Society

Climate To Costa Concordia: How Humans Are Wired For Denial

In 2012, the same year the Costa Concordia cruise ship sank off of Giglio Island, David Quammen published his book Spillover, which predicted that somewhere in Asia a virus would be attacking the human respiratory tract on its way to becoming a global pandemic. And so it was. This terrible shipwreck, which the world watched in slow-motion exactly ten years ago on January 13, 2012, now appears to us — just like the COVID-19 pandemic, like the trailer of a horror film we are now all living for real.

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English Channel To The Mediterranean: Borders That Kill

The deaths of 27 migrants off the French coast of Calais is one more tragedy on a long list in the European Union. After the initial shock, however, we tend to forget, get used to it and in the end, become indifferent.

-Analysis-

PARIS — The wreckage of a small boat that led to 27 people to die in the English Channel is added to the list of endless death along Europe’s borders.

Unfortunately, there is nothing fundamentally new about this tragedy. Since 1993, at least 50,000 people have died trying to cross the external borders of the European Union, mainly in the Mediterranean Sea. Since 1999, more than 300 people have died off the northern French coast of Calais while trying to cross the border into the UK, which has been "externalized" on French soil by the 2004 Le Touquet Treaty. The years 2000 and 2010 were marked by reports of casualties at the borders, some horrifying like the two successive shipwrecks on April 12 and 19, 2015 that left thousands dead.

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Iranians Used To Flee For Politics, Now It's Economics

The desperation to leave Islamic Iran has spread from writers, dissidents and minority groups to hundreds of thousands of Iranians willing to live and work "anywhere that isn't Iran."

-Analysis-

Not so long ago, people leaving Iran did so temporarily, and were from specific social groups like students or persecuted minorities. Today, emigration has become a crucial life choice weighed by many, if not most, Iranian families.

The principal destinations in previous years were Europe, the United States, Canada or Australia. Iranians were ready to pay the price required to buy themselves a better life in "first world" destinations. Today, they're no longer eyeing the most advanced countries but anywhere "that isn't Iran."

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Why Sweden Has An Antisemitism Problem

In October 1943, nearly the entire Jewish population of Denmark made a perilous crossing from their Nazi-occupied country to neighboring Sweden. Setting out from ports and beaches along the coast, some 7,000 people arrived in rowboats and canoes to the safe shores of the port city of Malmö.

Now, 78 years later, in the same city, Jewish books in a storefront have to be covered up due to fears of vandalism.
It was the Malmö City Archives that last week was preparing a display of Jewish literature to be open to the public on Friday. But at the end of the day, the books and posters were covered with a blanket — with the archivist fearing damage to the windows over the weekend, Swedish daily Expressen reports.

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Migrant Lives
Arturo Galarce

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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Society
Carl Karlsson

Nordic Mob? Why Organized Crime Is Exploding In Sweden

While remaining a remarkably safe country, Sweden is facing a recent surge of gang crimes that worries authorities, including a bombing in Gothenburg on Sep. 28th that injured more than 20. The fact that these family-based networks often have roots in North Africa and the Middle East is fueling criticism about the country's immigration policies.


Is this Sweden … or Sicily?

An explosion in a multi-family complex in the western Swedish city of Gothenburg on Tuesday has sparked a national debate over harsher punishment for organized crime.

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Geopolitics
Alfonso Masoliver

Immigrants Don't Drive Up Crime: Here Are The Facts

Crunch the numbers, or just look around...and we see that immigrants, wherever they may come from, are not a disproportionate cause of crime or cultural degradation across Europe.

Standing outside Hamburg's Arts and Crafts Museum, I observe a little the traffic and bustle of this historic German port, home to two million people. I notice to my right two German women sitting on the grass in the Carl Legien Platz, gaunt but eager as they prepare themselves a syringe full of some drug. To the left, sitting on the museum's steps, is an African man, wearing a pretty checked shirt and white cap. He wipes his face in despair, trying to decipher a manual for a gadget or contraption.

Once they have had their injection, the women recline to enjoy the buzz, until two policemen arrive. They dryly nod at the African and ask the women for their ID. I observed with fascination and must say, no travel journalist should omit to record these little bits of reality. They are as informative to readers as sight-seeing recommendations or dining tips.

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Geopolitics
Carl Karlsson

Economics Of Populism: A Habsburgian Tale From Sweden

While the rise of European right-wing populism is becoming a pan-continental phenomenon, we seem determined to miss its one common driver.

STOCKHOLM — I cast my first vote in a junior-high gym in southern Sweden. I was 13 and it wasn't a real election, but a mock civic exercise to prepare students for their coming life of suffrage. I have a clear memory, back 20 years ago now, that exactly two people in my class of 30 voted for the right-wing Sweden Democrats. They were twin brothers and perhaps best described as true locals in our small city. They were also of some true (or false) local repute, not so much for their political prowess as for their protruding Habsburgian jaws — a result, rumor had it, of family relations having become too intimate in the depths of the Swedish pine forest.

That was then, when far-right affiliation was so rare that it had to have some legend attached to it. But national support for the Sweden Democrats has since jumped to roughly 18%, as similar backing for right-wing parties grows all around Europe: those that have made worldwide headlines like AfD in Germany, Rassemblement National in France, the Lega in Italy, UKIP in the UK; but also similar formations with similar ideas in Austria, Estonia, Norway, Switzerland, Poland, Hungary and the Netherlands too, as the political climate keeps trending far rightward.

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LA STAMPA
Dacia Maraini

Looking Europe's Migrant Crisis In The Eye

As tempting as it may be to just turn away, we lose a piece of our humanity every time we do.

-Essay-

Looking at these photographs means becoming witnesses. The eye sees, preserves and remembers. The eye feeds on presence, and presence is history. These photographs tell us that we are all witnesses and our conscience is implicated; it cannot call itself unaware of events.

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Sources
Luis Rubio

Post-Trump, Mexico Won't Rush To Reconcile With Washington

Mexican President López Obrador has made it clear that he prefers keeping the United States at arm's length.

-OpEd-

MEXICO CITY — When divorce is not an option, the parties must get on as best they can. That's the logic that Mexico and the United States have long followed over their shared border. And it isn't, as a quick look around the globe reminds us, the worst of arrangements.

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Lebanon
Laure Stephan

Lebanese Diaspora Extends To Africa, Easing Crisis Back Home

Funds sent back by emigrants to Africa are helping residents in Zrariyeh, about 75 kilometers south of Beirut, survive Lebanon's full-blown economic crisis.

ZRARIYEH — As a glowing dusk gives way to darkness, this southern Lebanese village succumbs to a kind of drowsiness when the COVID-19 curfew begins. Indeed, activity during the day is already moving at a slower pace as a result of the multiple crises that are shaking the country.

But the inhabitants of this Shiite town, where most make a living from trade or construction, say they are closing ranks in the face of the economic and financial collapse. "We live from day to day. But in Zrariyeh, solidarity is at its best," says Mohamed Fakih, a young pharmacy employee. "Here, for example, chronically ill patients who cannot afford to pay for their treatment are taken care of by benefactors."

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INTERNAZIONALE
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.

-Essay-

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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Coronavirus

Iran Risks A Nursing Exodus At The Worst Possible Moment

Qualified health care workers are urgently needed in the Islamic Republic. But because of the COVID-19 crisis, they're also exhausted — and eyeing opportunities abroad.

Exhausted after eight months of fighting coronavirus, and exasperated with all the empty promises, more than a few nurses and other health care professionals in Iran are looking to pack up and leave.

That's the word from the Tehran Nursing Organization, whose chief executive, Armin Zareian, announced that while nurses are needed in Iran like never before (Tehran hospitals reportedly need an additional 7,000 nurses), the COVID-19 crisis is also creating opportunities for them elsewhere, particularly in European countries, North America and Australia.

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India
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.

-Analysis-

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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Germany
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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INTERNAZIONALE
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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