“The thing with migration is that people think it is something that happens to them and they don’t have any say - we want to give people a sense of public ownership.”
This is the message from Sheffield academics who are organising a new Sheffield Speaks debate focusing on the hot topic of migration.
In Sheffield, the subject has dominated the headlines as Sheffield Council has confirmed it will welcome another ten to 15 Syrian families in the wake of the refugee crisis.
People across the city are today urged to sign up for the debate event next Tuesday, October 13, which will ask what sort of city Sheffield wants to be in the era of migration and mobility.
It will also examine how changing populations affect Sheffield and how the city fits in with international migration trends.
Professor of politics Andrew Geddes, co-director of the migration research group at the University of Sheffield, said: “The key thing with migration is that people think it is something that happens to them and they don’t have a say on this, people in a general sense maybe are cheesed off with politics.
“So what we wanted to do is create a collaboration in Sheffield to give a sense of public ownership of these issues.
“We wanted to host the debate on this topic for three reasons, it is currently big in the news and people are interested in it, Sheffield is a city with a long history of immigration so there are different communities here and it is something on which, in the university, we have a lot of expertise.
“Immigration is going to be one of the biggest issues in the 21st century, it is an area where there are strong opinions and so it is vital that we create opportunities for debate.”
Sheffield Speaks is being held after an international conference on migration but organisers acknowledge that not everyone attends academic debates in their spare time.
They say the debate will be jargon free and run in a Question Time format.
National and international experts will speak, as well as Janet Sharpe from Sheffield Council’s housing department.
Prof Geddes added: “There are all kinds of concerns about immigratiom, from people who may think we are not doing enough to help, from people who think there could be pressure on education and local infrastructure.
“It’s important all those views are taken into account.
“We are not going to be changing policy here but this is a chance for people to get their point of view across to people who do have some influence.”
Next week’s debate is the first in a series, and it is hoped they will spark debate and encourage ‘three way’ conversations between academics, policy makers and the public to shape future research and decisions.
The debut session also brings together experts on migration and segregation, which are often dealt with separately, even by government, despite being closely aligned.
Gwilym Price, director of Sheffield Methods Institute which is involved in the event, said the aim was to ‘bridge the gap’ between academic research and the general public, allowing one to shape the other.
He added: “For me it is an opportunity for Sheffield’s voice to be heard.
“I’m hoping that this will show there is a way of doing things at a local level which encourages policymakers and academics to do something special in Sheffield.
“Sheffield is known as a unique city, it is often called the biggest village in England, so just because other cities respond to migration in one way doesn’t mean that Sheffield has to.”
The session will be held at Cutlers Hall on Tuesday, October 13 from 5pm to 7pm.
To register for a place visit http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/smi/research/events/sheffield-speaks.
People are also urged to send in their questions for the debate at the same link.
And the event will be live streamed for people who cannot make it to the event on the same webpage.
These striking photographs capture a snapshot of Sheffield’s diverse population.
Taken by Jeremy Abrahams, they show different people who have arrived in the city between 1936 and this year, pictured in places all over Sheffield.
Some of the images will be used at the ‘Migrants in the City’ conference before a major exhibition of them all takes place at Weston Park Museum next year.
The stories of how each person came to the country and why, told in their own words, will also be featured.
Jeremy said: ”I first thought of the project 18 months ago, at a time when there the anti immigration rhetoric in some of the media was quite strong.
“What I wanted to show was that immigration has always been a part of our lives in Sheffield and this country and it always will be.
“I also wanted to show that these people do not fit in to preconceived ideas of what an immigrant is or who they are.
“Every single story is completely different, and in that way they have been made more human. Hopefully people will feel empathetic towards immigrants as a result.”
Refugee Abdi-aziz Suleiman came to the UK from Somalia as a child – and co-founded the university’s #WeAreInternational campaign.
The former president of the Students’ Union is taking part in the debate next week.
He said one of the questions he hoped to speak about was why the university cares about migration.
“You might think that universities tend to care about just the students they have got there at the moment, they educate them and that’s that,” he said.
“But the university would say that it has got a duty to do more.”