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In the 21st century, we are all migrants

Humans are in motion across time as well as geography. Why must we be divided, the migrant versus the native?

All of us are descended from migrants. Our species, Homo sapiens, did not evolve in Lahore, where I am writing these words. Nor did we evolve in Shanghai or Topeka or Buenos Aires or Cairo or Oslo, where you, perhaps, are reading them.

Even if you live today in the Rift Valley, in Africa, mother continent to us all, on the site of the earliest discovered remains of our species, your ancestors too moved—they left, changed, and intermingled before returning to the place you live now, just as I left Lahore, lived for decades in North America and Europe, and returned to reside in the house where my grandparents and parents once did, the house where I spent much of my childhood, seemingly indigenous but utterly altered and remade by my travels.

None of us is a native of the place we call home. And none of us is a native to this moment in time. We are not native to the instant, already gone, when this sentence began to be written, nor to the instant, also gone, when it began to be read, nor even to this moment, now, which we enter for the first time and which slips away, has slipped away, is irrevocably lost, except from memory.

Things they carriedRecent migration waves have inspired many art and photography projects. Tom Kiefer

Read More Photograph By Tom Kiefer/Redux
migrant belongings confiscated by USCBP

To be human is to migrate forward through time, the seconds like islands, where we arrive, castaways, and from which we are swept off by the tide, arriving again and again, in a new instant, on a new island, one we have, as always, never experienced before. Over the course of a life these migrations through the seconds accrue, transform into hours, months, decades. We become refugees from our childhoods, the schools, the friends, the toys, the parents that made up our worlds all gone, replaced by new buildings, by phone calls, photo albums, and reminiscences. We step onto our streets looking up at the towering figures of adults, we step out again a little later and attract the gazes of others with our youth, and later still with our own children or those of our friends—and then once more, seemingly invisible, no longer of much interest, bowed by gravity.

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We all experience the constant drama of the new and the constant sorrow of the loss of what we’ve left behind. It is a universal sorrow and one so potent that we seek to deny it, rarely acknowledging it in ourselves, let alone in others. We’re encouraged by society to focus only on the new, on acquisition, rather than on the loss that is the other thread uniting and binding our species.

We move when it is intolerable to stay where we are. We move because of environmental stresses and physical dangers and the small-mindedness of our neighbors—and to be who we wish to be, to seek what we wish to seek.

We move through time, through the temporal world, because we are compelled to. We move through space, through the physical world, seemingly because we choose to, but in those choices there are compulsions as well. We move when it is intolerable to stay where we are: when we cannot linger a moment longer, alone in our stifling bedroom, and must go outside and play; when we cannot linger a moment longer, hungry on our parched farm, and must go elsewhere for food. We move because of environmental stresses and physical dangers and the small-mindedness of our neighbors—and to be who we wish to be, to seek what we wish to seek.

Ours is a migratory species. Humans have always moved. Our ancestors did, and not linearly, like an army advancing out of Africa in a series of bold thrusts, but circuitously, sometimes in one direction, then in another, borne along by currents both without and within. Our contemporaries are moving—above all from the countryside to the cities of Asia and Africa. And our descendants will move too. They will move as the climate changes, as sea levels rise, as wars are fought, as one mode of economic activity dies out and gives way to another.

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The power of our technology, its impact on our planet, is growing. Consequently the pace of change is accelerating, giving rise to new stresses, and our nimble species will use movement as part of its response to these stresses, as our great-grandmothers and great-grandfathers did, as we are designed to do.

And yet we are told that such movement is unprecedented, that it represents a crisis, a flood, a disaster. We are told that there are two kinds of humans, natives and migrants, and that these must struggle for supremacy.

We are told not only that movement through geographies can be stopped but that movement through time can be too, that we can return to the past, to a better past.

We are told not only that movement through geographies can be stopped but that movement through time can be too, that we can return to the past, to a better past, when our country, our race, our religion was truly great. All we must accept is division. The division of humanity into natives and migrants. A vision of a world of walls and barriers, and of the guards and weapons and surveillance required to enforce those barriers. A world where privacy dies, and dignity and equality alongside it, and where humans must pretend to be static, unmoving, moored to the land on which they currently stand and to a time like the time of their childhood—or of their ancestors’ childhoods—an imaginary time, in which standing still is only an imaginary possibility.

Such are the dreams of a species defeated by nostalgia, at war with itself, with its migratory nature and the nature of its relationship to time, screaming in denial of the constant movement that is human life.

Perhaps thinking of us all as migrants offers us a way out of this looming dystopia. If we are all migrants, then possibly there is a kinship between the suffering of the woman who has never lived in another town and yet has come to feel foreign on her own street and the suffering of the man who has left his town and will never see it again. Maybe transience is our mutual enemy, not in the sense that the passage of time can be defeated but rather in the sense that we all suffer from the losses time inflicts.

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A greater degree of compassion for ourselves might then become possible, and out of it, a greater degree of compassion for others. We might muster more courage as we swim through time, rather than giving in to fear. We might collectively be able to be brave enough to recognize that our individual endings are not the ending of everything and that beauty and hope remain possible even once we are gone.

Accepting our reality as a migratory species will not be easy. New art, new stories, and new ways of being will be needed. But the potential is great. A better world is possible, a more just and inclusive world, better for us and for our grandchildren, with better food and better music and less violence too.

The city nearest you was, two centuries ago, almost unimaginably different from that city today. Two centuries in the future it is likely to be at least as different again. Few citizens of almost any city now would prefer to live in their city of two centuries ago. We should have the confidence to imagine that the same will be true of the citizens of the world’s cities two centuries hence.

A species of migrants at last comfortable being a species of migrants. That, for me, is a destination worth wandering to. It is the central challenge and opportunity every migrant offers us: to see in him, in her, the reality of ourselves.

The author: Mohsin Hamid is the author of four novels —Moth Smoke, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, and Exit West—and a book of essays, Discontent and Its Civilizations. His writing has been translated into 40 languages, featured on best-seller lists, and adapted for the screen.

 

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Opinions

Quarantine-free travel to resume on 19 July for fully vaccinated passengers returning from amber list countries

 

The government has today (8 July 2021) set out the details to enable people who have been fully vaccinated with an NHS administered vaccine, plus 14 days, to travel to amber list countries without having to quarantine on their return to England, from Monday 19 July. The recommendation for people not to travel to amber list countries will also be removed from 19 July.

The changes will come into force from Monday 19 July at 4am. Those who have been fully vaccinated with an NHS administered vaccine in the UK and are returning from amber countries will still be required to complete a pre-departure test before arrival into England, alongside a PCR test on or before day 2 after arrival. They will not have to take a day 8 test or self-isolate. Any positive results will be genomically sequenced to continue to manage the risk from importing variants.

Children under the age of 18 will not have to isolate when returning to England. While the recommendation that people should not travel to amber countries is being removed, children aged 4 and under will continue to be exempt from any travel testing. Children aged 5 to 10 will only need to do a day 2 PCR and 11 to 18 year olds will need to take both a pre-departure test and a day 2 PCR – as is the case for arrivals from green list countries.

The success of our vaccine programme has been aided by those selflessly taking part in clinical trials and those who are part of approved COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials in the UK will therefore be treated as vaccinated.

At this stage, there will be no changes to requirements for those returning from green or red list countries – even when they are fully vaccinated, nor for unvaccinated passengers travelling from amber countries who do not have a valid exemption.

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Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps said:

Thanks to our successful vaccine rollout, we’re now able to widen quarantine-free travel to NHS administered fully vaccinated adults and children under the age of 18, and take another step towards fully reopening international travel.

As we continue with the domestic unlocking, it’s only right we get people travelling again – whether that’s for business to help create jobs, overdue holidays or reconnecting family and friends. However, protecting public health still remains our priority and we will act swiftly if action is needed.

Health Secretary, Sajid Javid said:

Vaccinations have severely weakened the link between COVID-19 cases, hospitalisations and deaths, building a wall of protection across the country.

As we learn to live with this virus, due to the tremendous progress of the vaccine programme – with more than 3 in 5 people now double jabbed – we can safely take steps to ease restrictions on travel, as we are doing at home. Allowing quarantine-free travel for fully vaccinated people means they can be reunited with loved ones overseas and we can return to normality as quickly as possible.

The government is taking a phased approach to amending requirements and is already exploring plans to remove quarantine for vaccinated non-UK residents arriving from amber countries later this summer where it is safe to do so. The Test to Release scheme scheme remains an option for non-fully vaccinated travellers returning from amber countries to shorten their quarantine period, by paying for a private test and being released early if they receive a negative COVID-19 test result.

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Travel continues to be different from usual, and while some restrictions remain in place passengers should expect their experience to be different and may face longer wait times than they are used to – although the government is making every effort to speed up queues safely. We will continue to rollout e-gates over the summer, with many already in operation across airports and more to be added over the coming months.

Carriers will have a critical role in carrying out primary checks on all passengers before boarding, checking people have the right COVID-19 certification documents to ensure we can continue to safeguard against new variants. Anyone not complying with health measures could face a fine, and carriers will be required to ensure proper checks are carried out.

Airlines UK CEO Tim Alderslade said:

This is a positive move towards the genuine reopening the sector has been looking for. Opening up the market for the rest of the summer, this announcement will provide far greater opportunities to travel, do business and see family and friends, and enable many more of our customers to book with certainty. The summer season essentially starts here.

Airlines look forward to working with government to continue this momentum and further open up the market.

All passengers will still need to complete their passenger locator form, which will include the requirement to declare vaccination status and provide proof of their pre-departure test. Amber arrivals will be required to prove their full vaccination status to carriers before departing, either via the NHS app or via an NHS COVID Pass letter which can be obtained by calling 119 for travelling overseas (which could take 5 days to arrive by post).

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Airport Operators Association Chief Executive Karen Dee said:

This is a significant step forward that will be a boost to airports and the local economies that rely on them. Many airports staff will be able to get back to what they do best: supporting businesses to reach customers abroad, enabling people to visit friends and relatives and help people take a well-deserved holiday abroad after a difficult period.

If travelling abroad, you need to take steps to keep safe and prepare in case things change before you go or while you are there. Check the booking terms and conditions on flexibility and refunds because the situation remains fluid. Many travel firms have changed their terms to be fully flexible. Check and subscribe to FCDO travel advice updates to understand the latest entry requirements and COVID-19 rules at their destination – and passengers are advised to check all entry requirements and FCDO travel advice before they book any foreign travel.

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Opinions

IOM releases recommendations to the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the European Union


Slovenia assumed the six-month rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU) on 1 July 2021. Photo: European Union

 

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has shared its recommendations on migration and mobility with the Slovenian government, which yesterday (01/07) assumed the  Presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU) for the second half of 2021 as the world continues to adjust and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In three key recommendations, IOM encourages the Slovenian Presidency to promote the safe resumption of human mobility for economic and social recovery, advance holistic and coordinated responses to return migration and reintegration, and to factor safe and orderly migration into the EU’s green transition to a climate-neutral economy.

“The Slovenian government takes up the Presidency at a time when recovery from the pandemic is progressing but remains uneven, particularly for some countries and with some populations at greater risk of being left behind,” said Ola Henrikson, IOM Regional Director for the EEA, EU and NATO.

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“At the same time, the EU is moving ahead with the European Green Deal while discussions on the new Pact on Migration and Asylum continue,” he said. “This is an opportune moment to factor migration into planning as a vital contributor to resilient economies, environment and public health in the EU, countries of origin and transit.”

IOM therefore encourages the Slovenian Presidency to promote the facilitated resumption of safe human mobility as we emerge from the pandemic to contribute to economic and social recovery in the EU and beyond. As part of this, the Presidency should prioritize digitalization in migration management to resume travel amid COVID-19 while promoting mutually beneficial labour mobility channels that protect migrant workers.

It will be equally important for the EU to ensure adequate and equitable access to health services and vaccination against COVID-19 for all migrants as well as migrant-inclusive policies that help to maximize their prospects for integration into communities and society. Measures to combat xenophobia and discrimination will be crucial to these efforts.

READ  Afghanistan: Addressing child labour through a protection response for undocumented returnees

To ensure that intra-regional migration is safe, orderly and regular, IOM believes that the fight against human trafficking and migrants smuggling should integrate migrant protection and capacity building of border and law enforcement authorities in partner countries.

Return, readmission and reintegration are indispensable parts of a comprehensive approach to migration management for many governments worldwide. To be effective, IOM recommends the Slovenian Presidency to promote efforts to encourage balanced, comprehensive route-based responses which secure solid engagement and partnerships among all countries and actors involved. Coupling return with reintegration measures that respond to the needs of migrants and communities where they return can enhance the opportunities for sustainable development in countries of origin.

Under the Slovenian Presidency, the European Green Deal will continue to top the agenda. IOM is convinced that well-managed migration can support the transition to a climate-neutral economy. In line with the Paris Agreement on climate change, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and Sendai Framework of Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 and in view of the COP26, IOM encourages the Slovenian Presidency to promote the mainstreaming of migration – in all its forms – into the key policy areas and anticipated measures of the European Green Deal.

READ  Nigerian migrants’ sojourn in Middle East ends in woes

IOM stands ready to continue its support to the Presidency, the EU and its Member States to implement balanced, comprehensive policies and programmes across the entire migration spectrum and along entire migration routes.

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Opinions

Afghanistan: Addressing child labour through a protection response for undocumented returnees

Child labour is a priority protection concern in Afghanistan with some estimates showing that more than half of children aged 5 to 17 are engaged in work of some kind (AIHRC, 2018). Children in Afghanistan endure some of the worst forms of child labour from being recruited into the armed conflict, to the production of bricks and carpets, as well as in agriculture, mines, and most visibly on the streets as beggars, shoe shiners and porters/vendors.

High rates of poverty, insecurity, displacement, and natural disasters mean sending school-age children out to work is often essential to the survival of families, placing children across Afghanistan at significant risk.

The 2021 Humanitarian Needs Overview (HNO) for Afghanistan indicates that the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the situation further as loss of livelihoods, coupled with school closures to contain the spread of the virus, likely precipitated increases in child labour.

The economic downturn has seen poverty skyrocket in Afghanistan and, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), almost half the population is now in need of humanitarian support – 18.4 million people – , with 90 per cent of Afghans living below the poverty line (less than USD 2 a day). This poverty, coupled with the upsurge in insecurity since intra-Afghan peace talks began in September 2020, has seen unprecedented numbers of undocumented Afghan migrants crossing the border from Iran.

Between January-May 2021 alone, more than 490,000 Afghans returned – an increase of 65 per cent on the same period in 2020, of which more than half are deportees.

Undocumented returnees often return worse off than before they left, having sold property and assets or borrowed money in order to pay for their passage. 19 per cent of returnees surveyed in a Whole of Afghanistan Assessment (2020) were found to have taken on catastrophic levels of debt predominantly to cover food and healthcare needs.

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The International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) Protection Monitoring data shows that undocumented returnees increasingly turned to child labour to support their households during the course of the last year (from 19% reported in May-July 2020 to 35% in January 2021). This presents a key protection risk for children – exposing them to physical, sexual and economic exploitation including trafficking, and putting their physical, psychological and emotional development at stake. It constitutes a violation of their fundamental rights and compromises their ability to reach their full potential.

 

Children are often present on the streets of Afghanistan working as shoe shiners. April 2021. Photo: IOM/V. Goodban

Like many fathers across the country, Noorullah* (40) took the tough decision to go abroad for work when he couldn’t make ends meet. For two years, he worked in Iran as a casual labourer in agriculture, picking fruit and sending remittances home to support his family of seven.

Just as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Noorullah was deported for not having any legal documentation at a time when lockdowns and movement restrictions meant finding work in Afghanistan was harder than ever. For 11 months, the family survived on casual labour and the charity of neighbours, living in a damaged house without windows or a door, with no electricity or heating source. The one small solar light they had was stolen by robbers.

The casual farm work he had managed to pick up dried up when winter started, and the family slipped more and more into debt, borrowing from neighbours and using credit to get food from the shop.

To cope with this dire situation, Noorullah resorted to taking his children out of school. His teenage son was sent to work as a live-in servant for another household, and his two younger sons started to beg on the streets, collecting plastic and wood to meet the household’s heating and cooking needs.

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The boys had previously been enrolled in the local government school but were forced to stop, joining some 3.7 million (48% of boys and 59% of girls) of all school-age children across Afghanistan who are estimated to be out of school – returnee and internally displaced children even worse off with 55 per cent of boys and 67 per cent of girls out of school (Afghanistan HNO, 2021).

To address protection risks faced by undocumented returnees, IOM’s Protection Programme works in provinces of high returns and opened a new office in Noorullah’s home province of Badakhshan in January 2021. Having received IOM assistance at the border, Noorullah approached the office for support and the Protection Programme caseworker visited him at his home to discuss his situation in depth and draw an action plan that would allow the family to re-enrol the children in school.

To mitigate the protection risks faced by Noorullah and his family, including child labour, the caseworker provided cash assistance enabling them to buy some essentials for their home – a buhari [a traditional wood-fired heater] and fuel for heating, a solar lamp for lighting the home – and enough to pay back their debts. Together with his wife, Noorullah bought enough flour so they could start a small bakery in their home.

“We started our bakery and, with the support from IOM, we can rent a house in the future and possibly extend our business, so we have income and are able to save for any future needs,” said Bahar*, Noorullah’s wife.

Undocumented returnee Noorullah has been able to send his children back to school following support from IOM’s Protection Programme. Badakhshan, April 2021. Photo: IOM/S. Karim​​​​​​​

By reducing the economic vulnerability of the household, the protection risks associated with child labour and diversion from education were averted.

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The support provided by IOM enabled Noorullah and Bahar to send their children back to school, helping to secure their futures. The two youngest boys stopped begging, and Noorullah brought his eldest son back to live with the family.

The parents are relieved that they can support their children’s education and provide them with a good life thanks to the income of their cottage bakery: “I was exhausted; really sick and tired of doing daily wage jobs. Now I’m self-employed, running a bakery and starting a grocery business which was a dream that has turned into a reality, thanks to IOM’s Protection Programme.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has been disastrous in a multitude of ways, and in a country where educational needs are exceptionally high, the eradication of child labour remains a key priority for Afghans of all ages. By providing comprehensive assistance to undocumented returnees’ households, IOM aims to build their resilience and reduce the likelihood of child labour amongst some of the most vulnerable communities.

* Not their real names.

IOM Afghanistan is supporting undocumented returnees to access vital protection services thanks to EU Humanitarian Aid.

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