What is immigration? Immigration is the act of moving from one country to another. In present-day America, this act is extremely looked down upon and is considered selfish. Some even believe that immigrants should be killed. However, one cannot judge immigrants simply by a rumor or belief that is spread about them. Until one can put oneself into the shoes of an immigrant there is no reason to think negatively of them. The award winning novel Exit West by Mohsin Hamid gives us a look into what it is like to need to flee from one’s own country, and the sacrifices that need to be made to do so.
The first reason as to why immigrants should be respected more is that the vast majority of them leave their own countries due to war, unstable and oppressive governments and/or a decrease in their happiness with their way of life. The novel gives many examples of this, such as “Neighborhoods fell to the militants in startlingly quick succession…People vanished in those days, and for the most part one never knew…if they were alive or dead.” (Hamid 69). Militant invaders have begun taking control of several neighborhoods in the city, killing people they deemed had “unacceptable” blood ties or decent. Most citizens were unaware of where their neighbors and loved ones were disappearing to for a period of time. The final straw that lead to their migration to a new country was “…there was no grid electricity in their part of the city anymore, and no piped gas or water, municipal services having entirely broken down…” (Hamid 82, 83). Their countries war had caused power plants to break down and water and gas pipes to cease functionality.
The second reason as to why immigrants should be respected more is that they make many sacrifices by just leaving their own home so that they and their families can become safe. These may be the most difficult choices most immigrants have to make, “Saeed’s father would say, ‘You two must go, but I will not come’… it would have been difficult for Saeed’s father to leave the place where he had spent a life with her (Saeed’s mother), difficult not to be able to visit her grave each day…” (Hamid 95, 96). Saeed was forced to leave behind his own father in return for escaping his own country alive. His father could not bear to leave behind the memory of his wife that was stored in his home. A second example of this being “…Saeed ran his fingertips over the apartment’s furniture and the telescope and the bottle containing the clipper ship, and he also carefully folded a photograph of his parents…along with a memory stick containing his family album…” (Hamid 101,102). Saeed needed to leave the place he grew up in, the place he shared so many memories with his family in, and all of his belongings that will eventually be stolen by the militants once his father departs.
The third reason as to why immigrants should be respected more is that their growing mistreatment and being taken advantage of in other countries is not humane. One example of this is “…it was reported that the army was being deployed, and the police as well…Saeed and Nadia heard it said that nativist extremists were forming their own legions, with a wink and a nod from the authorities…”(Hamid 135). Extremist anti-immigrant groups will go as far as murdering and assaulting refugees while the state police and military silently encouraged it, since it would make their job easier. The second example of mistreatment is “…drones and helicopters and surveillance balloons prowled intermittently overhead, fights would sometimes break out, and there were murders and rapes and assaults as well.” (Hamid 146). If having their privacy stripped away from them wasn’t bad enough, anti-immigrant groups would kill, assault and rape the refugees, meanwhile the state police and military reminded them that they are not welcome in the country.
The final reason as to why immigrants should be respected more is that they suffer from terrible living situations and a lack of resources in the countries they flee to. The first example of this being “…most had to spend their time foraging, which involved going to the depots and stalls where various groups were giving out rations…The daily supplies at each of these were exhausted within hours, sometimes within minutes…”(Hamid 133). While food rations were given out by those who supported the refugees, there was still not enough supplies to take care of all of them, so they would barter and trade with each other for food and drink. Another example is “…they saw what looked like a refugee camp, with hundreds of tents and lean-tos…people were gathered around fires that burned inside upright oil drums…”(Hamid 106) and “…wrapped inside their blanket…providing a degree of cushioning against the hard and somewhat uneven ground. Their tent was too small for them to stand…”(Hamid 111). Many peoples’ only available living situations were refugee camps, often populated with tents that were more than uncomfortable to sleep in, and campfires. It is most unpleasant when the tents provide very little protection from the cold of winter.
To reiterate, the mistreatment and utter disrespect towards immigrants is unacceptable. The media will tell you any lie it needs to to make the audience believe that immigrants are selfish and evil, when they are just human beings like everyone else who just hope to find safety for their families. It is up to the audience to think critically for themselves and form their own opinion, while looking at every possible side to the immigration story. As Mohsin wrote, “We are all migrants through time.”