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Immigrants Celebrate Britishness With New Ceremony
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- Immigrants Celebrate Britishness With New Ceremony

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Editorial & Opinions

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LONDON, February 20, 2004 (Reuters) - Mark Rimmer is planning a party.
It will be formal but fun, ceremonial but celebratory, and solemn but
special. Most of all, it will be historic.
On February 26 Rimmer will conduct the first ever citizenship ceremony
to be held in Britain when around 20 immigrant men, women and children
from Afghanistan to Somalia will officially achieve "Britishness."
"There will be people from all over the world," Rimmer, director of
registrars at Brent borough council in north London, told Reuters in
an interview.

"We have a family of Afghans, we have Indians, Tanzanians, Somalis --
a whole range of people. The ceremony will truly reflect the ethnicity
of the borough, which is one of the most multi-ethnic in the country."
Brent, one of only two regions of Britain, which have Black and Asian
majority populations, has been chosen by the government as one of the
first councils charged with conducting the new ceremonies.
Rimmer expects to be organizing as many as three a week -- many of
them with multiple applicants -- in Brent alone. The government
estimates that around 100,000 people across Britain will go through a
ceremony each year.

Applicants taking part in this first ceremony will be welcomed
personally by a clutch of royals, politicians and other local VIPs.
Britain's heir to the throne Prince Charles will be there, as well as
interior minister David Blunkett, whose department has introduced the
citizenship ceremonies to make the process of becoming British "more
meaningful and celebratory."

"Becoming a British citizen is something to be celebrated by those
involved and by the wider community and I am sure it will be a truly
memorable day for all those who take part," Blunkett said in a
statement announcing the date of the occasion.

The events -- in which new Britons will swear an oath of allegiance to
crown and country -- are designed to help immigrants integrate better
into British society and help society itself to welcome them.
Immigrants can apply for citizenship after living legally in Britain
for five years. Everyone who gets British citizenship from 1 January
2004 will be required to attend a citizenship ceremony -- which will
be similar to occasions in Canada, the United States and Australia.
The national anthem will be played and applicants will swear an oath
that "on becoming a British citizen, I will be faithful and bear true
allegiance to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth the Second, her heirs and
successors according to law."

New citizens will be able to swear their oaths on the Bible or holy
book of their choice.

Sylvia Corona, who came to Britain from Argentina seven years ago, is
convinced the ceremonies will prove helpful for new and old Britons
alike in smoothing the process of integration.
Corona, who is now chair of the UK New Citizen campaign group, says
she has applied for citizenship herself and can't wait to take part in
her own ceremony.

"I am really looking forward to becoming a British citizen. Taking
citizenship is an extremely important step," she said.
"There is a profound meaning in citizenship itself. It is a social
contract, a two-way process, in which you are pledging support for
your new society and society is saying we welcome you and will support

She said citizenship ceremonies were key to helping immigrants --
particularly those fleeing war, famine or strife -- feel accepted by
and part of a new country in which they could rebuild their lives.
"It is a great opportunity to be happy and to recognize you are
starting a new phase in your life."

Rimmer wants the first ceremony to be a mixture of celebration and
A bit of pomp, and a bit of circumstance too.

"Hopefully there will be a little of both," he said. "But the emphasis
will be on the celebratory and welcoming aspects of the ceremony. We
want to make it as enjoyable as possible.

"Immigrants to this country have told us they want something to
celebrate Britishness. Many people who have been through the purely
bureaucratic process say that it means very little -- and hopefully
this will give that process more of a special feel."

He is determined that it should be a chance to applaud the diversity
of British society, not to force immigrants to sign up to an
old-fashioned "chocolate-box" ideal of Britishness which bears no
relation to real life.

"The idea is that the ceremony should be a celebration of Britishness
wherever you have chose to live," he said. "That will be very
different in different parts of the country.
"In some places Britishness means warm beer and the cricket green. But
in places like here in Brent, Britishness is very much a celebration
of our multi-ethnicity."


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