This image above and the poem below are from the blog SeekersClub; Photo credit above: Daniet Etter/New York Times/Redux /eyevine. “Syrian refugee Laith Majid cries tears of joy and relief that he and his children have made it to Europe.”
“Home” by Warsan Shire
no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well
your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body.
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.
no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
and even then you carried the anthem under
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilet
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.
you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
mean something more than a journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one’s skin would be tough enough
go home blacks
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off
or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
or the insults are easier
than your child body
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
your survival is more important
no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i don’t know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here
Throughout human history, climate change, war and economic collapse have been the largest drivers of mass human migrations. There is evidence that we left our ‘natural’ home in the tropical rainforests due to massive fires caused by devastating cosmic radiation, about six million years ago, when we had barely emerged as a separate species from bonobos and chimps. And that during the most recent ice age as many as 25-30% of all humans migrated long distances southward to find land suitable for human life.
Economic refugees fleeing abject poverty and starvation have been recorded from the earliest times of human civilizations.
We are now well down the road toward both global economic collapse and global ecological collapse, and massive migrations and permanent displacements of humans have again become commonplace.
In the US, at least 3.6M people now ‘attempt’ to enter the US each year (ie have ‘encounters’ with border officials). Net immigration is about 1.2M people per year, accounting for about 80% of total population growth, which is a rate of about 0.5% per year. About 6M people apply annually for permanent residence (“green cards”) from outside the country alone; about 70% of actual green cards issued are issued to people inside the country, mostly due to having spouses and family members who are already permanent residents.
By contrast, in Canada, net immigration is about 1.0M people per year, accounting for about 96% of population growth, which is a rate of about 2.7% per year. The difference is partly due to Canada’s much more generous immigration policies, especially for temporary workers and students, which account for 60% of the annual Canadian increase. And it’s partly due to the US, thanks largely to the Hollywood myths, being perceived as the most desirable country in the world in which to live a comfortable or affluent life. And it’s partly due to the fact that the US is just closer geographically to a lot of countries facing early-stage collapse.
If the US were to allow the same proportion of new immigrants as Canada, its immigrant (and total) population would be growing by about 10M people per year.
In fact, it’s likely that actual immigration to the US, including ‘unauthorized’ immigration, is vastly higher than the official reported numbers, mostly for political reasons. A recent study suggests that the latest (Trump) US census omitted 2.3% of American residents, about eight million people, almost entirely “non-citizens”, many of them living in unlisted accommodations or afraid of harassment and expulsion by the immigration cops.
Given the bleak prospects for curtailing climate collapse, and with the additional burden of global economic collapse which is already spreading to much of the Global South, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that the same 25% proportion of humans uprooted after the last climate collapse, will soon be forced to emigrate, mostly northwards, long distances in search of a habitable human climate and functioning economy.
That would be two billion people. Historically the US and Canada have been the sanctuary countries for 20% and 4% respectively of emigrants — that’s 400M additional Americans (10M/year every year over the next four decades) and 80M additional Canadians (2M/year every year over the next four decades). That’s a doubling of the US population and a tripling of the Canadian population.
And the numbers for the ‘Old World’ are comparable. Large parts of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East will be utterly devastated by climate change. Economic collapse there is accelerating. An exodus of 1.4B people from those regions to Europe would almost triple Europe’s population.
Those massive population increases will be occurring at the same time significant swaths of North America (much of the central and western US states and parts of the south) and of Europe (most of the Mediterranean lands) will also become uninhabitable due to climate collapse, and their citizens will likewise be moving north.
Of course, we don’t want to think about this. There is a large and growing racist and xenophobic anti-immigrant sentiment in much of North America and Europe, and it’s not limited to right-wingers. Biden has restarted the construction of Trump’s wall, has retained most of the anti-immigrant laws and policies of his predecessor, and is about to face a huge surge in asylum claims when Trump’s draconian CoVid-19 Title 42 refugee restrictions (which the US Supreme Court blocked Biden from revoking) expire this Thursday (May 11th). Over 2M asylum applicants have been rejected each year under Title 42 since it came into effect. Biden has called in the army to “help maintain order” at the border on Thursday. And he has proposed a new rule which essentially reinstates Title 42.
These millions, the first trickle of hundreds of millions, are knowingly going through hell, selling everything and suffering from disease, injury, dehydration, heat stroke, snakebite, theft, kidnapping, ransom, extortion, and violence from ruthless smugglers, corrupt Mexican cops and American vigilantes, because they’re desperate — as Warsan’s poem so eloquently explains, anything is better than staying in their current hopeless situation. And thousands have been murdered or disappeared.
If they make it, they risk almost certain deportation back to their home countries, usually penniless. While they’re in the US, they face further dangers from xenophobic mass murderers and government-authorized vigilante gangs: Under a new law in Texas, for example, government-deputized squads of anti-immigrant citizens will be able to accost anyone in public places, demand to see papers, and arrest anyone who can’t produce them. And in Texas, anyone can ‘open carry’ guns of any size, including military weaponry, without the need for license or registration, training of any kind, or a background check. Domestic terrorist acts against immigrants are becoming more common, notably in Texas. (EDIT MAY 12: I removed reference to the Brownsville incident with the car that ran into Venezuelan asylum seekers, since it appears this case is much more complicated than anyone thought.)
More struggle, suffer or die trying to access the Canada-US border to make asylum claims or escape capture on either side. But a new deal between Biden and the obsequious Trudeau is tightening up that border as well.
Laws, wars, walls, cops and vigilantes aren’t going to solve this problem. We are seeing the early signs of what is likely to become the largest humanitarian disaster in the history of our planet, and an accelerant to political, social and economic collapse. This is going to swell to become a human flood of massive proportions, and given the desperation of the people caught up in it, the border will either become the largest killing field in history or it will be unable to hold back the hordes, producing national chaos. It may not happen this year, or next, but as collapse deepens, a confrontation is inevitable. And no one is even working on an answer that acknowledges the inevitable — that in times of collapse, we’re all in the same boat, and people must ultimately be free to move to and live wherever they want.
Yet another inconvenient truth no politician will touch with a ten-foot pole.
As Bill Rees says, we’re now in the plague phase. For those not in denial all the signs of collapse are already becoming clearly visible. Climate induced wars (e. g. Syria) are here and migrations will become
an unstoppable tsunami.
No humane (or any other solution) in sight.
Massive die-off is the price there is to pay for our planetary overshoot.
In the meantime keep breeding folks. There is still some energy left to burn.
“no politician will touch with a ten-foot pole”
Well, of course, that’s not their job. Their job is to keep the system going, keep the profits flowing, for as long as possible. If the system collapses, well that’s just what happens when playing the game by their paymasters’ rules.
Adding 1 million, two hundred thousand people each year to anywhere will collapse it. That was probably the entire population before colonisation. No border force will stop it. The refugees will self organise into anti-vigilante groups and what with the ease of getting assault rifles in the US, there will be skirmishes leading to border wars. A cold winter will mean trees cut down for fuel, any animal will be shot for food. Government will be paralyzed.
One million, two hundred thousand people eat, drink, defecate, wear clothes, need medical aid, travel, use paper, switch on lights. Even if they were all welcome, it is still collapse. You just can’t add a big city every year to anywhere and not go under.