Tourists might be surprised to see how many African and Middle Eastern migrants are in Europe. I certainly was surprised. It’s one thing to see boat loads of migrants in news reports. It’s quite another to walk among these people who are trying to survive.
We have visited five EU countries this year: United Kingdom, Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Croatia. While Morocco is not in the EU, we saw large numbers of migrants in that North African country – mostly in Marrakesh. They openly roamed tourist areas to sell goods to raise money to get further north: sunglasses, iPhones, watches, small wood carvings, paper art, etc.
Before I go on, let me state for the record: no migrant ever tried to rob us, con us, or rip us off. Most migrants are extremely polite. Most are men, and they have learned at least some English to help their sales. I tell you these points because some readers may have prejudices against Africans and Middle Easterners.
My husband chatted with one young man selling goods and learned he was from Senegal. The West African country is a “stable democracy, but its rural villages have emptied of young men who are unemployed and see Europe as the only means to a better life,” to quote one news report. And that is the main problem the world over — no jobs and no money for so many people on this planet. So, these migrants leave their homes in search of work — just as Latin Americans flee their countries and head to the United States.
In addition to Marrakesh, we also saw many migrants in Casablanca — a city with a Mediterranean harbor, and a city with legal — and likely illegal — ways to cross the sea.
Once we left Morocco, we saw large numbers of migrants who had made it into the EU. Again we saw them selling goods to tourists, especially in Spain.
A stunning chart released by the EU’s statistical office shows which countries have the highest numbers of migrants. Germany tops the list for migrant relocation, by far. It’s followed by the United Kingdom. As of this writing, Brexit is full steam ahead, and German hard-liners are demanding borders be closed to migrants.
The EU’s chart of countries with migrant relocations also include Italy, Spain, Portugal, and to a much lesser extent, Croatia; all countries we have visited so far this year. What we saw in real life, mirrored the statistics. (The fascinating Eurostat chart is here.)
In Barcelona, migrants mostly sold purses, shoes, clothes. They put their goods on a large sheet on the ground with ropes attached at four corners, so they can easily scoop up the merchandise into a large sack-like contraption when police disburse them. One time I watched Barcelona police disperse a group of about 10 men from the Catalunya Square (the main plaza). All of the men drew their sheets into sacks and carried their goods away. When police left, these men set up in a different, nearby spot — on the same square.
In Portugal, we saw far fewer migrants than we saw in Spain. Most often we saw African men – and a few women – in touristy places around Lisbon, trying to sell whatever they could.
Even though Italy has many more migrants than Spain and Portugal, we saw fewer migrants in Italy. Maybe that’s because we only got to Rome and Northern Italy.
Or, maybe that’s because of the “Italy First” mentality revealed in the recent election, and migrants don’t want to openly sell goods and call attention to themselves. Many Italians seem highly resentful toward migrants. It’s a similar attitude many Americans have adopted over Latin Americans who enter the country illegally. Italy recently refused to accept migrants rescued from the Mediterranean Sea.
Ultimately, some people believe the migrant issue will break up the bloc. I’m no political expert, but I can see that happening. Look at what a similar migrant issue is doing to the U.S. In the EU, migrant numbers are much higher than in the U.S. – by the millions – and so tensions are higher.
We have seen fewest number of migrants in Croatia, just as the stats indicate. Interestingly, we saw more internal migration in Croatia than anywhere else. We met Croatians in Split and in Omis who are not from these areas, but they came from rural parts of their country to work in the restaurants during the summer tourist season. I’m guessing migrants don’t go to Croatia as often as other countries because there are far less resources to help them once they arrive, and far fewer available jobs.
The whole situation sucks. There are too many people on the planet competing for too few jobs and resources. Now throw in the climate change, which increases migration. (The most recent United Nations report on climate change migration is here.)
And don’t forget war. Syrian refugees are another heart-breaking sight we’ve seen on our travels. Some experts believe climate change helped cause Syrian war. Scarce water sources in rural areas drove people to cities, and when those people looked for work and found none, it lit the fuse to war.
I don’t know how I got to be so lucky with the soul lottery — to be born as an American in the most prosperous time (for some) in the history of the world. I wish more Americans realized just how good they really have it. To help balance out our own good fortune, we try to help some of the people we meet in some small way.
And that’s what it’s like for me when I see migrants out here in the world, far away from the U.S. border. I feel compassionate towards these people, and also sympathetic and dispirited. And I guess I felt like sharing this with readers because I’d like you to know not everything we see out here on our retired budget travel world tour is beautiful. This migrant issue is not unique to the U.S. — it’s a global trend.
Meanwhile, how the migrant issue is being handled back home is pure evil. That’s an entirely different story, and it’s one I’m too angry to write about right now.