Wahid (not his real name) is a migrant from an emerging state somewhere in Asia who resolved upon himself to find a place in the sun in an industrialized state in North America, thousands of miles away from his family. He ventured on this rather unprecedented decision in order to provide for his family’s most basic needs.
He knows it was a gamble for him…
He sold some of his family’s treasured belongings just to be able to pay the placement and visa processing fees towards his most-coveted journey to the unknown, uncertain whether good riddance will welcome him with smile. Unable to speak the language of the local, unaware of the culture and norms of the place, encumbered by the pressures of the work and workplace and frequently being stricken by nostalgia, Wahid found himself in a very challenging position. But these challenges appear trivial in comparison to the unexpected challenge he is yet to face, which evidently is the hardest of them all—the green-eyed monster called discrimination which apparently is a normal occurrence in the new world where he belongs. The scorns and scoffs are almost always a part of the air he breathes.
He was disillusioned. He was, in effect, in a state of disbelief. Notwithstanding this playful gesture of fortune, Wahid will continue to toil in search for a better life for his family. He would tolerate the intolerance of this new world to lit the dwindling hope of his kin back in his home country who have embraced poverty for most of the years of their lives. He would rekindle this little flame of hope so that his family who pin their hopes to him will somehow have the consolation of the thought of surviving. Wahid realizes that this is far better than being flung in the darkness of poverty. He is willing to give up his personal comfort and happiness so the people who depend on him shall enjoy the comfort and find joy to their new-found freedom from scarcity and starvation.
This society of ours has its own piece of Wahid. In almost all nooks and corners of Africa, Asia and Latin America, we will find real stories from the real Wahids of the society, so to speak. Wahid mirrors the great number of migrants, who in one way or another, experience some forms of discrimination because of socio-cultural differences—language, religious belief, political orientation, cultural practices, social norms, and other similar differentiations that inevitably put labels to individuals.
Wahid is only among the estimated 232 million international migrants in the world according to the International Labour Organization. Approximately half of this figure is regarded as economically active. In 2013, migrant workers accounted for 150 million of the total number of the international migrants. The ILO Global Estimates of Migrant Workers in 2015 put the figure of migrant workers for around 72.7 per cent of the 206.6 million working age migrant population (15 years and over). The majority – 83.7 million – are men, with 66.6 million women migrant workers.
These migrant workers should not be viewed as white elephant by the receiving state, but rather their partners in development. They are in fact the engine that keeps the cog of the economic wheel of developed states going. They are a giant dynamo that sustains the production, manufacturing and service industries of most highly industrialized states. The relationship between the receiving state and these migrant workers should be seen as a form of synergy, a partnership that should last a forever and spell a good story to tell in the years to come.
While they are being looked at as a threat to the local population in terms of employment opportunities, this perspective is more of a fiction than a fact. This fear that that political propagandists appear to imbue in the minds of the public across the North America and Europe is almost always “full of sound and fury signifying nothing,” to borrow the words of Shakespeare. Fear, as they say, sometimes knock at your door to annoy and pester you, but the truth is when you open the door with an enlightened mind, fear is merely nothing but a thin air that soon vanishes in the atmosphere.
More often than not, many of these workers find themselves discriminated against not only by their employers, their co-workers, but also the society at large who, for sheer ignorance and lack of sensibility, fails to acknowledge that the first step for mutual respect and understanding is acceptance of differences across culture, language or religion, that this new world for the migrants can be a more mutually congenial place of celebrating more of our similarities and semblances in the midst of differences, that there could be unity in diversity and that this world can be a better place to live in if we recognize the fact that we are all men and women, brothers and sisters in this grand scheme of things, in this single unified world singing a single verse of peace, unity and harmony.
When all is said and done, how then can we hurdle this seemingly insurmountable obstacle of discrimination and its twin siblings racism and intolerance? This is not easy to answer. It requires conscious effort to overcome our sometimes biased psyche. But this simple and yet powerful philosophical musings from the former Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Anan, may as well set the tone for our quest of acceptance and understanding:
“Ignorance and prejudice are the handmaidens of propaganda. Our mission, therefore, is to confront ignorance with knowledge, bigotry with tolerance, and isolation with the outstretched hand of generosity. Racism can, will, and must be defeated.”
Nothing can be further from the truth. Our dream of a world that celebrates amity and concord in the midst of differences is not far-fetched. We shall soon be triumphant towards this noble quest, utopian as it may appear. Shall we emerge the victor in the long run? It is resounding yes!
Let this quest metamorphosed into a universal collective social action.
And let it begin with ourselves.
The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of the author, and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of ALDA and the European Union.