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Bolivians in the United Kingdom

This Minka report looks at the Runnymede / Sveinsson Report on Bolivians in London ( )one year on and asks what has been done to address (put right) problems highlighted in the report: deskilling (doctors employed as cleaners), English language, documentation (e.g. no valid visa), isolation (unsocial hours, no contact with other Bolivians, with English people etc). In order to gather more information Minka has helped set up a new magazine and journal which readers can contribute to directly and online by adding text, photos, videos, sound recordings and by writing comments in the discussion page. Please turn to the page “Bolivians in the UK” in the new online journal: the Opentext Journal of Bolivian Studies (OJBS). In these pages you can directly add text and multimedia material to that below.

The new Bolivians in Europe (London)[]

According to the last official census in 2001 there were 525 Bolivians living in London but both the British Government and the Embassy admit that this number, difficult to quantify, is wide of the mark. The Embassy, basing their estimate on a multiple of those actually registered came up with a very approximate 10,000. A survey of remittances (remesas) seems to point to between 15000 and 20000.

These figures have been taken from the report “Bolivians in London -challenges and achievements of a London community” which was published just over one year ago by the Runnymede Trust. A previous report on Ecuadorians had been criticised as being too theoretical– this one is clear and compiled by Kjartan Páll Sveinsson who had previously written the Runnymede’s “'Creating Connections - Regeneration and Consultation on a Multi-Ethnic Council Estate”'– also useful.

Why suddenly the UK?[]

“Bolivians in London”points out that for many yearsmost Bolivians had emigrated to Argentina and the United States. However, with the economic crisis in Argentina during the early years of millennium and with ever tighter border controls and visa regulations of the United States, Bolivians came to Europe in greater numbers. Within Europe, Spain has received more Bolivian immigrants than any other country. In 2007 Spain imposed new visa restrictions. A combination of theses factors provide some explanation of theapparently sudden “re-routing” (partly by the illicit mafias that control the migration trade and by others) of Bolivian emigrants to the UK. Longer established Bolivians in London have been surprised by the ease with which these numbers increased (accelerated rate of migration) dramatically about six years ago. Their personal experience was that over the last few decades it had become ever more difficult to bring family members or friends into the UK – even for short visits, so how, it was asked, was it possible for this new burst of immigration to occur. This, amongst other evidence has led to the view that much, if not most, of recent migration has been undocumented.

If this is the case, those newly arrived are among the most vulnerable of the workforce and most easily exploited. Daily life is that of insecurity tolerated through necessity. However the new arrival to a hostile environment has allies: employers searching for the cheapest labour, self-organised cultural associations, concerned not-for-profit and church organisations, friends and family. Once in the UK the pattern of social mobility (the movement away from rock-bottom wages and unsocial work) and of professional achievement and family formation is varied. Older established – perhaps wealthier - Bolivians and their descendents may, sometimes, regard the new arrivals negatively as queue-jumpers (the worst sin in the UK!), as a possible threat to the good reputation of the community or as families whose children will be prone to join gangs and there is a mixed report of the assistance which those already settled offer (or can offer) to those arriving for the first time. Sociologists point to the danger of “deracination”.

Deracination – what is it, does it matter?[]

Deracination, or the cutting off “from ones roots (sp. raizes)”, from groups of friends and family, from a familiar culture, without being able to put down new roots in a newly adopted culture (double deracination) can lead to more severe problems than simple “culture shock” - mental breakdown, physical problems, alienation (as with the case of the July 7 tube and bus bombers). Partly to help put down new roots the UK, the Government now requires those seeking citizenship - and/or settlement in these islands on a longer-term basis - to take a course and sit a test on the theme “Life in the United Kingdom”. (See and the book “Life in the United Kingdom: a Journey to Citizenship”, published by the Home Office and available from bookshops). However the course and associated English language courses cannot go very far in tackling two other problems which the Runnymede Trust highlights: deskilling and the “under-documentation” (informality) of some, or perhaps many, new arrivals.

The ORT model, the positive discrimination model and others[]

ORT is the acronym derived fromthe Russian 'Obschestvo Raspostranenie Truda', which translates as the Society for the Promotion of Handicrafts and Agricultural Work. The society was established by the relatively prosperous part of the Jewish community living in Russia in the 1880’s to provide additional education and training for “impoverished” Jews. State policy at that time was dividing the rich-poor parts of the community. ORT today is an international organisation and is mentioned here as an example of how education – supplementary to that offered by the state – can, or could, help world diasporas (migrant groups).Could a “Bolivian Society for the education of (say) new arrivals” address the problems underlined by Runnymede: separation from (non-integration with) the main communities (British, other migrant, other Bolivian), deskilling (the new job does not use the migrant’s previously acquired skills, qualifications and experience) and informality (no documentation). Should the UK Government positively descriminate in favour of certain groups?

The report summarises as follows:[]

~ A large proportion of Bolivian migrants in London have irregular immigration status. ~ Education:Little is known about the educational level of Bolivians in London. However, according to the interviewees of this study, a large number of Bolivian migrants are university educated. ~Employment:Recently arrived Bolivians often find work in the cleaning industry, but also private nannying or serving in restaurants. ~ Although exact figures are unavailable, a large part of recent arrivals are undocumented, thus working with limited permits in the UK. ~ Deskilling is common, with university educated Bolivians often finding work onlyin the cleaning industry. ~ English is a barrier to employment, and often keeps non-English speakers in a vicious circle: not speaking English, the only work available are jobs where no English is required, which gives no opportunity to learn or practice English.

A way forward[]

The new Home Office test and associated courses will help those who are documented and several cultural associations (see list in report) have an educational element in their activities, but more is needed and the new Journal may be able to serve as a way to deliver educational materials to tutors working with recent-migrant groups and also act as a channel for “intellectual remesas” – sharing knowledge and experience with professional associations, universities and individuals back home in Bolivia. But for this to succeed a network of tutors and learning groups (not necessarily in colleges) is necessary and for the academic community to contribute to the Journal.