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UJ‘s Cristiano d’Orsi sheds some light on the plight of irregular migration within Africa

Dr Cristiano d’Orsi, Research Fellow and Lecturer at the South African Research Chair in International Law (SARCIL) at University of Johannesburg (UJ), penned an opinion piece entitled “Some rays of light on the plight of irregular migration within Africa” published on AfricLaw,04 April 2019.

In 2018 alone, hundreds of witnesses confirmed more than 1 000 migrant deaths on the African continent. But researchers estimate that these numbers represent only a fraction of the overall number of deaths of people on the move in Africa. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), during the first three months of 2019, 98 migrants died in Africa (28 in North Africa and 70 in the Horn of Africa, mostly from drowning in the Red Sea whilst hoping to reach Saudi shores). In 2018, the number of fatalities on the continent amounted to 1 401, mostly presumed to come from the Horn.

Irregular migration in Africa occur mostly in Western Africa, Southern Africa and the Horn. The phenomenon also sees some Africans preferring to return home. In this sense, recently, more and more African migrants who ended up in Niger and experienced or heard of the dangers and difficulties of reaching Europe, have decided to return home. In 2018, approximately 16 000 Africans decided to accept offers from the IOM to return them to their home countries.

However, Niger still remains an important crossroad for trafficked and smuggled Africans. Given the financial cost of travelling through the Sahara and ultimately, to Europe, it is common for migrants to interrupt their trips in Niger, in order to earn some form of income. Nigerien cities such as Agadez and Dirkou have become stopover areas, where irregular migrants prepare for the continuation of their trips. Yet, in many circumstances, it is not sufficient to consider Niger simply as a country of transit, having de facto become a country of destination for temporary migration flows.

In 2015, the Nigerien government passed a law to counter the trafficking of migrants. Added to the existing Ordinance on the Entry and Stay of Foreigners and the 2010 Ordinance on Combating Trafficking in Persons (2010-86). This new law increases prison sentences and monetary fines for traffickers and allows for the confiscation of their vehicles. Theoretically, the law is drafted in a strong manner and targets both traffickers and smugglers, including bus companies that transport undocumented migrants. To date, however, these laws and initiatives have been unable to stop large migratory flows passing through Niger. This is not to say that the local authorities have made no attempts at all to stop irregular migration but, at the moment, results seem not so positive. For instance, although the 2015 Nigerien Law contains an entire chapter dedicated to the transport companies’ servicing of undocumented migrants, no investigations have been opened into the bus companies’ facilitation of irregular migration.

On the other side, even recently, organisations linked to the European Union (EU), are adopting initiatives to contribute to strengthening the capacities of Nigerien authorities in better managing irregular migration, such as the initiative adopted by the organization MIEUX in order to raise awareness among young Africans of the dangers of migrating irregularly. The African Union (AU) is also adopting initiatives with the aim of thwarting irregular migration in Sub-Saharan Africa, such as the AU-Horn of Africa Initiative on Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling (AU-HoAI), a forum for participating countries from the Horn of Africa region to exchange information, share experiences and deliberate on the status and counter measure approaches to human trafficking and migrant smuggling in that region. In this sense, the meeting held in Maseru (Lesotho) in December 2018, served to try to foster a dialogue between the AU-HoAI on one side and the South African Development Community (SADC) on the other. According to an IOM Report of September 2018, no more than 8% of migrants from the Horn try to reach the SADC region, primarily South Africa, with 51% of these individuals moving, in contrast, from, but also within, the Horn of Africa, followed by about 36% whose movements are towards the Gulf Cooperation Council countries on the eastern route, through Djibouti, Somaliland and Puntland.

In the Horn, the EU is also trying to assist through an inter-regional forum on migration known as the Khartoum Process. It is a platform for cooperation among the countries along the migration route between the Horn of Africa and Europe and is funded by the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF). It is involved with several operations, with the regional project Better Migration Management (BMM) as one example. BMM’s objective is the improvement of the migration management in the region, whilst addressing the trafficking and smuggling of migrants within and from the Horn, through awareness, capacity building, policy harmonisations and protection

Trafficking and smuggling of persons remain huge plights in Africa. Several countries, such as Niger and South Africa, are making efforts to provide domestic legal frameworks on this phenomenon in order to be able to more effectively fight the criminals. For instance, South Africa adopted the Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act 7 of 2013 in the pursuit of this aim. In addition, many African countries are party to the Palermo Protocols, which seeks to combat both the trafficking and the smuggling of persons. Formal initiatives such the 2011 technical meeting on Enhancing Trafficking in Persons (TIPs) criminal investigation, prosecution and victim and witness protection among African and European countries within the framework of the Africa-EU Migration, Mobility and Employment Partnership (MME) did not achieve the desired results. The Trafficking in Persons Report 2018, issued by the US Department of State highlights how the situation is of high concern in Africa detecting two special cases of Libya and Somalia. The report stresses that ‘information regarding trafficking in Somalia remains extremely difficult to obtain or verify. Trafficking routes within the country are particularly opaque’ (at 466).

However, I am confident that with a major awareness of the problem, not only by government officials but, more importantly, by the potential victims of these crimes in Africa, the conditions of irregular migrants will constantly improve and I hope I will witness increasing numbers of situations in which African migrants will not die in the search of a better future.

*The views expressed in the article is that of the author/s and does not necessarily reflect that of the University of Johannesburg

Dr Cristiano d’Orsi
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