Migrant crisis affecting Africa, too

The plight of African migrants struggling to reach Europe, alongside thousands fleeing violence in the Middle East, has stirred international alarm this year, with hundreds dying at sea on the perilous Mediterranean crossing.

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But similar stories are being played out across the African continent, as wealthier countries clamp down on immigration amid security fears.

 

While Africans are among those swelling the migrant crisis in Europe, many more are fleeing to other parts of Africa, and facing similar struggles.

 

The International Migration Organization’s Migrant Assistance Specialist for West Africa, Michele Bombassei, says the majority of African migrants don’t leave the continent.

 

“Compared to the overall scale of the migratory phenomenon in the region, 70% of the migrants in the region remain in the region. Meaning that only 30% actually go out of West and Central Africa.”

 

But migration within the African continent is becoming less easy.

 

Even in South Africa, the continent’s most developed economy, many people fled an outbreak of xenophobic attacks this year, made by residents afraid of foreigners taking their jobs.

 

Amid rising concerns over the spread of Islamist militant groups on the continent and several economies hit by a slump in commodities prices, the IOM’s Michelle Bombassei says some African nations are clamping down on those migration flows.

 

“Security is becoming more and more an issue. As I said, migration is part of the tradition and the culture of the region and plays a major role in the economy within the region. But we also have to mention that in very specific areas, which are for instance affected by terrorism or by security threats of different kinds, the presence of large, large numbers of migrants, sometimes undocumented, is a concern for many governments, especially with the risk of infiltration of terrorists or armed groups of different kind.”

 

Cameroon, Niger and Chad have deported thousands of people in the face of attacks within their borders by Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram.

 

Amnesty International has documented thousands of deportations by Republic of Congo.

 

The foreigners, many of them from neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, were often simply put on canoes and shipped across the Congo river to Kinshasa.

 

Alain Roy, from rights advocate Amnesty International, says such deportations shatter lives and exacerbate poverty, exposing the limits of pan-Africanism.

 

“We’re certainly concerned to see the same kind of attitudes that we have seen around the world and in Europe where whole societies tend to see migrants or refugees as ‘others’, as people who are not deserving humane treatment, and we’ve seen that happen also within Africa. So you have Africans who are treating Africans poorly.”

 

With European Union and African heads of state due to meet in Malta in November to discuss the Mediterranean migration crisis, experts say any solution needs to address the lack of economic possibilities in sub-Saharan Africa.

 

The IOM’s Michelle Bombassei says, “What’s happening right now in the Mediterranean is just the last step of a long long process that, in many cases started here in West Africa. And we won’t be able to address what is going on in the Mediterranean until we don’t understand this link and we start working on that.”