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Mind the Gap

Our expectations concerning the country’s institutions where we find ourselves as migrants constitute a mirror in which important things are reflected. While we wait our turn at a public service queue, enrol children in the school or participate in parent meetings, we exercise our rights and responsibilities. Life continues its course. The host country expects us to adapt through its institutions. We do our best, but there is always an information gap. 

We need more information and language in translating and understanding the forms we must complete and communicate with the officials who try to explain – sometimes patiently, sometimes rudely – the procedures to us. It takes time to put all the pieces together and figure out the right way to fill out an application, understand why and how we have to pay for certain taxes, a TV license, or how to apply for a subsidy, a training course or a driver’s license. We do not have the background that allows us to put all the pieces together; after all, we are foreigners and see things from some distance. 

For us, what the nationals take as something natural is a reality that we barely know. More is needed to have the know-how; we must understand the country’s relationship between the citizen and the State. And here is where the gap lies. 

What is this gap that prevents us from accessing an understanding of our relationship with institutions? Where is this gap located? I think the gap does not have to do directly with the host country but rather with what each of us brings in our suitcase as migrants: our own experience and awareness of being a rights holder. And this is the origin of the gap. 

Many of us come from countries where institutions cannot reflect individual and social rights through their relationship with citizens. Whether due to corruption, negligence or laziness, human and social rights are a luxury that third-world governments cannot or don’t want to afford. Other migrants and refugees come from areas that are currently at war, that is, places where human rights are non-existent. 

How is it possible for a migrant or a refugee from a country where rights are “weak” to act as a holder of rights such as those that Europe advocates as universal: the right to education, to live in a pollution-free environment, religious freedom, or the right to access health? How can a migrant or a refugee understand that citizens relate to their governments under standards denied to them in their countries of origin? 

We, migrants, must learn what European citizens take for granted and not question because they seem natural to them. Why? Because our political participation and inclusion, the strengthening of democracy and our contribution to the country are at stake in this understanding. Are we, as migrants and refugees, aware of this?

Photo Sebastian silva







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