgow would be better
than it is," she says.

The report also highlights the difficulty some services have faced
given greater-than expected levels of migration.

John Donaldson, head of immigration and emergency services at Glasgow
City Council, is quoted as saying: "Central government was wrong in
estimating an influx of 60,000 migrants. It was really about 200,000.
So there are strains for education and health, the politics is
difficult, the local government wants more funding, but the central
government doesn't want to admit they were wrong."

The report says Glasgow City Council has responded "quickly and
positively", recognising that the massive influx of migrants has
helped to stem population decline and boost the city's economic and
cultural base.

But it also highlights serious housing problems, particularly caused
by unscrupulous landlords. For example, overcrowding and exploitation
of migrant communities has, according to the report, been "rife" in
the Govanhill area of the city.

Katarina told researchers: "We don't even have hot water here. When I
want to wash my baby, I have to heat up the water first and then use

But while the notion that schools and hospitals are bursting at the
seams because of a "flood" of new migrants is widely-held, many
experts say this is something of a myth whipped up by right-wing

The Office of National Statistics' international passenger survey
estimates net A8 migration to Scotland since 2004 at around 18,000 –
hardly the tidal wave thought by some to be the case.

This view also ignores the widely-held belief that Scotland is facing
a skills shortage amid an otherwise declining population. From
agriculture to retail, hospitality to medicine, A8 migrants have
brought a wealth of skills to Scotland.

The report also highlights how migration patterns have been central to
Glasgow's development for centuries.

The city grew tenfold between the 18th and 20th centuries, with Irish,
Pakistanis, Jews and Poles making Scotland their home, while a reverse
process has seen a Scottish diaspora stretch across the globe.

More than 25,000 Pakistanis live in the Greater Glasgow area, while
thousands of Jews fled Nazi persecution and settled in Scotland, with
an estimated 7,000 Jewish people currently living in the country.

A spokesman for Glasgow City Council said Glasgow was not alone in
experiencing pressure on its services as a result of EU migration.
"But where there have been issues, the council has worked with its
partner agencies to address these concerns.

"Over the long term, the migration has to be welcomed as it helps to
address the continued loss of population to the city's surrounding

"Not only do our new residents contribute to keeping Glasgow
competitive, but they also add to the city's increasing cultural

Commenting on the report's findings, Roy Cross, director of British
Council Scotland, says: "Key policy and practitioner stakeholders from
Glasgow were interviewed along with migrants who best reflected a
cross-section of significant groups from across the city.

"The research revealed areas of best practice, with Glasgow recognised
for initiatives such as the 'Welcome to Glasgow' information pack,
produced by Glasgow City Council, aimed at migrants from the new EU
members state."

The Scottish Government, meanwhile, stresses the link between economic
growth and population growth.

"Scotland has specific needs and we are developing policy on
migration, Fresh Talent and population growth to help achieve our
ambitious target to match average European (EU-15)] population growth
over the next ten years and create a wealthier and fairer Scotland,"
says a spokesman.

"Our policies aim to help integrate migrant workers and their families
into life in Scotland and to promote a more diverse and vibrant labour

"There have been significant numbers of migrant workers coming to
Scotland in recent years. These workers are making an important
contribution to the Scottish economy, as well as helping to increase
the working-age population."

It is this cultural diversity that has encouraged Magda to consider
raising a family in Scotland.

"Maybe I have a cosmopolitan nature. Of course I don't feel Scottish,
but I feel I really work out in this place," she says.

Range of factors influence how groups fit in

Emilia Pietka researcher who worked on the British Council report

THE effect of eastern and central European migrants in Glasgow has
generally been a positive one regarding the economy and local
population growth. However, there are problems in understanding
migration patterns relating to various issues and difficulties.

Quantifying the numbers of migrants living and working in the city is
difficult to achieve due to government logging systems being

Second, although Glasgow City Council has done an admirable job in
welcoming new migrant communities to the city, there are still reports
of some groups (mainly Roma migrants) not receiving practical
information on arrival and/or having difficulties accessing

Public opinion and attitudes are also important. Often in the case of
migration, public attitudes are reflected in and shaped by the media,
which tend to suggest that certain migration patterns are
fundamentally problematic.

Finally, the ability to speak fluent English is one of the most
challenging barriers shaping the migrants' experience of living in the

A wide of range of factors influence the extent to which migrants feel
part of the city.

Younger migrants were less "fixed" in their identities and more able
to take advantage of new forms of belonging in different
socio-economic and cultural situations. This could be down to age, but
also a result of language, social class, religion and feeling of
material security.

Key challenges we have to overcome

Derek Mitchell manager, Cosla's strategic migration partnership

MIGRATION into Scotland, primarily through the expansion of the EU,
has evidently brought positive benefits. However, EU migration also
poses a number of challenges for local and central government.

It is clear service impacts and costs associated with migration are
only beginning to be understood. It should also be noted some demands
that may otherwise have been placed on local authorities have not yet
been felt. Many EU migrants coming to Scotland have restricted rights
to public assistance and this means they do not, for instance,
normally have the right to state benefits or housing and homelessness

There are still large gaps in knowledge regarding actual estimates of
how many migrant workers live and work in Scotland and how migration
has impacted on key services.

One of the main challenges for government is measuring and predicting
inward migration. There are concerns over inaccurate statistics and
data collection systems that cannot keep pace with rapidly changing
demographics. A key issue for public services generally is the "churn"
effect of migration upon local communities and services.

Despite such issues, migrant workers make a valuable contribution in
helping us meet our demographic challenges, enriching our cultural
diversity and contributing to our workforce.

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