Real Story Behind European Migration Crisis

Real Story Behind European Migration Crisis

by Opal Tometi, Executive Director, Black Alliance for Just Immigration

This past month I had the opportunity to travel to Europe and meet with immigrant rights activists from Greece, Russia, Germany, Brussels, France and more – and the common story that I heard was that economic hardships were leading to increased migration and migrant and refugee presence was being criminalized through various means across the continent of Europe.

In this video I shot and edited, Koray Yilmaz-Gunay, a Turkish immigrant who works with the Rosa Luxembourg Foundation and Migration Council of Berlin, discusses the root causes of migration across Europe and the political crisis that leads to tens of thousands of deaths in the Mediterranean Sea each year.

Stop Zoologizing Africans Campaign Victory!

By Devonté Jackson, BAJI Bay Area Organizer and Rufaro Gwarada, Priority Africa Network

A Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) and Priority Africa Network (PAN) Bay Area Collaborative.

sza1On Monday, July 13th 2015 the Oakland Zoo announced its closure of the ‘African Village Display’:

“Due to the concerns of some members in our community, the Traditional East African Women’s Dwelling, located at Oakland Zoo has now been closed. The Zoo will re-purpose this location to highlight our efforts surrounding the conservation of African elephants and the ivory trade”.

This marks a major victory for Bay Area community members of the African Diaspora and our allies who have fought for the removal of this exhibit since mid-2014 under the leadership of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration and Priority Africa Network.

In 2014 members of the African Diaspora, Bay Area community, and friends engaged with The Oakland Zoo demanding the removal of the ‘African Village’ exhibit by launching a petition demanding the removal of the African Village Display. The Oakland Zoo did not respond.

The Oakland Zoo established ‘The African Village’ in 1998-99 noting: “the buildings in the area replicate a Kikuyu village … [with] authentic African artwork, cultural exhibits in the nimbia hut, and, periodically, South African dance and music bring the village to life.”

This description of the exhibit plays into colonial, centuries-old racist exotification and othering that devalues the humanity of Black Africans for profit and entertainment. It is notable that while there are wild animals from various other places around the world, including Asia, Australia, and the Americas, the Oakland Zoo does not exhibit the material culture of the racial and ethnic groups that live in these places. This is not a coincidence. The African Village Display was symbolic of white supremacist ideologies equating Blackness to Wild Animals. This anti-Black racism has manifested time and again to dehumanize Black Lives!

A History of ‘Animalizing’ Black Lives

Sarah Baartman: Throughout the 19th, 20th, and 21st century Sarah Baartman, a Khoisan Woman from South Africa was taken from her home, sold, then displayed as an exotic, abnormal spectacle in ‘freakshows’ in London and Paris. While alive, Sarah refused to be nude for displays. But following her death, Sarah’s body was dissected and studied. Her preserved genitalia, skeleton, and brain were displayed, emphasizing racist notions that Sarah was closer to being an ape, than to being a (superior) European. Sarah’s remains were only returned to and buried in South Africa in 2002.

Ota Benga:–Ota Benga, a young man from the Congo, was on display at the New York Zoological Gardens from 1904-1906. He was stolen from his home, in the Congo, then caged and put on display with monkeys and orangutans. Amid mounting pressure and a protracted battle by African American clergymen to free Ota Benga from captivity, and daily debasement, he was set free in 1906. Ota Benga died, of his own hand, in 1916 still distressed and longing for his home and people.

African Village Festival:  In 2005-there was an African Village Festival at the Augsburg Zoo in Germany. This was a ‘cultural’ festival featuring African jewelry, masks, food, and music, in the middle of the zoo. Despite protests, Zoo officials moved forward with the festival stating: ‘This event is intended to promote tolerance and international understanding as well as to bring African culture closer to the people of Augsburg’”.

Recently, the Black Alliance for Just Immigration and the Priority Africa Network (PAN) have organized multiple community members and organizations from the Bay Area to sign on to a letter to Oakland Zoo demanding the African Village Display removal. Amidst our organizing efforts, the Oakland Zoo responded to PAN’s Facebook post regarding the campaign and announced the closing of the ‘African Village’ Display.

Oakland Zoo’s closure of the African Village Display is a major step in the right direction. Our community wants to ensure that the Zoo will never again display human material culture. We request the following of Oakland Zoo:

  1. Public Statement, such as the one by San Francisco Zoo  denouncing the anti-Black attitudes that contributed to establishment of the ‘African Village’.
  2. An apology to the African Diaspora for contributing to an the dehumanization of  Black Lives.
  3. Commitment to never displaying human material culture in the Zoo again.
  4. Commitment to establishing clear channels for community members to engage with the Zoo to share concerns about any displays.
  5. Commitment to actively engage core constituencies to receive input with all new developments at Oakland Zoo.



BROOKLYN, NY– The Black Alliance for Just Immigration – BAJI – expresses grief and outrage at the senseless killing  of Charley “Brother Africa” Leundeu Keunang, a 43 year old Cameroonian  immigrant living on Skid Row, an area of downtown Los Angeles, CA known for its large homeless population. On Sunday March 1, “Brother Africa” was unarmed when confronted by Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers, who tased him several times, then opened fire while physically restraining him, shooting him 5 times. This is reportedly the third such incident in Skid Row since the 2006 launch of the LAPD “Safer Cities” Initiative, a special police unit designed to reduce crime on Skid Row. This horrific brutality is just the latest example of the crisis of state violence in Black communities, resulting in the death of our brothers and sisters at a rate of every 28 hours. BAJI declares once again that ALL Black Lives Matter, immigrant, homeless, incarcerated and beyond. Our hearts go out to those mourning for Brother Africa.

Brother Africa’s death brings into focus the convergence of state violence in the lives of Black people, and particularly the implications for Black immigrants. Brother Africa was recently released from federal prison, where he was assigned to a mental health unit by medical staff that determined he was suffering from “a mental disease or defect” that required treatment in a psychiatric hospital, which he never received. Disenfranchised of his visa status, Brother Africa was then detained by ICE until he was ordered to be released, as he was not deportable. Without mental health treatment and undocumented, Brother Africa was forced to life on Skid Row, where the police initiatives purported to make his neighborhood safer, ultimately killed him.

As an organization working at the intersections of racial justice and migrant rights, BAJI re-asserts that The Real Crime is the overpolicing of Black communities and vows that we will honor Brother Africa by continuing to expose the violence of systemic racism, organize Black communities and build coalitions for resistance.


Tia Oso:  602-385-3900

The Importance and Power of Unity With Black Lives From the African Diaspora

ICON MANN Awards Season Panel Discussion "The Evolution Of Character" State Of Black Men In Film

By: Nunu Kidane, Eritrean activist, writer and consultant based in Oakland California with Priority Africa Network
Originally posted on Huffington Post Black Voices 02/18/2015.

Names like David Oyelowo, Lupita Nyong’o and Chiwetel Ejiofor may be difficult to pronounce for the average American but their faces have become as familiar as any well-known Hollywood actor. Although Nigerian and Kenyan by birth, in the movies “Selma” and “Twelve Years a Slave,” they project images of the quintessential American-American — telling the history what it means to be Black in America.

The visibility of these actors is one indication of the fast-increasing population from Sub Saharan Africans in the US. For the most part, the new wave of Africans in the US remain invisible or ‘blend in’ with existing African American populations.

So what’s the problem you ask?

There are differences worth examining among native and immigrant Black communities, differences that are not always negative. It is when we fail to make necessary distinctions where needed that we can gloss over and make false assumptions in our exuberance to affirm our oneness and “unity.”

The old and new diaspora, have common heritage in Africa and a shared pigmentation where the word African is used as identity, but that is where the similarities end.

The profound history and continuing legacy of racism means that Black people in the US must first and foremost choose a racial category, ahead of ancestral lineage. The choice is simple and defined by skin color as in the US Census – it does not give room for narration but must choose Black, African American or Negro.

The average Africa-born person sees a vehement need to affirm an ancestral identity. Not doing so is tantamount to denying a deeper sense of oneself connected to several generations of a people and heritage.

The growing movement of “Black Lives Matter” has among its supports new members of the African diaspora. There are also others who remain on the periphery wondering why racial profiling and institutional racism is so deeply divisive in an age when America has a Black President.

Despite the current fast-paced information technology, the history and reality of racism in the US does not reach news media for millions in Africa. The mass US Pan Africanist solidarity movements common during the struggle against colonialism in Africa are virtually non-existent today. The US successfully promotes its brand as an open, fair and inclusive society where any person, regardless of the color of his/her skin, can be president: Obama is the living symbol of that.

For new Africans in the US, the challenges of navigating life are no different than what millions of migrants face daily: managing employment, school, housing, health care etc. What is special is the “double jeopardy” they face in being Black and immigrant, where few institutions understand the combined challenges let alone provide support and services when they are racially profiled by law enforcement and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The immigrants’ rights movement perpetuates the narrative that the word “migrant” is synonymous with ‘Spanish-speaking.’ The demand to recognize the reality of diversity is largely lost on them. Or they often ‘play the numbers game’ insisting since nearly 60%+ immigrants in the US are Spanish-speaking, other Asian, Pacific Islander, Arab and African migrants simply need to take the lead from the dominant majority.

For African American institutions, the presence of growing number of Africans is met with mixed sense of apprehension. While the overall increase in black population is positive, the social and political tendencies of the new diaspora is less clear. There are differences worth examining in deeper dialogue; no amount of Kumbaya, let’s-hold-hands-and-sing-unity can deny the need for deeper transnational conversations on race, culture and identity.

The sad truth is that new Africans are affected by the legacy of race in many of the same ways as African Americans. Whether it is health disparity or rate of incarceration, being Black and immigrant means having to face multiple oppressions — historic and contemporary. For new diasporans from Africa, joining the Black Lives Matter movement is an absolute necessity to ensuring a better future for our children.

Actors like David Oyelowo who played the Rev. Dr. King in Selma make a difference in raising the need to bridge our histories. As I watched the movie, it occurred to me to consider what Dr. King would have made of the Nigerian man playing him. I suspect he would have chuckled with delight that the two continents of his identity — Africa and America — have connected in ways he would have never thought possible.

This post is part of the “Black Future Month” series produced by The Huffington Post and Black Lives Matter for Black History Month. Each day in February, this series will look at one of 28 different cultural and political issues affecting Black lives, from education to criminal-justice reform. To follow the conversation on Twitter, view #BlackFutureMonth — and to see all the posts as part of our Black History Month coverage, read here.

Black Immigrants Join the Debate

Millions of African- and Caribbean-born people are missing from the immigration-reform conversation. A few of them tell The Root that they will not be shut out.

by Cynthia Gordon
Originally posted in the Root

On March 11, at a press conference on Capitol Hill, Tolu Olubunmi came out publicly as an undocumented immigrant for the first time.

“It’s been nerve-racking because it puts me at a risk,” the 30-year-old told The Root about her speech supporting Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin’s (D-Ill.) reintroduction of the DREAM Act. The bill, which passed in the House last year but failed to clear the Senate, would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented youths like her, brought to the United States as children. “But I think you have to focus on the individuals to get away from the politics of an issue that’s so divisive. Once you know that there are real people attached to the statistics, then you have to start working on real solutions.”

Olubunmi, who was born in Nigeria, is also one of 3 million black immigrants in this country. Despite moving from Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America at a remarkable rate — and despite an estimated 400,000 having undocumented status — they are barely footnotes in an immigration-reform conversation that is usually framed as a Mexican-border issue. But in light of newer, smaller-but-growing communities, as well as recently granted protected status for Haitians in particular, black immigrants are becoming stronger voices, advocating for reform from their diverse perspectives.

Black Sojourners

According to a Population Reference Bureau report (pdf), about two-thirds of black immigrants to the U.S. are from the Caribbean and Latin America — mostly Jamaica, Haiti and Trinidad — with families that largely began settling in the United States from the 1960s through the ’80s. More recently there’s been a wave of African immigrants, with more arriving between 2000 and 2005 than in the previous decade. The top three countries from that continent are Nigeria, Ethiopia and Ghana.

Most black immigrants enter the United States legally, seeking education and job opportunities, either by joining immediate relatives who are U.S. citizens or by presenting student or tourist visas with an expiration date. Those who are undocumented often fall out of status by overstaying these visas.

As The Root noted in a previous article, Caribbean- and African-born blacks tend to be wealthier and more educated than other immigrants, a class difference that has kept many from joining Latinos in the immigration-reform movement. But in recent years, with more African and Caribbean people coming to the United States to flee political strife, civil violence and natural disasters, new groups are entering as refugees or asylum seekers. While only 3 percent of immigrants from Caribbean countries, mostly from Haiti, were admitted under the refugee category, nearly 30 percent of sub-Saharan Africans granted legal residence between 2000 and 2006 entered as refugees.

As these flows of people have come from countries like Somalia, Congo, Liberia and Haiti — without the same educational resources allowing them to flourish — many have run into trouble navigating a slow-moving and restrictive immigration system.

Who Gets In?

Although immigration from Africa and the Caribbean has grown rapidly over the past decade, having contributed to at least one-fifth of America’s black population growth between 2000 and 2005 alone, there are anecdotal arguments that the process is infused with racism and works less efficiently for black people.

Sheryl Winarick, an immigration attorney in Washington, D.C., suggests that the largest hurdles for blacks in the immigration system, particularly those fleeing poverty or civil strife, usually arise from the economic situation in their countries. She explained that most visas require proof that an individual plans to return home after a temporary visit to the U.S.

“Anyone that’s coming from a developing country has a harder time demonstrating their intent to just visit instead of staying permanently,” she told The Root. “If you don’t own a home or have a steady flow of income to go back to, then the government assumes you’re more likely to want to stay here permanently and find work.”

On the other hand, Phil Hutchings, an organizer with Oakland, Calif.’s Black Alliance for Just Immigration, which lobbies for immigrants’ rights, believes that race is always in play. “It factors into whether you get through speedily or whether there’s a lot of circumspection,” he says.

“People who go against the norm of what Americans are ‘supposed to look like’ — and that generally includes black people — have more difficulty,” he continues. “Also, a fair number of African immigrants are Muslim, putting them in a suspect category that makes it harder for them to come here.”

An African Dreamer

For her part, Olubunmi says her challenges stemmed from a rigid policy that makes it impossible for undocumented immigrants to rectify their situation once they fall out of legal status. When she was 14, her mother brought her to Maryland from Nigeria to escape political instabilities. The plan was for her aunt, a U.S. citizen, to adopt her.

“The plan was never to be undocumented,” she says, but the process hit a snag when her papers were filed late. It’s a common mishap. “When you file your paperwork, officials could say that you missed a deadline by a week or two, but they don’t actually respond to you for two or three years because of the backlog. People who are committed to doing the right thing get caught up, unbeknownst to them, in these basic flaws in the system. It’s pretty easy to fall through the cracks.”

Olubunmi graduated from high school at the top of her class and then from college, earning a chemical engineering degree. She anticipated filing her papers with a company that would hire her as an engineer, only to learn that she couldn’t legally get a job. “The law says that if you’re undocumented, you cannot adjust your status while living in the U.S.,” she says. “I’d have to go to Nigeria to sort out the conflict; then, once I got there, it would trigger a three-to-10-year bar from returning to this country. But this is my home.”

Since 2008, Olubunmi has volunteered with various advocacy organizations, working behind the scenes for comprehensive immigration reform and the DREAM Act in particular. “We’re not asking for a free pass,” she says, explaining that many would-be beneficiaries were brought over as babies or toddlers.

“People always say, ‘Get in line.’ Well, the DREAM Act creates a line,” she says. “These students are saying that they will do whatever they have to, if it’s going to college or serving in the military. They are just asking for an opportunity to prove themselves worthy of the country they love.”

A Rising Haitian Voice

David Faustin, 45, says he had a smooth process coming to the United States from Haiti 22 years ago. He acquired his green card upon marrying his wife, who already had permanent residency, and became a citizen after 10 years of marriage. But as the pastor of a Washington, D.C. church with largely Haitian congregants, he has helped many of them through a far more difficult course.

When a devastating earthquake plunged the island into further despair in 2010, he was relieved by the Obama administration’s decision to grant Temporary Protected Status for Haitians who had already been living in the U.S., allowing them to stay here legally and suspending deportations.

“The church brought in lawyers like Ms. Winarick to help people who were scared of applying for TPS because they were of unlawful status,” he tells The Root. “They thought it was a way for immigration officials to know where they live.”

This month, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it would extend TPS for Haitians, which was scheduled to expire in July, for another 18 months. The department also expanded it to include Haitians who came here up to one year after the 2010 earthquake. “Having protected status is helping a lot of Haitian people to not only make it here and contribute to the American economy, but also to send money to other people back home and help them survive,” says Faustin.

Furthermore, it has empowered more Haitians to organize around immigration reform, partnering with immigrant-rights groups to build a powerful lobby. “In the past it was just the Hispanic community, but the Haitian community has become involved to advocate for what they would like to see happening for them,” says Faustin, citing, for example, amnesty for immigrants who once had legal status but are now unable to resolve their position. “As soon as the government gave them TPS, Haitians decided to take advantage of the momentum.”

Beyond the Border

Hutchings, of the 10-year-old Black Alliance, concurs that he’s seen other black-immigrant organizations mobilize in recent years, including San Francisco’s African Advocacy Network and Chicago’s Pan African Association. “In different parts of the country, black immigrants have developed enclosed communities just to themselves,” he says. “But at a certain point, a community realizes that it needs to reach out to develop allies and meet political officials. Their participation is really about people beginning to take responsibility for their own development in the United States.”

Olubunmi is heartened to see more people from African and Caribbean countries speaking out. “The majority of undocumented immigrants are Latino, but it’s important to recognize that there are different groups involved in this debate,” she says. “I remember once watching Bush talk about creating a path for folks who ‘come across the border.’ Well, if a bill is written from that perspective, it wouldn’t work for everybody.”

Ultimately, she knows that a system that works for everyone will require action from Washington. “I’m a huge supporter of President Obama, but I am very disappointed that we haven’t been able to get comprehensive immigration reform done,” she says.

While she understands that Congress must act, as the president demanded in his recent immigration-policy speech, she maintains that he has executive authority to make some changes himself — changes like stopping the deportation of undocumented “Dreamers.”

Until then, Olubunmi is committed to lending her voice to the struggle, even if it now means going public with her own status. “If it will help to raise consciousness, if it will help make life easier for other people,” she says with a quick, nervous laugh, “then I will lay myself at the altar.”

Teleconference III Recording Available: New African Immigrants-Grappling with Concepts of Race and Identity

On Thursday March 31st we held our 3rd national teleconference. On this call we listened to a presentation by Dr. Jackie Copeland-Carson moderated by Priority Africa Network Director, Nunu Kidane and then had a discussion with call participants. The conversation is entitled New Immigrants – grappling with Concepts of Race and Identity. If you missed this engaging teleconference please listen to it here –

Dr. Copeland-Carson discussed following topics.
– Figures of increase of African immigrants in the U.S
– Why is this significant, particularly for African American communities
– Understanding the importance of race and immigration as relates to African immigrants
– What are some of the important points to consider for organizers and social justice activists to increase outreach into African immigrant communities
– The need to develop a global Pan African consciousness

Please note that our next teleconference is Thursday April 28, 2011 at 12pm PST.

Videos about African Migration from the World Social Forum

Post by Opal Tometi, BAJI National Organizer

Our final days at the World Social Forum in Dakar, Senegal were a blur. With several meetings, workshops and other impromptu activities we just didn’t have time to capture it all on our blog. However, now that we’re back in the United States we are beginning to reflect on some of the highlights and have some videos we’d like to share with you.

The first is a short video with Mamadou Goita, the Director of IRPAD (Institut de Recherche et de Promotion des Alternatives en Développement), based in Mali. In this clip he briefly discusses the connections of environmental justice and immigration. An issue we are sure to blog about more in the future.

Our 2nd video is with Mary Tal, a courageous migrant justice organizer in South Africa. In this video she tells her personal story of migration and talks about how she’s helping women and their families in South Africa through support groups, advocacy and by providing other social services. Mary’s story is powerful and compelling as she explains how she cast off the shame of being a refugee, empowered herself and found her voice.

Whole World Women Association – South Africa from opal ayo on Vimeo.

Videos about African Migration from the World Social Forum

Post by Opal Tometi, BAJI National Organizer

Our final days at the World Social Forum in Dakar, Senegal were a blur. With several meetings, workshops and other impromptu activities we just didn’t have time to capture it all on our blog. However, now that we’re back in the United States we are beginning to reflect on some of the highlights and have some videos we’d like to share with you.

The first is a short video with Mamadou Goita, the Director of IRPAD (Institut de Recherche et de Promotion des Alternatives en Développement), based in Mali. In this clip he briefly discusses the connections of environmental justice and immigration. An issue we are sure to blog about more in the future.

Our 2nd video is with Mary Tal, a courageous migrant justice organizer in South Africa. In this video she tells her personal story of migration and talks about how she’s helping women and their families in South Africa through support groups, advocacy and by providing other social services. Mary’s story is powerful and compelling as she explains how she cast off the shame of being a refugee, empowered herself and found her voice.

Whole World Women Association – South Africa from opal ayo on Vimeo.

The World Social Forum Workshops Begin

Post contributions by Gerald Lenoir, BAJI Director, Nunu Kidane, Priority Africa Network Director & Opal Tometi, BAJI National Organizer
Today marked the first day of sessions of the World Social Forum in Dakar Senegal. The theme for the day was Africa and the Diaspora and featured a myriad of sessions highlighting issues of relevance to peoples of African decent. And although there was some confusion about locations for certain workshops we managed to find our way to 2 insightful sessions.

One session we attended was a workshop on Intra-Africa Migration that featured a panel of academics, migrants and activists from West Africa that exposed the complicity of West African and North African governments in violating the rights of migrants. The North African countries–Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria and Libya have signed undisclosed bilateral agreements with European countries–Italy, Spain, Malta, Portugal and France to act as their border control agents.  North African countries routinely deport Senegalese migrants to their home countries, with many violations of their human rights. Migrants from all over West Africa are deported to Mali without regard to their nationality.  The migrants are often brutalized, robbed and dumped at the borders.  In exchange for their services, the North African countries receive development aid and military aid from European countries.

Senegal has also signed agreements with some European countries to accept deported Senegalese migrants and to provide Frontex, the European Union border control agency, complete and free access to its territory. In exchange, Senegal receives an undisclosed amount of aid.  Mali has refused to sign these types of agreements.

In addition, most member countries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) do not abide by a protocol on circulation signed by all 16 countries in the 1980s.  The protocol calls for freedom of movement throughout the countries.  But migrants are regularly harassed, jailed and deported. And only seven countries honor the ECOWAS passport.

Ntamag Francois Romero, the director of the Association des Refoulés d’Afrique Centrale au Mail, or ARACEM (Association of Deported Central Africans in Mali), spoke about his work in aiding migrants expelled from North Africa.  Over 100 migrants a month come to the ARACEM center for food and temporary shelter after being deported.  They can stay for two weeks at a time until the next wave of deported migrants arrive.  And the numbers are growing.
Another session we attended was on “Strategies for International Year for People of African Descent.”  Doudou Diene, the former U.N Special Rapporteur on Racism on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance was one of the key speakers. He spoke extensively on the process that led to the Durban Conference Against Racism in 2001 and the challenges related to the declaration and subsequent attempts towards the full implementation.  
Also on the panel were Mareille Fanon-Mendes from France, daughter of Frantz Fanon and President of the Franz Fanon Foundation. She spoke passionately about the need to continue building on the foundations set in Durban, South African.   She urged participants the world over to join the mobilization for the next gathering towards this that will take place in New York in September of this year.  Following her was Jan Lonn, Secretary of the World Against Racism Network and Coura Mbaye Swedish Committee for the International Year for People of African Descent.

The day was truly rich and included several formal and informal conversations and meetings along the way. Every moment at the World Social Forum is an opportunity to learn. You never knows whom you are sitting next to until you take the time to introduce yourself and learn about their struggles and victories.
Here are some additional pictures from our day which concluded with a dinner reception hosted by Priority Africa Network for the Detroit to Dakar Delegation.

World Assembly of Migrants

Wednesday, February 2, 2011
Goree Island, Senegal 

Posted by Gerald Lenoir, Executive Director, Black Alliance for Just Immigration

Nunu Kidane of Priority Africa Network, Colin Rajah of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and I traveled from Oakland, California to Dakar Senegal to attend the World Assembly of Migrants (WAM) on Goree Island and the World Social Forum (WSF) at the Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar.

A statue of freed slaves on
Goree Island donated by the
government of Guadeloupe.

Today, we took the 20-minute ferry ride to the infamous Goree Island where enslaved Africans were imprisoned, brutalized, led shackled through the “Door of No Return” and shipped en masse to the New World.  We were there to attend the opening session of the World Assembly of Migrants.  The Assembly was initiated by a migrant rights organization in France, Sans Papier (Without Papers) to provide the opportunity for migrants from all over the world to give input into the draft of the World Charter of Migrants.  The opening session, attended by over 100 migrants, started with a panel that included the Mayor of Goree Island, a representative from WAM and a member of the leadership of the WSF leadership group.

The Mayor reminded us that the event was taking place on the spot where the first brutal forced migration of Africans took place.  The WSF representative spoke about the importance of migrant rights as a central theme of the Social Forum scheduled to take place February 6-11.

Migrants from all over the world listen
to the opening panel presentations at
the World Assembly of Migrants.

The WAM speaker spoke to the need of the rights of migrant to be recognized.  The draft charter, he said, builds upon the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Indigenous People.  As an Austrian, he talked about the “wave of xenophobia sweeping across Europe.”  He indicated that process of input into the charter will make sure that it’s ratified by the people and that it is a people’s document.  The aim is to get the charter ratified by United Nations.

The 2-page draft charter reads, in part:

“We Migrants declare to the world that:  MIGRATION WILL BE A FREE AND WORTHY CHOICE FOR ALL AND IN EVERY CORNER OF THE PLANET…” (emphasis in the original document)

“…We are entitled to the same rights, recognized under exactly the same conditions as everyone else.
Denying this basic principle is a serious blow to humanity, a negation of Humanity. Laws, regulations and practices that do not respect this principle will disappear over time, a ghostly memory of less humanitarian times in the past.
Unequal access to development and well-being within countries and between countries can and should be avoided and are in fact a crime against Humanity. We must prevail over such disparities.”

(To read the entire draft of the World charter of Migrants, go to

Tomorrow, the day will be spent pouring over the draft document.  There will opportunities for the migrants assembled to give their input.  By the end of the day, the charter will be adopted by those assembled.  On Friday, migrants, along with their allies, will consider the future of the charter.  for many, the future for migrants is depending upon migrants themselves articulating their rights and, together with their allies, fighting for them.

My colleagues and I will continue to blog from the WAM and the WSF until February 11.  For photos of today and throughout the week, go to Priority Africa Network’s D2D – World Social Forum web page at 


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