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Pilots like Amira (T)


In my early life, I traveled the world following my father’s career. The uproots occurred in three-year cycles except for high school when I moved countries every year. Saying goodbye to my grandmother wondering if I’d ever see her again was hard but even as a child, I knew it paled in comparison to what migrants and their families from war-torn countries endured.


Take Amira, who I met as a volunteer in 2012. She and her father had been living in a hotel in the UK for a year waiting on a decision on their asylum status. A bright-eyed child with an infectious laugh, Amira confided she wanted to be a pilot though her dad wanted her to be a doctor. She giggled loudly prompting her dad to smile sheepishly the way Syrian dads do when they know their daughters have already won the debate.


Amira’s dad is one of some 30,000 asylum seekers waiting for a decision on a claim. He is among the migrants who have forked out thousands of euros from their life-savings to agencies that have promised accommodation and work in safe environments in destinations like Germany or France. Like Amira’s dad, these migrants then pay additional agencies even more money to get across the Channel.


Being smuggled across the Channel is a harrowing experience whether it’s in the back of a refrigeration van or in a rubber dinghy with signposts for oars. Recent tighter overground controls in Calais have led to an exponential increase in boat crossings, jumping from 1,835 in 2015 to 18,720 in 2021. The policing of 200km of French coastlines have served to displace and hide channel crossings further along the coast towards Belgium[1] adding to the dominant misperception that migration is synonymous with people trafficking and that migrants are here to freeload.


Nothing could be further from the truth. Like Amira and her father, migrants in the UK are ready to start a new life but they’re also willing to study and work for it. The International Migrants Day on the 18th of December celebrates this spirit with the slogan, More than Migrants, and the group at Intercultural Cities (ICC) seeks to change the perception from one that sees migrants as a problem to one that employs them as part of the solution. Read the ICC and the theme of #InternationalMigrantsDay and the UN’s observation of migrants for ideas on reimagining human mobility.


[1] Williamson, Lucy. 2021. The Battle for the Channel, 25 November, 2021. BBC News, Our World. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0010tsn; https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0010tsn/our-world-the-battle-for-the-channel

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