I am an immigrant from Uganda living in the United States while waiting for my asylum application to go through.
Migrants do not enjoy much freedom of movement in our world today. This certainly applies to those who are desperate enough to navigate choppy and stormy seas in boats. These are the risks my cousins from West Africa and North Africa face while trying to cross over to Europe. Indeed, it is a rare but fortunate opportunity for a migrant to address a gathering like this.
But this also signifies what often is missing in the global debate over refugees, migrants and immigrants, voices of the disenfranchised. Citizens of many host countries, even those that previously welcomed newcomers, are uneasy about the rising numbers of individuals coming into their countries. The immediate criticism is that the newcomers upend the stability of social welfare and employment in their countries. Uncertain and skeptical citizens look towards politicians who are competing against each other to see who can claim the prize of the loudest voice of populism and nationalism. It is a contest of who is the toughest on migrants, the most willing to impose travel bans and the most eager to propose projects in building walls.
All these restrictions simply address symptoms of the problem, not the causes. Why are they coming? Migrants can share perspectives, if only politicians would be willing to listen.
In Dubai, I chronicled injustices and inequalities inflicted regularly on the migrant labor force. As a result, pressures from the governments of the respective countries led to me being forced out of my career as a journalist in the Middle East. I was deported to Uganda, where economic deprivation puts everyone at the risk of starvation. I fled Uganda to come to the United States in the hope of sustaining a voice for my brothers and sisters who experience a more serious plight as migrants.
My father told me he was not happy about me writing a book that risked deportation and unemployment. He had been diabetic for many years when I still worked in Dubai, and my salary was always sufficient to pay for his treatments. After I was expelled, I could not afford to sustain his treatment, and even in the last days of his life, I could not afford to take him to a hospital. As I carried his body in my hands to lay it in the ground in June of last year, I realized I had paid a profound price for amplifying my voice.
The act of speaking up against injustices that are multilayered is never easy, because the problems require more than just rhetoric. So long as gold mines, oilfields and large farms in Africa continue to be owned by foreign investors and those vital resources are shipped to the West, the stream of African migrants will flow continuously. There are no restrictions that could ever be so rigorous to stop the wave of migration that has determined our human history.
Before border controls can be tightened and new visa restrictions imposed, countries that have long received migrants should engage in a more open discussion. That is the only practical start for reconciling, finally, a legacy of exploitation, slavery, colonialism and imperialism, so that together, we can move forward in creating a more just global economy in the 21st century—one that benefits all.