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Promoting a Harmonized Society: The Case of Immigrants in Makassar

 

Oleh Rimalyga

“Be the change you want to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi

On a quiet afternoon on the campus, I was involved in a short conversation with my two friends. “Have you ever seen the immigrants around here?” Asked a friend of mine. “Yes, often. Anyway, will they stay here for a long time? I feel a little bit uncomfortable with them. They might give us bad influence. “Another friend replied. Then I spontaneously replied, “How do you know that they will give us bad influence? You guys even never talk to them.” That was one example of the attitude that is showed when we do not know each other’s culture. Excessive worries will arise in various forms. I also wonder whether the skepticism arises because of the discomfort in interacting with people of different cultures or whether there are other concerns? The same thing happened among the immigrants in their interaction with local people. They do not have access to interact with the local people. They need more space to interact with us. Therefore, it is necessary to build a bridge that can facilitate the interaction between us.

Crisis and the prolonged conflict in the Middle East force many people in those countries to flee away. They intend to seek a better life outside their country. Getting asylum is the only way for them to get a job for the sake of a decent life . Australia is one of the country that grants asylum to the immigrants that came from the middle east. However, the Australian government requires high qualification of the asylum seekers. Very large immigration wave forces the Australian government to limit the number of immigrants that coming in. They must have special skills that will enable them to get a job. Most immigrants are forced to settle for temporary in neighboring countries of Australia such as Indonesia.

I live in Makassar which is one of the largest cities in eastern Indonesia. A rapid economic growth has created Makassar as one of the multicultural city. There are four ethnic groups living this city, among others Makassar, Bugis, Mandar and Toraja. People come from various places in Indonesia also live here. The arrival of immigrants from the Middle East brings new color in the social interactions and furthermore may create a superdiverse society.

Makassar have becoming one of the immigrants’ shelter since the last five years. Many of these immigrants came with their families. There are around 2000 immigrants spread across a number of locations in Makassar. Some of them have lived here for several years. Their arrival is slowly changing social conditions of local communities. For example, there is a sense of social discomfort among the local community with their presence. In effect then appears xenophobia and culture lag with this new situation.

Through my observations, the immigrants seemed to talk and interact only with fellow immigrants alone. I rarely see them interact with local people. For the locals, they look like strangers but settled here for a long time. Either they do not want to interact or local people think they are not part of the society. Although they have settled in this city for long time, the immigrants still feel alienated from the environment in which they live. Local people also seemed unconcerned with their presence.

The problem of immigrants here rarely discussed in the local community because of their presence is relatively new. Initiative from local people to interact with them is still lacking. Cultural differences and the negative stigma from local people about immigrants is the greatest obstacle of social interaction that should be built. This negative stigma arises mostly due to significant cultural differences between local people and immigrants.

In my opinion, it is necessary to create a space for dialogue between local people and immigrants. Concern on humanitarian grounds should be built in order to create harmony in social life. The immigrants need support in order not to feel alienated in the place where they live for the moment. As long as the asylum is not yet granted, the immigrants will still live with the locals in this city.

I hoped that this kind of space can facilitate the local citizens with immigrants, in order to create a dialogue, joint activities and learn about each other’s cultures without prejudice. I expect all relevant actors of the society to be active and be able to take part in achieving that goal. Government as supreme policy-making should provide contributions in the form of public access to immigrants, especially in the areas of education and health. NGOs can contribute and facilitate dialogue among communities. Through the dialogue among communities, local communities can take the role to build a global society. In one hand, there will be no more fears on the presence of immigrants in the community  and in the other hand immigrants will feel accepted as one part of the environment in which they are settled. Hence, during their stay in Indonesia, they can feel welcomed and interact with thelocals. They need an environment that will accept them as part of society so that a harmonious life can be created.

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