Thursday, May 21, 2015

Not Just South Africa

Since the end of apartheid, South Africa has attracted millions of migrants fleeing political and economic turmoil in their own countries. Zimbabweans account for the largest population of migrants in South Africa, with some analysts estimating they make up 23% of the whole workforce. With a youth unemployment rate of over 50% and a slowing economy, cheap foreign labour is a hot political issue, with locals accusing foreign nationals of stealing their jobs. But while South Africa has borne the brunt of the harsh international spotlight, other similar African government operations, are flying under the radar.

The Republic of Congo last week launched the second phase of its operation “Mbata ya bakolo,” which in the local Lingala language means “the slap of the elders”. Some 600 foreigners were arrested over only two days. The first phase, carried out in April 2014 in the economic hub of Pointe-Noire, forced back an estimated 250,000 workers from neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo in only a few weeks. Churches and local charities say the operation was now a “full-blown manhunt” and employed violence and degrading treatment. The conflict-ridden DR Congo ranks last on the UN development index, and over the years tens of thousands of its nationals have found menial jobs in neighbouring Congo, where living conditions are slightly better. Official figures from Kinshasa in April showed around four million residents in Congo, equivalent to around one in 10 of the population, hailed from DR Congo. Realising targeting economic migrants attracts international backlash, governments now increasingly cite insecurity as a reason for targeting foreign nationals.

West African borders tend to be most porous, with emergent economies such as Ghana and Ivory Coast particularly popular with immigrants.

Nigeria has in recent years deported thousands of foreign immigrants, citing concerns of infiltration by Islamic extremists - though it protested the recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa. The country’s porous borders and lenient immigration officers have seen thousands of foreign workers easily move in, especially from Niger in the north, but also from Ghana, Chad, Benin and Cameroon, seeking to earn a better living. Immigrants now make up a significant part of the menial labour workforce in Lagos. But the country’s battle with terrorism has seen them targeted by authorities, with some 22,000 deported in 2013, while a crackdown was also carried out ahead of its March election.

Niger early this month deported more than 3,000 Nigerians fleeing Boko Haram, with refugees saying they were forced to walk back over three days after the insurgents attacked an island in Lake Chad. Niger is home to more than 100,000 other Nigerian refugees fleeing the militants.

Kenya has been a preferred destination from Somalis and South Sudanese fleeing conflict, but this year threatened to close the world’s largest refugee complex after deadly terror attacks by Somali militant group Al-Shabaab. But there have also been reports of friction with locals over the high visibility of Somalis in key areas of the economy, such as retail and real estate, a perception of illegality that peaked during the surge in piracy in the Indian Ocean.

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