Sunday, August 30, 2015

Migrant Misery

Through out history, fleeing war, famine and disease, humans have crossed oceans, walked over mountains and deserts in search of better climes. As a result civilizations were born and nations started. Humans have always been on the move, as they are today.

Lately, the misery of migrants has been on display, as many trying to cross over from Libya to Europe in search of peace and stability, find themselves in watery graves. The past few months have especially seen a dramatic increase in the influx, and the forecast is that it is only going to get worse. Fleeing war and hunger in Syria and other parts of the Middle East and Africa, refugees pay exorbitant amounts of money to smugglers to find a spot on precarious over crowded floating devices. Landing in Italy and Greece they make their way into Europe with a glimmer of hope. Living in squalor in make shift camps, women, children and the elderly find solace, shelter and respite from the ravages for war. Europe grapples with the enormity of the situation not knowing what to do. On one hand it fears the migrant will change the fabric of it's society and on the other having been through two wars and seen humanity at its worst, it struggles to find a balanced approach to a problem that is overwhelming in magnitude.

The situation Europe faces could have been foreseen almost five years ago when the uprisings in the Middle East began, leaving failed states in its path. Some of the blame can also be placed earlier, on the illegal invasion of Iraq, which instead of bringing peace and democracy, only brought misery to many. The roots of this situation can be traced even further back to colonialism. Nations and peoples were pillaged and looted to such an extent, that they never had the time or the means to develop into stable nations with strong institutions. The post-colonial era of global economy and exploitation, made sure that some of these nations stayed weak, by propping up regimes that did not serve the interest of its citizens. And so it was only destiny that the children of colonial citizens would one day arrive at the door step of their erstwhile masters. When there are places in the world that are left to fall into the abyss, it is only natural that people will claw their way out to find a future elsewhere.

What is a migrant? A migrant is someone or some being who leaves ones home in search of food and a suitable climate. Animals migrate for this reason as do humans. But animals are not bound by an imaginary prison established by invisible lines of geography. They roam free. Humans live in cages called nations, organized for the purpose of economy and the desire to belong to a certain tribe breeding comfort in identity. When a human wants to migrate, he or she needs a visa, passport or some form of tribal identification. One can join another tribe, but only by giving up his or her previous one on paper. But when you risk your life, climb aboard a boat, cross a border, scale a wall, break the rules in search of food and a future, you are branded an "illegal alien".

I am a migrant. I left my home country and moved to a land founded by migrants, in search of a change in scenery. As a younger person, I did feel an intellectual prisoner in my small town in southern India, and the desire to see the world was strong. Having grown up in a family with plenty and in a stable democratic country, my physical surroundings were never dire. So I followed the rules, boarded an airplane and began a journey that continues almost two decades later, to this day. For many like me, America welcomed with open arms and provided a future like no other. But for millions of others, who live and work in this nation without legal papers, life is on a knife's edge.

The US presidential elections are seventeen months away, but the race to the top has already begun. The Republicans have a cavalcade of candidates who never seem to surprise with the most outlandish things they say and do. One who seems to be presently hogging the limelight with his inflammatory comments is Donald Trump. A billionaire real estate developer, Donald Trump made his fortune bribing and bullying his way through the grimy underbelly of the New York real estate market. He plans to use his fortune and the tactics that made him a real estate tycoon, to win the Republican nomination for the US presidency. His controversial stance on illegal immigration has made him favorable to some and a pariah to others. He wants to deport every illegal immigrant in America and build a wall between the US and Mexico to stop more from coming. In a recent speech he characterized Mexican and Hispanic migrants as rapists and criminals. On face value one could dismiss Donald Trump's rants as delusional and idiosyncratic. But on another, the fear mongering is worrisome and very similar to what has been done in the past to win elections. Making the migrant the monster, is a very easy thing to do. Migrants, especially if they are paperless, are voiceless and disenfranchised. In America it is estimated there are about 11 million illegal immigrants. A majority of them are diligent, law abiding non-citizens working in industries, that many citizens would not. To make them the enemy, is not only short sighted but also counterproductive and harmful to the economy and the character of this nation. One should actually be proposing policies to bring them into the fold, as the alternative is procedurally impossible and detrimental in every way.

The argument always made, is that if we gave amnesty to migrants, then others would see it as a welcome sign to violate the laws of the land and pour into any nation in hoards. America was founded on the principle of giving amnesty to the poor and the weak. The reality is, migrants are going to come to this land or any other seeking opportunity no matter what. We could build walls, put up an army to shoot them down, but there is no stopping people from seeking a better future for themselves and their brood. Just as it is for animals, it is a natural instinct for humans to migrate if things are not conducive for life. The only way one can stop the movement of people, is by ensuring that their homes in their homelands are not turned into dismal places of destitution.

Therefore it is in the interest of wealthy nations to make sure their wealth is spread. Extreme inequality on a national and global scale breeds instability within societies. One cannot afford to live in enclaves anymore. Where you live cannot decide whether you live or whether you die. As the population grows, the world shrinks and good real estate is finite. Therefore it is in the interest of everyone to make sure that nations do not collapse. But this is a tall order, as the tribal nature of humanity is inherently opposed to the ideals of democracy and the sharing of wealth.

In the past five years, half the population of Syria, is either dead, internally displaced or has fled the country. A nation of 22 million people is now but a fraction of itself. Other nations could face similar fates, due to war, poverty and global warming. In an interview to the Washington Post, a Syrian refugee in northern Lebanon, who now begs for a living, said "we are only alive because we are not dead", while others pay thousands of dollars to smugglers to make a perilous journey into the unknown. It is what it is.