OPIN­ION

The Africa Report - - CONTENTS - E lhadj As Sy Se­cre etary gen­eral, In­ter­na­tional Fed­er­a­tion of Red Cross anda Red Cres­cent So­ci­eties

El­hadj As Sy, sec­re­tar y gen­eral of the In­ter­na­tional Fed­er­a­tion of Red Cross & Red Cres­cent So­ci­eties

Ev­ery week, I re­ceive des­per­ate mes­sages from my con­ti­nent as fam­i­lies and friends seek news of their loved ones who set out on a jour­ney to Europe and have not been heard from since. “Sir, you are my last re­sort. Please help find my brother, hope­fully alive. His wife doesn’t know if she should con­tinue to wait or start to mourn,” says a What­sapp mes­sage on my phone. Oth­ers im­plore me to my face. “Un­cle, please don’t leave us here. Take us with you, in the name of God,” called a hand­some young man in my mother tongue, Wolof, as he dis­em­barked from the Aquar­ius res­cue ship in Va­len­cia, in June. “Sev­enty-five friends died dur­ing our odyssey, and we had to throw their bod­ies into the ocean. How can I face their par­ents again? How can I be proud to be a sur­vivor?” said a young Sene­galese man to me, in a long mono­logue bro­ken by sobs.

Why are they writ­ing to me and plead­ing with me? Per­haps be­cause I am African, and maybe be­cause I look like their fa­ther or their un­cle. But surely be­cause they be­lieve I might be able to help, and be­cause there are too few oth­ers to turn to. Most of the time though, I’m afraid there is lit­tle I can do. The In­ter­na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Mi­gra­tion es­ti­mates that this year, by 16 Septem­ber, more than 1,720 mi­grants had per­ished – or gone ‘miss-

We never see flags at half-mast in the home­lands of those who have died

ing ’ – in the Mediter­ranean. The fig­ure for the whole of last year was 2,575. The vast ma­jor­ity of these peo­ple – our broth­ers and sis­ters, sons and daugh­ters – are from Africa, and mostly from my home re­gion of West Africa. We see these fig­ures in glossy hu­man­i­tar­ian pub­li­ca­tions. Oc­ca­sion­ally we also see face­less pho­tos of the dead in news­pa­pers – though usu­ally

only when the num­bers sud­denly jump – and the pa­pers are quickly thrown away. But we never see of­fi­cial flags flown at half-mast in the home­lands of those who have died. We rarely see the tears of the moth­ers and fa­thers of these young men and women, for they are shed far away, in the de­spair of quiet cor­ners. And the words of out­rage, of con­dem­na­tion, of shame that should be

Our gov­ern­ments should own – not dis­own – their own cit­i­zens

shouted out loud by the lead­ers in these vic­tims’ home­lands are also rarely heard – for rea­sons I really do not un­der­stand. Peo­ple move and will con­tinue to move in search of new lives, as well as, all too of­ten, in search of sanc­tu­ary. No mat­ter the rea­son for their moves, this quest should never cost lives. And we West Africans can­not ex­pect the rest of the world to know about and care and re­spond to these tragedies, if we our­selves do not. It is time for us West Africans – our gov­ern­ments, our com­mu­ni­ties, our peo­ples – to ask our­selves some very se­ri­ous ques­tions.

Why, par­tic­u­larly in places that are not sub­ject to con­flict or se­ri­ous vi­o­lence, do so many young peo­ple feel that their only fu­ture lies else­where? Why, hav­ing faced un­told hard­ship and suf­fer­ing dur­ing their jour­neys, are those who change their minds and want to re­turn to their home­lands not sup­ported to have a dig­ni­fied re­turn? And why is home so of­ten not a wel­com­ing place? Our gov­ern­ments should do all they can to make sure that our peo­ple have ac­cess to ac­cu­rate and trust­wor­thy in­for­ma­tion so that the de­ci­sion to mi­grate is an in­formed one. No one should claim ig­no­rance of the harsh re­al­i­ties of mi­gra­tion. Our gov­ern­ments should pro­vide bet­ter con­sular ser­vices to mi­grants in coun­tries of tran­sit and des­ti­na­tion. That means giv­ing life-sav­ing as­sis­tance, in­for­ma­tion on le­gal means of mi­gra­tion, and repa­tri­a­tion and rein­te­gra­tion sup­port for those who want or need it. And our gov­ern­ments should bring back the bod­ies of those who die on the mi­gra­tion jour­ney. They should own – not dis­own – their own cit­i­zens. These are ver y small re­quests in the face of unimag­in­able suf­fer­ing. But they are steps that will demon­strate that our coun­tries are not in­dif­fer­ent to the plight of our peo­ple. Africans can­not leave this prob­lem to oth­ers. Yes, world lead­ers – in­clud­ing our own – dis­cussed these is­sues at the UN Gen­eral As­sem­bly in Septem­ber. And yes, the world will adopt a Global Com­pact for Safe, Or­derly and Reg­u­lar Mi­gra­tion in De­cem­ber. But a ma­jor part of this prob­lem be­longs to Africa and will need to be solved in Africa. Many of our prob­lems – and many of their so­lu­tions – lie at home. Let’s stop the in­dif­fer­ence and pro­tect hu­man­ity.

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