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September-October 2010
Vol. 35, No. 5

Africa: New migrant rights’ group created

The Aug. 6 issue of AfricaFocus Bulletin included a report by Gerald Lenoir, executive director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration and Nunu Kidane, director of Priority Africa Network on the inaugural gathering of the Pan African Network in Defense of Migrant Rights, hosted in Mali by the Institute for the Research and Promotion of Alternative Development (IRPAD) and funded by Open Society Institute, West Africa (OSIWA).

In 2006, at an international conference on migration in Brussels, a small group of activists from various African countries gathered to compare experiences and share stories about migration within and out of Africa. Two years ago, at a similar conference in Manila, a larger group of African civil society members gathered to affirm a similar commitment and hold the first meeting focused on African migrants’ rights.

[In late July, another meeting was held in Bamako, Mali where representatives] from over 40 organizations from Africa as well as allies from Europe and the U.S. gathered to establish the Pan African Network in Defense of Migrants’ Rights …

One of the key missions of the Network is to link the discourse on the effects of globalization in Africa to the current reality of migration and displacement. The first Africa-focused and coordinated migration network will work to bring to international forums the voices and challenges of migration in and out of Africa and increase the visibility of the expulsions, exploitation and abuses that are currently ongoing in Africa, Europe and the U.S.

One issue discussed at the meeting was the current bilateral agreements between European and African governments to collaborate in the expulsion of African migrants. In essence, a country in Africa - for example Nigeria or Cameroon – sign[s] an accord with France, to deport all the individuals, back to the poverty and persecution they fled from in the first place. In exchange, the African country receives “development aid,” compensation which never reaches those most in need, especially not the migrants. These agreements are never transparent and are often times in violation of human rights conventions.

The single exception to this criminal policy of bilateral agreement is Mali which has, thus far, not signed an agreement to accept expelled Malians from Europe. The holding of the first Network gathering of African migrant rights representatives is therefore very fitting.

If there is a single country in Africa with the highest number of incidents of repression, it is Libya. In the least known bilateral agreement (also never made public), Libya and Italy signed an accord to prevent and return migrants off of the coast of Libya and across the Mediterranean.

The most recent demonstration of this abuse is Libya’s detention and expected deportation of some 245 Eritreans to a nation known for the imprisonment, torture and death of its citizenry. These refugees are currently fighting for their lives and asking for international support…

[According to Human Rights Watch, “Increasing numbers of Eritreans are fleeing the indefinite national military service imposed by the Eritrean government and pervasive arbitrary detention and torture. Eritrea routinely imprisons individuals caught trying to flee the country and has ‘shoot to kill’ orders for anyone crossing the border without permission. If the government identifies someone who has successfully crossed into Ethiopia or Sudan, it subjects their family members to large fines and sometimes imprisonment. On April 26, 2009, Libya’s justice minister, Mustafa Abd al-Jalil, told Human Rights Watch that Libya would not deport Eritreans or Somalis, in line with Libya’s 1969 Constitutional Proclamation, which says that ‘the extradition of political refugees is prohibited,’ as well as Law 20 of 1991, which says that ‘the Jamahiriya [Republic] supports the oppressed and ... should not abandon the refugees and their protection.’ In September 2009, Human Rights Watch released a report, ‘Pushed Back, Pushed Around,’ which documented frequent abuses of migrants while in detention in Libya, as well as the general practice of detaining migrants for indefinite periods of time. Libya has not signed the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol and has no asylum law or procedures. There is no formal mechanism for individuals seeking protection in Libya. The authorities make no distinction between refugees, asylum seekers, and other migrants. Libya has, however, ratified the African Refugee Convention.”]

Other participants in the historic gathering and formation of the [Pan African Network in Defense of Migrant Rights] … were members of a deported group of Malians who had organized themselves into a strong grassroots advocacy front, AME (Association Malienne des Expulsés). Similar organizations all over Africa are setting new trends of mobilization of those who have been the primary victims of the most harmful policies. Over the coming months, the Network will ensure that abuses against migrants will not go unnoticed, unreported or unheard. It will bring unprecedented collaboration from organizations which are doing similar work but have not shared and coordinated their work before….

For more information contact: Nunu Kidane, director, Priority Africa Network or Gerald Lenoir, executive director, Black Alliance for Just Immigration.

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