Climate change: The future humanitarian crisis

Climate change: The future humanitarian crisis

Climate change is real.

These are only four words but they pack a punch. If that sounds ominous, wait until you realise the harsh truth; climate change is already happening. Despite the delusions of the President of America and his band of climate change-deniers, the world is now facing one of the biggest humanitarian crisis in history. If anyone still has doubts, the events of the last week should be a sobering dose of reality.

Hurricane Harvey hit Texas last weekend, bringing with it one of the largest amounts of rainfall (51.88 inches) the US has ever experienced as a result of a tropical storm. While the initial first-day impact of the hurricane was limited, the rainfall over the next few days has left Houston, Texas devastated. The tropical storm resulted in mass floodings across the city and its surrounding suburbs. The US National Weather Service reported that in some areas, the water levels were 25ft above flood level. Thousands of residents were forced to evacuate as flood waters submerged their homes, leaving many without food, money or shelter. As it stands, the death total from Hurricane Harvey is 18, with an estimated 30,000 now displaced and potentially homeless. The aftermath of the storm will be long-lasting; buildings and houses will need to be rebuilt, thousands will require new homes and the economy will take a massive hit as millions of dollars will go towards the relief effort. Similar to New Orleans after the catastrophic Hurricane Katrine, Houston will be forever altered.

While some may argue that the area itself is prone to tropical storms/hurricanes, given its location, it’s important to note that both Hurricane Katrina and Sandy had near identical results for the cities that they hit. All three of these of these storms were categorised as an ‘every 200-year event’ or ‘every 500-year event’ yet they all occurred within the last 12 years. The increase in severe tropical storms is not isolated to North America; while the media’s attention was directed towards Texas, South Asia was experiencing some of the worst floodings in its history. Flooding in India, Nepal, and Bangladesh has killed 1,200 and affected 16 million. The BBC reports that Bangladesh, which has been hit with its fourth flood this year, is now half underwater. Just like evacuees from Houston, families in Bangladesh have been forced to take shelter on any free patches of land until aid reaches them or temporary accommodation is built.

These incidents are only the start of future natural disasters as global temperatures continue to rise. According to temperature statistics overseen by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), the average global temperature has increased by about 0.8 degrees Celsius since 1880. Even more worrying, GISS has revealed that two-thirds of this increase has occurred since 1975 at a rate of 0.15-0.20 degrees Celsius per decade. While scientists are reluctant to outright say that global warming was the cause of Hurricane Harvey, George Monbiot, a columnist for The Guardian, lambasted the public/media for not asking the obvious questions about the storm;

“We know that the severity and impact of hurricanes on coastal cities are exacerbated by at least two factors: higher sea levels, caused primarily by the thermal expansion of seawater; and greater storm intensity, caused by higher sea temperatures and the ability of warm air to hold more water than cold air. We were warned about this. In June, for instance, Robert Kopp, a professor of Earth sciences, predicted: “In the absence of major efforts to reduce emissions and strengthen resilience, the Gulf Coast will take a massive hit. Its exposure to sea-level rise – made worse by potentially stronger hurricanes – poses a major risk to its communities.”

Along with the huge structural and monetary damages, future storms could result in major loss of life. If these storms become more widespread and frequent, countries may not have the capacity to deal with them. As seen with Hurricane Katrina, it is the poorest who will bear the brunt of climate change first. Those without the means to effectively protect their homes or the monetary capital to flee will be the early casualties of climate change. Additionally, one common thread of each natural disaster is displacement. Based on statistics from the UN Refugee Agency, an annual average of 21.5 million people are displaced due to extreme weather-floods, storms, increased temperatures. This figure will only go up if the world continues to ignore the stark reality of global warming. Countries will be filled with ‘climate change refugees’ and their governments will not have the means nor the money to provide the basic necessities to care for these people, creating an economic and societal crisis.

Extreme temperatures and rising sea levels are not a ‘possibiity, they are a reality. If the world stands any chance against future disasters, we all need to limit and minimise the damage that has already been done. We must pressure governments to commit to reduce CO2 emissions and find other sources of renewable energy. The Paris Agreement was a step in the right direction for the world but with the news that President Trump will pull America out and disband with the country’s obligations, it signals that time is running out to stop the impending global catastrophe. Please write to the Irish government, Ministers and TDs. They aren’t taking action, so we have to.

Photo Credit: Texas National Guard Soldiers respond to the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Tim Pruitt)


Emily is a journalism graduate from DCU. Her work has appeared in the Irish Independent, Sunday World Online and Hot Press Magazine. She is passionate about equality and a fair society for all citizens.


Africa Day 2016: vox pop

Africa Day 2016: vox pop

Cian Doherty reports from conversations about migration at Africa Day 2016.

Africa Day returned to Dublin’s Farmleigh Estate on Sunday 29th May for a celebration of all things Africa. An estimated 30,000 people came to enjoy the blissful sunshine at the family-friendly event, and the annual line-up of African music, food and culture was as special as ever. Now in its ninth year, the festive event marks the linkages between Ireland and Africa, as well as giving Ireland’s African community a day to celebrate together.

Much has happened in the international arena since last year’s outing, the refugee crisis particularly touching a nerve in Ireland. With all this in mind, I spoke to a number of the attendees about the day itself, migration and related issues.

What do you think of the celebration of Africa Day?

It’s very good, very exciting with the different cultures. I don’t know much because I was born in Ireland so seeing all this is pretty new – Anisho Namugere, Uganda.

Amazing! I think it’s very important for people not from Africa to get to know the beauty and the heritage and the amazing food – NC Grey, Nigeria

I think it’s amazing because there’s a lot of people in Ireland who are African. And there’s a lot of Irish people who’ve never been to Africa so it’s good for them to get a taste for African culture – Tina Nsubuga, Uganda.

8. Marang Letshabo, Botswana & Mags Lacy, Dublin cropped

Marang Letshabo & Mags Lacy

How do you think Ireland could be more welcoming to newcomers to the country?

Be more understanding. Everyone has a different story so they should learn other people’s and be open to other cultures – Anisho Namugere, Uganda

We need to engage with the newcomers more, like at events like this one. It would help integration a lot – Catalina Suarez, Chile

I think Irish people just need to be educated a little bit more; a bit more understanding and a bit more open – Gareth Sharkey, Blanchardstown

Through things like this. Getting to learn about us and know what we’re about so they can relate to us – NC Grey, Nigeria

Encourage Irish people to learn foreign languages – Oliver Plunk, Cork

In the past 10 to 20 years when the country opened its doors there’s been a very good reception. Ireland is on the right path and I think they’re doing a good job so far – Marang Letshabo & Mags Lacy, Botswana

We need to tackle direct provision and how we even do asylum in this country. Hopefully the single procedure will deal with that. I think it’s an absolute scandal that we still have people in DP centres up to 14 years. We have children growing up in institutions and it’s just not right  – Eithne Lynch, Dublin

More sessions or ceremonies like this one to get people to get to know each other – Vivian Mabuya, South Africa (winner of best dressed African woman)

Let them work! Give them the dignity of work. Direct provision is a disgusting way to treat anybody. And we’re all turning a blind eye – Pearl Whelan, Clondalkin

9. Saheed Ibrahim, Nigeria

Saheed Ibrahim

Can you tell me something interesting about your home country?

We have something called a new yam festival. It’s celebrated at the beginning of the yam season because we tend to see new yam as new life – NC Grey, Nigeria.

The people are very loving, very open. You can see that we were oppressed for years but there’s a lot of resilience there – Catalina Suarez, Chile.

Botswana is the number one capital of safari in the world. If you want to do safari, Botswana is the place to go – Marang Letshabo.

In Nigeria we dress a lot like this. We dress in the form of our culture and make sure we follow the tradition – Saheed Ibrahim, Nigeria.

Brazil is very diverse and we are in an important moment for the black community there. People are understanding how they can be stronger and are reconnecting with their African ancestry. Before people were trying to be similar with European people but now they’re prouder of their roots – Thais Muniz, Brazil.

Thais Muniz, Brazil

Thais Muniz

A way to go

Maybe it was something to do with the stunning whether, but most people I talked to seemed to think Ireland is on the right track and festivals like Africa Day is the way to integrate newcomers into Irish society.

The fact remains though that Ireland has recognised much fewer asylum claims than many smaller or similarly-sized countries, since 2012 (it’s 20 times fewer than Norway’s). Although if the suggestions from the contributors to this vox pop were taken on board, Ireland could proudly reclaim our reputation of the ‘land of 1,000 welcomes’.

Author: Cian Doherty

Cian is a Dubliner working for GOAL as a Donations Officer. He studied Arts in UCD and completed an MA in International Relations in DCU. Cian has worked overseas with UNAIDS in Malawi and has volunteered in Mexico and Mozambique.

Photo credits: Cian Doherty

Vox pop: Dublin refugee solidarity rally

Vox pop: Dublin refugee solidarity rally

Cian Doherty conducted a vox pop at the refugee solidarity rally last week, asking the public what should the Irish government do about the conflict in Syria.

It’s clear the refugee crisis has touched a nerve in Ireland. Maybe it’s our own troubled history with emigration dating back to the famine. Maybe it’s our reputation as the land of a 1,000 welcomes. Or maybe it’s reservations related to austerity measures and fears to do with the extent of the homelessness problem here.

Whatever the reason, mainstream press and radio as well as social media have been swamped with reaction.  A public demonstration was also organised by United Against Racism on O’Connell  Street for Saturday 12th September. Organisers estimate over 2,000 people turned out to demand a greater humanitarian response from the government. I took the opportunity to canvas some opinions on the crisis and Ireland’s role in it.

How many refugees should Ireland take in?  

We should take as many as we can provide for. We have many ghost estates and they could be filled with refugees. We have the space and could make it available. Jennifer Grundulis (the US, via Crumlin)

Sophie Grundulis at the Dublin Demo for the Refugee Crisis

We need to work on a quota system dependent on the totals involved. We need to do more to provide safe haven for people escaping terror and destruction in their own homes. They’re not coming here because they want to. They’re coming here because of the mess that was created by the wars that we’ve supported through the use of Shannon that have forced these people to flee. Therefore we should pay the cost for our actions. (Ronan O’Dowd, Swords)

They need to take in as many as need to be taken in. If we have the resources that we do, then we can. (Dominique Twomey, Co Galway)

Well they’re announcing 4,000 now. But a few months ago they announced they’d take 600 and said they didn’t have the resources to take any more. Then 2 weeks ago they announced they could take 1800 and they didn’t have the resources to take anymore and now the number’s changed to 4000. If you look at countries like Germany and Sweden and the way they are dealing with the situation you can tell Ireland does have the resources to take in more than 4000. (Diego Castillo, Brazil, Irish Refugee Council)

Certainly a lot more than the 4,000 they’re saying at the moment. It would be better if Ireland could take a lead instead of following other countries on this. We might not be in the best position but we have a history of emigration ourselves. People took us in during the famine and with the things we’ve done for other countries – like America – I think migrants could do a lot for our country. (Rebecca Evans, Dublin)

What should the Irish government be doing about the conflict in Syria?

Our government should focus on the traffickers. I’m not sure in the greater scale with Isis we could do a lot from here. But the gangs who are bringing people across the sea should definitely be targeted. If we had a safer way for people to get across into Europe we’d be taking a lot of money out of these gangs that are profiting from peoples lives. (Rebecca Evans, Dublin)

As a pacifist I don’t believe violence will be the answer to this. We have a long, rich history as peacekeepers so we should find a way to incorporate that ability to help in Syria. Jennifer Grundulis (the US, via Crumlin)

Mehmet Uludag (Organiser) addressing protesters at the Dublin Refugee Demo

We’re supposed to be a neutral country so we should be making some kind of petition for Western powers – namely the US – to stop funding the weaponry that goes to these places. Instead we’re helping them refuel in Shannon which of course is totally at variance with a neutral stand. Pat Blake (Dublin)

Well I pay tax and I’d be very happy for my taxes to go towards helping innocent people who are fleeing for their lives. I also have a free bedroom in my house and I’d be happy to make that available. (Dominique Twomey, Co Galway)

As part of the EU, Ireland should do everything the EU and UN decide. You have military that you barely use so you should put it to good use there. And instead of using Shannon for America it could be used for other things. (Patricia Gonzalez, Spain)

The Irish government should look after its human rights obligations to the people already here (in direct provision) before helping to sort out the crisis in Syria. It’s strange to talk about what Ireland can do to solve the crisis there when the people that have been in the system for years don’t have any support from the government. People are still stranded and being institutionalised after being in Ireland for 5, 6, 12 years so it’s time for them to think about the people already here. (Diego Castillo, Brazil, Irish Refugee Council)

Going forward

Despite the consensus shown here, it must be remembered that a rally like this is always going to be pro-refugee. That said, Ireland is still a rich country, austerity measures or not. And if a comparatively poor country like Lebanon can host over 1 million refugees –  making up 25% of the total Lebanese population – surely Ireland can do a bit better than a mere 4,000?

Find out how you can donate clothes and other items to Syria and to the Dublin Calais Refugee Solidarity Campaign

You can also do your bit by pledging a bed through Uplift’s campaign.

Author: Cian Doherty

Cian is a Dubliner working for GOAL as a Donations Officer. He studied Arts in UCD and completed an MA in International Relations in DCU. Cian has worked overseas with UNAIDS in Malawi and has volunteered in Mexico and Mozambique.

Photo credits: Cian Doherty

Feature image: Jahnavi Rynhart, Kavi Rynhart, Jackie Rynhart, Deirdre Blake & Radha Rynhart at the Dublin Refugee Demonstration
Image 2: Sophie Grundulis, Image 3: Mehmet Uludag, organiser of the demonstration

Refugee crisis – are the numbers really that big?

Refugee crisis – are the numbers really that big?

Gareth Walsh puts the figures of the refugee crisis in context. 

There has been much commentary on the toxic media and political discourse concerning the recent increase in refugees, fleeing violence, and economic migrants, fleeing poverty, arriving on Europe’s shores and at Europe’s frontiers. With honourable exceptions, there has been widespread talk of a migrant ‘crisis,’ ‘waves of migrants washing up,’ and even dehumanising and faux-catastrophic language such as ‘swarms of migrants’ or likening refugees to ‘cockroaches.’

“Migrant crisis adds 0.2% to total EU population in a year!”- doesn’t sound quite as alarming as “1 million on the shores of North Africa boarding boats to Europe!”

This media narrative is generally backed up by what seem like big numbers. The media is reporting that hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees will arrive in Europe this year, which is quite true.

Making numbers sound big feeds a narrative that a problem is big- but we rarely are presented with numbers in context—because in
context, big numbers can actually be small.

Numbers in context

For example, the figure of 1 million people waiting to cross from North Africa into Europe seems like a big number but in context, it really isn’t. The population of the European Union is 503 million. Even if one million cross the Mediterranean into Europe this year- 1 million people amounts to just 0.2% of the total 503 million person population of the EU.

“Migrant crisis adds 0.2% to total EU population in a year!”– doesn’t sounds quite as alarming as “1 million on the shores of North Africa boarding boats to Europe!” does it?

So let’s tackle the figures being bandied around and put them into context. In the total EU population of 503 million, there were 636,000 asylum applications in 2014. That’s 0.12% of the total EU population. A small number.

Irish response

Following the increased media pressure of the past fortnight, the Irish government committed to accepting an additional 2,900 refugees over the 2 and a half year period, on top of the 1,100 already committed to. The total 4,000 refugees over the 2 ½ year period still amounts to just 0.034% of the total population of Ireland per year. It is hard to spin that as a generous, large number.

“If Ireland were to accept refugees at the same rate Germany we would be accepting 40,000 refugees a year”

Ireland is the 12th richest country in the world in terms of GDP per capita according to the IMF/World Bank. There is no refugee crisis in Ireland, only a critical lack of political will to offer some assistance to our fellow human beings.

If Ireland were to accept refugees at the same rate Germany we would be accepting 40,000 refugees a year, rather than 4000 over 2 ½ years.

Europe and Middle East
  • Germany is to accept 800,000 refugees and migrants this year. 800,000 certainly is a big number, however it still amounts to just 0.97% of the total 82.62 million population of Germany.
  • 110,000 people have arrived on the shores of Italy so far this year. While this has been described as a ‘biblical’ wave of migrants in scaremongering tabloid media, it amounts to just 0.18% of the total Italian population.
  • There are around 4,000 people living at the migrant camp at Calais, described sensationally by the media as thousands of migrants waiting to ‘storm’ Britain. This figure is just 0.006% of the total UK population of 64 million.
  • Although media suggestions claim that refugees and migrants are coming to Europe to benefit from European social welfare systems, the vast majority of refugees are travelling to other Middle Eastern countries.
  • Lebanon, with a population of 4.2 million people, is now home to 1.3 million refugees. That’s 30% of the total population, as opposed to the total 0.19%.
  • Jordan, with a population of 6.3 million, has 800,000 refugees, or 12% of its population.

At least 2,700 people have drowned in the Mediterranean so far this year. In non-wartime marine disaster standards, this is a very big figure. After all, less people drowned when the Titanic sunk in 1912, when 1517 people lost their lives.

Europe needs migrants

It is important to note that in European countries such as Italy and Greece, the birth rate is lower than the death date so inward migrant is necessary in order to maintain a working population to look after the aging population. In the UK and Germany, job creation is very high, and migration is a necessary part of the economy in order to allow domestic companies to expand. The 800,000 refugees in Germany will come with skills, education and occupational experiences that will add to the growing Germany economy.

This article isn’t seeking to say that the crisis is actually small on the basis of the figures, or that the increase in refugees and impoverished migrants won’t cause strains for European countries. For the refugees and economic migrants fleeing poverty, this is a major crisis in their lives that they have no control over. However for Europe, it is a manufactured crisis, a direct result of political decisions that shy away from our most basic humanitarian commitments to each other as human beings. This crisis isn’t an accident, but the result of political choices made by European governments.

By understanding the actual scale of the numbers we can better be guided by our humanitarian instincts and duties, and not bunker down in a siege mentality, and pursue a ‘Fortress Europe.’

Europe really can do much, much more.

Take action: A public demonstration will take place at 2pm at the Spire on O’Connell Street on Saturday 12th September to call on the Irish government to take in more refugees.

Author: Gareth Walsh

Gareth Walsh volunteered on the Suas volunteer programme 2014 in Kolkata. He has just completed a degree in Law and Political Science from Trinity College Dublin, and is now undertaking a Masters in Human Rights at the London School of Economics. In the past he was chairperson of the Voluntary Tuition Programme in Trinity College Dublin, which provides free one-to-one tuition by Trinity students and activities clubs for children and teenagers from disadvantaged areas in Dublin’s inner city around Trinity. He is also involved in St. Vincent De Paul’s Sunshine House, and hopes to continue volunteering in the field of education whilst in London.

Photo credit: Lampedusa in Hamburg, Demonstration for the right of refugees in Hamburg, Rasande Tyskar, Creative Commons license

Why language matters in the refugee crisis

Why language matters in the refugee crisis

In this opinion piece, Mary Coogan highlights the contradictions and dehumanising affects of the language used when talking about the refugee crisis.

What if Cecil the lion had been a human? What if he had drowned in the Mediterranean instead of being shot just outside the bounds of a national park? Would his face still have been projected onto the Empire State building? Would thousands have mobilised on social media and on the streets calling for justice in his name? Would his beauty, dignity and life have been celebrated and his death mourned across the world or would he have become just another nameless, faceless statistic?

It took Cecil 40 hours to die. In that same amount of time hundreds of people will have been crammed onto unseaworthy vessels, abandoned to their fate. Thousands of people will have set off from Sudan, Eritrea, Syria and other conflict-afflicted countries in the hope of a better life. They will have left with little or nothing, hoping that what lies ahead for them must surely be better than what they have left behind.

Harsh reality

Many people over the coming weeks will join the more than 2,000 people who have already lost their lives in the Mediterranean this year. Just last week, an estimated 300 people drowned when a vessel, suitable for only 50 people capsized carrying 700 people on board. The fear, panic and horror of their last few hours on earth became another statistic. Their stories were not told, while Cecil’s was.

“This language encourages us to ignore their stories, their humanity and to view their deaths in terms of inconvenience for holidaymakers and truck drivers”

Language of human suffering

Cecil the lion was described and grieved for in very human terms; he was described as ‘beautiful’, ‘iconic’ while his death was a ‘tragedy’. At the same time the world’s media took the stories of the people in Calais and in the Mediterranean and wrapped them up neatly in negative-neutral terms like
‘migrant’ and ‘illegal’.

The uniqueness of each of those people, their traumas and heartaches and hopes were obliterated as they were described by David Cameron as a ‘swarm’ and by Katie Hopkins of the Sun, Britain’s most read newspapers, as ‘cockroaches’.

The use of such dehumanising language in the migrant crisis is significant. It reinforces the idea that  these people are inherently different to us. They are portrayed as a threat and a danger. This language encourages us to ignore their stories, their humanity and to view their deaths in terms of inconvenience for holidaymakers and truck drivers.

The majority of people in ‘the new jungle’ (a problematic term itself) in Calais and as well as those rescued in the Mediterranean, are from countries such as Eritrea, Sudan, Afghanistan and Syria and therefore, under international law, most likely have a sound asylum claim. Yet they are continually referred to as ‘migrants’, a term that generally refers to someone who travels to another country to work for a short period of time.

“Avoiding the more specific terms, refugees and asylum seekers, and referring to people as illegal, enables us to turn our backs on them…”

Avoiding the more specific terms, refugees and asylum seekers, and referring to people as illegal, enables us to turn our backs on them, to ignore our international obligations, to infer a criminality and a threat on people who are no different to you or me other than where they happened to be born.

In refusing to use these legitimate terms, the ‘push factors’ are also swept away and given little attention. The worsening situation in Syria, conscription in Eritrea, and ongoing conflict in South Sudan become irrelevant because the people themselves are, somehow, ‘illegal’. Politicians talk about building fences and increasing police presence rather than looking at the root causes of the circumstances which push people to risk their lives.

Immigrants or expats?

When I overhear people complaining about ‘immigrants’ I often wonder who exactly they are talking about. Is it everyone who was born outside Ireland or only people whom they perceive to be some type of threat or burden? Are they talking about Indian doctors, Nigerian consultants, Bangladeshi software engineers and Filipino nurses? Are they talking about someone waiting patiently in a direct provision centre to get the papers that will finally enable them to earn a living?  Are they talking about the delivery driver who brings them their favourite chicken szechaun every weekend?

“An Irish person who overstays their visa in America is ‘undocumented’ but an Indian student who overstays their visa in Ireland is ‘illegal’”

The term immigrant has become laced with so much negativity, yet this negativity seems to be reserved for certain groups; for example, does the media tend to label the sizable British and American communities in Ireland as immigrants? Not in my experience.

When it comes to our own role in this globalised world, our language changes again. When an Irish person goes to live and work in, say, South Africa or China, they become an ‘ex-pat’.  But when a South African or Chinese person comes to live and work in Ireland, they become an ‘immigrant’.  An Irish person who overstays their visa in America is ‘undocumented’ but an Indian student who overstays their visa in Ireland is ‘illegal’.

Counter movements

Anti-immigration movements are on the rise across Europe, however, there are counter movements where ordinary citizens come together in the spirit of our shared humanity to do what they can for newly arrived asylum seekers and migrants. There is a movement calling for justice and dignity; it’s just a bit quieter than the movement against Walter Palmer.

The language we use matters. Language reinforces barriers, emphasises differences, dehumanises and hurts. In an increasingly globalised world with an increasing level of complex conflict, people will continue to leave their countries of origin in search of something better. Underneath the labels of migrant, immigrant, ex-pat, undocumented, refugee, citizen; we are all human beings. No one life is worth any more or less than another and especially not less than that of a lion.

Author: Mary Coogan

Mary is originally from Co Wicklow and holds an MSC in International Development from UCD. She previously volunteered in Ghana and South Africa. Mary worked in overseas volunteering roles with Suas and VSO before joining the Trócaire team this year.

Photo credit: A boy from Iraq stands with his family at the gate of the registration centre in Kos, August 2015. International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, Creative Commons License

Obama and the dreamers: a review of ‘The Golden Dream’

Obama and the dreamers: a review of ‘The Golden Dream’

 In light of Obama’s Executive Order on immigration, Cian Doherty looks back on the Mexican film, ‘The Golden Dream’ and considers the dangerous journey made by those seeking out a better life.

President Obama caused a fuss stateside recently. His Executive Order announced sweeping plans to reform US immigration policy, shielding nearly five million undocumented immigrants from deportation.

The majority of these – about 4 million – are undocumented parents of US-born citizen children or legal permanent residents. Republicans are still seething at the news and doing everything in their power to overturn the act. They voted to block the measure, but the Senate refused to pass the veto.

The ‘Dreamers’

The move also extended a measure introduced in 2012 allowing migrants who were brought to the US illegally as children – or the ‘Dreamers’, as they are better known – to remain in the country. On hearing this, I was reminded of the Spanish-language film, ‘The Golden Dream’. I had just seen a showing of it in the Pavilion Theatre in Dun Laoghaire, part of the Monday night series that brings excellent ‘IFI-type’ films to the seaside suburb.

“The country accepts their illegal cheap labour, without allowing them the proper residency papers needed to rise above the faceless servant class.”

The ‘Golden Dream’ is about a group of teenagers from a squalid Guatemalan barrio attempting to make their way to the US for a better life. It is a common enough scenario in this part of the world. The Mexico-based film-maker Diego Quemada-Díez distilled the screenplay from real-life recollections of hundreds of illegal immigrants thereby adding authenticity to the action.

Given their undocumented nature, it is difficult to get an exact number of immigrants attempting this type of passage. Though it is telling that in 2013 alone there were 662,483 apprehensions by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Social Realism

Quemada-Díez cut his teeth working with Ken Loach. The British director’s influence is evident in the film’s raw realism and its committed social concerns. As the youngsters hop boxcars and ride the rails up through Mexico, they have harrowing run-ins with corrupt cops and predatory criminals. Perils like this seem to be inevitable for anyone making this kind of journey north.

“It seems servitude behind those golden bars may be around for a while longer”

The grittiness is somewhat balanced  by the warm coming of age teen-drama that sees the group bond and flirt.The young cast are are also exceptional and thoroughly deserved their award for best ensemble at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013.

Karen Martínez is especially strong as Sara/Osvaldo. In an attempt to hide her gender, the character has to tape down her breasts and cut her hair so as to avoid the risk of sexual attack.

Golden Cage

The Golden Dream’s original Spanish title is Jaula de Oro (The Golden Cage), and comes from a Mexican folk ballad of the same name. The song is about the despair of those Mexicans who make it to America but find it is a ‘golden cage’. The country accepts their illegal cheap labour, without allowing them the proper residency papers needed to rise above the faceless servant class.

Obama’s new immigration policy changes these circumstances, especially for those already living in the US who qualify. This in itself must be welcomed. His recent State of the Union address copper-fastened the situation, promising to veto any Republican bills “refighting past battles on immigration”.

That said a reprieve from deportation and active citizenship are two very different things. The Executive Order may confirm an immigrant’s legal status in the US for now, but the next president could  issue an Executive Order of their own, repealing Obama’s. Plus, having the correct documents is no guarantee of getting the right kind of work. Either way, it seems servitude behind those golden bars may be around for a while longer.

Worth the Shot?

So you have to wonder whether a chance at the American myths of  wealth and prosperity are really worth it. A few years ago I took a reverse route to the film’s, travelling down from a summer job in California to a volunteer project in the idyllic highlands town of San Cristobal De La Casas in Chiapas, Mexico. Nowhere during my time in California did I see civic initiatives like those I saw in Chiapas.

You may say that in a society as rich as the US there is no need for it. But it goes beyond economics. Opportunity is all very well, but the American emphasis on individual success at all costs surely comes at a price. Community-minded solidarity may be one such casualty.

Despite, this, the US will continue to be a magnet for impoverished Latin American ’Dreamers’ for many years to come. ‘The Golden Dream’, with all its heartbreak and grim reality, is worth watching for anyone thinking of making a similar journey. As it is for anyone with an interest in Latin America, immigration or just plain, good film-making.

Author: Cian Doherty

Cian is a Dubliner working for GOAL as a Donations Officer. He studied Arts in UCD and completed an MA in International Relations in DCU. Cian has worked overseas with UNAIDS in Malawi and has volunteered in Mexico and Mozambique.