Tears flow in Abuja as lawyers recount sad tales of illegal migrants

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Pathetic tales of woes filled the ears of participants at the judicial colloquium on migration and Human Rights in West Africa held at the Transcorp Hilton, Abuja the other day. From one speaker to another were mind-boggling stories of how hundreds of Africans meet cruel deaths trying to cross over to Europe and the United States, often on rickety boats or trekking through the scorching sun of the North African deserts.

Touching stories of how the more vulnerable groups, such as women and children, are often trapped in illegal migration rackets run by the human trafficking mafia networks and are often victims of abuse committed by security forces held the participants spell-bound throughout the two-day workshop.

Equally striking in these migratory movements is the large proportion of young people using means of transport under practically suicidal conditions (canoes, baggage holds of boats, ships or aircrafts, and crossing the deserts on foot etc.)”.

As the revelations continued unfold, participants lost the control of their emotions paving the way for a free flow of tears that lasted throughout the duration of the chilling accounts.
The colloquium was put together by Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) in collaboration with members of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights; the Economic Community of West African States (including its parliament and court], and the International organization for Migration (IOM) to path a new way to effectively enforce the rights of migrants and deportees and also change migration management and policymaking.

At the event were policy makers, jurists, lawyers and rights activists from West Africa and beyond to devise strategies for transforming the politics of migration policy and management.
Speakers at the forum include Chief Ojo Maduekwe [Minister of Foreign Affairs], Dr. Sam Amadi, Mr. Pablo Ceriari Ceernadas, Joy Ngozi Ezeiko [Un Special Rapprteur for Human trafficking], Niang Abdoulaye, Me. Helene Cisse, Mr. Ganda Oumar, Sonia Munoz, Professor Obou Ouraga, Professor Jumoke Afolayan, and Mr. Femi Falana, Dr. Chidi Odinkalu, Wale Fapohunda amongst others.
Modeled after the International colloquium conveyed by the Commonwealth Secretariat in Bangalore, the talk shop produced advanced human rights norms, strategies and policy-actions plans that will guide the management of migration within West Africa and bilateral engagement between African leaders and European and US policymakers on migration.

While x-raying the negative effects of migration, Dr. Sam Amadi, in his paper “migration and deportation: Developing Effective Judicial Remedies” noted “migration poses challenge to human capital development with regards to remittances from the Diaspora. Also, migration affects economic and political development through what is generally known as ‘the absence effect’. This is the most economically devastating effect of migration in the long run. The idea here is that migratory policies in Europe and the US attract the most talented and skilled manpower from Africa. By so doing, they weaken the capacity for African countries to build strong institutions to support economic and political development.”

But the most shocking revelations at the workshop came from a publication by OSIWA titled “Forced Deportation and Ill-treatment of Irregular African Migrants: A plea for “Human Rights” Approach”.
According to the publication, statistics provided by the Malian Government on the distribution of Malians abroad depicts worrying situation to the effect that “illegal migration is taking on disturbing proportions, exposing thousands of African migrants, a great number of whom come from sub-Africa, to serious and large scale violations of their fundamental human rights.

“More vulnerable groups, such as women and children, are often trapped in illegal migration rackets run by the human trafficking mafia networks and are often victims of abuse committed by security forces. Equally striking in these migratory movements is the large proportion of young people using means of transport under practically suicidal conditions (canoes, baggage holds of boats, ships or aircrafts, and crossing the deserts on foot etc.)”.

The exponential increase in illegal migration, particularly towards Europe, according to the publication, has been promoted by two main factors. “Firstly, the migration is linked to situations of poverty, unemployment and the feeling, which is widespread among the youth in particular, of helplessness and absence of future prospects in their country of origin. Secondly, the increasingly draconian conditions and requirements for the acquisition of a visa to enter any of the European countries contribute to the development of illegal immigration networks and to the increase of migrants with irregular status.”

Vulnerability and mistreatment of migrants
It was revealed at the workshop that there is widespread violation of the most basic rights of migrants, especially migrants from sub-Saharan Africa. In a paper titled “Migration Globalization and Human Rights” OSIWA said when migrants leave their countries and begin their journeys, they continue to suffer human rights violations. “The transition from home to final destination is fraught with hazards. Migrants are often trafficked or smuggled through the borders in flimsy boats or rickety lorries. This is especially true of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa crossing into Europe via North Africa. They are often exploited and abused by those who offer to help them cross the borders.

“Before migrants reach their desired haven, they are often mistreated in the transit countries. Some European countries bordering North Africa, such as Spain and Italy, have bilateral arrangements with these countries to stop irregular migration. The practices adopted to achieve this aim expose migrants to serious jeopardy. The UN Special Rapporteur on Migration reports that more than 4, 000 irregular migrants have drowned in the Straits of Gibraltar attempting to cross from Morocco to Spain.

In one illustrative instance, it was published in New York Times October 21, 2003 that Italian authorities reported the rescue of a boat carrying Africans from Libya, which ran out fuel, food and water and was found drifting at sea. 70 of the 85 passengers died before the rescue. “The Special Rapporteur of the Inter- American Commission on Human Rights (LACHR) reports similarly that, as result of tighter border control and more strenuous efforts to deter irregular migration, ‘more and more people have died due to asphyxia, hypothermia, dehydration, accidents or drowning, when trying to cross inaccessible and un-patrolled areas such as deserts, Rivers, canyons, streams and mountainous zones’ (LACHR).
Fourteen Nigerians died in one day in July trying to reach Spain by sea. Between 1999 and 2002, more than 10,000 Nigerians died in transit from North Africa into Europe (OJo Maduekwe).

OSIWA said, “Migrants who survive the terrible transit experience and reach their destination begin another series of ordeals. Most European countries have contracted private firms to stop irregular migrants from entering their territory. The Spanish border is supervised by Frontex, which applies excessive force to stop migrants. The concern for security and border control blinds these authorities to the need to respect the human rights of the migrants. The migrants are often not afforded emergency health in spite of the health problems they sometimes arrive with.”

Forceful deportation
The workshop disclosed that since irregular migrants are usually reluctant to return to their countries, forceful deportation is an attractive option for the unwilling host country. According to the workshop, the European Committee on Prevention of Torture (CPT) found that escorts often use excessive force against deportees. “Such treatment clearly violates the provisions in the ICCPR and the ECHR against torture and inhuman treatment. When such procedures lead to death, as in the case of Mr. E.I Pais Aikpitanhi, a Nigerian, who was covered with sack like an item cargo in Spain and injected with a strong tranquilizer with his hands and mouth taped until he chocked to death, there is also a violation of the right to life.

“They die in transit without even their remains getting to the family. The family of the Nigerian who died aboard an Iberia flight while being violently deported by Spanish officials never received his body. Similarly, the Nigerian immigration officials testified to Nigerian parliament that three other deportees were missing.”

More shocking revelations
In 1999, a Nigerian irregular migrant, Marcus Omofume, died while being violently deported to Nigeria from Austria on board a Balkan Air flight. He was bound and gagged for the flight but died on the journey. Two International medical experts assigned the cause of death to suffocation arising from gagging. The three police officers that bound Omofume and escorted him on flight were charged with causing death by torture, but, during their trial, it became obvious that the practice of mouth taping, although officially sanctioned, had become standard practice. Moreover, there was no official policy discouraging inhuman treatment of deportees. The fact those deportees are often described, as “drug peddlers” seemed to encourage officials to be nasty.

“Another dimension of the violation of human rights in removal or deportation procedures is the occasional infringement of the rights of bystanders or co-travelers who complain against abusive deportation. There are reported instances of passengers on aircraft used for deportation being victimized themselves after objecting to the violent manner of a deportation. The case of Ayodeji Omotade, a Nigerian arrested on a British Airways flight, exemplifies the collateral damage of unlawful treatment of a Nigerian deportee by British security officials. The Nigerian was wailing ‘I go die’ as he was violently bundled into the aircraft, but when Omotade and other passengers protested, the crew called in police to eject all 136 Nigerian passengers. Omotade himself was arrested, manhandled, detained and charged for what the airline termed ‘disruptive’ behaviour.

“Fatima Mbaye, head of the Mauritanian Human Rights Association, suffered a similar fate. She and Dr. Pierre Maria Bernard protested the inhuman treatment of a Mauritanian deportee on board an aircraft at the Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris. About twenty police officers threatened to beat her and Bernard for speaking up for the human rights of the deportee. She was later arrested and detained at the airport and subjected to dehumanizing treatment. In particular, Mbaye claims she was subjected to an invasive strip search: ‘the most painful part of this affair was the body search. I was stripped completely naked and they searched my intimate parts, without any reason. It was humiliating. I consider it like a rape.’
“In all these instances, the airlines did not show any serious awareness of their human rights obligations, which raises serious question on the duties and responsibilities of airlines engaged in the deportation of irregular migrants.

Way out
Worried by the pathetic conditions and plight of victims of irregular migrations, the Nigerian Government through the Foreign Affairs Minister, Chief Ojo Maduekwe has expressed the need to decriminalize migration to allow those law-abiding migrants to regularize their papers.
The Minister who declared the workshop open was of the view that there was no point getting mass deportation if the world is actually a global village. To him, irregular migrants who are engaged in honest means of living and are law abiding should be giving a time frame by their host country to regularize their papers.

Besides the Minister’s position, it was the recommendations of the workshop that strategic approach that carefully targets the various actors that are involved in dealing with migrants and their problems must be fashion out… Some of the suggested strategies included enlightenment and capacity building for Consular Officials, stronger diplomatic engagement by developing countries, redefining migration and International law by African Scholars amongst others.{linkr:related;keywords:migrants;limit:5;title:Related Articles}

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