ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The immigration issue in the U.S. lately has focused on a recent caravan of migrants working its way up from Central America through Mexico en route to the U.S. border.
But a bigger ongoing migration out of African countries continues to cause a humanitarian crisis that is felt around the world, particularly in Europe, says Robert K. Hitchcock, an adjunct professor of anthropology at the University of New Mexico.
Hitchcock will be the featured speaker at the Friday gathering of the Albuquerque International Association. He will speak on “The Humanitarian Crisis in Africa and Its Global Implications,” and why migrants are leaving Africa to destinations primarily in Europe.
Hitchcock has done extensive work with refugees throughout Africa. His research has concentrated on social and economic change, resettlement, livelihood rights, and the well-being of indigenous people, women, minorities and refugees. He is a board member of the Kalahari Peoples Fund, a nonprofit organization that assists people in southern Africa.
Reasons for the exodus include drought, economic downturn, unstable governments, armed conflicts and a desire to seek better living conditions, Hitchcock told the Journal during a phone interview.
“The numbers of migrants leaving Africa since 2015 has declined, so we’re not seeing the peak numbers now for a variety of reasons,” he said. Among those reasons are the dangers of passing through one country to another and getting caught in the crossfire of neighboring conflicts; of traversing the Sahara in an attempt to get to a coastal country where they can possibly get passage to Europe; and of a Mediterranean transit in overcrowded and unsafe boats.
But even overcoming these dangers, there is still the fundamental problem that “receiving countries are not as receptive as in the past” and are taking in fewer migrants, Hitchcock said. “There is a rising sentiment of xenophobia, and a belief that it’s more important to help your own citizens and worry less about strangers.”
Migrants from Africa are particularly attracted to Europe by the generous social programs offered to new arrivals, which allows them to survive in cultural ghettos, without jobs and without learning the language or adopting the cultural values of their host country. This has stoked “cultural clashes, sometimes violent,” between the country’s native-born citizens and its migrants, Hitchcock said.
In addition, because many of these countries are members of the European Union, travel from one EU country to another is far easier. That has fueled anger among native citizens that outsiders are competing for limited jobs, draining their social services and putting additional pressures on local economies, “and fears that countries have lost control of their borders,” Hitchcock said.
Hitchcock said he hopes people who attend his talk will leave with a greater understanding and more empathetic view of why people in Africa are migrating.
“If we help them alleviate the poverty, they will stay at home.”
Robert K. Hitchcock’s lecture, sponsored by the Albuquerque International Association, will be held Friday from 3-5 p.m. in the UNM Continuing Education Conference Center, 1634 University NE. The cost is $15 for AIA members, $20/non-members and free to students (under 30) with a student ID. People can pay online with a credit card at www.abqinternational.org or at the door by cash or check only.