How many times have we asked ourselves what it must be like for immigrants to come to a new country? And especially, what image do we have of them? We live in a time of immediacy and hurry, and our daily stress often keeps us from carefully thinking about these people and the situations they’re in. But if we don’t have a perspective and merely tiptoe around this subject, we run the risk of trivializing these immigrants who like “an avalanche of Africans, very different from us, have come to Spain illegally on rafts.”
It’s also true that some news media and politicians, both inside and outside Spain, help feed this collective image and fear of “the other” who “come to invade our territory and destroy our identity and culture.” This generates a breeding ground for fear that only creates uncertainty, rejection, racism and xenophobia. A visceral rejection toward the unknown, irrational and dominated by fear.
Political movements on the right and extreme right like those in Hungary, Austria and Italy have benefitted from and been strengthened by this discourse of fear. This anti-immigration sentiment has recently been reflected in measures that go against ethics, human rights and even legality, such as the closing of borders to immigrants or separating children from their parents.
But migratory flows are nothing new: they’ve always been around and will continue to be with us in the future. Analyzing international migration in 2018, the OECD stated that in 2017 some 258 million people around the world were living outside the country in which they had been born.
We should be aware that categorizing immigrants as a homogenous group is a common and systematic error. In effect: each migrant is an individual when it comes to such characteristics as gender, age, nationality, social class, educational level and social relations. And he’s also differentiated by his needs, concerns, personal experiences, aspirations and dreams.
We should also take into account that immigration has many causes: misery, war, famine, environmental catastrophes, violence, lack of safety, and persecution for religious beliefs or political opinions. Sometimes people migrate because of the bad economic, political, educational or social circumstances in their country of origin; or through a desire to find a better job and better training or because there is little chance to have a satisfactory future where they live. Another reason could be to follow the migratory path of someone who is close, such as a husband or wife or children, something which is known as family reunification. In general, people migrate to find more opportunities and a better life for themselves and their families. This is something all human beings share, which shows that we’re not so different after all.
Once immigrants reach their destination, if they ever do, they tend to have a difficult start. They often suffer a certain isolation because they don’t speak the language, or don’t speak it very well, which obviously makes communication difficult. Likewise, it is hard to find a job or a place to live, carry out administrative and/or legal tasks, understand the customs and, above all, make friends and become integrated into daily life.
In addition, it generally takes migrants a long time to have any academic degrees validated, which means they must work in jobs that are beneath their qualifications and are poorly paid, thus suffering social descent. In sum it’s not easy to live in another country. Immigrants usually find it hard to adapt to this new society, which often doesn’t feel responsible for them, and can end up rejecting them or discriminating against them. Adaptation should be mutual, and to that end it would be beneficial if, among other measures, there were places where the local and immigrant populations could meet and live together.
Once possible fears, frustrations and even conflicts are overcome, both communities can leave paternalism aside and make an effort to treat each other as equals. It would be very positive to exchange practices and learn from each other, get rid of prejudices, and consider new ways of living. In sum, to improve understanding between cultures and accept each other so as, together, to form a new community –one that is richer, more open and, ultimately, better for everyone.