On migration routes

My recent radio silence can be blamed on a new job: an exciting new opportunity to be more involved in research and advocacy on displacement in Central America. I’ve been spending my days recently learning a host of new skills: proposal writing; situation monitoring and infographic designing. The power has gone off a couple of times in the past few weeks here in Puerto Rico (nearly eight months after Hurricane Maria), so I’ve also developed some new contingency planning skills such as knowing exactly where the nearest café with a generator is and always keeping my computer fully charged. This recent article from The New York Times runs through the current state of the response to Maria, and the various bungles made over the past few months with respect to the government response and the reconstruction of the power grid: a chaotic tangle of overlapping missions and fumbling coordination, according to the NYT.

The other day, on one of my café trips, I noticed a somewhat twee chalkboard entitled ‘what are you grateful for?’. People had written a range of response such as ‘love’ and ‘coffee’. As I just spent the past few hours reading reports of the dangers of being a journalist in Central America, the first thing that came to mind was ‘I’m grateful for the work of excellent journalists’. So on that note, here’s my pick of the month of interesting articles, with the common denominator this month being exceptional storytelling, in particular of difficult journeys made by migrants and refugees. Make yourself a coffee because these are worth a good peruse.

Firstly, Reuters ran a special report recently, including photos and animations, documenting the journeys made by Venezuelans travelling across South America to Chile, in order to start new lives. Journalist Alexandra Ulmer and photographer Carlos Garcia Rawlins took the bus journey all the way from Caracas to Chile, crossing five countries, documenting the lives of people young and old making the difficult decision to leave, often having to split up their families and leave behind their possessions, in order to find safety, security and stability. UNHCR recently reported that 5000 people are currently leaving Venezuela every day, one of the largest movements of people in the continent’s recent history. The Reuters report provides detailed personal accounts of why people are leaving: middle class families losing all purchasing power, unable to buy basic medicines for their children, missing school because they couldn’t afford to take the bus, people losing weight due to food scarcity and staying at home for fear of violence in the streets.

Another migration route: this time without a bus service, the way forward guided only by footsteps in the desert. Journalist Benedict Moran published a photo report for IRINNews from a migration route in Djibouti; a crossroads where Yemenis arrive fleeing war, and at the same time, where migrants and refugees from across Africa pass through in order to get to Yemen and beyond. The photos and animations on this report are incredible – showing just how bleak and treacherous the journeys must be: many (…) walk for days across lava fields and arid zones where temperatures can reach 50 degrees Celsius. Seeing the pictures of this terrain just made me think (perhaps somewhat flippantly) that if a European ‘adventurer’ with a fancy camera made the journey across this desert, they would probably be offered a book deal or sponsorship at the end of it; instead people cross without shoes, at risk of being kidnapped, subjected to sexual violence, or death. These are the types of journeys ‘migrants’ are making, these are the journeys that make the refugee/migrant dichotomy inadequate for the 21st century.

Finally, two podcasts: firstly for the Spanish speakers (and for those that can listen and grasp the gist, there’s an English transcript). Radio Ambulante is a podcast in Spanish telling stories from Latin America, that works with storytellers and radio producers from across the continent. I cannot recommend it enough, and in particular, this episode ‘No Country for Young Men‘ by Daniel Alarcón on everyday life, violence and displacement in Honduras. It is a superb piece that weaves a story of separated families, remittances, bravery, fear and journeys. Without spoiling the plot, I will say that the podcast includes so many different layers, including the journey abroad made by one, as well as the life for those left behind – with daily journeys of skirting danger, or the anti-journey of resorting to confinement. Finally, especially for those who have had their interest piqued by the current ‘migrant caravan’ news in the US – check out the three part podcast series by Radiolab on the history of the US-Mexico border. I’m only halfway through so I can’t vouch for the third episode, but Radiolab has never let me down when it comes to exceptional storytelling, so do go and check it out.

Thanks for reading and do let me know any great pieces that are on your radar this month!

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