Words like ‘refugee’ (and even ‘migrant’) mislead. They reduce people to categories that suggest powerlessness. It is as if the person on the road in these caravans or on the boats in the Mediterranean Sea are to be pitied (if you are a person of sensitive disposition) or hated (if you are a person who has forgotten what it means to be human). But the people walking or on the boats are not without their own aspirations and energy, without their own sense of what they are doing and why they are doing it.
When they cross the unforgiving borders, they get to work: building homes, finding work, raising children [...]. They earn money and then turn around to send it to their families who are at home. Even in the Zaatari refugee camp in Mafraq (Jordan), there are money transfer agencies that take cash from Syrian refugees and send it to their relatives inside Syria. The lines outside these agencies around the world suggest the immense feeling of humanity that motivates the people who are displaced.
The World Bank calculates that displaced people sent a total of $613 billion in remittances to their home countries, most of them in the Global South. To put this into context, the total overseas development aid amounted to $142.6 billion. In other words, workers who live perilously – and there are 258 million of them – send four and a half times more money to their home countries than do the wealthy states of North America and Europe. Even more scandalous, monopoly money transfer firms such as Western Union and MoneyGram take a fee that amounts to between 7% and 10%. The total garnishment from these workers amounts to $30 billion per year.
Capital and weapons slip past the border guards without care. People are held back by the borders. It is this immobility that acts as an economic knife into the gut of the worlds billions. The lack of free mobility of people facilitates lower (super-exploited) wages in some parts of the world as against others. Those who are able to cross borders, but have either no papers or have limited papers, are vulnerable to employers who super-exploit their vulnerability. In other words, on both sides of the border the displaced people have to struggle to get by with super-exploited wages and poor working conditions.