Throughout history, immigration has been fundamental to our socio-economic and cultural progress. Similarly, fear of what immigrants may take from, rather than bring to, the country remains pervasive and ongoing debates about immigration continue to be antagonistic and discriminatory.
One hundred years ago, immigration was controlled by the 1905 Aliens Act, which restricted immigration from countries outside the British Empire. The 1948 British Nationality Act changed things and immigration increased once again but the negative rhetoric and discriminatory behaviour remained. Now, in a move that feels like it brings us closer to where we were a century ago, albeit with different restrictive categories, the current government has announced plans to impose a points-based system for immigration.
Read more
Download the new Independent Premium app
Sharing the full story, not just the headlines
Download now
In recent times, the rhetoric has fed the increasing polarisation of political standpoints over what it means to be British and to belong. The use of it to magnify fears and demonise those who are not British born or considered British enough was seen acutely in the debates surrounding Brexit. A key underlying issue in these debates is a lack of factual understanding of immigration, damaged by false rhetoric used by elements of the media and in recent years being amplified by the internet and influx of fake news. To move forward in a new way, we must acknowledge this rhetoric and its ability to skew peoples perceptions.
The prejudicial views we see have too often filtered down into places where nuance and factual discussion are urgently needed, including schools. Prior to the partial closure of schools as part of the coronavirus lockdown, one of our teachers shared a telling example: When we were studying immigration, another student told me: Im not being racist Miss, but you need to go back to where you came from. My students werent racists or hateful. They just lacked basic exposure to ethnic, religious or cultural groups outside of their own. This points to the lack of understanding that contributes to a climate that is hostile in nature, and more people feeling as though they dont belong. 
Recent figures show that just 14 per cent of the UK population are immigrants. The ONS also records that overall EU net migration has fallen since 2016 a direct correlation with Brexit. However, we are still inundated in the media with stories of how immigrants are arriving en masse to take our jobs, our healthcare benefits and our childrens places in school.
Issues surrounding identity for immigrants are further complicated by the rhetoric that belonging here means assimilating. Again, this assumes that there is a common experience of being British and that we are all agreed on what it is. For many people this version of British as implied by recent government policy does not resonate and yet this becomes the accepted norm of what it means.
The overriding rhetoric, therefore, is one of othering, associated with the fear that somehow immigrants are going to take away from the everyday British person. While we continue to participate in othering, knowingly or not, we will continue to alienate people and remain a divided society.
As humans, we often have an innate fear of the unknown. Many of us are afraid of change and reluctant to accept it. However, we need education to support our curiosity and encourage a spirit of questioning and openness, developing a collective consciousness that recognises hateful rhetoric. Promoting a positive sense of identity and belonging in this country, irrespective of birthplace, race or ethnicity, is needed to minimise discriminatory rhetoric, behaviour and othering.
The question of belonging is in itself a widely debated topic, and with it, immigration is pushed to the forefront of the news agenda. Politicians and influential leaders increasingly use immigration as a topic to leverage support, with damaging results, fuelling underlying negative perceptions and ultimately intensifying division. But how can we begin to challenge this rhetoric?
The younger generation is already beginning to challenge the tired, self-serving narratives that are portrayed online and in the press. You just have to be reminded of rapper Daves recent BRIT Awards performance, where the 21-year-old called out racism, inequality and pledged support for the Windrush generation. 
At Facing History and Ourselves, we believe the answer is through education and using it to build trust and disrupt the current paradigm. TIDE and Runnymedes recent Teaching Migration report enforces the importance of teaching migration, belonging and empire.
left
Created with Sketch.
right
Created with Sketch.
1/20 Maria, 31, holds her daughters, Elena, two, and baby Ioana, weeks old, in her London home
A few months after Britain voted to leave the European Union, Maria was told her to go back to her native Romania whilst in hospital by an elderly English woman. You are a foreigner, your place is not here recalls Maria, who was stunned
2/20 Maria and her husband Adi, 37, take their daughters for a walk in Hampstead Heath near their home
The couple are preparing to leave Britain later this year with their two children, fed up with what Maria says is xenophobia and the rising cost of living in London
3/20
Elena holds up British passports belonging to her and her sister. Both children have dual citizenship, but their parents do not want to apply for this despite having permanent residency in Britain
4/20 Maria holds daughter Ioana, who is less than a week old, while Elena wipes a table
Maria had never faced direct abuse over her nationality in her 10 years in the country until that moment at the hospital
5/20
Adi spends time with his daughters
6/20
Adi plays hide and seek with his daughter Elena
7/20
8/20
Adi takes his daughter, Elena, to nursery
9/20
Adi’s sister, Nicoleta, 34, carries her niece Elena in a restaurant after a trip out
10/20
Adi and Maria cook together at their home
11/20
Adi holds his baby daughter, Ioana
12/20
Adi and wife Maria take their daughters for a walk in Hampstead Heath
13/20
Berwyn, a neighbour of the couple, who moved to the UK in the 1980s from Australia, says goodbye to Maria after a visit at her home. Berwyn has dual citizenship – Australian and Irish as she lived in Ireland for a few years before moving to Britain. She calls the family her ‘dearest Christian Romanian friends’
14/20
Religious pictures including a portrait of Arsenie Boca, a Romanian Orthodox monk, theologian and artist (top), hang on the wall at the home of Adi and Maria
15/20
Maria dries Elena after giving her a bath after nursery
16/20
Maria holds her baby daughter Ioana
17/20
Adi works with his colleague Alexandru, who is also from Romania, for a removal company
18/20
Maria holds her daughter Elena
19/20
Neighbour, Berwyn, holds baby Ioana
20/20
Adi and Maria, along with their daughters, leave St Andrews church in Kingsbury after attending a service
1/20 Maria, 31, holds her daughters, Elena, two, and baby Ioana, weeks old, in her London home
A few months after Britain voted to leave the European Union, Maria was told her to go back to her native Romania whilst in hospital by an elderly English woman. You are a foreigner, your place is not here recalls Maria, who was stunned
2/20 Maria and her husband Adi, 37, take their daughters for a walk in Hampstead Heath near their home
The couple are preparing to leave Britain later this year with their two children, fed up with what Maria says is xenophobia and the rising cost of living in London
3/20
Elena holds up British passports belonging to her and her sister. Both children have dual citizenship, but their parents do not want to apply for this despite having permanent residency in Britain
4/20 Maria holds daughter Ioana, who is less than a week old, while Elena wipes a table
Maria had never faced direct abuse over her nationality in her 10 years in the country until that moment at the hospital
5/20
Adi spends time with his daughters
6/20
Adi plays hide and seek with his daughter Elena
7/20
8/20
Adi takes his daughter, Elena, to nursery
9/20
Adi’s sister, Nicoleta, 34, carries her niece Elena in a restaurant after a trip out
10/20
Adi and Maria cook together at their home
11/20
Adi holds his baby daughter, Ioana
12/20
Adi and wife Maria take their daughters for a walk in Hampstead Heath
13/20
Berwyn, a neighbour of the couple, who moved to the UK in the 1980s from Australia, says goodbye to Maria after a visit at her home. Berwyn has dual citizenship – Australian and Irish as she lived in Ireland for a few years before moving to Britain. She calls the family her ‘dearest Christian Romanian friends’
14/20
Religious pictures including a portrait of Arsenie Boca, a Romanian Orthodox monk, theologian and artist (top), hang on the wall at the home of Adi and Maria
15/20
Maria dries Elena after giving her a bath after nursery
16/20
Maria holds her baby daughter Ioana
17/20
Adi works with his colleague Alexandru, who is also from Romania, for a removal company
18/20
Maria holds her daughter Elena
19/20
Neighbour, Berwyn, holds baby Ioana
20/20
Adi and Maria, along with their daughters, leave St Andrews church in Kingsbury after attending a service
By educating young people on the history of Britains colonial past, immigration and race relations, and by encouraging critical engagement with moves to decolonise the curriculum, they will be able to make a stronger connection between the past and todays underlying issues. 
Inclusive debate is vital for the health of our democracy: we need to actively create more spaces for young people to engage in honest conversations about issues they may find uncomfortable, and to highlight the voices of those with lived experience, rather than policy-makers at a distance from the reality of immigration.
We must educate future generations in a way that will ensure they are equipped to challenge the infrastructure and systems that maintain this status quo in order to create a more connected, fair and empathetic society. 
Beki Martin is executive director at Facing History and Ourselves UK, a charity that uses lessons from history to challenge teachers and their students to stand up to bigotry and hate