Ode to the immigrant

May 28, 2012

I’m increasingly convinced that immigrants are among the most resilient people on earth. Yesterday, someone shared a story with me about his recent encounter with a young Ethiopian woman in London. Her appearance and condition gave the impression that she was a defeated soul. As she shared her story with him, he learned that she left Ethiopia some years ago travelling through Sudan, the Sahara Desert and Northern Africa. One can only assume that a good portion of this journey was on foot. She found her way to Italy, France, and finally England… likely crossing a number of borders before then. Along the way, this woman was conned, raped several times (including by police), and her best friend who joined her on this journey died along the way. And now in England, she faces new challenges as she navigates through the unforgiving asylum adjudication system. When he met her, she was homeless and alone, hesitant to share her story and suspicious of his intentions. It was only after sharing his own story of migration, survival and settlement that she let her guard down and allowed him the opportunity to offer some support. He was able to lead her to some temporary accommodation and a centre where I pray she is offered the access to resources she deserves. The age of this incredible woman? 22.

The heartbreak in this story comes across rather easily. This woman’s journey is punctuated with as much pain as border crossings. But beyond the heartbreak, there is a story of the incredible resilience of the human spirit, and the strength found within the ambition to survive. I know nothing about this young woman’s reason for leaving Ethiopia, what her dreams were and are, or what has carried her through against all odds. It’s with some hesitation that I borrow her story here, as I wasn’t the one entrusted with it. But I share it from a place of deep admiration and respect, and a desire to recast the image of the millions of people like her. For politicians on both the right and left – ‘the immigrant’ has become the pawn of choice… often framed as either parasites or commodities to be bought, sold and traded in the global economy. In the social service sector, well-intentioned organizations and charities often have to frame their ‘beneficiaries’ as helpless in order to gain resources from narrow and limited funding mechanisms. And so with these pervasive structures shaping the mainstream discourse, one is often left with the impression that women like the one in this story exist solely to steal jobs, finance Western pensions, or receive perpetual handouts. I think if we look a little closer however, we might find that the immigrants we love to hate, hire, and pity are in fact the ones we should be looking to for advice and inspiration instead.

To the woman who inspired this post, and the millions she represents … how do you do it?



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