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  • Writer's pictureAutumn Lamb

Week 6: Travel or Migrate?

This week is end-capped on the train. Monday to Napoli, Friday to Venezia. The middle filled with Roma. If you don’t know by now, I adore travel. It scratches an inch deep in my soul. I think it is the legacy of my grandparents who started life humbly and found ways to see the shores and lands across the globe. Growing up I would spend time at my paternal grandma’s house listening to stories of her beginning life in Iowa, how her and my grandpa moved around the country for his work, all while he was living in Saudi Arabia and flying for the royal family. In the past he flew for royal families in Iran (before the fall in the 1970’s), Dubai (before it was built into the metropolis it is today), and Saudi. In between he flew in Greece, South Africa, and other countries that I don’t remember. What always struck me was how he saw himself as the son of a farmer until his final days.


In the summers I would stay at my maternal grandparents in SoCal, near San Diego. There we would start our vacation with “special dessert” (usually a brownie and ice cream at Bob’s Big Boy, which cracks me up now, but it was the company that made it special). I would love listening to stories he shared about traveling throughout the US and the world and how he started as a medic in the Navy and ended up in leadership at the hospital. He met my grandma when he was on tour in VietNam, and they would share those experiences of falling in love, getting married in VietNam and then bringing her to the US barely before it became difficult to do so. In fact, they had to remarry once on US soil because their marriage wasn’t recognized. The dates are a little fuzzy in my mind, but it was in the early ‘70’s range that he was stationed there.


Both of my grandparents moved throughout their lives, bringing their family along as jobs required them. If they had been born in foreign countries and moved to the US for work, they would be considered economic immigrants. Movement for opportunity is a tale as old as humanity. From nomadic tribes and communities that follow herds to individuals and families that uproot in hopes of opportunities in new lands far away, humans move. They travel, they explore, and sometimes they do that in the most extreme of situations that risk their lives.


Geopolitical, environmental, economic, and other disaster situations are some of the contributing factors that lead people towards the decision to attempt freedom in another country. This week we looked at the common routes that people take, dangers involved, and some of the challenges once they’ve arrived in a new location. We read “The Fourth Time, We Drowned,” and the stories about a young man who attempted multiple times to cross the Mediterranean and escape Sierra Leone and then Libya, a journalist who joined a rescue ship to share that perspective, and watched the film, “The Swimmers” which documents the story of two young women in Syria who crossed the Mediterranean in attempts to escape the war and bring their family to Europe.


In addition to reading first-hand accounts that reveal the vulnerability and difficulties that people experience while fleeing, we looked at political and legal issues that directly impact what happens when people reach the borders and shores of a new country and seek asylum or refuge. So often, ideologies, long rooted biases, and political posturing impact how receptive countries are to accepting refugees as well as what and how services are offered to those arrive.


Common perception among the public often includes comments that refugees are a drain, they only go to wealthy countries in search of handouts or that they increase crime rates upon arrival. All research on these comments paints a different picture.


A few stats to shed light on the situation:

  • Currently there are approximately 110 million forcibly displaced people worldwide.

  • Internally Displaced People (IDP) number 62.5 million people, and on average, they are displaced for 10 years.

  • Refugees number 36.4 million people, and on average, they are displaced for 20 years.

  • Asylum seekers number 6.1 million people.

  • 75% of refugees are hosted by in low-income countries, most in the global south.

  • Governments in the global north (which includes the United States and Europe) make policies that put a cap on the maximum number of refugees they will accept each year.


The below image shows visually what this cap looks like. Take into consideration the worldwide number of 110 million forcibly displaced people when you look at the cap of how many are allowed to enter the US.


* Refers to the first three months of FY 2024 (October 1, 2023 - December 31, 2023).

The data tool tracks refugee resettlement numbers and annual ceilings set since the resettlement program was enacted with the Refugee Act of 1980. It includes Amerasian immigrants except in FY 1980 to 1988. Refugee arrival data from the State Department's Worldwide Refugee Admissions Processing System (WRAPS) differ slightly from the Department of Homeland Security’s Yearbook of Immigration Statistics due to a different data collection approach. Because the numbers of admitted refugees for FY 2013-2016 are nearly the same as the refugee admission ceiling (70,000 in FY 2014-2015, and 85,000 in FY 2016), the line representing refugee admissions might not be fully visible on the chart. Actual admissions for those years were: 69,987 in FY 2014, 69,933 in FY 2015, and 84,995 in FY 2016. For FY 2019, the number of admitted refugees matched the annual ceiling, both at 30,000. The original ceiling set for FY 2021 was 15,000, the lowest level on record, but was increased to 62,500 on May 3, 2021. Fiscal year covers data from October 1 through September 30.


Migration Policy Institute (MPI) analysis of WRAPS data from the State Department Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. Available at

What I find telling in the chart is where the dips are. Think about what happened in the early 2000’s and in 2016 that would cause a president to reduce the cap for number of refugees admitted to our country and you’ll see how politically charged humanitarian aid is.


In Napoli, we were given a nitty gritty tour led by a gentlemen native to the city who shared a unique perspective to the northern and southern ideological clashes that directly impact trade, funding, and resources. Afterwards we met with the leaders of an organization based in the heart of the neighborhood serving refugees and asylum seekers. The cooperative is called Dedalus and they are active in providing a wealth of resources, connections, and activities. Even in a country with technically closed borders and its challenges as a southern European country receiving a vast majority of refugees, this organization is a bright light. They are known positively in the community. You can read about their services on their website.

So, while I enjoy a train ride through the countryside of Italy, I think of so many who have been forced to flee their home, their family, and everything they know. They journey for months and often years, in an attempt to escape persecution and disaster, often with just the clothes on their back. In every country they risk being abused, tortured, killed, or returned to their original country. All the while, clinging to hope that there will be mercy on the other side, a job, a place to stay, and the ability to rebuild their life.


My grandparents left their hometown in attempts to provide for and better the lives of their families. With US citizenship they were able to make that a reality. Had they been born in another country, their stories would have had a different outcome. I’m grateful for the legacy they left, and wish to extend opportunities and assistance to others in perilous situations.


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