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Vicky Mochama: Racism plays a significant role in the migrant crisis

And it’s not just comments like Donald Trump’s designation of Haiti and continental Africa as “s---holes.”

A group of migrants wait to be transferred from the Spanish war ship Santa Maria to the non-governmental organization (NGO) Aquarius ship by SOS Mediterranee and Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF - Doctors Without Borders) NGOs, on Dec. 26 2017, on the Mediterranean sea.

FEDERICO SCOPPA / AFP/Getty Images

A group of migrants wait to be transferred from the Spanish war ship Santa Maria to the non-governmental organization (NGO) Aquarius ship by SOS Mediterranee and Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF - Doctors Without Borders) NGOs, on Dec. 26 2017, on the Mediterranean sea.

Out on the water, it’s been a tragic start to the year.

The Missing Migrant Project records 192 people have gone missing so far this year as they crossed the Mediterranean. Last weekend, 64 people disappeared — drowned, presumably — as 150 people travelled north in a rubber dingy.

The Italian coastguard filmed the rescue operation. The footage is desperate and devastating. Dozens of Black migrants with grim terror and speed try to flee the sinking boat. It illuminates a problem with the global migrant crisis that has gone unmentioned and thus, not dealt with: the ongoing and growing hostility to migrants is also a racist problem.

Black migrants experience the ebbs and flows of the global migrant crisis, and the hostile responses, in a way that is worth noting.

Over the last year, there have been dozens of incidents that indicate how race and racism play a significant factor in migration.

In late November, 26 young Nigerian women, likely in their teens, were found dead on the Mediterranean Sea; early reports said they’d possibly been sexually assaulted.

In the same month, CNN published undercover video of Black African migrants being sold as slaves in one of nine reported slave auction markets in Libya.

Re-iterating a plan from 2013, the Israeli government has offered $3,500 to 40,000 African migrants to self-deport back to their countries of origin. Many are already detained indefinitely in a prison in Israel’s Negev desert. For those who are not detained or self-deporting, the Israeli government has offered Israeli citizens $9,000 to anyone who wants to temporarily join their anti-migrant force.

The desire to keep Black migrants away has a monetary end too. The European Union has a $2 billion fund aimed at projects in African countries to keep migrants from crossing into Europe. Critics say that fund and other efforts like it are what make migrants vulnerable to sexual assault and modern slavery.

The racial dimensions of the migrant crisis are not just a European problem. And it’s not just comments like Donald Trump’s designation of Haiti and continental Africa as “shitholes.”

It also looks like the prime minister remarking on the case of Abdoul Abdi (the young man facing deportation after Nova Scotia child services failed to apply for his citizenship when he was under that agency’s care) without noting the anti-Blackness that has put that man in danger of facing deportation to a country he has never known.

It is also found in the confusion and procedural chaos that has left hundreds of largely Haitian migrants on this side of the Canada-U.S. border without the appropriate papers or protection.

Without acknowledging that race and racism have played a role in the global migrant crisis — in leaving migrants vulnerable to traffickers and slavers, in enabling Israel’s rampant anti-Blackness, in leaving Black migrants in Canada in a state of uncertainty — we cannot fully understand one of the greatest policy challenges the world faces.

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