What Are Immigrants Fleeing From?

By Rossella Battaglia

I work for an Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) called Movimiento por la Paz as a community worker in a reception center located in Madrid. People we welcome can be identified as follows: sub-Saharan Africans coming mainly from Mali, Sierra Leone, Guinea Conakry, Gambia, Burkina Faso who begin their migratory process in their own countries in order to approach the coasts of Mauritania and Morocco and be able to pay for their place on boats (deemed illegal and very dangerous). Depending on the humanitarian crisis occurring, the origin of the people we take in, also changes. This is a direct consequence of what we read in international political newspapers.

They arrive exhausted and malnourished, especially after the first few days of travel; and then they leave, at the mercy of oblivion, to reach other countries in search of fortune but with no certainty in front of them. This has led me to ask myself:  if they are suffering so much here, what exactly are they fleeing from?

I asked myself this question after accompanying Bate to the hospital: we were in the waiting room of the emergency room and had to wait for a few hours before they examined him. He had fallen during his trip and had a very deep wound that became infected over the following few days. He told me that he had fallen and hurt himself, while other travel companions did not make it. He told me that he called himself lucky.

I asked myself the same question months later, with guys who had joined our organization long before and had to leave it because of government regulations (unfortunately, each person has a maximum length of stay). The problem is that bureaucratic quibbles and the integration system is not always ready to provide a social intervention that can accompany them in their social insertion in a culture and a world to which they have never been accustomed to. Work gives dignity to the human being, and I am more and more convinced of this, especially in a world where capitalism is thriving and the social safety net as well as community structures are diminishing. Many young people think they will be able to work as soon as they cross the border, unaware of what will happen to them. 

The cruel reality is that working legally is not possible, and that when the time is up in the organization where I work, they have to find a solution. But this solution is hidden, difficult to find and the street seems to be the only opportunity left.

The reasons that force them to migrate are of a different nature, mainly economic, given the critical situation of their countries of origin. Nonetheless, they also have to deal with sociopolitical contexts that are steeped in corruption and the effects of climate change which has an increasingly negative impact in the poorest countries and the most marginalized. In addition, in some countries, there are wars underway that violate fundamental human rights. On these occasions, some migrants ask for asylum so that they can obtain rights of various kinds, namely access to the asylum system as enshrined in the Geneva Convention, access to reception centers that can guarantee them a place to live, a hot meal and forms of economic and training aid that can one day be used in the Spanish job market.

What I have noticed is that lately the form of migration has changed. Before, people used to migrate in secret, hoping to be invisible and to be able to cross the border without any kind of document. Now instead visibility is the key to give voice to these people. In Central America, for example, we speak of “caravans of migrants,” in Europe we speak of the European migrant crisis, that is, waves of people crossing the Mediterranean Sea on makeshift boats of 40 or more people that are anything but safe. Obviously taking into consideration that I’m writing from a privileged starting point but we shouldn’t forget that immigrating is an emotional expression of the human act of moving to another country, migrating. 

In the complexity of this term there are also many developing countries that welcome a large number of “western” migrants, since migration takes place all over the world. This migratory wave consequently becomes a political and diplomatic event that creates havoc and noise in a society like ours where the importance of human rights and the person is becoming the subject of an increasingly heartfelt debate.

But it will never be enough. They will continue to arrive, in peaceful caravans or not, by train, on foot, on boats, forging documents to enter Ceuta or Melilla, in a month or in six months, and this is becoming clear to everyone, and it brings us back to my initial question: what are they fleeing from? Where does such tenacity come from in so many people? 

The answer is in the story and within each of us. 

They are perfectly aware of the fact that they are not welcome anywhere, but the certainty of hunger and fear makes them brave, tenacious, and above all hopeful.

We must not forget at any time how many people with the privilege of living anywhere in the world have traveled simply for love. These people emigrate for different reasons, and because of different contexts and situations that many people in the Global North have a difficult time understanding. Nevertheless, perhaps with a pinch of empathy and at the same time some human selfishness, we can consider that tomorrow we may be the ones who will find ourselves in need.

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