Africa is on the move. Its destination is Europe. Hundreds of years ago Africa saw Europeans on its seashores. It grabbed whatever weapons it had in its possession to stop them from entering its territories. Now it is Europe guarding its seashores to stop Africans from entering its territories. Oh Mother Africa where have the centuries gone? Do we blame the colonizers who came and robbed you of your virginity or we blame the dictators, warlords and religious extremists who have raped and still raping you? After all what does blame bring to you? Will it heal your wounds? No I dare say. It is time to look the matter from a perspective of humanity and try to save you with a spirit if collective responsibility while not forgetting to bring to justice those who have spoiled your chastity.
This article is based on my observations of a speech i delivered at a human rights conference in Stockholm (Swedish forum for Human Rights, MR-dagarna 2009) on 17 of November 2009. I feel honored to have been given an opportunity to say something about the plight of African Immigrants.
Why Does an African Migrate?
There is no doubt that Africa is a major contributor of natural resources to the industrialized world though it finds itself not fully integrated into the world trade and monetary institutions in order to play a far greater role in the global economy. Equally true is the fact that global warming, as it transpired these days in a number of research studies, has pushed Africa further to the margins of poverty and destitution. Its deserts are increasing and floods are destroying large swathe of agricultural lands creating mass displacement in many parts of the continent. Other factors that contribute uprooting Africans from their homelands include political upheavals, lack of democracy, poor human rights records and widespread corruption to name but a few. Lack of political commitment has added salt to the injury as Africa is currently staggering with huge debts, which are too difficult to be serviced unless it is written off by the donors.
In addition to that, Africa depends on foreign goods to meet its demands on daily basis due to lack of infrastructure and industry. Today a typical African wears a Japanese watch while his shirt is manufactured in Italy. If you look at his shoes you will find them inscribed with “Made in France”. Jeans from America is his favourite attire. Every penny he earns ends up in a foreign pocket and comes back to him in the form of aid or loan. The afore-mentioned factors have led Africans to migrate to the West particularly Europe in search of better economic opportunities, employment and education.
How Does His Life Look Like in A Refugee camp?
Today in many parts of Africa we have wars and protracted civil and armed conflicts flaring up between tribes and groups affiliated to various religious groups as in the case of Somalia. People cross the border to seek protection in a neighbouring country for safe heaven. If he is lucky and if the host nation complies with the International Refugee Conventions, he will be put in a refugee camp where he unfortunately experiences tremendous hardships ranging from shortage of food, poor sanitary conditions, insecurity etc. Though the world responds refugee crisis in developing countries with interventions of massive scale, there are complaints that the humanitarian projects cannot fully cover the demand of the target groups due to donor fatigue. Then the refugee, unable to cope with the conditions in the camp, would start thinking of resettlement. If he finds no agency to sponsor him he would probably become soft for human smugglers who might lure him to take a perilous sea adventure or travel by plane with forged documents to escape the horrendous situation of this life.
What Will He Encounter in Europe?
But Europe has drawn strict immigration rules against refugees and immigrants. Boats carrying immigrants are intercepted in the high seas and those who make safely to the shores of some European nations face difficulties getting proper reception and documentation. He will know that his dreams are fading away in a distant horizon of despair, never materializing but only evaporating in the heat of successive rejections. And while he is living in Europe without proper documents his frustration and discontentment increases enormously high. In battling with the anxiety of the “long wait” he will try to find a job in the very competitive European markets and if at all he lands one he will be hired on “ black job” and paid less than what he would have earned if he had papers. If the immigrant is a female the situation is much worse as women are not paid as equal as their male counterparts.
How Will He Cope With Integration?
Further to that integration poses a serious challenge. The weather, the food, the culture and the entire life in Europe are quite different from the one he had known in Africa. How soon immigrants can make proper adjustments in a new life varies from one group to another depending on their background, geographic location, religious beliefs, culture, tradition, norms of existence and survival etc. Some immigrants may wish to continue living the same way as they did before they came to Europe. They want to observe certain practices and customs such as Female Genital Mutilation, which in Europe is regarded as a crime punishable by imprisonment.
However, the more an immigrant is willing to integrate the better and the easier it becomes for him to carve a niche for himself in his new environment. But without going to a language school for immigrants he will not make any tangible progress in the field of integration. Language is the one, which connects immigrants to the rest of the nation. It increases the chances of employment and the ability to communicate and network with others. But the immigrant’s energy to push the workload of learning may diminish or get depleted with the length of period he is waiting to hear from the migration board. His situation gets worse if he gets a negative reply. This will take him to review his plans. He would resort to move to another country within Europe to check if systems work differently or he will try his luck one more time in another country.
Unfortunately the results will be the same most of the time. Fingerprints betray him. The Dublin Convention will be applied to take him back to the country he had first requested asylum. Then he would move more and more depending of course on many factors. He irregularly shuttles from one country to another in search of papers, often under tight economic conditions that push him to some in descent precincts. Since he has limited acquaintance with the people of the country his daily contacts are mainly other immigrants with whom he has some ethnic or tribal ties or have shared with them some experiences during his dreadful voyage to Europe. Their talk is dominated essentially by the tragic stories they have witnessed in the camps while still in Africa. Some narrate about the scorching heat of the desert between Sudan and Libya and how they survived with a bottle of urine harvested from a baby boy whose mother has made some cash out of the sale. Others talk about the back room business in a makeshift hotel they boarded while waiting for the next boat to Spain. Some others speak of far more horrendous and unspeakable accounts of horror they have seen while en-route to Europe. In moving around these circles as a way of social contact a refugee is somewhat cut off from what is happening around him in Europe. He has limited access to media as a result of lack of adequate knowledge of the language of the country. And generally he scavenges on the small and rather diminutive pieces of information trickling at immigrant meeting points.
What Will He Do If No Country accepts Him?
If no country offers him as asylum, he will try to look for possibilities to survive in Europe since he cannot go back to his home country since the conditions he had ran away still exist. Things are further aggravated by the possibility of deportation or cutting the meagre income he gets from the social welfare institutions. That would put him in a more difficult situation of life. Worse still his family or relatives back home pound his mind with phone calls, telling him of harrowing stories of hunger and war demanding of him quick remittance in hundreds of dollars. Their voices crack the telephone lines as much seriously as they shatter his heart and soul. They cannot understand why he is still jobless since he had entered Europe long ago. He would try to convince them but in no way can he do that even if he hurls them with all the facts and realities he had encountered when he came to Europe. Thus the African immigrant is one more time finding himself in the middle of another dilemma:
Nowhere to stay, nowhere to go.
In his first dilemma when he was still in Africa, he had solved it by travelling to Europe but now since he is already in Europe, he see no hope beyond the horizon. As he is facing the same situation he had faced in Africa, he would most probably indulge himself in crime or crime-related businesses. He might take an offer from anybody including terrorists or human smugglers, drug traffickers etc.
If he escapes these dirty jobs, he will probably not escape from dying a slow death perpetrated by the unnoticeable silent killers of immigrants in Europe:
Depression and related diseases.
The African immigrant in Europe, especially the Somalis whose country has been torn apart by tribal and religious wars, deserves the attention of the Europeans authorities. I am not suggesting to open all borders and waterways to allow a refugee influx into Europe but as an African immigrant myself who has been kindly given permission to stay in Sweden on humanitarian basis, I have a moral responsibility to expose the dilemma of African immigrant in Europe in my capacity as a writer and human rights activist. I appeal to the EU, particularly Portugal which has taken over the presidency of the EU from Sweden, to strengthen their efforts of drawing up viable solutions for the increasing migration of Africans as well as African immigrants in Europe.
Lastly I wish to express my appreciation to the Swedish Forum For Human Rights for bringing together hundreds of scholars, scientists, researchers, theologists, artists from around the world and to make it possible for them to meet and exchange ideas and contacts in order to cooperate in their future intellectual endeavours.
Writer and Film maker