Crossing Continents


By Leonard Doyle

Beach strewn with the abandoned belongings of African migrants in Djibouti. They toss their desert survival kit as they step into canoes bound for Yemen. Photo by Paul Salopek 2013

TRAVELING by foot, National Geographic writer Paul Salopek is recreating the epic journey of humankind starting at its birthplace in Ethiopia and ending at the southern tip of South America. He walked in the scorching heat of the deserts of Ethiopia’s Rift Valley across the broiling barren landscape of Djibouti to the Red Sea coast. Stranded for weeks. There he encountered IOM's Chief of Mission Bakary Doumbia and a fascinating conversation ensued, much of it on Twitter after Paul moved on to Saudi Arabia.

At least 100,000 people make the dangerous trek out of the Horn of Africa each year. Writing of the border Paul said:

It is a debris field of 21st-century wanderers, exiles, penitents, orphans. Somewhere ahead the border crossing forms a funnel, a bottleneck, for migrant workers from all over the African Horn. They, too, are walkers. They walk to Yemen. To Saudi Arabia. To Dubai. Not to hunt oryx with stone-tipped projectiles, as did the early Homo sapiens who walked out of Africa.

As he explains online, Paul believes the story of migration was actually kindled some 60,000 years ago, when our ancestors first wandered out of the prehistoric African Eden, and migrated across the Middle East and Asia, before crossing into North America and rambling to points south.

Along the way he is engaging with the major stories of our time — from climate change to technological innovation, from mass migration to cultural survival — by walking alongside the people who inhabit these headlines every day. Moving at the slow beat of his footsteps, Paul is also seeking the quieter, hidden stories of people who rarely make the news.

"Their tales highlight a central truth of our humanity in this globalized age: The most important narratives of our time, once monopolized by the developed world, now increasingly appear at the world’s margins."

Twitter Broadcast
 
Friday May 10, 2013
11:16
Out of Eden Walk: 

Good morning! We're just a couple of hours away from our human migration chat. Leave your Qs here or on Twitter with #EdenWalkChat.

 
 
1:00
Out of Eden Walk: 

Greetings to everyone tuning into our second campfire discussion!    

 
 
1:00
Out of Eden Walk: 

We're joined by Paul Salopek who has finished the first leg of his journey through the Rift Valley of Ethiopia to Djibouti — Paul, can you offer a quick update on where you are, where you're headed before we get going?

 
 
1:00
paul salopek: 

I've just dismebarked in Saudi Arabia after being stranded for more than a month in Djibouti. Piracy has strangled off all passenger rides on cargo ships across the Red Sea. (Insurance woes.) But I finally managed to hitch a Sierra Leonean-flagged livestock boat to Jeddah. My passage was easy—three days holed up at sea with 8,000 sheep and 855 camels. By comparison, at least 100,000 African migrants make the same crossing of the Red Sea—but illegally, in rickety open boats that often capsize, killing scores every year. That's what we're here to talk about today—the huge wave of human migration taking place today not just Africa, but across the world. The UN estimates that 200+ million people live outside their countries of origin. Many hundreds of millions more are on the move inside their own coutries. Why is it happening? What are the push and pull factors? 

I am joined today by Bakary Doumbia, the director of the International Office of Migration in Djibouti, to help us tackle this subject. Welcome Bakary.

 
 
1:01
Out of Eden Walk: 

Paul, As you’ve written, humanity had a ‘near extinction event’ between 60,000 and 90,000 years ago. Please remind us of the factors that drove early humans to finally leave Africa. What do we know about the role of climate, and the natural environment, in that momentous migration?  

 
 
1:03
paul salopek: 

Scientists are still debating that. Some say a massive mega-drought kept us bottled up in Africa--and then the greening of the Middle East was a pull factor.

 
 
1:03
IOM-Djibouti: 

Hi Paul, Thank you for inviting me to the chat today

 
 
1:04
Out of Eden Walk: 

Hello Bakary -- can you please tell us more about your organization, the International Organization for Migration. What kinds of programs do you run in Djibouti?

 
 
1:04
paul salopek: 

Hi Bakary. great to se you again. One of the
last times we met was at a Coast Giard base in Djibouti.

 
 
1:07
IOM-Djibouti: 

Yes, that is correct

 
 
1:08
 
 
 
1:08
paul salopek: 

While we wait for Bakary's answer, let's migrate on ahead. I certainly empathize with slow connections in djibouti.

 
 
1:08
Out of Eden Walk: 

Bakary, can you give us some idea of how many migrants pass out of Africa every year? How many pass through Djibouti?

 
 
1:10
Out of Eden Walk: 

while we wait for Bakary -- Paul, a note for you.

 
 
1:10
 
Comment From Sabrina 

Hi Paul! Been following your incredible journey from the beginning! Thanks for the inspiration. First Q: how do you feel after 400 miles of walking and a long boat ride?

 
 
1:11
paul salopek: 

It's been a bit dizzying jumping on a boat and not only moving so far--about 600 miles--but hopping sub
continents. Very different ones.

 
 
1:11
IOM-Djibouti: 

In DJibouti, IOM runs a Migrants response center in Obock, in Coordination WIth Governement of DJibouti.

 
 
1:12
paul salopek: 

Bakary--I think the numbers of "clandetsine" migrants out fo the Horn of Africa alone is +100K right?

 
 
1:13
Out of Eden Walk: 

Can you both speak to the rate of migration in the African Horn now? Is the rate increasing? What are the main factors moving people today (vs the environmental 90,000 years ago)?

 
 
1:14
paul salopek: 

Climate change (droughts) economic pull in Saudi Arabia (which is booming with high oil prices)....

 
 
1:14
paul salopek: 

I don't know how big the human river was in the past, but today, from gournd level, it is huge--I passed hundreds walking in the desert.

 
 
1:15
IOM-Djibouti: 

The Migrants Response Center mainly works to inform migrants on the dangers of irregular migration. Sensitizes of existence of regular migration ways. Offers help to migrants willing to return voluntarily to their country of Origin

 
 
1:15
Out of Eden Walk: 

Here are a few facts and figures on Djibouti population  via IOM.  

 
 
1:15
Comment From Marooned0nEarth 

Do the migrants come from all over Africa, or only regions that are nearby?

 
 
1:15
paul salopek: 

They carried alomost nothing. A Plastic jug of water. Some barley gruel. We're talking walks of hundreds of miles.

 
 
1:16
paul salopek: 

@Marooned: Mostly from Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somlia. But sometimes from as far away as SouthA frica--that's like seeing someone from Uruguay at teh Rio Grande.

 
 
1:16
 
Ethiopian migrants en route to Saudi Arabia prepare \"besso\" a barley gruel that is their staple when crossing the desert on foot.
 
1:17
IOM-Djibouti: 

The Migrants response center (MRC) also supports Government to provide lifesaving support to Migrants, including Health assistance. The MRC supports the rehabilitation of community wells to increase water coverage for local community and migrants.

 
 
1:17
 
Comment From Kim Perea/teacher 

The students in Columbus who are part of Project Zero want to know if you have seen any children migrating and if you have any idea how many people die each year trying to make a better life for their families?

 
 
1:18
paul salopek: 

Hi Kim. I did se older children--maybe 15. The dead are hard to count. They vanish in the desert or teh sea. I saw seven people who didn't make it.

 
 
1:19
IOM-Djibouti: 

Migrants crossing from Djibouti mainly come from Ethiopia (80-90%) and Somalia (10-20%).

 
 
1:19
Out of Eden Walk: 

Bakary, do you know what percentage of migrants are ‘illegals’?  

 
 
1:20
paul salopek: 

As bakary knows, this is a very harsh exodus. The migrants know they face thirst, robbers, drowning. They are THAT desperate to have a better life, they risk death. It's hard to count them--much less their legal status.

 
 
1:20
IOM-Djibouti: 

There is about 100,000 migrants crossing the Gulf of Aden each year.

 
 
1:21
 
 
 
1:21
paul salopek: 

Bakary--is that number growing?

 
 
1:21
IOM-Djibouti: 

All are irregular migrants

 
 
1:22
Out of Eden Walk: 

Where are all these people going? Persian Gulf? Europe? Turkey?

 
 
1:22
IOM-Djibouti: 

The number has continued to grow.

 
 
1:22
 
Comment From Kim Perea/teacher 

It has been interesting for my students to be able to make the connection between what you are experiencing in Africa and what they know about Mexicans attempting to cross illegally into the United States, because they want a better life. My students would like to know if you have had the opportunity to talk to any of the smugglers. God Bless You and keep you safe on the rest of your journey. Kim Perea

 
 
1:23
paul salopek: 

The ones I met with on the desert trail were headed to Saudi Arabia, to work as menial laborers, often on farms (men) and domestic helpers (women).

 
 
1:23
IOM-Djibouti: 

In 2008, there were about 50,000 irregular migrants. Last year (2012), 107,000 irregular migrants.

 
 
1:24
IOM-Djibouti: 

People are going to Gulf states, Europe at later stage.

 
 
1:25
paul salopek: 

Yes, Kim. I interviewed smugglers. What strikes me is how poor they are--at least at the field level. Bakary can talk about the international mafia that runs the human trade out fo Africa. But the enbalers are often destitute nomads, teh Afar (guides, etc.)

 
 
1:25
 
Comment From Joe Slay 

Are the migranst usually single men, or do you see whole families on the move?

 
 
1:25
paul salopek: 

The poor "moving" the poor.

 
 
1:26
IOM-Djibouti: 

Most of the times, they are single. 
We have however seen an increased number of women and children, most of the times unacompanied.

 
 
1:27
paul salopek: 

Bakary--I mostly saw young men. Only a handlful of very brave women...What does your data show?

 
 
1:27
paul salopek: 

And the women are particularly vulnerable right?

 
 
1:28
IOM-Djibouti: 

Migrants are very poor, vulnerable during the trip.

 
 
1:28
Out of Eden Walk: 

So, are these children who lose their families along the journey? Why are they doing this alone?

 
 
1:29
IOM-Djibouti: 

We have been reported an increased rate of forced migration once migrants leave their country and find themselves in another country as irregular migrants

 
 
1:30
paul salopek: 

Bakary, I encountered children who were headed to relatives already working in the Gulf. An amazing solo journey for a young person--doubtless a life changing, bruising, hardening experience

 
 
1:30
IOM-Djibouti: 

Beating, hostage taking, request for family to give more money before migrant can be released to continue travel are increasingly being reported

 
 
1:31
Out of Eden Walk: 

Ah. Incredibly vulnerable. Bakary, can you paint a picture of the actual journey? How treacherous, physically, is the crossing of the Bab al Mandeb?  

 
 
1:31
IOM-Djibouti: 

More reported also is the amount of rapes taking place on the route of migration.

 
 
1:32
IOM-Djibouti: 

Women and Children remain the most vulnerable on this route

 
 
1:34
Could you describe the sort of jobs/lives the migrants were 'promised' to compel them to make the arduous journey? #edenwalkchat
 
1:34
paul salopek: 

It's called the "Strait of Grief" for a good reason: fast currents and storms sink ships. Imaging being packed--100 people aor more--into an open boat that's only 35-5o feet long. SOmetimes, people get crushed to death in this ships.

 
 
1:34
 
beach strewn with the abandoned belongings of African migrants in Djibouti. They toss their desert survival kit as they step into canoes bound for Yemen
 
 
1:35
paul salopek: 

@seejy: It's more like "lure." Harvesting dates in the Gulf for $300-$400 a month is considered a golden ticket to success.

 
 
1:35
IOM-Djibouti: 

Before talking about the crossing to Yemen, We need to note that Djibouti has a vast desert land. Temperature goes up to 50Degree C between May and August. During that period is when the biggest number of death are registered.

 
 
1:36
paul salopek: 

Yes--I I walked past scores if not hundreds of graves near the Ethiopia/Djibouti desert.

 
 
1:36
IOM-Djibouti: 

Please also note that Djibouti has gone through more than 6 years of consecutive drought. Water resources are scarce, making it difficult to share between migrants and local population.

 
 
1:37
Out of Eden Walk: 

Bakary - @seejy's question is a good one. As migrants make the passage, are they then finding work? Are they sending money home to their families?

 
 
1:37
IOM-Djibouti: 

As I mentioned earlier, several migrants die in the Djiboutian desert before reaching the sea crossing point in Obock

 
 
1:38
paul salopek: 

And it was drought that many thousands of rural Ethiopians were fleeing. Quite a gantlet. I've govered migration all over the world. This was the the most brutal passage I've seen.

 
 
1:39
paul salopek: 

Bakary--what does Djibouti do with the migrants it apprehends?

 
 
1:39
IOM-Djibouti: 

The crossing is done with boats in very bad conditions and overloaded. Most to nearly all migrants do not know how to swim, making the crossing even more dangerous

 
 
1:39
Out of Eden Walk: 

More on the humanitarian crisis — the IOM has appealed for $5 million in emergency aid to help stranded Ethiopian migrants.

 
 
1:40
IOM-Djibouti: 

Migrants apprehended are handed over to Ethiopian border authorities at the border in Galile

 
 
1:41
 
Comment From Don Belt 

What happens to the migrants when they land? If they escape detection, do they live as fugitives in their host countries. If caught, are they deported, or just kept in jail?

 
 
1:41
paul salopek: 

On a walk out of Africa following the pathways of the first human "migrants," the irony was not lost that they, too, "lacked papers."

 
 
1:43
paul salopek: 

Varies by country, Don. Many hundreds of undocumented migrants live on the margins through the Gulf region. Much like the US.

 
 
1:44
 
Comment From jeff lud 

Does the migration tend to be one-way, i.e. migrants only leaving off the African continent not to return, or is it more transitory, seasonal, like the US/Mexican border?

 
 
1:44
IOM-Djibouti: 

Once migrants make it through the harsh ways of Djibouti (Desert, drought, smugglers,...), and they managed to cross the sea, they land in Yemen.

 
 
1:45
#Edenwalkchat what awaits the migrants if they are lucky enough to survive the crossing? i imagine the saudis aren't going to be welcoming?
 
1:46
IOM-Djibouti: 

In YEmen, the problems they face does not end. Migrants have reported a lot of human right violation while in Yemen.

 
 
1:46
paul salopek: 

Jeff: The ones I met had plans to stay years abroad. It s so hard to get out of Africa, you don't go back until your fotune is made...if at all.

 
 
1:47
Out of Eden Walk: 

@Paul - what kind of work are they finding to make that "fortune."

 
 
1:48
paul salopek: 

Bakary, you might be better versed to answer @FKL6. I know there are sporadic camoaign to round up irregular migrants. As in most counntires, it depnds on the local economies. Oil prices go up? The Gulf states relx their vigilance, because they need teh workers.

 
 
1:48
IOM-Djibouti: 

Considering these migrants are irregular, several people take advantage of them during and after their travel when they arrive at their planned destination

 
 
1:49
paul salopek: 

I met a lot of Ethiopian pastoralists who were headed to the Arabian Penninsula to work as herders--much like the Basque in the US.

 
 
1:50
paul salopek: 

Some are treated quite well, and stay their entire lives. Others suffer human rights abuses, but can't report them. Much like Texas, or anywhere else.

 
 
1:51
IOM-Djibouti: 

In addition, they face deportation whenever they are caught by authorities. This makes them work in the Dark and accept bad treatments from employers.

 
 
1:52
Out of Eden Walk: 

To give sense of scale -- more than 100,000 migrated through Horn of Africa last year. There were 19.3 million international migrants in Africa in 2010, according to IOM. 46.8% of those were women.

 
 
1:52
paul salopek: 

A sight I will never forget: 

The beaches of Djibouti littered with actual "dunes" of abandoned migrant belongings. Litterally tons of personal stuff--shoes, diaries, knapsacks. . It was haunting, as if people simply stripped off their clothes and walked into the Red Sea.

 
 
1:53
Out of Eden Walk: 

Paul, Bakary - can you help us understand the magnitude of global migration. Is what we're seeing today the largest mass migration in human history?

 
 
1:54
paul salopek: 

I think we are indeed living in an age of epic mobility--much of it spurred by human misery. The numbers in China alone, while tapering off, are staggering--something on the order of 100 million people on the hoof. It makes the Dust Bowl look puny.

 
 
1:54
IOM-Djibouti: 

Report indicate that 1 in seven person is on the move. This gives an idea of how many people are on that move.

 
 
1:55
IOM-Djibouti: 

Some of these people are regular, some irregular migrants.

 
 
1:55
paul salopek: 

We started out restless, seeking reosurces to live, when we wandered out of Africa 60,000 years ago. Those pathways are still being used today--deep grooves of human yearning worn into the land.

 
 
1:55
IOM-Djibouti: 

Some travel within their own country in search of better life, some travel to other countries in search of that better life

 
 
1:56
 
 
 
1:57
Out of Eden Walk: 

Couple of questions about how many of these migrants are legal/illegal. Bakary - can you explain the difference between regular/irregular?  

 
 
1:57
Comment From Kimi Reed 

Because this migration is all illegal and because they have nothing really waiting for them on the other side . . . wouldn't this really be considered a mass exodus?

 
 
1:57
Comment From Marooned0nEarth 

What defines a "regular" migrant? They have received a visa or work permission? And how hard is it to get that?

 
 
1:59
IOM-Djibouti: 

Migration, when done orderly benefits migrants, the host country and the country of origin of origin.

 
 
2:00
paul salopek: 

Kimi--it sometimes seems to me like the mass evacuation of Africa. It staggers the eye to see it in action. It is simply overwhleming. Heartbreaking. But keep in mind the population scale--there are nearly a billion peope on the continent. If the numbers are right, we're talking les than 2 percent on the move--massive, but not like classic emigration centers such as Mexico.

 
 
2:00
IOM-Djibouti: 

Obtaining proper documentation before travel makes the main difference between regular and irregular migrants

 
 
2:01
paul salopek: 

Marooned: "Regular" means fully legal. A golden visa. A legitimate job waiting. Very very rare.

 
 
2:01
Out of Eden Walk: 

That's right. Less than 2% are migrants. Full stats at IOM here.  

 
 
2:02
Comment From Kimi Reed 

With the overwhelming numbers of people on the run, is there ANY orderly exit taking place. Do these migrants really have a means of filing out in orderly and with legal conduct?

 
 
2:04
paul salopek: 

Kimi--yes. it's a brain drain. The legal diasporas of countries such as Somalia, Congo, etc. are mostly highly trained people, or the very wealthy. South Africa, for example, has lost many of its best nurses to the UK.

 
 
2:04
Out of Eden Walk: 

Greetings for Paul from the U.S. —  

 
 
2:04
 
Comment From cynthia 

Paul, abrazos from California.do you think of the migrants you are tracing as permanent? Do they keep ties to home and imagine they will go back someday?

 
 
2:04
IOM-Djibouti: 

Sorry, I had connection problems. Process to obtain documentation depends on the country of Destination and the need of employment.

 
 
2:06
paul salopek: 

Bakary, you should weigh in on this, too. 

In my eperience, no: Once they get out, they tend to stay out. "Out of Africa" often means a permanent exit. Though there are backflows among teh business community--to Somalia, for example, or Ethiopia, as economies improve.

 
 
2:09
Out of Eden Walk: 

Bakary - thank you so much for joining Out of Eden Walk readers today for this discussion. Before we wrap up, just wanted to ask about your aid efforts. With so many people on the move across the continent, how are you able to draw attention to Djibouti to help the thousands in trouble there?

 
 
2:11
IOM-Djibouti: 

Once migrants move out, Depending on the reason of their moving out, they either come or do not come back until that problem is solved. As example, if reason for migrating is persecution, migrant will not come back until he feels security is better for him to do so.

 
 
2:11
 
African migration in context -- this New York Times interactive offers a look at migrant flow and remittances by country. http://www.nytimes.com/ref/world/20070622_CAPEVERDE_GRAPHIC.html
 
 
2:12
IOM-Djibouti: 

For people migrating for economic reason, they tend to come back if they are sure they have documentation to travel back.

 
 
2:12
IOM-Djibouti: 

In all cases, migrants keep contributing to the family expenses through money transfers

 
 
2:14
paul salopek: 

Bakary--thank you so much for being with us here today.

I hope people go to this site to see the scale of problems humanitarian groups face in trying to get a handle on the vast and growing human migration through the Horn of Africa, our once and future corridor of exodus:

http://www.iom.int/cms/en/sites/iom/home/news-and-views/press-briefing-notes/pbn-2013/pbn-listing/funds-urgently-needed-to-aid-vul.html
 

 
 
2:16
Out of Eden Walk: 

Yes, thank you. And thanks to you, Paul. You have landed now in Jeddah -- can you give us a sense of what the next big trek will be for you? And how you're feet are holding up? :)

 
 
2:17
IOM-Djibouti: 

Thank you very much for this question. As I indicated below, the problems of irregular migration is a challenge to migrants themselves, the local community and the Government of Djibouti. It has been difficult to mobilize resources for lifesaving activities in DJibouti. Of the 6,000,000 USD requested under the CAP 2013 to help vulnerable migrants, less than 10% has so far been mobilized.

 
 
2:18
paul salopek: 

I'm getting my land legs back after the Red Sea crossing, walking the camel souks outside Jeddah, looking for two camels that have been waiting here their entire lives for a skinny guy in a cowboy hat to show up, and take them--against their will, poor beasts--north, into the Levant.

Feet registering no complaints.

Thank you all. A pleasure to be here.

 
 
2:18
IOM-Djibouti: 

This year particularly, we have seen in increasing number of migrants requesting for help for a dignified return to their country of Origin. Resources have taken time to materialize and IOM is finding more and more difficult to support.

 
 
2:20
IOM-Djibouti: 

I would like to use this opportunity to call for donors support to help vulnerable and stranded migrants.

 
 
2:22
Out of Eden Walk: 

Thanks again for being here, Bakary, and for your efforts. And thanks to all who joined  #EdenWalkChat  — until next time!

 
 
2:22
IOM-Djibouti: 

Thank you very much Paul for inviting me today to the Chat. Good continuation in your walk.

 
 
2:24
 
 

 
 
 

The online experience of the walk is shared through two primary venues. Supported by the Knight Foundation, www.outofedenwalk.com serves as a digital laboratory for the walk and houses the work of various partners.

A companion site at outofedenwalk.nationalgeographic.com is supported by the National Geographic Society and is the repository of Paul’s journalism, presented as Dispatches.

WWW.OUTOFEDENWALK.COM

Milestones

Every 100 miles (160 km) Paul is pausing to tend the campfire of our shared humanity by recording a narrative Milestone consisting of photographs of the ground and sky, ambient sound at that location, and a brief, standardized interview with the nearest person.

Strung together along Paul’s route, the Milestones constitute a unique transect of life on the planet at the start of a new millennium.

Map Room

Partnering with Harvard’s Center for Geographical Analysis, the walk offers ways to build new online tools for enhancing storytelling through digital cartography. Keep an eye out for map updates — and share your mapping ideas in “Lab Talk.”

Classroom

Paul’s walk is shared in real time with thousands of schoolchildren across the world. For details on how to bring the walk’s “slow journalism” about science, current events, and history to learners, please visit the sites of the walk’s two main educational partners, the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and Project Zero at Harvard.

Lab Talk

The walk’s followers are invited to use this forum to brainstorm new ideas about journalism, cartography, social media, digital technology — and how to promote meaningful storytelling in an age of hyperactive media. Pull on your boots and join the discussion.

DISPATCHES AT OUTOFEDENWALK.NATIONALGEOGRAPHIC.COM

Paul’s Dispatches are stories told in words and pictures — mainly stills but also video — and, periodically, audio. They vary in length from “trail notes” of no more than a short paragraph to long-form reportage of several thousand words. Read the stories and share your thoughts about Paul’s long journey in the comments section of each Dispatch and keep an eye out for his responses to some of your comments. In addition to near real-time online storytelling, once a year Paul is standing back and writing a full-length print article for publication in National Geographic magazine. Look for the first of these in December 2013.

WALK COMMUNITY

Whatever facet of the Out of Eden Walk interests you, Paul invites you to share your thoughts as he explores the frontiers of storytelling on an ancestral journey that belongs to all of us.

So sit awhile at the campfire, and warm your hands.

----------------------------

Download the detailed Out of Eden Walk Project Outline (pdf).

Leonard Doyle is the head of Online Communications for IOM