Beyond the Border
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
This OZY series brings you untold migration stories from countries where the crisis starts.
By Charu Sudan Kasturi
The border crisis is once again grabbing America’s attention, with Democratic lawmakers visiting detention centers where immigration officials are holding thousands of migrants seeking asylum. Some have compared these centers to “concentration camps,” in turn drawing criticism from both supporters of the Trump administration and those who believe the comparison minimizes the suffering of Jews and other ethnic minorities who were forced by the Nazis to accept forced labor and death.
But the heart-wrenching images of children and families in subhuman conditions at the centers along America’s southern border are only the tip of an iceberg that extends thousands of miles, to the distant corners of South America, Asia and the Middle East. That the crisis facing the Trump administration isn’t withering away through tougher immigration rules alone serves as a reminder that in a globalized world, finding a solution often requires first identifying the full magnitude of the problem — wherever it may lie.
Beyond the Border, OZY’s latest original series, seeks to do just that, bringing you surprising stories from countries and communities that are vital pivots around which modern migration spins but whose stories remain untold, until now. Away from the mainstream Western gaze, these societies are also in churn, and grappling with many of the same dilemmas as the U.S. and Europe on migration. Some are finding that vulnerable migrants can prove lifesavers. Others are revisiting historic commitments to refugees. How these societies respond to the crisis might shape the future of migration just as much as the choices of America and Europe will.
Since the end of World War II, most countries have largely followed an international law — called “non-refoulement” — that bars them from sending refugees back to countries where their lives are in danger. But over the past two years, Europe and the U.S. have increasingly sidestepped or violated that law. Now, a growing number of other countries that have traditionally hosted millions of migrants and asylum seekers — from Jordan and India in Asia to Peru and Trinidad and Tobago in the Americas — are following suit, also sending refugees back to countries they had fled in fear. This increasingly global violation of the law is sparking concerns about the very future of a norm that has for decades been the central international protection refugees have counted on.
Central American refugees aren’t the only ones queuing up to enter the United States. Record numbers of African migrants are also seeking asylum in the U.S., as Europe tightens its borders. But they’re entering the Americas via an unlikely gateway: Ecuador, nearly 3,400 miles south of the U.S.-Mexico border. The small South American nation that’s home to some of the world’s most diverse flora and fauna is now facing an unprecedented inflow of people from Africa, who are using the nation’s lenient visa norms to enter the region before beginning their long trudge north. But with a new pro-U.S. government there, how long will Ecuador facilitate African migration that’s also putting pressure on the Trump administration?
When Joana, a trans woman in San Salvador, found her friend Camila dead in February, it revived a dilemma that thousands like her are increasingly facing. Camila was one of a record number of trans people from Central America who are desperately leaving nations where their lives are under threat and seeking asylum in the U.S. But a growing number among them are being deported or locked up in detention centers for months, where they face abuse. Camila was sent back to the country where she was killed soon after, and where a trans woman has a life expectancy of just 33 years, compared to 73 years for the overall population. Joana and thousands of other trans people in Central America face the unenviable choice between death and deportation — between terror and Trump.
Caracas, Venezuela, and Puerto Natales in Chile’s southernmost district of Magallanes are as far apart as Bangkok in Southeast Asia and Reykjavík in Northwest Europe. But a growing number of Venezuelan doctors, fleeing their crisis-riddled home, are emerging as saviors for this distant corner of South America, which isn’t even terrestrially connected to the rest of Chile. The southernmost tip of Patagonia has for decades suffered from a severe shortage of medical specialists, with Chilean doctors avoiding the faraway region and instead preferring private hospitals in the north, where they can earn more. Venezuelan refugees are filling that void for a grateful community, flipping the narrative of migrants as a burden on their hosts, even as they adapt to a cold climate far removed from the tropical weather they’re used to.
Ali Abou Dehn remembers the day in 1987 when Syrian police stormed into the house where he was staying and arrested him. During the Lebanese Civil War, he sought refuge at his relatives’ home in Damascus, where he waited to receive a resettlement visa to Australia. But following his detention, he was tortured for 15 days until he confessed to being an Israeli spy, which he wasn’t. Dehn was one of dozens of members of Lebanon’s political opposition who disappeared into the labyrinth of Syria’s prison system. He was finally released in 2000. Now, he’s trying to fight for others like him.
Since President Nicolas Maduro took power in Venezuela, more than four million people have fled to neighbouring Colombia and other countries in the region. Such numbers are unprecedented and have been labelled a humanitarian crisis by international organizations. Both Colombia and Ecuador have each taken in 1.2 million migrants or refugees since 2015. Across the world, migrants fleeing their lands in desperation frequently fall victim to crimes such as human trafficking and sex trafficking. But at least in Colombia, organized crime is taking advantage of the flood of vulnerable Venezuelan migrants to increasingly also pull many of them into its criminal ranks.
Despite popular Western myths about the world’s most desperate people migrating to the U.S. and Europe, a new study has found that in fact those from the poorest countries are less likely to migrate: They can’t afford to. Without a gross domestic product per capita of at least $2,000, a country’s migration numbers are likely to be very low — so development actually promotes migration, going against popular tropes. Donald Trump might just be right.
- Charu Sudan Kasturi, OZY AuthorContact Charu Sudan Kasturi