Migrations, a Vanishing Horizon

© Adriana Vidano

Not once since the first humans took their initial steps, discovering their environment, have the flows of migration ceased. They have developed along with the evolution of humanity, and corresponded to its risks and needs. Causes have been as diverse as the destinations. In each historical era, migrants have found a new set of challenges, different from those encountered by their predecessors.

As the end of the 21st century’s second decade nears, our imaginaries are filled with images of migrants of multiple ethnicities and religions. The luggage they carry is a common attribute—but their stories, trajectories, reasons for movement and destinations are all different. Migration is an experience shared by millions, yet our image of it has become tainted; stained by flawed understandings of its underlying nature, patterns and causal factors. It has become a cause of anxiety that bothers governments, confronting them with political, economic, social and security challenges. It has also become rich material for studies by international organizations and for reports in the media.

In 2018, the United Nations International Organization for Migration (IOM) stated that international migrant numbers had increased from 84 to 244 million — 3.3% of the world’s population — between 1970 and 2015. People do not only migrate between countries, the IOM found in their report: 740 million people had moved within the borders of their own countries, due to factors such as poverty, climate change, natural catastrophes and conflict. This kind of internal migration is a primary factor in the dynamics and expansion of cities, including the growth of marginalized informal urban neighborhoods that are excluded from governance and infrastructural systems.

This series is a joint publishing project under the umbrella of an independent media network on the Arab world bringing together 7iber, Al-Jumhuriya, Assafir Al-Arabi, Babelmed, Mada Masr, Mashallah News, Nawaat et Orient XXI. It attempts to shed light on the phenomenon of migration, but not by focusing on existing definitions, numbers and established facts. The journalists involved in the project have been following migration from different angles, taking into account the multiple routes and diverse of motivations and causes behind; from travel preparations and detailed journeys to processes of integration and social and economic conditions in host countries.

  • Malek Lakhal from Nawaat (Tunisia) highlights the motives behind migration through meeting Tunisian would-be migrants from several different social, class and educational backgrounds. Through various interviews, Malek attempts to understand the real reasons why people seek “a real life” outside of Tunisia. She looks at a pattern where many young, relatively wealthy, Tunisians hope to access what they call “the future” outside their country—thus breaking the mainstream stereotype that desperation is the main driver of migration.
  • Kamal Shaheen from Assafir Al-Arabi deconstructs the phenomenon of migration amid the never-ending cannonade in Syria. He does this by looking at the causes of forced migration, in particular why Syrians move to one particular place or another on their journeys of forced displacement. Kamal also examines the impact of locally specific factors in deciding on particular migratory routes and destinations inside Syria and neighboring countries. He relies on a rich database to demonstrate how Syrian cities are witnessing an ongoing demographic change, related to both inbound and outbound migration of varying size and social compositions.
  • Nada Arafat from Mada Masr (Egypt) addresses internal migration, focusing specifically on environmental factors and state policies leading to forced displacement. She relates the story of the Ababidah tribe of Egypt’s Eastern Desert and how they were first driven out of their homeland by climate change, in a search for water and grazing land, and but then forced by the state to relocate again, on the pretext of development and investment plans. This careless alliance between natural forces and blind state policy forced the Ababidah to resort to gold mining and illegal activities to secure a livelihood. In her story, which spans from nostalgia for the life of their predecessors to exclusion and injustice from a state that has rejected them, Nada describes the suffering of Ababidah, which she argues has faded unnoticed into the desert. Her work is based on her experience of living with the tribe.
  • Sana Sbouai from Babelmed looks at motives and causes of migration across the Mediterranean, including the risky journey and all of its dangers. Her article compares two separate incidents, on February 11, 2011 and on October 8, 2017, when boats carrying informal migrants from the Tunisian coast sunk due to the Tunisian military’s intervention. Sana documents the memories of survivors from each incident to find similarities between the two events, and to show how the Tunisian government, especially the Defense Ministry, dealt with the two cases. She seeks to question the role the Tunisian army seems to play in protecting European coasts from migrants coming from the southern Mediterranean.
  • Yassin Sweihat from Al-Jumhuriya (Syria) contributes with a story of Syrian migrants in Germany, a country home to over 700,000 Syrian refugees, more than half of whom are under 25. His article tackles the issue of university education by highlighting the stories of people who had to stop their higher studies in Syria and then attempt to resume them again in Germany, either continuing where they left off or starting again from scratch.
  • Ammar Ahmad Al-Shaqiri from 7iber (Jordan) writes an article about the situation for Egyptian laborers in Jordan. His field report seeks to examine the lives of these workers —most of whom work in construction—and understand their motives for migrating to Jordan. Ammar dives deep into the daily hardships of the people he meets, and discusses both their living conditions in Jordan and the economic hardships they left behind in Egypt, which in many cases migration was not able to solve.
  • Jenny Gustafsson from Mashallah News (Lebanon) contributes with an article about a lesser known side of the Syrian diaspora. She meets with Syrians who have decided to live in Sudan, the one country that still continues, up until now, to allow Syrians to enter without visas and reside without restrictions. This is how Sudan became an important destination for many Syrians affected by the war, including those with nowhere else to meet up with other displaced family members. How things will change for the community now, after the overthrow of the regime of Omar al-Bashir, remains to be seen.

Each of these tales tell a different story of migration. They all describe the escape from something, their own countries, harsh climatic conditions, oppressive political regimes, unfair economic policies or the simple lack of opportunities to build a better life. What distinguishes the stories in this series is that the authors dealt with the topic not as an abstract matter, merely related to numbers or dry data. Instead, they sought to hear people’s stories of their diverse lived experiences, to understand root causes and long-term consequences. They also didn’t want to treat migration and people who experience it as case studies, possible to examine from the outside and afar. They rather chose to narrate vivid stories transmitting the recollections of the people they met, and got to know. They tried to give space to all of the diverse and multifold experiences related to migration, in order to better write stories of pain, dreams, expectations and disappointments.

Translated from Arabic by Mada Masr.