Nansen Lecture: “Migration in Africa, An Enduring Phenomenon”

A Libyan coast guardsman stands on a boat during the rescue of 147 illegal immigrants attempting to reach Europe. Image: Taha Jawashi/AFP/Getty Images
A Libyan coast guardsman stands on a boat during the rescue of 147 illegal immigrants attempting to reach Europe. Image: Taha Jawashi/AFP/Getty Images

To highlight the dilemma of refugees globally, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Lawyers for Human Rights and the Royal Norwegian Embassy of South Africa held the annual Nansen Lecture, entitled “Migration in Africa, An Enduring Phenomenon?” at the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA).

This year’s lecture was part of a series held in international centres, including Washington D.C., New York, Addis Ababa, and Geneva.

Venue: Jan Smuts House

Held on Thursday, 15 September 2011 the lecture brought together two leading campaigners of refugee and human rights issues to share the platform: prominent South African human rights lawyer, Advocate George Bizos SC and Dr. Chaloka Beyani, senior lecturer in International Law at the London School of Economics and UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons.

Adv. Bizos shared a personal account of his journey from German occupied Greece in 1941 to South Africa via Egypt. In his opening remarks entitled: “Yes to Xenophilia and No to Xenophobia”, he recalled his life as a refugee and as a victim of xenophobia in South Africa. Adv. Bizos encouraged South African citizens and the government to observe and protect the rights of foreign nationals, especially in a country where xenophobic violence has claimed the lives of refugees and economic migrants over the last number of years. Download the speech by Adv.George Bizos here [.pdf]

img_nansen_beyani_profile_sept_2011In his keynote address, Dr. Chaloka Beyani outlined the multifaceted and complex issues of migration and how this challenge will remain for generations to come. He estimates that there are about 2 to 3 million refugees and 12 million internally displaced persons in Africa. Exploring the impact of African migration from colonialism to the present, Dr. Beyani spoke of migration as “an enduring phenomenon” that should be viewed in the context of the colonial and post-colonial interests that are not those of the people of Africa. He also highlighted the success of regionally integrated bodies, such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) that have a formal, legally integrated framework on the free movement of persons, a key component of regional integration, Beyani said. Download the keynote address by Dr. Chakola Beyani here [.pdf]

The annual lecture is named in honour of Fridtjof Nansen (1861-1930), an acclaimed Norwegian explorer, scientist, diplomat, humanitarian and Nobel laureate. He devoted the final decade of his life primarily to the League of Nations, following his appointment in 1921 as the League’s High Commissioner for Refugees. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1922 for his work on behalf of the displaced victims of the First World War and related conflicts. Among the initiatives he championed was the ‘Nansen Passport’ for stateless persons, a certificate recognised by more than 50 countries. Read more about the work of Fridtjof Nansen here.

The views expressed in this publication/article are those of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA).

15 Sep 2011