“Go back to where you came from,” is the familiar expression of the anti-immigration right. This phrase is heard much too often in America in concerns with Mexican and Central American immigrants, but what most Americans do not realize is that this is also the cry of frustrated civilians in Europe, Australia and many other nations.
America’s southwest border received a surge of migrants this year, and came heavily under the media and public’s attention this summer. The surge of unaccompanied children garnered extremes of emotions in America – from open arms to angered cries for speedy deportations. Regardless of one’s stance on immigration, the reality is that this influx of migrants politically, socially and economically strained a nation scrambling to find a solution.
It was just the other day my father made a comment to me in conversation on immigration saying we are the only nation in the world to have such open borders that people freely cross. This seems to be a common misconception. Yes, we go through waves of heightened “irregular” migration (meaning cross-border flow without legal documentation). In 2014FY, the flow of unaccompanied minors and “other than Mexican” migrants was up 88 percent from last year. Yet, Mexican migration has actually been on the decline.
The number of migrants at our southwest border is almost nothing compared to the flow of Syrian refugees into neighboring nations since violence began in 2011. Some reports suggest that nearly 1 to 2 million Syrians have poured into Turkey. Most recently, fighting near Kobani forced nearly 180,000 Syrian refugees into struggling Turkey in a matter of weeks.
I would like to broaden the minds of opponents to immigration. Many Americans should see beyond their own borders the issues being faced by others. The most valuable tool for overcoming hate and opposition is empathy — we must humanize the people risking their lives to cross borders for a better life. There will always be wars, poverty, and violence; thus, there will always be migration. Because of that, we should stop treating influxes of migrants as emergencies but rather seek out solutions to the roots of fatal migration and embrace those migrants in a humanitarian approach.
The International Organization for Migration created its Missing Migrants Project in an endeavor to provide realities on migration, humanize migrants, track the lives of the deceased, link families to the missing, and, most importantly, deter further fatal migration. On September 29, the IOM released Fatal Journeys: Tracking Lives Lost during Migration, a 200 page report on migrant deaths across the globe.
Prompted by the October 2013 shipwreck off of the Italian island Lampedusa of a ship carrying nearly 500 migrants, this report seeks to break the realities and risks faced by migrants and the abuse and deadly paths they encounter. They also describe the lack of global international data collection on migrant deaths, socioeconomic profiles, and basic demographics of the deceased. The report was released just after two additional Mediterranean shipwrecks with reportedly 700 missing.
According to the report, migrant deaths are on the rise globally. The Mediterranean crossing ranks as the deadliest and accounts for 75 percent of migrant deaths. In just a year the number of deaths has nearly tripled to 3,072 in 2014FY. Globally, 40,000 migrants have died since 2000 and 22,000 of those were attempting to reach Europe.
While Mediterranean deaths are up, the U.S.-Mexican border deaths are actually down from last year. The problem is many deaths go unaccounted for on the vertical trip through Mexico, hundreds still go unaccounted for in the desert crossing yearly. It is believed that the tighter immigration controls of the U.S. border has led to an “increasingly commercialized migratory process,” in which migrants must hire smugglers in order to use more perilous paths.
In fact, the 1994 Border Patrol Strategic Plan, which created “segmented enforcement,” left only the most secluded and dangerous paths unpatrolled. Thus, instead of actually employing “prevention through deterrence,” the plan has seen little decrease in migration but a rise in migrant deaths due to these fatal journeys. Since 1998, the U.S. side of the border has seen 6,029 deaths, with this year’s numbers yet to be reported.
The risks faced by migrants on their fatal journeys vary depending upon their route and destination. However, there are many similar risks. Foremost, the hiring of smugglers is not only extremely expensive (USD 6-7,000/ migrant to the U.S. border) for migrants, but migrants face abuse at the hands of their smugglers. Smugglers have deliberately killed migrants and purposefully sunk ships in the Mediterranean. Furthermore migrants are dying from the climatic and geographic conditions as well (i.e. hypothermia, dehydration, heat stroke, drowning).
The vertical trip through Mexico proves the most dangerous on the route. With rampant organized crime groups, thousands of migrants have gone missing due to homicide and experienced extortion, enslavement, torture and kidnappings.
The facts of migrant fatalities leads one to ask why so many people spend their savings and risk their lives on such journeys. A commonality of migrant demographics is the condition of countries of origin. These nations are rife with poverty, organized crime, and war. Syrians and Eritreans were the highest reported migrant groups crossing the Mediterranean. For the United States, one just has to look at the conditions of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala to understand why a mother would send her child on the treacherous journey. These trips are not easy for migrant populations, but the hope for a better life is outshining the risks.
Due to the collapse of Libyan security, many African and Middle Eastern migrants who fled there for economic reasons are finding themselves pushed out of the nation and on the journey north with asylum seekers. Due to this, the heightened violence in east Africa and the Middle East, and poverty, irregular immigration to Europe has increased. In just the first eight months of 2014, the Italian authorities apprehended 112,000 migrants.
Due to heightened sea migration and fatalities, the Italian government created the rescue initiative, Mare Nostrum (Latin for “our sea”). In less than a year, they have rescued more than 91,000 migrants in the Mediterranean. Unfortunately this initiative operates outside of help from the European Union, costing Italy more than $11 million each month! Right-winged opponents say the project is too costly and actually encourages migration and smuggling.
Unfortunately for migrants, this initiative will be shut down in November and replaced by the much smaller European Union initiative, Frontex Plus. The U.N. refugee agency warns that migrant sea fatalities will rise due to its closure since Frontex Plus hardly has the full scale capabilities nor the funding.
A lack of response to migrant and asylum seekers’ situations by governments (whether lack of planning, funding or infrastructure) leads to a build up of unemployed and homeless migrants. This further leads to civilian frustration directed towards the migrants, and frustration from migrants demanding better government benefits and care while awaiting asylum decisions. In 2010, such an issue led to the violent race riots in an Italian town.
Migration is not a desire for irregular migrants, but rather a necessity. Migrants have always and will always flee to richer nations. We should not be building up walls to deter such migrants and blaming them for our own economic woes. We should not act as if an influx is an emergency we are unprepared for. Migration will continue despite the length of our fence at the southwest border. Rather, we should be seeking the roots to sociostructural and economic failures in their home countries. Long-term solutions and awareness of migrant fatalities will help to curb irregular migration and prove to solve rather than pacify misfortune.