Red Cross Partners with PinnacleHealth to Reconnect Family Torn Apart by West African Violence

Red Cross Partners with PinnacleHealth to Reconnect Family Torn Apart by West African Violence

Imagine being separated from your children due to war and not knowing how to contact them. Years go by and you wonder whether or not they are still alive. Had they managed to escape the violence? You have little information about their whereabouts and don’t know where to turn. You, yourself, are alone in a different country and speak little of the native language. Where do you go for help?

This was the situation facing Victoria, a refugee from Liberia now living in the United States.

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White House Reaction to European Migration Perpetuates Migrant Suffering in US and EU

Story by Reyna Araibi, Outreach Coordinator, Colibri Center for Human Rights

We are witnessing a human rights crisis as Europe goes through its largest migration influx since World War II. Between January and August, more than 350,000 people have fled their home countries to seek safety and opportunity in Europe. Many of these migrants are from Syria and neighboring countries devastated by civil wars and the violent spread of the self-proclaimed Islamic State.

Migrating to safety has been extremely dangerous for thousands of people. In 2015, more than 2,600 individuals have died crossing the Mediterranean en route to countries like Italy and Greece. Each day brings another report of deaths—100 people confirmed dead in a boat off the Libyan coast, 71 people found after suffocating in a truck in Austria, and many more thousands whose stories never make international headlines. Those who reach Europe face growing anti-immigrant violence and border security forces designed to keep each new group of migrants at bay.

As a human rights advocate working with migration on the US-Mexico border, I have watched the situation in Europe unfold with anger and sadness, but also with a sense of deep familiarity. There are parallels in the reasons people migrate and the tenacity with which they fight for a better future. But sadly, there are also similarities in the kinds of xenophobic and reactionary rhetoric that are forcing migrants into danger.

News media and photos have made the pain of migrants nearly palpable to communities around the world. With this coverage, many people have called on European leaders to protect human rights. Recently, White House spokesperson Josh Earnest echoed these calls in saying, “Europe should crack down on traffickers who are exploiting migrants and ensure that migrants’ human rights are protected.”

The statement by the White House is not only hypocritical but also harmful. It ignores the nearly two decade-old human rights crisis on the US-Mexico border and perpetuates two harmful beliefs that blind us to the real problems at hand in both these contexts.

First, the White House mimics many American politicians in using traffickers as scapegoats for all the dangers that migrants face. Human smuggling is a clear policy issue, but it does not begin to address the full scope of violence suffered by people migrating to the US and Europe. Rather, scapegoating denies state culpability in the deaths of migrants and diverts attention away from the reality that most violence suffered during migration is structural—a direct consequence of policy designed, executed, and enforced by the state. The White House, and indeed much of the American commentary on this issue, has funneled the blame to traffickers rather than more accurately focusing on continued policies that put people in the dangerous position of needing a smuggler to migrate.

The White House’s statement also committed the same error that many American officials do when discussing human rights—it frames human rights, and human rights violations, as a problem that only exists outside of the context of the U.S. This relieves us of any responsibility to uphold those same values within our borders. While the White House advocates the protection of migrants’ human rights in Europe, it disregards the human rights violations that occur daily on the US-Mexico border as thousands of migrants die and disappear in the remote and harsh border terrain.

Thus, before we can begin to comment on the migration situation in Europe, or anywhere else, we must look inward at our own refusal to adequately, consistently, and humanely address the suffering on the US-Mexico border. Activists in both the US and European contexts are fighting for a future where migration is no longer an act shrouded in danger, where international policies are designed to protect lives, not risk them, and where we can justifiably stand for human rights without the stink of hypocrisy. We cannot create this future if hubs of government power like the White House refuse to openly acknowledge our own failure to protect the human rights of migrants.

For more from the Colibri Center for Human Rights, click here.

Stories from the Desert: The Power of Human Resilience

Story by Jon Dillon, Casework and Outreach Associate, Washington, DC

In the hearts and minds of many, the desert serves as a symbol of solitude and self-discovery, of isolation and peace. But for thousands of people, the desert signifies opportunity and hope, while also hostility and possibly, death. Each year, thousands of migrants risk their lives crossing the deserts in the border regions of the United States and Mexico. While they journey for various reasons – violence, poverty, family reunification, etc. – they all deserve protection.

Over the past couple years, the Red Cross Movement has joined many other organizations and government partners in meeting the needs of migrants. Given migration’s complexities, this work is extremely varied, from providing information about the dangers of migration; to ensuring migrants have access to water in the desert; to facilitating the ability for families to find closure regarding missing loved ones. Collectively, this work aims at strengthening the human dignity of migrants while honoring their rights and decisions to migrate.

I have had the privilege of being a part of this work with the American Red Cross for the past two years, specifically around maintaining family communication for migrants through phone calls along the US-Mexico border. These phone calls provide a vital link between migrants and their loved ones – letting families know the migrant’s wellbeing and whereabouts and giving migrants the opportunity to receive support and trusted opinions concerning possibly dangerous decisions. This work would not be possible without the dedication and humanitarian spirit of partners such as No Mas Muertes, Catholic Charities, and Ozanam to name a few.

It is unusual for us to get an up-close visit to partner organizations in another country, but we had the good fortune to do so, with the help of our colleagues from the Mexican Red Cross. Grupo Beta, is a service of the National Institute of Migration that provides shelter and relief for returned migrants in Mexico as well as basic first aid and information on migration to travelers before attempting to cross the border. During our Binational Restoring Family Links for Migrants Meeting between the American and Mexican Red Cross, we met with them and got to see their work first hand.

Outside Nogales, Sonora with Grupo Beta.

Outside Nogales, Sonora with Grupo Beta.

Our team, a group of almost 20 Red Crossers from across Mexico and the Unites States, packed into Grupo Beta’s SUVs to traverse the rough terrain just outside of Nogales, Sonora. Because of the recent monsoons, the landscape was lush and green, making it (almost) easy to forget its dangers – thorny underbrush, sharp rocks, scarce water, searing hot days, freezing cold nights, coyotes, traffickers, not to mention that most movements take place in the dark of night, making these obstacles all the more dangerous.

As we drove west along the border wall, up and down ravines, sometimes at what felt like a 90 degree angle, it seemed that no person could be found. Eventually, we reached a clearing where a group of around 20 migrants were resting. Grupo Beta immediately went to work distributing food and providing information about the dangers of migration. Throughout their interaction with the migrants, it was clear that this assistance, whether first aid knowledge or water to stay hydrated, is crucial for saving lives.

We were able to ask the group how long it had been since they were able to contact their families. Answers ranged from days to weeks, and we let them know that the Red Cross is there to help them maintain communication with their loved ones if needed.

The following day, we were able to visit No Mas Muertes desert aid camp outside of Arivaca, Arizona. At their camp, they provide a space for migrants to rest, recuperate and receive any medical attention they need, as well as a phone for them to call their loved ones.

The process of migration can often be a dehumanizing, disempowering experience. From the difficulties of the routes, to the possibilities of exploitation by coyotes and traffickers, to the anti-immigration sentiments and narratives they encounter, there are few opportunities allotted to the migrant person to reaffirm their humanity, to say and feel, I am a human deserving of rights and respect; I have control over my life. By providing a phone call, a bottle of water, a bandage, the Red Cross and our partner organizations place needed tools in their hands so that they can make empowered decisions for themselves and their families. These seemingly small, discrete forms of support engage the power of human resilience.

As we left the desert, I was left with a new understanding of the power of human resilience.  The depth of human desperation, the lack of safe, legal and orderly migration and the seemingly insurmountable number of obstacles that lay ahead are all a testament to that resilience. The work of organizations and groups like Grupo Beta and No Mas Muertes is an unfortunate necessity to limit the human toll. 

Far too often, the desert is a tombstone. We must stand up for migrant lives and enshrine the desert as a call to action for everyone to protect humanity.