In this blog post, I share a story about the language of “expat”.
In 2021, I was in my homeland, Cyprus, enjoying a night out with a friend in Agia Napa. We suddenly came across a group of White British friends, sporting t-shirts with a wide variety of slogans: “Short Lives Matter” and “Brexit Means Brexit”, among others. Given the fact that this group got their kicks out of mocking marginalised identities (they were trivialising anti-Blackness by poking fun at BLM), it was almost certain to me that they were actually avid Brexiteers, and therefore bought into the xenophobia and racism at the heart of the Brexit debate. I remember thinking to myself, “If you hate migrants so much, why did you come to Cyprus? If you hate migrants so much, why have you come to a country where so much of the population is internally displaced?” I started to think more about the aggressive presence of English people in Cyprus, whether as tourists or “expats”: British tourists who mock migrants, and by extension mock Cypriots (since a vast proportion of our community is actually diasporic or refugees), and British “expats” who settle in Cyprus, shielded by their privileged ignorance of what the UK did to Cyprus all those years ago. It’s likely that many of these tourists will later go on to settle in Cyprus when they retire, and therefore adopt the moniker of “expat”.
The word “expat” troubles me. Lots of White British people who go to live in Cyprus are referred to as “expats”, yet my community is viewed as a migrant community here in the UK. As a majority POC and migrant-led organisation, MRN uses the term “migrant” in a reclamatory sense, yet we recognise that to be subjected to the label of “migrant” by the majority of Western society, is to be demonised. Why are White British people afforded the privilege of being able to move without being demonised for it? There are many White British “expats” in Cyprus, but there are also many White Brits who live in Akrotiri and Dhekelia, which are areas of Cyprus that are legally part of Britain’s Overseas Territories. These Overseas Territories are actually military bases, which are used to launch missile attacks and sustain invasions in the rest of the SWANA region. This forces Cyprus into complicity with imperialist actions.
Once more, language is shown to reveal and conceal. It reveals how we, as SWANA folk, are truly seen, and it conceals and sanitises histories and legacies of invasive, colonial violence.
Helena Smith, Cyprus government criticised after use of RAF base in Syria strikes (The Guardian, 2018). Accessed at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/15/cyprus-government-criticism-raf-base-syria-strikes-anti-war-protest-russia
This blog post is part of our Words Matter x NSW series.