African leaders expected to avoid migration troubles


JOHANNESBURG: Despite growing pressure to address the tragedy of African migrants drowning in the Mediterranean, the African Union is unlikely to offer any home-grown solutions to the crisis, say analysts.

Refugees will be discussed in a closed session at the first day of the African Union summit on Sunday, in anticipation of a meeting with the European Union in the latter half of this year.

But African leaders, many of whom routinely flout human rights, are accused of lacking the will to criticize each other on refugee and immigration policies for fear of attracting criticism themselves.

The stalemate thwarts efforts to combat the continent’s refugee crises.

“I am not sure to what extent the leaders can tell each other this type of uncomfortable truth,” said Tjiurimo Hengari, a research fellow at the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA).

“The solutions are mostly domestic, it’s about better governance. They need to tell each other: we need to promote inclusive growth, we need to promote good governance.”

Last weekend alone, 6,000 people, most of them sub-Saharan Africans, were pulled to safety from fishing boats and rubber dinghies off Libya.

Nearly 1,800, mainly African and Middle Eastern refugees, have drowned in the Mediterranean this year.

The summit’s host, South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma, is unlikely to take the lead on any pan-continental effort to tackle the refugee crisis, as he faces criticism over deadly xenophobic violence in his country earlier this year.

Nigeria and Zimbabwe were among those who lashed out at South Africa for not protecting their citizens after a series of anti-migrant attacks in January and April.

In the aftermath of the unrest, a defiant Zuma refused to accept blame.

“As much as we can have a problem alleged to be xenophobic, our brother countries contributed to this,” he said. “Why are the citizens not in their countries?”

Closed doors
Led by anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela, South Africa used to be seen as a home for Africa’s refugees.

The country ended apartheid and in 1994 embraced its new democracy as a racially united “rainbow nation”, before signing the most progressive legislation on refugee protection in the world.

It was a logical reaction: many of the leaders of the ruling ANC party had at some point lived in exile in Africa.

However, from 2000 the attitude towards migrants coming from across the continent began to change.

Restrictions were put on the length of time refugees could stay.

The Home Affairs ministry started to see fights in the queues outside its offices as refugees were turned away by hostile — and sometimes corrupt — officers.

“There were far more people coming to South Africa than they expected, with conflicts happening on the continent and South Africa being an economic hub,” said David Cote of the Lawyers for Human Rights group.

By 2012, the ANC had adopted a much harsher stance on refugees.

This year Zuma mobilized the army in an operation to arrest 1,600 undocumented immigrants in May, echoing his Congolese counterpart Denis Sassou Nguesso who has also conducted similar operations since last year.

“The tragedy of what happened in January and April in South Africa is it sends the signal that migrants no matter where you go, if you go north, if you go south, you are not very welcome,” said Jens Pedersen, humanitarian adviser for Doctors Without Borders.

Marc Gbaffou, chairperson of the African Diaspora Forum, agrees.

In April, Gbaffou wrote to the African Union asking to add “the protection of immigrants in host countries” on its agenda, as well as “freedom to settle and conduct business in any African country of choice”.

“The impression we have is that they are trying to downgrade the importance of this subject,” Gbaffou said.



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  1. John Byarugaba on

    That 1800 immigrants, mostly Africans, have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea, trying to cross to Europe between January – June 2015 and we are still counting. It’s a disgrace that the African Heads of states, African Union, the Diplomats and African Parliament among others are still quiet on this issue.
    My estimate is that the African continent hosts more illegal immigrants than any other continent because Africa is so beautiful, rich and hospitable. Most immigrants enter posing as investors, experts, advisers, diplomats, etc and are given red carpet, tax holidays, free land, easy access to leaders, infrastructure, police protection, etc. Some of the illegal entrants into Africa are so illegal that they have to smuggle in themselves, some with arms for their protection as they illegally extract our resources, support rebels, etc; others come in legally but later go underground at the expiry of their legal status and re-surface under a different mode, etc.
    I wish to request our African leaders that they should defend our brothers and sisters who are looking for greener pastures as investors not illegal immigrants. Our leaders should ‘kick away’ the confidence crisis, being meek, stop begging, act like business leaders, be united among others to deliver confidence and productivity on the African continent and to all Africans wherever they may be. Globalization is for all of us and all our modes of capital movement on the Globe but not for a particular color, people, sex or race; or to those with a particular mode of capital. There are some countries which print Global money and none of them is African. Africans possess Muscle Capital while others may have paper capital (money). Its very wrong for the World to allow the movement of one mode of capital and deny the other. The Muscle Capital is the only thing Africans and others posses; let them move their capital to wherever it may be needed. Just as Africa receives investors, they should also be received well wherever they think / want to invest.
    European Parliament (Brussels) recently came up with measures to stop or reduce the African Investors movement calling them illegal immigrants. Some of these measures are deadly and illegal like one which reads like destroying the vessels that are used. It doesn’t state that the vessel can be destroyed while loaded with passengers or not. May also note that its always said that most of the 18000 that have drowned so far were by the bigger ships deliberately knocking the boats used by our Africans to cross; its like a global conspiracy against Africans. Africa shouldn’t wait but investigate and punish / call for Global punishment all those found guilty.
    Some African leaders and citizens criticize their brothers and sisters who move around the Globe, some even call them funny names but later call them for assistance, leaders proudly announce during budget how the Diaspora will contribute to the budget, etc, So protect them and act in a manner that will bring and restore confidence to all Africans wherever they may be. There are some countries which look for African labor, such labor should be diplomatically arranged or a labor office for this than leaving our people to be cheated and humiliated; don’t shy away! You can even avail better and safer ship for the African investors to cross. John Byarugaba