September 23, 2021

Whips, Children in Cages & Endless Suffering: Why we need to Rethink Migration Policies.


You might have seen the horrible images of what’s happening at the Southern border of the United States these days.

We see border patrol agents sitting on horses chasing refugees. We see thousands of people seeking shelter under bridges in Texas. And we hear fear-mongering on Conservative media about potential waves of migrants.

Republicans already blame Joe Biden for these events, but the problem goes much deeper than that. The core of this issue is our understanding of what migrants actually are.

The United Nations reported in 2020 that there are 82.4 million forcibly displaced humans on this planet—or as we tend to call them: refugees.

If refugees had their own country, its population would be the same number as Germany. Let that sink in.

At the same time, we think to know that it would be a huge problem if these 82.4 million refugees would all enter the United States—but we have to remind ourselves that that won’t happen anyway.

Why? It’s called geography.

Did you know that 73 percent of all refugees worldwide are actually seeking shelter in neighboring countries? Did you know that 68 percent of all refugees come from Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Myanmar? Did you ever ask yourself what happened in these countries to create circumstances that make people flee their homes?

But there is an even bigger question when it comes to migration: what is the long-term solution to this?

And I am sure most of us can agree that the current strategy has failed on many levels. So, maybe it is time to change our narrative around migration and stop basing our decisions on fear of things that won’t happen anyway.

Instead of thinking about how to protect ourselves from waves of refugees, we have to take a step back and look at our wording—language is a powerful tool to shape our perception of things.

I appreciated Joe Biden’s speech at the United Nations this week. Especially the part when he talked about dignity for every human on this planet as a goal—but I would be stoked if he could continue that thought.

Here are five thoughts that could change our perspective on the so-called border crisis:

1. Free trade versus free travel.

There is no border crisis; what we see is a humanitarian crisis. What are we more concerned about—the border or the people?

A border is an artificial line that separates countries, not a person whom we need to protect. Of course, we can’t just abolish borders overnight, but what is the long-term goal of a border?

The United States had always been an advocate for worldwide free trade agreements (besides the Trump administration)—so why is it okay to trade without borders but not travel without borders? Why is it okay for a child in Asia to produce our clothes while that person will never be allowed to visit our country?

2. Expats versus refugees.

Imagine what it would take for you to leave your home with a backpack without knowing where to go. Oh wait, that’s what many of us actually do when traveling the world.

Isn’t the only difference between an expat and a refugee that one person is privileged to choose where they want to live while the other person is not? Why is that?

3. Reality versus fear-mongering.

Donald Trump tried to portray Europe as an example of failed migration policies. I am German. My home country allowed 1.5 million refugees to take shelter in 2015—and guess what happened? Nothing.

It is undeniable that we saw a rise of far-right parties getting more voters and people talking about an invasion of refugees—but the reality in everyday life does not reflect these fears. We are 80 million people in Germany, so allowing these folks to enter the country means that in a group of 80 people, there would be one refugee—I think we should be able to handle that as a society.

The United States is four times bigger than Germany—let’s say all refugees from Venezuela, Haiti, and other Latin American countries would enter the country. Looking at Germany’s numbers, the richest and most powerful country in the world should easily be able to handle six million immigrants.

4. We are not that great. 

Just after the so-called European refugee crisis started, I moved to Morocco. My move had nothing to do with that though, I wanted to go surfing.

But without intending to do research on migration politics, I ended up talking with Moroccan friends about the situation at the border. I will never forget his story because it touched a blind spot most of us have when it comes to migration.

Human trafficking is one of the biggest problems of our time. And guess what causes human trafficking? Borders.

There is a billion-dollar industry around human trafficking. This industry makes money from people who are fleeing their homes. My  Moroccan friend told me that it costs around 2000 dollars to get on an illegal boat to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. Every year thousands of people die in these boats.

But even if they make it to Europe, many of them end up living in poverty again. As undocumented migrants, many of them face exploitation at work and are unable to have a bank account or rent an apartment. Believe it or not, some of them even decide to go back home after a few years.

My Moroccan friend heard many of these stories and decided to act differently. He said, “Instead of paying human traffickers, I rather use that money to start a business at home.” During the COVID-19 crisis, we saw a sharp decline in the numbers of people trying to get to Europe.

It might sound weird, but allowing refugees into our countries might actually reduce the desire to do exactly that. Because, after all, being poor in the United States as a person of color is not that desirable.

5. Migration is just a symptom of other problems. 

Wars and climate change are the two main reasons for people to become refugees. Is it fair to punish these people instead of trying to solve the actual problems?

Modern technology allows people in the poorest areas of the world to see what our life is like. It is not surprising that folks in Africa, Asia, and Latin America want to enjoy our lifestyle (or the idea of our lifestyle).

The only way to stop all of these people from migrating to developed nations is actually developing their home countries. I know that this can’t be achieved overnight and that this idea just failed in Afghanistan—but maybe it’s not the idea itself that failed; maybe it is our approach to it.

It is undeniable that climate change is already a huge problem. Our goal can’t be that every family in Africa owns two cars like many of us do. Our lifestyle simply cannot be expanded to 7 billion people on this planet—and yes, that means we have to also brace ourselves a bit.

No reasonable person can argue that we are entitled to destroy the planet with our lifestyle while excluding 5 billion people from it by use of force.

I am aware that this sounds quite radical, especially to Conversatives, but what is the alternative? Globalism has become a term that riles up Republican voters against progressive ideas for the future of our planet—but I don’t see it as an insult at all.

You can call me a Globalist; I am cool with that. I think the only way moving forward as humanity is to acknowledge that we all share the same planet and can’t continue doing what we are doing.

Joe Biden spoke a lot about dignity during his speech at the 76th General Assembly of the United Nations this week—and he is right.

But how credible are these words when I see a border patrol agent on a horse using a whip against Haitian refugees at the Southern border of the United States? What dignity are we talking about when kids are held in cages?

The United States is the most powerful country in the world. And if Joe Biden is serious about what he said at the United Nations, we have to completely overthink our perception of refugees worldwide.

Maybe our actions can be inspired by the words of the holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel:

“No human being is illegal.”


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