Creating new perspectives since 2009

The tragedy of refugees in Africa and the West: How did we come to hate ourselves?

April 20, 2023 at 9:24 am

Hundreds of demonstrators gather during a protest against the UK’s plan to send migrants and asylum seekers to Rwanda and the court’s decision on the matter in front of the Ministry of Interior in London, United Kingdom on June 13, 2022 [Raşid Necati Aslım/Anadolu Agency]

Asylum seekers, in various parts of the world, have always been subjected to smear campaigns, hatred and accusations, the source of which is often the economic deterioration represented by the increase in unemployment rates, high prices and the lack of basic services for the general public in the country of asylum. This prompts the authorities to encourage blaming the refugees to cover up their political and economic failures and promotes this by adopting populist media campaigns based on provoking feelings and emotions against the “others”.

These campaigns are not limited to Western countries, especially when it comes to refugees from Arab countries, Asia and Africa, i.e. what is known as the Third World. Instead, contrary to all expectations and the assumption of feelings of unity, solidarity and common identity, these campaigns invaded the very countries whose people the West used to see as asylum seekers who do not deserve to have international and humanitarian asylum laws applied to them. It is painfully ironic that South Africa and Tunisia are examples of two countries that suffer from the emigration of their people to Western countries while they are currently creating, now more than ever, a hostile atmosphere for refugees from other African countries. The UK and the US are also examples of Western countries that are working to legislate to limit the arrival of refugees to their countries. What created this state of agreement between the two sides of the world that have been known throughout modern history for their lack of agreement? Agreement between the governments of the colonisers and the colonised? What are the reasons for their agreement not to welcome refugees compared to the reasons for welcoming them? Are asylum seekers really the reason for the increase in unemployment and the spread of instability because of the economic decline?

READ: Stranded African migrants rioted in Tunisia after police dispersal of a sit-in 

The policies of the countries towards refugees indicate that what shapes them is the extent to which they are able to use the refugee issue as a pawn in the arena of domestic and foreign politics. Germany, for example, presents us with a model different from Europe in its attitude towards refugees, as it welcomed them not for humanitarian reasons or in application of international laws, but rather for political reasons (such as their position towards Ukrainian refugees) and economic reasons, as was its decision, in 2015, to receive a million refugees from all over the world. It is a decision based in contradiction to what is rumoured in most European countries that asylum seekers harm the economy if they are allowed to enter, because they will depend on the state financially, and they will pose a great economic burden on tax-paying citizens, and that if they work, they will accept low wages and will therefore compete with the citizens in the workforce. The German government’s decision to receive record numbers of refugees was made because it wanted to save the country from inevitable economic collapse. Reports confirm that the working-age population in Germany will shrink by six million people by 2030 as the number of deaths exceeds births, making it difficult to maintain the growth of the economy. The magic bullet to solve one of Germany’s biggest problems, namely the lack of skills, is to quickly accept refugees, train them and employ them.

By granting refugees the right to work, health and education, and accelerating their integration into the labour force, to increase the speed of their ability to become productive members of society, Germany effectively avoided falling into the pitfalls of the racist practices of the British government, which is manifested in its clearest form through its welcoming of Ukrainian refugees and its inhumane treatment of asylum seekers from other countries. Such treatment includes the delay in considering their applications for several years, preventing them from working and holding them in detention centres. In reality, these are prisons in which asylum seekers are treated worse than official prisons, and reports by human rights organisations describe them as places that “drives refugees to madness.” The British government is also working, now, to take steps to implement its decision to deport refugees to Rwanda instead of granting them asylum in the UK. The reason for the delay in implementing the decision, so far, is the existence of organisations that work diligently and with a high level of morality in defence of the right of refugees to a decent life in the country they arrived after a journey during which they risked their lives.

These transnational human rights organisations refute the argument by countries that reject refugees, especially African refugees, and unfortunately, countries that, until recently, suffered from discrimination and racism, as is the case of South Africa, or countries that pride themselves on their African identity as well as their Arab identity, such as Tunisia. Most migration economists agree that refugees are not a burden on society, and that in fact, having more refugees in the labour force does not harm the native population, because they have different skills and compete for different types of jobs. Those monitoring the quality of work practiced by refugees in the US indicate that they represent a higher proportion than the indigenous population in entrepreneurship and the establishment of small projects, thus creating new job opportunities for all, as they create about 1.5 million jobs every year. They can also play a key role in promoting trade and investment between their new country and their first country.

In the midst of campaigns of defamation and incitement against refugees and turning them into a pretext for all failed government policies, it is necessary to recall that the positive aspects of accepting refugees are not limited to improving the economy, but extend to cultural rapprochement through immigrants assimilating into the prevailing cultures in the places to which they immigrate, and to some extent, the host country adopting certain aspects of refugee culture making it a multi-ethnic society, with greater cultural diversity in ideas, experiences, customs, food, sports and music. Contrary to the deliberate smear campaigns against them, refugees do not erase the existing culture, but rather expand it. If we want to talk about losses, the true loss is suffered by the refugees’ countries of origin because of the emigration of its minds and youth. This is what African and Arab countries deliberately cover by attacking immigrants from the same continent and cultural environment, instead of cooperating to find quick solutions for their losses.

READ: UK accused of creating migrants into scapegoats over Channel Crossings

This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Quds Al-Arabi on 17 April 2023

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.