By Reem Gaafar
Man is a creature on the move. Forever, people have been carrying their homes on their backs and traveling wherever life is safe, prosperous and peaceful. They follow the rains and the rivers, away from predators and drought and war. Before such a thing as borders was invented, there was no limit to where one could settle down and build a life; all of earth was home. Our world today and the way it looks has been shaped and continues to be shaped by migration. The difference in our colours and accents and preferences and traditions is all a reflection of this massive and continuous movement over the centuries.
Sub-Saharan Africa hosts more than 26% of the world’s refugee population (UNHCR, 2016), but this number is an underestimation and the real figure is likely much higher. Furthermore, unlike what is popularly believed that ‘(African) migrants (are viewed) as objects which are passively pushed around by external ‘push’ factors such as poverty, demographic pressure, violent conflict or environmental degradation, analogous to the way physical objects are attracted or repelled by gravitational or electromagnetic forces’, migration is actually a result of development and modernization. With education and globalization people’s aspirations grow, as do the perceptions they have about how and where these aspirations can be fulfilled. Having said that, not all migration is, of course, voluntary.
According to the latest UN statistics report on migration, there are more than 244 million international migrants, meaning people living in places other than where they were born – 20 million of which are refugees. This is 41% higher than what was reported in the year 2000. In terms of forced displacement however, the last few years have seen numbers on a scale like never before. A total of 65.3 million people were forcefully displaced from their homes by the end of 2015 (UNHCR, 2016), meaning 24 people had to flee their homes every minute. It is ‘the first time in the organization’s history that the threshold of 60 million has been crossed’. Of these, 51% are children. And looking at the kind of news coming in, this year is doubtlessly even higher.
And amidst all this anguish, the trafficking business is flourishing. We’ve known, heard and seen for ages how people smuggle themselves across borders and over the sea, facing an almost certain death and a nowhere nearly certain future, because the past they are leaving behind is so much worse. But now, it’s not only the horrifying numbers of people moving, but for the first time we can see this movement in shocking clarity. Today, Syria forms the largest source of forced migration with 4.9 million Syrians living as refugees. Images and videos of their plight shook the world, became normal, shook them again, became normal again, and then continued to be normal. We saw them in their JC Penny’s jeans and sneakers, with their smart phones and accents and careers and educations. Normal people, just like us, who a few months ago lived peacefully in normal countries, and were now fleeing for their lives. And it’s not just them; South-Sudan, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Cameron, Burundi, Iraq, Rohinga Muslims, and the list goes on and on and on.
However, when talking about migration and forced displacement, it’s always about ‘other people’. We report and share it on our timelines alongside who is getting married and when the next beauty product bazaar is. We shed a few tears, share a few heart-wrenching pictures, and move on. Even though we are immersed in, surrounded by and originate from migration, we still think about it as someone else’s problem. We – Sudanese, Africans, inhabitants of the planet earth – need to take ownership of this issue. It’s not something that happens to ‘other people’ anymore, and the responsibility is a shared one. We are all descendants of migrants, we are all hosting migrants, and we may all be migrants one day, forced or otherwise. States need to stop treating migrants as criminals just because they had the audacity to seek refuge within their borders, legally or illegally. No one makes a choice to leave their life behind and put themselves and their children in danger unless they are running from something much worse. When we see migration as ‘our’ issue, we start looking for solutions instead of complaining about and impeding it. We talk about it as something we can facilitate or mitigate.
December 18th is International Migrant Day. Its a day we should all celebrate, because its not about ‘other people’, its about us. Only when we realise that migration is ‘ours’ will we lose our complacency and do something about it, whatever that may be.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home tells you to
leave what you could not behind,
even if it was human.
no one leaves home until home
is a damp voice in your ear saying
leave, run now, i don’t know what
Warsan Shire, Home
. . .
Migration – The movement of a person or a group of persons, either across an international border, or within a State. It is a population movement, encompassing any kind of movement of people, whatever its length, composition and causes; it includes migration of refugees, displaced persons, economic migrants, and persons moving for other purposes, including family reunification.
Forced migration – A migratory movement in which an element of coercion exists, including threats to life and livelihood, whether arising from natural or man-made causes (e.g. movements of refugees and internally displaced persons as well as people displaced by natural or environmental disasters, chemical or nuclear disasters, famine, or development projects).
Refugee – A person who, “owing to a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinions, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country. (Art. 1(A)(2), Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, Art. 1A(2), 1951 as modified by the 1967 Protocol).
Trafficking in persons – “The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation” (Art. 3(a), UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, 2000). Trafficking in persons can take place within the borders of one State or may have a transnational character.
Addressing human trafficking and exploitation in times of crisis: International Organization of Migration report https://publications.iom.int/system/files/addressing_human_trafficking.pdf
244 million international migrants living abroad worldwide, new UN statistics reveal. [Online] http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2016/01/244-million-international-migrants-living-abroad-worldwide-new-un-statistics-reveal/
UNHCR, 2016. The UN Refugee Agency: Africa. [Online] http://www.unhcr.org/africa.html
UNHCR, 2016. Global forced displacement hits record high. [Online] http://www.unhcr.org/news/latest/2016/6/5763b65a4/global-forced-displacement-hits-record-high.html
UNHCR, 2016. The UN Refugee Agency: Sudan. [Online] http://www.unhcr.org/afr/sudan
Flahaux, M L and De Haas, H., (2016). African migration: trends, patterns, driver. Comparative Migration Studies, vol. 4, no. 1, DOI: 10.1186/s40878-015-0015-6. [Online] https://comparativemigrationstudies.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s40878-015-0015-6#Sec16
Key Migration Terms http://www.iom.int/key-migration-terms
Refugee population by country or territory or region. World Bank statistics http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SM.POP.REFG.OR?year_high_desc=true
Home: A poem by Somali-British poet Warsan Shire, http://seekershub.org/blog/2015/09/home-warsan-shire/