At a recent meeting on the refugee crisis, a well-heeled woman talked about how Hackney might be better placed to deal with the situation, given the number of immigrants living there. She cited, as examples, the large Turkish community and “Orthodox Jewish community”.
It took me a few minutes to work out who she meant. Are the Stamford Hillbillies really immigrants? The Chasids of Hackney came to Britain in 1886 after the Tsarist pogroms. Sure, they haven’t changed tailors since and nobody’s told them about modern technologies like tape players or cheesegraters. But surely, after more than a century in the borough, they’ve been here long enough not to be considered immigrants any more.
The same is true for the Turks and Kurds living around Green Lanes and Stoke Newington. They’ve been here for decades. They started coming when a racist nationalist junta took power of Turkey and… well, nothing much has changed since.
It’s hard to imagine a Hackney now without the kebab shops, tea houses, mosques and weirdly brightly-lit pool halls that make it the beloved shithole it is.
Still, it’s clear to everyone that Hackney does have a migrant crisis. Over the years, the demographics of the area have shifted dramatically as new people have moved into the area, bringing their own customs, foods and lifestyles.
These are, of course, the migrants from Surrey, Cambridgeshire, Pembrokeshire, and other places you wish you hadn’t heard of. They’re coming to Hackney looking for a better life for themselves and their families.
And who can blame them? There are no jobs where they come from, the prospects are bleak, and, in many cases, they’re besieged by fanatical extremists, like the infamous UKIP. No wonder they want to come and join a civilised society.
Let’s not pretend that this has been easy for anyone. Migration always brings with it new challenges. The indigenous population of Turks, Kurds and Jews will simply have to get used to the newcomer hipsters, yummy mummies and East-End-nostalgia-anarchists.
Sure, their culture is different. We can assume that, where they come from, people eat pink cereal in cafes, rather than drinking tea, and that they think of barber shops as modern art museums, rather than places to get your hair cut and read magazines with pictures of the Royal Family that you wouldn’t read anywhere else.
It’s been said that they only stick to themselves and don’t try to integrate with the wider community. Many of them don’t speak London Multicultural English, and rely on their children to translate for them. But be patient. Integration takes time. Help them out by speaking to them – slowly and clearly – so that they can adapt.
Some people come to this from a point of concern for the strain on local resources and infrastructure. This is a serious issue – and this is where our political anger should be directed. Not against the poor people fleeing Surrey, but against the government, who’ve failed to build enough homes, or sufficiently invest in education and transport to make this migrant situation work.
Above all, we need to invest in the places that these people have come from. Cambridgeshire and Pembrokeshire need funding so that they can be self-sustaining full participants in the modern world, so that their best and brightest don’t want to leave. These people need our help – not our hatred.