MALI: Returnees sceptical about new EU information centre

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The European Union (EU) has opened its first multi-million dollar immigration centre in West Africa, but returnee migrants told IRIN the Bamako centre would not change their minds about migrating without visas.

The EU-funded Centre for Information and Control of Migration (CIGEM) has been set up to fight illegal migration through job counselling for would-be and returned migrants.

President Touré, speaking at the opening of the centre on 6 October, called on the estimated 20,000 Malians overseas to help stamp out hard-to-measure and even harder-to-control sub-Saharan clandestine migration to North Africa and Europe, which is increasingly being met with border crackdowns and mass deportations.

But Bamako-based businessman Moussa Diarra, who returned to Mali in 2007 after living in France during the 1990s, said the centre was just another bureaucratic show: “You know, our country is not lacking in initiatives. Everything is good at the beginning, but ends in deception in the end. Nothing works.”

Nouhoum Diaby, a recently-repatriated migrant in Mali who told IRIN he has tried to enter Libya three times without a visa, said the new centre cannot influence people intent on migrating: “I have not heard about the centre. But that will not change anything. If I could get the money tomorrow, I would leave immediately.”

Diaby said the centre cannot solve the bigger problems Mali faces: “This country cannot provide for its educated people who have diplomas, let alone for those who do
not have schooling.”

Youth unemployment

President Touré acknowledged the real problem was “finding youth jobs”. (For more on the impact of employment policies on West African migration, click here.)

A 2004 US-based Columbia University study estimated Mali's youth unemployment was running as high as 70 percent.

In response to the centre’s early critics, CIGEM’s director, Abdoulaye Konaté told IRIN the centre can only do its best: “Migration is a social, hard to manage phenomenon, but we are going to try to orient the migrants with necessary information about the opportunities [legal] emigration presents.”

In recent years, thousands of sub-Saharan Africans have attempted dangerous sea crossings to Europe following border clampdowns along desert routes through North Africa. But many migrant hopefuls still cross the desert from Gao or Bamako, Mali, to reach North Africa and Europe, according to a four-country study by the Open Society Institute of West Africa.

The Bamako-based non-profit Association of Overseas Malians (AMREX) has tried to find work for Malians who attempted to leave in search of employment but failed. In 2004 it purchased five hectares of land 400km northeast of the capital in Niono, intending to train returned migrants in agriculture.

But not everyone is made for the land, said AMREX director Daouda Dicko. “It is not easy to turn everyone into becoming growers, because not all the repatriated are familiar with agriculture - and even those who are, prefer to follow other professions,” said Dicko.

Returnees from Côte d’Ivoire

According to Mali’s National Office for the Protection of Civilians in Mali, from 2002 to 2007, about 47,000 Malians returned home from other countries, mostly Côte d’Ivoire, when a civil war broke out there in 2002. Among these returnees from 2005 to 2007 were almost 4,000 expelled immigrants, mostly from North Africa. The office measures only group returns, not individual ones.

CIGEM’s launch comes after two years of talks between the EU and Mali. The EU has pledged more than US$13 million over the next five years to fund the centre.

But returned migrant Diaby told IRIN Europe can do little to stem the tide of sub-Saharan Africans looking for work overseas: “Europe can post a security guard at each metre of its borders and we will gladly pay each of them a visit.”