There is no uniformity to why people decide to shift from their home countries, though there are some patterns and recurring motifs.
For instance, for most people the final port before Europe – Libya – is the most dangerous part of the journey. I spoke to one young man in Palermo, who is still not eighteen, who told me had been arrested in Libya multiple times, that he had spent six months in prison, that he had been beaten, that the Libyans treat the blacks very badly. Another told us that his best friend was assassinated at random in Libya. And yet this same person spoke kindly of the man who had employed him in carpentry, who paid him on time and, when he couldn’t, secured his passage on a boat to Lampedusa with a people smuggler.
Many of those we spoke to were orphaned or neglected in some way. Sometimes their stories describe immense suffering, but not all are facing certain death, the boys from Egypt and a couple from Gambia describe the desire to travel, to see other countries when asking why they come to Europe. The same reason why I left Australia for Berlin via London.
It reminds me not to develop a cliche about irregular migrants, asylum seekers, refugees in which they are all facing death, rape, starvation and so on because it sets up eligibility criteria for which we will allow black and brown people to freely move outside of their own countries, to come to Europe, to take a train to Paris or Berlin or Stockholm or wherever, to settle, or not settle, to work a little, or to avoid work with the utmost care, to party, or raise a family or all of these things.
The point is not that there is a humanitarian crisis (though of course there is), a crisis for whose victims Western countries should open their gates very briefly before shutting them again very tightly, but that there should be no gate in the first place – certainly not one which locks out people from certain countries while being curiously open to those from others.
I am passionate about free movement, no borders, a collapsing of binaries between a body which is worthy of entry and a body which is not. It is not only a very queer concept, it even rescues queer from its own assimilation into a capitalist discourse where it is perhaps only a genre, a market segment – queer night at the white, hetero-capitalist discotheque. Rights and tolerance enclosed in a circle of white privilege and military frontiers – this is not the same as freedom.