INTERVIEW WITH THE LORD MAYOR OF SHEFFIELD MAGID MAGID
Our excitement is quickly building as we look ahead towards the Migration Matters opening party tonight where the Lord Mayor himself will be kicking things off! We had the chance to talk to him and get his thoughts on the festival, migration and the current political climate. If you ever wished for politicians to speak openly, this is the interview for you!
Do you think more needs to be done to shine a positive light on immigration?
“Yeah, 100 percent. I think when you think of immigrants or refugees you always think of the hardships, where they came from, but it’s about changing that attitude, because these people have other parts of their lives rather than these hardships and where they came from.”
What do you think the arts can do to raise awareness and deal with the issues surrounding immigration?
“Whether that be music, film, theatre, it’s a really good way of getting a message across and getting people to understand certain issues. When you communicate through the arts, it’s a lot more interesting and humane and it really touches people. Also, it’s fun!”
“I think that’s one of the great things about Migration Matters – it does change the focus on migration through positive story-telling.”
What do you think are the benefits of a multicultural society?
“I think it enriches our lives in every aspect of society. Like food for example, can you imagine if we didn’t have the food we do? I mean, food is a good enough reason alone. As well look at the NHS, that would fall if it wasn’t for migrants.”
“Yesterday in the full council meeting I wore a t-shirt that said Immigrants make Britain great. I’m doing this thing where every full council meeting I wear a t-shirt with a different slogan on it and a different coloured hat. And then some people came and said you shouldn’t be so divisive. I mean, show me why immigrants don’t make Britain great? I’m not saying they’re the only ones that make Britain great! I think next month I might wear a Trump related one just because he’s coming to the UK and I think I might wear a sombrero hat.”
Nationalistic attitudes seem to be tightly connected to the discussion of migration. What is nationalism, how does it relate to identity and does it need to be overcome?
“People might say nationalism is just being proud of where you’re from, but I’d say it’s outdated because we’re moving towards a global world. If you were to ask me am I proud of the UK, of course I am proud. I love living here, my home is here”
“When it comes to my identity would I identify myself as more Somalian or British? Do I identify as being a Yorkshireman? Not really, I grew up in Sheffield and no other part of Yorkshire, in all honesty. But I would say: of course I identify myself as a British Somali. I also classify myself as a citizen of the world at the same time. I wouldn’t say I’m ONLY this – like English or British.”
“I think people are starting to sense that economically, spiritually, culturally in every aspect, globalisation enriches our lives and we are slowly starting to understand the benefits to this”
But isn’t the idea of enriching lives quite hedonistic, linked to blind consumerism?
“From my perspective it is more about sharing than consuming, basically exchanging cultures and just sharing stories. That is one of the reasons I love couchsurfing. [Couch-surfing is an online platform similar to other social media, designed to let people crash on other people’s couches, making travelling cheaper and connecting people.] I used to couch-surf quite a lot and I have hosted about 40 different people from all over the world. If I can’t get to travel as much, I’ll bring the different parts of the world to me. They literally just make me a meal from their culture, just share a story. For me it’s sharing that makes me realise we have more in common than what separates us. Everyone has the same fears, the same ambitions. Regardless of what colour or which part of the world you come from. Everyone has the same struggles.”
When looking at equality, migrants tend to have a much harder time trying to achieve equality. These factors affect schooling or learning languages for example.
“For a start, I think we need to treat immigrants the same as everybody else. Of course, it depends, some people need more help and support and we should give them this. But treating them as humans means giving them the same opportunities everybody else gets.”
“Hard work alone doesn’t get you anywhere. If that were the case every woman in Africa would be successful. You need to have opportunities. I’m in a privileged position where I understand my background and throughout my year as Lord Mayor, refugees and migrants will be a massive focus.
Lord Mayor of Sheffield Magid Magid
What about the sentiment of the good and bad migrant?
“This is what it is; in today’s media you’re only a good migrant if you win the Olympics like Mo Farah or if you win a national bakery competition like Nadiya. But if that’s the only way to be a good migrant, that’s bullshit. Why can’t migrants just live a normal life and do whatever it is they want to do and be treated like everyone else? It’s like we have to prove ourselves which is ridiculous.”
Why do you think the public opinion on migrants is often so negative?
“I think people are scared. Fear’s natural, you naturally fear what you don’t know. So I understand where that fear is coming from but I just feel the people need to face the fear, explore that kind of contact.
But then tabloid papers say things like, immigrants are negative, it’s all kind of trash talk that fuels people’s fears until people believe it. Where I say, it should be compulsory for people to learn about politics and international relations at a very young age. They do this in all the private schools because they expect them to be the next leaders, but it should be compulsory for the whole curriculum because it would enable them to sift through all the bullshit that they read throughout the papers and just call it bullshit. Again, it comes back to education.”
And what role do you think local politics play in issues concerning migration or supposed issues of integration?
“I don’t think the council is supposed to be telling people, you need to do this or go there. It’s basically about giving them the tools to empower themselves, give them the skills and resources that they may not be able to afford themselves – from an asylum seeker’s point of view. We could give them subsidised or free bus transport. Start treating them the same, giving them the same opportunities, people will eventually come together and cohere.”
And what are your thoughts on the current government’s policies on migration?
“First of all, we need to treat people as humans and not numbers. At the moment, if we look at the government and their net target for migration (which they fail year after year), where does it come from? It’s not based on any evidence. We need a system that is fair and treats people humanely and I don’t think we have that at the moment, especially with the government’s hostile environment approach on things.”
“The right wing absolutely loves the issues surrounding migration because they knew they could blame migration for the crisis in housing and the NHS, when they know that’s total bullshit and failed government policy. They would just weaponize that and use immigrants as a scapegoat to put on further their own agenda which is disgusting. We just need to put positive messages out there, like sharing positive stories. Because if you look at the media, it’s always negative or struggle stories of immigrants. But the stories we share and tell of migrants, they need to be messages of hope.”
Interview by Nicole Williams and Nils Erich (edited by Joanna Jowett)