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Who is cooking the food you eat?

The media reduce and impoverish debates and take them to areas where distortion prevails. What better example than the debates around immigration? Each interlocutor seems to understand the subject through an uncompromising perspective and ignores any point of view that contradicts their own. Defending inflexible simple explanations and reducing the other’s experience to meaningless slogans is the strategy of growing ultra-right groups spread across social media and using social demands to make scapegoats of immigrants and refugees.

With all this, what happens is that the trees prevent us from seeing the forest. Who wins with these disputes, with this growing confusion and polarisation created and promoted by these groups? We know that the world is open and friendly for the wealthy and the tourist who travels the world without worries, but that same world is hostile and restrictive for those who have to clean hotels’ bathrooms and corridors for the minimum wage. Both realities rarely meet. That is why justice issues need to be addressed in the discussions about migration.

Some time ago, I was talking to someone in the lobby of a hotel located in a tourist city. While we talked about migration issues and the growing number of refugee applicants arriving in the country, my interlocutor gradually grew passionate and emphasised his position.

Suddenly, he declared: “But there are migrants who do nothing to integrate into this country. What’s more, they expect us to integrate into their customs and culture.”

After a brief moment of silence and taking care of my words, I replied: At this very moment, while we speak, migrant workers are preparing the cup of tea that we are drinking. They are working hard to integrate into Irish society the way this society wants them to, that is, by working hard for 10 euros and 50 cents an hour, Monday to Sunday. Aren’t they doing enough to integrate?

The jobs that migrants occupy are not random. These niches are not there to give opportunities to “foreigners” but to make them instruments of production of economic profits in an increasingly competitive environment. Since time immemorial, paying little has been the best way to “compete”, produce at low cost and grow. In Ireland, there are specific sectors, such as farming, meat and milk production, that have been hiring foreign labour for a long time as a strategy to keep their prices low and to be able to compete in international markets. And because national workers do not want to do such hard and low-paid jobs.

In many cases, the state has supported and legitimised this strategy by creating special work permits for these industries. The labour positions to which the migrants “are invited” are then seen as the primary mechanism of integration for migrants in European countries. This strategy only contributes to distortions, myths, social injustices, and inequality.

While this is happening, we ask ourselves some questions: Why does the public prefer to admire a beautiful product in the windows and not the hands of the workers who produce it? Why is migrants’ economic integration not enough for host societies to recognise the contribution they make through their work? Who benefits from making the contribution made by migrant workers invisible? Why are the cultural issues that separate us emphasised and not the work and labour exploitation that unites us?

Photo: New York Times

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