To die at the borders

UNHCR data indicate a greater number of victims on the two most dangerous migration routes. The analysis of the Scalabrinian missionary Fr. Alfredo Gonçalves

Rome, August 20, 2019 – Data from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) indicate that the death toll on the two most dangerous migratory routes has increased considerably. Since the beginning of the year, more than 800 people have drowned at the crossing of the Mediterranean (the most dangerous and lethal); while in the difficult borders of the American continent, which unite the South American countries with each other, and with Eldorado’s dream of the United States, the death toll is around 500. This is a number driven by the massive exodus from Venezuela. On the other hand, according to the United Nations, both internally and externally, an estimated 70.6 million people are currently displaced.

A Hardening on Several Fronts

Two factors, in particular, contributed to the greater vulnerability of fleeing migrants. First, the closure of the ports of Malta and Italy and, in general, of the European ports for ships from Libya trying to reach southern Europe. While the European Union was discussing a possible agreement for a shared landing, the NGO ships Sea-Eye and Open Arms remained for several days in the Mediterranean waters with hundreds of migrants on board.

Second, President Donald Trump caused a double tightening of US immigration legislation: through agreements with Central American countries, which made it difficult for migrants to move North; and accelerating the notorious expulsion process that perversely separated “undocumented” parents from their children born in the United States.

A Wave of Growing Hatred

In other words, both in the European Union and in the United States, migration policy is subject to chain restrictions. In a broader context, we are witnessing a wave of hate and racial discrimination, sometimes with nuances of supremacist, perpetrated by governments of the extreme right and populist, such as Austria, Denmark, England, Italy, Hungary, and the United States, among others.

More serious is that figures such as Trump, Salvini, Le Pen, Viktor Orban (not to mention Bolsonaro) are spokespersons for important sectors of the population, presenting themselves as a cause and an effect of intolerance and the widespread rejection of foreigners. Society is closed to the other, to the different, to the foreigner. It is enough to point out that all the names mentioned, and it would be easy to add others, received the vote based on an anti-immigrant electoral speech.

Fight Exploitation

As the long crisis of the globalized economy – now accompanied by the commercial cold war- deepens, the situation of migrants becomes more complicated. Presented as a constant threat to the status quo, it is a scapegoat for any social and political disorder. As the most fragile and vulnerable category, migrants immediately suffer the consequences of the crisis.

In turn, the candidates, in order to obtain or maintain power, know how to manipulate and exploit this fear to obtain votes in the polls. The question is: how to navigate against the armed wind with the four verbs of Pope Francis and the Global Compact for migration?

Alfredo J. Gonçalves, cs