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Braving the Immigration Debate

By - May 24, 2006 (Updated: November 29, 2014)


I try to stay away from political topics in my blog. I’m an opinionated person but I tend to keep my viewpoints to myself unless they are asked for. Lately however, I can’t seem to escape the immigration issue.

I have to admit that before I became an expat, I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to immigration policies. Now, it seems that the media bombard me with stories of immigrants and those for and against the current policies here in Belgium.

And so I wade into the fray. I don’t make any pretence of knowing all of the statistics about immigrants, legal or otherwise. In fact, I think we get awfully caught up in numbers and lose sight of what immigration policies are really about — people.

We have all heard the stories of asylum seekers hiding out in churches, of doctors giving up their careers in their home country to become taxi drivers in Brussels and of people sailing to new lands on rickety rafts in the middle of the night. But do we stop to think what that means?

How desperate must a person be to leave their home with nothing but the clothes on their back, to possibly never see loved ones again and go to a place were they don’t know the language, the customs and the culture — knowing that half of the population doesn’t want them there?

The vast majority of expats come here from homelands that would welcome us back with open arms. We are free to come and go and visit our families and friends. We have jobs and healthcare and security.

We all know how difficult it is moving countries; learning new languages; meeting new friends. We may have the endless headaches and hassles of paperwork and commune visits, but eventually — for most of us — it will all work out in the end.

Even if the worst happens and we are sent home, our lives aren’t in danger. Most of us have some sort of safety net to catch us when we fall — friends, families, jobs.

Belgium certainly isn’t alone in its distrust of immigrants — nor is it solely a European problem.

Currently, the Canadian government is trying to deport a Belgian man who has lived legally in the country with his family for eight years. He secured a visa to work as a farm hand when he first arrived in the country, now eight years later, his permit is not being renewed because of a shoplifting conviction he had as a teenager in Belgium.

Before I left Canada, there were several stories that became very real to me — because I saw the people behind them.

One family had come to Canada some 20 years ago. The parents both had good jobs, they paid taxes, their children grew up and attended school and one eventually married a Canadian. After 20 years, they received word that they were being deported. Within a few months both parents had to leave their home and their children for a ‘homeland’ that they hadn’t seen in two decades.

Working for a university with a large international student population, I also saw the joy that being given an opportunity could bring. These young people didn’t expect a university education, as so many North Americans do now — they were genuinely deeply grateful for the chance to make a better life for themselves and their families.

A chance for a better life — isn’t that what we all desire and deserve as human beings?

I know there are people who cheat the system. I know there are people who don’t deserve to be adopted by a new country. I do think that they are a vast minority.

I believe, as expats, we have a unique insight into the immigration situation. We have seen the policies up close and personal.

I also believe that the more you travel and live among other cultures, the more you see that people are more the same than different. We all just want safety, health and happiness for ourselves and our loved ones.

If more of us could see the people, the lives, behind the immigration situation, maybe we could make our policies just a little more humane.

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