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African Union Holds Conference on Migration


There are an estimated 150 million migrants worldwide, and more than 50 million of those are estimated to be Africans. In recent times, desperate African migrants have been risking their lives on the rough waters of the Mediterranean Sea to reach some European countries. A two-day European Union-Africa ministerial conference on migration and development opens Wednesday in the Libyan capital, Tripoli.

Bience Gawanas is the African Union’s commissioner for social affairs. She said the Tripoli conference is very important.

“The purpose of the conference is to find common ground between Africa and Europe as far as managing migration is concerned. But apart from that, it was also important to engage on a political dialogue with Europe and to say that migration cannot and should be seeing as just a security issue where we have to create buffer states, or where we have to create electric fences. What we are saying is that migration is interlinked with development,” she said.

Some European governments have been criticized for treating illegal African immigrants as criminals. Gawanas said that concern is likely to be raised during the Tripoli conference.

“Absolutely! We are concerned about the human rights of migrants. And those are the issues that will be discussed. I need to also remind you that during the last summit in Khartoum, the African heads of state and governments had a decision that the African Union is to develop a common position on migration and development. In that common position, they clearly stated that the human rights of migrants have to be respected,” Gawanas said.

She blamed the rise in African migrants on the continent’s underdevelopment and the lack of employment opportunities for the continent’s youth.

“Africa has got a very youthful population, and yet also faces high unemployment rate amongst our youth. And therefore many young people make the decision to cross the borders, to cross the seas to the countries where they believe there are opportunities. So it is in a way a developmental issue as much as it is people making choices in their lives,” Gawanas said.

The AU’s commissioner for social affairs said Africa also intends to pressure its member countries to do a better job in managing migration.

“It is true that this particular conference relates to the relationship between Africa and Europe, but the African Union has also been clear about managing migration within Africa itself. And to that extent, we have developed a policy framework on migration in Africa. So there is a responsibility on African countries to create an environment in which people do not need to leave the country,” Gawanas said.

But Gawanas said migration, whether among African countries or outside Africa, should be encouraged because she said it has some positive aspects. She said migration should be better managed through bilateral and multi-lateral agreements to ensure better treatment of migrants.

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