All entries for Monday 11 December 2006

December 11, 2006

Brits Abroad

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A truly fascinating article on the BBC News website this morning – a report which puts a figure to the number of Brits living abroad. In an age when hysteria about immigration into this country seems to be drowning out any hope of a reasonable debate on the matter, it turns out that 10% of British citizens are living somewhere else in the world. In the main these are the supposed worst sort of migrants, economic migrants, who face no persecution or hardship in their home country (unless you count the weather which is absolutely horrible as I write this) and have merely chosen to go and live somewhere else, either taking a job or merely using the host nation’s health services and taking housing from natives. Well, that’s one way of looking at it anyway.

Buried amongst the stats on the subject is a common and reasonable pattern – most British move to English speaking countries. This is entirely understandable, it’s easier for the emigrants, and places like Australia, New Zealand and the USA hold a special fascination for many Brits. My own mother is a big fan of the idea of moving the New Zealand even if the likelihood of this happening is extremely low. It’s a not uncommon pattern of emigration, France absorbes immigrants from French speaking places like Algeria and various African countries. Perhaps if we hadn’t spread ourselves and our language so far around the world we wouldn’t have as many immigrants trying to enter Britain today?

But then there are the 761,000 Brits in Spain. The Brits in Spain have always fascinated and mildly appalled those of us who aren’t completely allergic to the thought of any foreigner entering Britain. The complaints of the anti-immigration brigades here are wel known – the immigrants come over, take job and homes, have a ghetto mentality, and don’t learn the language. Many immgrants in Britain don’t do this, they try to integrate and be useful members of society (it’s easier to do when you’re not being threatened with government approved torture, I guess) although some do fit this profile. But the majority of Brits in Spain fit this profile. The masses settled in English speaking communities, language extended as far as “dos cervezas por favor”, and interacting with locals only when they are bar staff or cleaners, are not a good reflection of Britishness abroad. The popularity of anti-immigrant rag The Sun amongst the ex-pats makes it hard not to think of blatant hypocrisy when you think about them.

Obviously this does not apply to the thousands of Brits who go to foreign countries and try their hardest to learn the language and integrate with the locals. These are the best examples of Brits abroad, and go a long way to dispelling many stereotypes. I know there are a few people who fit that category who read this blog. I am always impressed by anyone who can do that.

The two final things which caught my eye came from the BBC’s statistics on the subject. First was the 291,000 Brits who have essentially committed a historical reversal and settled in Ireland! Baring in mind the massive emigration fuelled depopulation of Ireland from 1850 to 1990 (a population drop from 7 to 3.5 million post famine is almost entirely due to emigration) and the fact there are hundreds of thousands of Irish citizens (and presumably a couple of million half Irish) living in Britain, this flow to the Republic will probably raise a smile for many Irish.

Also the BBC has a lovely map which shows where the British have settled. Apart from doing a cool flowing animation to show proportions (click the link above and play!) it shows there are a few countries which lack figures for the number of resident Brits. The map is not labelled but it seems to be countries like Eritrea and Western Sahara… and a little north Atlantic island… called Britain.

Good to see we have no idea who’s here.

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