Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Testimony :: Mr. Joe Frans
- United Nations Working Group on People of African Descent


Chairman Hastings, Ladies and Gentlemen, It gives me great pleasure and honour to be here with you here today. I am pleased that you have chosen the topic of the African Diaspora in Europe for this particular hearing. It is a timely intervention and a most relevant one. This is simply because Europe is currently undergoing a soul searching experience of its own identity.

I would like to begin this brief presentation by paying tribute to the millions of African people abducted and enslaved and to those who sacrificed their lives in fighting for national liberation in Africa and in the Diaspora. They have inspired our thinking and indeed generated our current desire to contribute as a Diaspora to the development of Africa.

The African Diaspora consists of peoples of African origin living outside the continent, irrespective of their citizenship and nationality and who are willing to contribute to the development of the continent and the building of the Africa. Today, there are over 3.3 million people of African descent living in Europe according to Eurostat. Over 1 million are from sub-Saharan Africa.

In the post WWII era, the need for cheap labor to rebuild Europe resulted in inflows of Africans to Europe. The post-independence era further generated an inflow of African students. Political conflicts in Africa itself, the cold war and related global competition for economic development has also generated an inflow of asylum seekers and refugees. In addition, there has been a steady stream of African–European families who have chosen to settle in Europe as a matter of choice.

Today, besides the above reasons, the benefits of the trickle of migrants is double-sided. On the one hand, the reserve of cheap labor – often described as unwanted – is used as a regulator, as seen in the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean in scranky boats with life itself at stake and who try to reach Europe by literally swimming the last mile. On the other hand, the question of whether attracting and sourcing highly skilled migrants from Africa to Europe are needed to sustain gains for Africa must be raised. Basically, African countries are funding the education of their nationals only to see them contributing to the growth of developed countries with seemingly little or no return on their investment. And yet, at closer look, Africans are contributing to the development of European identity and of the African continent itself. Some estimates suggest that Africans working abroad send home some US$45 billion a year. This is bigger than the total development aid and bigger than the total foreign direct investment.

However, the challenges of integrating this new workforce remain. At the concluding session of the European Conference against Racism in 2000, a Political Declaration was adopted by Ministers of the Council of Europe Member States. In the document, the Governments concluded that the continued and violent occurrence of racism is an issue of concern and that challenges of integrating young people, immigrants and other groups remain, especially in the labor market where discrimination is present. A report presented by the British Trade Unions (TUC) Congress, argues that at every level of working life many black workers are being denied training opportunities – despite often being better qualified than their white counterparts. Discriminatory practices at work are still preventing too many workers in Europe with African descent from fulfilling their potential.

However, statistics in the public domain to support arguments of racial violence and workplace discrimination in Western Europe are embarrassingly lacking. Without official statistics, effective responses cannot be devised. One of the most common indicators of labor market inequality is the rate of unemployment for immigrants and/or minorities. In 2005, it was reported that the unemployment rates for such groups were all significantly higher than for the majority population in many European countries. It is quite clear that thousands of people of African descent live in miserable conditions. Those without legal documents have no access to the welfare state, are exploited as cheap labor, and have no rights.

Quite clearly, racism and discrimination are relevant to understanding the commonality of challenges of people of African descent in Western Europe.

And yet there are also positive stories. All countries have constitutional frameworks against discrimination. There are many success stories in politics, policy dialogue, business and education, yet I have chosen to focus on those issues that demand our attention in framing policy.

Mr. Chairman, one policy idea that could benefit from your support is the promotion of a trans-Atlantic dialogue on the experiences of people of African Descent. I would welcome both your support and assistance in making this happen. Thank you.