“Our only goal will be the western shore,” goes Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.” I thought of this line a lot whenever the immigration came up when we, the 2019 WPI fellows, met with different think tanks and media outlets. In my interpretation, the “western shore” might be the only goal, but it is often not reached.
I come from Algeria where the government has been treating immigrants badly. A lot of what I heard about immigration during some (thankfully) of those meetings is familiar. The same rhetoric demonizing immigrants, the same justifications for inhumane policies and the same disregard for one simple truth: migration is part of the human condition and it will never stop.
According to an Associated Press investigation in 2018, Algeria stranded nearly 13 000 illegal migrants in the Sahara. The government expelled them to neighboring Mali, citing a “deal” with the authorities there allowing the repatriation of Malian nationals. The problem is that many of the Sub-Saharan immigrants were not from Malia. They were from other countries, including Gambia, Guinea, Ivory Coast, etc. The article also cites several abuses the Algerian media also reported. Government officials often deny the abuses and claim migrants are well treated.
Algeria has never been a democracy and nobody expects it to be a champion of human rights. For this reason, it was odd to hear familiar arguments but in the United States last week when WPI fellows visited the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. Speaking of immigrants from Central America, Mike Howell from the foundation tried to justify holding children in cages near the southern border, saying they are provided with toothpaste and toothbrushes.
“They are not held against their will. They do have a choice: they can go to Mexico,” he said. He also held that “the wall” promised by Donald Trump will stop illegal immigrants from coming to the United States.
For a long time, Sub-Saharan migrants came to Algeria with Europe as a destination, the “western shore” as the only goal. But Algeria became itself a destination in recent years for those migrants. A lot of them also still try to cross the Mediterranean, along with Algerian illegal immigrants, to reach the “western shore.”
“It is not a question of stopping migration, there has always been and there will always be migrants. It is a question of managing migration,” a U.N official told WPI fellows, one of the best things I’ve heard about migration during this fellowship.