Meet the PROMIS* Champions

02-11-2020

Every week, we introduce you to one of the PROMIS project champions. People from all over West Africa who, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, have continued to defend the rights of migrants and victims of human trafficking throughout the global health pandemic.

*The PROMIS project is a joint initiative of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) that aims to strengthen the capacity of West African states to develop a human rights-based response to migrant smuggling and to respond effectively to human rights violations related to irregular migration. The initial implementation of the project focuses on Mali, Niger, Senegal, The Gambia, and Côte d'Ivoire, with a subsequent extension to other West African countries.

The champion of the week:

A sociologist and journalist by training, Hamadou Boulama Tcherno has devoted most of his time since 2012 to the protection of the rights of migrants. He is a founding member and program director of the association Alternative Espaces Citoyens in Niger.

Below is an excerpt from the interview conducted with OHCHR. To read the full interview (in french), click here

 

Alternative Espace Citoyens, whose programs you are leading, "works for the advent of a society based on the equality of human rights and gender equality". What are the activities and objectives of the association?

Alternative Espace Citoyens (AEC) is a national association of citizenship education created in 2001 by a group of progressive activists. It has operational offices in 4 regions of Niger.

Its objectives are : i) to promote, defend and contribute to the effectiveness of fundamental human rights and individual and collective freedoms; (ii) to build spaces of resistance, convergence of social movements and formulation of Alternatives to neo-liberal policies; (iii) to develop initiatives of citizen control of public action at the national and local levels; (iv) promote the rights, civic participation and empowerment of youth, women and other vulnerable groups; (v) contribute to the improvement of the environment and the protection of common goods, in particular water, forests, land and genetic heritage; (vi) promote access to, development and innovative use of media and information and communication technologies.

To achieve its objectives, the association has set up thematic departments, one of which deals with migration. Its work is based on four pillars: informing, educating, mobilizing citizens and conducting action-oriented advocacy campaigns. To carry out its mission, it has equipped itself with communication tools including a paper newspaper, a bilingual website, and FM stations in Agadez, Diffa, Niamey and Zinder. The technical staff is composed mainly of professional journalists. This composition explains, among other things, the fact that information and communication are important levers of AEC's work. In addition, there is an audiovisual production unit (UPA) that has produced numerous documentary films[1] to support advocacy for migrants' rights and free movement.

AEC also conducts observation missions and field investigations to produce documented reports on the humanitarian and human rights situation. The headquarters of the radio stations house spaces[2] for citizens to speak out and for decision-makers to be questioned. In Niamey, the Espace Frantz Fanon has been institutionalized as a place for training, cultural events and questioning decision-makers. Today, the association is the point of convergence of activists and the lung of social and citizen struggles, as evidenced by the multiple declarations of the citizen movement in its premises, the untimely occupation and closure of its offices and the repeated imprisonment of some of its leaders.

In the field of migration, AEC regularly organizes public debates to decipher, a national youth forum, a festival of migrants' rights in Agadez, and produces monitoring reports on the vulnerability of migrants. This work is often carried out in collaboration with partner organizations and through militant networks (Loujna Tounkaranke, Sahel Maghreb network, MADE AFRICA, ROA-PRODMAC, MIGREUROP) of which the association is a member.

Over the last three years, the work of AEC's migration department has focused on deciphering the stakes of migration policies, publishing monitoring reports, monitoring the media and citizens, creating spaces for dialogue with decision-makers and amplifying the voices of migrants.

 

You are part of the PROMIS project. How does this project fit into your activities?

The activities of AEC supported by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) within the framework of the PROMIS project focus on human rights education and awareness-raising, monitoring and documentation of human rights violations, and finally legal assistance to migrants in detention. For the most part, they are drawn from the association's 2018-2020 action plan. Radio broadcasts and public debates are part of the usual activities. Legal and judicial assistance to migrants has been devised in response to the arbitrary arrests and incarceration of migrants resulting from the criminalization of migration, particularly since the implementation of Law 2015-36 on the smuggling of migrants. It is for this reason that the ACS has embarked on a process of collecting information on the situation of migrants in detention, particularly in regions where government pressure is strong on them. 

To this end, the members of the Citizen Watch Committees (CVC) are responsible for collecting information on the reasons for incarceration, the procedures involved and the legal assistance needs of prisoners.

The uprising of asylum seekers and refugees in Agadez and the decision of the judicial authorities to embroil the leaders were the starting point for the strong start of PROMIS project activities. Immediately informed of the fire at the Humanitarian Reception Center (CAH) and the mass arrest of asylum seekers, the AEC Executive Board decided to send a fact-finding mission to document the allegations of violations of their fundamental rights during the intervention of the security forces, and during their incarceration in the official gallery. The stay in Agadez was used by the project's referent to organize a multi-stakeholder radio debate on the challenges of international protection of foreigners. The positive feedback received after the broadcast of the recording led Radio Alternative to repeat the same debate in Niamey, with the participation of the Ministry of Interior.

In addition, the PROMIS project enabled AEC to consolidate its partnership with the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) of Niger and the NGO Médecins du Monde (MdM) of Gao in the areas of humanitarian assistance and the protection of migrants' rights. Indeed, since the beginning of the year, these structures have jointly carried out multifaceted actions that have led to the liberation, the restoration of family ties, and the return to their countries of origin of many migrants, despite the closure of borders related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The liberation and return home of these vulnerable migrants, mostly Nigeriens, is the result of the combined efforts of the leaders of the three structures. As the icing on the cake, Radio Alternative took the opportunity of their transit through Niamey to record testimonies about their migration, the conditions of their stay in prison, and the humanitarian assistance they received from MdM.

 

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your activities and particularly those related to migrants?

It is undeniable that the COVID 19 pandemic disrupted the association's agenda. Despite the decision to keep the offices open, activities slowed down during the period of the health emergency. Because of the health and security measures designed to combat the spread of the pandemic, the Nigerien government closed the borders, placed Niamey in sanitary isolation, banned workshops and any grouping of 50 people for a period of 3 months throughout the country. These restrictive measures have put a brake on the implementation of certain activities of the association supported by the PROMIS project. These are precisely the cross-border mission in Gao and the training workshop for activists and lawyers. These two major activities have been postponed due to the closure of the border and the prohibition of workshops.

 

How does the association organize itself to ensure the continuity of its activities, on the one hand, and to protect the rights of migrants, on the other hand, during this COVID-19 pandemic?

Despite the context of COVID19, the ACS has continued to carry out its public information and citizen mobilization activities in favor of human rights. Internally, the Executive Board took adequate measures to protect staff from the pandemic through compliance with the health measures enacted by the Ministry of Public Health. Obligation to wear masks, hand washing devices, awareness posters, nothing has been neglected to protect employees from contamination.

Externally, the association participated in the awareness and prevention campaign through its local stations and its Facebook page, broadcasting multi-language awareness messages and publishing information on the pandemic situation. In Niamey, several radio broadcasts were made to alert decision-makers and other actors on the situation of migrants, especially those stranded in the Agadez region. The association's message is to relay the UN's message saying "let's not forget the migrants". 

In Niamey, in collaboration with the CNDH, members of the association visited the containment site for economic migrants repatriated from Burkina Faso and Côte d'Ivoire to verify the conditions of their stay, in particular the respect of their fundamental rights. In Agadez, André Chani, in charge of the Migrant component, made numerous visits to reception centers and ghettos to collect testimonies on the conditions of survival and confinement of migrants during this period of economic slowdown and collective expulsion from Algeria.



[1] Most of the films are freely available on https://vimeo.com/243654549

[2] The spaces are named with the following names : Kaocen in Agadez, El Kanemi in Diffa, and Frantz Fanon in Niamey.

 

For more information:

 

Discover the PROMIS* champions working to protect & promote the human rights of migrants during COVID 19

Read the interview in full (in french) : Hamadou Boulama Tcherno