MOZAMBIQUE/TANZANIA: Horn migrants beaten, deported, imprisoned
MTWARA, 19 September 2011 (IRIN) - Near the coastal town of Mtwara,
Tanzania’s border with Mozambique is marked only by the River Ruvuma which
is wide and relatively shallow at this point just before it drains into the
Indian Ocean. Young men loll in small, wooden boats checking their cell
phones and waiting for passengers to ferry across to the other side, but
business has been slow in the last two months since groups of migrants
desperate to complete a journey that began thousands of kilometres to the
north stopped arriving at the river’s banks.
“For the last two or three months we haven’t had big movements like we had
between February and April,” said Henry Chacha, an immigration officer from
the nearby Kilambo border post. “For the last two or three weeks, we haven’t
had any migrants.”
At the height of the activity around Mtwara in early 2011, the migrants -
most of them from Ethiopia and Somalia - typically arrived in groups of 100
or more on boats operated by smugglers, usually from the Kenyan port city of
According to one <http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportid=93724
Somali migrant who made the trip, the groups were dropped off near Mtwara,
and then found their way to the river delta where they paid the waiting
fishermen in money or goods for passage to the other side. From there, they
trekked through thick forest for several days before crossing into
Mozambique and arriving at Palma, a small coastal town where the UN Refugee
Agency (UNHCR) and the government’s National Institute for Refugee
Assistance (INAR) had set up an informal camp behind the local police
station to cater for the migrants’ basic needs before transporting them to
Maratane refugee camp in Nampula Province.
For most, Maratane was merely a place to rest, regroup and make contact with
their smugglers’ agents who would help them reach their final destination:
> South Africa - the only
country in the region where asylum-seekers and refugees have freedom of
movement and the right to work and run businesses rather than being confined
But around May of this year, the movement of migrants from the Horn of
Africa across the River Ruvuma began reversing in direction. According to
immigration authorities in Mtwara, groups of migrants, stripped of their
belongings and clothing, and many bearing the marks of severe beatings,
began appearing near the river.
“We saw them at the delta, naked,” said Hamidu Mkambala, the regional
immigration officer for Mtwara. “We gave them food and clothing and then we
took them to a court of law and then prison. We don’t have any other
shelters for them.”
About 500 Ethiopians and 50 Somalis are now being held at Mtwara prison,
while about 600 Ethiopian and 170 Somali migrants are in other prisons
Most of those interviewed at Mtwara prison told similar stories of weeks at
sea on overloaded boats that either dropped them off in Mtwara or took them
all the way to the north coast of Mozambique. From there they were picked up
by police but instead of being transferred to Maratane, they were robbed of
their possessions, beaten and then dumped next to (or in) the River Ruvuma.
One young Somali woman recounted a harrowing month-long journey from Mombasa
to Mozambique on rough seas. At one point the crew of the boat she was
travelling on forced three of her fellow passengers off the over-loaded
vessel and into the sea where they were left to drown. When they finally
reached Mozambique, the migrants were greeted by locals who “took all they
“A white man came and put us in a mini-bus and took us to another place near
a police station,” she continued. “He told the police to take us to the
refugee camp but after he left, they beat us and fired bullets over our
heads,” she said, crying and showing a badly swollen leg that had not healed
two months after one of the policemen struck it with the barrel of his gun.
One of the Ethiopian prisoners at Mtwara said four of the men in his group
had died after they were beaten so severely by the Mozambican police that
they drowned when they were thrown into the River Ruvuma.
Others survived by waiting for a low tide and then forming a human chain to
wade to the other side of the river where they were discovered by local
“They came from nowhere with no clothes,” a woman from one of the villages
near the river told IRIN. “They said they came from Mozambique. We fed them
and then showed them the way to the immigration office in Kilambo.”
Small border posts like the one at Kilambo are ill-equipped to deal with
large groups of naked and hungry migrants, most of whom cannot speak the
local language. “We have no budget to feed them,” said Mkambala. “We feed
them from our own pockets and give them clothing.”
After a day or two staying in the open outside the immigration office in
Kilambo, the migrants were transported to the police station in Mtwara for
processing before being taken to court and then to the now overcrowded
UNHCR has confirmed the migrants’ accounts and called on the Mozambican
government to stop the deportations which contravene the country’s
obligations under the UN Convention on Refugees.
However, at a meeting on 16 September convened by local NGO the Mozambican
Human Rights League, which also has evidence of abuses against migrants
found near the Tanzanian border, representatives from the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of the Interior denied that irregular
deportations were taking place, while at the same time describing the
migrants as a threat to national security.
“It’s a very clear sign that the position of the government is becoming
stricter on the issue,” commented Matteo Gillerio, a field officer with the
International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Mozambique who was present
at the meeting.
According to Mtwara regional immigration officer Mkambala, a recent meeting
between immigration chiefs from Mozambique and Tanzania to discuss the
irregular deportations did not end in any agreement, but the situation may
have resolved itself, at least temporarily, as smugglers appear to have
started circumventing the trouble spot between Palma and Mtwara.
Chacha, the immigration officer at Kilambo (on the Tanzanian side), said no
migrants had been seen near the river since July, and Gillerio said the camp
in Palma was also currently empty. However, he worried the movement would
resume in November with the start of the rainy season which would bring
improved conditions at sea and make it more difficult for the Mozambican
police to patrol border areas.
“The [refugee] camps in Kenya are filling up,” he pointed out. “I think when
they’re in a condition to travel, they will, because they’re not going to
find jobs in Kenya.”
For the Ethiopians imprisoned in Tanzania, their journey will soon end where
it started. An IOM initiative funded by the Japanese government, brought a
delegation from Ethiopia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Tanzania in August
to document those being held in prisons and arrange their voluntary return
home starting from the end of September.
“All of them told us they want to go back home,” said Ethiopia’s director of
Foreign Affairs, Melaku Bedada, who formed part of the delegation. He added
that his Ministry would be engaging their Mozambican counterparts in a
discussion about the abuses the migrants experienced in that country. “A
person has to be treated humanely, even if they’re illegal,” he said.
The fate of the Somali prisoners is less clear. In the absence of a
functioning government in Somalia to negotiate their release, members of Dar
es Salaam’s local Somali community have been advocating on their behalf.
Ahmed Ally, a leader in that community, said that after repeated calls to
various relevant agencies and government departments, immigration officers
had informed him that the Somalis would be released soon and taken to the
Kenyan border. From there, he said, Somali elders have agreed to pay their
transport to Nairobi where they will likely find refuge among that city’s
sizeable Somali community.
Most of the imprisoned migrants IRIN spoke to declared they would not
attempt the journey again.
“If I go home, I will just pray for rain. I won’t come to Mozambique again,”
said one young man who left Ethiopia because the drought had made it
impossible for him to farm.
But the young Somali woman with the injured leg insisted she did not want to
go home. “There is still fighting there,” she said. “I want to go somewhere
peaceful… maybe South Africa.”
LIBYA: Sub-Saharan migrants keep their heads down
SIDI BILAL, 20 September 2011 (IRIN) - In an abandoned port on the outskirts
of Tripoli, a young woman timidly peeks out from behind the blanket that
forms a wall in her improvised home. She is one of hundreds of migrants who
have gathered in this makeshift camp since a popular uprising to overthrow
dictator Muammar Gaddafi spread to the Libyan capital in August.
The migrants see strength in numbers and hope they can escape the arbitrary
detentions, arrests and beatings that many of their fellow migrants have
been subjected to.
Racism against blacks has a long history in Libya, but has been a particular
problem for sub-Saharan migrants - nationals from countries like Chad,
Niger, Sudan, Senegal, Mali and Nigeria - since the uprising began in
February. Rebels who fought for Gaddafi’s ouster accused him of using black
African mercenaries to help quell the uprising.
Since then, the rebels or their supporters - there's no chain of command or
uniform to identify them absolutely - have arbitrarily arrested, robbed
and/or beaten hundreds of migrants, according to testimonies from fleeing
migrants, and reports by
> human rights
organizations and journalists. Many migrants have had their money, mobile
phones and passports taken.
Despite urging restraint on the part of its supporters, the rebel
movement-turned-incoming-government (the ruling National Transitional
Council or NTC) has been criticized for not doing enough to halt incidents
of racial violence and arbitrary detention. One rebel told IRIN: “If we see
black skin, we’ll arrest them and give them to the NTC."
In this camp in Sidi Bilal, 35km west of Tripoli, the migrants are seeking
shelter in abandoned boats, hanging blankets from the hulls to create
makeshift walls. When armed rebels come to the area, the migrants retreat to
their improvised homes. They fear rape or more arrests. One migrant told
IRIN the armed men “beat the hell out of” them.
Médecins Sans Frontières brings fresh water to the camp. Some locals donate
food for the migrants to cook; local children sell them chickens and
cigarettes. There is just one toilet in a nearby building.
This is just one of several camps made up of migrants who do not have the
means to go back home, despite a hostile environment here. Some of those who
are able to return have faced their own difficulties in their home
countries. Others are still trying to get out of Libya, in what the
International Organization for Migration (IOM) still considers an emergency
> CHAD-NIGER: Lean
season awaits migrants escaping Libya]
Having already helped with the evacuation of thousands of migrants, the IOM
is still looking to reach vulnerable communities in areas like Sebha, 650km
southwest of Tripoli, still reportedly controlled by Gaddafi loyalists.
According to the IOM, Chadians, Nigeriens, Nigerians and others have sought
protection at the IOM centre in Sebha, but with no electricity, fuel, and
little food or water, the situation is becoming increasingly difficult. "The
migrants are very scared and threatened,” said IOM Chief of Mission for Chad
Qasim Sufi in a communiqué.
Racism past and present
Concern over violence and discrimination towards darker-skinned Libyans and
sub-Saharan African migrants has been mounting since the early stages of the
conflict in Libya.
While Col Gaddafi and his loyalists were accused early on of pushing a
xenophobic message, accusing rebels from the outset of being controlled by
“non-Libyan” elements and religious extremists, the reputation of the NTC
has been badly tainted by charges of racism.
Well before the outbreak of hostilities in Libya in February 2011, there
were long-standing reports of Gaddafi’s use of Chadian soldiers, Tuareg
warriors from northwest Africa, and other non-Libyan combatants, within the
Libyan military, notably the Khamis Brigade, fronted by one of Gaddafi’s
sons. There have also been reports of over 500 soldiers from the Western
Saharan Frente Popular de Liberación de Saguía el Hamra y Río de Oro
(POLISARIO) being detained by the NTC, accused of being mercenaries in the
pay of Gaddafi. NTC supporters have persistently maintained that such
elements played a leading role in checking the rebel advance, providing
Gaddafi with a last line of defence.
Human rights campaigners and media commentators in sub-Saharan Africa have
pointed out that incidents of extreme racism are nothing new in Libya. The
testimonies of prisoners and fleeing migrants carry strong echoes of those
who fled Libya in 2000 after over 130 people, mainly from West African
countries, were killed in outbreaks of what appeared to be
ethnically-motivated violence. Gaddafi’s administration was accused of being
at best negligent, at worst complicit, while Gaddafi himself was denounced
for preaching pan-African brotherhood abroad while presiding over racial
pogroms at home.
Since the early 1980s, large migrant populations from both Libya’s immediate
neighbours, Chad and Niger, have been joined in Libya by thousands more from
countries like Senegal, Mali, Niger and Ghana.
The influx coincided with a period of international isolation, Gaddafi
playing his self-created role as a champion of African unity against a
background of sanctions and strained relations with many of his Arab
counterparts. Libya was heavily involved in the Community of Sahel-Saharan
states (CEN-SAD), which preached regional solidarity and stressed a
commitment to the free movement of persons and goods. Libya became both a
crucial stepping-off point for migrants heading to southern Europe, notably
Italy, but also a destination in its own right, particularly for those
seeking job opportunities in a fast-expanding economy, taking on both mainly
unskilled jobs or finding openings in the informal sector.
According to Jen-Philippe Chauzy, spokesman for the IOM, migrant workers
were drawn to Libya for economic reasons, but tended to live on the margins.
“The migrants faced enormous difficulties in Libya prior to the crisis,”
Chauzy told IRIN. He pointed out that the vast majority of sub-Saharan
Africans were in Libya as undocumented migrants. “They were hired and fired
by the day, trying their best to survive economically.” Most immigrants from
sub-Saharan Africa were smuggled into Libya illegally, not registering with
their embassies, inevitably vulnerable to exploitation, said Chauzy.
The clampdown climate
While the Libyan authorities were fairly lax on definitions of legal and
illegal immigration, there were several waves of deportations. In both 1995
and 2008, the Libyan government announced its intention to expel one million
immigrants. While those targets were not reached, Libya faced mounting
criticism for its treatment of refugees. In its World Refugee Survey for
2009, the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants noted the existence of 10
detention camps for illegal migrants.
Libya was accused by human rights organizations of currying favour with
Italy and other European states in clamping down on illegal immigration,
often using brutal methods. Concerns were also raised about growing racism
and the stigmatization of immigrant communities accused of involvement in
crime and spreading HIV/AIDS.
Chauzy said much more needed to be done to support reintegration programmes
for migrants returning to countries like Niger and Chad in the current
context, noting that families were now adapting to living without
remittances sent from Libya, which played a key role in sustaining family
budgets. “These countries are being left alone to bear the burden of the
Libyan crisis,” Chauzy warned.
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Received on Tue Sep 20 2011 - 18:16:24 EDT