The Ripple Effect: Refugees are not the death of your culture


T
he Silicon Valley is a bubble of diversity.

It’s a point I never refute when someone brings it up in a debate about culture and immigration. After all, this is the place where I can walk down the street and get almost anything from gyro to naan, and then wash it down with some all-American Starbucks.

All of this is thanks to the variety of immigrant groups in the area and California in general, as according to Niche.com, seven of the top ten most diverse cities in America are in this state. But this makes it easy to forget other places aren’t nearly as diverse.

The pre-existing diversity of an area serves more than just to give us a wide range of restaurants to dine at. Just as much as an established population of a certain ethnic group in an area leads to more members of that group migrating there to help them hold onto old customs, a lack of diversity can cause people to be averse to new immigrants.

These two contrasting situations are evident right now in Bangladesh, Hungary and Slovakia. Take the Rohingya refugee exodus, in which over 400,000 Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar’s Rakhine state have fled a vicious crackdown and trickled into nearby Bangladesh; it makes sense that persecuted Muslims would beeline towards a country in which Islam is the most practiced religion because there are common ties there.

On the other end of the spectrum, over the summer, several Eastern European nations, notably Hungary and Slovakia, refused to accept more migrants from the Middle East and Africa, partially because these refugees would overwhelm them, and also partially because they’re worried about terrorism and partially because, according to the BBC, migrants threaten their “homogenous societies.”

The pushback from Hungary and Slovakia’s been so fierce (according to Euronews, Hungary has accepted zero refugees) that on Sept. 6, the EU Court of Justice had to actually issue a ruling ordering these countries to adhere to the quota of migrants they have to accept. “Our people haven’t been exposed to Muslims, and they’re frightened,” the Slovak foreign minister said as part of his argument against the quota system, according to Deutsche Welle.

And there’s the crux of the matter: people are afraid, not only because of assumptions of terrorism, but also because they’re worried their own cultures will be wiped out in the process of accepting others. It was never about a supposedly outrageous quota challenging a countries’ capacities to care about these people, it’s about the fear of caring about them to such an extent that everything else will be blotted out in the process.

But immigrants are not the death of a culture.

To start with, the influx of migrants to Europe has, in fact, noticeably receded since 2015, and the quota each EU country must meet is scaled according to factors like the country’s size and resources. The scaling means the migrant population will definitely not overwhelm the people already living in the destination country; if Portugal accepted all 2951 migrants it’s required to take in, they would make up 0.029 percent of the overall population.

In fact, Hungary’s even better off compared to Portugal in terms of refugee population, seeing as if it ever meets its quota of 1294, the percentage of migrants would barely top 0.01 percent. And if that’s too mind-bogglingly small a number to quite understand, for reference, the percentage of people in America who live in Washington, D.C. is greater than that, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The cultural upheaval that that amount of people would cause is clearly … minimal.

In fairness, the governments and people panicking over the introduction of a new culture are right to an extent; cultural exchange will happen as immigrants bring a piece of their home with them, and vice versa. Maybe these refugees will end up learning how to cook Slovak cuisine one of these days, but is that so bad?

It’s understandable that Hungary, Slovakia and other countries are adamant about preserving their identity as a people; they’re proud of it, as we all are. The fear of a different people, simply because you’ve “never met them before” and you’re worried about the power they’ll exert is also, in a way, understandable. We fear the unknown, and if the unknown is something you’ve only ever seen labeled as bad or dangerous, that trepidation only increases.

At this point, though, it’s probably futile to ask that people overcome their prejudices of a community they don’t truly know, especially if that prejudice has been ingrained over the years with disparaging portrayals in the media. After all, according to ABC News, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán was the man who decided the country needed a border fence to keep migrants (especially Muslim ones) out and wanted the EU to pay for it. And according to Deutsche Welle, Slovak prime minister Robert Fico wants to “protect” his country from Muslims by monitoring them. The hostility has clearly gone too far to talk down in time to save the lives of the refugees waiting in limbo.

However, there’s a chance a compromise can be reached.

Circling back to the Rohingya refugees, according to the Bangladeshi newspaper BDNews24, Denmark, of all countries, has allocated 256 million Bangladeshi takas as part of the relief fund for the refugees.

And why is Denmark invested in what happens to the Rohingya Muslims? The country hasn’t exactly set a precedent for friendliness towards refugees; in fact, according to The Atlantic, it’s passed laws cutting some of their social benefits and allowing authorities to seize any asset that costs more than $1450 from asylum seekers. This isn’t entirely because the country fears refugees, but because Denmark, with the free healthcare and free education it promises, might not be able to support them all, and so wants to dissuade them from pouring in.

The dissuasion tactic might just also work for countries that refuse to accept refugees at all on principle.

Certainly, if you don’t want migrants in your own country solely because of biases, that entrenched intolerance needs to be addressed. But if these people are dying and in crisis, and nothing will change your desire for them to stay as far away as possible — even if, according to Reuters, you’re about to be taken to court by the EU for not accepting any refugees (looking at you, Hungary) — perhaps the best compromise would be to send aid so they stay comfortably away in another country.

I write this not because I believe we should give up trying to eliminate hatred, but because we can’t possibly stamp out all the prejudice keeping people afraid of strangers and foreigners in time for more nations to simultaneously, wholeheartedly embrace those in need. As many times as I, sitting here in my Bay Area bubble, could type this out on my computer, I won’t be able to set up a tangible pre-existing diversity in countries that pride themselves on their homogeneity and have only ever seen the strange and unfamiliar through a screen. The paradigm shift that must occur won’t happen fast enough for the refugees for whom the clock is ticking down.

Ultimately, our alternative is having these countries pull a Denmark in the nick of time: If they fear the unknown enough, they might just go through roundabout acts of goodness to keep it satisfied far away.

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