May 13, 2015 By Abu Bakarr Conteh, Head of NaCSA IEC Unit
The National Commission for Social Action (NaCSA) subscribes to the fact that migration is a common feature of modern life. It is universally acknowledged that migrants have contributed significantly to the development of societies around the world. But the movement of people especially desperate Africans who venture into the exclusive Europe and other parts of the world in an irregular fashion is being characterized by untold suffering and needless deaths. Sierra Leone is one of several countries in West Africa where people are fleeing poverty and seeking greener pastures elsewhere. Meanwhile, NaCSA and its partners (ECOWAS and Spain) remain committed to combating irregular migration by encouraging everyone to be mindful of the potential threats that are associated with this menace. Migrants who cross international borders in an irregular manner are vulnerable to exploitation; and the association of irregular migration with smuggling and trafficking networks remains a particular concern to NaCSA. Anyone can be a victim. It could be you or someone very close to you. So we crave your indulgence to be part of the fight by refusing to be part of irregular migration.
Irregular migration has risen to the top of the international security and political agendas because it is viewed as a threat to sovereignty, and has been linked to problems such as crime and drugs. There is no universally agreed upon definition of irregular migration. This is perhaps because there are so many paths that are being construed as irregular. Those who enter regularly may become irregular when they work without a permit, overstay a visa, or exit irregularly in another country. Irregular migration is perhaps most clearly defined by UNHCR as “irregular movements involving entry into the territory of another country, without the prior consent of the national authorities or without an entry visa, or with no or insufficient documentation normally required for travel purposes, or with false or fraudulent documentation”.
Providing adequate information to potential or actual migrants is a key component of the commission’s activities in its effort to curtail the practice. It has been observed that the quest for a better life and the attempt to escape poverty have influenced a major segment of Africa’s population to seek alternatives for better livelihood prospects for people and their families. But it may be wrong to think that the only alternative to avoiding poverty in your home country is to cross international borders through clandestine means. Migration to Europe and other parts of the world is usually a sought after option considered by those seeking greener pastures. This desire for a better life has led many young Africans to be smuggled or to fall prey to the deceptions of criminal gangs. The dangers involved are enormous. An irregular migrant who had his request for refugee status rejected said, “I am sure it is better to die in the homeland once, than to suffer humiliation and shame everyday in a different country, in which I am trying to find refuge. In the course of my stay in Europe, I stopped being human, not to mention finding protection. They broke me”. A returning migrants has even claimed that he was been fed with molded and worm infested food. He observed “they think we are not human, and we have no chance to complain”. A migrant who was recently released from detention in Europe suggested “animals could not live in those conditions.” These sentiments were echoed by many others, including an asylum seeker from Somalia, who tried to describe the three months he spent together with other detainees before being allocated a room in a dormitory. “They are suffering in there, to tell you the truth. The guards are bad. We were abused. It felt like being in the army. The food is bad. You have to run to the toilet. If you don’t, you are beaten with a stick, like an animal. I am very worried. I want a piece of life”. The theme of suffering and dehumanization is symptomatic of an approach to irregular migration that views the migrants as the threats.
It is important to note that irregular migration overall involves different categories as regards the people concerned and the different networks through which they pass before arriving and remaining illegally in the countries of destination. Those who illegally enter the territory of another country with no documents at all or by using false or forged documents; those who have entered with a valid visa or residence permit but have “overstayed”; those whose legal residence becomes illegal when they take up employed activity; those with a residence and work permit who overstay their period of legal residence or violate resident regulations in other ways. But more so, irregular migration involve the obtaining or use of any travel or identity document that has been falsely made or altered in some material way by anyone other than a person or agency lawfully authorized to make or issue the travel or identity document on behalf of a State through misrepresentation, corruption, duress, or in any other unlawful manner by any person. Experts say illegally crossing borders without complying with the requirements for legal entry into the receiving state also constitutes irregular migration. In other words, migration that takes place outside the norms and procedures established by States to manage the orderly flow of migrants into, through, and out of their territories is irregular. Trafficking in persons is also closely tied to the practice of irregular migration. It is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion. Trafficking is often related to the commercial sex industry and violates human rights. It includes abduction, fraud, deception, and the abuse of power or the abuse of someone in a vulnerable position. The giving or receiving of payments or benefits for the purpose of exploitation by obtaining the consent of one person who has control over another person is also a form of trafficking in persons. We have collaborated with Immigrations Department, Office of National Security, RSLAF, SLP, Transnational Organized Crime Unit and the Christian Brothers to ensure adequate sensitization in the six border district of the country. But it is not a matter for the security apparatus alone to handle. You too can also be involved in sharing the message to our people. So be on the lookout for defaulters and blow the whistle whenever you can. It is a fight to ensure national security and attainment of the Agenda for Prosperity.