~ This column was originally published by La Jornada de Baja California on September 14, 2015 ~
Setting aside Ramírez Baena’s polemical analysis of Middle Eastern politics, this essay reminds us that inhumane policies have inhumane consequences, and that a willingness to ignore the latter while pursuing the former is a common trait of migrant crises in both Europe and the Americas. The difference, as Ramírez Baena points out, is that in the Mediterranean, the bodies float, and in Mexico they disappear into the earth. – ML
The two regions of the world where migrants face the greatest risks are the Mediterranean Sea and Mexico. In each, the movement of humans has its origins in poverty, but now more than ever, it also has roots in violence.
Regarding emigration from the north of Africa, Afghanistan, and Syria, it is calculated that in the first six months of 2015, 137,000 people have entered Europe, fleeing armed conflicts in their countries.
Since the start of the year, more than 2,600 migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean. The magnitude of the tragedy was captured in the photo of Aylan, a three-year-old Syrian boy who drowned with his older brother and mother. The image of the boy’s body lying on a beach in Turkey traveled around the world.
The wave of Syrian migrants seeking asylum in Europe, fleeing the bloody war unleashed by the extremist Islamic State movement and the Syrian government, is now making European Union countries pay for their complicity in policies of armed intervention in the Middle East. Led by the United States, the European Union pursued policies that created conflicts to ensure their control of oil and gas and to counteract the perceived threat of Russia and China to their strategic interests.
It is a secret to no one that the CIA and the Pentagon, with the complicity of England, Germany, France, and other European countries, along with the support of Saudi Arabia, trained the forces of Al Qaeda and other radical groups. Those same groups gave rise to the Islamic State, which has gained prominence for its violence and cruelty against cities and civilians.
The intervention of the West in the Middle East has corrupted and destabilized the region, provoking the armed radicalization of tribes and Muslim sects, blurring the line between the just and the wicked. From that, the new exodus.
Paradoxically, the countries of Eastern Europe, previously socialist, and the European Right, are those that now most strongly reject the exiles, in a worrisome resurgence of xenophobia and fascism in the old world. They see the new refugees as a burden, and not as human beings fleeing conflicts who are deserving of help.
Until 2011, Syria was a symbol, one of the most stable and cultured countries in the region, along with Iraq the cradle of human civilization along (the traces of that development have now been destroyed by the Islamic State), the heart of resistance to imperialism and Zionism, and a base of solidarity with Palestine.
North Americans, Europeans, and Saudi Arabians unleashed the war in Syria with the objective of assuming total control of the region’s oil resources and, in the future, control of Iran. This strategy has resulted in the exodus of more than 12 million people, some displaced internally, some to other countries.
In America, Mexican and Central American migrants flee poverty and violence in their places of origin, victims of organized crime and corrupt authorities during their passage through Mexican territory, compounding the harshness of migratory policies imposed by the United States.
Until the start of the 1990s, immigrants had to deal with the Border Patrol and with the corruption of Mexican authorities; smugglers provided a service and repeatedly crossed migrants for a low price. Today, the smugglers are members of organized crime groups.
The start of Operation Guardian in 1994, designed by the Pentagon under the Doctrine of National Security, included the construction of a metal fence along the border, underground sensors, night-vision cameras, drones, helicopters, and more Border Patrol guards. Combined with reforms to the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act in 1997, which put in place the ID system and the criminalization of “illegal” entry, these changes provoked the death of thousands of migrants and the subsequent repatriation and exclusion of those who repeated the “illegal” entry.
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With the fall of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, border security was reinforced more than ever, including the unpunished activities of the Minutemen (migrant hunters).
Now, Mexican and Central American migrants are hostages of organized crime, forced to carry drugs during the crossing, victims of sexual slavery or forced labor, subject to kidnapping, extortion, rapes, murders, and clandestine graves.
To add insult to injury, there is the risk of death or mutilation on La Bestia (the cargo train that many migrants ride).
The Southern Border Plan, “Actions for the Integral Protection of the Migrant” – the Mexican version of Operation Guardian, was adopted by the administration of Enrique Peña Nieto in July of 2014 following the instructions of Barack Obama. The plan has been characterized by the massive deportation of Central Americans, the increase in risks, and official pursuit of migrants across the country, an approach that has put them in the hands of organized crime.
“If in Mexico migrants floated as they float in the Mediterranean,” Marta Sánchez Soler of the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement says, “we would have cadavers floating throughout Mexico. Migrants here are invisible, they end up in clandestine graves or as sex slaves or forced labor.”
For Father Rubén Pérez Ortiz of the House of Migrant Charity in San Luis Potosí, 90 percent of female migrants suffer sexual assault. “While the United States puts up walls, here we dig graves to bury them,” says Friar Tomás González Castillo, of the shelter “The 72” in Tenosique, Tabasco.
Raúl Ramírez Baena is the Director of the Citizens Commission for Human Rights of the Northeast. He writes the column “Al Filo de la Navaja” for La Jornada de Baja California. This essay was originally published with the title “La migración sur-norte es ya una crisis humanitaria” and is available at: http://jornadabc.mx/opinion/14-09-2015/la-migracion-sur-norte-es-ya-una-crisis-humanitaria
Translation by Michael Lettieri, Trans-Border Institute