South Africans and the migrant community came together on the evening of December 17 at Freedom Park in Pretoria, to commemorate International Migrants Day which is observed annually on 18th December.
The occasion was marked by a screening of a documentary produced by Aljazeera Television, entitled “African Migrants –what’s driving them to the European Union”. The documentary explores, through first-hand accounts, why thousands of Africans put their lives at risk as they go on a boat journey in search of what they think would be a better and easier living. It is a journey that begins with hope, but often ends in despair.
Dozens of guests including members of the diplomatic corps, UN staff and the public, marked the event by lighting candles. They also observed a moment of silent, mainly for African migrants who had died in the process of attempting to move to Europe and those who had been killed in attacks in South Africa.
Chief of Mission for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in South Africa, Mr. Richard Ots said: “Migration is a story of hope. It is seldom without problems, and it sometimes, unfortunately, encounters conflict. Let’s keep in mind though, that all of us, ultimately, were migrants. For most of us, being a migrant may be just a couple of generations ago. Perhaps your parents or grandparents came from abroad; came with hope for a better future”.
In a televised message, IOM Director General William Lacy Swing said that he saw a one-sided debate focusing on fear, negativity and security. “Where are the smiles of welcome from last summer? Where are the banners in football grounds declaring Migrants Welcome? I know they are there, and I know they will be seen again when we gather in cities and towns across the globe with candles of solidarity,” said Mr. Swing.
International Migrants Day was adopted twenty-five years ago following the UN’s adoption of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers and their families. The IOM works with partners in the international community to assist in meeting the operational challenges of migration advance understanding of migration issues; encourage social and economic development through migration and uphold the human dignity and well-being of migrants.