This could be a diatribe. It could be a long, passionate piece on how I believe in the rights of all people to free movement and the ability to seek employment and shelter wherever they choose. But it doesn’t need to be. The truth is far more simple than that.
I am an immigrant. I am an Irish woman who has lived in Belgium, Cambodia, and who now resides in the Netherlands. I have been an employee of multinational companies and have worked all over the world. It has been my right and privilege to do so.
When I lived in Dublin, I spent a lot of time in the company of asylum seekers and refugees as part of a community choir that I sang with. I will never, ever forget the day I met a woman who told me the story of a friend of hers and how her life fell apart along with the lives of hundreds of thousands of others during and after the Rwandan genocide. The woman in question was pregnant with her second child when the atrocities were occurring, and left her son and husband at home when she had to go to hospital to give birth to her daughter. There were complications with the birth, and while she was in there, her husband and son were murdered. She was alone with a newborn child, bereft at the loss of her family, and completely in shock and despair. She spent some time being moved around, until she and her child were finally settled in Ireland. At this point, her grief and distress were crippling. She couldn’t speak to new people, couldn’t face social situations, and was totally disconnected from her child. When she walked down the, street, however, as a black, African woman, she was met with judgement that she was in Ireland for the money, that everyone knew that the Africans were coming over because they got grants from the government and that they were engineering it so that they could give birth on Irish soil so that they could reap the benefits of a lax Western social system.
To come home from hospital and a difficult birth and find your family slaughtered. To be rescued from that in the dead of night and delivered to an unfamiliar safety. To try to keep up the battle every day to look after your child while you silently grieve for the son and husband who were taken from you by men wielding machetes and guns. That woman did not want money.
For all of the complaints of refugees taking jobs and causing disorder, I just want to ask one thing, and I mean it with utmost sincerity: When has a refugee or asylum seeker caused direct harm to you? No stories from the media, no examples you’ve seen on Facebook pages; when has it happened to you? When have you lost a job to a refugee? When has one outbid you on a house? When has one threatened you in the street? When have they had a direct negative impact on your life?
My friends who were and are refugees are not saints. They are flawed, regular humans who have had to live life the hard way and often end up better because of it. They feel compassion because of their struggles, they have ambition and a sense of purpose because of new chances they are given, they feel depressed, and sad, and bored, and struggle with the new culture they are in like any of us would if we were placed in a new country with massive restrictions on our behaviour.
These are human stories, and we have to keep telling them.