Routes and Roots – Julieta Barragan Sosa, Spain/Uruguay

Many of us have felt frustrated and sad, watching the world’s current migration situation, mainly as a result of the issue of refugees and asylum seekers. I say ‘issue’ and not ‘crisis’ because the real crisis is happening in the countries whose people are being forced to flee, leaving behind their lives to pursue an uncertain future.

EEE-YFU (European Educational Exchanges – Youth For Understanding) came up with the idea to organize an exchange project in which young people between 15 and 18 years old were given the opportunity to understand the situation in depth and form their own opinion, rather than one imposed by media agendas. This step counters one of the known disadvantages of globalization – an overload of information to the point where we can no longer digest and analyze things.

The YFU exchange project, Routes & Roots, took place from 19 to 25 March with YFU exchange students and volunteers from all over Europe and beyond. Albania, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Latvia, Estonia, Spain, Italy, Austria, Thailand, Indonesia, Japan, USA, Mexico, Uruguay, Ecuador and Argentina were among the nationalities represented, making the seminar all the more insightful as everyone talked about immigration in their respective countries.

Throughout the week, participants discussed the answers to some crucial questions:


What do we mean by “diversity” in a certain society or group?

There were answers for everything as we all strived to put in our 5 cents. To have diversity in society or in a group is to have people with different backgrounds, education, religion, gender, sexuality, opinion, personality, identity, skill, routine, views, ideas, perspectives, hobbies, and so on. However, when we talk about diversity in society, we sadly also have to talk about the discrimination which originates from refusal to accept that these differences make the world culturally richer.

What are the challenges and the positive aspects brought by migration and cultural diversity in a country?

When talking about the challenges that migration brings to a country, we mainly encounter communication and integration problems. However, this is vastly outweighed by the positives, such as multiculturalism and entrepreneurship. Immigrants have already taken the risk of immigration and are usually up for ways to establish business, which creates work opportunities in the host country. In addition, immigrants bring new perspectives to things that already existed in the host country, such as medicine, cooperation and open mindedness.

What do you hear most frequently when people speak about migrants?

This question made everyone realize that they had mostly heard negative things being said about migrants. Common sentiments expressed were: migrants are job stealers, migrants provoked the economical crisis in 2008 and migrants do not integrate. Talk about migrants as the carriers of multiculturalism, open-mindedness, entrepreneurship and  communication was the exception. A lot of people are afraid of the unknown, and when the unknown happens, they prefer to blame others before judging how loaded their words and actions are with racism and discrimination.

Why do people migrate?

Conventionally, they looking for a better life (education, health, jobs, etc) or aiming to find themselves. But most cases we hear about these days are those of people fleeing war, hunger, corruption, discrimination and economical crises. Participants visited Alessandria to see Cambalache, an organization that helps refugees and asylum seekers settle into their new lives while waiting for a response from the European Union concerning their asylum petitions. Here we met some of the asylum seekers such as X (kept anonymous for safety purposes). X told us about how he had to flee Nigeria because he is Christian and Boko Haram is attacking the Christian community in his country.  

Where do people migrate from and to?

  • te_1The US is one of the countries that hosts more immigrants. Meanwhile, in Europe, the media has given the impression that we are taking in a lot more refugees than we have the capacity for. However, the reality is that while Europe has received more asylum petitions than any other continent, none of the European countries can claim to have hosted most of the refugees, as 80% of the refugees in the world are hosted by underdeveloped countries.There were 19.5 million refugees worldwide at the end of 2014. During the year, conflict and persecution forced an average of 42,500 persons per day to leave their homes and seek protection elsewhere, either within the borders of their countries or in other countries.Developing countries host over 86% of the world’s refugees, compared to 70% ten years ago.In 2014, the country hosting the largest number of refugees was Turkey, with 1.59 million refugees. By the end of 2014, Syria had become the world’s top source country of refugees, overtaking Afghanistan, which had held this position for more than three decades. Today, on average, almost one out of every four refugees is Syrian, with 95 per cent located in surrounding countries.

    Last year, 51% of refugees were under 18 years old. This is the highest figure for child refugees in more than a decade.” (UNHCR Staff Figures, 2014)

    Jordan, a country of around 6.321.000 inhabitants in just 92,300km², hosts almost 700,000 refugees and asylum seekers. On the other hand, Europe, with 739,000,000 inhabitants in 10,530,751km², hosts 434,160 refugees and asylum seekers.

    The difference is vast, proving Jordan to be a more welcoming country than the entire European Union. Nevertheless, the media does not reflect that. Media in Europe nowadays is feeding the population’s fear of a wave of refugees, so that even if we feel sorry for their situation, we let politicians close the Turkish borders and make devoluciones en caliente (Spanish expression for quick deportations without due legal procedure) -a practice that has been controversial for a long time at the Spanish-Moroccan border.

    Are migrations happening everywhere?

    Migration is indeed happening everywhere. About 216 million people in the world live outside of their countries of origin, which is a total of the 3.15% of the world’s population. Of course, these data refer only to international migrants, and we should also take into account the number of internally displaced people (IDPs), which just in 2014 was 38 million people (UNHCR, 2014). IDPs are victims of forced migration, usually for natural disasters and wars. Colombia is home to 15.8% of the world’s Internally Displaced People, which is equivalent to 12% of Colombia’s population or 6,044,2000 people (Riesenfeld, 2015).

    Are immigration flows higher now than before?

    After discussing this point we concluded that migratory movements today would not be higher than they were in the past, but due to global population increase, the same percentage of global migrants translates to many more people. The events of today would have been reflected in major wars of the 20th century: the First and Second World War; the Spanish, the Chinese and the Nigerian civil wars, the Gulf War…

    After discussing these issues to position ourselves on the issue of global migration, we turned to the local level: how do we observe the contributions of multiculturalism to our cities?

    • Traffic signs and information signs around the city are usually in a globally understood language of symbols or monosyllables, if they are not translated to different languages, in order to prevent accidents.
    • Language schools are common nowadays – at least in Spain, there is usually at least one in every town – and it is also common to find native professors of the language of study.
    • The use and study of English as a second language has increased over the last few decades, making it a lingua franca for the globalization epoque in business, tourism, and studies.
    • In big cities it is common to have different neighborhoods for different ethnicities, the most well known being Chinatown. The variety of places of worship in cities has also increased, and that of restaurants of different cuisines.
    • Nowadays, the number of international schools has grown to the point where there are more than 7,000 around the world.
    • te4In order to see different aspects of migration, we spent the week with different organizations:MigrantourMigrantour is a project running in Italy, Spain, France and Portugal, in which a group of guide volunteers show visitors the city from the migrants’ perspective: history and the day-to-day life, and what they see when they first arrive in a new home.Cambalache

      An organization in Alessandria that helps asylum seekers and refugees stay on their feet while waiting for an answer from the European Union on their situation. On the day we visited this organization, we took part in a roleplay where each of the Routes & Roots participants had a role to fulfill as a refugee family on the way to cross the border: our mission was to convince the guards that we needed to cross. Furthermore, we had the opportunity to share lunch with asylum seekers and refugees that took part in the organization, and were able to hear their stories. The aforementioned X, had a two-week journey from Nigeria to Niger, and then a week trip to Libya… all without a steady source of water or food.


Migration Museum, Genoa
We did not only talk about the current migratory situation, but also had the opportunity to get to know the conditions in which Italians migrated to America in the previous centuries. How men were separated from women – even seven year old boys were separated from the women they were travelling with. How these ships were a nest of diseases, thanks to the poor living conditions (there were a lot of people in a small space and sheets were changed once a month; it did not matter if someone vomited due to dizziness. Ironically, once you got to the United States you had to take a mental and physical exam. If you did not pass those exams you were sent back to Europe.

From the migration lawyers’ points of view:

Participants roleplayed in trial to decide the future of an 18-year-old Argentinian who had immigrated illegally to the United States. This was not an easy activity as some had to take his side, others be against him and the jury decide which side was more right or legal. Everyone had to leave their feelings outside the “courtroom” and decide based on the arguments presented.


Routes & Roots managed to involve young teens in issues as complex as migration through informal education and facilitating situations that created debate between the participants. At the end of the week, they could each go home with an opinion generated or in process of being completely formed, and many question to be answered. Because this is what it is about: waking up those restless minds that are not satisfied with just what is shown in the media and want to scratch the surface until they find the truth. Waking up the desire and the will to get involved in making the current reality more fair for everyone.




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