... in africa

Carrefours de migrants

17 Feb 2008 | 47 words | europe africa migration photos

Conni points to a photo set by the french photographer Anaïs Pachabezian showing the daily lives of sub-saharan migrants in Morocco and Mauritania. The pictures were taken in October 2007 in and near Oujda (Morocco) and on the Mauritanian coast:

Plage de Cansado, Nouadhibou, Mauritanie, Novembre 2007

Mediterranean south bank

24 Jan 2008 | 53 words | mediterranean airtravel africa south africa

So i have written about Europe being the mediterranean northern bank on this blog before. When i flew to South Africa last week i actually had a chance to have a look at the Mediterranean south bank for the first time:

Tripoli as seen from the window of LH572 en route to Johannesburg.

Run when you hear the sirens coming

16 Jan 2008 | 281 words | africa south africa security running urbanism

(I suggest to listen to Dizzee Rascals ‘sirens’ while reading this post). so I am in Johannesburg (or some elite gated community called ‘Sandhurst‘ that tries hard not to be part of the rest of the urban fabric) for less than two hours and I am already not used to a lot of things:

Physically i am totally not used to run up and down hills. it’s something we just don’t do in Holland (because of the general flatness of the place). Even worse i am not used to running up hills in the mid day summer heat.

More interestingly though i am totally not used to run in a place like this. Sandhurst is a gated community with only two entrances and even within that fenced-off area every property is individually surrounded by electrical fences, CCTV cameras and armed guards. In fact the only people on the street are either guards or cleaning crews.

As if it was not surreal enough already to run around in this maze of streets that is surrounded by an outer fence and surrounds the inner fences around the individual properties, there are these cars of security companies that patrol the streets and which have the most hideous – straight form the movies – names:

USB marines, Armed Response Unit, SWAT unit (complete with desert camouflage paint job) or – my personal favorite – the jack bauer inspiredtactical team‘ SUV.

Tommy, who is from Croatia and should know such things, consequently calls this place a ‘war zone’ and as far as i am concerned that Dizzee Rascal song mentioned at the beginning of this post provides the perfect soundtrack for running through this madness.

2007 most deadly year yet

So 2007 is coming to an end and it is time to draw up the balance. when it comes to migrants who have died trying to reach Europe, 2007 has been an exceptional bad year even though the powers that be seem to think otherwise. Back in august the IHT quoted spanish and italian officials that proudly proclaimed that the number of arrivals at their shores had been down from the numbers for the same period in 2007:

The deadly flow of flimsy boats crammed with migrants heading north across the Mediterranean has slowed substantially this summer. After years of surging arrivals, Italy and Spain, the initial destinations for thousands fleeing Africa for safety or jobs in Europe, are reporting drops of a third or more compared with last year.

Government officials in both countries trumpet success from more sea-borne patrols and better cooperation with African nations across the Mediterranean to reduce journeys that have seen often-unwanted migrants wash up in Europe and claimed thousands of lives in the past decade, experts estimate.

But even as Spain is reporting a sizable decrease in drownings, success is far from complete. With more obstacles in place, migrants appear to be taking greater risks. Fortress Europe, a migrant advocacy group, reports that the number of deaths among those seeking to reach Italy has remained stable, despite the drop this year in overall arrivals, suggesting that those who try face a more perilous journey.

Looking at my own figures i can only second this impression given by Gabriele del Grande. 2007 has been worse both in terms of incidents (55 in 2006 compared to 90 in 2007) and the number of victims of the European border regime (653 persons have died trying to reach europe in 2006. 2007 has already cost 730 lives). Of course these numbers do not represent the real tragedies that are taking place as they are derived from those incidents that are reported in the international press and as they only count those who are confirmed to have died (the numbers would quadruple if they would include all those reported to be missing).

While i have seen no year-ed figures for the number of arrivals it seems safe to say that spending money on stupid joint operations and videos aimed at scaring people away does not exactly work as intended. Neither does it keep people from coming to Europe nor does it keep them from dying while trying.

Update 26-12-2007: There is an excellent article (in German) about the same topic and specifically about the questionable role of frontex available on telepolis. Deadly incidents in the western mediterranean/atlantic in 2007Deadly incidents in the Eastern mediterranean in 2007

The myth of invasion

Just finished reading a fairly intresting reserach paper by Hein de Haas of the International Migration Institute in Oxford that deals with the ‘The myth of invasion – Irregular migration from West Africa to the Maghreb and the European Union‘. In the paper de Haas attempts to show that immigration to Europe by western African migrants crossing the Mediteranian or Atlantic is fairly small both when compared to migration of western africans to North African Countries and compared to other ways of gaining access to the EU (mostly by overstaying visa).

While this is probably a fairly realistic conclusion when it comes to the relative numbers, his estimations concerening the absolute numbers (25.000 successful crossings per year) are fairly unconvincing: there is almost no reliable empirical data on undocumented border crossings available and that does not get much better by ‘triangulating’ a bunch of unreliable data sources. Still the paper makes a fine antidote to ramblings about hordes of african would-be terrorist immigrants who are waiting in Africa planning organized assaults on our coasts.

For those to lazy to read the 83 page paper, here are two extracts from the conclusion:

This study showed that apocalyptic representations of a massive exodus of desperate Africans who are pushed out of the continent by poverty, war and drought are fundamentally flawed. The popular perception that irregular migration from Africa is growing at an alarming rate is deceptive. Since the introduction of visa requirements for North African countries by Italy and Spain in the early 1990s, illegal crossings of the Mediterranean Sea have been a persistent phenomenon. Rather than an increase per se, the major change has been that, after 2000, sub-Saharan Africans started to join and have now overtaken North Africans as the largest category of irregular boat migrants. Although almost all West African countries are represented in these flows, most migrants tend to come from a relatively small number of countries, in particular Senegal, Mali, Ghana and Nigeria. It is a myth that all West African migrants crossing the Sahara to North Africa are ‘in transit’ to Europe. There are probably still more sub-Saharan Africans living in North Africa than in Europe. Libya in particular is an important destination country in its own right, in particular for Chadians, Nigeriens and Sudanese. Other North African countries house smaller but growing West and Central African communities. […]

The common portrayal of irregular African migrants as “desperate” and impoverished victims of “unscrupulous” traffickers and “merciless” criminal-run smuggling networks is inconsistent with empirical evidence that the vast majority of migrants move on their own initiative. Migration is generally a conscious choice and often a family investment rather than a desperate move. Migrants are generally not among the poorest and least educated of their origin communities. Smugglers are usually not part of international organised crime, but tend to be locally based and operate alone or in relatively small, flexible networks. Migrants travel in stages and typically pay smugglers for one difficult leg of the journey.

Bonus: the cover of page of the study shows a photo of a fragment from a painting hanging in a restaurant in Dakar showing a number of wooden Cayucos which are commonly used for the voyage to the Canary Islands. One of the boats is named ‘Barsaa ou barsaqq’, which according to de Haas means ‘Barcelona or hell’ (according to this earlier story in the Guardian it translates to ‘Barcelona or afterlife’, but given that Egypt’s top religious advisor has just issued a fatwathat muslims who die attempting to reach Europe can not be considered to be martyrs, hell might indeed be a more precise location (at least when it comes to muslims)).

See also this video for more Barsaa/Barsaqq statements (and somebody needs to tell de Haas that the boats are called Cayucos and not Pirogues).

I like Sayoun Mesfin (Ethiopian FM)...

14 Nov 2007 | 120 words | food africa war occupation milk

… who just gave an interview on BBC world justifying (in the standard language of contemporary occupiers – ‘unavoidable collateral damage’, ‘regrettable loss of innocent lives’, ‘doing the uttermost best to avoid unnecessary suffering of the population’, ‘the terrorists are using women and children as human shields’, etc…) the controversial presence of Ethiopian troops in Somalia. At some point of the interview he pointed out that…

we have not gone into Somalia to drink milk but ready to make the ultimate sacrifice to preserve peace [emphasis mine]

for some reason i can really relate to this. Having this particular expression makes the Ethiopians much more sympathetic to me (plus, of course their food is much more imaginative than Iranian food).

Can't swim? Get rescued - Can swim? Get arrested

17 Sep 2007 | 65 words | migration europe africa spain

There were meanwhile reports from Canal Sur of another four immigrants rescued a short distance off the coast of Cabo de Gata on Sunday evening after their boat sank just a mile off shore. Another man was arrested on shore after he managed to swim to the coast. All five were said to be healthy.

Taken from a news-item on typicallyspanish.com. makes sense, dosn’t it?

Drowning season (revisited)

10 Sep 2007 | 66 words | europe africa mediterranean migration

Apparently someone at the BBC has tracked down some of the migrants who got rescued after hanging on to a tuna fishing net for three days in the Mediterranean back in may. They will be featured in the documentary ‘Destination Europe‘ which airs tonight at 2030 on BBC one. There is another article based on interviews with five of the migrants available on the guardian website.

Tunisian sailors arrested for saving illegal immigrants

29 Aug 2007 | 462 words | africa europe border mediterranean dead people

So the Italians and the Spanish are claiming that this year there are much less immigrants trying to enter Europe via their shores, islands and outposts on the african mainland than last year. while this may be true this does neither mean that less people are dying on the Atlantic or in the Mediterranean while trying to get to Europe nor is it something that these governments should be particularly proud of. Looks like the italian authorities have just managed find themselves another way of ‘protecting’ europe form the ‘influx’ of African migrants:

Project meltingpot reports (in italian) that the authorities in Lampedusa arrested seven tunisian sailors for saving immigrants from drowning at sea. In case you can’t read italian (neither can i) the Maltese independent has a shorter article available in english:

On 8 August, seven Tunisian fishermen were arrested at Lampedusa and charged with having saved the lives of 44 migrants from rough seas 40 miles south of Lampedusa. The seven have been charged with having helped illegal immigrant trafficking, the same charge that was to be made against Raymond Bugeja. The seven are the two captains of two fishing boats from Monastir and their five-man crew.

The immigrants that included 11 women and two children had launched an SOS on a satellite phone.

While the Italian agency ADN Kronos claimed the two fishing vessels were the much discussed ‘mother ships’ which are said to bring the illegal immigrants to just below the horizon of either Malta or Lampedusa and from there launch the small boats the asylum seekers come in, other Italian sources dispute this: they argue the two fishing vessels were easily identifiable as being mother ships. Besides, no trace of any small boat was found. It also seems there were some language difficulties as the Tunisian ships entered Italian waters when they had been ordered to stay out.

The end result was that the seven were arrested and kept in prison and their boats seized by the Agrigento authorities, the simple reason being that they had just helped people who were drowning.

update (30.aug.07): There is an much more detailed english article on the fortress europe blog.

Oh, and do read the IHT article linked at the beginning. it contains some of the worst rhetoric i have come across in a long time:

They are perhaps the most stark component of a quandary Europe has had much trouble solving: how to continue to meet its international obligation to protect those fleeing war and persecution while keeping out those it fears will form a permanent underclass or, in the worst cases, expose their countries to terrorism.

Guess that is why they stick ‘security checked’ stickers on cruise ship passengers disembarking in Amsterdam to head for the coffee shops…

Europe == mediterranean northern bank

19 Aug 2007 | 277 words | africa europe mediterranean border migration

For some reason have kept a google news alert for this article in my inbox over the last week:

18 clandestine migrants were saved from a shipwreck, by Algeria II passenger-ship. A well-informed source told El Khabar that the clandestine migrants were attempting to reach the Mediterranean northern bank. They were handed over Tuesday to Oran port coast guard services.

Algeria II passenger-ship discovered, during its Oran-Marseille trip last Sunday, 8 people on the point to sink as their boats could not resist the strong waves movements. The ship crew saved them and decided to continue the trip toward Marseille for it was impossible to cancel it. On the way back, the same ship discovered at large another sinking boat with 10 clandestine migrants on board. They were 18 “haragas” [pk: those who ‘skim’ across the sea, the forbidden ones, to attempt the adventure of emigration] and aged lesser than 30. El Khabar sources denied any lost or dead among them.

Not sure what exactly what intrigued me about this article so much to not delete it. might be the slightly clumsy use of english which no doubt is the the result of either french to english or arabic to english translation. in any case i really like they way europe is referred to as the ‘mediterranean northern bank’ (if you are to believe google nobody but the writer/translator of the article in question and the ‘Standing Committee for the Euro-Mediterranean Partnerships of the Local and Regional Authorities‘ use this description. if you ask me, it should definitely be used more often! sounds like Europe is separated from Africa by a tiny little river called the Mediterranean:

meanwhile... is the personal weblog of Paul Keller. I am currently policy director at Open Future and President of the COMMUNIA Association for the Public Domain. This weblog is largely inactive but contains an archive of posts (mixing both work and personal) going back to 2005.

I also maintain a collection of cards from African mediums (which is the reason for the domain name), a collection of photos on flickr and a website collecting my professional writings and appearances.

Other things that i have made online: