President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf says Liberia’s experience throughout the long-protracted conflict, when the state could not meet the basic needs of the Liberian people, provided the opportunity for Liberians in the Diaspora to send millions of the United States dollars as remittances to sustain their families. Therefore, she said, “we must integrate the Diaspora in our policies on migration.”
She was speaking on Tuesday at the formal launch of the High-Level Panel on International Migration in the C. Cecil Dennis Jr. Auditorium at the Foreign Ministry in Monrovia.
With Liberia’s example, President Sirleaf said remittances from Liberians in the Diaspora, which sustained families, allowed the state to somehow function without being able to provide services.
The war, she said, displaced more than 70 percent of the Liberian population in and across borders, “posing a different set of problems that took us many years to resolve. These are matters that concern our work and we must find policy directions to address them.”
President Sirleaf said migration has become a major issue that poses problems for every country in the world.
She recalled that about a week ago, some forty (40) young men and women died of thirst in the Sahara Desert, while trying to reach Europe and added that more than a thousand people have perished in the Mediterranean Sea since the beginning of the year – while in many places in Europe, a mixture of migrants from diverse backgrounds have been living in the streets, under conditions that can best be described as inhumane.
She said there are aspects of the movement of people across countries and borders that can be looked at from various perspectives.
President Sirleaf referred to migration as an integral part of human history and observed that “If Africa is said to be the origin of humanity, we can rightly say that the movement of the people of Africa has populated the world, from an initial point somewhere in Kenya.”
She said Liberia is a nation founded by migration – when in the early 19th century, freed slaves from the Americas moved on these lands to start what has become the modern nation of Liberia, a country which attracted people from across the continent and beyond the oceans.
“Therefore, we are well placed to know both the positive and negative aspects of migration,” she said.
She highlighted the challenge where: “People risk their lives to escape their countries to enter another one; people waking up one day and deciding that they need to move to another land to find a better life; and sometimes they are chased out of their land and homes; and sometimes, it is just the human instinct to want to see what is on the other side.”
She said migrants bring with them experience, knowledge, and talents that benefit the host country; while refuting an unverifiable theory that states that migrants take jobs from locals on such a scale that it undermines their prosperity.
Earlier, Dr. Abdalla Hamdok, Interim Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, thanked President Sirleaf for the warm reception accorded him and other panelists since their arrival in Liberia. Dr. Hamdok said the panel would like to see African countries make significant contributions to addressing the problems of migration.
He said in many countries, there are problems associated with migrants that are concerns of states that often host them. Dr. Hamdok said it will not be in the right direction to mix migration with terrorism because according to him, the issue of migration is about seeking the transformation of one’s own economic conditions, while terrorism is a new phenomenon totally different from the purpose for which most Africans migrate to Europe and other places.
In separate remarks, Mr. Knut Vollebaek, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Norway; Ms. Almaz Negash, Founder, Africa Diaspora Network, California, USA; Foreign Minister Marjon Kamara; and Professor Mohammed Mohamedou, International History, Graduate, Geneva, Switzerland, called for concerted efforts to deal with migration.