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“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and human rights.” – UN Declaration of Human Rights, 1948

Thursday, International Human Rights Day, Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) hosted a special screening of The 800 Mile Wall.  The film highlights the impact of new walls along the U.S.-Mexico border on migrants trying to cross into the U.S. and the communities that receive them.

The Tohono O’odham Nation, for example, has seen an unprecedented number of bodies recovered on their tribal territory in Arizona.  The wall funnels migrants directly onto the reservation.  Tohono O’odham Tribal Members, Mike Wilson and David Garcia, have spent the past year filling water stations for those who crossing the desert.  Though Tohono O’odham tribal leaders have approved water trucks for horses and cows in the same area, they have prohibited Mike and David’s water stations.

In California’s Imperial Valley, hundreds drown in the current of the All American Canal.  Despite repeated appeals for improved safety features on the canal, the Imperial Irrigation District Board of Directors ignored the human coast and focused instead on relocating the canal’s carp and bass.

Then, there’s the mistreatment and human rights abuses committed by U.S. border patrol during apprehension, at processing centers, and during the repatriation process.

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Guest post from Michael Boampong, Executive Director, Young People We Care

A few weeks ago I was reading a newspaper item in the March 21st 2009 edition of the Daily Graphic. In the course of reading the article, I realized a big and yet timely challenge has been thrown out by the Secretary General of the West African Civil Society Forum (WACSOF), Mr. Oumar N’dongo. Mr. N’dongo has called on governments of member states of the Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS) to ensure the full implementation of the regional protocols on the freedom of movement people and goods, which was adopted some decades ago.

Prior to reading this, I had participated in TakingITGlobal’s ‘Live Chat on Youth Migration’, which was held in commemoration of the 2008 International Migrants Day celebration. The chat was sponsored by Young People We Care (YPWC), a youth-led organization founded by myself and based in Ghana. The chat brought young people from around the world together to hear from experts and young professionals who are working on migration and youth development issues. This gave them the opportunity to share their thoughts on irregular migration and migrant rights within the context of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (ICRMW).

International migration has arguably become one of the most topical issues of today’s global order. Migration has been facilitated in the 21st century by ‘globalization’ and the global development disparities of economic development and human development. In recent times, climate change and conflict have also resulted in an increase in migration.

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Two years ago, our nation boiled in rage when Congress attempted to revise immigration policy that had long been in shambles. I was working as an intern then at Pennsylvania Congressman Joe Sestak’s office, taking phone calls from crotchety, disaffected senior citizens about their political concerns and entering their opinions in a crammed database.

When bipartisan legislation was introduced in the Senate that would, among other things, give citizenship status to 12 million illegal immigrants, phone calls at the office ran off the hook. Complaints ranged in tone from articulate, quiet concern to vitriolic, racist diatribes. I was struck by the utter lack of sympathy displayed by callers who claimed the United States should close its doors to immigrants forever.

Fast forward to 2009.  Revising immigration laws doesn’t seem to be a top priority for the incoming Obama adminstration. In fact, during the election, the topic of immigration mysteriously disappeared from local town hall meetings and presidential debates. Curiously enough, Public Radio International’s Lisa Mullens reported that the financial crisis has prompted a mass exodus of immigrants from the United States. Sparse jobs and waning incomes have taken a toll on remittances crucial to the Mexican and other Latin American economies.

But the flow of migrants from Africa doesn’t appear to have ebbed since the global credit meltdown.

Each year thousands of sub-Saharan Africans cross the treacherous Sahara in hopes of self-sustenance and prosperity in Europe–things they can’t count on in their countries of origin. Along the way, many are attacked by robbers and smugglers. Others die of dehydration, ensnared by desert heat without enough water. Still others fall prey to disease or murder.

Migrants from countries like Niger, Mali, and Chad who manage to safely traverse the Sahara face even more obstacles in North Africa. Against seemingly insurmountable odds, why do African migrants risk their lives each year?

The BBC’s Jenny Cuffe asked Innocent Acabo from Niger why he is saving to embark on a dangerous trip to Spain:

“This country we are not doing anything there is no work…There is no work…There is nothing here. So many people like that we get to Libya see if we get a job…Spain..I don’t know much about Spain..but it’s far better than my own country in terms of working. In my country, we work and work and work and you don’t get what you’re working for. In Spain, but I believe when you get there, you work, you struggle, something will change.”

But the citizens of recipient countries aren’t always so sympathetic. Under pressure from citizens rankled by the influx of undocumented immigrants, many European countries are cracking down on migrants, forcing sub-Saharan and North Africans like Innocent back to their respective homelands. Still worse, many migrants are captured by authorities at North Africa’s borders, and are often sent to languish in putrid detention camps. Those who make it through Africa travel across the Mediterranean in flimsy vessels, often meeting their deaths in stormy seas.

European lawmakers talk of managed migration, whereby African migrants will be permitted to enter Europe to fill in labor gaps. However, African policy-makers worry that such a measure may further stunt the economic growth of the continent.

In 2006, European and African countries gathered in Morocco for the Rabat Conference to discuss solutions to unrelenting migration. Attending the meeting is the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, who claims that problems of migration are firmly rooted in the conundrum of African under-development.

“I hope that this conference will enable the states of Africa and Europe to formulate cooperative approaches to the challenge of development – approaches which can help us to create the conditions that enable people to migrate out of choice, rather than necessity.”

Two years later, scant progress has been made as rates of migration continue to increase and the developed world persists in ignoring the connection to poverty and global inequality.


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