What have you been thinking about over the last 6 months? Me – I’ve been focused on the government’s nationality and borders bill as part of my role as a field organiser for the Aid Alliance.
The bill has got me asking a pretty fundamental question — what will it take to be accepted in the country you are born in?
Being a Muslim, Pakistani, British-born female, this is a question which I have asked myself on various occasions. I have a strong feeling it is due to the colour of my skin and the way I dress. But the introduction of the nationality and borders bill has made me realise that I now have to voice my thoughts more than I have in the past. Why? Because of the threat it poses to me and others around me.
When I’ve voiced my worries to friends, many of them have said the same thing — “nothing will happen to you. You were born in the UK.” Clause 9 of the bill changes all of that, the British government could remove my citizenship without informing me. This clause will affect nearly 6 million people in England and Wales who have parents originally from another country.If I have committed a crime then put me on trial rather than exclude me from the place I call home.
Below are just a few things which you’d hope would never happen to anyone in the country they have grown up in and consider their home, however they did happen to me:
- Age 7 – While sitting playing marbles on the ground, a neighbour walked past and said, “Isn’t that the way they sit in your country?”
- Age 14 – I was treated differently throughout school. When challenged by my mum, the teachers without skipping a beat said, “your daughters are not as clever as you think they are.”
- Age 16 – I applied for my first weekend job.A well-known fast-food company informed me that my hijab was an issue due to food hygiene rules. However, if I took it off I would have a job the following day.
- Age 23 – During a job interview, I was asked if I was Muslim.
- Age 24 – The government allocated funding to councils across the UK as they rolled out the controversial Prevent strategy using data that myself and all British Muslims had inputted into census 2001. It felt like the government was basically saying, that because I am a Muslim, I must be a terrorist, in more need of deradicalization than a person from any another faith.
- Age 26 – At a work meeting I was told that I brought the “exotic” to the room, as I was the only ethnic person there.
- Age 30 – In front of me, a council officer could see my mum was not originally from the UK and told her to “go back to her own country if she had a problem here” – note, we were asking for help and guidance.
- Age 33 – I was informed by the local basketball league that my Hijab was a safety matter for the other players who could potentially injure themselves due to it.
- Age 37 – A member of public shouted that I should go back to where I came from.
- Age 39 (this year) – I was the only one of a group of work colleagues to be searched when going into Parliament.I was the only one who looked like me, need I say more.
Let’s be clear that I am not moaning about my life, just highlighting the consistent discrimination I have faced.My mum’s advice is to just continue to work hard every day. However, where am I supposed to get help from when I need it, when I am being excluded from the country I consider my home? This is even more of an issue now, because the powers which are there to protect me could soon be used against me with this new bill.
Am I at risk of being going to be sent to a country which is alien to me, due the connection I have to it via my parents? That is a very live threat when you look at the wording in the bill.
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Having seen the most recent back-and-forth between the Commons and Lords around the bill, it seems that one half of the system would like me to get rid of me—while the other half are looking to value me as an individual. This back and forth debate in the chamber highlights what a confusing relationship I have with those in power in this country, and it’s scary. Fundamentally, what message are we sending out to the people who live in this country, and even the world?
The world is going through a huge crisis with different wars taking place in countries, including Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, and Ukraine. The fact is, British society has been far more welcoming in its response towards people fleeing the tragedy of Ukraine than they have to people who look different, but are also fleeing conflict in other parts of the world.
Has this reflection been as uncomfortable for you as much as it has for me?
Ultimately, it is important to know that this bill will affect someone you know – your school, university, workplace, sport team, social circle or even someone related to you. Now let’s take that emotion and use it towards something that can make a difference such as writing to your MP. Tell them how you feel about the nationality and borders bill, and the impact it will have on that person you know. Use your power to change the future for someone like me and future generations before it’s too late.