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I’ve argued in favour of immigration to the UK for my entire adult life – and for much of my childhood. Since as early as I could argue, in fact. That’s because I hail from a long line of Irish immigrants. The painful and demanding process of leaving your true home and setting up overseas, striving to better yourself amidst a sometimes hostile foreign culture, is hard-wired into me. Generations of Halligans have left rural Ireland, to build roads, bridges and houses across America, Australia, Canada and, in my father’s case, the UK.

So I’m from proud migrant stock. I’m also an economist. And like most economists, I recognize the overwhelmingly positive historical impact migrants have had on the British economy – be they from Asia or the Caribbean, Huguenots or Jews, from Ireland or, more recently from East European countries now members of the European Union.
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I’ll never forget Adama Soro. Just 21-years old and from Cote d’Ivoire, he recently told me a heart-breaking story. I met Adama in Paris, while doing some research into social depravation in France. He was polite, articulate and spoke the most beautiful French. Yet, four years ago, Adama fled from his West African homeland and hitch-hiked across the Sahara to Libya. There, in his own words, he was “shot at by the police, arrested, beaten, tied-up and thrown in a tiny fishing boat”.

Over lunch, and then as we walked, Adama described how that boat was towed out to sea, then left to drift. “There were 25 of us and we had hardly any food and water,” he told me, as we wandered the French capital. “Only eight of us survived and made it to Italy,” Adama recalled, as tears came into his eyes. “I saw behavior on that boat I didn’t think was possible”.

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