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Africa: Migrant Rights Updates

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Aug 6, 2010 (100806)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"An astounding 100 deportees a month come to ARACEM [in Mali] 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."

As indicated by this report (included below) from Nunu Kidane and Gerald Lenoir, the issue of rights for African migrants is not limited to the better-publicized cases of those trying to reach Europe by sea from West Africa or across the Mediterranean, or those targeted by xenophobic violence in South Africa. Almost every African country may be simultaneously a destination country, a sending country, or one with migrants stranded in the middle. And, in Africa, as in Europe, North America, and other parts of the world, the rights of migrants have been sidelined in policy debates largely limited to the range from xenophobia to technocratic debates about "managing" migration.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains two reports by Kidane and Lenoir, one on the deportees in Mali, and the other on the formation of the Pan African Network in Defense of Migrant Rights, which held its inaugural meeting in Bamako in July. It also contains a short report from Human Rights Watch on the situation of Eritreans in Libya.

Sources for additional background on migrant rights include:

People's Global Action on Migration, Development, and Human Rights

Migration Information Source. Migrants' Human Rights: From the Margins to the Mainstream /
direct URL:

United Nations, International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families

International Resource Center on the Rights of Migrants

Another AfricaFocus Bulletin released today on the web, at, but not sent out by e-mail, contains excerpts from and links to an extensive new report on xenophobia in South Africa. That study is based on case studies, focus groups, and surveys, and includes descriptive reports, analyses of structural bases for the violence, and studies of responses from different sectors of South African society, including civil society organizations of the migrants themselves.

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on migration-related issues, visit


Note: AfricaFocus Bulletin will be taking a break for the remainder of August and early September, both for vacation and for necessary upgrading and maintenance of the AfricaFocus website. Publication will resume the second week of September.

The website (at will continue to be available during this period, as will the other websites edited by the AfricaFocus editor: and

Thanks to readers who have recently sent in voluntary subscription payments to support AfricaFocus. And a reminder to those who haven't that AfricaFocus depends on support from readers. More details, along with links to contribute on-line or to print out a form to send in with your check, are available at

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note++++++++++++++++++++

Migrants in Mali

Bamako, Mali, West Africa

July 17, 2010 [posted on blog July 24, 2010]

Gerald Lenoir, Executive Director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration ( and Nunu Kidane, Director of Priority Africa Network ( 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 Refoul‚s 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.

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 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 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 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 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. / direct URL:

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 Expuls‚s). 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).

For more information contact:

Nunu Kidane, Director, Priority Africa Network,,

Gerald Lenoir, Executive Director,
Black Alliance for Just Immigration,

Libya: Do Not Deport Eritreans, Allow Access to UN Refugee Agency

Human Rights Watch | direct URL:

Libyan authorities seem to think they can get away with these terrible abuses after stripping UNHCR of its ability to protect refugees and asylum seekers. - Bill Frelick, Refugee Program director at Human Rights Watch July 2, 2010

(Geneva) - Libyan authorities should immediately stop apparent efforts to deport a group of 245 Eritreans, some of whom have been severely beaten by guards, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch said that Libya should grant the United Nations refugee agency immediate access to the group, who were recently transported from the Misrata detention center to another detention center at al-Biraq, north of Sabha town.
"It's bad enough that Libya is brutalizing these detainees," said Bill Frelick, Refugee Program director at Human Rights Watch. "But deporting hundreds back to Eritrea, knowing full well that they could face torture and ill-treatment at home, would be a flagrant violation of Libya's legal obligations."

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has recommended that host governments refrain from forcibly returning even rejected asylum seekers to Eritrea because of the risk that returned Eritreans will be subjected to detention and torture. Libya threatened several times to close the refugee agency's office in Tripoli and then expelled the agency's Libya representative on June 7, 2010. In recent days, the government permitted UNHCR to resume extremely limited activities, allowing it to work only with refugees and asylum seekers previously registered by the agency. The Eritreans had been held in the Misrata detention center in Libya's coastal region west of Tripoli. Tensions mounted after June 7 when the refugee agency's workers stopped visiting the Eritreans held there. Eritrean detainees in Misrata have managed to inform Human Rights Watch that over the past few weeks Libyan officials forced them to complete bio-data forms in the Eritrean Tigrinya language provided by Eritrean embassy officials and to be photographed. Fearing that these steps were taken in preparation for their deportation, some detainees tried to escape on June 28, resulting in a confrontation between detainees and guards.

According to credible sources, on June 30 Libya transported 245 male Eritreans from Misrata to a remote detention center at al-Biraq, near Sabha, a town with an airport in the center of the country in the Sahara desert that has been the site of previous deportations to Sub-Saharan African countries. About 80 women and children remained behind in Misrata, some separated from male family members. Witnesses informed Human Rights Watch that the Eritreans were jammed into three shipping containers mounted on trucks for the 12-hour, non-stop journey through the desert. Detainees told Human Rights Watch that Libyan guards severely beat them in the confrontation in Misrata, as well as on the way to al-Biraq; some were taken from Misrata to hospitals, while others arrived at al-Biraq with broken limbs. The detainees said they were given no food or water during the journey and no medical attention in al-Biraq. They also said that Libyan guards told them they would be deported to Eritrea.

"The brutal beatings, denial of food and water, transport through the desert in overcrowded trucks, and the imminent threat of deportation all appear to be punishment for the Misrata uprising," Frelick said. "Libyan authorities seem to think they can get away with these terrible abuses after stripping UNHCR of its ability to protect refugees and asylum seekers." Both the Convention against Torture and the African Refugee Convention forbid Libya from sending individuals to countries where they face a serious risk of persecution or torture. Libya is also a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which, under article 13, prohibits arbitrary expulsion and entitles foreigners to an individual decision on their removal/expulsion. The Human Rights Committee has interpreted article 7 of the ICCPR to forbid refoulement - or forced return - of persons to places where they would be at risk of torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. Under customary international law, Libya is also obliged not to return anyone to places where they may face persecution or where their lives or freedom would be at risk.


Human Rights Watch reported in January that the Libyan authorities had given Eritrean officials access to Eritrean migrants and asylum seekers detained in Libya, including at the Misrata detention center, violating the right of asylum seekers to keep their refugee claims confidential from their home governments. Human Rights Watch warned then that granting officials such access suggested that the asylum seekers might be in danger of being forcibly returned to Eritrea.

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.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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