GURPREET Kaur was nearly seven years old. Her body was found in the Arizona desert on a day when it was 40 degrees Celsius. Kaur had been one of a group of four Indian migrants who were trying to get into the United States through the US-Mexico border.
At some point, two of the migrants got separated from another woman and the young girl. The two women went on towards the United States. Closer to the country, the women were apprehended by the United States Border Patrol. At that time, the two women told the border guards that another woman and a child were stranded in the desert. When the border guards searched the area, they found the body of the little girl. When it was autopsied it was found that the girl died of “hyperthermia”, a condition where the body becomes severely overheated causing damage to the tissues and organs.
The woman who had stayed with the girl was not found. It is believed that she may have turned back toward Mexico. The two women in US custody said that they had come from India, that human smugglers had taken them to the US-Mexico border, and told them that they would have to make their own way across the desert.
All the concern and care seems incapable of stopping the stream of dying and detained children.
Such groups of Indians are not the only people willing to travel great distances, searching for an opportunity to cross into the United States. In recent months, Pakistani nationals have also tried to make the crossing. Recently, a large group of African migrants from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cameroon and Angola attempted to do so as well. According to CNN, these African migrants went by plane to Central America. Once they were there, they decided to walk to the US-Mexico border. Video and pictures emerging from there revealed African women and children screaming and crying as they were apprehended by guards. One of them screamed to television cameras: “They [the guards] don’t care, they just don’t care.”
Even if they did make it across the border, the US Border Patrol’s policy of separating children from parents would lead to the women and children being housed in separate detention facilities. Not only has the Trump administration refused to back down from that policy, it is currently constructing more detention facilities that would continue to separate women and children and hold them indefinitely.
On the other side of the United States as the US-Mexico border, the United Nations headquarters in New York will hold its yearly commemoration of World Refugee Day. Lots of appeals and promises will be made. Some will mention the increasingly staggering number of refugees that economic need, war, conflict and political upheaval have created in the past year. Reports will be launched that discuss these increasing numbers with great solemnity and great concern. None, of course, will be able to alter the situation on the other side of the United States or anywhere in Europe where refugees are being shackled and chained, neglected and deported.
To sum it up, all the concern and care expressed by the international human rights community seems incapable of stopping the stream of dying and detained children, refugees and asylum-seekers around the world.
Things are not expected to get any better any time soon. The fact that the refugees recently seen at the US-Mexico border have come from such great distances, flying from India to Central America or from Africa to Central America and then trying to cross into the United States, is an indicator of just how desperate the situation is becoming.
Nor are things any better in the European Union, where every election instals yet another far-right government bent on barricading its borders even more against the migrants. The new Danish government has gone as far as to boast that its intention is to make Denmark the most unattractive target destination for migrants from these places. A huge number of articles have been written about how desperate the situation is and how far Europe and the United States have veered from their slogans of welcoming places or even places committed to human rights and human dignity.
Here in Pakistan, we still have not come to terms with our relationship with refugees. The Afghan wars and the consequent arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees were not welcomed in Pakistan, despite the fact that many shared a religion and even ethnicity with the Pakistanis. Even more damning is the fact that ‘stranded Pakistani’ refugees in Bangladesh, following the events of 1971, have now seen two successive generations grow up in camps. Despite repeated appeals, no politician in Pakistan is willing to take up their cause.
The point of all of this is simply that the world seems at the precipice of an era of hatred that will outdo all others. All the signs are present; an ever-growing fight for resources that pits everyone against everyone else, increasing competition over resources such as fossil fuels and water, an increasing mistrust of others and the splitting of the world into an axis of interests.
The dead girl in the desert in Arizona, the African women and children at the US border, the thousands of Mexican and Central Americans in detention in the United States, the stranded Pakistanis still languishing in camps in Bangladesh, the Afghan refugees still facing discrimination in Pakistan, are all faces of the human cost of this coming era. The mechanisms of international cooperation like the United Nations have failed to bring relief to any of these people. The message to the world’s most helpless from quite literally everyone else is simply, you’re on your own.
The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.
Published in Dawn, June 19th, 2019