July 24, 2010

Migrants in Mali

Bamako, Mali, West Africa
July 17, 2010

Gerald Lenoir, Executive Director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (www.blackalliance.org) and Nunu Kidane, Director of Priority Africa Network (www.priorityafrica.org) were in Bamako, Mali to attend the inaugural gathering of the Pan African Network in Defense of Migrant Rights hosted by Institute for the Research and Promotion of Alternative Development (IRPAD) and funded by Open Society Institute, West Africa (OSIWA). The following blog describes the conditions of African migrants who are deported from North Africa and end up in Mali.

We went by taxi more than 10 miles from the center of Bamako across the Niger River to meet with Ntamag Francois Romero, the director of the Association des Refoulés d’Afrique Centrale au Mail, or ARACEM (Association of Deported Central Africans in Mali). The cab let us out on a main street where we were met by an ARACEM staff member who led us the one block down a potholed dirt road muddied by the morning rain.We entered the gate of the rust brown, adobe-like two-story building that housed offices and a shelter for deportees. The shelter residents greeted us with handshakes and “Bonjours” as we entered the courtyard. We made our way into Ntamag’s office where we introduced ourselves and told him that we were interested in knowing about the migration and deportation experiences of the people who come to the shelter. He graciously told us his own story and about the work of the ARACEM.

Ntamag himself left his home country of Cameroon six years ago. He was deported to Mali from Morocco four years ago. He and other migrants who had experienced deportation founded ARACEM in July 2006. It is funded by Caritas, a Catholic relief agency, and other international funding agencies. The funding is often inadequate to feed and pay for unexpected expenses such as hospitalization when one of the refugees is ill. The center therefore requests donations to purchase additional rice and supplies to feed the increasing number of individuals that depend on it.

An astounding 100 deportees a month come to ARACEM for shelter, food and clothing. They are expelled from Libya, Morocco and Algeria as they make the way from Central and West Africa in an attempt to find work. These three North African countries have signed agreements with European countries to act as external border control agents to prevent migrants from reaching Europe.

Ntamag told us that migrants come to the shelter at the first of the month and in the middle of the month. They have been stripped of their money, identification papers and all of their possessions by the police or border patrol and dropped in the middle of the desert on the border with Mali with no food or water. Some are extremely traumatized by the entire experience, having spent several months and even years in detention before being deported. The difficulty of their situation is too much for some and they “lose their heads,” unable to cope.

The supposed three-day stay usually gets extended to up to ten days after which they must leave because the staff has to make room for the next group of expelled migrants. This leaves the young men in desperate situation with no ability to get resources or identification and no hope of going back or forward. While they are “free” to leave the compound and to look for employment, they have no way to sustain themselves. The government of Mali is one of the few that does not incarcerate refugees in detention centers and they can remain within the country if they so wish.

Many of the migrants are ashamed to return home after being deported and will try desperately to find their way to Europe again. Their families are often destitute and are depending upon them to reach Europe, find work and send part of their earnings home. So they spend their three to ten days weighing their options. If they decide to return home, the staff of ARACEM helps them to contact their family and figure out how to get back to their country—Nigeria, Cameroon, Central African Republic or another country. Some find a way to earn money in Mali and try again to reach Europe. Others, like Ntamag, remain in Mali.

When we asked Ntamag why he left Cameroon, he pointed to government corruption and the exploitation of the natural resources of Cameroon by multinational companies from France, the United States and other countries of the West. Although the vast majority of the people of Cameroon are poor, “Cameroon is not a poor country,” Ntamag tells us.

“The young never have hope,” he says. “You go to Europe to take care of family.”

As we ended our visit, we discussed with Ntamag a project to document the abuses suffered by migrants and a process from them to take their collective cases to the African Union’s Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and other international and governmental bodies. We agreed to work with him on developing the project and to help to seek justice for people whose only crime was to cross borders.

To hear Ntamag in his own words, click on the link and view the videotaped interview on YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w8nzAkoPlTM

July 18, 2010

Pan African Network on Migration Formed

Bamako, Mali, July 18, 2010

Four years ago, in 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.

Another meeting was held in the city of Bamako, Mali in West Africa four days ago. Representatives from over 40 organizations from Africa as well as allies from Europe and the U.S. gatheredto establish the Pan African Network in Defense of Migrants’ Rights.

Priority Africa Network and the Black Alliance for Just Immigration were honored to have been invited to this historic gathering which was coordinated and hosted by Mamadou Goita from IRPAD-Afrique (Institute for Research and Promotion of Alternatives for Development) with a grant from OSI-WA (Open Society Institute West Africa).

One of the key missions of the Network is linking 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 of the issues discussed at the meeting was the current bilateral agreements b
etween European and African governments to collaborate in the expulsion of African migrants. In essence, a country in Africa – for example Nigeria or Cameroon – sign 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 Africa 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 Mallians 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 from 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.


Other participants in the historic gathering and formation of the Network 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 who are doing similar work but have not shared and coordinated their work before.

At the conclusion of the gathering, participants affirmed to bring an Africa perspective to the next World Social Forum on Migration, scheduled to be held in Quito Equador (October 8 -- 12, 2010), the next People Global Action on Migration and Development in Mexico City (November 3 – 5, 2010) and the next World Social Forum in Dakar Senegal (February 6 – 11, 2011).

Nunu Kidane, Director Gerald Lenoir, Executive Director
Priority Africa Network Black Alliance for Just Immigration
priorityafrica@yahoo.com gerald@blackalliance.org

April 23, 2010

Arizona—The State of Hate

This blog was written by Gerald Lenoir, Director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration. If you agree with his opinion, please click here and take Four Actions for Justice and against SB1070 in Arizona. Thank you.

In my opinion, the State of Arizona should officially change its name to the State of Hate to reflect its current and historical racist attitudes and actions toward Latinos and African Americans.

On Thursday, April 15, over 800 federal, state and local agents swooped into four Arizona communities - Nogales, Rio Rico, Tucson and Phoenix - in an action described by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as “targeting human smuggling networks.” The massive show of force netted only 47 suspects. The raid reinforced the racist, anti-immigrant climate already prevalent in the state.

On Friday, April 23, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed into law SB 1070, legalizing racial profiling of Latinos in her state. Local law enforcement is empowered to stop and question anyone they have “reasonable suspicion” of being undocumented, which is not defined in the bill. There is already rampant racial profiling in Arizona and now, it will be done under the color of law. Legitimizing racial profiling threatens the rights not just of Latino immigrants, but also all people of color, including African Americans.

This is not the first time that Arizona has showed its true colors. Currently, there is a bill pending in the state legislature that would require presidential candidates to prove that they were born in the United States. This measure was introduced as a result of the patently false claim that Barak Obama was not born in this country. Arizona legislators and member of the “birther movement” will deny it but I say it’s one more example of racist attitudes towards our first black president.

And remember the fight over the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday? In 1983, Senator John McCain of Arizona voted against establishing a federal holiday in Dr. King’s honor. In 1986, the Arizona state legislature failed to pass a bill for a King holiday but the governor at the time, Bruce Babbitt issued an executive order for the state holiday. In 1987, newly elected Republican Governor Evan Mecham rescinded the executive order, remarking, “I guess King did a lot for the colored people but I don’t think he deserves a national holiday.”

The criminalization of black and brown people has been happening for a long time in these United States. One only has to look at the disproportionate incarceration rates for our youth versus white youth. Now, immigrants of color are being criminalized. So-called “illegal aliens” are being demonized for the “crime” of crossing the border without legal papers, which is a civil, not criminal, offense.

But who are the real criminals? The U.S. government and U.S. corporations who are complicit in forcing the flow of migration. Under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), for example, Mexico opened its markets to subsidized food crops from the United States. The result is that three million Mexican farmers could not compete with cheap U.S. commodities and lost their land and their livelihood. Many of them, along with their families, have migrated to the U.S. looking for jobs.

So, let me get this right, the United States invades the economy of another country and the economic refugees that come here are labeled illegal? What’s wrong with this picture?

I say that people have a right to stay in their own country. U.S. intervention has deprived them of that right. And now the State of Hate will punish the victims.

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer promises to increase the hostility towards immigrants and create the United States of Hate, if you will. Senator Schumer stated on Monday, “We believe our blueprint is even stronger than the Arizona senators’ proposal in stopping the flow of illegal immigrants because our plan both increases border security and prevents employers from hiring illegal immigrants.”

According to Coalicion de Derechos Humanos, a Tucson-based immigrant rights group, “U.S. Policy and Border Patrol and DHS [Department of Homeland Security] actions have resulted in the deaths of an estimated 4,000 migrants due to environmental exposure since 1996… This area has become a vast killing field for migrants. Last year, at least 205 bodies were recovered in Arizona alone and who knows how many more whose bodies have not been found in this remote vast oven where the desert floor reaches temperatures of 175 degrees. It is impossible to know. It is a horrific death.”

People who are trying to support themselves and their families are driven from their homes and their country, risk their lives in the harsh Sonoran Desert, and if they make it to the United States, face being treated as criminal, jailed, and deported without due process.

We all must oppose this blatant oppression. I especially call on the African American community to link arms with Latino and immigrant communities to speak out against these blatant forms of racism and economic exploitation. The rightwing politicians, organizations and movements that oppose immigrant rights are not the friends of African American communities.

We have more in common with immigrants of color. We know firsthand about racism and economic exploitation. And we have faced the hostile mobs, biased employers and racist legislators. So, which side are we on?