By Tolu Olubunmi
I was five years old when I traveled across the borders of Nigeria, my birth country, for the first time.
I still have a fuzzy memory of filling my brown bear backpack with toys at home in Lagos—and then playing with my cousins in Brussels. The memory brings back those feelings of joy sprinkled with wonder. As a child, I did not understand what it took to get me from Africa to Europe - not the security bestowed by my passport nor the convenience and safety afforded me by air travel.
What at the time seemed like a simple excursion put me among a privileged group: those for whom migration is without fear, free of traffickers or smugglers, and far removed from leaky boats and deadly border crossings.
In November of 2017, CNN aired footage of men being sold for as little as USD 400. The report exposed the horrors of the complex migration and displacement crisis that Libya has witnessed for years. Underdevelopment, state fragility, marginalization, and security threats in West Africa, East Africa, and the Middle East have driven migration towards, and beyond, Libya, which serves as the main transit point for migrants and refugees trying to reach Europe by sea.
In each of the last four years, 3,000 migrants and refugees have died crossing the Mediterranean Sea, according to data from the UN Migration Agency.
For those who attempt this dangerous journey—in stark contrast to my own experience—migration is borne from necessity. It is neither safe nor convenient.
Reports from Libya of the plight of these migrants and refugees have motivated millions of global citizens to demand action in defense of those exploited and enslaved. During Human Trafficking Awareness Month, cities across the globe hosted rallies and marches. I had the honor of marching and speaking at the Los Angeles, California anti-slavery rally. There I witnessed first-hand the power of committed global citizens working together for change.
But this mobilization of support for the 24.9 million victims of modern-day slavery must extend to all victims of the global migration crisis.
Globally, record-breaking numbers of migrants and refugees are moving across international borders. Some are fleeing conflict and persecution. Others are responding to labor shortages.
With an estimated 258 million international migrants worldwide, addressing the challenges of international migration in a holistic and comprehensive manner is critical. And, shifting public perception to have an evidence-based debate about migration gets us closer to achieving this goal. That is why TOGETHER is so necessary.
Launched in 2016, TOGETHER is a global initiative to change negative perceptions and attitudes towards refugees and migrants and to strengthen the social contract between host countries and communities, and refugees and migrants. With a growing coalition of governments, private sector, civil society representatives, and individuals, TOGETHER offers a way to engage and mobilize global citizens in the fight against discrimination and xenophobia; helping our interconnected world also become interdependent in order to effectively address the global migration crisis.
My first experience of migration is merely one example of billions of experiences worldwide. When it comes to migration and for the benefit of integration, exposure to the struggles and triumphs of migrants and refugees is necessary. Sharing our diverse journeys fosters cultural understanding of the value of migrants and migration and creates the space for agreement on a set of common principles and approaches to guide a global response to international migration.
The writer is currently working on assignment with IOM’s Media and Communications Division.