After becoming a migrant in Europe, I’ve seen all kinds of people that the dominant culture and the state are blind to. These people are unwelcomed by a society that uses them only for dirty jobs. And I’m talking about the migrants and refugees in Europe who live to survive. They are the most endangered group of people that will be invisible even after death.
Many of them crossed the borders with the threat of being shot. Many rely on small migrant communities while an entire society keeps treating them as non-existent objects. Many work from sunrise to sunset to earn a living wage or less than that. Xenophobic myths portray them as non-humans because they are from a different culture, came to their land “illegally”, or work where “normal” people wouldn’t, and so they are treated as if they have no rights. Migrants are portrayed as loathsome and threatening: they are the only ones who commit crimes like drug dealing or thievery, they are uneducated barbarians who sit on unemployment benefits or work too little and spread their own “hateful” culture.
When I was younger, I used to believe in such myths. Now I’m a migrant myself and I know all the difficulties of this invisible life. You are a no-one to the state and labor market even when you get all the legal documents. You are a no-one to those who work after sunrise since they recognize you as a migrant. You come home overexploited while thinking of never coming to a 14-hours job again. You memorize the night bus schedule and dumpster locations with semi-good food. You fear when somebody will talk to you in the local language rather than your own or English. You are a no-one.
You become somebody only after becoming middle-class, so others will treat you like a tourist. Or by speaking the local language better than your mother tongue, so others will think you’ve been born there. See the irony? It is nearly impossible to be considered by society who you are. It is not you who apply or change the labels, it’s the people around you that recognize you as a “tourist”, “migrant”, “citizen”, or “dear customer” and never a human being or an individual.
To be an individual is to have your struggles in life. And you know the society is sick when it becomes a part of the struggle—to become treated like a human. At the same time, it could help if it was aware of your existence. As you may know, migrants’ lives are complicated and harsh. They are mostly fighting alone against the system, and everything could drastically change if other people offered them help. It is so easy! But why should anybody help migrants if it is easier to trust nationalistic myths about how evil they are?
Xenophobia starts from the state. It dehumanizes you even before crossing its borders. If you do it legally your Visa type will signify who you are in the country. If you do it illegally—you won’t have official status. Because the state considers border crossing as a crime it will try to show such act as unethical to the public. You came to a country without an exact label that signifies how the state and capitalism should exploit and divide you. In revenge, the authority will mock you for not following a strict path of becoming a citizen.
Making legal documents is an absurd process in itself. It’s not your will to register somewhere and take photos for a few papers. The reason that the state requires it becomes your reason to go through the lifeless bureaucracy. Otherwise, the state and its legal system will lose track of you. It is the only time the state recognizes migrants as an object. The system is blind when they die or have troubles. The system is interested when migrants bring tax money to the corrupt budget or build mansions for the ruling class.
The other time migrants get recognized is when nationalists spam their propaganda. They blame migrants for everything they are dissatisfied with. For example, it is a common myth that migrants steal jobs from the locals. In reality, they don’t even work where the majority do—mostly it’s dead-end, low-paid jobs. Sometimes their work turns to slavery (and it would be widely known to the public, but no local would deal with it!) with physical punishments and no salary. Another issue is within the labor market. Are the migrants responsible for a limit of the workplaces or the economic system? Aren’t the greedy bosses responsible?
Nationalism grows on the state’s seeds. The state will always recognize migrants and refugees as a problem because it’s within the authoritarian logic. Nationalism continues and adds fuel to the flames of hatred. While the police silently torture migrants, nationalists continue to beat them publicly or raid their homes. And then try to justify violence by victim blaming. Disturbingly, this is one of the few times migrants are even recognized by society. Until migrants are on TV news they are living invisibly.
And how can society help migrants? All migrants need is to be treated like humans. They are not objects! It is a mistake that even NGO volunteers make. As humans, we sometimes forget that people around us are the same. We forget they have the same feelings and thoughts (except cops and ministers). Nationalists are the ones who apply the labels according to certain skin color or origin because they don’t want to recognize others as humans. Discrimination problems could simply disappear if we stopped following such logic. I’m not unique by being attached to a label—I’m unique by being human. My origin, skin color, spoken language, passport color, salary, diploma, appearance, or whatever should not matter as much as being a human. And treating other people as humans makes me more humane.