I am an American student who has been living in London for 4 months studying Human Rights Politics at Russell Square. During these 4 months, I have also been volunteering at Migrant Voice. In my time here, I have learned much about European migration. Since it is nearing election time in the United Kingdom, migration is increasingly being debated. Similarly, the recent mid-term elections in the United States also roused a focus on migration over the southern States’ borders. However, the debates seldom focus on the actual life or death journeys some migrants make. This is not to say that all migrants are fleeing war and poverty. Only 3% of the world’s populations are migrants, most of whom are students and workers. An even smaller percentage of migrants are fleeing violence and attempt to overcome unforgiving geographical obstacles to do so. This blog will focus on those fleeing persecution and reflect on the situations they face in trying to reach the US or the UK.
The first step towards solving a problem is admitting there is one. When people are pushed from their home country for one reason or another, (poverty and/or persecution) and do not have the means to take the legal route, they will turn to dangerous methods. The people of Central and South America push through the Arizona desert. The people of the Middle East and Africa take the route through the Mediterranean. Both paths have claimed thousands of lives over the past decade and serves as a tremendous obstacle for achieving the dream of a better life. This situation poses a serious problem. It is time that the underlying tragedies of restricting legal, free movement are acknowledged by the governments responsible while addressing their own citizens concerns.
When governments leave no alternative options for people who are seeking sanctuary to flee their country of origin, dire measures are taken. When migrating from the Middle East or Africa, the Mediterranean stands in the way between migrants and the rest of Europe. Estimates have showed that last year alone, roughly 3,500 have drowned in the Mediterranean; a sharp increase from the previous year’s estimates of 700. This number continues to grow, as the actual figure for how many boats have sunk in the Mediterranean is not entirely clear. The grey areas over which governments are responsible for helping drowning refugees also contribute to the growth in death toll.
In the United States, rather than the sea, it is the Arizona desert that serves as an obstacle for migrants. Located between the border of Mexico and the Southern United States, the Arizona desert remains the most direct route for Latin American refugees fleeing troubles at home. Migrants leave their home in South or Central America and begin to travel north, towards Mexico. Since there are no movement restrictions between the countries of South and Central America, this is not a difficult task in terms of legality. Instead, the difficulty is in lack of transportation, lack of funds, U.S. border patrol agents, and the countless gangs that wait along the path towards Mexico who are looking to rob and kidnap migrants. After reaching Mexico’s northern border, migrants then climb the massive border wall that the United States government has invested billions of dollars in building. Lastly, they must take on the Arizona desert on the other side. People willingly choose to leave their homes to journey on foot through the 100,000 square miles of desert for weeks and suffer with volatile temperatures of 50°C during the day and 4°C during the night. The Arizona desert alone claimed the lives of roughly 2,100 border crossers in previous decade. This death toll does not include the bodies that have yet to be found and those that have died on other routes before reaching the US border. Some are so close to making it: bodies are frequently found within less than an hour’s drive outside of a populated area. It often takes months to identify the dead since United States’ officials do not take responsibility for the bodies but rather outsource this to independent companies; this is similar to the way European governments struggle to claim responsibility for the migrants drowning in the Mediterranean.
In the United Kingdom, citizens are granted freedom of movement throughout Europe. They reap the benefits of being a member of the European Union, however the government’s principle of freedom of movement stops with their own citizens. Those outside of the European Union do not have freedom of movement. Those fleeing persecution are allowed to claim asylum in the United Kingdom, however only if they can get there first. Many often have no choice but to travel via illegal and life threatening means. This situation also exists in the United States. Being a nation formed of immigrants, one would think that it would be open to the positive connotations immigration would bring. Unfortunately, this is not the case and the levels of immigration from the Mexican border have decreased while the death rate has increased tenfold. Where would the United States be today if these policies were in place during the early 20th century: the height of immigration to the United States?
When people are willing to risk death rather than stay in their country, doesn’t that tell governments how desperate those individuals are? The fact is that the Western world governments are indirectly contributing to the deaths of these migrants by not creating legal routes for them to access. When the legal path is not an option for people, they will take the illegal, dangerous path. Europe is not alone in this; The Global North should have a moral initiative to make the legal path more accessible for those who need it.
To read more, these are some good resources:
Volume 45, Issue 1. Web. Dec. 2014.
"Europe Is Ignoring Migrants' Plight: JRS." Europe Is Ignoring Migrants' Plight: JRS.
Jesuits in Britain, 11 Dec. 2014. Web. 17 Dec. 2014.
Hopper, John, and Peter Walker. "100 Children among Migrants 'deliberately
Drowned' in Mediterranean." Theguardian.com. The Guardian, 16 Sept. 2014.
"Immigrants in the United States and the Current Economic Crisis", Demetrios G.
Papademetriou and Aaron Terrazas, Migration Policy Institute, April 2009.
McIntyre, Erin S. "Death in the Desert: The Dangerous Trek between Mexico and
Arizona | Al Jazeera America." Death in the Desert: The Dangerous Trek
between Mexico and Arizona | Al Jazeera America. Aljazeer America, 11 Mar.
2014. Web. Dec. 2014.