Monday, 14 February 2011

Emigration, immigration and forced return

Reports are beginning to emerge that Tunisian people are feeling the country en masse, many attempting to head for the greener pastures of crisis-hit Europe. NYT reports that Italy is planning to send armed troops to stop the would-be migrants leaving Tunisia, by force if necessary. The Mail&Guardian reports that Tunisia's government is reluctant to allow this. Between 3000 and 5000 people have reported reached the Italian island of Lampedusa in the last few days. Italy has declared a humanitarian emergency and asked the EU for help.

This is problematic for the interim government, not least because an exodus of skill will make the transition harder, but shouldn't come as a huge surprise. Toppling a dictator through a popular uprising is a massive achievement and the Tunisian people should be proud. This kind of upheaval also creates significant instability in a situation of existing vulnerability. People are going to move, be displaced and seek a better alternative. It's really not that different to the upheaval created by a natural disaster or a civil war. There is less rebuilding, but it should probably still be treated as a crisis situation. Tunisia had a revolution. The international community has offered solidarity but are they willing to offer support (including financial)?

In stark contrast, South Sudan is expecting (and already receiving) huge numbers of returning exiles, refugees and citizens who were working elsewhere. This presents a huge challenge in terms of coping with refugees returning from the North and from neighbouring African countries. It also presents an opportunity as highly-skills South Sudanese people return to contribute to the rebuilding. Several top aid bloggers have been talking, in the last few months, about the 'brain drain' as a potentially good thing for various reasons, including the possibility of return. South Sudan is potentially an example of that. eNews this weekend featured the story of a highly educated professional, trained and until now working in South Africa, who is heading home. Many in the South Sudanese diaspora, who have benefited from quality educational opportunities, are choosing to leave the comfort of their adopted countries to help build Africa's newest state.

Congolese refugees/illegal immigrants in Angola have less choice. Over the last couple of years there has been an ongoing tit-for-tat deportation of Congolese migrants from Angola and Angolans from the DRC. An estimated 211 000 people were affected in 2009. This situation is made more horrifying by the brutal and systematic rape of women and girls on both sides of the border in the forced return process. The UN is aware of it, media (occasionally) report on it but no-one seems to be doing anything to fix the situation. 182 people were raped in January 2011, community leaders from 7 villages along the border reported.

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