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2008, a Year of Closed Doors for Africa's Migrants


The International Organization for Migration said 2008 has been a disastrous year for Africans seeking to migrate to other countries in search of a better life. IOM said many Africans lost their lives, others ended up being exploited and abused.

In recent days, about 2,000 migrants from Africa have arrived on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa. The government said this brings the number of illegal immigrants arriving by sea to well over 24,000, almost double that of last year.

The migrants were not welcome on the southern Italian island. They were put in an overcrowded detention cell while their cases were being processed.

Spokesman for the International Organization for Migration, Jean-Philippe Chauzy told VOA migrants are finding more and more doors closed to them as the global economic crisis gathers steam. He said the outlook for 2009 is not promising.

"I think the reality is that a lot of doors that were ajar for immigrants, especially at the time when the economy was more buoyant than it is now, the fear is that many of those doors will now be slammed shut… In times of recession, migrants are sometimes perceived as stealing jobs from nationals," he said.

And, that is what happened in May and June of this year in South Africa. Chauzy recalled the violence that erupted following a xenophobic flare-up against immigrants from southern Africa and other parts of the continent.

"More than 60 people were killed during the xenophobic violence and several hundred others were injured. And, obviously, tens of thousands were affected by the xenophobic resentment against immigrants in South Africa… The flare-up happened in May and June, but the consequences, I would say the impact of the xenophobic flare-up, I would say, still persists to this day," he said.

Chauzy said in some ways it is worse because more and more Zimbabweans are fleeing to South Africa to escape the poverty and cholera in their country.

He said 2008 also saw migration flows increase from the Horn of Africa across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen. He said migrants, mostly Somalis and Ethiopians, took enormous risks to escape war and poverty.

"More than 45,000 people actually crossed the Gulf of Aden on hundreds of boats. And, unfortunately, the estimates regarding the number of people drowned in the Gulf of Aden is probably in the region of 500 people. Obviously not all tragedies are reported. Many still go underreported or unreported," said Chauzy.

The International Organization for Migration is urging countries to avoid measures that would further contribute to the stigmatization of migrants. It argued the world's more than 200 million immigrants make positive contributions to society. So, governments, it said, should not enact policies that would encourage anti-immigrant feelings.

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