When we hear immigration issues or refugee crises these days, we may instantly think about Syria. Syrians have been through so much in the past several years, but unfortunately, they aren’t the only ones. Being from Somalia and living in Seattle, I have yet to hear someone bringing up the refugee crisis my community faces.
It’s not something that fazes me. After all, black lives have low value in the society we live in. On April 17, between 400 and 500 East African refugees drowned in the Mediterranean Sea after their boat capsized on its way to Italy. What’s really astonishing is the number of black lives that had to pass away in order for this world to notice them. When headlines like these make black lives into a statistic, the Somali diaspora took it to Twitter under “#400LivesNotJustNumbers” to show black lives and voices — not just numbers — truly matter.
— khadar Aweis hirsi (@KhadarAweis) April 19, 2016
One EuroStat data set found that last year, Eritrea and Somalia were among the top countries reflected in fleeing refugees crossing European borders through Mediterranean routes, and that asylum applications in Europe have jumped from just more than 40,000 to more than 100,000 per year from 2012 to the end of 2015.
Being the aspiring journalist I am, I knew it was time to be the voice for my community. I had heard the tragic and stories regarding the refugee crisis, but never understood why fleeing East Africans would succumb to such dangerous temptations.
It’s easy for me to say, “That’s not right. You should stay where you are.” As a Somali-American, I’ve never witnessed the lives of my people in Somalia, and how desperate they were to leave their homes in order to find new lives.
Mogadishu resident Ahmed Ibrahim (of no relation to the reporter), explained vie email that young refugees are fleeing Somalia due to unemployment. They get the impression from Western media that life in Europe is easier. Their economic trials in Somalia, on top of the complicated dynamics of instability, tribalism and political corruption, are more than enough to flee their home country in pursuit of a new life.
And pursuing a safer journey to Europe can cost these young migrants a lot, Muna Ismail from Ottawa, Canada, details.
“There are instances in which smugglers hold migrants for ransom, demanding family members to send money in return for the migrants ‘safe’ travels,'” she said. “If the migrant survives this part, they reach the boats en route to Europe, which is another struggle in itself.”
My aunt, who went through the process herself, and requested that her name be withheld to protect her immigration status, explained that arranging an “accompanied” trip can take months before the trip actually begins.
Many East Africans connect with smugglers from North Africa, pay a fee and then wait for their turn to leave. The fee depends on the smuggler you get, but my relatives tell me that smugglers can charge up to $2,000 to $5,000 per person, starting migration through the Sahara desert before reaching the perils of the Mediterranean Sea.
And these perils at don’t end at capsizing and being fed to sharks.
Reports have noted cases where smugglers have killed African migrants for their organs and sold them. Organ trafficking is one part of a larger problem in the East African refugee crisis, in the eyes of Abdirashid Dahir, a civil engineer based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
“Tahriib (migration) itself is just getting trafficked from the needy to the wealthy, so organ trafficking is just another business and ways of making a profit taken from the needy,” Dahir explains. “The community isn’t shocked by the organ trafficking, since this was already common and just now getting attention — as a Somali diaspora and someone who feels guilty to an extent of what’s going on.”
As a diaspora, we have a lot to work on. We need to understand that, while we come from two or more nationalities, we can’t forget about the motherland. We also need to figure out real solutions to this crisis.
This is a big feat, but Mogadishu-based Ibrahim might have an idea of where to start. He believes that members of the Somali diaspora should think strategically when sending money back to their home country.
“I advise diaspora community: Instead of feeding families in Somalia, let them create a job to one person who can cover the family bills,” he explained. “Let them invest one idea — not them to make money on their own — but to employ their families in Somalia. Do not give fish, but teach them how to catch the fish to survive.”
An alternative version of this story was originally published in Occupy.com.