Immigrants are people too, with stories: here’s mine

As the debate rages about whether Europe should be more ‘tolerant’ towards migrants, Davide Castro argues that we’re misunderstanding the problem.
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Davide Castro

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Davide is one of the founders of The Critique and currently based in Brussels. Davide is interested in the development of frameworks for alternative economic models.

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There is something startling in how little Europeans know about their history. How could this be if not because of the fact we are living witnesses to a political discourse filled with non-information. It begs the question, how can we have a sensible debate about this when the very people who are warning against ‘foreign invasions’ are the first to celebrate our own.

They sell arms to countries with abominable human rights records and then complain they are using them to commit atrocities. They invade countries, killing thousands in the process, and act surprised when sectarian groups within them pick up arms and use them against us; they claim we are more civilised than they are and yet refuse to provide shelter for the people we have displaced. They claim we are true democrats, yet lament when people elect governments they oppose.

This is the kind of non-information that I mean. This and more, of course, but the crimes are so numerous as to be almost incomprehensible. I guess non-information is what fills the void, and unfortunately out of it emerge, either people that want to act together with common sense, or those who aspire to a return to the Middle Ages, forgetting whatever’s worth saving of the Enlightenment values they have benefited from.

My Story

Perhaps it is worth thinking a little more about why people move and actually why it is important to understand our history to then move beyond it. Societies are not static, they evolve over time, and so do ideas of course. So perhaps the following can serve as just one example of why it is important to remain open-minded.

I arrived in the UK when I was thirteen years of age. My father had been in England for twelve months prior to my arrival. He was first stationed in Hull for a period of six months but later moved to Scunthorpe for the following six. I watched my father leave his homeland without knowing why he felt obliged to. Surely he was not doing it for fun, he must have had a reason I thought. I knew he did not want to leave, after all what father enjoys leaving his wife and kids behind?

My mother and brother were both working at the time, contributing to the household income as necessary with their meagre 485 euros monthly salary, barely enough to cover all the bills and my high school education. On top of this, my brother could not attend University because the family circumstances did not allow him the privilege, and because the Government did not assist toward the cost, as it does in some other countries.

So, as you can understand, equality of opportunity was clearly non-existent. Portugal’s economic condition was already dire then, with rising unemployment and increasingly under-employment, and so my family’s situation was becoming the prototypical scenario that an increasing number of families were experiencing.

Why did he, like many others, leave his country? Certainly he had no intention to stay long-term nor did he wish to impose his culture over British culture. He came over to the UK but could have easily gone over to France. The international jobs agency gave him an option and his answer was ‘wherever there is work’. He was 49, considered too old in Portugal by most employers, so an international jobs agency was his only realistic chance to ensure his family didn’t lose everything they had.

He didn’t follow my grandfather’s footsteps to France, choosing instead Britain for its colder climate. He was never a big fan of the heat. My father, who had migrated in the late 1980’s to Israel to work in textiles, is someone who, as a result of witnessing first-hand the mistreatment of Palestinian Arabs in Jerusalem, began to understand some of the power dynamics existent in sectarian societies. This experience influenced his anti-discrimination stance and he also began to see how people were arguing against the wrong subject. People were blaming each other, sometimes even killing each other, over constructed differences accentuated by power disputes.

My mother and I joined him a year later, when the financial reality allowed it. I was excited, it was a new opportunity. I had been told what England was like by my high school English teacher (she was Portuguese) and was keen to visit the famous British pubs. Not that I drank at the time, I was far too Mediterranean to start binging so early.

My father knew of a small town in Norfolk with a Portuguese community called Thetford. We had a distant family member there so it made sense to familiarise ourselves with our new home whilst maintaining a close proximity to people from back home. And so our adventure began.

There is a large Portuguese population in Norfolk/Suffolk. A Portuguese newspaper is distributed throughout; to cafés, restaurants etc. It’s called ‘As Noticias’ or ‘The News’. I once noticed my parents had picked one up. The front page read ‘David Cameron wants factory jobs for British workers’ and underneath a bigger heading ‘Return the Work’.

Thetford is exemplary in one sense. It is a small town in Norfolk with a great variety of people from different nations. There is little segregation and everyone seems to get along, after years of sharing the same space and getting used to each other. It is common to see British couples and families dining in Portuguese restaurants, and the sight of Portuguese and British individuals purchasing products from Polish shops. There are small pockets of reactionary resistance though this is limited to small groups of young people who feel their society, and their government has failed them.

Their grievances should not be ignored, they should be listened to. Their problems were not caused by immigration but by governmental economic policy that has done little to breach the gap between the rich and the poor and by a degrading education that does little to reach the inner capacity of children to seek knowledge.

One must inevitably ask, at what point do children begin to lose interest? Humans are naturally curious but often this curiosity is tamed and controlled by those who provide education in order that everyone receives a ‘good education’, meaning an education that gets you through life without encouraging you to ask too many questions.

And of course by the rich and the poor I mean the 99% vs 1%. The greatest crime is allowing the political classes to take advantage of demographic imbalances to further their own agenda, so that the 99% fight each other instead of the 1% who they all share principled opposition against, the most universal common denominator of our time.

They claim we’re true democrats, yet lament when people elect governments they oppose.Davide Castro

And so within Europe, the present crisis is causing mass migration from South to North. These are people looking for better opportunities, sometimes simply seeking survival; a way to feed their children. People like me, young graduates, have a greater privilege than most. Quite often we have a clear choice. People like my parents and others are not in the same position, they have no bargaining power.

They have to go wherever work is and are treated with contempt if they do not accept it. Governments, as is widely known, want internal devaluation. What this great euphemism means is a fight to the bottom. Namely who can work for the least amount of money and equal the same output.

It is easy to see how a systemic problem of economic equity translates into xenophobia and the problem of ‘mass migration’. Binaries like the one described above are created, shifting our attention from the real causes of societal discrepancies. It is not a cultural problem, as much as we’d like to believe (that the Spaniards, Greeks and Portuguese are lazy, therefore…) it is the system itself.

So long as we continue to blame the next door neighbour for receiving benefits without ‘deserving’ them, or look to the migrant as the sole cause of British rupture, the happiest the government will be. Polarisation serves them well. This does nothing to address the issues at hand, it merely addresses the symptom.

One must inevitably ask, at what point do children begin to lose interest? Davide Castro

We should look at the reasons for mass migration and address the root causes. Regulating migration per se is not a solution. The political classes will say whatever they have to say to gain a political advantage even when doing so poses the problem of new forms of apartheid, segregation and rise of nationalisms. In fact history tells us that our interventions in other countries have by far only served to further already existing sectarian divisions, rather than eradicate them.

Furthermore, the world is transforming; we widely accept the globalisation of finance, technology and communications without reticence yet are unable to accept the globalisation of human movement, perhaps the one thing above all we should.

Let us not forget that immigrants are people. They are not lesser people or greater people. By deciding what ‘type’ of immigrants should or should not enter into the UK, or any other country for that matter, we are essentially in favour of immigration if, and only if, there are obvious economic benefits. This is akin to treating someone as an economic agent, whilst ignoring their moral agency.

When someone moves through choice, such person is likely to have an interest in the targeted country. On the other hand, when someone moves in order to survive, societies and governments cannot expect that person to have considered the culture and rules of the country a priori.

A government and the constituents of a state also cannot expect immigrants to adopt an entirely new identity upon arrival. Integration is a process and can often take many years. When immigrants are mistreated and labelled ‘scroungers’ there is little they can do to overcome the anti-immigration sentiments they are subjected to. Quite the contrary, it may only fuel the opposite response.

The greatest crime is allowing the political classes to take advantage of ‘demographic imbalances’ to further their own agenda, so that the 99% fight each other instead of the 1% who they all share principled opposition against.Davide Castro

And then I hear people talking about ‘tolerating’ or ‘not tolerating’ this and that. But actually nothing should ever be about tolerance. Did women turn around to men and ask them to ‘please tolerate’ them when they sought the right to vote? Did Martin Luther King and the movement for racial equality ask white Americans to tolerate their skin colour? It is never about tolerance. As soon as that word is uttered, my ears hurt.

Even today, does the LGBT community want straight people to ‘tolerate’ their sexual orientation? I mean, it’s absurd to even consider it. Equally we should not be talking about ‘tolerating’ immigration. We either accept the fact that our contemporary political discourse is filled with non-information, and unite together with common sense to transform the void, or we advertently or inadvertently advocate a return to the Middle Ages and forget about the Enlightenment values we’ve benefited from over the years.

Here I agree with Zizek when he says, “The liberal idea of tolerance is more and more a kind of intolerance. What it means is ‘Leave me alone; don’t harass me; I’m intolerant towards your over-proximity.”

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About the Author

Davide Castro

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Davide is one of the founders of The Critique and currently based in Brussels. Davide is interested in the development of frameworks for alternative economic models.

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