„In the case of forced migration we have to find solutions for the main causes“
Albert Mashika is the Regional Coordinator of Caritas Africa. Caritas Africa has 46 national Caritas members in the Sub-Saharan region including islands in the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans. The organisation is one of the seven regions of the Confederation Caritas Internationalis.
We met Albert Mashika to talk about migration and sustainable development in Africa, the causes of forced migration and the expectations on the 2030 Agenda, an action plan agreed by all UN member states for a world that leaves no one behind.
For me home is a place where I can feel confident to live, where I can run my activities normally, where I can have friends and my family. Where I have access to basic services, health, education, and transport among others.
Caritas Austria: Albert Mashika, within your function as Regional Executive Secretary, you travel a lot all over Africa and Europe. What is home for you?
Mashika: For me home is a place where I can feel confident to live, where I can run my activities normally, where I can have friends and my family; where I have access to basic services, health, education, and transport among others.
Caritas Austria: Is migration an issue for African countries?
Mashika: African countries are both source countries and countries of destination for migrants and refugees. Migration is an issue because we are loosing people who could be useful to development of Africa. When we go through the data collected you can see that those who are migrating are young people. We are loosing arms and brain to be used for the development of Africa. But why are people migrating? There are many reasons: Some of them are migrating because of climate change. Others are moving because of the political situation, wars, and conflicts. They are looking for a secure place where they can develop activities.
Caritas Austria: Put simply from a European perspective “every African wants to come to Europe”.
Mashika: To state that all Africans want to come to Europe is not true. As you know, the whole continent has 54 countries with their population living, working, and studying there, and doing the best they can to be able to have their life in Africa. As Caritas Africa we cannot say, “Don’t move.” If they decide to do so, they are free. What we can do is to provide information about secure, safe and regular migration and promote integral human development.
Caritas Austria: The humanitarian crisis in the Middle East entailed large refugee movements towards Europe in the course of 2015/16 and the reaction of the population was twofold: On the one hand there was solidarity and on the other hand there was a lot of fear. Can you understand these dynamics?
Mashika: This can happen in every situation we are dealing with because situations have normally two faces – a positive and a negative one. What we can do is to maximize the positive aspects of migration and to minimize the negative ones. Then we can move forward with good things that migrants can bring to societies in Europe. It is the same in African countries.
Caritas Austria: We know that large refugee movements are frequently mixed. There are persons fleeing persecution, conflicts and wars, recognized by the refugee convention. What is Caritas Africa’s perspective on dealing with forced migration?
Mashika: To deal with forced migration I think much needs to be done on the part of Africa and Europe. Forced migration also implies actors who are provoking these movements: On the one hand in the context of insecurity these actors are armed groups forcing people to move. Some flee because they are opponents to the government in place. One of the best ways to deal with it would be to promote democracy in African countries, to make people free to express their opinion and ideas and to make them participate in the development of their respective countries.
In addition, others are forced to migrate because European companies in Africa exploit natural resources and thereby destroy the environment. As a consequence people are forced to move. That’s why we need to ask these companies exploiting natural resources in Africa to pay attention to the rights of local communities in terms of social responsibility. There are international agreements requesting companies to pay taxes to local communities and to support local communities’ initiatives in terms of compensations for environmental destruction. Some of the companies comply with the agreements but however, it is not enough.
Caritas Austria: How is migration linked to development?
Mashika: There is a link between migration and development. People who are migrating bring their arms, brains and their energy to contribute to the economy of the country of transit or destination. They are workers, they can be teachers. And in some European countries they work in the field of agriculture. So they are producing, they contribute to the economy. In Africa there is migration within the continent. 80 % of migrating people remain in African countries. Countries of destination for many Africans are South Africa, Nigeria, and Ivory Coast. Others migrate to the Middle East, Europe, or America. And they are participating in the economic activities of these countries.
Caritas Austria: Is there any public debate about these issues in African countries?
Mashika: There is a debate at African level. There are huge movements within Africa. In Africa we are recording not only African migrants but also other migratory movements from other continents such as Asia which is often overseen. In Africa we are considering this as a big issue. The African Union has its 2063 Agenda and a framework regarding migration and all states are requested to implement policies within this framework. Many Caritas organisations in Africa and many Bishops’ Conferences have set up a Commission for Migration. Churches are handling the issue of migration very carefully because all of us are affected by the dynamics of people moving from one country to another within Africa. The Church is very committed to promote the key 20 action points as stated by Pope Francis. Within the Caritas Africa’s Strategic framework for 2019-2023, we agreed to engage in terms of advocacy and in supporting some initiatives developed by people on the move - migrants, refugees, or displaced persons.
Caritas Austria: With the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, the European Union aims at better managing migration movements towards Europe. Civil society organisations critically observe that the fund is also used for controlling and managing borders and finally trying to stop international migration movements. How does this fit to the reality?
Mashika: You know in Africa people are attached to their lands. When they are obliged to leave their lands, there is a reason that has pushed them to leave their lands either because of insecurity and political reasons or for economic reasons. I think that in Africa this issue of controlling borders cannot have the same understanding as in Europe. In Africa people are identifying themselves with the land they have received from their ancestors. So when they are obliged to leave this land, it is lost, psychologically lost for them and for their children. Controlling borders is not among the activities of Caritas. For Caritas people are free to move and to remain where they are but what we can do is that, if they decide to move, we can give them some advice and information about the migration pathways, the negative and the positive aspects of their decisions, so they can decide better on the basis of knowing what is awaiting for them on their way.
Caritas Austria: In 2015 all UN-member States committed to the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development, a global plan of action for people, planet and prosperity. More generally speaking, which meaning does the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs have for African countries?
Mashika: The 2030 Agenda is very important for us: It’s a framework where the heads of states have taken a common commitment to build a better world and to do not leave anyone behind. This was a very important step. Now we have to see if the Heads of States are respecting the commitments they have taken at the level of the United Nations. For that, as Caritas, we have to remind them to respect their commitments.
Within Caritas Africa we have set up a reference group to support members in the region to advocate for the implementation of the SDGs. This year, Caritas members will also participate in the United Nations High-Level Political Forum in New York because some African countries will present their Voluntary National Report and they have to assure that the reports are reflecting the realities on the ground.
Caritas Austria: Within the 2030 Agenda the international community re-endorsed the longstanding internationally agreed target to contribute 0.7% of their gross national income to eradicate poverty, reduce inequality and promote sustainable development in developing countries. What do you expect from development cooperation more generally speaking?
Mashika: I think there is a lot to do for the civil society organisations in Europe to sensitize the governments to respect the commitment because many are far off reaching the 0.7-target. The governments should respect this commitment and rise their funding to the level of 0.7 % of GNI.
Caritas Austria: How do you see the future development of Africa?
Mashika: In May 2019, Caritas Africa will be having its regional assembly/conference and the theme will be “Africa - the land of hope”. Africa is the land of hope because we have natural resources, human resources, and civil society and community organisations on the ground. At the same time we face many challenges. Therefore we as Africans need to join forces. One of the most important steps for Africa is to improve good governance and responsive leadership. If there is good leadership in Africa, things can change and there is hope that things will change to the better. Many things depend on the will of the power holders. The Church has also a role to play in terms of capacity building of civil society actors, community organisations and Church bodies in order to enable them to raise their voices for the voiceless and provide services for integral human development. There is hope to see Africa stand up and be rebuilt.
Caritas Austria: Many people in Europe think they cannot play a role in development as such. They see it as responsibilities of states and international organisations. Are there things that every person could do?
Mashika: Everybody has a role to play in building fraternal and fair societies. Use it in the best way you can and contribute to build a global world of solidarity, justice, and peace.
(Interview taken in Ljubljana, 20th of February 2019)