This article was published in the printed version of the GIMUN Chronicles, the newspaper of GIMUN’s Annual Conference 2016, two months ago. We thought we’d give you a chance to rediscover it!
By Michelle Bognuda
In today’s world, people are forced to leave their homeland because of wars. January and February are particularly special months for Ticino’s young people because this is the time when carnival celebrations take place. Although these two statements do not seem to be linked, this year there was a logical connection. Swiss cantons which border other countries, such as Ticino or Geneva, are particularly touchy about immigrants, people in search of political asylum and, last but not least, cross-border workers.
The job market is precarious and thefts and acts of vandalism are on the rise. Unfortunately, the public opinion is negative towards these newcomers, who, more often than not, are the ones who get blamed. Right-wing political parties also do their part to exacerbate this feeling of negativity towards the unknown by publishing xenophobic articles in their newspapers. This was the case during this year’s carnival events in Ticino. People created a ruckus during a few of the carnival weekends and the public was quick to point the finger at immigrants. For instance, at the carnival of Lumino, an asylum seeker was arrested after allegedly harassing a group of women. However, he was released after being questioned. This particular piece of news gives us all an opportunity to reflect upon our society.
Xenophobic and stereotypical opinions are a growing problem in Europe nowadays, mainly because people are unhappy with their situation, and blaming immigrants for their problems is seemingly the easiest way to voice their thoughts. It is true that unfortunate events such as the sexual assaults by asylum seekers in Cologne on New Year’s Eve have happened, but other crimes happen too, and they are not always committed by immigrants.
Everyone seems to forget that people have been leaving their homeland due to wars or environmental disasters since the beginning of time. Historically, immigrants might have initially been frowned upon, but eventually blended into society. However, nowadays people seem to be very skeptical about newcomers in their neighborhoods. They often feel unsafe. Why is this?
Well, stereotypes are one of the main reasons behind this skepticism. As the Webster Dictionary explains, the definition of a stereotype is “to believe unfairly that all people or things with a particular characteristic are the same”. It is difficult to do away with stereotypes, for they are generally reinforced by current events. This is because journalists generally portray these events to fit popular stereotypes. It is a vicious circle. For instance, the trouble created at carnival this year in Ticino, which made locals think and say things such as “people seeking asylum are violent and dangerous”, occurred under the following circumstances. Carnival in the Italian-speaking canton consists of a series of temporary tents in and around certain towns, the most important of which is the Rabadan carnival of Bellinzona, which is protected by UNESCO. During the yearly six-day event there are a number of parades and during the nights, DJs play in the tents and brass bands play in the streets. People dress up, watch the parades during the day, and party all night long. The abovementioned problems, which occurred at this year’s celebrations, were instigated by masked people, who supposedly vandalized the towns, stole from people and hit them, or even tried to sexually abuse them. Once this had taken place, the public started criticizing asylum seekers and saying that they were the main offenders. Articles were written and heads started to shake.
However, people seem to have forgotten that it is not the first time that someone had too much to drink at a party and did something wrong. It happens and the perpetrators can of course be immigrants, but they can also easily be locals. This story is a good example of how public opinion is biased. It is unfortunate that the community has come to feel so self-conscious about what is different. On the whole, people are afraid because they do not know how to deal with the situation they find themselves in. It is easy to criticize others, just because they are different. However, in this case, as in any other, it is a shame to let the bad apples spoil the bushel. Every country has its vandals. Mass immigration exists and needs to be dealt with, instead of being used as a scapegoat for society’s problems. Denigration is not a path worth following in the long-term. Communication is the key to understanding and destroying such stereotypes.