Illegal migrants, failed asylum seekers, even refugees; all of these labels are inadequate catch-all terms that can only dehumanise, and rarely capture the range of human experience you find at the ports of France, on the streets of Athens and London.
An Iraqi Kurd peeps out from under a pile of blankets on a wet pavement. “OK you journalist,” he says. “Tell me where are the human rights in Europe?”
Abdarrazaq’s family is bewildered. They cannot understand why he lives in a hostel or why he does not have a job. After all, he is in Europe. Back home in Somalia, he earned $500 a month as a teacher, a salary that supported his wife, three sisters and mother. For two years he saved to fund his migration to Europe.
Hinterland is the disturbing story of two Afghan children, who embark on a journey across continents when their family is destroyed by the conflict in Afghanistan. Aryan and Kabir seek sanctuary in Europe, but instead find themselves lost in a dangerous, adult underworld, where desperate migrants are fair game for criminals and brutal police officers with unchecked power.
Europe is El Dorado for clandestine migrants arriving from Africa. Many survive journeys spanning thousands of miles across the harshest terrain, sustained by the vision of a golden continent of freedom and work. But for those who step off the ferry in Sicily, just 145km from the continent they have left behind, how long does Europe, the gilded continent, retain its’ shine?
Before the Arab Spring, before the Tunisian people rose up in anger, Lampedusa was silent. The stream of sub-Saharan African refugees and migrants who once used the sleepy island as a port of entry to Europe have disappeared. For the Italian island’s 6,000 inhabitants, visitors are once again moneyed tourists and not destitute explorers.
Mention CETI to a taxi driver anywhere in Ceuta and he will know what you mean. Everyone in Ceuta knows about the immigration removal centre perched upon a steep hill overlooking the sea. The conditions are humane, even inviting, compared to similar immigrant-holding centres elsewhere in Europe. This is why the migrants call it a ‘sweet prison’.
Rocky is the epitome of the torment that afflicts irregular migrants across Europe. The perils of returning home for asylum seekers are clear, whether it is persecution, death or torture, and it is a sensible assumption that for ordinary migrants no such danger exists. Yet, for many who begin as labour migrants, the thought of return is equally incomprehensible.
The blackened, skeletal bodies of dead men scattered across the Sahara desert is a haunting image. Their empty eye sockets and stiff, scorched limbs belong to a horror film. One of the dead men is frozen in a prayer-like position, on his knees, torso horizontal, arms splayed in front of him, forehead touching the sand. An asylum seeker who escaped this fate, captured the desperate scene on his mobile phone.
Many undocumented migrants and asylum seekers, having lost faith in the dreams of a better life in the West, often regain it through friendship with ordinary Europeans. There are hundreds of committed Europeans working to alleviate the problems faced by migrants, even when their own governments refuse to acknowledge the situation.
A better life? The European Union’s other problem France – part III Many asylum seekers and migrants intent on getting to Britain set up camps close to the ferry ports and lorry depots along the northern coast of France. The camp I visit is just off a busy motorway in Teteghem, a town outside Dunkirk. Motorists speed by the vast stretch of forest, unaware of the chaos and desperation festering nearby. The forest provides the barest shelter for a group of Afghan men, who share four flimsy tents made with bits of wood and thick plastic sheets. A makeshift living…
A better life? The European Union’s other problem France – part II The large decrepit factory stands tall but offers little by way of shelter. There are scraps of rusted metal and an assortment of garbage strewn over the concrete floor. The roof’s gaping holes, smashed windows, and missing doors mean the rain and wind will always get in. Everyone in Calais calls the building Africa House because it is where the town’s transient population of sub-Saharan African migrants and asylum seekers live. About 100 men reside in Africa House, most hail from Sudan and Eritrea. Other squats exist, dotted…
Everyone thinks Europe is like heaven,” says Sharaf. “Since I put my leg in Europe I suffer. Since I left my country two years and three months ago. I didn’t sleep on the bed. I don’t think that I am in Europe.”
Reading through my notes and transcribing the interviews from my trip earlier this year, I was struck again and again at the bleakness of life for many undocumented migrants in Europe. It pains me that in debates on immigration, the reality and sheer misery of life for the poorest migrants is never discussed. I am a journalist, not an activist. While I hold certain values dear, I write to inform, rather than persuade. But I would like people to read my work on migration to Europe, and for the facts I have uncovered to inform their thinking on immigration. This…