Misanet.com / afrol.com , 23 January - Authorities in Burkina Faso are facing an influx of returning migrants from Côte d'Ivoire, where sporadic unrest has been followed by attacks on West African foreigners. Thousands of Burkinabe arrive the capital Ouagadougou from Côte d'Ivoire each week, in what seems to be a stream of returnees.
According to the National Committee for Emergency Assistance and Rehabilitation (CONASUR), 2500 to 3000 people have arrived in Ouagadougou on each of the twice-weekly trains between Abidjan and the Burkinabe capital. Others have been arriving by bus.
- This number is beyond our capacity, Jamano Lompo, permanent secretary of CONASUR, told IRIN towards the end of the third week of January. "We wish that it does not reach the threshold of 300,000. Those in trouble in Côte d'Ivoire mostly send the most vulnerable ones, I mean women and children, to safety at home," said Jamano, who waits until late at the train station to help the returnees.
So far some three hundred children of school age have arrived in Ouagadougou. "Of course, this is going to affect their schooling because we are now in the middle of the school year," he added.
He said the children were given textbooks and second hand clothes to protect them against the relative cold of the harmattan season, but that he was still worried. Some of the returnees arrive with just a bundle of clothes. Others come penniless after several years spent in Côte d'Ivoire.
The Burkinabe government has set aside 100 mt of cereals for them, but some officials are wondering how Burkina Faso, which is already facing a cereal deficit due to poor rains, is going to meet all the needs of the 'pawetos' ('emigres' in Moore [pronounced 'Mo-ray], the main Burkinabe language). "We cannot meet all their needs," Jamano Lompo said, "but we can essentially ensure their survival by helping them embark on productive actions in the next agricultural campaign." He feels national solidarity and the help of international partners will be needed.
Some three million people of Burkinabe origin are said to live in Côte d'Ivoire. They remit about CFA 80 billion to 100 billion (US$ 114 million to US$ 144 billion) each year to Burkina Faso. However, allegations that neighbouring countries had supported an attempt on 7 January to overthrow the elected government in Abidjan, and that the man behind the action was Ivorian opposition leader Alassane Ouattara - whose detractors claim he is Burkinabe - stirred anti-foreigner sentiments to new levels in some parts of Côte d'Ivoire.
Since then, returnees said, Burkina Faso nationals have been harassed, beaten and, at one point, arrested by students at checkpoints. Even as they returned home, Ivorian police and customs officials took their money, other belongings and, sometimes, their personal documents, some complained.
- They treat us like cocoa bags, said Hamidou Bance, who returned to Ouagadougou on 17 January. "We had to pay 5,000 or 10,000 fcfa before continuing our journey.'' One US dollar is equivalent to about CFA 700. Another returnee, Paul Gasbeogo, said: "I was made to strip naked because they [the police] wanted to get everything I had on me."
However, some of the migrants said they would return to Côte d'Ivoire since they had property there. One man, T. S. brought home his five younger brothers and sisters, but said he was going back because his late father had built a lot of houses in Abidjan.
In October 1999, at the height of a political battle between then president Henry Konan Bedie and Ouattara's Rassemblement des Republicains (RDR), some 12,000 to 20,000 Burkinabes were forced to leave Tabou, southwestern Côte d'Ivoire, following a fatal argument between a Burkinabe and locals.
It cost three billion CFA to look after the 1999 returnees, according to the government, which estimates that it will need up to 60 billion CFA to cater for the new returnees if their number reaches 300,000 people. Burkina Faso is one of Africa's poorest countries.
The Ivorian Supreme Court barred Ouattara from running for election as president and to parliament, saying that he failed to meet eligibility criteria including the requirement that candidates prove that they are of Ivorian parentage and have never held another nationality.
On 19 January, the Burkina Faso Movement for Human and People's Rights (MBDHP) said it was "horrified by the acts of xenophobia and chauvinism that constitute the backbone of the policies of current and recent Ivorian authorities". The Ivorian plantation economy has been dependent on immigrants and migrant workers since its very establishment in colonial times.
Some of the Burkina Faso nationals have lived in Côte d'Ivoire since the 1920s and many were born in the neighbouring country. "Some of them are Burkinabes only in name because they have never been in Burkina Faso," said Jamano, who travelled earlier to Côte d'Ivoire and met some of the migrants. "Some have duplicated the name of their region in Côte d'Ivoire where they have their own traditional chiefs, so where do you want those people to go?"
In a move to ease tension between Côte d'Ivoire and its neighbours, security ministers from Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo are to meet on Thursday in the Ivorian capital, Yamassoukro. Côte d'Ivoire, which has experienced political unrest and violence for over one year now, has been heavily criticised by the OAU and neighbour countries for its 2000 elections, where Ouattara's main oppositional party was excluded from participating.
The Yamassoukro meeting was decided during last week's Franco-African Summit in Yaoundé, Cameroon. "We have invited our security ministers to assess security problems and the situation at our borders in relation with the past events in order to work out ways for better cooperation between our services," Burkinabe President Blaise Compaore said on 18 January on national radio on his return from Yaoundé, where he met Ivorian head of state Laurent Gbagbo.
- This will help avoid misunderstanding, and will serve to offer necessary assistance to that country (Côte d'Ivoire) so as to ensure its stability, Compaore said.