The immigrant experience is quite unique: a person feels in and out and in between. People look forward and backwards to try to understand their place in society.
The global population of forcibly displaced people increases every day and according to United Nations data, migration is at a record high rate. Nearly 4 out of every 5 refugees live in countries neighboring their countries of origin and countries in developed regions host only 16% of total refugees. Some refugees may one day return to the countries of birth however this options will not be possible for others.
Of course not all immigrants are running away from dangerous situations and are able to make application to enter foreign countries through regular channels. But even for those who choose to seek a better life somewhere else, it takes time to adjust. I invite you to take a moment to think about how hard it is to live in an unfamiliar place. Newcommers face many challenges and disappointments along the way. They may have difficulty obtaining housing, learn a new language, find employment, and face the myriad of every day life issues such as shopping, getting a driver’s license, enrolling children in school, obtaining medical care.
Many countries look to attract immigrants for their economic growth, as people and the economy go together, other countries may not be so welcoming. Recently there has been an increased interest in understanding how migrants integrate into receiving countries and data on the flow of migrants is now available.
The United Nations evaluates the effects migration has on the population of immigrants, the discrimination they face, how the policies of host countries affect their inclusion into society and how the public perceives them. Integration of migrants is seen as a process by which immigrants become accepted into society, and The Migrant Integration Policy Index provides a measure of various aspects of integration. Amongst the indicators are: the basic rights offered to newcomers, their equal opportunities and the ability to ensure immigrants have a secure future. Countries which implement inclusive policies promote openness, interactions and a sense of belonging.
In my novel When We Return, my characters face real threats in the communities where they live and fearing for their lives they escape to seek shelter in safer lands. I wrote When We Return because I wanted to explore forced migration issues and offer yet another point of view. My pressing question was: How do people remake their lives after living through unprecedented times?
Decisions to migrate are complex and are based on the circumstances which people find themselves in. Immigration laws and rules evolve over time and are shaped by shifting social, political and economic climates in the countries where people are looking to immigrate to. One must look at what is happening in the nations where people are leaving from and the receiving countries to get the full picture of the magnitude of this problem.
From the character of Milan in my novel, the reader learns how Nazi threat against the Jews were a real concern back in 1939. This young entrepreneurial man dared leave Czechoslovakia for unknown lands to save himself. But did he find welcoming countries willing to accept him? Did he embrace the new cultures he was exposed to?
Otilia, the protagonist, is a Peruvian woman who gets separated from her husband and young son and ends up in the United States by sheer chance – thanks to meeting a humanitarian man at the right time and the right place. What experiences did she live through? Where does she belong? Which country should she call hers? These are questions she wrestles with.
Today with millions of people running away from war, violence and poverty to find a sense of security elsewhere, we are reminded of the pledge the United Nations has recently made: to leave no one behind. This pledge is at the core of the U.N.’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which takes into account the role and contribution of migration in shaping our future.
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