Letter from Africa: 'Not welcome in Europe'

Illegal immigrant advert van

In our series of letters from African journalists, film-maker and columnist Farai Sevenzo considers the hot topic of immigration in Europe and what it means for African migrants.

As Africa's economic fortunes rise and the continent continues to be charmed by superpowers, spare a thought for the millions of Africans in faraway lands.

African migration has never been well-documented.

While we know that some of the great presidents of our times - Jomo Kenyatta, Hastings Kamuzu Banda, Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Thabo Mbeki - all passed through some far-flung university or another, millions more after them did the same and many more in this 21st Century have landed on European or US shores.

But every now and again, a backlash of predictably blinkered vision finds a finger being pointed at immigrants of every type and shade and the accusation "illegal" is thrown in their direction and fevered opinion declares that there are thousands of people milking the system. Folk are disliked for their physical difference and decades of contributions and hybrid families featuring an African heritage are casually ignored.

We recently heard, for instance, of an Angolan man who died on a plane while being forcibly removed from his adopted home, from his five children and from his 15- year life in the UK.

And also of an Italian cabinet minister of Congolese decent being likened to an orangutan by a fellow Italian politician, whose own looks would not make Italian Vogue.

'Throwing bananas'

Cecile Kyenge has been thrown into the lion's den by her portfolio as Italy's integration minister as she actively campaigns for an easier route to make immigrants Italian citizens.

Image caption Foreigners in Italy are trying to improve their language skills as xenophobia rises

If you are born in Italy, Ms Kyenge believes, you ought to be an Italian citizen.

As she gave her speech last week, bananas were thrown in her direction - following on from the "resemblance to an orangutan" gag from Roberto Calderoli, vice-president of Italy's senate.

Ms Kyenge's reasoning is sound to the rest of us, for there are hundreds of Italians born in African countries who have the luxury of dual citizenship, despite Italy's 20th Century adventures in Asmara and Addis Ababa.

So, the footballer Mario Balotelli may have been adopted by Italian parents but had his Ghanaian parents held on to him why could he not become an Italian citizen as one born in Italy?

As it happens, Mr Balotelli's goal-scoring feats in the Azzurri's colours have never really stopped the ignorant from throwing bananas at him either.

North of the Mediterranean in the UK a new king-to-be was born just the other week; it would have been possible to imagine him a century ago as being the future head of a realm in which most of Africa on the maps was painted in the pink of empire from Lagos to Lamu, Cairo to the Cape.

Of course young Prince George will not inherit so wide an empire as the Georges who came before him, but so shaken are his great grandmother's ministers at the prospect of increased migration, African or otherwise, they have taken a cricket bat to the problem and decided to pummel it in the head.

Mugabe on the UK

Firstly they proposed that certain visitors, including Nigerians, pay a £3,000 ($4,600) "security bond" for the privilege of being a tourist in the UK.

Image caption Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe says life at home is better than in the UK

The figures say Nigerians are the sixth biggest-spending tourists in Prince George's future kingdom - above them are the people from China, the Middle East, Russia and Thailand - but none of these will be asked to pay a deposit.

The shops, including Harrods, have been wondering what her majesty's ministers are doing chasing away good Nigerian money.

Not content with going after the rich, the ministers then sent a lorry onto the streets of London in areas deemed to contain high populations of migrants, carrying the crude billboard message - "In the UK illegally? Go home or face arrest".

Everywhere you look it seems the walls of intolerance are rising.

Of course such messages are aimed at every shade of migrant, including the millions who stepped over from eastern Europe, but it is difficult to escape the feeling that migrant means you. Yes, you.

Meanwhile, on the campaign trail just the other day, one of Africa's oldest statesmen - Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe - could see the issue clear as glass.

Bemoaning his countryfolk's tendency to jump the borders when things get tricky at home, he invited them back.

"If you said: 'Mugabe' they would just say come in, come in… But see now, they are saying these people are too many…let them go back," he said of other country's immigration policies.

"Why run to Britain, a very cold and uninhabitable country where the houses are very small, why go there? Can those who went there show us what they did with their time?" he asked.

While mansions have been built across Africa on a cleaner's salary, children educated on a bus driver's wages, economies revived by money transfers from across Europe, families raised in Europe's high rises and beyond - questions are ringing for Africa's army of migrants.

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