In the previous episodes of the Guinea series, we met Mamadou and Fana. They each embarked on a dangerous migration route they call “the adventure” from Africa to Europe – with one crucial difference: Mamadou failed and Fana made it to France.
The pressure to succeed in ‘the adventure’ is high. Whether you make it to Europe, or return to Africa, there are many new challenges.
In this episode of Cry Like A Boy, we discuss how governments and host countries can make the experience easier for people who migrate to different countries, with a focus on the situation in South Africa. We also discuss how climate change is affecting migration.
Sharon Ekambaram, a South African lawyer and rights activist, and Julie Kleinman, a US anthropologist and author of the book “Adventure Capital: Migration and the Making of an African Hub in Paris”, join Khopotso Bodibe to talk about these issues.
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TOUNKAN NAMO IN GUINEA: UNWELCOME HOME – TRANSCRIPT
Khopotso Bodibe: Welcome to Cry Like a Boy, a Euronews original series and podcast that explores how the pressure to be a man can harm families and societies. Stay with us as we travel across the African continent to meet the men who defy centuries-old stereotypes.
In the previous episodes, we talked about how migrant communities create a new home in host countries. Today we continue our conversation with Sharon Ekambaram, a human rights activist based in Johannesburg, South Africa, and Julie Kleinman, author of the book, “Adventure Capital: Migration and the Making of an African Hub in Paris,” who is based in Bamako, Mali. I am Khopotso Bodibe, with you from Johannesburg. Hello to you.
If you haven’t heard the documentary episodes of our Guinean series, we invite you to do so by visiting our website at www.euronews.com/2020/12/23/podcast-cry-like-a-boy-all-episodes.
You will meet two Guinean men, Mamadou and Fana, who each embarked on a dangerous migration route they call “the adventure” from Africa to Europe – with one crucial difference: Mamadou failed and Fana made it to France. Each had to deal with stigma and overcome many obstacles, but they both became a hero in their adventure.
Let me briefly re-introduce you to our guests.
Sharon Ekambaram is the Head of the refugee and migrant rights programme at Lawyers for Human Rights in South Africa. The programme makes sure that asylum seekers and refugees have easily available legal advice. Sharon is also working to combat xenophobia through engagement and education at community level.
Julie Kleinman is an urban anthropologist at Fordham University, NYC. Her research is centered around France and francophone West Africa. Julie’s book, “Adventure Capital: Migration and the Making of an African Hub in Paris”, examines how West African migrants adapt to their new homes and find ways to reach social and economic success as state institutions fail to help them.
Khopotso Bodibe: In the previous episode, we spoke about how migrants create communities and communicate with host societies. Julie, how do West African migrants communicate with the state in France?
Julie Kleinman: There are several ways that West African migrants end up having to interface with the state, the first way is through all of the kinds of state agents that they encounter from the moment that they set foot off and now on French soil or in Europe. In many cases, they may have to deal with Frontex border agents. They may be asking for asylum depending on how they get in. So in many ways, they’re immediately in contact with the state, and then in their everyday life, they are often confronted with having to deal with the bureaucracy. They’re always seeking to get legal status. And so they’re constantly involved in these bureaucratic itineraries that can be quite complex and purposefully difficult.
I myself lived in France for quite a while as a foreigner, and it was very difficult for me to get papers at various points and not as a white American woman. Of course, for West Africans, it’s even more difficult and they’re in much more precarious situations. And often, for this reason, they’re under deportation orders.
They are often frequently in contact with the police and trying to avoid the police. But sometimes the police are a nuisance that they have to deal with. And of course, I should add that many West Africans are in France legally. They have legal status. They have resident and work permits, but they, too, have to constantly be renewing those work permits, renewing their residence permits.
At the same time, they tried to turn around their conversations with the police. They try to retell these stories to each other, to use them in their own interactions and find some sort of meaning in them, because otherwise, they were facing what they felt was like an attack on their dignity and often a daily attack on their dignity for those who use public transportation frequently and were constantly being stopped by the police.
Khopotso Bodibe: Let me turn to you, Sharon, in your work, you help refugees and asylum seekers to successfully deal with the state in South Africa. What are the main issues that you encounter?
Sharon Ekambaram: People wait as Julie has described, for West Africa. In our instance, you know, people have to go back every three months to have their papers renewed.
The other related problem is now our government has just recently promulgated amendments to the Refugee Act, which are incredibly regressive. At one stage, we were championed as having the most progressive refugee policy in the world. It respected human rights. It’s not refugee-based, refugee camp-based rather than about urban integration. But the policy shifts are clearly a regression to mimic. As I pointed out earlier, to countries like Europe and America, where extremely restrictive measures are being taken and where people are going to be overwhelmed with bureaucracy and paper trail and in that way be denied access to you to be protected as refugees.
So I think those are some of the ongoing problems we experience and under COVID all the refugee reception offices were closed in March of 2020, and it’s now been over a year that those offices have been closed. And while the government issues regular directives, the Department of Home Affairs points out that there’s been a general extension of all permits that have, though their physical paper does appear to make it appear as though it expired, but according to the government, the permits have been extended.
But with this information, there is no political will to inform all the stakeholders about this, the changes, and what is taking place with asylum seekers and refugees. So the banks would not grant you the ability to withdraw money because your permit has expired. Your children can’t go to school. Young people can’t write matrices because they have expired permits. People cannot go into hospitals for basic services of health care because they have expired permits.
And this is purely because the Department of Home Affairs refused to make the effort to treat people like human beings and inform all these relevant departments and the mining companies that this is the current situation under COVID.
Khopotso Bodibe: Julie, your recent work is centered around the migrants of return in Mali. Some people we talked to from neighbouring Guinea expressed strong disapproval of those who failed to migrate to Europe. Let me play an excerpt from one of our documentaries on this.
Now, the migration routes that people actually embark on are extremely dangerous and costly in a lot of ways. People starve in the desert. They might do forced labour to get some food. They get in trouble with authorities. In your opinion, why aren’t some of their families and friends happy that they’ve returned home safe and in one piece, Julie?
Julie Kleinman: I think this is in some ways such a hard question because it’s so painful for these migrants and for their families who have lost people in many cases. The first reason is related to the very difficult situations that many of these families in this part of West Africa are facing because of successive droughts and because of their position in rural, often remote areas where it can be hard to access clean water.
For example, migration in many of these areas is a necessity that they must migrate. So, yes, they migrate and also in order to become a man, to go on this initial initiatory journey and succeed as a man and show their success and status. But they also migrate because they don’t really have a choice. These villages need migrants to survive to get by.
Their governments cannot or do not provide enough for them. And the period in between harvests harvests, that period between harvests is often longer and longer because of climate change. And that long period creates extremely difficult situations for these villages. So they really need the influx of money and remittances from migrants.
So when they send people, yes, they invest in people. And yes, it’s costly, but it’s also really their hope for the future. And so these men migrate with that weight, with that burden on their shoulders.
When they are deported, even though, of course, this is no fault of their own, they are very aware that they have failed their communities and they feel like failures. As you can hear in the voice of this man talking on the podcast as well from Guinea. And because they feel like such failures, they often do not want to return to their home communities.
In my research, I’ve even encountered men who will pretend that they are still abroad while they return to their countries and they stay in the capital and they don’t go home. And they try to remit small amounts of money in this facade of pretending that their migration continues instead of facing the shame.
And the other reason why it’s shameful is because as the migrants themselves are aware and of course the families are aware, the shame is not just on the migrant, but on the whole family. So it attacks the dignity of the whole lineage or the whole family. When migrants fail, often other people in the community will say, oh, it’s because their father or their mother or someone in their family was cursed and so that family can gain a reputation or a bad reputation because of the failure.
Also, families see how successful migrants are. The ones building wells, building water towers, and other important infrastructure in these villages. Migrants contribute so much to that. And when their family fails to create such a contribution, they also lose status in their own communities. And because of all that, all that burden lies on the back of the migrant themselves, even though, of course, it’s because of the restrictive migration policy that they are deported.
Khopotso Bodibe: How can governments and host countries make the migrant experience easier for people who migrate into different countries, particularly looking at the South African situation?
Sharon Ekambaram: You know, I think we are going to need to change the narrative to start with. And the first part of that is first to address what we are doing to the planet, that impact on forced migration. The World Bank has produced incredible research on the impact, particularly on Sub-Saharan Africa and how people can’t live off the land and are fleeing, leaving because of that.
So the need to actually recognise climate refugees, I think is critical. And we know, again what the enormity of the problem is and how we share resources to manage this. And, you know, we’ve seen what’s happening in Mozambique with the floods, the cyclones, and that causes displacement. And we’ve got to anticipate this. We’ve got to be able to put together resources globally to respond to the impact on human beings of the climate crisis.
The second way of changing the narrative also is to actually provide proper statistics and research on the positive impact that migrants, foreign nationals are making on our economy. The informal economy currently in South Africa is the only place where jobs are being created, where livelihood is taking place compared to what’s happening in the private sector compared to policies like outsourcing, privatisation, which is having a major impact on South African communities of the kind of bloodbath with respect to loss of jobs that I that I mentioned.
So I think that that’s the first starting point. The next point I would feel is for us to build solidarity in communities. We’ve got to deal with this xenophobia that’s dividing our communities and weakening us in our ability to hold our government to account.
Khopotso Bodibe: Julie, your response to the same question, please.
Julie Kleinman: I want to echo a lot of what Sharon said. I found similar things in my research that host countries need to realise the positive impact that migrants make. But, of course, I think most countries do realise that. It’s just that, unfortunately, xenophobia is such a valuable political currency that even though they might know that migrants are essential workers, that they support the economy, that they support shrinking populations, in the case of Europe, they do not want to admit that.
I also want to point to, I think what we need to pay attention now is to the ways that migrants themselves are organising politically and making political claims. So in the case of Mali, for example, there are migrant rights groups, both Malian migrant rights groups and other migrant rights groups of Central Africans been deported, but ended up back in Mali who tried to migrate to Europe, who are mobilising for their rights on the international stage, who are mobilising for their rights vis a vis the Malian state. And these groups are making particular claims on the dignity of migrants. They are trying to reduce the stigma of the deported migrant and explain how deported migrants and migrants, in general, can contribute to their host country after they return.
But at the same time, they’re lobbying European and European courts. They’re lobbying European governments for more just migration regimes. And I think what we really need to do is pay attention to these deportee activists who are mobilising for their rights.
Khopotso Bodibe: On that note, I would like to thank the both of you, Sharon and Julie, for engaging us here. Thank you for joining us for this episode of Cry Like a Boy.
Julie Kleinman: Thank you so much.
Sharon Ekambaram: Thank you very much.
This show has been produced with me, Khopotso Bodibe, Makeme Bamba in Conakry, Guinea, Naira Davlashyan, Marta Rodríguez-Martinez, Lillo Montalto Monella and Mame Peya Diaw in Lyon, France, Arwa Barkallah in Dakar, Senegal.
Special thanks go to Lory Martinez, Clizia Sala, and Studio Ochenta for helping us produce this podcast. Theme by Gabriel Dalmasso.
Our editor-in-chief is Yasir Khan.
I would like to thank our guests Sharon Ekambaram and Julie Kleinman. For more information on Cry Like a Boy, a Euronews original series and podcast, go to Euronews.com to find opinion pieces, videos, and articles on the topic.
Follow us on Twitter @Euronews and we are @Euronews.TV on Instagram. Also, share with us your own stories of how you changed and challenged your view on what it means to be a man using the hashtag #crylikeaboy. If you are a French speaker, this podcast is also available in French. “Dans la Tête des Hommes” is the name of the podcast series.
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