The Plight of the Migrant

immigration Africa

Some years ago when my sister told me of employment opportunities in South Africa, I immediately dismissed the notion. Sure, the present circumstances were difficult, but I was managing. I had just in that year founded my consumer electronics company at the tender age of 20. Surely the future was bright. To me, there was no need to go and live in another country as a foreigner when you can make ends meet in your own country. In addition, I had read and heard stories of violent crime in countries like South Africa, something which made me hesitant to even visit. I would never have given thought to what immigrants have to endure, until now.

My country Zimbabwe is in a quandary. It’s a country without a currency, uses foreign currency but has hardly got any. Medicine, fuel and other imports have become scarce as a result. There are no jobs. There is rampant corruption. Cost of living is skyrocketing. On the business side there’s recession. People have no money so they’re spending too little. Some people resorted to protests, which were violently crushed resulting in mass arrests, assaults, cases of rape and even deaths. These are things most of the Zimbabweans used to watch on TV happening in other unfortunate countries, now it’s happening right at our doorsteps. For many in my country, the saying ‘Home is best’ is all too common. The people in Zimbabwe are known for their resilience and long suffering nature. For the greater part, it was suffering caused by economic ruin. However in the past year the causes of suffering have come to multiply. It is now that a person who is loyal to his or her home country starts to re-evaluate his standing. Should I stay? Many of my fellow young men ask, will we ever get married? In our culture the man is supposed to pay a bride price most commonly known as lobola. It serves to show appreciation for the work parents did in bringing up the wife to be and also to show that he has the financial security to take care of his wife. After that a white wedding will be required. All those things require extensive funds. However there are hardly any jobs and businesses are suffering. Media personality and blogger Charlotte Lorraine spoke aptly when she said:

Wanting to leave, knowing you can’t. Thinking things will be better, not being able to trust they can. Spoilt for choice in picking a struggle. We wake up everyday choosing a depression.

With all the above under consideration, the most viable option to go for will be immigrating to another country. Current estimates are that there are 244 million international migrants globally. Work is the main reason. However most immigrants face an array of problems. These include language barriers, lack of suitable employment, inadequate housing, transport problems and cultural differences. On cultural differences, these can range from social customs, attitudes towards religious beliefs to ethnicity and sexuality. This can raise a host of problems for both immigrants and the people they interact with. It can also lead to a sense of isolation for immigrants and even affect mental health negatively. Additionally, most migrants miss the support of close family and friends so they might feel isolated, alienated and lost. This can cause stress and depression. Sometimes even the weather can make being a migrant difficult. For example most Africans are used to a hot to warm climate, whereas in some Western countries temperatures regularly go below zero. Life can be unpleasant. Last but not least, there is the scourge of prejudice and racism.

In the years prior to the recent events, I never gave thought to the problems immigrants faced, but now it’s personal. I’ve become more sensitive to immigrants in my own country, more sympathetic to their struggles. For starters, I’m careful not to buy into racial stereotypes and bias. I’ve also sought to help the immigrants I know personally to learn the local language and customs. Additionally I’ve made myself available if they need help getting around or just want company. I do hope that if I move, things won’t be as tough, but if that will be the case, I’m prepared.

As individuals, I think that people should try to understand where the migrants are coming from. Most people don’t want to leave their home country, their friends, their family and a familiar environment unless they are forced. In some cases leaving could mean the difference between life and death. Some can barely make ends meet unless they secure a job in a foreign country. That alone is depressing, but then they have to deal with problems that can be avoided. Problems like prejudice, racism and bias. As for those in positions of leadership, they should lead by example. They shouldn’t spread hate and divisions. Now back to you, next time you see an immigrant, try to put yourself in his or her shoes. Find practical ways to help them. Collectively we can reduce the plight of migrants.

Featured image | Immigration | Kevin Walsh | flickr

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.

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