The other day I found myself correcting a friend of mine who referred to himself as a member of the ‘expat community’ (he has been working in Rwanda for several months). I explained that what he should be saying was ‘migrant community’, but the trouble with this term is it rarely resonates with white Europeans – you only need to look at the huge numbers of Britons in the south of Spain. These long-term implants would never dream of referring to themselves as migrants, no, no, no, they are ‘expats’: a sort of heightened evolved version of a migrant where you get to take all the good stuff about migration, but also get to berate the negative things when the right-wing media gives you ammo to do so.
Okay, so I am generalising somewhat, but there remains a discrepancy between the realities of what it means to be a migrant. I am a proud migrant. I have migrated to study. I have migrated to work. I have yet to migrate for love but once I have done that, I think I get some sort of commemorative mug. I am a better person for having migrated. But I can exist under this special migrant status of white British man. I do not fall into anyone’s definition of a migrant, nobody would look, turn to their friend, and say, ‘oh there he is, coming over here, stealing our jobs, taking our benefits, not bothering to even learn the language’, I mean they might, but it is unlikely. Much more likely is an admiration for my shrewdness and international outlook. How many times has a Polish person experienced that characterisation in the UK, or the Netherlands for that matter?!
I believe that to shift the tide of negative rhetoric that continues to engulf migrants, we need to first each look at ourselves and recognise where we fit into all of this. Misinformation and closedmindedness are often at the heart of the problem but these are also very difficult to overcome. But not impossible; if we break down the barriers between us and them, and strip away the expat label, and instead throw on the ‘I am also a migrant’ t-shirt then perhaps the experiences of those people moving around the world for many different reasons will start to seem less of a threat, and more of just a human reality.
Michael Stewart-Evans, alumnus UNU-Merit