Every day, all over the world, people make the most difficult decision of their lives; to leave their homes in search of a better life.
Their journey can be full of danger and fear. Some face detention when they arrive. Many face daily racism, xenophobia, and discrimination. They are uniquely vulnerable, without the usual support structures most of us take for granted.
Amnesty has been working with refugees and migrants for decades. From helping to prevent refugees being returned to be persecuted to protecting the most vulnerable migrants from being exploited and abused by their employers, traffickers and smugglers.
Around 1,700 refugees and migrants died trying to cross the Mediterranean in January-April 2015 alone. Ibrahim, aged 24 and from Mali, survived a shipwreck in February: “At around 7pm the boat started to lose air and fill with water,” he told us. “People began to fall into the sea. With each wave, two or three were taken away. We clung to a rope with water up to our bellies.” A cargo boat eventually rescued Ibrahim and the only other survivor at about 3pm the next day.
Thousands of people who make their way from Central America across Mexico every year are abducted, killed and raped.
In Europe, many refugees and migrants don’t even reach dry land, as a tightening of “Fortress Europe” means the only route in is by overcrowded and unseaworthy boats, run by traffickers who care little whether their passengers arrive. At least 3,500 people died making the crossing in 2014 alone. European governments are more concerned with keeping people out than saving lives.
Migrant workers, vulnerable and without their usual support system, often end up being paid a pittance and are worked to the bone. Many cases we have seen amount to slavery. Some countries simply seem not to care enough to protect migrant domestic workers. For example, in countries such as Hong Kong and Indonesia, these workers suffer all sorts of abuse – including sexual violence and forced labour.
Qatar has come under fire for its negligence towards other migrant works too, despite promises to reform ahead of the 2022 football World Cup. Delays in wages, harsh and dangerous working conditions, poor living conditions and forced labour are still endemic. But hope endures, as epitomised by the 1,000 workers who travel every day from India to Saudi Arabia in the hope of a better life, only to be met with deception and exploitation.
The way migration issues are presented by politicians, public officials and the media has had a huge impact on how people view migrants. Migrants are often scapegoated by politicians or the media as “illegal immigrants”, “gate-crashers” – even “invaders” – who exploit host countries’ generosity. This creates the impression that migrants have no rights at all, and leads to racism and discrimination.
The positive benefits migrants bring with them, including skills, resources and diversity, rarely make the news. According to the World Bank, international migration is good because workers can move to places where they are most productive. And the money migrants send home to developing countries (known as ‘remittances’) is worth three times more than what governments spend on development aid – an estimated US$404 billion in 2013.