I firmly believe that everyone should be an immigrant at least once in their lives.
People should know how it feels to be new to a country, to know no one, to not even know how to do fairly routine things that at home would not be given a second thought – like how to make a doctors appointment, or how to go food shopping – in Austria for example, you have to weigh your own fruit and vegetables at the supermarket before you pay, and place the price sticker on the bag otherwise you will be yelled at by the woman at the check-out, while the people in line behind you roll their eyes in frustration as she then needs to run back to the machine and weigh them for you (learnt from personal experience).
Anti-immigrant sensationalism in the media (and by far right political parties – and more worryingly by mainstream political parties) is increasing by the second, and sadly there are many people who are adopting these points of view without really looking into the facts and figures. Yes, I get it, ‘evil immigrants taking over our country and causing chaos’, sells newspapers (and conveniently creates a scapegoat for many economic and social issues), and newspapers are a business, and they need people to buy their papers, but I think the media has a lot to answer for in this respect.
One insight that really resonated with me in response to the increasing anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe was this:
“If they knew how difficult it is to live abroad, they wouldn’t think that. It’s ten times as hard if you are coming from Africa. It’s hard enough if you are German or a French person… I have to say, it’s nice to move, but sometimes it’s very tiring and very depressing and very challenging” (Eurostars and Eurocities by Adrian Favell)
I am glad that at the age of 28 I have lived in four countries so far, that my grandparents were immigrants, that I can understand the difficulty of moving to a new country, the struggle of learning a new language, of negotiating the minefield that is integrating into a new society. But most of all I am glad that I can put myself into the shoes of those that are new to a country, to empathise and not to judge so harshly, because like it or not, we need immigrants in our ageing societies, as Hein de Haas wrote recently:
“Indeed, the only way to drastically reduce immigration is to wreck the economy. A prolonged economic recession is therefore the only recipe to reduce immigration.”
“If and when economic growth resumes in the US and the EU, migration is likely to increase again, but with increasing global competition for migrant labour, governments and societies cannot afford the luxury to just take for granted that migrants will keep on coming – with this attitude, they may be shooting themselves in their own feet.
In many ways, in the future, the question will no longer be how to prevent migrants from coming, but how to attract them.”
I realise not everyone has the interest or opportunity to immigrate, but studying abroad, taking an expat assignment, and even travel helps to open your mind, to build tolerance and understanding. Nothing bad can come of that.