08.04.2005 Diaspora News

An Immigrant's Enigma

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A GNA Feature by Samuel Osei-Frempong

Accra, April 8, GNA - In the cold cagey ground floor of the British Home Office Block at Croydon, South London, disoriented people pack themselves into endless queues.

They are hoping to be given the opportunity to tell their personal stories that would earn them a permit of a sort to live legally in the United Kingdom.

The strong presence of Indians around gives the impression that Delhi is just a bus stop away.

The men are ruthless in the execution of their security task as they search through every item and would even be hoping to see through the human body.

This serene suburb has hosted many would-be immigrants and scared away many who play "hide and seek" in a society where xenophobia is gradually gaining prominence.

History lends credence to the fact that poverty tops the list of reasons why people leave their homes for unknown thickets. Although the quest for more lands and trophies lured the British, Spaniards and French to sail through unknown seas, economic reasons continue to dominate such adventures.

Writing in the Guardian, a British Newspaper, Financial Writer Charlotte Denny, said: "In 1840, New Zealand's Maori inhabitants had an immigration problem, although they did not know it. "The signing of the Treaty of Waitangi...unleashed upon them a flood of penniless, landless white settlers, economic migrants in the truest sense of the word."

It is interesting to note that four years later, chiefs of an area that was to be named Ghana signed away their birthright. That treaty is known as the Bond of 1844

Ms Denny wrote: "There were no passport checks, no immigration desks at borders in the first age of globalisation. Reference to the waves of immigration from the old world to the new World are sometimes dismissed as imperial guilt but history should not be ignored, if only because it puts the current debate on immigration into perspective."

The long queues of immigrants from poor countries at Heathrow Airport, London or any other European Airport blows the trumpet from the heights.

The slow pace at which they move would alert the fresh immigrant of what lies ahead.

After the long period of questioning, searching and sometimes embarrassing interrogation, an immigrant could also be accosted somewhere out of public view for further questioning.

So the years of dreaming and hope of travelling abroad turns into a nightmare as the realities strike an uncomfortable tone.

The poor suburbs are normally the place to expect a warm reception in temperatures that are sometimes cold among people who have been steeled by rough living.

The immigrant question had come to dominate public discourse of the developed world due to the persistence of right wing media and politicians.

The media keeps the debate hot as they deliberately search for bits and pieces that incriminate the immigrant.

They would pre-fix every bit of bad news with the title 'immigrant' or the name of a foreign ethnic group or nationality even when the immigrant's contribution is insignificant.

Even the respected newspapers, television and radio stations would not hesitate to sweeten their reports with the word "immigrant". The name of that immigrant, his status is more prominent as if that was to serve as a reason for the unpalatable event. Busumuru Kofi Annan, United Nations Chief, told the European Parliament in Brussels, last year; "the public has been fed images of a flood of unwelcome entrants and of threats to their societies and identities.

"In the process, immigrants have sometimes been stigmatised, vilified and even dehumanised."

He told the European Parliamentarians that immigrants did not want a free ride. "They want a fair opportunity. They are not criminals or terrorists"

The UN Chief called the immigration problem "this silent human crisis that shames our world."

The majority of these poor immigrants clean the floors of public places and work the lavatories and pantries to earn some income. Low education and poor image of schools at home render certificates worthless.

The flamboyance and extravagance of the been-tos do not tell the true tales of their treasure hunt abroad.

The problems at home are so huge that in their desperation to hang on to any job drives them into untold hardships. Madam Zinita Skeete, an Immigration Consultant, says; "many are forced into unbearable sexual relationships and would not dare quit because poverty had made them slaves".

Queues of immigrants stream into her office Block at Morden, South London, to seek an end to their illegal presence and subjugation in the United Kingdom.

They tell horrible stories, which seem unimaginable at first hearing but investigations into the issue give out more terrible untold portions of a sad winding story.

They are not always in the best shape of health, as without a Health Insurance Number, no public health facility would tolerate any person.

It would even mean a fatal self inflicted wound as immigration officers would be alerted.

The blame game goes on and on as the rise in crime, deadly diseases and prostitution are attributed to the presence of the poor immigrant.

Many European governments blame African immigrants for the upsurge in the prevalence of syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases in their homelands.

But if it were so, then destiny had turned the tables since crime, deadly diseases and prostitution that was brought to the new World are being taken back to the old World.

The African, according to history, had a smooth groin and a clear head, until he came into contact with sea weary white sailors who lived on rum and the pleasures of the flesh.

Now, the reasons for stopping or controlling migration have shifted from the racial and ideological to economic with anti-immigration groups citing job losses but racism lies at the heart of almost all programmes to keep Europe free of poor foreigners. The immigrant-free Fortress Europe they call it.

The colour of a man's skin means a lot to many people especially when it resembles what they see in the "the devil" and the prefixes of words and expressions that convey disgust and disappointment. When the black sheep of families go to the black market to cut a black deal very few would expect that day to be white. But the wide-eyed and full-lipped black stranger has made life a bit exotic and exciting for the European.

Hackey, Brixton and Purley in London and even Cowley Road in Oxford are some of the few English suburbs where life has been spiced with authentic Afro-Asian cuisines, cultures and mannerism.

Mrs Aba Nelson, a Ghanaian resident in London, said that in the 1960s, baked beans, potato and beef, dominated all available menu. "Apart from the cold weather, the people were cold. Few showed genuine love as many just sympathised with the immigrant. But now you see people just like you and you can get the food you are used to in a foreign land."

But the day when Ghanaian immigrants shared comradeship are almost over as jealousy had driven many to be detractors rather than keepers.

The relative bounties of Europe had turned the seekers of treasure into mutual enemies.

In certain African communities, ethnic based associations are favoured over national ones and even when they group to exalt their schools, they normally do so to ridicule the less educated. Immigration officers would tell anyone that their best informants are within immigrant communities.

It is also interesting to note that Indians and the Chinese have closely knit communities.

Instead of lording it over others, they encourage their own as they struggle to escape the tragedies of the underclass. Ahmed Assam, an Indian, who operates a small grocery shop on the North Parade Street, Oxford, says he had his shop stocked by his uncle. "He would monitor my business until I am wise enough to manage it without his help."

In spite of these hardships, the wave of immigrants into Europe keeps mounting as bad and uncaring governments continue to keep many Africans in the throes of poverty, despair and ignorance. African migrants often exploited by vicious traffickers, die weekly trying to enter Europe by crossing from Morocco while others take the unimaginable risk by hiding in lorries and trains crossing the English Channel.

Death of a colleague means nothing to a deprived man, who has only a body and soul to keep.

It is a game of death and survival and until the lot of poor nations especially Africans improve, they would keep on moving up north in search of money to keep their "weak" alive and their "old" from starvation.

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