I have been an immigrant for most of my life.
When I was 6, my family moved to another country for economic reasons. We arrived expecting to take advantage of the country’s health care and education. In fact, we fully expected that the normal rules of the education system would be bent for me. As time went on, I took up a place on a highly prestigious education programme, depriving the child of a citizen of that country of the opportunity. We eventually became citizens, but stubbornly retained the culture and values of our home country.
At no time did anyone question our right to be in our new country. People made sure that the journey was as safe and comfortable as possible. We were not imprisoned, detained or penalised in any way for our decision to become immigrants.
Since then I have been an immigrant in 3 different countries. I have always been treated with courtesy and respect, often receiving better treatment than the ordinary citizens.
This is all because I am white. We like to think that migrants are only black or brown people but there are millions of white immigrants globally. Nearly as many Brits live abroad as there are immigrants in the UK (5.5 million compared to 7.2 million). Long running reality shows like ‘Wanted Down Under’ and ‘Escape to the Continent’ share the reasons behind white immigration as well as top tips on how to emigrate, actively encouraging white families to move to the country which will best serve their interests.
Almost every family in Britain has members who have moved elsewhere. In the state of Florida alone there are nearly 400,000 Brits. When the housing bubble burst and banks started to foreclose on those who couldn’t pay their mortgages, large numbers of these Brits simply left all their debts behind and went back home. (http://www.theguardian.com/business/2010/mar/08/florida-property-slump-british-expats) Can you imagine the outcry if anyone attempted such behaviour in the UK?
I can’t even begin to describe the callous treatment and hateful language surrounding other families who have left their home countries. They didn’t just decide to leave, they were forced out. The next time you listen to David Cameron, Donald Trump or Tony Abbott, I invite you to remember your Uncle James who now lives in Toronto, or your cousin Sharon in Melbourne. They aren’t vermin and neither are the people in Calais.
This isn’t an original concept. There are many articles pointing out that white people are ‘expats’ while people of colour are ‘immigrants’. However, these articles are far outnumbered by those spewing hate. I invite anyone who has either lived abroad or has relatives who live elsewhere to tell their immigrant stories. Highlighting our shared humanity is the absolute least we can do for those who risk so much and ask for so little.