As I was opening the door to my office, I noticed some scratches on the door frame and muttered that someone must have tried to force it. Ms. H, who had arrived earlier to our appointment softly pushed me aside and after attentively observing the frame told me that I shouldn’t worry as the scratches were old, and turning to me with a big smile added that she would tell me a lot of secrets about how people break into houses.
This was some years ago, when Ms. H had shortly passed her twenties. She had been a victim of trafficking since her early teens and the only teaching she had after her mother died and until she was ‘rescued’, was of a criminal nature. In many ways she was so mature that sometimes I had the feeling that I was relating to someone double my age, when the case was exactly the reverse. In others, I felt I had with me the most fragile of human beings. She was both. And she is many more things. Most of all she’s an amazing woman whose life’s dream was to learn to read and write and have a loving family. She has endured violence, loss, a suicide attempt, prison more than once, contempt and humiliation in any amount and form. Still, after all these perils she decided she would live and endeavor to pursue her dream. She made it. She has a a job, a loving husband, with whom she is raising an intensely desired baby. I cannot but stand in admiration every time I see her or think about her. I feel for all she went through and I am deeply moved by all she did in life, by her determination and her struggle to find a place in a very hostile world. All she wanted was to lead a normal life. An inalienable right of any human being, and such a simple wish…
And that simple wish is what a migrant seeks. A simple wish that has a very high price, for some as high as their own life. I feel for and I picture in my mind the extreme danger they endure for the inalienable right of living a normal life, away from violence, war and injustice. We need never forget that these are the reasons that drive people to make such a traumatic decision, as abandoning their physical, emotional and psychological roots is. And I feel even worse knowing that after all the perils what expects them mostly is a long path of impenetrable uncertainty, many times lived in gruesome conditions. These days we are witnessing a display of hideous human behavior in Europe where walls, real and virtual, are being erected to stop migrants in their quest for safety. They are being perceived and treated as invaders, whereas invasion, bombing, occupation, dispossession have helplessly being imposed on them and are the very reasons that drove them out of their land.
Who would willingly and lightheartedly make the excruciating choice of abandoning their roots to arrive -if the hazardous journey allows it- in a hostile place where most often that not they are reviled? I doubt people indeed ‘choose’ to migrate. Leaving a country in times of peace hints to the lack of opportunity or plain impossibility to cover the minimum needs for survival. Leaving a country in times of war makes migration the only way to escape violence and death. There is hardly a choice in any of these situations.
In any case, those who migrate leave behind not only a geographical area, they part with family and community ties, with language and culturally shared values, with meaningful people, places and situations, with a whole world of emotions, culture and history. Often, this parting is for a very long time, if not forever. I can’t help but wonder who really freely decides to sever those ties that constitute the bone of our existence, our identity? Looking at migration from this standpoint, it cannot but be traumatic and it is so in many moments.
It is traumatic to realize the need to leave, it is traumatic to plan and prepare the migration, it is profoundly traumatic and life-threatening to undergo the journey of migration, it is traumatic to arrive in an unknown place with no references, it is traumatic not to be acknowledged in one’s own plight, it is traumatic to be considered an invader and a terrorist, it is traumatic to confront racism on a daily basis, it is traumatic to be perceived as a threat. And still, in the face of all these, that deeply rooted fortitude, rarely abandons the migrant who has become a survivor. To that colossal strength, to which I stand in awe, I bear witness in my work.
Only a few days ago, the UN Refugee Agency issued the report on the global trends of refugees stating that 2014 saw an unprecedented level of global mass displacement due to conflict or persecution, reaching a number very close to 60 million. Trying to only imagine this number leaves us on the verge of an impossible task. To help us put it into perspective they say that one in every 122 people in the world is either a refugee, internally displaced or seeking asylum. In the words of the High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, “(for an) …unprecedented mass displacement, we need an unprecedented humanitarian response and a renewed global commitment to tolerance and protection for people fleeing conflict and persecution…”.
The graphic below shows that the majority of refugees are being hosted by fairly poor countries, which notwithstanding their financial difficulties have opened -at least have not closed- the doors to refugees.
Sadly, we are presently witnessing the wealthy countries slamming their doors on refugees. It is my ardent wish that these countries will find a way to indeed stay human
I would like to close this reflection with the beauty of music, performed by musicians of Playing for Change.
- What makes people confused about migrants’ plight?
- Are governments doing enough to stop wars and therefore people’s displacement?
- What means do we have to oppose racism?
About the Author
Mónica Musri was born in Argentina and moved to Italy many years ago. She graduated Political Sciences and later on in Psychology. In London she got an MA in Psychoanalysis and a specialization in the Care of Victims of Organized Violence and Torture. She has worked with migrants, refugees and victims of trafficking for nearly twenty years. She also works as a Psychosocial Consultant in psychosocial development projects, particularly in the Middle East, and has a Psychotherapy private practice in Rome, where she lives.
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