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Youth Voices/issues of migration: What does 'safety' mean?

by Franziska Fischer, University of Victoria.

"We have come full circle, from the boy on the beach (Alan Kurdi, drowning on September 2nd, 2015, trying to cross the 4 km between Turkish and European soil by boat), to Óscar Ramírez and his daughter Valeria drowning in the Rio Grande, trying to swim towards a safer future. After September 2nd, when the world looked down on the small body of Alan Kurdi being washed up on a Greek beach, we have pledged to do better. Four years later the pledge we made has nothing to show for it.

Between Alan Kurdi and Óscar and Valeria Ramírez, thousands have died, and millions are caught in limbo between their dangerous past in war-torn regions and their hopeful future in ‘safe’ and ‘stable’ countries such as the US or Europe. People, humans, parents and their children are fleeing unsafe conditions in South America, Africa, and the Middle East. They are “fleeing a hell the US helped create”, as the Guardian put it, drawing on the violence and inequalities that US political and economic actors helped to create, perpetuated and reproduced through ongoing actions. I do not write this text to point fingers, even though one might rightfully do so. I do not write this text to get caught in the intricacies of why we are, where we are. I do not write this text to find blame. I write this text to find hope, to find my sanity and to find the belief in humankind. Because what I see, read and hear tears me apart. I have shared some of the articles underneath this text, there are thousands more.

Two ‘cornerstone events’ of Alan Kurdi and Óscar and Valeria Ramírez, framing a humanitarian crisis that has the world in its tight grip, illuminating just how drastic we have successfully split our world into two. Safe and unsafe, developed and undeveloped, successful and failed, stable and conflict. However, this dichotomous perception of our messy world is beginning to crumble, the lines between safe and unsafe are blurring. Can we with a straight face say, detention camps on the Mexican/US border are safe? Is crossing the Mediterranean Sea safe? Is it safe to rightfully claim asylum in a welfare state, with a stable democracy? What does safe mean? Having a place to sleep, being able to keep yourself and your children clean, being able to eat? Then No, the US is not safe, Europe is not safe, because none of these things are guaranteed when a human in need enters these territories. Organizations, Non-profits, and individual people try to make up for the failure of the governments, of the state officials, which are caught in the bickering of who will take on the ‘burden’ to provide the most basic needs.

I am not claiming to be able to relate but I can only imagine the devastation, fear and absolute horror, as well as the hope for a better future, that will convince a parent to give themselves and their children to the goodwill of human smugglers, to trust a little rubber dingy, or swim across a vicious river, all in hope for better conditions on the other side. But for those who actually make it to ‘safety’ and don’t become tragic figures of our contemporary world order, the journey through hell has only just begun..."

Franziska Fischer is a Phd candidate at the Department of Political Science at the University of Victoria.


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