Why are we afraid of those who just want to live?

By Lucas Grochot dos Santos, from Brazil. Please read his article and leave your thoughts and comments below.

In our days, nationalism grows around the world, though at times it reads as thinly veiled xenophobia. People express discontent with immigrants and refugees taking over the West, stating that they are robbing us off of our rights and prospects of a decent life. Attempting to understand why these people are running away from a world that’s far from ‘ours’ seems like a futile exercise for some, and empathy is flicked out the window like a dead bug.

Suburban homes and regular incomes in the first-world, or steady but lower-class lives in a third-world country, are still a far cry from civil war, human rights violations, and inhumane living conditions. We come from a place of privilege, living where we live, making use of rights most of us take for granted, even if we don’t believe so.

Ultimately, the real crisis boils down to the impossibility to believe that those who don’t belong to our collective ‘we’ are more than the character traits some assume they have ingrained in them, more than the color of their skin and the gods they pray to, and more than the chaos they are running from.

In the last decades, open-door policies became more comprehensive, welcoming the growing number of people looking for a safe haven, as tensions East escalated dramatically with the further destabilization of governments and the advent of terrorism. According to the UN Refugee Agency, in the last year, the number of persons of concern–refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced people, among others– reached an all-time high of over 70 million by the end of 2017.

The countries receiving the biggest number of refugees at the moment are in the exact areas where these people come from: developing nations in Africa and the Middle East. Some of the largest refugee contingents are in Turkey, Uganda, and Pakistan. Eighty-five percent of all registered refugees in the world reside in developing countries, in contrast to the remaining fifteen percent that is the aim of tightening administration policies in Europe and North America.

There are mechanisms in place to help settle refugees, but the reality in most cases is harsh and unforgiving. Refugee camps at the borders are most of the time at capacity, lacking personnel and resources, yet they receive more people every day. Any account you read coming from those living in such places might say some of the same things: the people have a better life now, even in this situation; it might not be as good as it once was, but at least they aren’t constantly haunted by the possibility of dying in the middle of a war.

But the first-world in part is afraid of the presence of them, in contrast to other countries that manage to have a better set of programs in place. Hosting the largest number of registered refugees in the world, Turkey presents a series of community efforts to minimize the impact of their presence in society and create opportunities to introduce them to the community, offering language courses, social support programs and even encouraging these refugees to get into the economy by opening their own business.

Still, the success of every approach is always debatable, which begs a few questions to all of us: are we indifferent to these people and their situation? Is the idea of reaching out and extending a hand impracticable? Do we lack compassion to take action? And why do we have such a disparity of living conditions if we live in the same land?

There are no easy answers for them, and in some cases, there might even be difficult ones.

In order to provide for these people who have already suffered enough, we need to create a society that doesn’t only accept them but is ready to support them during this period of their lives. For a good number of refugees this is a temporary solution, and one day they’d like to have the chance to go back to where they once called home.

The man-made borders put in place to defend the sovereignty of where we’re from are supposed to create a national identity that unites us between those imaginary lines. But what happens when they only serve to rob people of a life of dignity? Not always these refugees come to a new land to call it a home, but to keep alive their chances to still have one someday, even if the outlook is not optimistic.

Still, it’s hard to find a better solution for national sovereignty than leaving these areas of turmoil to solve the problem themselves instead of meddling, which some countries might do just for interests unrelated to the people that have been suffering. The path of least resistance seems to go against the idea of promoting life and decent conditions of living everywhere. Do they only apply inside borders? Because when it comes to economic expansion, fighting for lines on a map is acceptable, but not when it comes to guaranteeing a better life for the people.

It is true that the state usually follows inclinations that are born inside of our own society. Reconciling one’s own situation to what happens outside of their lives proves to be a challenge not all are willing to go through. When those matters clash with personal aspirations, they usually are left aside, unless they are our personal aspirations.

In a world like ours, when the national makeup of most countries is a miscellanea, it would be frivolous not to acknowledge the fact that immigrants, slaves, exiles, and outcasts were the ones that shaped the people. If in the world we live there is no space for diversity, we hardly are doing our part in helping heal the scars left from the past, and who knows what the future brings.

There’s a reason why these people want to come somewhere they think it’s a better place and why they’d go to such lengths to leave everything behind. In the poem Home, Warsan Shire speaks from a place of deep perception when she says “you have to understand, that no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land”. No one will put their lives at risk unless the place they call home is the one the least safe for them. Why are we afraid of those who just want to live when our fear should be directed at those who would rather see them dead?

We are not in any way above those who have been pushed out of their homes. But we are worse than them when we can’t open the door to those that are just like us: people.

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