UN Food Envoy Slams Europe over 'Hunger Refugees'


By Stephanie Nebehay

September 22, 2006

The United Nations investigator on the right to food slammed European countries on Friday for turning back thousands of "hunger refugees" from Africa while undermining African farmers through unfair trade. Jean Ziegler, U.N. special rapporteur on the right to food, said the European Union's dumping of subsidised food in Africa was exacerbating the continent's hunger problems.

This, he said, explained why many would-be migrants from West Africa have sought refuge in Europe, with thousands having lost their lives trying to reach Spain's Canary Islands by boat. Spain alone has sent home 13,000 "hunger refugees" from Africa in the first half of this year, he said. "This dreadful tragedy affecting thousands and thousands of Africans is due to hunger in Africa," Ziegler told reporters in Geneva after addressing the U.N. Human Rights Council.

"Europeans are saying 'We have to put up barbed wire, and prevent these people from arriving and invading us.' It is hypocrisy -- at the same time the EU agricultural subsidies are destroying African agriculture," he said. In African cities from Dakar, Senegal to Niamey, Niger, heavily subsidised European fruits and vegetables are sold for one-half to one-third of the price of local products, he said. Sub-Saharan African countries have no chance to reach a minimum living standard as long as such trade practices continue, according to Ziegler. "This deadly dumping must be halted, it's the only way."

For the past two weeks, Senegalese, Spanish and Italian security forces have been conducting joint sea, air and land patrols to intercept African migrants, meshing with similar EU-coordinated operations already under way since August around Mauritania and Cape Verde. "You can't respond through security measures to a problem which is in fact a problem of hunger refugees," Ziegler said.

Switzerland Votes

Ziegler, a sociologist and former socialist parliamentarian, also took aim at his native Switzerland, which on Sunday is expected to back tough new asylum rules in a referendum. The measures, backed by right-wing Justice Minister Christoph Blocher, have already been approved by both parliament and the government, but critics raised enough signatures to force a national vote.

"Switzerland is going to vote on racist and xenophobic laws, these horrible laws which Blocher is proposing. They practically nullify the right to asylum as well as immigration of people who don't hold a doctorate in nuclear science," Ziegler said. "As a Swiss, I say it is shameful. But it is the general attitude of Europeans," he added.

U.N. refugee officials say the proposed measure will make the non-EU state's laws amongst the harshest in Europe. Asylum seekers will need to present a valid passport within 48 hours of arrival in the neutral Alpine country. "To say that people coming from an oppressive country have to produce an identity card or valid passport is absurd and completely violates the right to asylum," Ziegler said.

More Information on Social and Economic Policy
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