aired on RadioMed (March 28, 2020)
Why is it important to discuss both migration in the Mediterranean and in the USA? How do North Americans feel about these issues?
There are many different cultural realities in North America. Only part of the population lives in states that border with Mexico. Arizona, Texas, California- their southern borders are basically militarized zones. For people who live in these areas, migration affects their daily lives and has become an inescapable daily issue.
Things are different in the rest of the US. People know there’s a migration crisis. They know people are coming to North America from Central and South America. But, people also know there’s something going on in the Mediterranean. News of Americans’ opinions regarding migration to Europe may not reach you, but there’s definitely a group of politically aware people who are following the issue closely and are sensitive to projects like Mediterranea Saving Humans. Most people do understand just how tragic and critical the situation is in both places.
What are the similarities and differences between migration from Central to North America and migration from the Middle East and Africa to Europe? What insights can you share to help us understand what is happening? Even though events are taking place in locations that are distant from each other, are they related in any way?
What stands out the most, in my opinion, is how similar the governments’ strategies have been.
Over the last 20 years, the US government has been aggressive in making sure that reaching the border is almost impossible. All easily accessible urban points of entry have been closed. If people want to reach the US border, they are forced to cross the most inhospitable and arduous part of the desert. Not only is crossing almost impossible, it has become deadly. Thousands have died as a direct consequence of this US strategy to curb migration to our country.
The same thing has happened in Europe. The Mediterranean Sea has become a graveyard much in the same way the Mexican desert has. Both have become the final resting places for those trying to escape war, civil unrest, violence, and extreme poverty.
The landscapes are obviously different. Migrants coming to the US must travel an arid, dusty and rocky desert with no water to be found anywhere! Migrants trying to go to Europe are forced to cross the sea which exposes them to storms, strong currents and the danger of drowning. What ties them is this: thousands and thousands have died by attempting a journey made intentionally extremely difficult. Basically, all these people have been killed by political strategies to curb migration.
Thankfully, important initiatives and inspiring acts of humanitarian resistance have grown from these crises. In Arizona, for instance, activists started leaving water bottles along the footpaths for men, women and children, who would otherwise have died of dehydration in the desert. Small groups of grassroot activists have been operating like this all over this vast area.
At sea, on the other hand, humanitarian activism has taken the form of rescue missions. By necessity, it is a completely different type of organizational effort and these missions are costly.
First, you need a ship. Second, the ship needs to be operated by a knowledgeable and competent crew. Third, the vessel needs to be kept in good, safe and sea-worthy condition. Then, you need to stock the ship with food and medical supplies.
These rescue missions are focused and require complex logistics. It is impossible to conduct them on a small, grassroots scale. Rescue at sea just cannot be done on the cheap.
Obviously, saving human lives costs money no matter where you are. But, there’s, obviously, a difference in operating costs between these two undertakings.
There’s, also, another similarity worth mentioning. Both the US and Italian governments criminalize humanitarian activism. In the US, any initiative to aid people who cross the desert is a crime. You are considered “guilty” of committing the crime of helping someone not die. You can be prosecuted, sentenced and serve time in prison. Maybe, this is the most upsetting parallel between the two.
Mediterranea’s ships have been grounded due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Travel regulations were implemented by the Italian government. We are adhering to these regulations in order to protect the crew’s health and the health of any person who would be rescued. Do you believe the pandemic can shift the way people think about borders and feel about solidarity with migrants who are escaping life-threatening circumstances? And maybe, also decriminalize humanitarian efforts to help them, in the future?
That’s what I hope to see. Unfortunately, I don’t expect to see any change in the near future. The virus attacks ‘the common,’ the fact of being together. On the one hand, capital requires the common and social cooperation (and we can see how much the capitalist economy is lost without it), but also we need the common to organize solidarity. We need the possibility to be together and organize.
Possibly in the mid-to-long-term, the sense of solidarity that we lack today amidst the virus crisis might reemerge or develop to the point that it might become the focus of our activities as an organization. We may be able to construct a future less confined by the notions of borders and frontiers. I don’t see this coming about spontaneously. I do see it being fostered and hopefully, we can build on that momentum .
(translation by Liz Comacchio)
Photo: Volunteers with the humanitarian aid organization No More Deaths walk with buckets of food and jugs of water on May 10, 2020 near Ajo, Ariz. (John Moore/Getty Images, from the article of the Washington Post "I gave water migrants crossing Arizona desert. They charged me with felony")
Andrea Massera, is communication and social media manager with Mediterranea Saving Humans since 2018, where he is also editor of RadioMed, the daily podcast of the humanitarian organization.
With a master degree in History, he is currently completing a doctorate in Digital Humanities at the University of Genoa, Italy, about the iconography of the uprisings in contemporary History.
He is also communication consultant in the renewable energy sector, with a particular focus on wind energy and collaborates with Cortona On The Move, the international festival of visual narrative.