Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Stop and think about immigration

 Life can be difficult if it's only you. Many suffer and some suffer more through the cold winters. Does love go beyond borders? One answer would be yes. Of course we are capable of loving someone who does not share our culture. Such differences are insignificant and have nothing to do with love.

 It's through learning that we grow. We can learn to accept differences as no better or worse than what we've grown to learn in our own unique environment that we all as individuals have been thrown into from birth. The most significant difference between someone from a rich country and another from a poor country is often the rights they have in each other's countries. The European Union has been trying to make immigration more difficult for many years now. For many the only option is to enter illegally. Many of those who travel by boat make it to Europe alive. When they arrive they are not allowed to work legally and not entitled to many of the benefits that Europeans grow up with. What can one do in such a situation? Many hope to get to the U.K, France or Germany but end up in countries like Spain and Italy; which are often the first stop for those arriving by boat.

I met one young man in Spain who hadn't been back to Senegal for over six years. His name was Demba and his story began as a student in France who came with a visa to study architecture. He said that president Sarkozy had put up the student fees to the extent that made it impossible for him to study. He had some friends who were working in a small town on the Costa Brava; not too far from Leon. He thought it would be a good opportunity for him to earn some money, so that he could send it back home to his family in Africa. He's been in Spain for 3 years now, selling what he can.

Demba is often is too ashamed to answer calls from family members as he often just doesn't have any money to send back. He works 7 days a week and some days he comes home empty handed. He lives in an overcrowded flat and shares a single bed with his cousin. Despite the hardship, he counts himself lucky that he's not living on the streets with a drug or mental health problem. He explains how his life was better in Africa but he came to  Europe to improve the future of Senegal. After all he's been through in the last 6 years he can't just give up now and go home with nothing.

The story of an immigrant arriving in Europe on a student visa, not achieving an education and then deciding to look for work in the black market is not uncommon and certainly not unique to France. The U.K is often the most popular destination for students. It's not surprising given that English is the international language and Britain has long established relations with many countries who were once officially under her rule.

Over a year ago it was announced that the UK government would treble the cost of university fees. Currently British citizens have to pay around £9000 a year. There were protests fueled by the the outrage of a generation of young people unable to afford an education in one of the richest countries in the world. What very few people managed to mention was that foreign students have been paying around £9000 a year in university fees for quite some time now.

For those lucky enough to put together enough money to reach Europe legally. Which is often a case of families saving up for years and sometimes family members clubbing together to put money into the would be students bank account so that the UK government have their proof that Ahmed from Pakistan has at least £800 in his bank account for every month he dares to tread on her majesty's blessed kingdom. When they arrive they find that the cost of living is often too high to simply focus on studies. Those on a student visa have restricted working hours which are changing all the time. If the only way to survive is to work illegally for £3 an hour and skip classes then many will do just that. Do they have another option?

For those who don't want to return to their country as a failure, marriage can seem like an appealing option. Especially for those who really do fall in love and who come from a culture where not being married may not be very socially acceptable. Unfortunately even love is not always enough to secure a place in the so called "free" world. Even if after careful examination a marriage is accepted. Which in the UK is not only a case of answering correctly to a set of interview questions but is also a case of proving that you have enough money to support your non-European spouse. Even if you are able to jump through all the hoops, fill out all the forms, gather all your documents and in many successful cases pay the lawyers fees; the visa is only probationary for 2 years. The idea of free trade is often celebrated by the rich and powerful. But in reality the only free trade that exists between poor and rich countries is the freedom of the rich to get richer by taking advantage of the open borders of the third world.  While keeping theirs closed to people like Demba who is only looking for a very small slice of that wealth that was partly created from the colonization of his country.

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