Report from the Bamako meeting with deported migrant workers
Station Bamako (Mali) of the Transnational Chain of Migrationrelated Actions on 15 &16 march 2008 (report by all included)
19.Apr.08 - On the 15th and 16th of march 2008 about 200 people attended a meeting on migration and deportation in the Malian capital Bamako organised by the AME, a grassroots organisation of deportees. This 'Association Malienne des Expulsés' wanted to pass on the experiences of the deportees from European and African countries to the 'candidats au départ' and discuss the repression of the sans-papiers in Europe and the almost complete sealing off of Africa by to the extended European border control.
The AME meeting tied the struggle against deportation and for freedom of movement in Africa to this struggle in Europe. Bamako is one of the ten stations of the Transnational Chain of Migrationrelated Actions.
After the opening speech twelve young men fall in through a side door. They take the public to Paris where a Malian sans-papier is arrested at work and deported heavily cuffed. This is Nyogolon, a form of street theater about current matters under discussion in Mali. A theatre form with humour and self-mockery. The audience reacts spontaneously to their performance with a lot of yelling and laughing. Their second sketch is about the 'route à l'aventure', the trip from Bamako through the Sahara, Algeria and Marocco to Ceuta and Melilla hoping to reach Europe. After these sketches some recently deported people tell an emotional story about their expulsion. The public listens attentively.
The debate about migration, deportation, resistance and development that follows is amazingly fierce and openhearted. Not only the European repression is radically rejected, the responsibility of the Malian government and the African Union is also brought to discussion.
Malian ministers are portrayed as politicians who are only concerned about their 'fauteuil', who represent nobody and who consider migration management as a source of income. Loud clapping and laughter answers the most radical declarations of the speakers (journalists, academics, youth, teachers, unions, students, deportees and NGO's). The representative of the Malian government in the audience defends himself by e.g. denying that consulates in European countries receive a compensation for the deliverance of travel documents for deportations. His denial evokes furious reactions from the public.
We have to go untill the end, 'aller jusqu'au bout', is the general feeling during the meeting.
The closing statement – the Call of Bamako – is a direct attack on the externalization of the European border control whereby the African governments are considered accessory to the humiliation of travellers without visa. The appeal of Bamako rejects the readmission agreements and the new return directive of the EU and demands the regularization of the sans-papiers and the reunification of families. It also calls to stop all cooperation with the European border agency Frontex and to stop the opening of CIGEM, the international centre for migration management in Bamako. This job centre for circular migration, a pilot project of the European Union, is meant to contribute to the fight against irregular migration. The ten million euro for this 'migration à la carte' is paid with money from the development fund. The Malian talked about Kleenex workers, since this form throws away immigrant workers after use like Kleenex tissues.
This new migration management centre acknowledges the urgency of this meeting in Bamako. Mali is strategically important as a transit country to Mauretania, Senegal and Algeria/Morocco. Bamako is often the beginning and sometimes the end of the trip towards the European dream. At the same time Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world. One third of the eleven million inhabitants are underfed. The money send home by the four million Malian working abroad is indispensible for the Malian economy.
The Association Malienne des Expulsés understood the significance of new developments. Until recently their activities consisted of pressuring the Malian authorities and civil society, and direct help to deportees from the Bamako-Sénou airport. On average some 50 deportations a month take place this way. Three weeks after the meeting, on the 6th of april a charter landed with 134 Malian deported from Lybia.
During the meeting AME explained that their range of action has expanded to the so-called 'refoulés'. In july 2007 a delegation of the AME visited Tinzawaten, a Malian hamlet at the Algerian border,1750 kms from Bamako, where between 800 and 1000 Africans survive under inhuman circumstances between the rocks. These are the 'candidats au depart' and the 'refoulés' who were arrested, detained and deported during their attempts to reach Europe: “Walk straight ahead, you are in Mali.” The first are waiting for an opportunity to go north, the last want to go back home, but have no money or cannot think of going back home empty-handed after all the investment made. It is “l'Europe ou la mort”, Europe or death. They are surviving on three breads and one liter of milk a day with six persons. At the oasis of Tinzaouatine – 'the town where god does not exist' – also hundreds of refoulés remain in precarious conditions.
The AME has now an antenna at the Algerian border. Modibo Diakite has come speccially for the meeting to Bamako where he replaced his blue desert dress by a pair of trousers and and a white shirt. Although he is not one of the speakers, he has a lot to tell about his work. Modibo takes contact with the refoulés by visiting police posts and hide-outs. Since the 11th of november 2007 till the 6th of march 2008 he has tracked down 597 people who needed help, 357 Malinians and 230 from countries like Senegal, Burkino Faso, Cameroun and Congo. Seven lorries a week are now being emptied at the Malian-Algerian border with each at least 50 people, twice as much as some months ago. In Algeria at least 40.000 migrants from 54 nationalities were detained between 2000 and 2007 without trial and under inhuman circumstances. In the same period 27.500 migrants were left in the desert at the border with Niger and Mali. Dozens have died there.
The AME explained the ingeneous rescue line in this area they developed. Modibo has a tearoom where refoulés can eat on credit at cost price. He arranges medication if necesary and phones their family in Europe or Africa to send money for the transport out of there. AME had arranged that a laisser passer is delivered at the border post for those refoules who do not possess documents any more. After payment by Western Union to the AME in Bamako the transport of groups of refoules to their villages is arranged. Lots of non-Malian do still end stranded in Bamako, where they stay in bus stations, markets or jam-packed rooms.
Last year the Malian news reported that 17 Malian border posts near Mauretania and Algeria were to be supplied by the European Union and Frontex. Since four month now these posts use infrared camera´s, 4WD´s and other communication equipment in order to spot possible illegal emigrants.
AME understands that the contemporary irregular migration is heavily influenced by the European policy and the security policy of Frontex. Therefore the AME is doing research on Frontex in Mali and will possibly contribute to the action day of 6th of june against Frontex (station Warsaw). During the meeting in Bamako a banner was made by the AME to affirm their ties with the Transnational Chain of Migrationrelated Actions. This banner will travel along the other stations during the next months.
On the first evening of the meeting a concert was given by various Malian artists including the famous reggae star Tiken Jah Fakoly. Tiekn Jah was himself exiled from his home country Ivory Coast, then granted political asylum in Mali and declared persona non grata in Senegal after criticizing the president. He sings political texts – “open the borders, let us through”, “No to female circumcision” – and is an idol for millions of Africans who feel disenfranchised and repressed.
The successful two day meeting ended with the 'Appeal of Bamako 2008' and with the call to all 'sans papiers', expelled Africans and refoulés to – beyond the shame – step out of the clandistinity and to fight for their rights.