Almost every day, I receive messages from the ‘brotherhoods’ - bands of migrants hiding out in the forests surrounding the two Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in Morocco’s northern mountain region. The brotherhoods come together along lines of shared nationality. The youngest boys are usually 11 or 12 years old, and the chief of each group is one of the elders - a young man in his early to mid twenties. Most of the ‘brothers’ have traveled thousands of miles on their own, fleeing war or poverty in their home countries and dreaming of a better life just past the Morocco-Spain border. When they’re fortunate enough to have a few old blankets or plastic tarps to share between them, they couple these supplies with tree limbs and ‘rope’ made by tearing apart old t-shirts to construct makeshift tents. Piling into each tent, 10 or 12 brothers will sleep side by side on the ground, protecting themselves from the cold winds and rains that settle over the mountains during this time of the year. These are the happiest messages that I receive - messages like this one from the Guinean chief, which included photos of his brothers proudly building a safe place that they could call home.
#TheBurning #Brotherhood #UntoldStories #MigrantCrisis #Africa
And these are the saddest messages that I receive - messages like this one from the same Guinean chief, which this time included photos of the makeshift tents that his brothers had so proudly built just days before now burned to the ground by last night’s police raid on their forest home.
#TheBurning #Brotherhood #UntoldStories #MigrantCrisis #Africa #PoliceBrutality #BLM
In the 65 million who are displaced, there is the story of one. In the thousands who have already lost their lives in attempted crossings this year, there is still the story of one.
One whose mother holds tight the shoes he wore when he was small and who all through the night wailed to any god who would listen. Begging for the months passed to be washed away, for the miles walked to be reversed, for her son to be standing beside her again. She wails still, feeling the weight of her mourning heavy on her - the full weight of mourning a death the world is silent to. Does no one know she lost her son last night? Does no one cry? Does no one remember the way he used to tuck his shoelaces into those little shoes because he was too stubborn, too fast, too eager to run into the world to learn how to tie? She remembers how he clung to her as a child, how he strayed from her as a boy, she remembers how he hugged her tight that last morning before he left - too stubborn, too fast, too hopeful about what the world was holding for him.
In the 65 million, there is still the story of one. One whose life is over before 15, whose feet carried him 3,000 miles towards the promise of a future, whose hands lifted him up and down again into a wall of wooden batons. In the masses, may we remember the one.
You are seen. Your story is heard. Your life is remembered, and my brother, you will be missed.
I'm honored to be speaking at the Center for Civil and Human Rights for #worldrefugeeday... If you're in Atlanta, please come out and show your support!
"Most foundational to our international human rights law is the belief that all citizens of the world should be guaranteed the right to seek refuge in other countries when driven out of their own by war or poverty."
"Education is a human right with immense power to transform. On its foundation rest the cornerstones of freedom, democracy and sustainable human development" - Kofi Annan
Heard about DACA in the news? Now hear about it from your community. Watch this weeks video posts here!
This week, I was thrilled to officially join the Speaker Series at Atlanta's most innovative high school - TNS - and speak to the newest generation of change-makers about how they can be the change they want to see in the world.
The topic? COMMUNITY.
"The community I feel most a part of is one you might not expect when first looking at me.
It's a hidden community - hidden in the forests that cover the mountains around a town called Zoutia.
It's a changing community. Depending on the time of the year, it's as small as 10,000 or as large as many tens of thousands.
It's a young community. In fact, it's made up of young people who are just your age. The youngest is usually 11 or 12 years old and the 'elders' are 24 or 25, but the majority of them are teenagers just like you.
It's a male community, with around 90% of the population being boys and young men.
It's a diverse community - comprised of individuals from across the African continent. Most are coming from countries in Western and Central Africa - countries like Sierra Leone, the Congo, and Cote D'Ivoire - and they live together in 'brotherhoods' that are divided along lines of nationality and common language.
This community is home to those who have lost their parents to war or poverty and who, as the eldest in their families, were expected to set out in search of a better life. It's their responsibility to provide for their younger siblings and their own communities offered them no way to do that, so they journeyed north, often traveling thousands of miles on their own until they reach their final border crossing.
Now, who can tell me where this community is?"
@newsincerity | The Other Side of the Border
"American professor and filmmaker Isabella Alexander was wrapping up her latest film shoot when the Algerian government stopped her – she was detained for almost two weeks.
When she was finally released and returned to the US, she immediately began planning her next trip back. Why? She needed to finish work on her film before the fall semester started at Emory University, and she wasn't about to to let anything stop her. These are stories that need to be told.
Her documentary “The Burning" (@smallworldfilms) follows three individuals who’ve fled poverty and wars raging across Africa. They find themselves trapped in Morocco – a Northern point of the African continent – before attempting to cross into Europe and find safety in a new life. The film shows us the immense suffering they must endure to reach their destination and the dreams they share.
Whether abroad or at home in Atlanta, Isabella is helping migrant and refugees tell their stories. She even created a course at Emory called "The New Americans Project" (@newamericansproject). It's centered around a student-led social media project that shares the stories of immigrant and refugee students on campus every week and gives youth a platform to share their voice on critical social issues.
“What's unique about NAP is that it targets youth audiences to become active in the global issues of our time, showing us that these issues are a lot closer to home than we might first imagine. You don't have to travel halfway around the world to meet someone whose life has been impacted by migration - we can start by asking our neighbors if they have a story to tell.”
Finding ways to forge personal connections with neighbors from different cultures is the essence of #NewSincerity so, stay tuned – we’ll be reconnecting with Isabella, The Burning, and The New Americans Project soon!"
The New Americans Project is a movement that gives young Americans a voice on critical social issues and works to change the face of the Migrant & Refugee 'Crisis' by sharing stories from our own community.
We've got an incredible new team of college students [see below!] running #NAP this semester, and they want you to know...
"#NAP is telling a new story about what it means to be American. Think you know your community? Think again."
Follow us on Facebook or Instagram to show your support for those who bravely share their stories every day!
"For Emory Assistant Professor Dr. Isabella Alexander, a normal day in Morocco consists of scavenging dump sites for food scraps with her brotherhood and hiding memory cards in the soles of her shoes. At night, she sleeps on the ground, always remaining alert to the sounds of an approaching police raid. An American journalist fluent in the local dialects, Alexander said that even as a foreigner, filming the routine human rights abuses against sub-Saharan migrants and refugees around Morocco's Spanish enclaves leaves her exposed to routine police harassment by both Spanish and Moroccan officials. She has spent many years living in the makeshift forest camps surrounding Ceuta and Melilla and continues to return annually, spending the months that she isn't teaching hidden from state-authorities and signs of city life. Now, she plans to expose the story of Africa's unseen migrant and refugee crisis to the world.
Alexander is currently completing a book titled, "Burning at Europe's Borders," and plans to release it alongside her first feature-length documentary film, "The Burning: An Untold Story from the Other Side of the Migrant Crisis," early next summer. While at Emory, she offers undergraduate and graduate courses focused on international human rights and the current crises of migrant and refugee displacement around the world. According to Alexander, the human rights crisis in Morocco is growing due to two systemic processes - individuals from war-torn and poverty-ridden countries across the sub-Saharan are crossing through Morocco in their attempts to reach Europe, and all Africans detained within Europe are being deported to Morocco, rather than being properly repatriated to their countries of origin. This crisis is reminiscent of the Syrian refugee crisis as families often break apart in the hopes that one among them will be able to reach a better life. Those traveling north turn to smuggling rings to aid in their movement towards Europe's southern borders. Yet, the small number who successfully make it to the E.U. learn that even after applying for refugee status, the rejection rate for sub-Saharan Africans is over 80 percent.
As a young white American researcher, Alexander said her positionality as an outsider to the crisis has helped her establish trust with a diverse group of actors, including Moroccan governmental agents, Nigerian smuggling rings, Spanish border guards, and the brotherhoods camped out in northern Morocco. “[My position] there makes me more vulnerable in a lot of ways. And I think my very vulnerability is the reason why I have been able to gain access [to these spaces] because I'm not read as a threatening force.”
It was painful to hear her describe the mentality of many young migrants and refugees, after living through years of brutal police harassment. “I don’t think death is the ultimate fear [for migrants and refugees],” Alexander said. “They talk about death so casually, their lives like a game of chance. I think the ultimate fear is never escaping the cycle they're trapped in." After having spent so many years in the camps with the brotherhoods, and having seen many of the young men killed at the hands of border guards, Alexander's commitment to the cause has become clear even to those there. “I listen to how [migrants and refugees] talk about journalists,” Alexander said. “They often tell me how journalists come to steal their stories, but how they believe I am there to help them tell their stories.” She prioritizes giving the migrants and refugees an active role in all of her research projects, including her most recent documentary film.
Back in the classroom, Alexander’s students attempt to unpack her anecdotes from the field. One of her students, Caroline Cohen (20C), asks herself how this is happening and how she didn’t know anything about it before taking Alexander's class last spring. Cohen spoke about how the overload of news content can be desensitizing, but how the personal stories are hard to forget. Alexander has a similar philosophy and hopes that the human element of the migrant and refugee crisis that she exposes to her students in class will also resonate with audiences who see her film and read her book. “I think the power of good storytelling is that you can pull individuals out from the masses and people can connect with those individual stories in a more intimate way. Once you have one individual who comes to mind - one face, one story - when you hear about a particular crisis in the news, it becomes that much harder for you to turn away.” Though Cohen says information coming from the news can sometimes be overwhelming, the connection that Alexander’s anecdotes make between the migrant crisis and the individuals effected by it is difficult to ignore. “The situation [in Morocco] is terrible,” Cohen said. “And I feel like I really understand just how terrible it is for the first time."
In preparation for the documentary’s official release, Alexander has been screening rough cuts of the film for university audiences across the country. “I always have a handful of European and Moroccan students in the audience at my screenings," she said, "and the fact that they are equally shocked to learn that this is unfolding in their backyard is, to me, evident of just how important it is that this story be broken."
After taking Alexander’s class, Johnna Gadomski (20C) decided that she would intern at a refugee aid center in Atlanta this summer. “I had never thought of the right to migrate as such an essential part of our basic human rights,” Gadomski said. “[Alexander] definitely changed my perception of human rights, and how subjective the application of them can be. Who gets human rights? And who decides? Her class has made me question why certain people are not afforded the rights they deserve.” Gadomski also spoke to how much she appreciates Alexander’s effort to integrate materials from her own research into her classes. “She’s done a really good job of never reducing [the migrants and refugees] down to stories of vulnerability but maintaining their humanity as complete individuals,” Gadomski said.
Alexander said ultimately, she hopes that like her class, her larger work will impact the public’s understanding of the migrant and refugee crisis and lead to concrete changes at the Spanish-Morocco border. “We draw a stark line between these two categories - the migrant and the refugee - and I hope my work encourages audiences to think about how they are often one in the same, and how the label that is assigned to an individual is often based on racial or gendered prejudices about them and their ability to assert vulnerability in crises." We, too, hope that her work will reach and inspire broad audiences as it has done here on Emory campus..."
I'm deeply honored for my work on the other side of the migrant crisis to be profiled by State Senator Will Brownsberger today...
"Every once in a while you run into a story that you can’t quite believe and you just want to hear more.
I recently found myself seated for dinner next to Isabella Alexander - an anthropologist who has spent many months living in the makeshift camps home to sub-Saharan African boys and men trying desperately to reach Europe.
Her courage, putting herself out there alone in a dangerous environment, borders on recklessness. But the story she brought back deserves hearing, and surely, there was no other way for her to get it. It starkly illustrates the increasingly painful dilemmas that we will all face around immigration policy in the decades to come..."
Thrilled to be back at Brown University as a keynote speaker in their 'Materiality of Migration' series...