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Immigrants are always faced by state of fear and impermanence because the host country and it citizenry never want to accept them as their own. This paper analyses the work of two writers on the issue; Rites of Passage and Rights in Citizenship in Post Millennial Ireland, authored by Dianna Shandy, and Female Literature of Migration in Italy, which has been authored by Lidia Curti, which paint to us a picture of what it is like to be a refugee immigrant.
The State of Not Belonging
The two authors draw to us a very clear image of the plight of African immigrants to foreign countries. The immigrants are in a state of lost owing to the fact that they are unwelcome in their host countries while at the same time they cannot go back home owing to the conditions of life back from which they were running from. This leaves them foreigners in their host countries as well as in their home African countries.
Shandy tells us of pregnant African women who run away from home to Ireland so that they can acquire rights and privileges of an Irish Citizen. The Irish Jus ….Policy which guaranteed citizenship to every individual born on Irish soil attracted many women to Ireland.
They were seeking a sense of belonging to a country which will provide them with an improved condition of life both for themselves and for their babies. For them, the right to citizenship of the babies they were carrying to be acquired upon birth would see them acquire various rights too in the country as the mothers of those baby, something they were willing to risk for if only for a better future for themselves as well as for their children.
Curti on the other hand presents to us a case of young African writers who are refugees in Italy. Their narrations tell us of how they got married to Italian men who became the fathers of their children but later abandoned them leaving them in a situation of loss and feelings of insecurity on their nationality.
Their marriage and subsequent bearing of children with Italian men had made them acquire a sense of belonging, unknown to them it was short-lived and soon they would be haunted by an everyday question of ‘where is home for me?’ Others were born within Italian families by Italian citizens and that must have given them hope that they belong in their host country.
But the only mistake was that they were born in black skins and still carried the ‘black blood’ in their veins. And as they grew up, they realize that they, just like all the others, are still foreigners.
Benefits to be reaped
In their new ‘home’, the immigrants will get everything that their original country could never have offered them. To start with, they are assured of a peaceful political stability as opposed to the scourge of war that persists in most African countries.
They can therefore relax knowing that they are not under the immediate danger of being mercilessly slaughtered by their neighbor next door and therefore their children will also be safe. They are also safe from harmful community practices which are performed back at home such as Female Genital Mutilation, (Curti, P.72), and Early marriages which are very common.
Further, the host countries have all the facilities necessary. The health facilities are inexpensive as they are availed by the state. Their babies will therefore be born safely as compared to Africa where mortality rate is very high. Further, their basic needs of food shelter and clothing will be easily satisfied since the standards of living are quite high so their children can say goodbye to hunger.
They will also get access to the highest educational facilities which will not be found back at home and they will take on degrees and other tertiary education something they would not have been able to do.
Moreover, when they are in the host country, it will be an opportunity to help those people back home by sending them some help. Most of them will send money and material items to help ease out the poor situation their kinsmen are encountering at home. They will even try to smuggle in some of their relatives to come and share in enjoying this vast benefits within the countries they would want so much to call home.
The Host Country Reactions
But underlying all this is the hostile reaction and rejection they encounter from the people they live with on a day to day basis. The people they so much want to identify themselves with as their brothers and sisters.
The people they work with, school with, rent houses from and live with, the people they are seeking acceptance from. Instead, they will call them niggers, abuse them and assault them, both physically and emotionally, (Shady, P.820). They refuse to have anything to do with them.
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They overwork them and underpay their services and only want them working as underdogs not as honorable people, (Curti, P.70). They do not want to get into contact with them, they humiliate them and they want them to go back to Africa.
They do not want to be the one to grant them asylum as, they claim, they pollute their population and they are afraid they may out-reproduce them. The same individuals looked at as helpless and harmless, in need of care and protection, are now viewed as posing a social security issue to elicit legal measures from the state, aimed at driving them out.
Shandy hits the nail on the head in explaining this situation in Ireland, through the 2004 referendum which saw the Irish population unanimously seek to limit foreigners acquisition of citizenship, through what they called ‘unprecedented births’, namely births by non-national citizens, (Shandy, P.809), and mostly, Africans. Even the courts are making decisions to show a situation where black mothers may be deported back to Africa.
In Italy on the other hand, they are faced with incessant immigrant’s law and the bureaucracy that one has to go through just to “pass from the status of illegal immigrants to that of ‘non-EU citizens with work permit’ and to the long wonderings on the streets in Rome to escape police visits at home, (Curti, P. 70). The same state that was supposed to offer them protection and care has turned to be the one nightmare for them.
In the end, the immigrants are left in the middle not knowing whether to go back to their country of origin or to remain in their host countries. They do not know which culture or language to adopt, where their national loyalty falls and most importantly, the place to call home.
Africa is not so much of a home for them because the situation back there is unbearable and the host country is not a home either since the rejection and feeling of ‘foreignty’ is too great and so consciously incessant to ignore. They are now left in a state of fear, fear of not knowing what will happen tomorrow not just to them but also to their children.
Whether they will still be doing their normal activities or they will be forced to be on the move, like the nomads they have always been. Only they know they do not belong anywhere, they lack identity and are in what Curti calls, a state of impermanence.
Curti, Lidia. Female Literature of Migration in Italy. Feminist Review, No. 87, Italian Feminisms. 2007 pp. 60-75.
Shandy, Dianna. Irish Babies, African Mothers: Rites Passage and Rights in Citizenship in Post-Millennial Ireland, Anthropological Quarterly, Vol. 81, No. 4, Kids at the Cross Roads: Global Childhood and the Role of the State, 2008, pp. 803-831.