MALI: Mobilising in Defence of Migrants

  • by Soumaïla T. Diarra (bamako)
  • Monday, December 28, 2009
  • Inter Press Service

'When I was expelled from Spain last February, I had nothing,' says Tidiane Coulibaly, a villager from Sobocou, in the western region of Kayes. 'After several months of detention in Libya, I finally made my way back to Bamako where AME put me up for three days, then gave me money so that I could return to my village.'

The group that helped him is the Malian Association of Deportees, known by its French acronym AME. Created in 1996 by migrants expelled from Angola, the Association's headquarters in Mali's capital, Bamako, has become a refuge for the downtrodden.

'Every day at the Bamako-Senou airport, we meet Malians expelled from Europe and elsewhere,' says Oumar Sidibé, who is in charge of psychological monitoring of migrants for AME. 'It is disturbing to see more and more cases of mass deportation like that of 135 people who were expelled from Libya (in September).'

Mali's international airport is one important gateway through which deported Malians return, but a larger number reach home after a long walk across the Sahara from the shores of the Mediterranean far to the north. AME has set up two centres on the doorstep of the desert: one at Kidal, in northern Mali near the Algerian border, and another at Nioro du Sahel, in the northwest of the country close to Mauritania.

AME has mobilised an entire chain of of solidarity to support deportees. From psychologists, to lawyers and judges, journalists: those sympathetic to the migrants' cause are drawn from every walk of life in Malian society.

'Apart from welcoming migrants, and offering them counselling and housing, we have started a judicial follow-up of deportees' cases. It is not normal that somebody works for more than ten years abroad and pays income tax and then loses everything in a single day,' Sarr Keme Keita, an AME activist told IPS.

A Malian lawyer who preferred not to be named said seven people unfairly deported from France were able to return, thanks to legal cases brought by the Association.

'There are numerous ongoing court cases because there are so many deportees,' the lawyer said. 'But these lawsuits involve people whose parents or spouses live in France but who have been deported despite clear proof of their right to stay. For example, there is the case of a girl who was refused a visa while her mother got a permit to stay for ten years. Following our actions, the consultative council ruled in her favour last October.'

The mobilisation extends beyond ordinary citizens. In an October communiqué, Oumar Mariko, leader of an opposition coalition in parliament uniting his African Solidarity for Democracy and Independence party (SADI) and the Party for National Renewal (PARENA), called on government to act.

'The parliamentary group PARENA-SADI invites the Malian authorities to take all necessary measures for the effective protection of our people living abroad. These deportations are carried out in inhuman conditions: the migrants are arrested, tortured and thrown in jail for years,' the statement says.

Control over immigration has been steadily tightening in Europe, and the question of the possible forced return of thousands of Malians living without proper documentation in France is a highly-sensitive issue.

Nine African countries, including Senegal and Burkina Faso, have already signed agreements with the European Union that facilitate the deportation of undocumented migrants.

'We oppose the signing of readmission agreements because it will be as if Mali is telling France it agrees that all illegal Malians be expelled,' Sidibé told IPS.

Money that these migrants remit to Mali plays a major role in the national economy. 'Migrants bring so much to their community: schools, health centres, electrification and irrigation projects, small bridges... all these are thanks to them,' says Moussa Sylla, a resident of the central town of Banamba.

The western region of Kayes is one of the biggest beneficiaries of remittances by Malian migrants. According to the World Bank, money sent by Malians living in France has contributed to the construction of 60 per cent of the infrastructure. Some forty associations of Malian emigrants in France have financially supported some 150 projects, to the tune of three million euros over the past ten years. But most money of this kind is not accounted for in the national statistics of Mali and many other countries.

Still, Mali's government has thus far refused to sign the readmission agreements Sidibé opposes, even though development aid from the EU is increasingly conditional on accepting them.

© Inter Press Service (2009) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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