Deserving and undeserving migrants

Winter 2015

Hostility has the potential to reproduce itself across all groups - but so too does compassion.

This article considers a theme that emerged from our recent research project: that local people (including ethnic minority British citizens and recent immigrants) tend to distinguish between ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’, or ‘good’ and ‘bad’ migrants. Rather than assuming that such distinctions reflect the prevalence and internalisation of anti-immigrant messages, we have sought to understand why people who are themselves devalued through dominant and racist anti-immigrant discourses are nonetheless utilising the same language to talk about excluded social groups such as immigrants, benefits claimants, and the unemployed, destitute or homeless. We argue that the tendency of recent migrants as well as people from established ethnic minorities to make this distinction between deserving and undeserving, or good and bad, migrants and citizens is a central feature of their own bid for recognition and legitimacy. But we have also found that people are producing values that counter the predominance of moralistic narratives of economic productivity and aspiration. Our project data provides numerous examples of local people resisting a dominant discourse that seeks to intensify hostility towards migrants. They have been doing this by asserting other kinds of values, such as compassion, empathy, and solidarity. […]

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