Imagine if one day you woke up and bombs were destroying everything around you. What would you do? Where would you go? What would you take?
Immigration, asylum seekers and refugee movements have been in the news around the world with increasing frequency in the last couple of years — as of today, one in every 113 people on the planet has been forced from home involuntarily (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees). But the way immigration is depicted in the media and referred to in social discourse is often a disservice to the reality of the situation.
I am a migrant, and have been for the last five years in various countries. When in Europe and the United States, I may sound like a foreigner, but I don’t necessarily look like one. People never think to refer to me as an immigrant — I get adjectives like ‘study abroad,’ ‘expat,’ ‘tourist.’ Why don’t people talk about me with the same disdain they do Mexican migrants, Syrian refugees or Eritrean asylum seekers? In the media these groups of people are invariably referred to as ‘illegal,’ ‘undocumented,’ ‘threat,’ ‘criminal’ or ‘job-stealing,’ to name a few.
I, a person who came to the U.S. voluntarily and can return home any time I like, am seen in a positive light. So why are those who flee their countries in fear for their lives and may never be able to return home, viewed in a bad way? It seems to me that it would be more realistic the other way around — or even better, to embrace differences as opportunities for the betterment of all and get rid of negativity for good.
Next time you see images of asylum seekers on leaky boats or breaking down fences, try to drown out the media commentary which is often apathetic at best, and racist at worst. Think about what it would be like if you suddenly had to flee your country, your homes, your schools, your friends. What would it be like to have to assimilate into a new culture? Would you want to be able to continue your education, find a job and raise a family? Would you want to be valued for your skills and experience or for the color of your skin and tales of woe?
So before you judge someone, walk a mile in their shoes.
Story by Jess Wright