The time comes when migrants and refugees ask themselves: Do I have the same rights that the people of this country have? The answer we arrive at after getting information and talking with friends and institutions is yes, we do.
We have the right to access education, health, work or social security, provided that we fulfil the requirements. However, there seems to be little talk about rights. Our knowledge of rights is taken for granted as it is our ability to access them through public institutions. And this is the problem.
It is a problem because it is not enough to know that one is the holder of rights if one does not put them into practice. In other words, knowing our rights is only theoretical when we do not exercise them or, even worse, when we are afraid to demand them.
On one occasion, I was participating in a meeting with other migrants and refugees. A man limping on his left leg joined the group with his wife. During the break, I went to talk to them and asked what was wrong with his leg; his wife quickly answered and told me that he had been injured at work and was afraid to tell his boss because he was fearful of being fired.
Our friend knew that he had rights as a worker, he even knew that the company had possibly committed a series of irregularities that led to his injury, but he was afraid to speak up. In his mind, this man was still living in his country of origin where, as he later told me, workers who complained or asked for improvements were fired and put on a blocklist that prevented them from finding jobs in the city. This is one of many similar stories I have come across.
Have we wondered why some migrant workers and refugees are afraid to denounce their landlords for the conditions in which they live? Why do some people prefer not to report situations of racism and discrimination? Why do some migrant women not dare to report that they are victims of an abusive relationship? Why do migrants and refugees remain silent when they are threatened with being reported to the police or deportation by unscrupulous people? In all those silences is the same pernicious preconception: “We do not have the same rights as the people of this country”.
On the other hand, we find that, for reasons of lack of information, disinformation or plain antipathy, many nationals think migrants and refugees do not have the same rights as them, despite living in a country that guarantees rights for its entire population. As we have seen, in the face of social rights, we can all plead ignorance and suffer in silence and fear.
But there is someone who cannot plead ignorance: public institutions. Whether we know it or not, institutions are required by law to guarantee equal access and the exercise of social rights for the entire population, especially those in situations of vulnerability and facing barriers to information and enjoying these rights. The problem is that before reaching public services, we need to overcome silence and fear and learn to be different from what we know. We need to learn how to behave with the rights and responsibilities we hold in a new country.