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Migration and the Geneva Convention

23.09.2022 | Nomazulu Thata

I left my home when I was 17 years old and have lived in Germany for 45 years. My leaving home: it was called Rhodesia then, was motivated by my wish for further education. In 1973, my mother organized my schooling in an independent neighbouring Zambia, an African country that gained independence in 1964. My mother strongly believed in the education of girls. Educating a girl-child was her mantra. My life as a migrant, a refugee started in 1973. Little did I know that my life will be punctuated with the term “migrant” forever.

I live in Bremen today. Having been pensioned early on health grounds, only then was I able to realize that there are young mothers of African origin in my midst. Before then, I did not consciously see them. I became engaged in mentoring them on various issues regarding challenges they face in Germany, especially the challenges of acquiring birth certificates for

their babies born in Germany. The buzzword: Flight and migration is embedded in me; a tag I grew up with. In confidentiality and at eye-level, we started sharing our stories about our flight from Mother Africa to Europe: the similarities of our fate and experience were striking.

Flight and migration have different shades of colours, but the dynamic: cause and effect remain the same in every aspect of our experiences as African women. When I left Rhodesia then, now called Zimbabwe, my mother organised traffickers that assisted me in crossing over to Zambia. I finished secondary education in 1978, because I had nowhere to go, I went to live in a refugee camp where other refugee women lived. As luck would have it, our refugee camp was bombed by white Rhodesian forces, otherwise a camp internationally designated for mothers and children: it was mistaken for a camp for freedom fighters. As luck would have it again, that same month I got a scholarship to leave Zambia for East Germany initiated by President Erich Honecker: that there were some forms of racism in East Germany I learnt about this very late.

The stories of flight and migration of African women in Germany mirror my own script. I could relate to their experiences with mine about chronic wars in their countries of birth, how they were internally displaced by push and pull factors related to flight and migration, triggering their vulnerabilities to unscrupulous traffickers who promised them heaven on earth in Europe. To their shock, Germany was not unwelcoming, a contradiction to promises of heaven-like-Europe by visible and invisible mafias. Suddenly the mafia demanded repayment of high costs and several other costs related to their excruciating journeys, unimaginable by common sense.

Flight and migration: have shades of colours; how women travel from Africa to Europe on foot across the Sahara Desert to reach the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. They are dozens of women who perish in the Sahara Desert because of the challenges in the great Sahara. The desert nature of the Sahara makes it impossible to give adequate protection of citizens in transition in countries in the Sahara. Most women die for lack of food and water. Dehydration, because of the heatwaves becomes the main cause of deaths: undocumented deaths. Nobody knows how many women have lost their lives using Sahara Desert route. However, it is widely known that dozens of women are equal casualties of these perilous journeys to Europe.

Some women are taken prisoners by mafias and are forced to work as sex slaves in most towns south of the Mediterranean Sea and in European countries. Some women are forced to give their organs, they die, their bodies discharged in unknown pits. Some are taken to become domestic slaves in rich homes.

Let’s us look at the reasons why women flee their Mother Africa and risk the perilous journeys to Europe. Climate change, poverty, destitution, chronic wars leading to internal and external displacements, unemployment, forced marriages, floods, draught, genital cutting, child marriages, gender-based violence leading to femicide, are some of the causes. the list is very long.

When we leave our countries of birth, we take traditions and cultures we value most with us. It is good to keep our traditions and cultures we value most. Some of these cultural values comfort us in life’s challenging situations, away from home, in a strange environment. Contradictions regarding our culture and traditions however become a problem from the recipient countries. If a migrant gets protection from recipient nations on grounds of “I fled home because of my daughter would be subjected to genital cutting like me” or I fled home because of forced child marriages: I do not want my daughter to be married to an old man” just to name those two examples, the list is long.

The reasons to protect women under the above-mentioned circumstances are strong and valid enough to get protection from recipient countries as per Geneva Convention. It becomes a contradiction when, on one hand, the same mother who claims she has fled her country of birth to protect her daughter from circumcision; on the other hand, will want her daughter to undergo genital cutting at her country of birth or in a chosen European country. She knows, through her network, where to find genital cutters, including some unscrupulous qualified doctors in Europe: a lucrative business of its own. She knows too that in global north, genital cutting of children is termed a criminal offence.

In Germany there are African mothers who go on holidays to marry off their under-aged daughters to preferred bridegrooms in Africa. Such school holidays are called “Weise Wochen.” When they come back, these under-aged girls will drop out of school because they are married, a catch 22, because girl education, just like the boy-child, is very important for her personal girl-empowerment. The Geneva convention is a law that protects the lives of thousands of vulnerable global citizens in transition, and it should be taken seriously. The Geneva convention is a game-changer to many women globally who desperately need such assistance. To undermine it, is to disadvantage thousands of women who genuinely deserve protection related to flight and migration.

In this loaded context, dear ladies, I take the opportunity to highlight these challenges at the WWC today; a platform and a forum where issues related to our girl children are spoken openly, at eye-level, to try to understand the deep-seated culture of genital-cutting of women and girls. To comprehend the culture of girl-circumcision fully may assist to make the “othering” understand that any culture is dynamic and not static. The pain of genital cutting inflicted on our growing up girls can be avoided if we understand the health issues and individual wellbeing related to it.

Let me finish this speech by introducing our radio “Ntombi Langa Radio for women in Africa.” The concept of Ntombi Langa Radio, a grass-root radio is to be understood in the context of Sustainable Development Goals. Ntombi Langa Radio is guided by the values and principles of the SDG Goals 5: (Quote: unquote) all 17 UN-SDGs depend on the achievement of SDG 5. Women and girls, everywhere in the world, must have equal rights and opportunites, and be able to live free of violence and discrimination. Women’s equality and empowerment is one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, but also integral to all dimensions of inclusive and sustainable development. (End quote)

Ntombi Langa Radio’s mission is to offer a platform for women in regions of the Sahara Africa with a concept based on vibrant communications within diverse communities with the aim of uplifting lives of rural and urban women and children, incorporating and developing synergies and local solidarity. Thinking global: acting local.                                                                                                                               

Ntombi Langa Radio is a radio exclusively for women and children with the aim of bringing day-to-day lives and experiences of women in Africa’s rural and urban communities together to make the change we want to see. It is a radio that gives a voice to the voiceless.

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