Saturday, February 23, 2008

Immigration-a humanist perspective

Dakar, SENEGAL: Yaye Bayam Diouf a sengalese mother grieves the death of her son, 20 May 2006 who perished whilst trying to migrate illegally on board a boat to the coast of spain, in her home in the 'Thiarroye sur mer' suburb of Dakar.

by Etse Sikanku
It was four years ago.
When Tutu lurched unto a plane en route to America, it was with mixed emotions. He was leaving a land he had known for all his life to the unknown. He was leaving his family, friends and a communal system that had shaped and defined his personality for as long as he could remember.

He will always console himself with thoughts of returning to the land of his birth-educated and well to do. Like many others he left without saying goodbye and still owing the landlord rent.Many years have passed since that fateful day.

The day of return is uncertain if ever at all.

There’s still unfinished business. In Africa life is hard, hot and hazy. But just as many others like him discovered, in America life is also hard, cold and foggy. It is a reality that generates serious and sober reflections amidst the whole sentimental and clouded debates over immigration. Why would people leave a land they deeply love and cherish? Like America, life in Africa is engaging, fearless and fun.

In his book doing Business in Africa Steve Shelley is detailed when he says of Africa “many expatriates claim greater professional challenges, more active social lives and a greater variety of leisure activities at more affordable prices than they can find in their home countries”.

So why do people move?

It is an issue that transcends the face valued arguments and daily struggles of immigrants; one that should generate a more thoughtful and humanistic view of the world.It is true that some make the journey overseas because of a desire for a different educational perspective; just like the many study abroad programmes in western universities. Other will move simply because of the geographic and international nature of their jobs; in the same way that we have westerners working in developing nations. Political, social and family considerations may prompt people to make a move abroad and this is not restricted to any particular race or continent.

Yet there are always those who through no fault of theirs have to move as a matter of survival. But don’t westerners also move away from their homes in order to keep ‘body and soul’ together? However the extents and degree to which this necessity exists varies from region to region.

In Africa life can get intoxicatingly squalid.

Last year media agencies reported that about 6000 Africans died or went missing on the sea journey to the infamous Canary Islands in search of opportunities in Europe. Faced with leaden starvation, implacable poverty and devastating hopelessness, contemplating death on the high oceans looks a better option than staying at home. In many African countries people cannot fish anymore because of depleting stocks mainly due to over fishing by massive European trawlers.

Farmers for instance have seen their stocks depleting considerably due to harsh and rigged rules of western agriculture. The daily hustle in the dust and mud becomes a desperate hung to life and all but puts the future in jeopardy.Indeed as the immigration debate heats up in western nations and as many take various stance on immigration reforms there is the need to realize that like anything else that happens in the natural world, the subject matter of immigration is human.

And who other than humans deserve the most to inhabit earth?The African society is inherently paternalistic meaning a man’s right to exist is judged by his ability or inability to provide food, clothing and shelter to his family.

What else is there to live for when a man cannot offer food to his hungry family?

It is at this point that many make the decision to undertake a horrendous path in optimism of prosperity. It’s an escape from nothingness which heralds the staggering, unspeakable and sometimes untold stories across the deserts and oceans of Africa and beyond. Gradually anxiety with life gives way to despair and then at that point any other choice but staying looks palatable.

Yes it is at this point in time in a man’s life that all the hard work with an 18 inch hoe is made meaningless by the 150 horse power tractor in Iowa. It is at this stage that people leave the scrubs and straw laden vegetations in search of hope. Many will bundle themselves in wooden Cayucos making the journey that often leaves some dead along the way. Those on board are not only vulnerable to hypothermis and dehydration but also to coast guards such as the Spanish guardia. The Mexicans will be harpooned by patrol teams on land and in the air- and very soon-the American version of the Berlin wall. Still others will risk journeys across the North African deserts where they could die from thirst or beatings from North African officials.

On the flip side of reality, the system is not helped either by leaders who have betrayed a trusting electorate. These group of inward looking, self serving political demagogues have plunged African nations into unassailable morass where pittance for human life is increasingly non existent. All in all immigration need not be a blood and thunder affair.

If western governments will address squarely the economic injustice that causes poverty around the world, if developing nations will recognize that sovereignty comes with challenges and responsibilities which must be overcome, then people will have no need to endanger their lives and those of their families.

For those already abroad, the burden of uncertainty that people like Tutu contemplate upon settling back home will be no more.

People may still move but more as a matter of choice.

We may not have control over the land of our birth but we should enjoy the luxury of choosing the land of our death with more definitiveness than the biological intercourse that leads to our birth.

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