This was first published on inaswrites.wordpress.com.
For a moment, just put yourself in this position:
You’ve lived in the same village all your life—but you’ve always known that there’s a better life out there. You started school but couldn’t finish, as it was too expensive. You try to provide for your family as best you can and—while fresh vegetables and meat aren’t always on the daily menu—at least you can afford bread, so your wife and new-born children won’t go hungry. You’ve heard that ISIS has taken over yet another village just a few miles away, and your own rulers … well let’s just say that they aren’t the most democratic. Looking at your children, you fear that they’ll share your fate. You want them to get an education, you don’t want whatever bully takes over your country to stand in the way of their success. You keep thinking about that friend or relative who lives in Europe. He tells you, over Skype, that life there isn’t as good as advertised, but surely it must be better than here? His children aren’t the most cultured, but they’ve all had an education. You’ve even heard that Westerners are so wealthy that they’ll give you money without your having to work for it. What a great deal! Going there might mean risking your life. You might also lose all your relatives—indeed, your very identity—but it’s a risk you’re willing to take. You’re not sure what exactly it is that the West has and your country lacks. Maybe they’ve just been lucky? But you know you want to be part of it. You’ve heard rumors about the immigration process. Once you’re in the country, people say, you should tell them you’re under eighteen, and claim to be a refugee, not an economic migrant. If you tell them your real age you’ll stand far less chance of actually receiving asylum. You could send your wife ahead of you, but you’re afraid she won’t know how to handle herself. So you decide that your children are going to grow up in Europe! After prayer and dinner with your family, you inform your wife of your decision and tell her that she needs to stay behind with your relatives until you can bring her over. Then, you withdraw all your savings and embark on your adventure.
Now let’s fast forward ten years. You’re living in Europe. You were lucky: you managed to reach Sweden without having been fingerprinted in one of the less prosperous countries, such as Greece or Italy. The first few years here, you worked hard to obtain asylum status. It was a difficult process, and you didn’t bother to learn much of the language during that time—in case it turned out to be wasted effort. Your first application was rejected, but you were able to hide out within the country for a while and then apply again. After a long battle, you finally obtained citizenship. Then you wanted to be able to bring your family to join you. That meant yet another major battle, but the knowledge that your own children had taken their first steps and said their first words without you made you all the more determined to bring them over to join you.
It’s been five years now since your whole family was finally reunited. Now, you can work on building a life for yourself. You’ve been living on government assistance. Sometimes, you’ve considered getting an education and looking for work, but then you realized that life has passed you and your wife by, so you’ve pinned your hopes on your children. You’re able to live on what the government gives you. At least you’ve learned the language—though your wife hasn’t been able to, since she’s had to spend all her time taking care of the house and children. Sometimes, you miss home and your relatives, but the area you live in reminds you of your home country quite a lot. The same languages are spoken; the same kinds of people surround you. Sure, your son has been staying out late a lot recently, although he also seems to have become more religious for some reason. And, sure, your daughter seems to have adopted strange ideas—she thinks homosexuality is ok, for example—but she’s also the most educated woman in the history of your entire family. At the end of the day, things could be worse.
. . . . .
There’s currently an immigration crisis in many parts of Europe. With wars elsewhere and increasing global mobility, more and more people are looking to move to the developed world, in search of a better life. While immigration has many positive aspects, mass migration to nations like Sweden has also brought large-scale problems that such countries haven’t had to deal with before. Because so many people have arrived at once, countries have had trouble integrating the new arrivals. At the same time, anti-immigrant sentiment has also grown substantially. Everywhere in Europe, anti-immigration parties are winning double digit percentages in elections. Brexit passed and other measures which promise better border controls are popular. The actual number of immigrants coming in can’t account for all the anti-immigrant sentiment growing throughout the West—for example, many people in the US voted for Trump because they were afraid Hilary would accept more Syrian refugees, when, in fact, the States took only a fraction of the numbers admitted to European countries. But it does explain some of it. I agree with many of the criticisms of mass migration, but I also find the rise in anti-immigrant sentiment very problematic. While it’s absolutely fine to be anti-mass migration, it’s dangerous to be anti-immigrant. One stance is a response to policies, while the other is hostility towards human beings. You can be against mass migration without being anti-immigrant. Let me try to explain the difference.
In the story I began with, I showed how many immigrants reason when deciding to migrate to the West. The protagonist of that story lied and used illegal means to obtain asylum in Sweden and then didn’t even integrate into Swedish society. Such stories are common, and they have lead to many negative stereotypes about immigrants, resulting in an increase in support for racist organizations. Behavior like that of the immigrant in the story has led to an overburdened immigration system. Many Western countries can’t integrate their immigrant populations. But who’s to blame here? Who’s to blame for the fact that the man in my example crossed Europe illegally, lied about his age, and made a false asylum claim?
Is the immigrant in the story really to blame—because he chose the path that was most likely to make life better for his family? I beg to differ. A human being who examines the system and simply makes the choices most likely to allow him to achieve his goals is not a bad person. The immigrant didn’t hurt anyone; he had no ill intent. If he had tried to immigrate by legal means, he would almost certainly have been deported. So his was an obvious choice. But this doesn’t change the reality: that there is a problem with integration. It is a problem when economic migrants claim refugee status while actual refugees need help, and accommodating this many immigrants has a negative impact on the welfare state. The question remains: who is to blame?
It’s the system. Not some abstract system of invisible social constructs and norms, the actual system that rewards negative behavior. Countries like Sweden don’t question the fact that so-called refugees are able to afford to get there, rather than staying in the first safe country they enter. Countries like Sweden are so afraid of offending anyone that they will not confront immigrants who claim to be minors, but are clearly well over eighteen. Sweden is willing to spend millions on individuals who could be much productive than they are. When you reward the illegal option, you shouldn’t be surprised if people take it. When you punish hard work, you shouldn’t be surprised if people choose the lazy option.
Don’t get me wrong. As the immigrant daughter of economic migrants myself, I’m eternally thankful for the opportunity Sweden has given me. I wish the chances I’ve been given could be available to every single human being on earth. But no one country or continent can help every person on earth, yet alone bring them into that country and make them part of their nation. What pro-immigration activists will not admit is that at some point the flow has to stop. At some point, trying to help actually does more harm than good, especially in the longer term. We have reached that point, at least in countries like Sweden.
We have reached that point because segregation has caused an upsurge in areas dominated by immigrants. Immigrants in those ghettos have no incentive to adapt to wider society. Women and minorities are pressured to follow backwards norms and, while Swedish law technically protects them, their families and communities exert so much social control over them that it’s hard to apply those laws. And people within those communities are often unfamiliar with Swedish norms, so they apply whatever norms they brought with them from their home countries. But, when a country takes people in and claims them as citizens, it has a duty to grant them the same rights as everyone else in that country. Every immigrant woman who is married against her will in the West is a failure of the system. Every gay immigrant who lives in fear of confessing her sexuality is a failure of the system. Every immigrant child forced to adapt to backwards norms is a failure of the system. No Western country would permit such infringements of its native citizens’ rights—but when countries claim to be tolerant and yet take in so many people that they can’t integrate them into society, human rights abuses become a reality within immigrant communities: among people who were promised the same rights as the natives when they were given citizenship. We should never promise more than we can deliver—but that’s exactly what countries like Sweden have done.
The immigrant in my story isn’t blameless. But the system doesn’t demand integration. In fact, it houses people in segregated areas, which makes it harder for them to integrate. This doesn’t make it okay to hold sexist values, for example. But the system is to blame when immigrants don’t adapt to Swedish values and customs.
I began by trying to point out the difference between being anti-immigration and anti-immigrant. Immigrants are just like everyone else: some good, some bad. To hate someone just because they came to your country in search of a better life is not just wrong: it’s cruel. You would probably have done the same, in their shoes. I know I would. Don’t hate the player; hate the game. The game rewards bad behavior. We should be able to acknowledge that there is an immigration crisis without hating immigrants. Especially since immigrants are a minority, so if they are hated things can turn very ugly very fast.
Mass immigration has had massive negative impacts. We should never have let it get to this point. But immigrants are not trying to take over: they are just trying to live their lives. Don’t lose sight of the fact that they are human. It’s okay to be anti-immigration, but it’s not okay to be anti-immigrants.