Today I have no jokes. No pithy remarks about my life as an immigrant. I’m not sure I can add anything to the debate surrounding the current ‘migrant’ crisis that can change the mind of anyone who hasn’t had it changed by those photos. I’m not the person to tell you about the crisis in their homeland, and the journey they take.
But, I have something to say about who these people are, to anyone whose fear of the ‘others’ holds back their better natures.
Those others – they really are just like you.
I know this because I am an immigrant in a non-English speaking country. I went to language school. Those others? They were my classmates.
When I started last year, about half of my class would have been migrants from the middle east. The biggest single group – Syrian. Nearly all men, though many had wives in another class, it had just worked out that way. Some had children. One who I got to know well had young daughters who had spent two years of their short lives living in refugee camps.
There were times in the classroom that showed we came from different worlds. Like talking about our families: ‘I’m the youngest of 12 children. But five of them are dead’. That’s not something many twenty somethings in the west would say.
But that didn’t happen often. Mostly they were just like me and you. Laughing at the same bad jokes. Struggling to learn Danish. Working hard, because unlike me, they don’t have the luxury of leaving if it doesn’t work out.
They weren’t terrorists. They weren’t misogynists. I’m a vocal feminist, and if you think I’d be silent if I saw sexism, then ‘Hi’, because obviously we’ve never met. They treated all the liberal western females in my class just fine. Showed interest in all our diverse cultures, and in our families – both to the married mothers, and the unmarried ones.
They were family men. Educated men. Men who worked hard. Men who liked to watch sport and play chess. Men who would laugh as they handed me pens I dropped once my pregnant belly got in the way. Who’d chat about how their families were adjusting. What their kids’ school was like.
I’ve moved around the world. I’m not stupid. I know I’ve been able to do this because I’m the right sort of immigrant. Because of the colour of my skin. My nationality. Because we are educated. Because decades ago my father-in-law was born to New Zealand parents in the UK. Because of quirks of fate.
There are no easy solutions. Many of our leaders are right when they say taking in more people won’t solve the root cause. Maybe they should think about what might. Maybe that doesn’t matter when children are drowning while trying to reach safer shores.
Last year New Zealand celebrated winning a seat on the UN Security Council. This was John Key’s response:
“We have worked very hard on the bid for close to a decade because we believe that New Zealand can make a positive difference to world affairs and provide a unique and independent voice at the world’s top table…It has been more than 20 years since New Zealand was last on the Council and we are ready to contribute again.”
Now is a time to contribute. Our way of life is not so fragile a few hundred people can threaten it. But closing our doors, that black-mark on our humanity. That’s the real threat.
Sign a petition to increase NZ’s refugee quota here.