The Tana High-Level Forum on Security in Africa was held for the second time from 20th to 21st April 2013. The initiative is a response to the Tripoli Declaration that appeals for “African-centered solutions” and designates peace and security as a collective “intellectual challenge”
The conference saw the informal participation and gathering of African decision makers and peace and stability stakeholder groups, for an open discussion on security challenges facing the African continent. I was invited to participate in the forum in my capacity of Founder and Director of ONG Ghandi, an organization that has been in the forefront of assisting refugees both in Europe and various parts of Africa, to discuss the increasingly pressing and worrying issue of Human Trafficking, kidnapping and torture of African Refugees from the Horn of Africa. I was joined by Journalist and Human Rights Activist Meron Estifanos in presenting the challenges faced in the region based on our respective experiences in following this tragedy and assisting the many thousands of refugee victims caught up in this cruel and inhumane trafficking ring.
I had the opportunity to give a full account of the various elements surrounding the trafficking of innocent and defenseless victims, including the details of the many trafficking routes, the methods by which victims are lured and tricked into the traps of ruthless traffickers, the kidnappings from Shagarab Camp in Eastern Sudan and the surrounding areas, the subsequent abduction and torture for ransom in the Sinai region, the fate of those that are eventually either rescued, escaped or released after paying hefty amount of money.
Delegates were highly moved and shocked by both our presentations and highly concerned by the situation. I appealed to the many influential and high ranking officials from various African countries to join forces, make concerted efforts to tackle this issue and to devise ways to end Human Trafficking in Africa. I highlighted the need to place this issue as a high priority in their agenda and explained that Human Trafficking and abduction for ransom payment is becoming a highly lucrative business third only to drug and arms trafficking, but with the added benefit of bearing minimal risk to those involved. I have explained further that it is also slowly being replicated in other parts both in North Africa and the Middle East, namely Libya and Yemen and that it is reasonable to expect an increase in the number of victims but also the number of perpetrators.
I had the honor of private audiences with Former Prime Minister of South Africa Thabo Mbeki, President Omar Al Bashir of Sudan, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and I was immensely touched by their willingness and commitment to tackle this issue. They agreed with my suggestion that a starting point would be to create a widespread awareness of the issue amongst our respective populations.
Furthermore, I met individually with Sudanese Deputy Minister of foreign affairs Siddig Al Abdallah and discussed the security issues at Shagarab Refugee camp and the need to protect refugees from becoming easy preys of smugglers and traffickers. He has extended me an invitation to visit him and other concerned Sudanese officials to discuss further the issue and finding a solutions.
I received the same interest and full commitment from the Egyptian delegation at the forum Ambassador Abdel Raouf El Reedy and Ambassador Walid Mahmoud Abdelnasser. We have discussed the gravity of the situation and the need for the Egyptian authorities to intervene urgently as the gravest crimes are being committed in its soil. The Ambassadors showed their commitment to tackle this issue by asking me to join them in a meeting in Cairo where I was met by Dr Mahy Hassan Abdel-latif, Deputy Assistant Minister for Human Rights Affairs, Ambassador Walid Mahmoud Abdelnasser and Ambassador Naela Gabr.
It was an excellent opportunity to also meet with the Libyan delegation headed by Dr Faraj Najem Director of Centre for African Research and Studies. I raised the issue of Eritrean Refugees stranded in many Libyan cities, but most importantly the worrying fate of the hundreds of Eritreans held in prisons across Libya, highlighting the worrying practices that have recently emerged from Libya, which involves using Eritrean Refugees for the detection and extraction of landmines left behind during the war to overthrow the late General Ghadaffi. Dr Najem promised to take up this issue with the relevant authorities in his country to assist the refugees stranded in Libya.
There was a general consensus and agreement that this is a pressing and urgent matter that requires immediate attention. It was also agreed that in order to effectively tackle the problem, a stronger regional cooperation, that involves the governments of Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia was required.
All in all, I found the discussions and the general interest and consensus very encouraging and I am positive that we have achieved the agenda we set prior to joining the Forum. I have offered my continuous support and collaboration to all interested parties with the aim of resolving this problem. The next steps will involve following up with the various stakeholders including the regional governments that have indicated their willingness to actively engage in finding a lasting solution to the problem and encourage more collaboration among the various stakeholders.