African lead­ers likely to avoid migration trou­bles


De­spite grow­ing pres­sure to ad­dress the tragedy of African mi­grants drown­ing in the Mediter­ranean, the African Union is un­likely to of­fer any home-grown so­lu­tions to the cri­sis, say an­a­lysts.

Refugees will be dis­cussed in a closed ses­sion at the first day of the African Union sum­mit on Sun­day, in an­tic­i­pa­tion of a meet­ing with the Euro­pean Union in the lat­ter half of this year.

But African lead­ers, many of whom rou­tinely flout hu­man rights, are ac­cused of lack­ing the will to crit­i­cize each other on refugee and im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies for fear of at­tract­ing crit­i­cism them­selves.

The stale­mate thwarts ef­forts to com­bat the con­ti­nent’s refugee crises.

“I am not sure to what ex­tent the lead­ers can tell each other this type of un­com­fort­able truth,” said Tji­u­rimo Hen­gari, a re­search fel­low at the South African In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs (SAIIA).

“The so­lu­tions are mostly do­mes­tic, it’s about bet­ter gov­er­nance. They need to tell each other: we need to pro­mote in­clu­sive growth, we need to pro­mote good gov­er­nance.”

Last week­end alone, 6,000 peo­ple, most of them sub-Sa­ha­ran Africans, were pulled to safety from fish­ing boats and rub­ber dinghies off Libya.

Nearly 1,800, mainly African and Mid­dle Eastern refugees, have drowned in the Mediter­ranean this year.

The sum­mit’s host, South Africa’s Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma, is un­likely to take the lead on any pan-con­ti­nen­tal ef­fort to tackle the refugee cri­sis, as he faces crit­i­cism over deadly xeno­pho­bic vi­o­lence in his coun­try ear­lier this year.

Nige­ria and Zim­babwe were among those who lashed out at South Africa for not pro­tect­ing their cit­i­zens af­ter a se­ries of anti-mi­grant at­tacks in Jan­uary and April.

In the af­ter­math of the un­rest, a de­fi­ant Zuma re­fused to ac­cept blame.

Closed Doors

Led by anti-apartheid ac­tivist Nel­son Man­dela, South Africa used to be seen as a home for Africa’s refugees. The coun­try ended apartheid and in 1994 em­braced its new democ­racy as a racially united “rain­bow na­tion,” be­fore sign­ing the most pro­gres­sive leg­is­la­tion on refugee pro­tec­tion in the world.

It was a log­i­cal re­ac­tion: many of the lead­ers of the rul­ing ANC party had at some point lived in ex­ile in Africa.

How­ever, from 2000 the at­ti­tude to­wards mi­grants com­ing from across the con­ti­nent be­gan to change.

Re­stric­tions were put on the length of time refugees could stay.

The Home Af­fairs min­istry started to see fights in the lines out­side its of­fices as refugees were turned away by hos­tile — and some­times cor­rupt — of­fi­cers. By 2012, the ANC had adopted a much harsher stance on refugees.

This year Zuma mo­bi­lized the army in an op­er­a­tion to ar­rest 1,600 un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants in May, echo­ing his Con­golese coun­ter­part De­nis Sas­sou Nguesso who has also con­ducted sim­i­lar op­er­a­tions since last year.

Marc Gbaf­fou, chair­per­son of the African Di­as­pora Fo­rum, agrees.

In April, Gbaf­fou wrote to the African Union ask­ing to add “the pro­tec­tion of im­mi­grants in host coun­tries” on its agenda, as well as “free­dom to set­tle and con­duct busi­ness in any African coun­try of choice.”

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