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George Alagiah with Matt Holland (left), festival director and Joel Staley from the ICIA
George Alagiah with Matt Holland (left), festival director, and Joel Staley from the ICIA
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Press Release - 10 May 2007

George Alagiah speaks at Oakfield

BBC news presenter George Alagiah this week spoke to a sell-out audience at the University of Bath in Swindon, as part of the Swindon Festival of Literature.

He talked about his semi-biographical book A Home from Home, which describes his journey from arriving in Britain in 1967 at a boarding school in Portsmouth to becoming the household name he is today. He also explores the broader issue of immigration and raises important questions on the meaning of multiculturalism and British identity.

Describing his own transformation as a ‘sink or swim’ affair, Mr Alagiah spoke about the initial period following his arrival in Britain as shaping the man he has become today.

He talked about the very private struggle faced by all immigrants as ‘the battle to leave the past behind and fit into a new culture’, describing it as ‘shedding one skin and putting on another.’ He spoke of his fear of failure and his sense of responsibility to make a success of his life in Britain, not just from a personal perspective but also on behalf of other immigrants to the country and ‘foreigners’ in general.

Mr Alagiah also discussed immigration, in particular exploring what we mean when we talk about multicultural Britain today, comparing his own experiences as an immigrant, which he says in his book ‘might loosely be called an integrationist approach’ to ‘the experiences of more recent immigrants, some of whom seem to live in parallel communities’.

Having visited these kinds of communities whilst researching the book, in areas such as Bradford in Yorkshire and Tower Hamlets in London, he talked of his concern that there is a generation of immigrants ‘who will be forever locked into an ethnic ghetto, unable fully to exploit everything that Britain has to offer’.

He described this as a form of ‘separate development’ and ‘partly the product of successive governments pursuing a race relations policy based on multiculturalism…that has given us – immigrants – the right to be different but failed to provide sufficient incentives to integrate’.

Mr Alagiah argued that we should re-examine the policy of multiculturalism, which has underpinned race relations policy in Britain for the past forty years. He believes that policies should ‘deliver on the basis of need, not ethnicity or religion’ and that language needs to be championed as an important common value, arguing that ‘the magic of migration is opportunity but if you don’t teach English it’s a missed opportunity’. He also argued that the test given to immigrants when they first arrive in Britain shouldn’t focus on loyalty but instead be a ‘test of contribution’, asking ‘What do you have to offer?’

Mr Alagiah acknowledged that it was a two-way process and, whilst accepting that great strides have been made since the 1960s, he stated that ‘there is still a fight against racism that needs to be won. Many immigrants living in Britain feel a sense of insecurity and as a result can withdraw into their own community, thereby exacerbating the problems.

Mr Alagiah argued that there needs to be a change in attitude: ‘we should always be welcoming to immigrants on the basis that we have something to offer’.

The event was presented in association with the University of Bath’s Institute of Contemporary Interdisciplinary Arts.


The University of Bath is one of the UK's leading universities, with an international reputation for quality research and teaching. View a full list of the University's press releases: http://www.bath.ac.uk/news/

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