My mother is an immigrant. My father is an immigrant. Come to think of it I have three uncles and three aunts who are immigrants. If you don’t know an immigrant you probably know someone who is related to one. One my uncles is an immigrant to Australia and one of my wife’s aunts is an immigrant there too.
Why do I mention this?
Well, the Euro referendum seems to be becoming a referendum on immigration. So I think it would be useful to humanise the issue. Let me tell you about my father’s journey to the UK from Cyprus. My father left Cyprus in 1956. At that time it was gripped in violence between the British army and the EOKA organisation which was fighting them to enable Cyprus to cease being a British colony and become part of the Greek state. Many innocent people got caught up in situation so on October 29th of that year Osman Yusuf and one of his sisters travelled by boat from the island to Marseille, stopping off at Naples along the way. They weren’t on no cruise and they weren’t enjoying the scenery but preparing for life in a place they only knew from books or the radio. From Marseille they caught a train to Paris and then another to Calais, from where they boarded a ferry. Arriving at Dover they took a train to London where they boarded with another of his sisters, who had already settled in UK, in 49 Barkworth Road, Bermondsey. When I asked him why he came to England, he said there was no work in Cyprus, for him he meant.
My father was from a village called Louroujina in the centre of Cyprus, between Lefkosia and Magusa. It was a Turkish village, although there was about 10 Greek Cypriot families there. By 1963 with the deterioration in relationships between the two communities there were none. Although it was a Turkish village the first language spoken was Greek and my father didn’t learn Turkish until he went to school. If your family could afford it you could have secondary education and some members of my family learnt Arabic, as the school was run by the Islamic charity in charge of education for Turkish Cypriots. One of my grandfathers despite identifying as a Turkish Cypriot spoke very little Turkish. My father went to school until he was 14 but emigrated to UK when he was 17. My father lied about his age so that he could obtain employment. Sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.
I asked how my grandfather survived in Cyprus. My Yusuf dede was a poor man, he owned no land but he did own a mule and as such he could obtain work on the land of others. Yusuf was also involved in road building when possible.
My Ayse nene was from a wealthier family, and they owned a lot of land, but they sold it off bit by bit and then were not so well off. Without land you had to buy food. Money soon runs out but the land keeps providing you with food.
When my father came to London in 1956 he first worked in a timber yard. He then left to work in Hartley’s jam factory in Bricklayers Arms. The he left that job and worked as a commis waiter. I didn’t know what that was so I looked it up. This is what I learnt;
‘found in sit-down restaurants, a commis waiter assists experienced wait staff with tasks like clearing plates, setting tables and delivering food’.
Restaurants typically consider a commis waiter position to be entry-level and usually require no experience or formal education from applicants.
Also it was a job you could do with little English language, as long as the waiter you were assisting could speak to you in Turkish or Greek, which my father could speak. My father was 19 and did this job for 2-3 years or maybe 4 years. Then he worked for Associated Electrics and was there for a year, the money wasn’t good so he moved to Johnson & Phillips and worked for them (they were a cable company). He also worked at Bricklayers Arms at a railway depot sorting mail and parcels.
As you can see, my father did not arrive in UK to be poor, but to escape poverty. He worked and did not claim benefits. He did not get ‘given’ a council flat. And he didn’t commit no crimes.
That is the reality of most immigrants, despite what you read.
What would you have done differently if you were my father?
Things I recommend; tolerance and kindness to people less fortunate than yourself. Besides which you never know what might happen to you. If you treat people with respect, you get it back. When you give, you take too, not necessarily at the same time but eventually. And it you never need to you have been very lucky and can you tell me who is going to win the Euro’s so I can put a bet on?
Things I don’t recommend; thinking of the world in terms of nations. I am supporting Turkey, Germany, Wales, Northern Ireland, Ireland and England in the Euro’s. And I might lend my support to another country if I think they deserve it. I am Turkish, Cypriot, British, a Londoner, a socialist. I am many things I don’t have to choose only one tribe and decide to hate the rest.