From temporary sojourners to asylum seekers
For much of the twentieth century the reasons the Ahmadis came to the United Kingdom were the same as for members of other South Asian communities. Those who came early in the twentieth century did so in small numbers, typically as missionaries or students without any expectation that they would settle in the UK? The missionaries could expect to be reassigned after a few years to other posts in other countries, as the needs of the jama ‘at required, and the students would be expected to return home once their studies were completed. Moles, for example, notes that there were just six Ahmadis in the UK in 1913: three were students and three worked for the jama‘at (2009:69). Seven years later, in 1920, the number of Ahmadis in the UK had risen to about 100, and 94 of these were thought to be converts. It is unclear if these converts were also migrants, but some were likely to have been native British citizens (Moles 2009:71, fn 21).
Others in the pioneer sojourner generation came not on jama ‘at business or as students, or to settle in the UK, but to work for a brief period and return home economically more secure than when they had left. This pattern of short-term employment and short stay was not unusual: the small number of South Asians who were in the United Kingdom in the first decades of the twentieth century and earlier - from the 1700s onwards - were, for the most part, present as relatively menial workers, ayahs if women and lascars, who sometimes jumped ship to work as peddlars, if men. Some members of the Ahmadi social and educational elite, such as Zafrulla Khan, came to the UK to study law and others to study medicine and dentistry in the early years of the twentieth century (Moles 2009:69). In this respect they were following established paths also taken by non-Ahmadis such as Ameer Ali, who had come to England to study law over 30 years earlier in 1869, before returning to India to follow a career in the legal profession (Visram 1986). Atypically, Ali retired to the UK in 1904, and in 1909 he was appointed to the Privy Council, remaining the only Indian on the Council until 1919. He was also a founder and president of the London All-India Muslim League in 1908, and an example of how a very small number of Muslim men who were loyal to the Raj could reach positions of relative distinction from which to set out the political aspirations and espouse the cause of Muslims in India from the heart of the British empire itself (Visram 1986:98-100). Despite the labourers, students and missionaries, the numbers of South Asians in Britain in the early decades of the century remained small, with the Indian National Congress survey of ‘all Indians outside India’ estimating that in a countiy of 44 million, the Indians in Britain numbered just 7,128 in 1932 (Visram 1986:190).
From the mid-twentieth century, however, and along with many other South Asians, Ahmadis began to arrive in larger numbers, primarily for work. Even so, the number of Ahmadis was only a very small fraction of all the migrants coming from South Asia. As with the earlier pioneer sojourners, it was usually single men who arrived first and, to begin with, they assumed that their stay in the UK was going to be of relatively short duration. This was often a means for men, as representatives of larger kin groups, to contribute to the welfare of those who remained
Asylum and the Ahmadi diaspora 127 at home as the remittances they sent back were significant in helping extended family networks to thrive. Often these men would come to Britain, work long hours in less than ideal conditions for a few years and then return to their homes to be replaced in the labour force by other men from the same kin group (Ansari 2004; Ballard 1987, 2003, 2005,2006).
The majority of Indians who found themselves in the United Kingdom at the outbreak of World War II were of Punjabi origin, from rural backgrounds and unlikely to have numbered more than a few thousand by the end of the war in 1945 (Ballard 2003:199-200). As the post-war UK economy picked up, these men found themselves in a strong position to find work and to help kinsmen and fellow villagers also to come to Britain, through chain migration, to take advantage of the shortage of indigenous workers available for post war reconstruction and the economic boom that followed.3 Even so, ‘by 1959 there were only 149 Ahmadis in the UK: while some were Pakistani male migrants who had come to the UK in search of better economic opportunities, many of the Ahmadi migrants were young students from abroad’ (Moles 2009:74).
From the mid-1960s the South Asians who had settled in East Africa and who, as British subjects, had a right to enter the UK, were forced to leave their homes during the enactment of Africanization policies in countries such as Uganda and Kenya.4 Among these East African Asian migrants were Ahmadis who still have, in some cases, family links and fond memories of childhoods spent in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. The migrants who came directly from South Asia were less likely to have had formal secondary or tertiary level education, while those who arrived via East Africa were more likely to be fluent in English, have university degrees and professional qualifications and careers. They also differed significantly from those who came directly from South Asia to the UK in terms of their more liberal attitudes towards female education, paid employment for women and household composition (Shaw 2004:278). The migrants who arrived from East Africa were more likely to travel as family groups and so came with different support needs and networks as well as resources for establishing family life.5 The Ahmadis arriving from East Africa significantly increased the Ahmadi population in the UK at this time, possibly even doubling the size of the community (Moles 2009:78). The arrival of so many in such a short period of time also put a considerable strain on the Ahmadi leadership. As Moles (2009:78) notes:
the East Africans . . . first arrived in the London Mosque, at times even at a rate of 50 people a week, and were housed in rooms that were turned into dormitories. However, they only stayed for a couple of days before the community leaders were able to find them temporary accommodation at the other-members ’ homes, mostly in Croydon and Southall, which were conveniently located near the airports for potential initial employment. However, not all East African Ahmadis stayed in these two areas, but moved elsewhere, such as Gillingham, when they found other employment or set up their own businesses. Because many East African Ahmadis knew each other, they tended to settle in the same areas so as to establish similar social networks that theyhad had in East Africa. Unlike many Pakistani Ahmadis, the East Africans were educated and financially better off, and therefore, after an initial adjustment period, it was easier for them to find better jobs and to buy themselves houses. Their good socioeconomic standing also meant that the Ahmadiyya community became more middle class by nature. Currently many members of East African origin are in important leadership roles within the community.
One Ahmadi woman I spoke with recalled arriving in the UK in 1965 from Kenya. She said that her father saw the direction the country was headed in and decided to leave sooner rather than later. The family had been in Kenya for four generations and were British citizens, so her father chose to come to England rather than go to Pakistan because he wanted to ensure that his children received good educations. Over the following years this woman, now in her late sixties, recalls that her home was full of the ‘aunties and uncles we helped when they arrived because some came with almost nothing as they had to leave in a hurry’.
Chain migration based on ongoing reciprocal relations and commitments between kin and neighbours in South Asia and the UK, and the more complex migration histories of the twice migrant6 South Asians who came to the UK via East Africa, resulted in a transnational South Asian diaspora that was internally diverse in terms of faith, languages, educational and class backgrounds as well as migration trajectories. Save for the shared religion, this diversity in terms of class, education and even language differences applied within the Ahmadi community just as much as it did across other South Asian communities in the United Kingdom.
From the 1960s more women and children also began arriving from Pakistan to join male kin already in the UK. This was in response to the British government’s newly introduced immigration restrictions in the 1962 Commonwealth Immigrants Act and the further restrictions introduced in the Commonwealth Immigrants Act of 1968. From this point on, Pakistani migration to the country was mainly comprised of the wives and dependent children of men already domiciled in the country. This phase of migration for family reunion purposes continued into the 1980s (Shaw 2006:210; Charsley and Benson 2012:868).
Shaw notes that from 1961 to 1971 the Pakistani population of the UK more than quadrupled, rising from 25,000 to 119,000 and then doubling again in the following decade. This period was marked by the establishment of Pakistani family life and culture in British society. The Ahmadis in the UK, just as the nonAhmadi South Asian Muslim population of Britain, now turned their attention to the best means of raising children in the secular West and so set up Qu’ran classes, built mosques and community centres, and in other ways developed strategies to maintain their cultural and religious values and practices in the diaspora (Shaw 2006:211). And also, like other South Asian communities which have made socioeconomic gains over the years and across the generations, the Ahmadis have found ways to succeed professionally and economically while yet retaining their distinctive religious and cultural identities. This is a feature of the South Asian diaspora Ballard (2003:203) describes as the development of the bi- and multi-cultural
Asylum and the Ahmadi diaspora 129 competences through which South Asians in the UK have ‘developed fluent capacity to participate in arenas exclusively organized according to the conventional expectations of members of Britain's dominant ethnic majority’, without necessitating, however, ‘an abandonment of their own ancestral roots, expectations and loyalties ... the vast majority of settlers have continued to organize their domestic lives on their own terms' (italics in original).7
In more recent years, even migration for family reunification purposes has become more difficult because of increased immigration restrictions, imposed partly as a consequence of a rise in populist anti-migrant rhetoric in the media and the electoral advantages to be gained by politicians seen to be tough on incoming migrants who are often elided in the popular press and popular imagination with illegal immigrants and welfare ‘scroungers’ (Leudar et al. 2008; Gabrielatos and Baker 2008). Today, therefore, with very few migration options available, those who migrate from the subcontinent to the UK often arrive as spouses of an already settled migrant (usually of South Asian descent and a domiciled British citizen) or as asylum seekers. This is as true for Ahmadis as it is for any other community of South Asian heritage in the UK. ‘Pakistan accounts for more marriage migrants than India and Bangladesh combined. In 2000, over 10,000 Pakistani nationals (4720 males and 5560 females) obtained entry clearance to join partners who are British citizens’ (Shaw 2006:211). These numbers have declined since 2006 with just 5,735 visas issued to spouses from Pakistan in 2016 (GOV.UK 2017:6). This is in line with the general downward trend in spousal migration to the UK (Blinder 2017:2). Many of those who arrive as spouses are consanguineal kin, often cousins, of their UK spouse (Shaw 2001, 2006:212flf).
However, even the right of a legal spouse to enter the UK has not always been a straightfoiward matter. The ‘primary purpose’ immigration rule was, from 1977, used to deny entry to a person seeking to marry or join a spouse in the UK if the entry clearance officer considered that the marriage was entered into in order to obtain admission to the United Kingdom. As Menski (1999:83) notes, the primary purpose rule:
was gradually fine-tuned during the late 1970s and early 1980s, especially after 1983, as an effective key element of British immigration controls regarding the entry of foreign spouses. It was designed to target Asian family formation in Britain, seeking to slow down, if not totally prevent, the addition of new family members from overseas through marriage.
The primary purpose rules were widely considered to be unnecessary, applied inconsistently and impossible to implement fairly (Pannick et al. 1993). After reviews and legal challenges, the requirement to prove that a marriage is genuine was finally waived in 2002 (Home Office 2002). This did not, however, mean that bringing a spouse into the United Kingdom became a more straightforward matter, nor that the potential for gendered and ethnic discrimination encountered by those seeking to bring marital partners into the UK was now at an end (Carver 2016; Charsley and Benson 2012).
To reinforce just how much times, attitudes and official procedures have changed since the mid-century and how much harder migration has become for Muslim Pakistanis one now senior Ahmadi woman told me about her parents’ arrival in the UK in the 1950s and their first encounter with British immigration officials. She was a baby at the time, so the story she recounted was recalled from her parents’ accounts of the family’s move to London which was for her father - a banker by profession - a career advance. Her mother, as was and is the case for many devout Ahmadi women, wore a veil covering her face which left only her eyes visible when in public. She had no photograph in her passport. On arrival in the UK, the immigration officer looked through the woman’s passport and asked about the missing photograph. The husband calmly motioned towards his wife and said to the immigration officer ‘that’s how she appears in public, what is the use of a photograph for her?’ The bemused immigration officer, perhaps encountering such a situation for the first time, simply waved the family - including the veiled woman with no photograph in her passport - through and into their new life in Britain.
As of 2018, by contrast, the process for bringing a spouse into the country requires a domiciled spouse, one with British citizenship, indefinite leave to remain, or a refugee or person granted humanitarian protection in the UK, to sponsor a fiancé or spouse. In order to do this, the sponsor, among other things, needs to prove that she or he earns at least £18,600 per annum before tax (more if there are children) and the fiancé or spouse will need to attend an interview before a visa is granted. Carver notes that when the £18,600 income requirement was introduced for the UK sponsor in 2012,47% of the UK working population at the time would have failed to meet the income threshold needed to sponsor a non-EU spouse. Given the gender gap in pay in the UK, female sponsors would have been disproportionately affected by this. Furthermore, as members of ethnic minorities are more likely to earn less than their counterparts, this too would have been an additional factor militating against the likelihood that a sponsor of South Asian heritage could meet the income requirements, particularly given that these also had to be demonstrated to subsist over a minimum five-and-a-half-year period (Carver 2016:2769-2770). In addition, British citizens and those with indefinite leave to remain also have to pay substantial fees to apply for visas for a dependent; the fee is waived in the case of refugees. This does not, however, mean that the process for family reunion in the case of refugees is straightforward or readily achievable. The British Red Cross considers that the current process can leave vulnerable family members at risk because of the restrictions, complexities and requirements of the application process itself (Gower and McGuinness 2018:12).
What these changing patterns of migration, shaped at least in part by changes in visa regulations over the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, mean in terms of the broader Ahmadi diaspora today is that it is a complex and varied diaspora. There are individuals who have been in the UK for several generations and are the now well-established and British-born children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those who came as missionaries or migrant workers before the 1970s, the twice migrants from East Africa who arrived in the 1960s and 1970s as well as
Asylum and the Ahmadi diaspora 131 those who have arrived in greater numbers, many as asylum seekers, since 1984 when Ordinance XX in Pakistan made it increasingly difficult for many Ahmadis to continue to live in safety in their country of origin. Additionally, there are also those, mainly of South Asian heritage, who arrive in the UK from other European countries where they have been previously domiciled and have acquired citizenship. Among these latter, many are from Germany, and German and Punjabi are likely to be the main languages they speak. But these migrants, if they first arrived in other European states as asylum seekers, are no longer in this position when they arrive in the UK and are therefore not discussed in the following section.