Migration: Understanding London’s Changing Places and Faces

June 10th, 2015

Migration: Understanding London’s Changing Places and Faces

I very much enjoyed attending the discussion on Migration held at the Hurtado Jesuit Centre a week ago. The issue is a very topical one since the United Nations Population fund estimates that around 232 million people live outside their country of origin.[1]  The experience of chatting with and listening to the various people who live and work in Wapping was very positive. The most interesting aspect of the evening for me was the realisation that at some point in time each person in the room had been a ‘migrant’. The broad definition of a migrant as someone living and working in a country other than their country of origin was developed in the discussion and it helped to show that there are many senses in which the term might be used.

As someone coming to London to study, I have never considered myself a ‘migrant’ and have mainly used to term to refer to those seeking employment or fleeing persecution. The conversation helped us to reflect on the lessons learnt from the experience of being migrants and on how the experience can be used to help foster and build communities and support those who initially find resettling difficult. The two main speakers for the evening: Bandi Mbubi and Catarina Amador, each gave very different accounts of their experience of migration. Bandi’s short experience of detention stays with me and highlights how important care, compassion and a listening presence is to a person in a foreign country who doesn’t speak the language. Catarina highlighted the difficulties faced when job-hunting in a foreign culture.

The experience of feeling like a ‘fish out of water’ in a foreign culture is one which everyone in my discussion group shared.  We realised that the experience can help us to support and empathise with others living away from their natural habitat as we build community. Some ways in which those interested in community building can help ‘migrants’ are in helping them to learn the language and culture, helping them to be aware of their rights in the particular country and helping to create a welcoming environment where they can gain confidence as they journey towards independence. As I reflect on my own experience of initially feeling ‘lost’, I think that one positive experience of migration is that it can help us to become more open and trusting and less judgmental to those from different cultures and backgrounds.

Joel Thompson is a Jesuit Scholastic and Member of the Hurtado Jesuit Community

[1] http://www.unfpa.org/migration