Earlier this month, 26 young girls — some of whom were pregnant — drowned in the Mediterranean Sea, crossing over from Libya on their way to Italy. The girls (who started their journey in Nigeria) were between the ages of 14 and 18. They sought ‘a better life’ and believed that the best way to achieve this goal was through migration. Although the exact circumstances of their journey are not known, officials speculate that the girls were being trafficked.
Many girls and women are trafficked from Nigeria to Italy every year. They often come from low-income homes and are scouted by traffickers who promise them great financial prospects and freedoms in the Southern European country. They are trafficked for sex work and frequently subjected to abuse. They are forced to pay their traffickers for housing them as well as aiding them in the journey to Italy.
The idyllic version of Italy brings to mind Hollywood films such as Under the Tuscan Sun and other romanticized narratives of the country. This experience is reserved for the privileged who see the country through the lens of leisure. These girls saw it through the lens of survival and the prospect for upward mobility.
As we talk about migration in the era of Trump, it is important to not only understand the experiences of refugees and migrants, but also their history. In an ideal world, no one wants to cross the Mediterranean in unsafe and inhospitable conditions; when there is hope for something better, the courageous few take the risk. It’s important to investigate the circumstances currently pushing people out of their home countries, often involving heinous situations, in order to escape poverty and to seek out new opportunities. Migration is a natural human experience. When an environment is not beneficial to success and survival, they will seek new places to flourish.
To better understand the migrant crisis, we must turn our gaze towards the history of colonization. Before colonization, groups would migrate throughout the continent, sometimes mixing and creating new and non-nomadic societies. This is not to say that there were no territories ruled by specific ethnic groups, but that boundaries were not preordained. Colonization created borders which destabilized many functioning societies and led to today’s crisis. Africa’s natural resources and peoples have been exploited for years on end, ranging from the Trans-Atlantic slave trade of several hundred years ago, to the mining of cobalt by children in the Congo today. Refugees would not need to escape their countries if the framework for instability hadn’t been imposed by Western nations. This aspect raises an argument for why Western countries need to provide safer migration journeys. Colonization shaped the refugee crisis of today and it created the environment where ‘a better life’ would become a life or death situation. Yet, we must also remember that many Western countries (including Canada) will welcome thousands of refugees.
In Nigeria, there are some NGO’s that work on preventing trafficking cases, as well as rehabilitating young girls and women who have returned to their homeland as a result of deportation. These groups play a vital role in making sure that fewer girls are trafficked, as well as helping restore the lives of women who are deported.
Most often, people migrate from unstable countries and have few resources at their disposal. The governments of these countries should be held accountable for the atrocities these people experience. Seeing as the case is more complex than simply holding governments accountable, the international community should be held accountable for providing safer passage for migrants. If immigration processes were cheaper and less daunting, people would be able to travel through safe and legal routes, not having to compromise their lives.
On November 17th, the government of Italy held a mass funeral service for the young women, mourning their lives and honoring them as well. Remember these 26 girls and think of all the migrants who die in the desert and at sea, in search of a better life. Honour them by making life easier for the migrants that we welcome into this country and help dismantle the invisible borders that divide and dehumanize citizens of the world.