“Two hundred Albanians land illegally in Sicily”
reads a headline in an Italian newspaper. “In 1998,
133 Mexicans died trying to cross the United States border,”
reports a migrant- support group in Mexico. Too often these
news reports are delivered in cold, dry terms portraying these
people as a socio-economic problem, a law-and-order issue
or a source of disease. But behind the numbers and headlines
are the individual stories of people who have risked everything
in search of a better life.
The reasons people migrate differ considerably. It is important
to make the distinction between those who have decided to
move and those who were forced to. A migrant is a person who
freely chooses to move from one place to another. The main
causes are generally economic or demographic – the famous
gap between industralized and developing countries. It follows
that while refugees, displaced people and asylum seekers are
migrating, they are not migrants. Instead, they are fleeing
war, persecution or natural disasters.
Migrants, refugees and asylum seekers are from elsewhere,
they are the ‘other’ often accused of causing
overcrowding, unemployment, draining social and health services,
and posing cultural threats in host countries. This is a result
of perceptions that there is already too much migration and
from the ‘wrong’ countries as well as old- fashioned
racism and prejudice. In the case of migrants, this is despite
the fact that they have frequently been brought into a country
to perform the work which nationals find too demanding, precarious
or poorly paid to do.
The plight of these people is further complicated as the
criteria separating each group has become increasingly blurred.
This has left a growing number languishing in an administrative
limbo some call it a ‘bazaar’ – in which,
more often than not, they live in dangerous and clandestine
As unprecedented numbers of individuals are on the move,
the world’s policy makers and politicians are only beginning
to come to terms with the fact that a worldwide phenomenon
exists which has defied all their attempts at control.
In keeping with its humanitarian tradition, the Red Cross
and Red Crescent Movement has on the whole risen to the challenge
posed by migration, particularly in terms of protecting and
assisting refugees and asylum seekers. Indeed, many National
Societies deserve praise for their impressive efforts over
the last generation to help settle refugees and asylum seekers
and provide them with medical and social care, with the support
of the International Federation and the ICRC. This being said,
it now behoves the Movement to make even greater efforts to
promote more humane policies towards those who migrate and
develop a holistic response to the situation of migrants,
refugees and asylum seekers. Such an adjustment requires creativity,
courage and better coordination between the different components
of the Movement.
In view of this, Red Cross, Red Crescent has chosen
to illustrate the reality faced by certain categories of migrants
and asylum seekers and the Movement’s response, focusing
on two examples, one from Asia, the other from western Europe.