If only things were that simple…

“Why do people risk their lives and the lives of their families, over and over, every hour of every day when the best that awaits them is a frosty welcome? The answer is simple: Desperation. They fear staying in a land where they face persecution, or where their family starves. That desperation makes the risk of death a gamble they believe worth taking.”

– IOM Director General William Lacy Swing.

I was flicking through Facebook recently and came across a post which read:

“50 MILLION NAIRA to upgrade your life in Nigeria OR UK CITIZENSHIP?”

There were only a few responses to this, but one comment struck me.

It said, “I will go for UK citizenship because with time I will get more than that”.

This remark was illustrative of the thoughts harboured by many people who migrate from humble conditions across the Mediterranean seas to Europe in search of a better life. There are thousands of people who watch Western movies, listen to celebrity radio and hear embellished stories of grandiose migrant living overseas and believe that no matter what their home country can offer them, Europe, “with streets that are paved with gold”, will give them better.

There is another group, who though aware that European streets may most likely be paved with litter-strewn concrete, consider the continent to be an escape from a life of poverty, war and persecution. For the latter group, if they could stay at home with their families and loved ones, secure a good job and build their dreams without fearing for their lives, they would. Unfortunately, the difficult circumstances of their society mean they feel compelled to spend their life savings, place their lives in the hands of total strangers and risk everything to leave.

I’m aware that the difference between economic migrants and those seeking refugee status is often blurry and that sometimes the former and the latter are indeed the same. i.e. someone might be desperate to leave their country because they are at risk of their house being burnt down by soldiers but they would also prefer to settle down in X country rather than Y country because they believe they can earn a better standard of living there. There are also some economic migrants who, although their home country is relatively safe, feel that their future is so bleak at home that they are forced to leave.

According to The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), in 2014 approximately 200,000 migrants and refugees– mainly from African and Middle Eastern countries – attempted to cross the Mediterranean Sea into Europe – an increase from 60,000 in 2013. Worse still, many were unaccompanied children. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that between January and September 2014, at least 4,077 migrants died attempting to reach destinations around the world’.

As recently as Dec 2014 2 cargo boats carrying over 1,200 migrants were abandoned and left to drift dangerously in the Mediterranean. In September 2014, up to 500 migrants drowned as they approached Malta from Egypt. Apparently, their boat was deliberately rammed and sunk by people-traffickers.

The amount of deaths, stories of rape and torture faced by migrants who flee their homelands through precarious means is horrific, and these numbers only represent the cases that are documented.

The sad fact is that for those who are lucky enough to make it to the end of their journey alive, when they reach their destination they are often vilified and treated like vermin. Whilst I recognise that for some people, fleeing their homeland is the only option and for others, relocating abroad really would offer them better opportunities (seriously – it would be ignorant to say that many people have not significantly benefited from migration. I know so many people who have arrived in London with literally nothing, hustled their way to the top and now continuously give back to their home country by way of remittances/offering advice/skills developments/opportunities to others). But I also know that this is not the case for every one. I have heard stories of people who have been at the top of their game (career wise) in their home country, migrated abroad and not been able to find anything when they arrive at their destination and have had to settle for menial work, whilst being disrespected. Some of these people have entered Europe illegaly because they feel that it would definitely be better for their future prospects and have been disappointed. It is also likely that some of the people who were crafty enough to make it to Europe would have done far better at home.

I believe in the free movement of people – though I also understand that on a personal, political and economic level this can be complicated. I believe that people often have to relocate to pursue their dreams and some just want to live somewhere else (some are privileged enough to have a choice, others are forced out), but given the treacherous and undignified journey to Europe, risk of death and frosty welcome, it might be worthwhile for those who can make it back home but who decide to risk everything because the movies show Europe as amazing, to note that their journey to and also in Europe will not necessarily be easy. They need to be sure that it is really what they want. Some need to take a closer look at the ‘50M Naira’ offer, seek out what is available at home and remember that their homeland is also beautiful…

#Goal: Write about something that recently piqued your interest. 1000 words max