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When migrants turn against migrants

"Eastern Europeans are taking our jobs!" In the wake of the Brexit referendum, this is the attitude of certain UK citizens who themselves once were migrants. As DW's Jaafar Abdul-Karim found out.

What does Britain's Arab community in Britain think about Brexit? That's what I went to London to find out. I talked to as many people as possible to garner a good overall impression. I was both surprised and annoyed by my findings.

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I was told over and over again by UK citizens of Arab origin that there were too many migrants and foreigners in Britain. They told me that was why they had voted for Brexit. Their response when I stated, somewhat perplexed, that they themselves or their parents had once come to Britain as foreigners was that they were different and they were now British. Moreover, they insisted that whereas Arabs had fled their countries because of war, eastern Europeans had come despite everything being fine in their countries. This was the major difference, they said.

This range of guarded to overt racism on the part of people who once shared a similar fate and came to a foreign country to find help is shocking and wrong. Migrants have turned against migrants!

It could well be that many had such a tough time that they now fear they will lose the stability they finally secured. However, their attitude of "I'm OK and I don't care about the others," is incredibly selfish. I do not understand this lack of sympathy and empathy.

I would say that I know quite a lot about Arab migrants - as a German journalist with an Arab background it is my job to talk to them and to avoid making generalizations. However, what I experienced in London tallied with the experiences I have made in the studio and with people all over the Arab world. I already know that many people, especially migrants, will criticize this text and retaliate on Facebook saying: "Yes, but the Europeans are also racist." But this does not make it any better. Racism and intolerance are wrong, period.

I've often heard people in refugee centers in Berlin complaining about the fact that they have to live with others from Afghanistan or Mali. "We don't want to have anything to do with such people," they say.

"Do you think we're from Somalia?" one Syrian asked.

Journalist Jaafar Abdul Karim

DW's Jaafar Abdul Karim

An Egyptian driver who had come to the UK to find a job told me in London that eastern Europeans were taking all the jobs.

In Jordan, Palestinians who were once themselves refugees told me they did not want any more Syrian refugees to come.

I've even heard Syrians in Germany who came years ago say that the country should not accept more Syrians.

It is common in Lebanon to hear people asking why there are so many Syrians. They seem to have forgotten that Lebanon had a civil war and people fled all over the world.

Classification according to religion, skin color, ethnic group or background is exactly the reason why the Arab world looks like it does! Many people have had to flee. Many Arabs ascribe themselves to a country or a religion to define their identity. But all of us are human. As soon as I start seeing others only on the basis of their nationality or ethnic group, I negate the fact that human rights are for everybody, as is the case in a constitutional state. Many Arabs are unfamiliar with this principle in their countries of origin. In 2012, the EU was awarded the Nobel Prize for its commitment to peace, reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe. We have an opportunity now to look differently at the world and emphasize tolerance, what people have in common and being together.

Migrants in Europe should never forget that it was important to them that when they or their ancestors arrived, they encountered tolerance. I think it is completely wrong to not be open to others arriving when people still need tolerance, or their children or grandchildren do. They know what discrimination means. I am disappointed that people who now feel secure cannot sympathize with others who had to leave their homes, leaving everything behind to start a new life in difficult and dangerous circumstances.

Solidarity and acceptance are what is needed, especially from migrant to migrant.

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