Just before leaving for Spain I watched an article on the BBC news describing the perilous 1000 mile sea journey that many Senegalese people were making, aiming to reach the Canary islands with the hope of a new life in Spain. The article made quite an impact on me. On one hand, you couldn’t help be angry at the exploitation of desperate people, with gangs demanding exhorbitant fees for smuggling them across the ocean in a way that would mean the death of many at sea. But also I was quite moved by the testimony of some who had taken, or were about to take, such a journey. They did not want to leave their country or family members but felt that they had ‘no other choice’.
When we were in Spain, we were in reality immigrants ourselves for 6 weeks, and this experience gave me an even greater sense of admiration for these ‘illegal immigrants’. Despite the fact that both the UK and Spain are developed European countries, and hence fairly similar, and even though I spoke a reasonable level of Spanish I was quite culture shocked for the first week there. Everything was just a bit different and all the familiarity of knowing how to do every little thing in your own country is suddenly stripped away. And I found it really frustrating just not quite being able to communicate what I wanted to, or understand enough of what people were saying to me. This shock must be far greater if you speak nothing of the language, come from a far more distinct culture and are not about to go home again in 6 weeks. It just made me realise how desperate the poverty of people must be that they are willing to face potential death, family separation, and all this for just the hope of something better somewhere else in a strange land.
The whole issue of migration is a difficult one. No a country cannot practically open its borders to everybody who may wish to enter it. So while there is more concern for those refugees who are fleeing for their lives, there is often little sympathy for the economic migrants. While this is understandable, I don’t think it’s right. It doesn’t seem likely to me that the decision to move to a new country in search of work is one that will made lightly, easily or at little personal cost for anyone. While we do need to find solutions to the problems of migration I think we’d be better off looking at ways of solving the dreadful poverty that pushes people to leave their own, friendly lands, rather than just trying to find ways of stopping them coming in, or getting rid of them once they’ve arrived.