The number of British Asians bringing in spouses from the Indian subcontinent has doubled over five years, prompting warnings that the practice is helping to perpetuate ghettos.
Instead of integrating over successive generations by marrying in the UK, some Asian communities are fuelling segregation through arranged marriages to overseas partners, according to a report by Migration Watch UK, an independent think tank.
The report reveals that the number of spouses and fiancés from the Indian subcontinent doubled between 1996 and 2001, when 22,000 were granted entry into Britain.
It is estimated that 60% of Pakistani and Bangladeshi marriages in Bradford in 2001 involved a spouse from the subcontinent. Almost a third of all children born in Bradford now have foreign mothers. In the London borough of Tower Hamlets the figure is 68%.
Last week Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, warned of “walls going up” around some Asian and black communities living in ghettos, which he defined as districts where two-thirds of residents belong to a single ethnic minority.
Phillips said the number of people of Pakistani origin living in ghettos had trebled between 1991 and 2001.
Sir Andrew Green, chairman of Migration Watch, said: “If Mr Phillips’s warning that we are ‘sleepwalking into racial segregation’ is not to be realised, we must face up to an issue that is one of the root causes of this problem.”
Green said the experience of east African Asians—who Phillips believes have successfully integrated into British life—proves his point: “Not only were they well educated, but there was no subsequent in-flow of uneducated spouses.”
The Migration Watch report calls for an immigration policy that discourages international arranged marriages. It suggests the introduction of a “family connection test”, similar to the system in Denmark.
The test would apply where a British resident wished to marry a person from the country in which he or she (or either parent) was born. Permission to enter the UK would not be granted until the bride and groom were 24 years old, rather than the present 18.
Migration Watch argues that this measure would not affect EU citizens or those from countries whose primary official language is English.
Such ideas were rejected by Abdul Kayum, 27, from West Hampstead, who said his family had brought spouses to the UK from the subcontinent for three generations. “It’s based on personal taste and the way you’re brought up,” he said.
Jusna Begum, 22, from Wapping, east London, was forced by her parents to marry a man from Bangladesh 20 years her senior. “I realise now that he only married me for a UK visa,” she said. “But he couldn’t get a job because he didn’t speak English.”
Green said he did not advocate a total ban on arranged marriages: “I don’t think you can ban someone’s culture.”