Trinidad and Tobago prides itself in being a hospitable and warm nation. Yet despite this self-assessment, the current maltreatment of refugees and asylum seekers might cause us to re-evaluate how hospitable we really are because true hospitality is never discriminatory.
Xenophobia, which is the fear of and hate for foreigners has reared its ugly head in our country. It expresses itself in degrees of hate, intolerance, and exploitation towards people of other nationalities. Anecdotally, Venezuelans and Cubans, for example, resident in Trinidad and Tobago are now subject to verbal abuse, discrimination, labour exploitation and general maltreatment at the hands of myopic and small-minded citizens who focus on their ‘nationality’ rather than on their humanity.
Racism and xenophobia are cousins. The former focuses on race while, the latter’s focus is on the fact that the person is of a different nationality and culture. Do we condemn racism towards one group and yet, display xenophobia to others Social media and blogs in this country are filled with nonsensical and irrational statements that attempt to justify the social sin and shame that is xenophobia.
Statements such as, “Send them back to fix their country” are cold and unreasonable and, are probably made in gross ignorance of the grinding poverty and long years of war that some countries are experiencing.
The millions who have left Venezuela, Cuba, Libya, the Congo, Syria, Nigeria, the Philippines, Pakistan and India have all done so in fear for their lives as well as to secure a better future for their families.
The Trinidadians and Tobagonians who have left for North America, Australia and Europe in their thousands since Independence have also done so to escape poverty, joblessness, and structural adjustment, to name a few reasons.
A percentage of ‘Trinbagonians’ are descendants of brothers and sisters who have also engaged in voluntary migration to our shores. Let us not forget our own migratory patterns before we label present-day foreigners as sponges and parasites.
Additionally, posts on social media have castigated and berated non-nationals who have dared to call national attention to and protested the discrimination they are experiencing in our country.
In response to a daily newspaper report of the protest one person posted, “Dey can’t tell we how to treat dem here, because we can’t tell dem how to treat we when we in dey country.” This blogger obviously lacks a basic sense of right and wrong.
Maltreatment of another human being is downright wrong regardless of geography, situation, context and personal experience. Discrimination is wrong whether or not it is popularised by media or passed on by culture.
Xenophobia is wrong even if it has been perpetrated on us in a different space or time. Hate should never justify hate. Some things are just wrong in and of themselves; xenophobia in its various expressions is one of them.
Every human being is equal in dignity and should be afforded respect and care worthy of their very humanity. Race, creed, country of origin, or sexual orientation should never be used as ‘reasons’ to maltreat and spew hate at another. All lives matter.
The Church and people of goodwill should continue to condemn discrimination against non-nationals. We all share a common humanity and with this are our common dreams for a better way of life. Standing in someone’s shoes is the best way to understand them and to shape our response to them.