Xenophobia is typically defined as a fear and suspicion of foreigners. As a behaviour, those who fall victim to this are usually searching for a better life, seeking asylum or are refugees fleeing grinding poverty and persecution.
It is no secret that small pockets of xenophobia are rearing their ugly heads in Trinidad and Tobago. Increasingly, foreigners, so-called strangers in our midst, are experiencing behaviours ranging from indifference and alienation to open hostility and even threats. Clearly, we need a return to hospitality as envisioned by Archbishop Harris in his pastoral letter of 2017.
Welcome! Why did you leave your country, your family, your language and your food behind? What has been your experience back home and what are your individual and collective stories? This kind of engagement is not the way many of us are treating with foreigners in our midst.
Instead, it is known that foreigners are being insulted, jeered at and paid way below the minimum wage. Exploitation of foreign labour is more a rule than an exception.
The Church must offer a contrast to the face and attitude of unwelcome. Archbishop Gordon can be commended on his proactive stance in which he has mandated all parishes and ecclesial communities to begin a Ministry for Migrants and Refugees.
All people of goodwill must offer a better ‘face’ to the so-called strangers in our midst. Faith-based organisations, non-governmental organisations and community-based organisations must attempt to humanely engage the refugee and the asylum-seeker.
Even though this approach may be frowned upon by those who claim that foreigners would ‘take’ our jobs and ‘use’ our already scarce resources, Trinidad and Tobago must remind itself that organised compassion is always better.
Xenophobia is not who we say we are. In fact, we say we are quite the opposite. We say we are a hospitable people. We have national pride in making this statement about ourselves.
Many have said this about us, and rightly so. National pride around the attitude and behaviour of hospitality is something that we must maintain and continue to work for.
Richard ‘Nappy’ Mayers ‘Old Time Days’ is instructive as we grapple with the ascendancy of the disvalues of greed, social indifference and inhospitality.
There are many who look down on the immigration policies of our large neighbour to the north and their treatment of foreigners. Should we join government-endorsed xenophobia, Trumpian-style?
The waves of migrants to our shores for short-term or medium-term stay are opportunities to show how hospitable we truly are. It is an opportunity to return to our better selves, and teach present generations how to be brothers and sisters to all people.
Hospitality must translate into how we treat and greet the stranger in our midst. Social crisis is a school for the humanisation of a society. This is our chance to show that the poor, the stranger, the politically persecuted and the economically desperate ought to be treated with respect and compassion.
His or her human dignity must be recognised and upheld. They must never be exploited and used as sexual objects. They must be given a fair chance to tell their story.
Sometimes blessings are disguised; we know well that we in Trinidad and Tobago could do with some lessons on the humanisation of our national space. Outreach to our migrant brothers and sisters may well be one way we can work towards becoming more human.