IDN-InDepth NewsReportBy Beatrice Mariotti *
BERLIN (IDN) - As European countries strive to find a solution to Lampedusa that has come to symbolize much disdained African migration to Europe, little attention is being paid to African women and children in Europe, who are faced with new forms of slavery and colonialism which they experience day in and day out in democratic states of the 'North', which are otherwise mindful of human rights.
Though precise figures are not available, the United Nations' International Labour Organization (ILO), estimates that there are about 2.5 Million people trafficked every year across the borders worldwide. After drug dealing, human trafficking along with arms dealing is the second largest crime industry in the world (churning out 7-10 billion dollars a year), and is the fastest growing, says the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
Eurostat estimates that there were some 90,000 African migrant women in Europe in 2007, but countries like Italy, France, Ireland and Portugal had not given any data. In 2009, very few countries provided the numbers. Italy, however, reported about 30.000 African migrant women.
The German 'Bundesamt fuer Statistik' reported about 500,000 African migrants (men and women) in 2009 in the country. In Berlin alone, there are some 30.000 African migrants, half of them undocumented.
Against this backdrop, it was refreshing to hear the voices of the 'South' at a panel discussion of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung on June 8, 2011 in Berlin. Noteworthy indeed were the contributions of Tumenta F. Kennedy, senior global ethics adviser to Global Cooperation Council in Berlin, and Obadiah Mailafia of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States based in Brussels.
The two African speakers emphasized the urgency of dealing with the issue of refugees from Africa to Europe at a different level than the one which has been at the centre of media debate so far, that refugees and migrants from the African continent are a problem to be solved, a burden to be shared.
Both Kennedy and Mailafia underlined the pressing need to find sustainable solutions by avoiding superficial and exclusive measures, which could only lead to widening of the gap between North and South. The common ground where the twain could meet was shared values and a spirit of dialogue, at both political and economic level as well as at the profound level of human dignity.
This is what SOLWODI e.V. (Solidarity with Women in Distress) is about: an NGO founded in Kenya, combating for more than 25 years human trafficking in Kenya as well as in Germany and all over Europe. It has been working in Berlin for the last three years – mainly with African women victims of human trafficking.
They are the most evident example of the failure of our bilateral cooperation programmes and development policies. They are a concrete sign that something has gone wrong in our human rights discourse. Nonetheless, they are an evidence that 'truth' does not need advocacy, that truth can defend itself and find its ways through the underground, like fire in the ashes, till it breaks through and changes a system from below, showing that the power of life and the pride of people can neither be restrained nor stifled.
These women are here among us and, in spite of the suffering, have not lost their hope and their inner power. Their stories are all very similar. They left their countries because of poverty. Someone had to support the family. They were offered a job in Europe. There was anyway no alternative, so no use in asking too many questions. They left, facing a long journey through the desert, some didn't make it. Some arrived in Italy or Spain.
The only job for them was prostitution. Some were dispatched to Germany, others to another country of the North to satisfy demand as if they were commodities, easy to be accessed, used and thrown away.
This kind of black market is flourishing here and in our midst, in a so-called civilized world, where they are abused, ignored, marginalized and treated by our public offices as a burden for our society.
Those who have freed themselves from modern slavery have tried to get a baby from a man with permanent residence permit, the only possible way for them in Germany not to be repatriated, after having been abused, exploited and robbed of everything, including their self-respect. The laws are very clear, there is no other way.
But a baby for an African woman is a blessing, no matter what; this is the value of human life and dignity, which cannot be shaken. Thus, a shattered life is born again, stronger than before.
"I worked in many European countries as a prostitute. I did have to work as I was pregnant on the street. Then I escaped. In Berlin I gave birth to a premature child because of stress, after years of abuse. It was difficult, very difficult, but I'm strong and I know I will make it and my son will have a better future here in Germany. One day I'd like to work for an organization like yours and help women to get a chance, a second chance. God has given me the power to go on and to fight for my life. I know that, there is no human law that can defeat that. . . ."
Lovely (real name changed) is still living with a Duldung, a sort of temporary residence permit which doesn't allow the ones who are in its possession to secure even a minimum standard which every native German gets in order to survive.
Brigid (real name changed) has AIDS because of the abuse she endured, because of the strong demand for 'commodities' like her. "I wish me life and love, that's what I wish myself. There is a world of darkness trying to prevail but I know that love is stronger, love and family, that's what I dream of. I can see a bright future in front of me. I'm an optimist. . . ."
This is how she describes a painting, which she has done in SOLWODI centre. Her talent is incredible, incredible like her inner strength. Does our society want to miss the chance to relearn to hope, like Lovely, like Brigid, like many other African women, who in spite of great ordeals they have gone through, can still dance, sing, laugh and thank God for the gift of life?
* Beatrice Mariotti is counselor at SOLWODI in Berlin. (IDN-InDepthNews/04.07.2011)
2011 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters
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