Dying to Live  

Apr 22, 2015   //   Blog, immigration, migrants, migration, refugee  

Post by Juwaher Yusuf, BAJI Program Associate

img6When my 17-year old cousin fled one year ago, he left with several friends embarking on a journey between countries. Their plan of action changed regularly – depending on where they were, how much money they had and what issues unexpectedly occurred. His group of travelling friends dwindled from checkpoint to checkpoint. A few months ago he reached Libya – what felt like a partial victory as the final destination before freedom. One week ago, he boarded a ship destined for Italy. He made it safely. I am thankful he is alive and well – but the majority of his friends did not make it.

900 people lost their lives from Sundays’ ship devastation in the Mediterranean Sea. The ship capsized Sunday with reportedly 950 people on board as it left Tripoli, Libya the morning of Saturday, April 18.

It took 6 hours for search-and-rescue operations to reach the area.

28 survivors have been identified and were taken to Catania, Sicily, on Monday.

900 lives.

900 families.

900 people faced with forced migration. But apparently, that’s not newsworthy.

img3I find what’s notably missing from the stories I’ve scoured online are the root causes of mass migration that has soared exponentially. Why are people moving in such large numbers? What issues are motivating such treacherous journeys? Immigrants migrate for a number of reasons, particularly those related to the impact of global economic policies on their place of origin and their daily lives. These issues have failed to be mentioned. The reporting is solely around the ‘now’ rather than the ‘why.’

The reality is – and has been – that people are fleeing their home countries for genuine fear of their lives. Reasons including – but not limited to – humanitarian crises, war, extreme poverty, climate change, fear of persecution, poor living conditions, etc. In some countries, 2,000 – 3,000 people are fleeing each month. We must dissect the root causes of migration.

We remember the 2013 devastation off of the coast of Lampedusa that killed 366 people, yet we are still in crisis mode two years later. We have been reactive to tragedies of this nature rather than thinking proactively to understand and solve the causes, preventing such devastation. Rapid response is only a short term solution for what is a long term problem.

imgWe know men, women and children are risking their lives by sea with as many as 25,000 men, 6,000 women and 10,000 minors from Syria and Eritrea in 2014 alone.

The smuggling industry – that trades human lives – has long capitalized on the misfortune of immigrants – exploiting people suffering severe prosecution in their home countries. People are suffering and we see the devaluation of their lives directly through the ignorance, manipulation and framing of stories widely circulated. We must stop vilifying migrants as a problem – a problem that no one wants to solve.

This shipwreck marks the deadliest month on record with 1300 deaths in April alone – and this could rise to 30,000 by the end of the year according the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

My cousin’s fate could have changed any number of times during his journey, and it crushes me just thinking about it. My heart is heavy for the families who cannot share in my relief. I pray for strength to the families during these difficult times.

We are committed to advocating and fighting for the rights of all lives and urge a global call to challenge the root causes of migration. There is an urgent need for us to act. We all deserve to live a life of dignity. A life of health, happiness, safety and opportunity.

A change.org petition to ask the European Union to restore a robust operation of search and rescue at sea has gathered more than 77,000 petitions since it was launched yesterday. Please sign on.

BAJI Executive Director Opal Tometi Statement on Executive Action

Statement from Opal Tometi, the Executive Director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration regarding President Obama’s executive action on immigration and deportation
As a national organization comprised of Black Immigrants and African Americans we’ve been championing immigrant rights as a part of our larger fight for racial justice. We are heartened that President Obama has finally listened to our courageous communities and taken action. Undocumented immigrants from the Asian, Latino and Black communities are the leaders who’ve created this moment. They have created this shift in administrative procedures in the immigration system. 
In recent years we’ve seen courage of multiethnic Black communities to advocate for fair, inclusive and just immigration policies because our communities and destinies are intertwined. We will continue to push because we know that even in this moment it is flawed. Flawed by transnational policies that force people to migrate. Flawed by a system that displaces entire communities in the U.S. and abroad, while simultaneously criminalizing them. Flawed by creating a class of people who are highly exploitable, disposable — ultimately, deportable. 
We demand not one more disposable person in our community. Not one more immigrant left vulnerable to deportation.  Due to racial and religious profiling, Black immigrant communities are among those who are most acutely impacted by enforcement measures. African Americans and Black immigrants suffer when there is increased immigration policing and profiling in their communities. 
Furthermore, we won’t stand for a system that criminalizes us, and then pits family against people who may have a criminal record. We know that we all matter, and that the real crime is that we are subject to criminalization. 
As a community we needed the Administration to have included key provisions that would have been beneficial for Black immigrant communities:
  • Administrative Relief for All immigrants  – although 4 million is great, all 11 million is better. Many in our communities still won’t be protected by the immigration announcement. 
  • No more Racial and Religious Profiling in the name of immigration enforcement.
  • No more removal proceedings for Legal Permanent Residents (LPRs), many Black immigrants are LPRs and due to draconian laws from 1996 many get unduly targeted for removal.
  • Address the visa backlog – many in people are waiting to be reunited with their family members, and this is easily one way the Administration could have taken additional action to support legal, already approved, migration
  • No new enforcement programs nor increased border enforcement. This is flawed logic when there are many human rights violations and lack of due process that is already occurring with current programs and practices. 
We will continue to fight for racial justice and immigrant rights, “until we all win.”

BAJI discusses immigration and criminalization of communities of color on BK Live!

Janis Rosheuvel (Black Alliance for Just Immigration Vice Chair/ Racial Justice for United Methodist Women) and Marlon Peterson (David Rothenberg Center for Public Policy, Fortune Society) discuss immigration and criminalization of communities of color with Manolia Charlotin (Feet in Two Worlds) on this edition of Caribbean Spotlight.

Original air date: June 18, 2014

Teleconference IV: The Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Latino Migrations to the U.S.

Black Alliance for Just Immigration & Priority Africa Network present
Black Intersections on Migration – Teleconference IV

Thursday, April 28th 12 PST : The Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Latino Migrations to the U.S.

Janvieve Williams Comrie will discuss the historical, social and cultural dimensions of successive migration of Afro-Latinos/as and Afro-Caribbeans to the U.S. She will also shed light on the experience of these immigrants as they navigate the racial landscape of the U.S. society.

Janvieve Williams Comrie is the founder of the Latin American and Caribbean Community Center, she is dedicated to improving the conditions and opportunities for socially excluded and marginalized groups. Janvieve has worked throughout the Americas with communities on the ground and organizations to address the division and isolation faced by many of African descent and indigenous people, including low wageworkers, undocumented families and immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean in the United States, by building a political and critical consciousness while using a human rights framework.


1. Dial into the conferencing service

Toll-Free US/Canada: 1-866-931-7845

International Dial-in: 1-310-374-4949

2. Enter your conference code: 904167

Background to teleconference series: The United Nations has declared 2011 as the “International Year for Peoples of African Descent”. Ten years ago, landmark recommendations were made at the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Durban South Africa. In a four-part series of teleconferences that looks at the span of Black presence in the U.S. over the centuries, we will examine the unique migration experiences of the African Diaspora within the context of U.S. history and the current debate over immigration. The series brings provocative frameworks and analyses into the discussion about race and immigration that are seldom considered.

World Assembly of Migrants

Feb 2, 2011   //   Africa, African migration, immigration, migrants, migration  

Wednesday, February 2, 2011
Goree Island, Senegal 

Posted by Gerald Lenoir, Executive Director, Black Alliance for Just Immigration

Nunu Kidane of Priority Africa Network, Colin Rajah of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and I traveled from Oakland, California to Dakar Senegal to attend the World Assembly of Migrants (WAM) on Goree Island and the World Social Forum (WSF) at the Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar.

A statue of freed slaves on
Goree Island donated by the
government of Guadeloupe.

Today, we took the 20-minute ferry ride to the infamous Goree Island where enslaved Africans were imprisoned, brutalized, led shackled through the “Door of No Return” and shipped en masse to the New World.  We were there to attend the opening session of the World Assembly of Migrants.  The Assembly was initiated by a migrant rights organization in France, Sans Papier (Without Papers) to provide the opportunity for migrants from all over the world to give input into the draft of the World Charter of Migrants.  The opening session, attended by over 100 migrants, started with a panel that included the Mayor of Goree Island, a representative from WAM and a member of the leadership of the WSF leadership group.

The Mayor reminded us that the event was taking place on the spot where the first brutal forced migration of Africans took place.  The WSF representative spoke about the importance of migrant rights as a central theme of the Social Forum scheduled to take place February 6-11.

Migrants from all over the world listen
to the opening panel presentations at
the World Assembly of Migrants.

The WAM speaker spoke to the need of the rights of migrant to be recognized.  The draft charter, he said, builds upon the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Indigenous People.  As an Austrian, he talked about the “wave of xenophobia sweeping across Europe.”  He indicated that process of input into the charter will make sure that it’s ratified by the people and that it is a people’s document.  The aim is to get the charter ratified by United Nations.

The 2-page draft charter reads, in part:

“We Migrants declare to the world that:  MIGRATION WILL BE A FREE AND WORTHY CHOICE FOR ALL AND IN EVERY CORNER OF THE PLANET…” (emphasis in the original document)

“…We are entitled to the same rights, recognized under exactly the same conditions as everyone else.
Denying this basic principle is a serious blow to humanity, a negation of Humanity. Laws, regulations and practices that do not respect this principle will disappear over time, a ghostly memory of less humanitarian times in the past.
Unequal access to development and well-being within countries and between countries can and should be avoided and are in fact a crime against Humanity. We must prevail over such disparities.”

(To read the entire draft of the World charter of Migrants, go to www.cmmigrants.org

Tomorrow, the day will be spent pouring over the draft document.  There will opportunities for the migrants assembled to give their input.  By the end of the day, the charter will be adopted by those assembled.  On Friday, migrants, along with their allies, will consider the future of the charter.  for many, the future for migrants is depending upon migrants themselves articulating their rights and, together with their allies, fighting for them.

My colleagues and I will continue to blog from the WAM and the WSF until February 11.  For photos of today and throughout the week, go to Priority Africa Network’s D2D – World Social Forum web page at http://d2dworldsocialforumdakar2011.blogspot.com/ 

Migrants in Mali

Jul 24, 2010   //   Africa, African immigration, African migration, migration  

Bamako, Mali, West Africa
July 17, 2010

Gerald Lenoir, Executive Director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (www.blackalliance.org) and Nunu Kidane, Director of Priority Africa Network (www.priorityafrica.org) were in Bamako, Mali to attend the inaugural gathering of the Pan African Network in Defense of Migrant Rights hosted by Institute for the Research and Promotion of Alternative Development (IRPAD) and funded by Open Society Institute, West Africa (OSIWA). The following blog describes the conditions of African migrants who are deported from North Africa and end up in Mali.

We went by taxi more than 10 miles from the center of Bamako across the Niger River to meet with Ntamag Francois Romero, the director of the Association des Refoulés d’Afrique Centrale au Mail, or ARACEM (Association of Deported Central Africans in Mali). The cab let us out on a main street where we were met by an ARACEM staff member who led us the one block down a potholed dirt road muddied by the morning rain.We entered the gate of the rust brown, adobe-like two-story building that housed offices and a shelter for deportees. The shelter residents greeted us with handshakes and “Bonjours” as we entered the courtyard. We made our way into Ntamag’s office where we introduced ourselves and told him that we were interested in knowing about the migration and deportation experiences of the people who come to the shelter. He graciously told us his own story and about the work of the ARACEM.

Ntamag himself left his home country of Cameroon six years ago. He was deported to Mali from Morocco four years ago. He and other migrants who had experienced deportation founded ARACEM in July 2006. It is funded by Caritas, a Catholic relief agency, and other international funding agencies. The funding is often inadequate to feed and pay for unexpected expenses such as hospitalization when one of the refugees is ill. The center therefore requests donations to purchase additional rice and supplies to feed the increasing number of individuals that depend on it.

An astounding 100 deportees a month come to ARACEM for shelter, food and clothing. They are expelled from Libya, Morocco and Algeria as they make the way from Central and West Africa in an attempt to find work. These three North African countries have signed agreements with European countries to act as external border control agents to prevent migrants from reaching Europe.

Ntamag told us that migrants come to the shelter at the first of the month and in the middle of the month. They have been stripped of their money, identification papers and all of their possessions by the police or border patrol and dropped in the middle of the desert on the border with Mali with no food or water. Some are extremely traumatized by the entire experience, having spent several months and even years in detention before being deported. The difficulty of their situation is too much for some and they “lose their heads,” unable to cope.

The supposed three-day stay usually gets extended to up to ten days after which they must leave because the staff has to make room for the next group of expelled migrants. This leaves the young men in desperate situation with no ability to get resources or identification and no hope of going back or forward. While they are “free” to leave the compound and to look for employment, they have no way to sustain themselves. The government of Mali is one of the few that does not incarcerate refugees in detention centers and they can remain within the country if they so wish.

Many of the migrants are ashamed to return home after being deported and will try desperately to find their way to Europe again. Their families are often destitute and are depending upon them to reach Europe, find work and send part of their earnings home. So they spend their three to ten days weighing their options. If they decide to return home, the staff of ARACEM helps them to contact their family and figure out how to get back to their country—Nigeria, Cameroon, Central African Republic or another country. Some find a way to earn money in Mali and try again to reach Europe. Others, like Ntamag, remain in Mali.

When we asked Ntamag why he left Cameroon, he pointed to government corruption and the exploitation of the natural resources of Cameroon by multinational companies from France, the United States and other countries of the West. Although the vast majority of the people of Cameroon are poor, “Cameroon is not a poor country,” Ntamag tells us.

“The young never have hope,” he says. “You go to Europe to take care of family.”

As we ended our visit, we discussed with Ntamag a project to document the abuses suffered by migrants and a process from them to take their collective cases to the African Union’s Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and other international and governmental bodies. We agreed to work with him on developing the project and to help to seek justice for people whose only crime was to cross borders.

To hear Ntamag in his own words, click on the link and view the videotaped interview on YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w8nzAkoPlTM

Pan African Network on Migration Formed

Bamako, Mali, July 18, 2010

Four years ago, in an international conference on migration in Brussels, a small group of activists from various African countries gathered to compare experiences and share stories about migration within and out of Africa. Two years ago, at a similar conference in Manila, a larger group of African civil society members gathered to affirm a similar commitment and hold the first meeting focused on African migrants’ rights.

Another meeting was held in the city of Bamako, Mali in West Africa four days ago. Representatives from over 40 organizations from Africa as well as allies from Europe and the U.S. gatheredto establish the Pan African Network in Defense of Migrants’ Rights.

Priority Africa Network and the Black Alliance for Just Immigration were honored to have been invited to this historic gathering which was coordinated and hosted by Mamadou Goita from IRPAD-Afrique (Institute for Research and Promotion of Alternatives for Development) with a grant from OSI-WA (Open Society Institute West Africa).

One of the key missions of the Network is linking the discourse on the effects of globalization in Africa to the current reality of migration and displacement. The first Africa-focused and coordinated migration network will work to bring to international forums the voices and challenges of migration in and out of Africa and increase the visibility of the expulsions, exploitation and abuses that are currently ongoing in Africa, Europe and the U.S.

One of the issues discussed at the meeting was the current bilateral agreements b
etween European and African governments to collaborate in the expulsion of African migrants. In essence, a country in Africa – for example Nigeria or Cameroon – sign an accord with France, to deport all the individuals – back to the poverty and persecution they fled from in the first place. In exchange, the Africa country receives “development aid” compensation which never reaches those most in need, especially not the migrants. These agreements are never transparent and are often times in violation of human rights conventions.

The single exception to this criminal policy of bilateral agreement is Mali which has, thus far, not signed an agreement to accept expelled Mallians from Europe. The holding of the first Network gathering of African migrant rights representatives is therefore very fitting.

If there is a single country in Africa with the highest number of incidents of repression, it is Libya. In the least known bilateral agreement (also never made public), Libya and Italy signed an

accord to prevent and return migrants off of the coast of Libya
and across the Mediterranean.

The most recent demonstration of this abuse is Libya’s detention and expected deportation of some 245 Eritreans from a nation known for the imprisonment, torture and death of its citizenry. These refugees are currently fighting for their lives and asking for international support.


Other participants in the historic gathering and formation of the Network were members of a deported group of Malians who had organized themselves into a strong grassroots advocacy front. AME (Association Malienne des Expulsés). Similar organizations all over Africa are setting new trends of mobilization of those who have been the primary victims of the most harmful policies. Over the coming months, the Network will ensure that abuses against migrants will not go unnoticed, unreported or unheard. It will bring unprecedented collaboration from organizations who are doing similar work but have not shared and coordinated their work before.

At the conclusion of the gathering, participants affirmed to bring an Africa perspective to the next World Social Forum on Migration, scheduled to be held in Quito Equador (October 8 — 12, 2010), the next People Global Action on Migration and Development in Mexico City (November 3 – 5, 2010) and the next World Social Forum in Dakar Senegal (February 6 – 11, 2011).

Nunu Kidane, Director Gerald Lenoir, Executive Director
Priority Africa Network Black Alliance for Just Immigration
priorityafrica@yahoo.com gerald@blackalliance.org