Migrant Lives

The Other Scandal At The Poland-Belarus Border: Where's The UN?

The United Nations, UNICEF, Red Cross and other international humanitarian organizations seem to be trying to reach the Polish-Belarusian border, where Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko is creating a refugee crisis on purpose.

WARSAW — There is no doubt that the refugees crossing the Belarusian border with Poland — and by extension reaching the European Union — were shepherded through by the regime of Alexander Lukashenko. There is more than enough evidence that this is an organized action of the dictator using a network of intermediaries stretching from Africa and the Middle East. But that is not all.

The Belarusian regime has made no secret that its services are guiding refugees to the Polish border, literally pushing them onto (and often, through) the wires.

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A Migrant Odyssey: Haiti To Chile To Mexico's Border, And Beyond

Shella Jean was part of a new migration path from Haiti to the relatively prosperous nation of Chile. But she has since left behind her "Chilean Dream" on a perilous journey northward toward the U.S.-Mexico Border. This is her story.

I met Shella Jean in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in July 2017. The first time I saw her, she was standing next to a gas station in the blazing sun. I remember her face: the almond-shaped eyes, the thick lips, and eyebrows as thin as two strands of thread. Shella took me to her home.

We climbed a steep stone street until we reached a concrete room. It was used as a dining room during the day and a bedroom where she slept with her mother, a cousin and a nephew whom she had to take to Chile to reunite with his parents.

Indeed, accompanying her nephew was not only the mission entrusted to her by her relatives but also her chance to start a new life, away from the misery of her homeland.

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On The Border Of Bosnia: Voices Of Afghan Migrants

As the Taliban closed in on Afghanistan, the European Union co-signed a joint statement with dozens of nations agreeing that "the Afghan people deserve to live in safety, security and dignity" and that the international community was "ready to assist them".

As someone who has been researching the refugee crisis on Europe's borders for years, I found the statement surprising. Before it was making bold statements about events in Kabul, the EU had spent years failing to help thousands of Afghans seeking help at its borders.

Since 2015, more than 570,000 Afghan citizens have sought protection in the EU. Thousands of them remain stuck in Bosnia and Herzegovina, after having been pushed back by the Croatian police catching them on the EU border.

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For Chinese Adoptees In The U.S., Identity Comes In Layers

Over the past 30 years, more than 170,000 Chinese-born children have been raised by U.S. families. Most of the parents are white and many live in areas where Asians are almost nonexistent.

WASHINGTON D.C. — Yang Chunju was born 20 years ago in Guangdong, China, and was abandoned at birth. A year later she was adopted by a couple from Pennsylvania, in the United States, and along with a new family, she got a new name, Mary Ruth Tomko, though most people call her Mei.

The young woman grew up in the small town of York — "the American countryside," as she describes it. And in the schools she attended, there were no other Asians. In other words, no one else looked like her, and Mei recalls being very lonely throughout her childhood.

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Giovanni De Mauro*

Italy, The Immigrants Among Us

Over the past decade, as Italy has become one of Europe's prime destinations for immigrants, stereotypes spread about those arriving from foreign lands. It's a story that has come full circle.


ROME — They carry disease. They live in overcrowded neighborhoods. Their evenings are spent listening to the sweet sounds of their music, but in filthy courtyards with rotting air. Their houses are small and rundown, where dozens of people share no more than two or three rooms. They come in waves, bothering people and attracting far too much attention.

Sure we know they may have escaped bad governments, bloody wars, poverty. But they've arrived with strange superstitions and we've seen how they exploit their children, sending them on the streets to beg and forcing them to hand over whatever they make at the end of the day.

Their presence compromises our living standards and undermines the very quality of the nation.

And yet it's true that when they do their agricultural work, they're quite good. They are lean and muscular, capable of withstanding prolonged physical effort. They have a certain dexterity and a developed artistic sense. Their women are valued for their domestic virtues. Thanks to their sense of family, they are very generous with relatives who have stayed back in the home country.

Still, their presence ultimately compromises our living standards and undermines the very quality of the nation. They share so little with a country that must seem to them the paradise of well-being.

Yes, Italians think they know the lives of immigrants coming to our country. But these very words you've just read were used in the international press between the 19th century and today to describe millions of those who had emigrated abroad from Italy. We have collected articles about these Italian immigrants in a book, In Cerca di Fortuna.

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Migrant Lives
Vedika Inamdar and Sumati Thusoo*

Nothing Quaint About India's COVID Exodus To Countryside

The pandemic has prompted many city workers to seek refuge back in the countryside roots. For the government, it's an extra challenge, but also an opportunity for long-term rural development.


NEW DELHI — The sudden imposition of the nationwide lockdown in view of the coronavirus pandemic in the last week of March resulted in hundreds and thousands of migrant workers, most of them daily-wagers, losing jobs. And with no means of employment, many of them started returning to their native villages. The result is the second-largest mass migration in the recorded history of India, after the 1947 Partition, where more than 14 million people were displaced.

Because of this COVID-19 triggered migration, otherwise invisible lives and working conditions of migrants were brought to national attention when the unplanned lockdown forced them to walk long distances to reach their homes. But to understand the phenomenon, it is important to look at the specifics of rural-urban migration.

Circular migration forms a majority of rural-urban migration and involves the independent male members of rural households migrating to urban areas while maintaining close links with their villages and towns of origin. They send remittances home and often spend a few months, especially during the harvest season, at their native places.

There are various studies that have analyzed the reasons for rural-urban migration. One, by Kunal Keshir and R.B. Bhagat, stated that people migrate due to poverty, inequality (in access to land) and discrimination, along with the mirage of city life consisting of better resources such as livelihood opportunities, education, housing and health facilities.

In a study on internal migrants in Delhi, Harsh Mander and Gayatri Sahgal find evidence of "distress migration," i.e. migration that takes place due to extreme impoverishment which leaves the individual or family no choice except to migrate in search of livelihood opportunities.

It has been established in studies that rural to urban migration brings about significant social and economic costs in urban areas such as higher unemployment rate, increased environmental costs, strained resources, and unacceptable living conditions. In addition, the movement of able-bodied, young, and perhaps better-educated people from rural areas to urban centers leads to an imbalance in human resources needed for rural development.

A study on internal migrants in Delhi has found evidence of "distress migration".

This imbalanced development between rural and urban areas results in the former often being deprived of resources such as funds and lack of incentives from the government and private actors to develop infrastructure. But that conclusion may also be misleading, as suggested in a report by the International Institute for Environment and Development and the International Organisation on Migration.

The report states that it is poor urban infrastructure and planning that causes shortages in urban-dwelling, congestion, crowding, and a declining standard of living in urban areas. When urban governance and policy responds to migration and migrants in a hostile manner, it leads to migrants being pushed to low-income, informal residences and such policies result in stigma and prejudice surrounding slums, slum dwellers, and migrants especially in a city like Mumbai.

Advocates of reverse migration often argue that if policymakers aim to improve urban areas, it is pertinent that they focus on improving rural infrastructure to decongest cities. Using the official data from the Ministry of Rural Development, a study found that there was an improvement in the wages and number of days of work offered under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Scheme during the COVID-19 lockdown in Rajasthan.

Waiting outside Guwahati's train station — Photo: David Talukdar/ZUMA

The scheme also witnessed a rise in demand for work in May and June. There were up to 24.2 million rural households that demanded work in August 2020, which is a 66% increase from August 2019. This has been the highest level of demand for since 2013-14, resulting in many districts exceeding their annual job creation targets.

In addition, official data from the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare has shown a 21% increase in the sowing of Kharif crop across India, compared to the same time period last year, along with an increase in the acreage of other crops. The pandemic-related uncertainty has made even the smallest landholders cultivate their lands to earn, some of which have also solved the labour shortages that rural India was facing because of economic migration to cities.

It is important to ask the government harsh questions.

But there's also a flip side of reverse migration, namely that the highly contagious virus has also started spreading to rural India. In contrast to the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendation of one trained doctor for every 1,000 people, India has one trained doctor per 1,404 people.

With more than 50% of the population living in rural areas and a very skewed distribution of trained doctors across rural and urban landscapes, most rural communities rely, rather, on untrained health workers with no formal medical training. It is important, therefore, to expand the pool of trained doctors accessible to the rural population and make careful use of informal health practitioners as they are trusted more than the trained healthcare professionals, especially when there is a stigma of contagion attached to the virus.

Given that India spends less than 1.5 % of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on healthcare, it is important that healthcare spending especially in rural areas be improved. Learnings from a national conference at the World Rural Health Conference suggest that a focus on family-oriented primary healthcare centers, along with state-funded health insurance schemes and training of healthcare professionals would lead to better health outcomes in rural areas.

The pandemic-induced reverse migration presented the government with an opportunity to concentrate on building rural infrastructure with better agrarian policy — a study affirms the narrative that the agricultural sector has kept the rural economy afloat during the pandemic. Improved livelihood opportunities and effective rural governance are also essential parts of the rural infrastructure. The situation has resulted, however, in unused rural funds and workers returning to cities, according to a rapid assessment survey.

Apart from the other welfare schemes launched during the lockdown period, the government also launched a special employment-cum-rural public works program called Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyan for returning migrants. This focused campaign of 125 days spread across 116 districts in 6 states has only been able to utilize 56% of the total amount allocated. The government's inability to spend the stipulated amount earmarked for boosting livelihood opportunities in rural India and creating a durable infrastructure is definitely a cause of worry, especially with little over a month left for the scheme to end.

A robust legal framework is needed to protect the rights of these migrants.

Taking into consideration the pace at which the number of COVID-19 cases is rising in India, it is important for the government to extend its 125 days period because the impact of the COVID-19 lockdown is yet to subside. In addition, the data maintained by the government on intra-country migration needs to be better: A study by India Migration Now finds that state policies towards migrants are unfriendly throughout the country. It is due to the COVID-19 crisis that the otherwise disenfranchised informal sector workers, their numbers and their issues have come to the fore.

Looking at global trends, one can say that no government in the world was prepared for a pandemic of this scale. Still, it is important to ask the government harsh questions. The questions about the number of jobs lost due to the lockdown, absence of data on migrant deaths, which is estimated to be as many as 972 persons, are as important as knowing the impact of such welfare schemes. In addition to that, these schemes hardly elaborate on the long-term solutions for the issue of chronic unemployment in a country like India beyond these 125 days.

According to Amitabh Kundu, from the Research and Information System for Developing Countries, there are around 65 million inter-state migrant workers in India. A robust legal framework is needed to protect the rights of these migrants, wherever they work, while providing them with the choice to migrate for a livelihood option that ensures a decent living.

At the same time, people must not be forced to migrate from rural areas in search of jobs that are often vulnerable and precarious, while living in inhospitable conditions. Improving rural infrastructure and thereby livelihoods, through long term planning, rather than knee-jerk reactions, is one such solution.

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Migrant Lives
Laure Stephan

A New Lampedusa? Lebanese Risking Lives To Migrate By Sea

Lebanese have long emigrated to Europe and elsewhere. But not like during this crisis: on clandestine boats, in a perilous trip toward the island of Cyprus.

TRIPOLI, Lebanon — Afaf Abdel Hamid climbs the damp-ridden stairs leading to her small family apartment in the Qobbé neighborhood of Tripoli, the coastal city in northern Lebanon. Hamid has been consumed by anguish since her son Mohamad went missing at sea. "I want someone to bring him back to me, dead or alive," she says, bursting into tears.

The 27-year-old took off secretly, on Sept. 7, from the coast north of Tripoli. The idea was to reach Cyprus. But the boat, chartered by traffickers and with about 40 other people on board, lost its way. And when a UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) boat finally came to its rescue, in mid-September, the young Lebanese man was no longer on board.

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Migrant Lives
Claudia Becker and Marcel Leubecher

Merkel To Moria: Is Accepting Migrants A Moral Imperative?

In mid-September, fires destroyed Greece's largest migrant camp, the vastly overcrowded Moria facility on the island of Lesbos. The disaster left some 13,000 already desperate people with no shelter at all, and raises new questions about Europe's collective responsibilities toward migrants five years after German Chancellor Angela Merkel famously opened her nation's doors to fleeing Syrian refugees. Should the countries of the EU feel obliged to always do the same? Two German writers offer opposing viewpoints:

Yes, says Claudia Becker

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Annalisa Camilli

Moria Voices: Where To Next After Migrant Camp Fire In Greece?

Testimony from Afghan and Somali migrants, as well as locals on Greek island of Lesbos, where Europe's largest migrant camp has burned to the ground, leaving 13,000 migrants without shelter.

LESBOS — "We are not animals," shouts a boy, as a policeman orders him to step back. Nearby a group of men pull a cart loaded with suitcases, and a little girl who had fallen asleep on the pile of bags. They have been on the road for three days and ask the officer where they should go. "We are hungry," says one in English. "Let us at least go to the village to buy some milk for our children. People may start dying here."

Thousands of people are huddled along the road that connects the city of Mytilene, on the island of Lesbos, with Moria, the largest refugee camp in Europe, which was destroyed by a fire during the night between Sep. 8 and 9. Police in riot gear prevent refugees from reaching the city, and have even fired tear gas at the refugees. A column of black smoke from a second fire continues to rise from what remains of Moria, and for hours a fire brigade helicopter flies low over the heads of the displaced. The late summer days are windy and weighed down by a sultry heat.

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Carl-Johan Karlsson

Europe's Refugee Crisis Returns After Pandemic Pause

As borders closed and lockdowns were rolled out around the world, the steady flow of illegal immigration that has plagued southern Europe for years was also temporarily halted. But new arrivals are now accelerating again, and some of the countries hit hardest by the pandemic are now also forced to deal with a worsening refugee crisis.

In Italy and Spain, the lack of tourism has been particularly hard on the economy and now a growing number of refugee boats are landing on the empty beaches, while in Greece, the pressure is rising in the aftermath of the Greek-Turkish border crisis, with the island camps still overcrowded and increasing popular unrest on Lesbos and other islands in the Aegean Sea.

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Mattia Feltri

Food Or Safety? Lockdown And Migrant Laborers In Italy

Even as the total number of cases of COVID-19 decreased In Italy, an outbreak flared up in the southern province of Caserta among migrant agricultural laborers. Writing in the Italian daily La Stampa, Mattia Feltri recounts how, once again, the pandemic is bringing long-simmering tensions, economic inequity and social injustice to the surface.

Almost all of the agricultural laborers of Mondragone, in the southern Italian province of Caserta come from Novi Zagora, Bulgaria. They were lured to Italy by human traffickers, thinking they would make decent money here. They stay in large, run-down tower blocks formerly owned by Cirio, the Italian multinational known for its canned vegetables and sauces. They come down from their apartments at 4:30 a.m. to be loaded into trucks and taken to fields owned by Italian farmers, where they pick green beans.

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Ricarda Breyton

A German Critique Of Salvini's 'Double Dealing' On Migration

Italy reached a preliminary agreement with other EU countries on rescuing migrants at sea. But Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has not shared the news at home, and has kept attacking his supposed partners, especially Germany.

Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, of the far-right League party, has regularly lambasted migrant rescue operations in the Mediterranean. He called Carola Rackete, the German-born captain of the Sea-Watch 3 rescue ship, a "pirate" and an "outlaw." He has also said that Italy will not be used as a refugee camp by the rest of the European Union, and has accused Germany of "blackmail." Moreover, on June 11, he signed a decree ruling that any vessel entering Italian waters without permission would face a fine of up to €50,000.

But the reality of the negotiations with his EU partners doesn't necessarily correspond with Salvini's hard-line rhetoric.

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Migrant Lives
Kia Vahland

Carola Rackete & Greta Thunberg: A New Kind Of Heroine For Our Times

Today, young women like Carola Rackete and Greta Thunberg have the power to conquer hearts and instill idealism into politics. But ultimately, their admirers have to act themselves if they want change.

OpEd- ​

MUNICH — First Greta Thunberg, savior of the planet; now Carola Rackete, savior of human lives. Young, idealistic and energetic women enter the world stage, hated by some and worshipped by others for the same reason: their determination.

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Karima Moual

Why Some Foreigners Like Italy's Anti-Migrant League Party

Social media dialogue and reader comments on news stories suggest that the far-right's xenophobic rhetoric resonates for immigrants.

Italy's anti-migrant League party received 34% of the national vote in May's elections for the European Parliament, becoming Italy's top party. Its leader, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, has recently approved a new security decree that brings in hefty fines, of up to 50,000 euros, to NGO rescue boats that bring migrants to Italy without permission.

In this piece for Turin-based La Stampa, Karima Moual shows how the League is winning ground even among migrants themselves, some of whom resent the center-left Democratic Party (PD), which never followed through on promises to pass a law to give Italian citizenship to children born in Italy to foreign parents.

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Parastou Hassouri

Refugee v. Migrant? What We're Missing In Immigration Debate

By distinguishing between refugees and migrants, international law underestimates the plight of people displaced by poverty and climate change.


CAIRO — Last December at a summit in Marrakesh, Morocco, 164 countries adopted the Global Compact on Migration, a United Nations-led agreement that aims to forge cooperation on managing migration around the globe. The compact's supporters hail it as a landmark, the first step towards creating an international legal framework that addresses migrants generally, and not just refugees.

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