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I wasn’t searching for anything, but I found it in Ghana-By Marvin Hokstam

By Marvin Hokstam

There’s a cure for people who are tired of being met with racism, discrimination, distrust, marginalization, nepotism and so on, simply because of their skin color. It’s a simple two-step remedy that should work like a charm and will leave you enlightened like one of those born-again Christians who claim they have seen the light and know better.

Ready for it?

The cure is: go to Africa.

 

The thing about having to live with racism in the western world, is that it subtly gnaws away bits of your safety and your sanity that you are entitled to as a human being.

If you’re like me, you’re constantly on guard for those sudden moments that it will jump out and try to take your peace of mind and your safety from you. That lady who will clutch her handbag when she notices you on the other side of the street. That dude who constantly has to prove to you that he is better, even while the only thing that sets him apart from you is that he was born with skin that’s a few tints lighter than yours; some people really believe that makes them better! People who refuse to sit next to you on the train, even on those days that you know you look extra fly. Not getting paid what you’re worth. Not getting the job you’re overqualified for.

We have been conditioned to live with the knowledge that these things happen; some of us are constantly fighting them, while others don’t know better and accept the world as is. Like those parts of the world where things are worse were made for us and everybody else whose skin tone is lighter, is automatically entitled to everything better. People have recommended that I shrug this off.

Ready

I’m here to tell you there’s a different feeling too. I felt it from the moment I arrived in Ghana a few weeks ago. My first visit to the continent had multiple layers of “special” stacked on top of each other; the main mission was to go mount a photograph of my slavery hero great-great-great grandfather Broos at a museum, which was extra special.

Read up on that here:

But there was more. Much more.

As turbulence was gently rocking the descending aircraft and we were being told to stow away our tray tables and turn off all electrical apparatus, I peeked out of the window and soaked in a bird’s eyes view of the continent of my forefathers before they were stolen. Western media had told me lies on top of lies about this place; lies about dominating poverty and tearslurping flies in the corners of hungry airbellied children’s eyes, lies that this place was in perpetual darkness, stuck in the dark ages and the destructive warfare that was supposed to be akin to Black people.

I have always known better than to believe the biased image western media have constructed about Africa, but even then, when I was asked to go on this trip, I found that making the decision was like ripping a bandage off a gaping wound. Was I ready?

My GF Marjan knew just what to say to massacre that insecurity. “You have always said that the first time you would go to Africa would have to be special; it doesn’t get any more special than honoring your ancestor by mounting his photograph in a museum. This is it!”

So now, as I peeked out of the aircraft, all I could see from way up in the dark of the 8.00pm night were lights for as far as my eyes could stretch. Lights and life. And I knew I was ready.

Then we touched down and the warmth of the continent was enveloping me; welcoming me like a cozy blanket into the home I had never before been to. It’s an indescribable feeling. Like getting first impressions about a place that’s new to you but that you know so well. It’s as hard to explain as it is to comprehend.

“Welcome home,” said the customs supervisor who had sauntered by to check if her subordinates were doing their job well. She was short and stout and her face was hidden behind a facemask, but I could see her eyes glistening naughtily as she surveyed the tall visitor that towered over her. Then her eyes smiled at me and she told me I was good to go. As I walked off with my suitcase she said “I like your hair.” Approvingly.

And that hit me.

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I grew up in Suriname in a time when colonialism made it rule in my country that my kind of hair had to either be shaved off or straightened. I have that hair that grows in miniscule curls that coil like tiny springs. It didn’t grow into that big round halo afro crown that was popular in the seventies, and I couldn’t even dream of the jerry curls of the eighties. I vividly remember schoolmates making fun of me, my Black skin and my hair, telling me that if I ever go to China I would become a millionaire by selling the springs in my hair to people who make watches. I’ve been to China and I nobody offered to buy my hair. Dumbasses!

I grew up insecure about my hair and maybe it came instinctively that I shaved it off weekly for more than 20 years to look like Michael Jordan. Then last year during the first wave of COVID, I left it to grow, thick and bushy and curly like black lambswool with distinguished specks of gray, and that surprised many people who really thought stupidly that I had been bald all the while. And clean shaven is still preferred, it seemed, not my natural hair that automatically grows out of my body.

“Are you a bush man?” someone asked brazenly, a few moments before I told her to kiss the entire center of my behind. But I must also admit that it even took me some getting used to, because I hadn’t had it like this for so long.

And here I was, arriving in the continent where my people were actually from and someone who runs the border, gives meaning to those four words “I like your hair” without consciously intending to. If that isn’t homecoming I don’t know what is.

It was that kind of week yes. Everybody looked like me. I saw a dude who looked like my big nephew Sergio, complete with the massive biceps. Another one looked like Urwin. From the side, the taxi driver who couldn’t believe that there were racist people in the Netherlands, looked like my dad. When I told a beautiful woman that she reminded me of an ex-GF from many years ago, she gave me the once over and asked “but are you seeing someone now?”

 

Nobody gave me the side-eye because of my skin color.

As a matter of fact, they tried to claim me! “You’re Gã. Like me,” the conga player at the National Theater said. He had those tribal tattoos in his face, called Akam, tiny cuts that his mom sliced in his face and filled with stuff to ward him from the spirits that had taken his brothers from her.

Nana, the prolific media entrepreneur who insisted that like him I am from the tall, forceful Denkyra people from the north -which of course I believed. He also had Akam, on both of his cheeks, and I wanted them too.

Korku Limor, the brilliant TV interviewer who smiled proudly as I was telling him the story of how my ancestor withstood the colonial powers and carved out a Kingdom in the forest of Suriname.

“So actually, I am a little bit of a prince,” I joked, thinking he would skid past it, but he latched on. “But you are! Not to discriminate against those of us who don’t have height, but you see, look at you! Because of your height, anyone could tell that probably you were from a certain descendance of warriors”.

 

https://youtu.be/UKfNMiOyBk4

 

I really liked Korku. He got it.

So now I insist that my friends address me as Prince.

Prince Kofi, to be exact, in honor of my born day, Friday.

Some of them refuse.

Yeah well. They don’t know any better.

Korku does.

 

Warts and all

There’s safety in being only with people who look like you. Ignorant people turn it into a reason to be racist against people who don’t look like them, but the non-ignorant know how to make it into a beautiful homecoming for people who experience it for the first time.

I have always said that I am an “African who was born in Suriname” and I always thought that I had a full comprehension of what that meant. I didn’t. I didn’t know I was looking for something, but when I found it I immediately recognized it.

Like that feeling I got every time we drove by Makola market in Accra. The main road slices through that bustle of thousands of people trying to earn a living. Nobody’s gonna do it for you, so everybody’s busy, nobody’s got time. Cars, trucks, buses all honking their way amongst this beautifully organized chaos.

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I always loved a market. They are all the same. That same smell that’s a blend of fruits and vegetables, fish and all types of other merchandise that people sell, with a subtle hint of raw sewage. In Western movies these spots are always portrayed as dangerous, messy, like powder kegs in a fire factory. You’re supposed to feel unsafe. I didn’t.

I hadn’t seen it, felt it, smelled it for years, but it immediately drew me in; so when our Uber got strangled in a traffic bottleneck again, I jumped out to go walk around in it for a while. That atmosphere that I knew from the markets in Suriname, Guyana, Trinidad, Curacao and other Caribbean islands that I have bummed in, took me in. I reminisced. I felt like I belonged. I didn’t need anything from there, but I didn’t want to leave there.

“Could you please take my picture,” I asked a woman behind a stall. She looked at me, but got distracted by a customer. When he left she was surprised that I was still there. “What was that?” she asked. “If you could please take my picture,” and I held out my phone for her, camera at the ready. She looked at me and I could hear her suck her teeth inaudibly inside her head. Then she said wryly: “Can’t you take a selfie?”

Then she had another customer and she turned away to go make a living. Because nobody’s gonna do it for you, so everybody’s busy, nobody’s got time.

I did not feel insulted. This trip was intended to be special, so I had readied myself for the country and the differences in attitudes between my western condition and the way of the people that I am really from. And my intention had been to take as much of it in as possible. Warts and all. The waitress was rude at the restaurant in Cape Coast that served the best grilled tilapia and food often took too long to get to your plate, but when every other experience is next-level, warts glide off you like oil on water.

 

Traffic had me on the edge of my seat.

You know those moments in traffic when someone cuts you off and you have to jump on your brake and the person behind you jumps on his and everything gets gridlocked and road rage takes over? This place proves that those moments are exaggerations. Bumper to bumper is science here and our Ubers only seemed to stop just mere milliseconds before they would gravely violate the car in front of us. I have paid close attention, but I still don’t know how they do it.

There was this one time our driver almost hit a car in front of us, so he stopped abruptly and then I heard a motorbike crash into us from behind. “Èh èh”, I heard someone say outside. We drove to the side of the road and the tire was scraping against our bumper that the motorbike had busted. Our driver got out, I heard the motorbiker say “sorry”, then our driver walked to the back of his car, slapped his bumper straight and got back in. He didn’t say a word to us, didn’t convey any emotion about what had just happened. He just pushed on, making his living. bumper to bumper. Nobody else was gonna do it for him and he wouldn’t waste time on frivolities.

The motorbike that hit us was an Okada, a motorbike taxi. For a small fee, you may hop on for a short ride.

Past experiences have left me chicken-hearted and horrified of motorbikes, but from when I saw this I knew I would ride an Okada before I left. So when I walked out of the craft market in Accra on my last day in the country, and a guy yelled “yo! need a ride bro?”, I took a breath and a chance. Live a little, right?

Off we went, zigzagging between the cars and trucks and pedestrians, him honking, me careful that my knees that stuck out wide, wouldn’t hit anything.

https://youtu.be/PB7E5jkJcEY

 

The skinny lady from the reception at the hotel happened to be outside when we arrived and she burst out laughing when she saw me. “You’re a Ghanaian, man!”

The guy said I owed him seven CEDI (1,02 euro) for the ride, but the extra gray hairs I had accumulated and the adrenaline I had used up, made it priceless! So, I gave him 20.

 

A two-step remedy

 

Being in Ghana was an escape from something that bothers me above everything else: that people that look like me just have to learn to accept the world the way it is, even if it meant accepting the worst conditions possible. Being expected to shrug it off.

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I was talking to someone there and I kept mentioning “us Black people” like we do in my part of the world, and he kept being surprised by that; and then it dawned on me that I was in a country where everyone is Black, so we are “people”.

It was enriching and liberating to realize that there are people who don’t have to understand the distinction of Blackness, because it’s all they know.

Yes, I know, my training as a travel writer conditions me to write in sheer superlatives about countries that I visit for short trips like this. Yes, I saw poverty. Yes, my heart was bleeding every time little children would storm our car in droves, and their begging faces would flank the windows from all sides. Yes, it hurt to look away because you knew you can’t help them all. Sure, I know that it’s even worse in other countries on the continent. Yes, I am aware that the insistent picture the western media holds up about Africa is correct on some counts.

But yes! It felt good to escape to this safety of the home I had never before been to. I saw where my people had been stolen from and my respect for what they endured and survived for me to thrive, has found new depths.

I cried as I washed myself in the Slave River at Assin Manso, where they were allowed to take their last bath before they were sold like cattle. At this sacred place, I bathed my head to think, my shoulders to carry weight, my legs to carry me. And as my tears mixed with tears of my ancestors that still flow there, I realized even more that I belonged here as much as in the place where they were kidnapped to, but where they conquered and withstood. I understood that their survival is why I have to continue to conquer and withstand.

Yes, I know that a lot was taken from us and a lot is left to be restored, but the pride I felt walking amongst people whose prime objective every day is to make it the best day possible, no matter the circumstances they were left with … that pride is unsurpassable. It gave me hope, strengthened me to do what I do where I have to be now, until I can return.

Ghana is my Mecca.

Africa should be the Mecca of all people whose ancestors were once stolen and enslaved.

Remember what Bunny Wailer said?

“Don’t care where you come from. As long as you’re a Black man, you’re an African. No mind your nationality. You’ve got the identity of an African”

He knew what he was talking about.

The Pan Africanist W.E.B. Dubois whose house we visited, knew it too.

Like I said at the beginning: there’s a simple remedy to many things that we are expected to endure in the west. That will leave you enlightened.

Being among people who don’t consider themselves Black, but People, because their dignity is all they know, was an experience that made me realize even more than before that I should not, do not have to restrain myself to make anyone feel comfortable around me.

I remember that in the past, if I would be in a dark street and I would see a woman approaching, I would cross the street to make them feel safe. The chivalrous thing to do, but I was unconsciously telling the world that I was aware that I could be considered dangerous.

Africa fully cured me of that.

It may cure you too.

It’s a two-step remedy.

Step 1. Decide to go to Africa.

Step 2. Go to Africa.

Return

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They lost everything: Recovering from the strongest storm ever recorded in the Horn of Africa

More than 60,000 people, many of them internally displaced and refugees, were affected when Cyclone Gati made landfall in the northeastern part of Somalia in November 2020 following two days of heavy rains.

The tropical cyclone, equivalent to a Category 3 hurricane, was the strongest storm ever recorded in the northern Indian Ocean and wreaked unimaginable damage, dumping an incredible two years’ worth of rainfall in 72 hours.

Just two weeks later, when aid agencies surveyed the damage, the scale of the disaster revealed widespread destruction of property and livelihoods. People lost their livestock; fishing and agriculture were disrupted, wells inundated, houses destroyed, and some 42,000 people displaced.

For many, this was not the first time they were being forced to flee their homes due to natural hazards, exacerbated by climate change. Kalson, a 40-year-old Ethiopian and single mother of 13 children, knows too well what it means to depend on the weather to survive.

Originally from Kelafo, a rural town in the Somali region of Ethiopia, Kalson used to produce enough food from her small farm to feed her big family. But six years ago, reeling from persistent water scarcity and inter-clan violence, Kalson had no choice but to leave.

Consultation with communities to decide what household items they need. Photo: IOM

“My relatives encouraged me to come to Bossaso – they told me that it was much more stable, and that it had a market centre where I could find work to feed my children,” she explains.

After five days of walking through harsh terrain – a perilous journey in which many are said to have died of starvation or mauled to death by wild animals – Kalson arrived in Bossaso’s Biyo Kulel informal settlement with her children.

“We arrived with nothing,” she recalls. “We haven’t been able to find the stable work I had been told about. Sometimes we manage to find some short-term work to bring home a day’s wages.” Kalson and her 13 children now depend on well-wishers giving them “whatever change they have to spare.”

READ  Economic shocks of COVID-19 disproportionately affects displaced Venezuelans in Peru, new research finds

The number of people who, like Kalson, will be forced to move due to extreme weather-related events are expected to be more frequent and will do so in higher numbers in the next decades. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, nearly 25 million people were forcibly displaced in 2019 due to natural disasters, compared to the approximately 8.6 million displaced by conflict and violence.

In 2018, more than 160 United Nations Member States endorsed the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM), which emphasizes the role of climate change as a driver of forced migration, and made commitments to work together with both migrants and States to minimize risks while protecting and preserving the human dignity of migrants.

Drought in 2018. Photo: IOM/Muse Mohamed

When the climate turns against you  

Kalson’s story reflects the situation of thousands of other people living in informal settlements in Somalia. They come from all around the region, escaping years of failed harvests and conflict to try their luck in the port city, famous for its exports of livestock to the Middle East, and a main gateway for migrants heading towards the Gulf.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM)estimates that there are over 100,000 migrants and displaced people in Bossaso forced to live without adequate water, food or shelter. The cyclone made it worse, sweeping away the little they had.

“We had nothing to sleep on, nothing to cook with, nothing to fetch water with, nothing to wear,” Amina, another Ethiopian migrant from Kelafo, recalls of the devastation caused by the cyclone. “The flood destroyed our buuls (makeshift shelters in Somali) and we lost every single item we had.” For some families this included tools that enabled them to earn a living.

As part of recovery efforts and to meet the urgent needs of some of these families, in March 2021 IOM provided 1,500 families with USD 100 each to buy items from local shops that would enable them to rebuild their shelters. This was the first assistance they received since the cyclone occurred.

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“We still have a lot of urgent needs,” Kalson implores. “Our buul is very damaged, and I hope to send my children to school soon. But at least now we can sleep and eat safely.”

Their e-vouchers allowed them to purchase 60 items previously selected by the community to help improve their quality of life, including personal hygiene items. Women and girls’ inputs were sought throughout the process to ensure that their needs were met.

It is hoped that the items they purchased will help them to rebuild their lives in their new shelters, freeing up their daily wages to invest in small businesses or in their children’s education. This will also help keep them away from negative coping mechanisms that may result in further vulnerability.

Jama, a camel herder, carries his jerrycans filled with water at a borehole in Garowe. Photo: IOM

Integration as a way forward 

Going back to Ethiopia is not a safe option for many of these displaced families. The instability in Kalson and Amina’s region persists and the environmental degradation worsens each year.

“Many of the climate-induced migrants are not able to return to their places of origin. There is nothing there for them anymore; they can’t grow their crops or rear their livestock and are constantly worried about their well-being and livelihoods due to the unpredictable weather,” says Lana Goral, Migration, Environment, and Climate Change Officer in IOM Somalia.

Those living in the Horn of Africa have long found themselves impacted by the consequences of climate change. For decades, changing weather patterns have caused devastating floods followed by long periods of drought and then floods again. This is in addition to over  30 years of armed conflict and instability that have gripped the region.

Informal settlement in Bossaso affected by the torrential rains. Photo: IOM

“Now our focus is on how we can support these communities in the long-term while promoting climate-adaptive solutions. One of the first steps is to move from the idea of the city as a precarious space of refuge to the city as a space of inclusion and resilience for these communities. A place where they can build up new skills adapted to their new environment,” Goral adds.

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Programmes that help these displaced populations to sustainably integrate in urban centers are key in places like Somalia, where the climate is projected to become drier, warmer, more erratic and more extreme, and thus affecting the way rural and nomadic communities have lived for centuries.

During an IOM research exercise carried out last year on climate change and displacement, a participant stressed the dire nature of how climate change is slowly degrading the environment, making it impossible to return to rural areas.

“What should they go back to? They have lost or sold their property, their land is eroded, droughts are increasingly severe, and some of them have even lost their skills. So, it’s a one-way trip.”

Just four months into 2021, alarming water shortages are reported in most parts of the country with nearly 2 million people in urgent need of food support.

IOM, together with the Federal Government of Somalia and aid partners, continues to support populations impacted by climate disasters. Learn more about IOM’s work on displacement and climate change in Somalia: Identifying Climate Adaptative Solutions to Somalia’s Internal Displacement.

Support Voice for African Migrants


Support VOICE FOR AFRICAN MIGRANTS journalism of integrity and credibility.

Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.

For continued free access to the best and latest migration, trafficking, displacement and humanitarian reports including thorough investigative reports in these areas, we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.

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Nigerians, nationals of other 18 countries barred from applying for DV-2023 Diversity Visa Green Card Lottery

 

Nigerians  and nationals of other 18 countries have been barred from applying for 2023  Diversity Visa Lottery recently announced by the United States of America.

To enter the DV-2023 Diversity Visa Green Card Lottery,  you must be native of a country with a low immigration rate to the USA to qualify for the USA Diversity Visa Lottery. People born in countries with high U.S. immigration are excluded from this Diversity Visa Lottery. Nigeria and the other countries are included in the list of countries that have over 50, 000 nationals who have benefited from the programme.

The announcement reads: “Please see the list below of countries whose natives are currently excluded from the USA Diversity Lottery. Please note that eligibility is determined only by the country of your birth, not based on country of citizenship or current residence. This is the most common misperception. The only change this year is that people born Honduras and Hong Kong SAR are no longer eligible to enter the DV-2023 green card lottery.

Natives of the following countries are excluded from entering the DV-2023 Diversity Visa Lottery program this year:

  • Bangladesh
  • Brazil
  • Canada
  • China (Including Hong Kong SAR)
  • Colombia
  • Dominican Republic
  • El Salvador
  • Haiti
  • Honduras
  • India
  • Jamaica
  • Mexico
  • Nigeria
  • Pakistan
  • Peru
  • Philippines
  • South Korea
  • United Kingdom (except Northern Ireland)
  • Vietnam

Note that United Kingdom includes the following dependent areas: Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, Pitcairn, St. Helena, and Turks and Caicos Islands. Northern Ireland does qualify.

Persons born in the Gaza Strip are chargeable to Egypt for the USA Diversity Visa Lottery this year.

Persons born in Macau SAR and Taiwan are also eligible to enter the DV-2023 Lottery.

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Natives from all other countries may register for this years DV-Lottery, the USA DV-2023 Diversity Visa Lottery.

If you were born in one of the non-qualifying DV-Lottery countries you may still qualify

You may still be able to participate in the USA Diversity Visa Lottery based on the country of birth of your parents or spouse if you were born in a non-qualifying country:

For example, if you were born in a country whose natives are ineligible to enter the green card lottery, but your spouse was born in a country whose natives are eligible to enter the green card lottery, you can claim your spouse’s country of birth as your country of eligibility. I.e. you may claim chargeability to the country where your derivative spouse was born, provided that both you and your spouse are on the selected green card lottery application, but you will not be issued a diversity visa green card unless

  • your spouse is also eligible for and issued a diversity visa green card,
  • and both of you must enter the United States together with the diversity visa green cards.

Example: If you were born in Canada, whose natives are ineligible to enter the green card lottery, but your spouse was born in Spain, whose natives are eligible to enter the green card lottery, you can claim your spouse’s country of birth (Spain) as your country of eligibility as long as you include your spouse on your green card lottery application.

In a similar manner, a minor dependent child can be “charged” to a parent’s country of birth.

Finally, if you were born in a country not eligible to participate in this year’s diversity visa green card program, you can be “charged” to the country of birth of either of your parents as long as neither parent was a resident of your country of birth at the time of your birth. For example your parents might have lived temporarily in the ineligible country because of their jobs. In general, people are not considered residents of a country in which they were not born or legally naturalized if they are only visiting the country, studying in the country temporarily, or stationed in the country for business or professional reasons on behalf of a company or government.

READ  900 stranded Britons to return home next week

If you claim alternate chargeability, you must indicate such information on the Diversity Lottery entry form that you must complete after you have registered succesfully, under country of Eligibility. Please be aware that listing an incorrect country of eligibility or chargeability (i.e. one to which you cannot establish a valid claim) may disqualify your entry.

2. Education or Work experience that qualifies for the American DV-2023 Lottery

To enter the USA DV-2023 Diversity Visa Lottery you must comply with one of the following two requirements (Option 1 or Option 2 below) to qualify:

 

OPTION 1:

 

To qualify for the DV-2023 Diversity Visa Lottery you must have completed a U.S. high school education or a foreign equivalent of U.S. high school education “High School education or its equivalent” means the successful completion of a twelve year course of elementary and secondary education in the U.S. or successful completion in another country of a formal course of elementary and secondary education comparable to complete a 12 year education in the U.S. Passage of a high school equivalency examination is not sufficient. It is permissible to have completed one’s education in less than twelve years or greater than twelve years if the course of study completed is equivalent to a U.S. high school education; or

READ  Economic shocks of COVID-19 disproportionately affects displaced Venezuelans in Peru, new research finds

 

OPTION 2:

To qualify for the USA DV-2023 Diversity Visa lottery you must have worked in one of the following occupations for at least two years within the last five years:

 

Proof that you satisfy these requirements should NOT be submitted when entering the DV-2023 Lottery but will be requested by a consular officer after your name has been selected and you formally apply for your permanent residence (Green Card) visa. Individuals who do not match these basic requirements should not apply in this program. You need to provide proof of education, work experience and native country only if you are selected. For this reason we do not request this information in the application form for the DV-2023 Green Card Lottery.

Support Voice for African Migrants


Support VOICE FOR AFRICAN MIGRANTS journalism of integrity and credibility.

Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.

For continued free access to the best and latest migration, trafficking, displacement and humanitarian reports including thorough investigative reports in these areas, we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.

By contributing to VOICE FOR AFRICAN MIGRANTS, you are helping to sustain a journalism of relevance and ensuring it remains free and available to all.
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Over 90 Malians return home safely in charter flight from Chad

Sékou Coulibaly, a Malian migrant who received AVR assistance. Photo: IOM

N’Djamena – The International Organization for Migration (IOM) assisted 95 Malians including 72 women and children to return home from Chad, in coordination with the Governments of Chad and Mali. The migrants boarded a special flight on 01 June chartered as part of IOM’s Assisted Voluntary Return (AVR) programme.

Among those who benefitted from the AVR assistance were people who had left Mali hoping to reach to Europe but ended up stranded in Chad, and others whose livelihoods have been pushed into socioeconomic precarity as a result of COVID-19.

Chad is an important hub for African migration attracting hundreds of thousands of people from across the continent. In the North particularly, thousands of migrants travel to work in artisanal gold mines or cross the borders, either into Libya with the hope of going to Europe, or to return from Libya to escape traumatic experiences.

recent report by IOM shows that, between August 2019 and September 2020, over 9,700 migrants crossing to Libya from Chad were observed at Flow Monitoring Points (FMPs) in the North. During the same period, some 11,700 others were observed going from Libya into Chad.

“These migration journeys can be very risky as the routes are not always safe and migrants are vulnerable to abuse, including labour and sexual exploitation,” says Jean-Claude Bashirahishize, Programme Manager for Migrant Assistance and Protection with IOM Chad.

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Sékou Coulibaly, a 22-years old Malian, never thought his journey would take him to Chad.

“I was a mine worker back home in one of the artisanal gold mines in the Kangaba Circle [Southwestern Mali]. One day, a big company came and took over our mine, so we had to move out”, Sekou remembers.

Faced with a dwindling income and limited prospects, Sekou decided to sell his equipment and leave Mali in the hope of reaching Europe.

“I have friends who had done the journey and told me how to go about it. I travelled from Mali to Niger to Algeria and finally reached Libya,” he recounts.

“In Libya, I paid 300 euros to a coxeur [smuggler] who got me on an inflatable boat. But the boat got punctured at sea and the coastguard brought us back. I escaped to Benghazi where I worked for a couple of months to earn a bit of money. Then I travelled to to Kufra, then to Faya [Northern Chad] and finally N’Djamena by road. By the time I reached N’Djamena, I had nothing left.”

Sekou was referred to IOM for assistance by the Embassy of Mali in Chad. IOM has been working closely with the Chadian Government and Diplomatic Missions in Chad since 2019 to develop a referral mechanism through which vulnerable migrants can be promptly referred to appropriate protection mechanisms.

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“IOM’s Migrant Protection and Assistance activities, including assisted voluntary return, ensure that stranded and vulnerable migrants have access to safe and dignified ways to return home, should they wish to, and reunite with their families”, Mr. Bashirahishize continues.

The charter flight was made possible through the Regional Development and Protection Programme in North Africa (RDPP-NA), a flagship programme implemented in North Africa to enhance the protection of vulnerable migrants, and provide immediate as well as direct assistance such as voluntary return and reintegration.

Since its launch in 2019, the programme has helped more than 300 migrants stranded in Chad safely return home to over nine countries including Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, and Sierra Leone.

Upon their return, eligible migrants can receive reintegration assistance which can include psychosocial counselling, skills training, referral, or in-kind assistance to set-up individual, collective or community-based socio-economic projects.

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