The prospect of death facing all migrants…and not just on U.S. Southern borders: the case of Western Saharawi rapper Said Lili

Bill Fletcher Jr. 17/07/2019
“I do not know how to swim; please give me a bottle to hold onto…”

–Final words of Western Sahara migrant & hip-hop performer Said Lili, June 2019

The much needed media attention to the situation facing migrants crossing into the USA has given us a sense of the dangers inherent in crossing any borders. That said, it still sometimes seems tragic yet remote. A few weeks ago it became less remote for me because of an unexpected calamity several thousand miles away.
His name was Said Lili who, as a hip-hop artist, performed as “Flitoox Craizy”. You may have never heard of him. He was a twenty-five year old advocate for self-determination for the people of the Western Sahara, on the northwest coast of Africa. Like many Saharawis, Lili had to deal with the daily indignities pressed upon the Saharawis by the Moroccan occupiers. To his friends’ surprise, one day he decided that he needed to leave the occupied Western Sahara, head to Europe and start a new life. Probably feeling a mix of pressures—including despair—he decided to give up everything in the hope that he could find a better future.
He never made it.
Along with more than twenty other Saharawis, he drowned off the coast of Spain. The boat sank for, at least at this moment, unknown reasons. Three individuals out of close to thirty on the boat were able to survive.
I found this out in a text from a colleague in the Western Sahara. My colleague knew Lili and was badly shaken by this news. I had not known him, though I had heard his name mentioned on a couple of occasions in connection with the Western Sahara. But his death hit me as well. This was no longer an unnamed individual who perished. This was an individual who was so desperate that he was willing to risk his life in an “illegal” passage.
Trump, along with his right-wing European allies, act as if migrants, such as the late Lili, are irresponsible blood-suckers, trying to make it to countries of the global North to steal from our hard work. Most of us never stop to think about what actually drives people like Lili to take such steps. For instance, had it not been the fact that the Western Sahara was occupied by Morocco and that Morocco was able to sustain this illegal occupation due to the support it received from France, would Lili have given up hope for a fruitful future in his homeland? Or, closer to home, had it not been for direct US involvement in the internal affairs of El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala, would we be looking at a situation of thousands racing away from their homelands because the situation has reached catastrophic proportions?
We won’t be able to get the answer from Lili though I suspect that we already know the answer. So, now, what do we do about it?