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TED2018

Yasin Kakande: What's missing in the global debate over refugees

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In the ongoing debate over refugees, we hear from everyone -- from politicians who pledge border controls to citizens who fear they'll lose their jobs -- everyone, that is, except migrants themselves. Why are they coming? Journalist and TED Fellow Yasin Kakande explains what compelled him and many others to flee their homelands, urging a more open discussion and a new perspective. Because humanity's story, he reminds us, is a story of migration: "There are no restrictions that could ever be so rigorous to stop the wave of migration that has determined our human history," he says.

- Investigative journalist, author
Yasin Kakande is exposing the human rights abuses of migrant workers in the Middle East. Full bio

I am an immigrant from Uganda
living in the United States
00:17
while waiting for my asylum application
00:21
to go through.
00:23
Migrants do not enjoy
much freedom of movement
00:25
in our world today.
00:29
This certainly applies to those
who are desperate enough
00:30
to navigate choppy
and stormy seas in boats.
00:33
These are the risks my cousins
from West Africa and North Africa face
00:37
while trying to cross over to Europe.
00:42
Indeed, it is a rare
but fortunate opportunity
00:44
for a migrant to address
a gathering like this.
00:48
But this also signifies
what often is missing
00:52
in the global debate over refugees,
00:55
migrants and immigrants,
00:58
voices of the disenfranchised.
01:00
Citizens of many host countries,
01:03
even those that previously
welcomed newcomers,
01:05
are uneasy about the rising
numbers of individuals
01:08
coming into their countries.
01:11
The immediate criticism
is that the newcomers upend the stability
01:13
of social welfare and employment
in their countries.
01:17
Uncertain and skeptical citizens
look towards politicians
01:21
who are competing against each other
to see who can claim the prize
01:24
of the loudest voice
of populism and nationalism.
01:29
It is a contest of who
is the toughest on migrants,
01:33
the most willing to impose travel bans
01:38
and the most eager to propose
projects in building walls.
01:40
All these restrictions simply address
symptoms of the problem,
01:44
not the causes.
01:48
Why are they coming?
01:49
Migrants can share perspectives,
01:52
if only politicians
would be willing to listen.
01:53
In Dubai, I chronicled injustices
and inequalities inflicted regularly
01:57
on the migrant labor force.
02:01
As a result, pressures
from the governments
02:03
of the respective countries
02:06
led to me being forced out of my career
as a journalist in the Middle East.
02:08
I was deported to Uganda,
02:13
where economic deprivation
puts everyone at the risk of starvation.
02:15
I fled Uganda to come to the United States
02:19
in the hope of sustaining a voice
for my brothers and sisters
02:22
who experience a more
serious plight as migrants.
02:26
My father told me he was not happy
about me writing a book
02:30
that risked deportation and unemployment.
02:34
He had been diabetic for many years
when I still worked in Dubai,
02:38
and my salary was always sufficient
to pay for his treatments.
02:41
After I was expelled,
02:45
I could not afford
to sustain his treatment,
02:47
and even in the last days of his life,
02:50
I could not afford
to take him to a hospital.
02:53
As I carried his body in my hands
to lay it in the ground
02:56
in June of last year,
03:00
I realized I had paid a profound price
03:02
for amplifying my voice.
03:05
The act of speaking up against injustices
that are multilayered is never easy,
03:09
because the problems require
more than just rhetoric.
03:16
So long as gold mines, oilfields and large
farms in Africa continue to be owned
03:20
by foreign investors
03:26
and those vital resources
are shipped to the West,
03:28
the stream of African migrants
will flow continuously.
03:32
There are no restrictions
that could ever be so rigorous
03:37
to stop the wave of migration
that has determined our human history.
03:42
Before border controls can be tightened
03:47
and new visa restrictions imposed,
03:50
countries that have long received migrants
03:53
should engage in a more open discussion.
03:56
That is the only practical start
for reconciling, finally,
03:59
a legacy of exploitation,
04:05
slavery,
04:08
colonialism
04:10
and imperialism,
04:11
so that together, we can move forward
in creating a more just global economy
04:13
in the 21st century --
04:19
one that benefits all.
04:22

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About the speaker:

Yasin Kakande - Investigative journalist, author
Yasin Kakande is exposing the human rights abuses of migrant workers in the Middle East.

Why you should listen

Investigative journalist Yasin Kakande works undercover in the Middle East to expose human rights abuses of migrant workers. He investigates the reasons why Africans choose to migrate to the Middle East, Europe and America, and traces the severe consequences of countries closing their borders to African migrants. A migrant himself, first to the Middle East and recently to the US, Kakande is the author of two books: Slave States, an expose of the enslavement, trafficking and abuse of workers in the Gulf Arab Region, and The Ambitious Struggle: An African Journalist's Journey of Hope and Identity in a Land of Migrants.

More profile about the speaker
Yasin Kakande | Speaker | TED.com