'Today's immigrants don't want to make Britain their home. It's just a place to live'
By Chris Hastings and York Membery
George Alagiah, one of the BBC's most senior news broadcasters, has urged immigrants to do more to assimilate into the British way of life.
Alagiah, 50, who was born in Sri Lanka, believes that too many arrivals are finding themselves isolated because they are putting loyalty to their homeland before their allegiance to Britain.
George Alagiah: 'People are beginning to question where immigration has got us'
The journalist contrasts the attitudes of new immigrants with those of previous generations who showed a greater willingness to embrace their new home.
“I'm not against immigration. I am an immigrant and immigration has been a fantastic boon for Britain,” he said. “It's not so much how much immigration we have, as what kind of immigration we have.
“Some of today's immigrants aren't interested in making Britain their home. They see it as a place where they can live – but their real ties remain with their homelands.”
Alagiah, who presents the BBC's flagship Six O'Clock News, said he and his family did everything they could to fit in when they arrived in Britain in the 1960s.
“I was 11 and went straight to boarding school,” he said. “I was different to the other kids so I had no choice but to adapt. I wanted to fit in and become English.”
Alagiah's family, Tamils from Sri Lanka, left Colombo for west Africa amid early signs of conflict between their people and the island's Sinhalese population. They moved to Ghana but the future BBC newsreader had barely settled when the family found it necessary to move again.
Alagiah explores the immigrant experience in a book, Home From Home, which will be published later this year.
He said: “I'll be comparing my experience, the integrationalist approach, with the experience of immigrants who come here and grow up in a community that is somewhat removed from the mainstream of British society.”
Alagiah said he is aware his comments might be controversial in certain circles.
He believes that the bombings in London last July have pushed issues of immigration and multi-culturalism to the top of the political agenda.
“Parts of the book are going to be controversial because it questions multi-culturalism. Given what happened in London last July, a lot of people are beginning to question where immigration has got us,” he said.
The comments by Alagiah echo those made by Trevor Phillips, the chairman of the Commission of Racial Equality. Last year, Mr Phillips gave a warning that the country was “sleepwalking” into New Orleans-style racial segregation, with Muslim and black ghettos dividing cities.
Alagiah's contribution to the debate is likely to prove controversial. BBC journalists are not supposed “to advocate any particular position on any issue of current public controversy or debate” and must obtain clearance before speaking on contentious issues.
Issues of race and immigration are likely to dominate the political agenda during the run up to local elections on May 4.
In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph last week, Margaret Hodge, the employment minister, said that many Labour voters were so angry at the impact of immigration, there was a danger they could desert the party in favour of the far Right British National Party.