This week we spent an evening with one of the local families, as one of our friends was leaving the next day to work in another country. He’s only in his early twenties, but is leaving behind two children to go and earn money abroad, where work is better paid.
Last week, when I went to Sunday Mass, in the bidding prayers they made a special mention to those people who have travelled far from their families and are living without them. This immediately made me think upon my own situation, being quite far from home myself. But the prayer wasn’t aimed at me. It was aimed at the congregation’s many family members who have decided to travel far and wide in order to find work and send money back home.
Here it seems that economic migration is a daily reality. In England it is normal to move around or head to big cities to work. But here, where there is no internet for miles, and a Nicaraguan passport comes with fewer privileges than a UK one, travelling for work can mean dangerous and expensive journeys, and leaving your closest family with virtually no means of contacting them.
Therefore, just like in the UK, immigration is a big issue for Nicaraguans. My family have told me about the countries they have travelled to for work (Costa Rica) and how Nicaragua’s own immigration policy lets in many Latin Americans but is strict on Mexicans. For me, “illegal immigrantion” conjures up images of desperation, extortion or incarceration. Pretty bleak. But many of those people who have left El Bramadero have done so illegally, entering countries on false pretences and finding work on the black market. This may be across the Mexican border to the USA, or over the ocean to Europe. To people here, this is a real opportunity. It can also be a source of income for families who help facilitate migration across borders. As one girl here put it, it’s a risk that is worth running.
When one of the british volunteers here was getting his haircut, the hairdresser spoke to me about migration to the USA. He had friends over there, and knew about Donald Trump. “He has said some horrible things about Latinos,” he said. “He wants to send them all back. But who will do the work then? You need poor people to the badly paid jobs.”
And the people here are poor, and they are hard working. You would want to employ these people, who start the day at 4am so they have enough time to make the food and collect the wood. These people build their own houses from scratch, live off the small patches of land they farm, they are resourceful and smart and resilient. They work hard to maintain their families.
The ability I’ve had to travel abroad has been a huge privilege. I’m not excited for my friend who is leaving Nicaragua because he will find work abroad. I’m excited about him getting to see a new, beautiful place. To travel in a plane, to find out how things work in another country. I’m excited about him having all the experiences I’ve had here. I’m having an adventure in this country, and I’m excited for him to find his own adventure elsewhere.
We have so much wealth in our country. We have money, but we also have beautiful buildings and countryside, amazing history, arts and culture. We have extensive coastline and snowy mountains. We have the freedom and ease to travel on trains and squeaky clean buses and use flushing toilets and liquid soap. We can buy any food from across the world, in fact we can meet people from all over the world because people come to our country to visit and to study and to live. With our passports we can travel almost anywhere. We have so much, but more importantly, we have so much more than so many other people across the world. And it isn’t fair, and we don’t deserve it any more than anyone else would.
And yet in the UK we put our hands up in panic about the fact that there are people who are brave enough, clever enough and determined enough to leave their homes and their loved ones to come to the UK to try to improve their lives. We try to block them out, whichever way possible, even if it means treating them inhumanely. In a poll last week the British public said the best way to “solve” the refugee crisis was to leave the EU…Yet nobody has ever questioned or denied my right to travel and study and work.
When people here ask about Europe, how do I explain to them that I can travel to any EU country, and work, without any visa or papers, but if they, as Nicaraguans, wanted to come to the UK we probably wouldn’t let them in. How can I feel proud of being British when, having been taken in like family in this community, I know huge swathes of British people would not want my new Nicaraguan family to come over to the UK. The same politicians denying the rights of people to come to the UK are trying to make us all be better “global citizens”. And sometimes you just have to sit back and think, what is wrong with the world?!
Our friend leaves today, and of course I worry about his journey. I hope he finds what he is looking for and has a chance to enjoy some of the excitement of traveling abroad. I am also worried about the future of my own country, the inhumanity with which it treats not just economic migrants but actual refugees, and the fact we are possibly on the brink of turning our backs on Europe so that we can keep our money and our borders to ourselves. People and communities elsewhere in the world are struggling to survive because of how we have exploited our privileges.
From colonisation to climate change, we continue to punish people who we don’t know in order to satiate our own greed. Its easy to close your eyes to other peoples suffering when its in another country or continent, but as a privileged country, we have a responsibility to keep our eyes open.