Migration to Gulf States major problem for African workers, warn experts

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AFRICAN migrants in the Gulf States are facing major challenges that have been made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic, experts on migratory movements on the continent have warned.

The issue was brought to the fore recently when it was revealed that thousands of Ethiopian migrants detained by authorities in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia because of  the global coronavirus crisis were held in inhumane conditions.

The Institute of Peace and Security Studies (IPSS) at the University of Addis Ababa and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) recently organised a webinar that focused on the humanitarian costs of migration policies in Africa.

The consensus among participants at the webinar was that although the Mediterranean crossings by migrants from Africa were always in the news, the route to the Gulf States was a lot busier, with tens of thousands making the dangerous journey annually.

Participants, therefore, called for the human rights of African migrants who are working in the region to be protected.

But Dr Mehari Taddele Maru of the Migration Policy Centre at the European University Institute noted: ‘Countries in the Gulf are undemocratic and therefore there is no human rights protection for African migrant labour.’

He said that the problems started along the route to Yemen and, eventually, Saudi Arabia, with ‘conservative estimates of more than 35 deaths per week; more than 3,500 per year, between 2014 and2020.’

Most of these deaths were due to ‘drowning, starvation, dehydration, exposure to weather conditions, vehicle accidents, shootings’ among other travails along the way.

In a concept note, the IPSS explained: ‘Along migration routes, many migrants, including refugees and other people in need of international protection, may remain trapped in a dangerous situation or find themselves stranded in countries in conflict, others may consider undertaking or return on dangerous migratory journeys, whether at sea or via land.

‘Along the route, migrants are faced with situations that increase the risk of them going missing or dying.

‘Migrants, including refugees, are often exposed to different forms of abuse that not only increase their vulnerabilities but create additional protection needs.

‘In the midst of these challenges, vulnerable migrants, especially those in an irregular situation, are often becoming invisible or inaccessible.

‘This goes against the fundamental needs for protection of people from critical and pervasive threats, abuses, and situations,’ the concept note added.

In the last few years, the African Union adopted two policy documents to tackle the exploitative nature of African labour migration: the African Common Position on Migration and Development and the Migration Policy Framework for Africa.

Speaking during the IPSS/ICRC webinar, Sabelo Mbokazi, Head of the Division of Labour, Employment and Migration at the AU, explained what the organisation had been doing to mitigate the problematic issue of the flow of migrant African labour.

He said: ‘Some member states lack the capacity to deal with migration so we help them develop migration governance policies.’

Mbokazi mentioned the Pan-African Forum on Migration (PAFoM), which was established in 2015

PAFoM ‘aims to promote and deepen inter-state dialogue and intra/inter-regional cooperation on migration.’

But the coronavirus had compounded the issue of African labour migrants and as such the AU was working with the European Union Gulf States to protect workers from Africa, Mbokazi said.

In a statement earlier this year, the AU said: ‘While global consensus abounds that migration and mobility restrictive measures should be imposed in line with the strategy to contain the spreading of Covid-19, and having adopted progressive policy migration frameworks, the African Union is concerned that vulnerable populations such as migrants, refugees and IDPs [internally displaced persons] might not access concomitant human rights enshrined in international law.

‘These groups of people of concern might have been already in transit or destination countries when the Covid-19 outbreak occurred and thus are trapped in these areas where lockdown or state of emergency have been declared.’

Participants at the IPSS/ICRC webinar noted that despite these incumbrances, African labour migrants continued to travel on unsafe routes.

The recurring question during the virtual meeting was why would African migrants continue to travel to Libya where there is an ongoing conflict and Saudi Arabia which has weak human rights protection.

Participants agreed that African governments themselves must provide better standards of living for their citizens to stop them from making the dangerous migration journeys that are controlled by criminal gangs.

They would also like to see legal and voluntary migration so that migrants are not forced to undertake irregular migratory routes in search for better opportunities, which are not necessarily guaranteed in the countries that they end up.

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