What Does it Take to be Human?

Photo Credit: TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images 

What Does it Take to be Human?

Michell Figueroa, MIMS


During the second week of January, the University of San Francisco held the Academic Global Immersion program in Rome, Italy. It was very important for me as a student in the Masters of Migration Studies program to participate in this global immersion course. I had spent months prior to AGI-Rome exploring the politics and policies that have impacted the ‘refugee crisis’ and often found myself feeling defeated with the conceptual discussions that went on in class. Throughout the immersion course we met organizers, community leaders, NGO workers, and others working to welcome refugees and other migrants into Italian society. Caritas, Save the Children, Jesuit Refugee Services, Doctors Without Borders, UNHCR, and SPRAR all participated in our educational experience.

Each speaker we met recounted the strengths of their organization, but also the challenges that they face with such a large and vulnerable population of migrants. During our meeting at the Doctors Without Borders facilities in Rome I learned of the large number of informal settlement camps that can be found housing migrants in very unsafe and unsanitary conditions throughout Italy. I also learned that many people living in these settlements are recruited to work as day laborers in Italian farmlands. This information resonated with me since I myself come from a farm working community in California where many immigrants are exploited by agricultural companies. It was surprising to hear that refugees and other migrants in Italy could be experiencing the same thing that migrants from Central America and Mexico experience in the United States. This meeting encouraged me to look at the humanitarian crisis that Italy is experiencing with a wider lense.

My general attitude towards this immersion trip was to listen and to learn from the people that experience this unique and complex humanitarian crisis. Yet, what surprised me the most is that the crisis might not be as unique or complex as we have posed it to be in MIMS discussions. I mean this in the most humble way possible and with the understanding that it is difficult to quickly accommodate a large sum of people seeking humanitarian aid. However, if we see the underlying layers of this crisis we find that the problems that arise with granting protective status, granting citizenship, integrating migrants and so forth are also experienced in other countries. All over the world, migrants are making their way through dangerous land to find safety, stability, and maybe even wealth, but the problem they face is not migration, it is our reception to them as fellow human beings. We continue to equate migrants as less than human and leave the bulk of the work to organizations such as Caritas, Doctors Without Borders, Save the Children, etc and that is where the problem begins. What I learned during my AGI-Rome experience was that we have aligned our conversations of migration to citizenship, ignoring the major factor of our raw humanity. We have ignored our privilege. Who am I to decide who gets a home? Who is Paolo Gentiloni to determine who is worthy enough to be human? Who is Donald Trump to decide who gets to step and stay on native land? Who is human enough to exist with freedom of mobility? These are the questions that are not being answered by our governments, politicians, neighbors, friends and family. These are the questions we must pose to ourselves; not just so that we may ponder, but so that we may act to ensure we never have to watch people lose their humanity such as they are doing now in this refugee crisis.

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