Somalilandsun- Bristol’s first Somali councilor has said immigrant families could do more to integrate themselves into British culture to help the battle against racism.
Cllr Hibaq Jama, who came to Britain with her family when she was two years old as a refugee fleeing civil war in her country, said immigration was a threat to British culture if it was “a threat in the minds of British people”.
She said she had found real fears over immigration while campaigning in her Lawrence Hill ward, one of the poorest areas in the South West and with a large, white, working class community.
The debate over immigration needed to be broader, she added, to ask how immigrants and refugees could accommodate themselves more into the communities they enter.
The councillor was part of a panel at a debate held to mark the 50th anniversary of the end of the Bristol Bus Boycott, held at M Shed last night.
An audience of more than 100 people attended, including veteran anti-racism campaigner Paul Stephenson who received a standing ovation after his speech in which he urged modern-day campaigners not to be complacent in the battle he started against the Bristol Omnibus Company 50 years ago.
He told the audience racism was “here in Britain and it needs to be addressed”.
“Racism exists where there is anger, violence and hatred,” he added. “It ruins friendships, families and society and leads to what happened 70 years ago in Germany. We are not and cannot be complacent.”
During the two-hour event, panellists including Tory council leader Peter Abraham and UWE professor Madge Dresser spoke about the changes in British society for black and minority ethnic people over the last 50 years, whether positive discrimination should be promoted and why young BME students performed worse than their white counterparts.
Cllr Abraham, who grew up in Eastville, recalled how there were no black faces in the area when he grew up but said immigration to the city had made Bristol a “wonderful place to live in”. He added though that people from BME backgrounds were being “used and abused” by employers.
Prof Dresser though spoke of Bristol having a “white ring around a multicultural centre”, while a lack of political empowerment was cited as an example of how the fight against racism had been only partially won.
Cllr Jama said the lack of overt racism now was a “liberation” compared to 50 years ago, but added that passivity in confronting institutional racism allowed it to “fester”.
She added that political parties of all sides still had to campaign hard to confront the rise of UKIP.
“Immigration is threat if the threat exists in the minds of the British people,” she said. “And I am sorry to say that my experience of campaigning in Lawrence Hill, with its large white working class population, they do see immigration as a threat to British culture.
“I came across a family running a pub which had been the heartbeat of the community. But the influx of Somali families meant they were having to close down, it was no longer the beating heart of the community.
“Immigration was the very thing that was destroying their community. So I say unashamedly as an ex refugee that I think we must broaden the debate to ask how we as immigrants can accommodate themselves more into British culture.”