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Crackdown Fuels Africa Migration Crisis

  • Henry Ridgwell

The world’s focus is on the refugee and migrant crisis in Europe. But millions of people are also on the move across Africa, escaping poverty and persecution. Migration experts say the global networks are linked – and any solution must address the causes of the upheaval at source.

Corralled by armed smugglers, dozens of migrants from across West Africa line up to board a pickup truck in the city of Agadez, Niger. They’re heading for Libya, from where they hope to get on a boat across the Mediterranean.

It’s not an easy journey. Senegalese migrant Ousmane Sonko was captured by Libyan authorities earlier this year and deported back to Dakar. He says the Libyan authorities caught them at sea and took them to a prison, in very bad conditions.

"We were sleeping on the ground," he said. "The conditions there aren't good for a human being."

The world’s attention is focused on the hundreds of thousands of refugees and economic migrants arriving on Europe’s shores. But that is just a snapshot of a global crisis, says Amnesty International’s Gauri van Gulik.

“Europe is facing a crisis of how it’s responding to refugees. It’s not facing a refugee crisis," she said. "Globally there are 19.5 million refugees right now.”

With so many people on the move, the search for a solution should focus on the source of upheaval – whether it’s conflicts in the Middle East or poverty and persecution in Africa, says Michele Bombassei, West Africa specialist at the International Organization for Migration.

“What's happening right now in the Mediterranean is just the last step of a long, long process that, in many cases started here in West Africa," he said.

The majority of migrants in Africa stay on the continent. But moving around is getting harder amid concerns over the economy and security.

In South Africa, migrants fled an outbreak of xenophobic attacks this year by residents afraid of foreigners taking their jobs.

Cameroon, Niger and Chad have deported thousands of Nigerians following attacks by the Islamist terror group Boko Haram.

“In very specific areas, the presence of large, large numbers of migrants, sometimes undocumented, is a concern for many governments, especially with the risk of infiltration of terrorists or armed groups of different kinds,” said IOM's Michele Bombassei.

European and African leaders are due to attend a summit in November aimed at dealing with the migrant crisis. Experts say any solution must address the lack of economic opportunities in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

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