Material World: Dying to Migrate

Migrants, hoping to find a better life, face death during various stages of their journey, and with destination in sight, face the possibility of being picked up by border guards, detained indefinitely and in most cases deported back to their homeland. Those lucky enough to avoid death or capture then enter into a world of uncertainty, where they are likely to work in low-wage labour, forming an under-class of Europe and North America. People who have risked everything to escape the dire life that they were born into will not be dissuaded by the threat of death or detention and deportation.

It is only going to get worse as the effects of climate change are already impacting upon the growing migration trends. 2.8 million people are struggling to feed themselves in a drought-prone area shared by Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua, according to the UN World Food Programme. The Red Cross said some 571,710 people were affected by the drought in Honduras and that ‘…families are selling their belongings and livestock to secure food for survival, while others are migrating to escape the effects of the drought.’ Researchers believe drought, amplified by deforestation, was a key factor in the collapse of the Mayan empire around 950 C.E.

When the UK Government announced they will not support any future search and rescue operations to prevent migrants and refugees drowning in the Mediterranean, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, François Crépeau, responded:

‘Governments that do not support the search and rescue efforts have reduced themselves to the same level as the smugglers. They are preying on the precariousness of the migrants and asylum seekers, robbing them of their dignity and playing with their lives.’

He went on to say: ‘Migrants are human beings and just like the rest of us they too have rights. They too have the right to live and thrive. To bank on the rise in the number of dead migrants to act as deterrence for future migrants and asylum seekers is appalling. It’s like saying, let them die because this is a good deterrence.’

He cast doubt upon its deterrence ‘Sealing international borders is impossible, and migrants will continue arriving despite all efforts to stop them, at a terrible cost in lives and suffering.’ (, 31 October).

This view has been supported by Italy’s Admiral Filippo Foffi who dismissed the idea that having a rescue system ‘Mare Nostrum’ for migrants in place has created a pull factor: ‘If someone is talking about pull factors, he simply doesn’t know what he is speaking about,’ he said, adding that that many refugees’ journeys start more than three months before they make it to the shores of Libya and northern Africa with the majority enduring hardships that meant an estimated half die before reaching the coast (Guardian, 29 October).

America’s war on illegal immigration with its higher, longer fences and intensified border patrol surveillance merely provides business for the people smugglers. Peter Andreas in his 2001 study, ‘Border Games’, pointed out that reliance on human traffickers emerged only in response to the US government’s border build-up in the 1990s, and not a product of porous borders where people would just walk across on their own and not bother with procuring the services of a smuggler. In 2005, Phil Marshall and Susu Thatunon on the basis of their extensive study of anti-trafficking experience in the six-nation SE-Asia region explained ‘tighter border controls exacerbate trafficking…’ (Trafficking and Prostitution Reconsidered).

No matter their reason for leaving the country of their birth, as an asylum seeker or as an economic refugee, record numbers are dying in this process. Yet their deaths and desperation receive muted responses from the politicians who prefer to whinge about how migrants are scrounging from the welfare state, despite the fact that the vast majority of people move home to work and not claim benefits.

For millennia there were no borders, nor countries or nationalities – people wandered freely over the planet. Who are we, each one of us, if not a mongrel species of mixed ethnicities? It’s long past time to recognise our common heritage globally and work for a world shared in common. The rich, including African oligarchs, can as always live anywhere they choose (Guardian, 26 October).


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