Reading what I could before the recent UK election, I could see that there was clearly an undercurrent of concern about immigration. It was rarely mentioned officially, as it seemed that an open debate on the matter carried too much of a risk that the racists would make their views heard – and no-one wants those aired publicly in the world’s press – but clearly the concern was there.
I couldn’t help but think about the way I am treated here, as an immigrant.
I am doing a job which some would argue could be done by a Senegalese (although it was advertised here, without success) – but no-one has once complained to me about that. Thanks to the generosity of the Senegalese government, I don’t pay any tax here (international staff at our NGO have a special exemption) – and no-one has once complained to me about that either, not even our local staff here who do have to pay tax. I am partly responsible for higher prices for the locals too, as like other people wealthy enough to have a freezer (mostly the foreigners) I stock up on kilos of tomatoes and vegetables in May, freezing them ready for the rainy season when there are none – this causes the price to rise a month earlier than it would without us, but no-one ever complains. Nor does anyone ever suggest, at least not without a twinkle in their eye, that I learn the local language, Wolof.
Then just recently our Regional Finance and Grants Analyst was asked to attend a meeting in our international head office in the UK. She was refused a visa. I heard she was in tears over it, and I felt so embarrassed – and ashamed. To enter Senegal the British do not need visas at all, we just get a stamp in our passports on arrival, at no cost, which gives three months in the country.
Of course I understand that we cannot just open our borders to everyone who wants to come in. But the unfairness of the current system – reflecting the unfairness of the distribution of wealth and power in the world – makes me so sad.