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January 1999, Volume 6, Number 1

Immigration in Africa

There are eight million refugees in Africa, a 500 percent increase over 1993, and another 15 million people have been displaced within their countries, usually by war.

South Africa. The South Africa Human Rights Commission launched a campaign against xenophobia, noting that 30 foreigners had been murdered in South Africa over the past two years. The Commission plans to publicize the rights of foreign hawkers and migrant workers and to monitor police actions directed toward foreigners.

The number of legal guest workers in South Africa fell from 600,000 in the early 1950s to 150,000 in the mid-1990s, while the number of unauthorized migrants apprehended and removed from South Africa has more than quadrupled. On December 10, 1998 the Mozambican parliament condemned South Africa's treatment of illegal immigrants, citing cases of summary deportation, poor treatment and the kidnapping of 17 Mozambican women. The 17 women were allegedly lured to Johannesburg by promises of work and were instead held as prostitutes for four months. Four of the women escaped in late November and asked the police to find their 13 companions, but were instead deported. On December 4, 1998, some of the 600 illegal migrants delivered from holding cells in Johannesburg to the border town of Ressano Garcia as part of a weekly South African Home Affairs train convoy showed bruises and other signs of abuse.

There are 7,000 foreign-trained doctors in South Africa, including 2,300 with "limited registration," meaning that they can work only in public hospitals.

Kenya. Kenya launched a crackdown on illegal aliens in November 1998, prompting allegations of rape, looting and harassment of foreigners by the police. Police surrounded shopping centers, stopping all "Asians" and demanding papers. Most illegal aliens are sentenced to prison and then deported after serving their sentences.

Many of those arrested are Indians, some of whom have been encouraged to come to Kenya by travel agents who promise them good jobs. An estimated 40,000 to 50,000 Gujarati and Pakistani unskilled or semi-skilled laborers have arrived in Kenya in the past four years, while the number of work permits issued to foreigners dropped from 19,000 in 1989 to 9,000 in 1997. Many of the Asians arrive in Kenya as tourists coming to visit relatives; when caught, they admit that they were recruited by employment agencies offering high wage jobs in hotels. Diamond Plaza in Narobi has become an informal labor market for foreigners.

A top Kenyan official announced on December 1, World AIDS Day, that the immigration department has been instructed to deport all foreign prostitutes with AIDS living in Kenya. The announcement was criticized by many sectors of Kenyan society, including the Catholic Archbishop of Kenya and the Kenya Medical Association. There are an estimated 1.2 million people in Kenya who are infected by AIDS, and the number is expected to reach 1.8 million by 2003.

Zambia. The government of Zambia announced that it would tighten the issuance of national registration cards and institute closer liaison with UNHCR to ensure that refugees were kept in designated areas. The government says illegal immigrants and refugees are among the causes of an increase in crime in Zambia. Immigrants without proper documentation will be deported immediately.

Sierra Leone. A Nigerian-led peacekeeping force known as ECOMOG forced a military junta out of power early in 1998, but did not stop the fighting along a 1,000-mile stretch of West African coast that has destabilized Liberia, Guinea-Bissau and Senegal's Casamance region, generating over 700,000 refugees. Sierra Leone has five million residents, and which means that about 14 percent of the population are refugees in neighboring nations. About half of Liberia's three million residents left during fighting there and many remain overseas.


James Rupert, "Conflict Crosses Borders in W. Africa," Washington Post, December 17, 1998. "Mozambican MP's Slam South Africa's Treatment of Illegals," South African Press Agency, December 10, 1998. "SAHRC Launches National Action Plan to Fight Xenophobia," South African Press Agency, December 9, 1998. "State to screen foreigners to curb crime," Times of Sambia, December 7, 1998. "Proposed deportation of sex workers sparks anger," Inter Press Service, December 7, 1998. "Rights Abuses Alleged as Police Net 542 Aliens," The Nation (Kenya), December 6, 1998.