Welcome, immigrant

Rosa van de Beemt

im·mi·gra·tion  noun – the movement of non-native people into a country in order to settle there

Why one would choose to leave the home country and settle somewhere else can have many different reasons. Whatever the reason, there is much chance you won’t be received in your new country with flags and bells.

For some non-native people it is easier to move and settle in another country than for others. Your background, papers, education, and yes, skincolor, are all factors taken into concern. The current policy at the Dutch border is not an arms-wide-open one. When you are a refugee, your story is weighed and checked and weighed; you are guilty until proven innocent. (see also this recent Volkskrant article (in Dutch).

When my grandparents migrated to the Netherlands almost seventy years ago, having fought with the Royal Dutch-Indonesian army against the Japanese in WWII and against their own people during Indonesia’s struggle for independence, they were housed in the barracks of an old concentration camp. It was, according to the Dutch government, the only place that could house such a large group of people without separating them. It even somewhat resembled a ‘kampong’; a traditional Indonesian village. Surely the Dutch look back at this in shame, and today we would consider it an  outrage to house immigrants in old concentration camps, but what if we look at our modern immigrant?

This is a picture of a refugee center in The Netherlands. Now as your always reliable and non-discursive blogger, I have to admit this picture was hand-picked by me to show some similarities between the old camp barracks and current the housing of refugees until they are granted a status. Surely there are much cozier centers out there, but they are still a long way from being a warm welcome. They are not designed to evoke warm feelings and who can blame us/them (is it them, or us? Should we blame the architects? Politics? Us voters?); they’re/we’re afraid our country is flogging with fortune seekers. Times of financial crisis in the to-settle-in-country are not the best times for an immigrant to come over.

I have just migrated to Canada. It was as easy as a trip to the grocery store. All I needed was my Dutch passport and my creditcard. They had some questions for me, sure, and I needed to do some paperwork for getting a work permit. But I didn’t need to stay in a center for years until I was sure I was welcome.

Canadian politics have shifted considerably to the right or conservative end, as they have in The Netherlands as well. Yet Canadian immigration politics is up to day still much milder and receiving.

Granted, the architecture isn’t great either (and I can’t tell whether the picture is shot INSIDE the fences or whether there just aren’t any gates) but it has more of a bungalow appeal than that of a concentration camp.

Foreigners who are granted Canadian citizenship are called ‘New Canadians’ here. I was very enthusiastic when I first heard that, thinking of the whole different discourse the Canadian government uses to include immigrants. Yet out on the streets, it’s still very much like your old complaining Dutchmen; people are afraid of losing jobs and taxes to immigrants. (For those of you with a little time on their hands, check out this video. And I can’t blame them. Looking around, there are so many Asians it sometimes feels like I’m in another country. In the large Chinatown district, where there are Chinese malls, banks and cinema’s, this feeling is understandable. It gets more mind-blowing when you walk inside the IKEA and still feel this way.

Migration is not a new phenomenon brought on by globalization but in fact lies at the core of our existence. Back when we were not even fully evolved into the human beings we are now, we as Homo Erectus moved on our short little legs out of the African continent to Eurasia. 70,000 years later the Homo Sapiens spread out from Africa towards Asia, Australia and Europe, unchallenged by ‘borders’. Perhaps if we had not migrated, our species had gone into extinction. Who knows?

Our world is constantly changing; we won’t be able to stop the mixing and mingling of people and the desire to – for whatever reason – start anew in another place. Maybe the human race needs to resettle again and again to survive. The worst that could happen is that the poor get a little richer and the rich a little poorer, the blondes and redheads will become even more outnumbered and we have to rethink some of our cultural values (and perhaps also our architectural charisma). There is not much other to fear from making people feel welcome.

After all, after a few decades, what is left of the fear, hatred and suspicion of immigrants?  It is having Nasi Goreng as a typical Dutch dish, the adding of peanut sauce to French fries, a taco for lunch in a Texmex restaurant or falafel for dinner. Now who would complain about that.

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