“No one leaves their home willingly or gladly. When people leave en masse the place of their birth, the place where they live, it means there is something very deeply wrong with the circumstances in that country. We should never take lightly these flights of refugees fleeing across borders. They are a sign, they are a symptom, they are a sign that something is very wrong somewhere on the international scene. When the moment comes to leave your home, it is a painful moment.”

Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Former President of Latvia and Former Refugee


This series of essays, then, is a case for the relevance of the female experience. It is an investigation of the various versions of international migration policy through the eyes of the women who must traverse it, and serves as both an indictment of policy makers and an argument for reform.


Theirs is an immigrant story, unique, and just like any other.  It is important to hear, yet  impossible to understand without acknowledging, first, the symbiotic relationship between the migrant and migration policy. The traditional gaze treats the migrant experience as incidental to policymaking. Yet, a reorientation—beginning with the migrant, and mapping her relationship with policy structures—illuminates this interdependency. Migrants are subject to immigration laws, and also influence them.

So let’s start at the beginning.


“One day we arrived at two hills covered with blue and white tents…When we reached the front of the queue, a woman grabbed my hand and pushed it into a bucket of purple ink. The dye meant I had been counted. Nobody asked my name—too many people for names. We were given a tent, scratchy blankets, and a pot. A man pointed to the part of the hill where we should pitch our tent and to the hollow between the two hills where we should stand in line, once a month, to fill a plastic bag with maize and beans…The camp bathroom was located near the ditch that aid workers had dug for dead bodies…Each morning I walked two or three hours to fetch water and wood. Once at the pump, I waited in line for an hour more.”


It matters that she is a refugee. Pregnancy kills more mothers in countries in conflict than anywhere else: 99 percent of preventable maternal deaths occur in the developing world, 60 percent of those in humanitarian settings. Yet most research funding is spent to address the one percent. If money talks, our silence is deafening. Pregnancy kills, and it doesn’t do so indiscriminately. Mothers live, and die, according to which side of the “right” border they find themselves on.  


This fight for statehood based on national identity was not unique, rather it reflected a  lasting legacy of colonialism and European political order. L.H.M. Ling writes, “It was only when colonialism and imperialism became state policy from the sixteenth to twentieth centuries that singularity became the standard of the day.” Widely regarded as being achieved only through statehood, the desire for sovereignty, then, begins with nationalism, or a singular national identity.