Slavery Repackaged For African Migrants in the U.K.
By Njualem Columbus
Yinusa Gbadamasi has a degree in sociology, a postgraduate qualification in education management and is working on a PhD. But his achievements count for little in his current job: parking attendant, central London. Gbadamasi, from Nigeria, is one of thousands of Africans who have come to Britain legally in search of skilled jobs but have become victims of “occupational downgrading”. Unable to find work in their fields of expertise, they reluctantly take up the unskilled jobs that many Britons are no longer prepared to do. The number of immigrants working in the city as street vendors, taxi drivers, private security guards, road cleaners and community carers strikes anyone living in London They often work long hours and night shifts, forming a kind of twilight underclass
and while many are unskilled and unqualified, some are highly educated. Not only are they failing to put their own talents to use, but their absence from their home countries is contributing to the “brain drain”, which economists say is shackling Africa’s development. “Everybody loses from this,” Gbadamasi said after a long day walking London’s streets handing out parking tickets.
“We lose out because we are not fulfilling our potential, our host countries lose out because we are not contributing much to society and Africa loses out too.
“Many Africans here see this as a kind of second slavery,” he said. “There are no shackles this time, no chains, but it is a slavery nevertheless.”
Careers with PhDs
The extent of the problem is hard to judge — research is sparse and official figures do not usually indicate what level of skills new arrivals have. But evidence suggests occupational downgrading is widespread among Britain’s large African diaspora. There are certainly people with PhDs in this country working as carers,” said Dr Alice Bloch, from the Department of Sociology at London’s City University, who has published a study on Zimbabwean migrants to Britain and South Africa. Her research found that 97% of Zimbabweans who came to live and work in Britain had some sort of formal academic qualification. Of those, 43% had a degree or a post-graduate qualification. One of the problems these migrants faced was that their qualifications from colleges and universities in Africa, carried less weight in Europe. “You might have a doctor from Somalia, for example, who arrives with good qualifications, but those qualifications are not recognized in Britain and they have to retrain,” Bloch said. Faced with the prospect of a long and possibly expensive retraining course, or a lengthy search for a skilled job, some migrants are tempted by the ‘quick fix’ of an unskilled job with instant rewards. A lot of migrants think ‘I’m not going to be here for too long, I’ll just work as a carer, make some money and send it back home’,” Bloch said. “That was one of the trends we saw in our research.”
Threat from the East
Gbadamasi says he thinks life has got tougher for African migrants since 2004, when European Union enlargement opened the British labour market to a new generation of workers from the accession countries of Eastern Europe. “They get the jobs that used to go to Africans,” he said. When asked why he thought this was, the 44- year-old smiled wistfully and pointed to his own black skin. “Some prejudices still remain,” he said. Of course, not all African migrants struggle to find appropriate work in Britain. Bloch found that out of the 500 Zimbabwean migrants to Britain that she studied, the nine who were qualified as doctors all found employment in the staffstarved health-care system. Teachers, however, found it much more difficult to find jobs in Britain’s schools and many drifted into the residential care profession, looking after the old and the sick. Indeed, there are so many Africans working in Britain’s residential homes that they are sometimes referred to as BBCs (British Bottom cleaners).Faced with such frustrations, many Africans, including Gbadamasi, opt to return home. He says he wants to go back to Nigeria within the next 12 months. Asked what his message would be to other Africans thinking of following in his troubled footsteps to Europe to seek a better life, the graduate-turned-parking-attendant was adamant. “They should never dream of coming. No matter how hard it is in Nigeria, your home is your home,” he said. “I want to go home, tell the people there what I have seen and tell them this: Do not waste your time and your life by dreaming of coming to Europe.”
Compliments to Dr jesse Mashate and exiled journalist network.
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