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Refugees, migrants face horrors while crossing African continent

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New UN Report Highlights Rising Violence and Abuse on African Land Routes

Thousands of refugees and migrants who risk their lives on dangerous land routes across the African continent are subject to violence, abuse, and exploitation, according to a report released Friday by the UN Refugee Agency, International Organization for Migration, and the Mixed Migration Center research group.

The report, based on interviews with 32,000 refugees and migrants conducted between 2020 and 2023, reveals that the number of people attempting perilous land crossings has increased, as have the protection threats they face since the first edition of the report was issued in 2020.

With more people estimated to cross the Sahara Desert than the Mediterranean Sea, the report presumes that twice as many refugees and migrants die in the desert than at sea — although the statistics in the report seemingly belie that.

“In total, 1,180 persons are known to have died while crossing the Sahara Desert for the period January 2020 to May 2024, but the number is believed to be much higher,” the report states. “During the same period, around 7,115 people were reported to have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean Sea.”

Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR special envoy for the Western and Central Mediterranean Situation, clarified the discrepancy between the numbers of reported land and sea deaths. “We do not have an accurate number of statistics of people who die along the land route because there is nobody collecting the bodies,” he explained. “We have better knowledge of shipwrecks because people are collecting the bodies when the shipwreck is close to the shore of the Mediterranean.”

“It is not based on hard data but based on the testimony of people,” he added.

The report notes that new conflicts in the Sahel and Sudan, the impact of climate change, and new disasters in the East and Horn of Africa are driving more people than in 2020 to cross Africa’s dangerous land routes in search of safety and better economic opportunities.

Among the reported risks and abuses faced by refugees and migrants are torture, physical violence, arbitrary detention, death, kidnapping for ransom, sexual exploitation, enslavement, human trafficking, organ removal, robbery, and collective expulsions.

In the survey, 38% of respondents cited physical violence as the main risk encountered during their journey. The risk of death, reported by 14% of respondents in the previous report, has now increased to 20%, and the risk of sexual and gender-based violence has increased to 15% from 12.5% in 2020.

“The risk of kidnapping seems to be a new one,” Cochetel observed. “It used to be mentioned by 2% of respondents four years ago; now it is mentioned by 18%. Almost one out of five claim that the journey involves that risk of kidnapping.”

The report highlights that refugees and migrants are increasingly encountering insurgent groups, militias, and other criminal actors, where human trafficking, kidnapping for ransom, forced labor, and sexual exploitation are rife.

Cochetel noted that respondents did not necessarily consider smugglers and traffickers the main perpetrators of violence. “We thought they were the main troublemakers on the route,” he said. “In fact, it turns out it is more criminal gangs, which can sometimes include traffickers. But the perception by migrants and refugees is that these are criminal gangs operating, and it is also law enforcement authorities, non-state actors, which are normally armed groups abusing the people on the way.”

Bram Frouws, director of the Mixed Migration Center, lamented having to produce another report that presents the “unimaginable levels of violence refugees and migrants are facing on these routes.” He emphasized that it is unacceptable and remains a collective stain on our conscience.

He called for all perpetrators of violence and other crimes against these vulnerable people to be held accountable. “We need to stop going after the very low-level pickup drivers in Niger, for example. We should really follow the money and catch the big guys, the ones responsible for all this violence,” he urged.

The UNHCR, IOM, partners, and several governments have stepped up life-saving services and assistance for refugees and migrants traveling on dangerous routes. However, they say humanitarian action is not enough.

The organizations call for more concrete measures to protect and save the lives of those embarking on dangerous journeys and stress the need to address the root causes of displacement and drivers of irregular movements.

Africa

EU Tightens Schengen Visa Rules for Somali Nationals

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The European Union introduces stricter Schengen visa regulations for Somalia to improve readmission cooperation. Changes include single-entry visas, higher fees, and longer processing times.

In a decisive move, the European Union Commission has proposed stringent new visa regulations for Somalia. This initiative aims to enhance cooperation on the readmission of Somali nationals who have entered and stayed in the EU without proper documentation. The proposed changes, pending EU Council approval, include issuing only single-entry visas, increasing visa fees, and extending application processing times from 15 to 45 days. Additionally, the EU may suspend certain regulations requiring the submission of supporting documents for visa applications.

“Despite steps taken by the EU and its Member States to improve readmission cooperation, Somalia’s efforts remain insufficient,” the EU Commission declared. This proposal forms part of the EU’s broader strategy to manage irregular migration within its borders by ensuring countries cooperate on the readmission of their nationals.

The EU has implemented similar measures against other countries, such as Ethiopia and The Gambia. In April, multiple-entry Schengen visas were halted for Ethiopians, and visa fees were increased for Gambian nationals, although the fee hike was later revoked. Other measures against The Gambia remain in place.

The Commission’s statement noted that the proposal would soon be presented to the EU Council, where member states will decide on the next steps. This move underscores the EU’s firm stance on managing migration and ensuring compliance with readmission agreements.

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Somali Migrants Confront Debt and Stigma Upon Return: MPI Report

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A New Report by the Migration Policy Institute Explores the Perilous Journeys and Complex Reintegration of Somali Returnees

A recent report by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) sheds light on the severe challenges faced by Somali migrants returning home after being stranded abroad. The study, titled “Migration Interrupted: Can Stranded Migrants from Ethiopia, Somalia, and Sudan Rebuild Their Lives upon Return?” explores the difficulties and successes of these returnees, supported by the EU-IOM Joint Initiative.

The report delves into the perilous journeys of Somali migrants who become stranded in transit countries like Libya and Yemen. Fleeing economic hardship or conflict, these migrants often encounter abuse, exploitation, and violence. The EU-IOM Joint Initiative, funded by the European Union’s Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, has provided essential support to over 134,000 migrants, assisting their return and reintegration.

“After suffering and starving, the best thing was to come home where we felt loved,” expressed a Somali returnee, summarizing the relief many feel upon returning. However, reintegration presents significant challenges. According to the report, 38% of Somali returnees incurred substantial debt during their migration, adding financial and emotional strain. The initiative’s support, including temporary housing, medical aid, and grants for microbusinesses, has been crucial in helping returnees rebuild their lives.

Migration routes from East Africa are notoriously dangerous. The northern route through Libya is especially perilous, with many Somali migrants experiencing human rights abuses. The MPI report emphasizes the need for comprehensive reintegration support, highlighting that economic assistance and psychosocial support are vital. In Somalia, returnees who received microbusiness grants showed significant improvement in reintegration, often surpassing non-migrant counterparts in economic stability.

Despite the assistance provided, reintegration remains difficult. Many returnees face stigma and isolation. “People don’t always believe in you when you return from migration,” said Yasir, a Somali returnee, noting the social barriers to reintegration. The report stresses the importance of community support and timely, tailored assistance to address these challenges.

The MPI report calls for sustained, flexible funding for reintegration programs in the Horn of Africa. As the EU-IOM Joint Initiative ended in 2023, future programs must learn from its successes. Key recommendations include involving families in the reintegration process and addressing returnees’ psychological readiness. Coordinated efforts to inform families ahead of return and support debt resolution pathways are also essential.

This comprehensive report underscores the urgent need for continued and enhanced support for Somali migrants returning home. Their stories of hardship and resilience highlight the complexities of migration and the critical importance of robust reintegration programs.

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Migration

Finland’s Bold Move: New Law to Halt Migrants From Somalia

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Controversial Legislation Aims to Strengthen Security Amid Allegations of Russian Interference

Finland passes a contentious law to stop migrants at its Russian border, citing security threats and stirring significant political debate.

In a move that has ignited a storm of controversy, the Finnish Parliament has passed a law allowing border guards to intercept illegal immigrants from Russia. The law, approved by 167 votes to 31 with one abstention, targets migrants from countries such as Somalia, Syria, and Iran, who have been crossing the border in increasing numbers.

Prime Minister Petteri Orpo, whose government introduced the bill, framed the law as a necessary measure to curb what he describes as Russia’s weaponization of migration. According to Orpo, Moscow has been deliberately sending migrants to Finland’s border to exert pressure on the nation and its European Union allies.

“Since the end of last year, we have seen Russia using migrants as an instrument of hybrid influence against our security, against our borders,” Orpo said. “Today, the Parliament has approved the law by a clear majority.”

The 1,340-kilometer border between Finland and Russia has been closed for seven months, with Helsinki citing security concerns and a growing influx of migrants from war-torn and impoverished regions. This law, however, allows for the practice known as pushback, where migrants are returned to a third country without the opportunity to apply for asylum—a method often criticized as illegal under European human rights laws.

European law, including the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (CFREU), prohibits returning people to countries where they might face persecution or inhuman treatment. This makes the new Finnish law particularly contentious.

“No one should be worried that Finland will not respect the rule of law in the future and after this vote,” Orpo assured, attempting to ease fears about the country’s commitment to human rights.

Orpo also emphasized the need for a unified European solution and mentioned discussions with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen about maintaining border security. The Commission is currently reviewing the new Finnish bill to ensure it complies with EU law. A spokesperson stated that the EU will not tolerate attempts to use migrants as pawns and will support member states in managing their borders.

The law, described as an “exception law,” is temporary and rare, requiring a five-sixths majority in Parliament to pass. It creates a specific exception to the Finnish Constitution during national emergencies. Vulnerable groups such as children, people with disabilities, and particularly vulnerable individuals are to be protected from being denied entry.

Interior Minister Mari Rantanen of the Finns Party expressed hope that the law would act as a deterrent rather than a necessity. “We hope that this law will never have to be applied, but that it will work as preventive legislation,” she said.

The law’s passage has stirred deep tensions within Finland’s political landscape. Critics argue it betrays Finland’s commitment to human rights and plays into the hands of Russian President Vladimir Putin. During the debate, Ben Zyskowicz, spokesman for Orpo’s Coalition Party, urged for civility and rejected accusations against the law’s opponents as traitors or Putin sympathizers.

The opposition Social Democratic Party ultimately voted in favor of the law, despite internal dissent. Meanwhile, the Greens, a vocal opponent, condemned the law’s vague legal implications. Former Green party foreign minister Pekka Haavisto suggested that Finland should seek international collaboration to address illegal immigration rather than unilaterally adopting controversial measures.

Even among the ruling coalition, the law has proven divisive. Eva Biaudet of the Swedish People’s Party questioned the law’s efficacy in improving security at the eastern border and its alignment with international agreements.

As Finland steps into this contentious territory, the eyes of Europe are watching closely. The law, effective for one year and requiring joint approval from the government and the president to be enacted, sets a precedent that challenges the balance between national security and human rights.

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Migration

Channel 4 Launches Provocative Series: Go Back to Where You Came From

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A Bold Exploration of Migrant Journeys from Somalia and Syria

Channel 4 is set to shake up the national conversation on immigration with its groundbreaking series, “Go Back To Where You Came From.” This four-part social experiment, adapted from an award-winning Australian format, invites Britons with diverse views on immigration to retrace the perilous routes taken by refugees and migrants to the UK.

Participants will embark on harrowing journeys starting in Mogadishu, Somalia, and Raqqa, Syria. They will face real threats like missile strikes, overcrowded refugee camps, and treacherous boat crossings. The show aims to challenge their preconceptions and offer the public an unvarnished look at the extreme dangers asylum seekers endure in their quest for safety.

Somalia’s migration crisis is a significant driver behind these dangerous treks. Over 2.6 million Somalis are internally displaced, with nearly a million more seeking refuge in neighboring countries. This mass exodus is fueled by ongoing conflict, political instability, and environmental disasters such as droughts and floods, creating a dire humanitarian situation.

In Somalia, a phenomenon known as “tahriib” sees many young Somalis attempting irregular migration to Europe. High youth unemployment, lack of opportunities, and social pressures push them to undertake risky journeys fraught with exploitation, abuse, and death. Many Somali migrants become stranded in countries like Libya, facing severe conditions, including detention and abuse. Organizations like the International Organization for Migration (IOM) work tirelessly to rescue and repatriate these individuals, but human trafficking networks complicate their efforts.

“This series is designed to confront, educate, anger, shock, and tug at the heartstrings of viewers across the political spectrum,” said Channel 4’s Senior Commissioning Editors Anna Miralis and Madonna Benjamin in a joint statement. “Our goal is to provide the British public with a deeper understanding of the terrifying perils asylum seekers face.”

Executive producer Liam Humphreys expressed his excitement about the project, stating, “We are thrilled to be working on this audacious and groundbreaking series. ‘Go Back To Where You Came From’ will offer a unique and compelling perspective on the plight of asylum seekers, challenging preconceptions and igniting national debate.”

The series’ announcement comes at a contentious time for immigration in the UK. Recently, former Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer confirmed the cancellation of the controversial Rwanda deportation scheme, aimed at deterring migrants from crossing the English Channel.

By immersing participants in the harrowing experiences of refugees, Channel 4 hopes to foster a deeper understanding and empathy among viewers, pushing them to confront the often overlooked human cost of migration. As participants trek through deserts, cross mountain ranges, and navigate dangerous waters, they will be exposed to the severe hardships and life-threatening risks many endure in search of a better life.

“Go Back To Where You Came From” promises to be more than just a TV show—it’s a powerful narrative that forces viewers to grapple with the complexities and human stories behind the headlines.

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