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Cancer, Confinement, Conflict, and Concern

I recently came across a research paper on shrinking cancer cells. It stated the following: “physical confinements alter tumor cell adhesion and migration phenotypes.” It reveals that physical confinement constitutes a biophysical stimulus that alters cell morphology and suppresses motility in humans – trapped, the cells know they are boxed in and become less mobile. It also stated that by interrupting cell mobility, the tumor cell faces reduced average displacement.

Imagine that - something as threatening as cancer, fundamentally compromised by an all too familiar phenomenon. This article prompted me to picture how refugees are increasingly subjected to confined spaces in the Balkans, Europe, and American detention centers; real people with emotions, considerations– the polar opposites of cancer cells bring life where they go. And yet, they too find their mobility and instinct and very lives crushed by an unforgiving system’s dictate. Here, I think of, but a few manifestations of this very dictate.

The Balkan Route: it became known in 2015, all through Europe and later, the world, as a “refugee crisis” as thousands of refugees tried at risk of great danger to use it to reach Europe in the hope of a better life. Only a few were able to get to their desired destination, but most are confined within, around, and outside the borders all at once in the numbing cold winter and violent, rude treatment at the border patrol line.

Europe: Dreamland became a nightmare for refugees. In Greece alone, refugees face desperation as thousands remain confined in Greek islands under discriminatory lockdown restrictions, dehumanizing the most vulnerable group of people during a global pandemic.

The United States: More than 52,000 immigrants are confined in some form of detention centers, a new multibillion-dollar industry, and now the most extensive detention system globally. However, conditions do not fit with the narrative: the case process and average wait time are four weeks at best but can go up to several years, even decades. Unaccompanied children among the crowd are physically abused in the facilities. The Guardian reported that children were changing other children’s diapers, families separated, people jammed in small, frigid, soul-crushing spaces.

I cannot forget the photo of people on foot crammed on roads trying to get to Europe, or Alan Kurdi’s red shirt, or thousands of refugees forcing themselves into already packed trains and buses in Croatia. As a journalist myself, I cannot get even close to understanding the Hungarian reporter who tripped a Syrian father with his son to get a “good photo,” or what Omran must have felt in the ambulance covered in blood, looking around him in shock... Even if we try to forget these moments, countless images like those run through our consciousness...

We are the ones who create borders to single out identity; we built detention centers to suppress the desire to belong; We study migration routes to confine and interrupt the movement and in the hope to shrink it like a cancer cell. I am not sure what or who is the cancer of this society.

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