Migration to escape oppression and socioeconomic problems has been a recurrent theme throughout history. Currently, millions are trying to leave Syria and North Africa because of the total war zones these areas have become. This is similar to what some Americans living in the 1930s experienced as a result of the Dust Bowl. During the Dust Bowl, the dirt from the overplowed farms would create large, overpowering clouds of black dust. About one third of the entire population of those affected by the Dust Bowl migrated to flee the horrors they were encountering (“The Drought”).
Unfortunately for both of these groups migration did not necessarily solve all of their problems. The Syrians are facing major economic and hygienic struggles while migrating, and the Dust Bowl migrants faced oppression as well as economic issues once arriving at their destinations. For those who sought to retreat from the the dust storms, once arriving in their new homes they were often referred to as “Okies” and had very difficult times finding jobs (“Okies, Dust Bowl Migrants from Oklahoma & the Plains”).
Many people who migrated during this time ended up building their houses from scraps and faced a number of difficult challenges regarding diseases and life without plumbing or electricity. The Syrians are struggling to find shelter and new places to remake their lives. The current Middle Eastern migrants seem to mirror the Dust Bowl migrants as both groups were forced to feel for their safety and survival. The conditions both groups of migrants were facing at home were so horrendous that the people did not believe they could face a worse situation.
The terrible conditions faced by both groups of migrants motivated them to leave the comforts of their homes and voyage to a foreign place. In Syria, “[e]veryday decisions – whether to visit a neighbor, to go out to buy bread — have become, potentially, decisions about life and death” (Yourish and Rebecca). The on-going war in Syria is escalating to the point that citizens of this area cannot complete daily tasks without having to fear for their lives.
Throughout the four and a half year civil war, it is estimated 200,000 Syrians have been killed, although “the country is so dangerous that a definitive tally of deaths is not possible” (Yourish and Rebecca). Death of friends, family, and neighbors has become a regularity for most of the Syrians, and although migrating to a new and unknown place brings along its own set of challenges, seeing people murdered for four and a half years is worse in comparison to previous obstacles that Syrian migrants have faced.
The conditions that the people in the Dust Bowl faced back in 1930 were not much different than these that the Syrians are facing today. Many people lost their lives in the Dust Bowl as well, but in this case a civil war was not the issue; it was the dark, terrifying clouds of dust that engulfed entire towns, came without warning, and left” dust everywhere—in food, in water, [and] in the lungs of animals and people” (“Introduction: Surviving the Dust Bowl “). The Dust Bowl also caused a slew of other issues which forced migrants out of the affected areas.
The “severe drought, economic depression, unsustainable farming practices, and the advance of mechanized farming all combined to displace tenant and subsistence farmers” (Westphal). The conditions for both the Syrians and those from the Dust Bowl era are completely despicable and inhuman, ultimately causing many of these people to relocate to a new home. The Dust Bowl and Middle Eastern/African migrants both faced similar fates of hardship once migrating from their homelands.
Due to the mass amounts of people who are migrating from Syria, many of the refugee camps are, “critically overcrowded and living standards are “unacceptable” in many parts of the camp” (“Report Exposes Syria Refugee Camp Conditions”). Many camps lack basic necessities, and it is not uncommon to see children walking around “barefoot and malnourished” (Bajekal). The camps lack “hygiene and food and [have] water shortages in the makeshift shelters” (McHugh).
These poor conditions do not differ too much compared to those who relocated during the Dust Bowl, “a shortage of work awaited them and low wages for what was available. Housing would be a tent camp or a shack thrown together of scraps” (Gregory). The Dust Bowl refugees would often arrive to California and face oppression from the people who lived in California which continued to add to the difficulties of the Dust Bowl migrants. They would also often be “completely out of funds and food” (Gregory) once they finished their journey.
The Syrians and the “Okies” both faced housing issues, and Syrians are living in such poor economic conditions that “children are their families’ sole or primary breadwinner” (Zavis). Both of these migrant groups faced adversity, which made their decision to leave their homelands even more difficult, especially for the Dust Bowl migrants who may have been less aware of the discomfort they would experience by migrating. Due to today’s modern technology, the Syrian migrants have the advantage of being more aware of the dangers they will face leaving their homes than the Dust Bowl migrants did.
As a result of today’s internet and modern day television, news is able to be accessed quickly, which makes it easier than ever to keep track of current events. In the case of the Syrian migrants, they are at even more of an advantage because of how widely discussed and covered the issue is. In the 1930s, televisions and internet were not used, making it nearly impossible to get news updates in a timely fashion. Mail was one of the only options to send and receive information and that would take many days to arrive at its destination.
At this time in the United States, the Dust Bowl was not a concern of those who were not involved with it, and it especially was not a concern of those living in other countries as the Syrian migration is today. This puts the Syrian people at an advantage because of their ability to see more of what their own futures could look like. Those from the Dust Bowl era had to approach their fates rather aimlessly without much knowledge of what was to come. Thanks to this 21st century technology, the Syrians are able to have more realistic expectations than the Dust Bowl migrants had during the 1930s.
While trying to desert the calamity, the migrants had to overcome many obstacles and dangers. The dangers which would come throughout their journeys managed to not act as deterrent for either set of migrants. In Syria, after arriving at a makeshift home or refugee camp, the Syrians receive no support and therefore lack education and medical supplies. Many of the Syrians who have migrated to Turkey and other surrounding countries are not even able to stay because they are unable to work in these countries.
All of this information is currently known by the Syrians, however thousands continue to migrate. Similarly, those who faced the idea of danger during the Dust Bowl were largely unaffected by it as well. Fully aware of the difficulties, 200,000 people still migrated to California and other surrounding areas. The conflict of moving to a new place and leaving everything behind did not scare off those 200,000. They fought diseases, abuse, and economic distress because of this migration, knowing that these were risks, people still left in search of a new, safer life.
Once arriving in California, many of the Dust Bowl migrants were turned away because “[t]he Los Angeles police chief [sent] 125 policemen to act as bouncers at the state border” (Mass Exodus From the Plains). Once arriving in California, If they were not turned away by these bouncers, the migrants were greeted with the words, “California’s relief rolls are overcrowded now. No use to come farther” (“Mass Exodus From the Plains”). Both groups faced constant adversity because of their situation, and at the homes they arrived at, the natives were not welcoming towards these refugees.
The lives that these migrants had previously lived were so horrible that despite all the possibilities of danger, the people felt safer fighting against the many obstacles and risking their own lives and their families lives to migrate. History is often known to repeat itself, and it is very clear that a recurrence is happening today in Syria of the 1930 Dust Bowl migration. The Syrians are meeting similar hardships and challenges while migrating, however they must mask their fear of the dangers that they are facing due to the fact that they have no other choice.
The Syrian situation grows worse and worse daily because of the mass amounts of people departing Syria. The people who escape are left with nowhere to live and no money after becoming bankrupt from paying smugglers to help them leave Syria Overall, this puts the Syrians in a bad situation, but is considered safer than the conditions that they were experiencing in Syria. The “Okies” also ended up in their final destinations both bankrupt and homeless. The refugees of both time periods were not turned off by the danger they knew was ahead, rather they continued to make their trips as the only way to survive.