Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Great Immigration Debate

A child cries as his family wait in line in order to get into a reception center for refugees in Opatovac, Croatia

Immigration, migration and the movement of people across the globe is a topic that is very much in the news right now with hundreds of thousands of immigrants coming out of war-torn Syria, parts of India and Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Lybia to name a few.

Surfing the internet recently I saw a heading that said" the US will take Rohingya Boat People" and another one referencing the same subject headed "Nope, nope, nope Tony Abbott says Australia will take no Rohingya Refugees". These headings and articles made me think about this subject of migration across the globe and how it is used and viewed by people and governments.

I am an immigrant twice over. In 1967, I moved from Bangladesh to England with my family and grew up, was educated and lived there till I moved to America with my British husband in 1987. I am now a dual British citizen and US citizen. I feel extremely lucky to have these two passports because I can travel between the two countries with no problem. Recently I moved back briefly to the UK and almost everyday immigration was being discussed on the news. 

I want to examine the way migration is viewed in the USA, Germany and the UK in particular and how it is also viewed around the world, particularly in Eastern Europe. While listening to a discussion about immigration on Public Radio in Arizona and I heard some very interesting arguments about the subject and it made me think of some of the anti-immigration arguments.  

In the United Kingdom and around Europe now there are  thousands of immigrants coming every day from war-torn countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Libya. The migrants want a safe haven to call home and are "attracted by Europe's relative peace and prosperity". There is a great article in the Guardian called "10 truths about Europe"s migrant crisis". The United Kingdom says they will take 20,000 over 4 years with Germany and some of the other Western European countries willing to take more Syrian migrants in a shorter space of time. 

Other countries, particularly in Eastern Europe such as Hungary, Poland, Serbia and Croatia have been less welcoming.  In an article in the US News and Word Report called "Tension Between Eastern and Western Europe is complicating the response to an influx of migrants." I see this reaction from Eastern Europe as massive hypocrisy when I know thousands of Eastern Europeans  have emigrated to countries like the UK to better their own lives economically. When these countries joined the European Union they pledged to support "European values" such as xenophobia, open markets, open borders, transparent press and media, cultural diversity, open-mindedness, protection of minorities. 

In reality, these Eastern European governments have done nothing of the sort and their societies are full of corruption, oligarchs, cronyism, no freedom of the press. Many people such as in Poland don't think they can share anything with the migrants. They also do not accept racial and ethnic diversity. A September 12th New York Times article by Rick Lyman says "Unlike countries in Western Europe, which have a long history of accepting immigrants  from diverse cultures, former communist states tend to be highly homogeneous, Poland for example, is 98% white and 94% catholic.  

Germany has welcomed the migrants and pledged to take around 800,000 of them, pledging to send $6.7 billion on dealing with them. Austria and Sweden, Denmark have also been welcoming. Rallies in Denmark and Germany have shown support for accepting migrants in large numbers. Why is it that there is such a divide in the attitude of the Eastern and western Europeans?

They conclude that "Eastern Europeans think they are the ones to be helped that was a promise of the unification( of the European Union). Being poorer than western Europe they point out, how can anyone expect solidarity from us?"  The Eastern Europeans feel threatened by the Arab migrants and see them as an Islamic threat to Christian Europe. "There is a general anxiety over the unfamiliar." While Germany sees migrants as a possible boon to their future economic power countries like Hungary see them a massive Islamic threat.

“The countries that have very little diversity are the most virulent against refugees." said Andrew Strohlein, European media director forHuman Rights Watch.
Since the fall of communism, these Eastern European countries have not seen great changes in their economic prosperity. Also unlike the Western Europeans these countries have no colonial past and do not feel any obligation to migrants coming from Muslim countries. 

Today the Pope addressed the issue of immigrants. The Wall Street Journal sums it up "The Pope addressed immigration in a less confrontational way than he has done in Europe, where he has denounced indifference to the fate of migrants who have drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean. He instead appealed to the foreign heritage of most of his listeners, identifying himself as the “son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants.”

“On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life,” he said. “Is this not what we want for our own children?”
I am not an expert in this field and wrote this article to provoke some discussion and thoughts on the ever poignant subject which is in the news. We just need to examine how we would feel if we were in the shoes of those in the migrants themselves.

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