Exodus from Africa

The Search for a Better Life

Those who risk their lives to trek thousands of kilometres through the Sahara desert to get to the North African coast and make their way to Europe must have sound reasons for doing so. In his commentary, Dominic Johnson names them

Deporting migrants to Morocco's neighbouring countries – Algeria in this case – does not at all solve the problem

​​While the general reference to poverty and war in sub-Saharan Africa is not inherently wrong, it is a generalisation that does not make it any easier to understand either the individuals' reasons for migrating, or the search for a better life.

An experts' report that was very recently handed over to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan emphasised that for poor countries with rapid population growth, migration is a vital capital accumulation tool: it brings three times as much money into the world's poorest countries as all national development aid put together; this is why suppressing migration is neither "desirable nor realistic".

The worst famine for thirty years

Take, for example, Niger: the poorest of the countries of origin and transit countries. The most important transit routes from West Africa through the desert to southern Algeria or Libya run through Niger and Mali. Every year, tens of thousands of Black Africans use these routes on their way to Europe. This summer, Niger experienced its worst famine for thirty years. In many parts of the country, men of working age left their villages in search of work, often leaving their wives and children without sufficient stocks. Maybe some of these men set off from Niger to Europe.

If international economic support measures had been put in place in good time for the famine-threatened regions of Niger, some of these migrants could have stayed at home. And if the swarms of locusts, which destroyed great swathes of pastureland in the Sahel in the summer of 2004 and drove pastoral families to migrate in order to escape poverty, had been combated at an early stage, this situation would never have occurred.

Catering for the migrants puts Morocco in hot water – migrants queuing up for food

​​The entire Sahel region has a chronic food deficit, and seasonal migration caused by a seasonal shortage of food has always existed. To take away these people's freedom of movement would be the kiss of death for them. But this is exactly what international politics seeks to do: to reduce the opportunities for migrating northwards and step up border controls at airports and in the Sahara desert in the name of the "War on Terror".

At the same time, ruinous EU agricultural exports are devastating West African farmers while the US government's billion-dollar subsidies for US cotton producers are driving West African competition from the world markets.

The political reasons for migration

Nor is enough being done to combat the political reasons for migration. At the start of the civil war in the Ivory Coast in 2002, hundreds of thousands of West African migrants were driven back to their much poorer native countries, where most of them had no livelihoods.

So what happened to all these people? This year, an increasing number of migrants are arriving in North Africa from the Ivory Coast, where the peace process has all but entirely collapsed. And yet there is no European peace initiative for the country.

Hiding in the bush, devoid of rights

One particular aspect of dealing with migrants at the southern borders of the EU is the situation of thousands of Africans who are stranded in Morocco: hiding out in the bush and devoid of rights, they are like sitting ducks.

These are the people who are climbing over the barbed wire fences every day. For them, any measures to improve the situation in their native countries have come too late. But Morocco's policy towards them is to arrest them and dump them en masse in the desert at the Algerian border. The least we can do for these people in terms of humane treatment would be to allow them to stay and work.

Dominic Johnson

Translated from the German by Aingeal Flanagan

© Qantara.de/TAZ 2005


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