"Don't ever trust the Polleros" - Ciné ONU Vienna screens documentary "Which Way Home"
One of every ten migrants is under the age of 15. Globally, there are some 35 million international migrants who are younger than 20 years old. Each year, the Border Patrol apprehends 100,000 children trying to enter the United States and every day a dead body is repatriated from the US-American desert to its home country somewhere in Central America.
On the occasion of the Universal Children's Day, which is celebrated every year on 20 November, the United Nations Information Service Vienna (UNIS) in cooperation with this human world (THW) Film Festival and Topkino, screened the documentary "Which Way Home" by Rebecca Camisa.
"Which Way Home" follows several unaccompanied children on their way from Central America to the United States who are illegally riding a Mexican freight train, commonly known as "La Bestia"/"The Beast". Some children are as young as nine years old.
The film shows strong contrasts: cigarette smoking children who have the courage and determination of grown-ups to see their trip through to the finish. The same children are filmed in different moments on their journey laughing with other children on the playground slide or crying and being homesick whenever they think of their families back home.
All children interviewed when asked how they imagined the country of destination, described the United States as a land of milk and honey. Panellist Norbert Ceipek, Director of the youth shelter "Drehscheibe" from the Vienna Youth and Family Offices of the Viennese Municipal Department 11, stressed that the crucial point is to ensure such 'milk and honey' images are countered in the countries of origin. Coming back from a trip to Moldova, a classical sender state, he said that migrant smugglers usually tempt their victims by promising them a life as they see it on television. He emphasized how important it is to raise awareness that their life in the West will not resemble the colourful commercials they watch back at home, but that prostitution and exploitation are far too often what their reality will look like after arrival.
The audience wanted to know how migrant smuggling can be tackled and what can be done to protect the migrants. In the film, the mobile humanitarian units "Grupos Beta", treat the travellers' injuries, give them something to eat and persuade them not to trust the "polleros". "Polleros" is a Mexican term for migrant smugglers and means "chicken wrangler", referring to the migrants as chickens who are simply being transferred from one place to another.
Similar to those units, Norbert Ceipek's "Drehscheibe" is a shelter which takes care of unaccompanied minors. They also train social workers in other countries and do capacity building training with government officials to ensure that laws are being enforced. Civil society organizations, so Ceipek, can also do their part by trying to change the perception of migrants in the population.
Vassiliy Yuzhanin from the Regional Office Vienna for South-Eastern Europe of the International Migration Office (IOM) said that a comprehensive approach is needed to make migration safe. Migrant Smuggling is a business which yields billions of dollars of profit every year. IOM is working on the root causes of migrant smuggling, pointing out to destination country governments that there is a demand for migrants and looking at supply and demand is necessary to prevent criminal actors exploiting their victims.
Irene Höglinger-Neiva, Public Information Officer at UNIS Vienna, who moderated the discussion, mentioned the General Assembly's High Level Dialogue on Migration and Development which took place recently during the opening of the General Assembly's 68 th session and stressed how it was important to understand the relationship between migration and development. Citing that every year migrants are sending home around US$ 400 billion in remittances and that this money makes up as much as 40 per cent of some countries' GDP, Vassily Yuzhanin said it is clear there is a positive correlation between migration and development.
All speakers highly welcomed international initiatives as the High Level Dialogue. As Vassily Yushanin from IOM pointed out until a few years ago migration was seen to be a purely internal issue. However, both panelists also lamented the lack of cooperation between governments and civil society. They called for greater dialogue on migration between governments and NGOs as they were often representing the "voice of migrants".
Vassily Yushanin concluded: "We need to make migration legal and guarantee the dignity and safety of all migrants. Only then, children will not have to travel like this but can instead enjoy their childhood."