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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 February, 2004, 10:55 GMT
Welcoming the new Britons
By Duncan Walker
BBC News Online Magazine

Under a Union flag, a group of 20 people will sing the national anthem and swear allegiance to the Queen on Thursday. It's the UK's first citizenship ceremony - but will it make them feel more British? And will it make them more welcome?

The inaugural ceremony in Brent, north London, will be followed by hundreds more across the UK. For approximately 100,000 people who are given British citizenship each year, the event will now be compulsory.

Bringing pageantry and a sense of occasion to the services is key to welcoming these new Britons, organisers believe, and helping to make them feel feel that their new status actually means something.

I will give my loyalty to the United Kingdom and respect its rights and freedoms. I will uphold its democratic values. I will observe its laws faithfully and fulfil my duties and obligations as a British citizen
The new pledge

"It will be with all the trappings because we want people to think it's special - otherwise you can't expect people to think citizenship is special," says one.

The ceremonies will also include a new pledge in which applicants must promise their loyalty and respect for Britain's rights, freedoms and laws.

Those taking part in the ceremonies come from countries all over the world, including many who have British ancestry or partners. Some of those involved told us what it meant to them.

Margaret Lewis
Margaret Lewis, 57, arrived from India in 1998

"I came to England to see my husband, who left us when my kids were small and went on the ships, arriving in Britain in the 70s.

"In 1998 his cousins called and said he was dying from cancer and I should send my kids to see him. After he died I decided to stay on as I thought I would like it.

"I just love the place and I feel very much at home here.

"I feel it's so much better to go through the ceremony. It's a big thing for me and I feel very honoured at the chance to take part.

"I'm thinking about what I'm going to wear and just looking forward to being there with my son and daughter-in-law, who will accompany me.

"I'm happy to pledge my allegiance to the Queen as I support the Royal Family because I remember, as a child, reading about her in books. When I was named it was after Princess Margaret."

Chris Smart
Christopher Stark, 28, arrived from South Africa in 1997

"I came to London after uni on a two year visa with the intention of seeing the city, earning a few pounds and travelling. At the end of the two years I got an ancestry visa and decided I wanted to become British.

"I married an English woman in 2002 and I applied to become fully British, rather than just a welcome foreigner.

"There's a certain cultural affinity through my family, who have always considered themselves Scottish people living in South Africa.

"I have made a fantastic life for myself here and there's no motivation to go back.

"I'm looking forward to the ceremony and was amazed at all the fuss being made. I thought I would just go through a lawyer's office. I'm quite touched by the way it's being dealt with.

"It will be great to be British. I will not be keeping my South African passport."

Zimbabwe's flag

Ross Richards, 30, arrived from Zimbabwe in 1998

"I came to Britain to work in the city in an international career and London is the best place in the world to do that.

"I would not say I have a strong allegiance to Zimbabwe. I might be Zimbabwean by birth, but I have the feeling I'm not particularly welcome there.

"I work internationally and it will be a lot easier for me to be on an EU passport.

"I'm pretty ambivalent about the ceremony and I would not say I'm excited about it.

"But I would say it's a good thing as it gets people to think about what they're signing up for. People should learn the norms of the country and live by them.

"The ceremony strikes me as a little American."

Galina Russell
Galina Russell, 43, arrived from Uzbekistan in 1998

"The ceremony will be a really important day in my life and I will remember it all my life. I will be part of a great nation.

"I will be going to a restaurant afterwards with my husband, Ronald, and five-year-old son, Alexander, to make it more memorable.

"Becoming British means I will be able to teach my son patriotic things. I want him to be proud as well.

"I don't think it's at all strange to make an oath to the Queen, because I want to be part of the nation.

"I have been back to Uzbekistan and my mother, who is 81, says it is up to me.

"She thinks that because my husband and son are British, and I would like to, I can take British citizenship."

'Longer impact'

The first ceremony will see the new Britons formally welcomed to the UK by Prince Charles, who will present their certificates of citizenship.

But are ordinary members of the public as supportive of the services as their future king?

Christelle Jacquet
Christelle Jacquet believes education is the key

Job hunter Christelle Jacquet, from west London, says: "Swearing an oath means nothing. Through education you can get a better and longer impact."

The 29-year-old says, "You can't just become British by standing under a flag. That's why American people are patchwork communities rather than just one big nation."

But shop worker Ali, a 27-year-old student who plans to return to Pakistan when his visa runs out in just two years, suggests the oath would help people learn about their new country.

He says, "I think the oath is a good idea because people need to know the customs. It's a necessary thing if you want to live permanently in a country."

Mark Gardner
The UK is an 'inclusive place', says Mark Gardner

Irish-born beautician Elaine Munday, 26, lives with her boyfriend, Jamie, but would not consider taking part in a ceremony.

She says, "I think it's a stupid idea and it won't make people feel welcome."

But sales manager Mark Gardner says he thinks the UK already treats new arrivals well, even though he feels the the ceremonies "sound naff".

"I travel a lot for work and I find the UK is quite an inclusive country anyway," he says.

Laundrette worker Pamela Smith, 57, says immigrants should live in the UK for several years before being offered citizenship, which should not be a "big deal" when it comes.

She says: "I think most people from the Commonwealth have a right to be British citizens because they helped us during the two World Wars."


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