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Committee on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers considers first report of Burkina Faso

10 September 2013

The Committee on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of their Families today completed its consideration of the initial report of Burkina Faso on its implementation of the International Convention on the Protection of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families.

Presenting the report, Prosper Vokouma, Permanent Representative of Burkina Faso at Geneva, said that Burkina Faso had been a centre for intense migration, which continued to have an impact on all human activity in the country. Several million Burkinabè citizens lived and worked abroad and 0.4 per cent of the country’s population was foreign migrant workers. Measures undertaken to promote and protect human rights included the creation of a separate Ministry for Human Rights in 2002, the adoption of a national migration strategy for 2014-2025, the establishment of the High Council of Burkina Faso citizens living abroad, and several bilateral and multilateral migration agreements. Burkina Faso had also established a National Monitoring and Oversight Committee focusing on issues related to trafficking in persons.

During the interactive dialogue with the delegation, the Committee thanked Burkina Faso on the additional details provided in the presentation and raised issues concerning the lack of disaggregated statistical data concerning foreigners living in Burkina Faso and Burkinabè migrant workers abroad, the outcome of the implementation in practice of migration strategies and action plans, the transfer by migrant workers of remittances to Burkina Faso, and the procedure of repatriation of ill or deceased migrant workers. Questions were also asked about action taken to raise awareness about the Convention, access of migrant workers to employment, education and health care in Burkina Faso, and measures taken to protect the right to vote of Burkinabè citizens abroad.

In concluding remarks, Ahmadou Tall, Country Rapporteur for Burkina Faso, said that Burkina Faso was one of the West African countries which attached the greatest importance to human rights, despite its difficult economic situation. In recent years, considerable efforts had been made by Burkina Faso to ensure the effective implementation of the Convention. The lack of statistical data was something that should be rectified in the next report.

The Delegation of Burkina Faso included representatives from the Ministry for Human Rights and Civic Protection, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Cooperation, the Ministry of Economy and Finance, the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Security, and the Permanent Mission of Burkina Faso to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The next public meeting of the Committee will take place at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, 10 September, when it will begin its consideration of the initial report of Morocco (http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=CERD/C/JAM/16-20).

Report

The initial report of Burkina Faso can be read here: CMC/C/BFA/1.

Presentation of the Report

PROSPER VOKOUMA, Permanent Representative of the Mission of Burkina Faso to the United Nations Office at Geneva, started by saying that mobility had always been part of human history, and migration was a cross-cutting issue. Burkina Faso had been a centre of intense migration, both domestic and cross-border, which continued to have an impact on all human activity in the country. An estimated three and a half million Burkinabè citizens resided in Cote d’Ivoire, three million in Ghana, just over one million in Sudan and one million in Mali. Burkina Faso hosted a significant number of foreigners: 0.4 per cent of the 14 million inhabitants of the country were foreign citizens, coming mainly from Mali, Togo and Benin.

Measures taken to promote and protect human rights included the creation in 2002 of the Ministry for Human Rights and Civil Promotion and the adoption of a national migration strategy for 2014-2025. Migrant workers made an important contribution to the economy of Burkina Faso, which had several agreements with West African countries. Burkina Faso had an institutional framework in place to protect the rights of migrant workers and was party to almost all regional agreements on migration as well as to several international instruments. The country had concluded bilateral migration agreements with Mali, Cote d’Ivoire and France.

With the exception of Articles 17 and 41 of the Convention, which raised practical issues and therefore were difficult to implement, there were currently no obstacles to the implementation of the Convention. Effective efforts were being made to allow Burkinabè citizens abroad to exercise their voting rights. The socio-political crisis in certain neighbouring countries, such as Cote d’Ivoire, had put migrant workers in a precarious situation and many of them had been forced to move back home. The recent Libyan crisis had also led to large-scale repatriation of Burkinabè citizens. A mechanism had been established to help citizens returning to Burkina Faso, such as by providing financial assistance and help with practical matters. Burkina Faso had also produced a prospectus on investment opportunities ‘back home’ for the Burkinabè diaspora.

Trafficking in persons was a serious problem, and Burkina Faso had signed a number of international agreements in order to tackle it. In 2009 the Government created a National Monitoring and Oversight Committee, which focused on trafficking and related issues. A national action plan had been established for the protection and rehabilitation of child victims of trafficking and sexual violence, and a free-phone number had been set up for anyone who wished to report incidents of trafficking. Over 300 cases of trafficking related offences had been prosecuted. Awareness-raising campaigns had also been undertaken and training sessions had been carried out among various professional groups of the population. The result of those measures was a significant drop in the number of child labour victims.

Other measures included the creation of the High Council of Burkina Faso nationals living abroad, and the launch of a national migration strategy that provided knowledge and skills transfer between migrant workers and prospective migrants. Awareness-raising campaigns alerted migrant workers residing in Burkina Faso to their right to vote. The Ministry for Human Rights and Civil Promotion had also published in various national newspapers a message calling for respect towards the rights of migrant workers and members their families. The programme, known as “Convergence”, provided a space for all communities in the country to express themselves and strengthen links with the host population. Burkina Faso was determined to take onboard the recommendations of the Committee in order to make its efforts to promote the rights of all migrant workers, without discrimination, even more effective.

Questions by Experts

AHMADOU TALL, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur for the report of Burkina Faso, said that the Committee fully understood the reasons for which Burkina Faso’s initial report, which was expected in 2005, had been significantly delayed. Burkina Faso had ratified the Convention without reservations in 2003 but had not yet made the declarations provided for under Articles 76 and 77 of the Convention. During the colonial period, Burkina Faso was treated as a labour reservoir for neighbouring countries, particularly Cote d’Ivoire, and many persons had been sent abroad to work there. Others left the country voluntarily, to live and work in Ghana. As a result, a large number of Burkina Faso’s citizens resided abroad. Burkina Faso’s poverty had contributed to migration movement towards neighbouring countries, even after the country had gained its independence.

Mr. Tall noted with concern the lack of accurate quantitative data in the report, which made it difficult for the Government to make effective policies based on specific data. The establishment of national action plans and strategies was a positive development but more information was needed on the outcome of those strategies. The Committee would welcome information on whether Burkina Faso had any plans to fully incorporate Article 10 of the Convention in domestic legislation. Details were requested on specific measures taken by Burkina Faso to allow migrant workers, including those in an irregular situation, to enjoy the rights provided for under the Convention. The provision of disaggregated data and detailed statistics concerning migration flows into and out of the country were a requirement. The delegation was invited to share with the Committee specific examples of how the measures mentioned in the report were implemented in practice.

An Expert noted that Burkina Faso was primarily a sending country and said that in the presentation nothing was mentioned about the type and level of support offered to those living outside the country. Were specially-trained staff posted to destination countries where there were significant numbers of Burkinabè citizens working, to offer support? Was legal support provided to migrants on issues relating to work, family, migration and the criminal code, the four main areas where the average migrant required support and assistance when living abroad? That was especially true for irregular migrants, whose identification documents were often stolen or confiscated. What specific support policies were in place to help returning migrants reintegrate in society?

The composition of the Burkina Faso delegation was a testament to the importance the country attached to migration issues, said an Expert. As the country’s economy grew there was increasing hope that more targeted policies would be put in place to promote and protect the rights of migrant workers. What specific steps had Burkina Faso taken as part of a realistic strategy, which could be easily implemented both in the near future and in the long run? Were there any legal agreements at the regional level for the protection of Burkina Faso workers abroad?

The lack of statistical data on migration flows and the number of regular and irregular migrant workers in the country made it difficult to understand whether, or to what extent, migrant workers enjoyed their rights. Was there any contact with countries where large numbers of Burkina Faso citizens resided? What role did Burkina Faso consulates abroad play in the repatriation of returning migrants?

Concerns about migrant domestic workers, both coming in and leaving the country, were raised by an Expert, who asked whether those workers had access to healthcare facilities.

Given the large number of Burkinabè workers abroad, could the delegation explain in concrete figures what kind of financial contribution those persons made to Burkina Faso’s economy, an Expert asked. Was there a coordination framework in Burkina Faso to ensure that consultations were held on migration policy? If so, which Ministry was responsible for such consultations? Were there arrangements to facilitate the easy transfer of possessions and remittances by Burkinabè living abroad?

What percentage of the migrant workers working outside Burkina Faso were temporal or seasonal workers and what percentage represented permanent or long-term migrants?

Response by delegation

The delegation said that migration was a historical issue for Burkina Faso, in the sense that the country had been undertaking measures to manage migration flows for some time. The principle of non-discrimination in all areas was enshrined in the country’s Constitution, and everyone living in Burkina Faso, including foreigners and migrant workers, was equal before the law.

Concerning the purchase of land and property, a quota was set aside for returning migrant workers in order to facilitate their return to Burkina Faso.

The National Human Rights Commission, which was an independent body, was recently reviewed to ensure that it was fulfilling its mission. Its restructuring had contributed to its revitalization and protected its institutional and financial independence. Members of civil society organizations collaborated with the Commission, as did representatives of various public authorities.

Even though the report had been drafted in a participatory way, nevertheless it did not fully cover all the achievements made by Burkina Faso in recent years in terms of implementing the Convention. Precise data and detailed statistics were very difficult to obtain, which is why they had not been included in the report.

In response to the question about the establishment of a framework for consultations on migration policy in Burkina Faso, the delegation said that the High Council of Burkinabè citizens abroad was the principal forum for consultation on all migration issues, particularly issues related to migrant workers. The High Council was a State body and all its staff were civil servants. It had been created to represent all Burkinabè abroad without distinction, to facilitate their participation in activities promoting Burkina Faso, to make them aware of the legislation of their host country, to provide assistance within available resources, and to bring together members of Burkina Faso communities by organizing cultural and sports activities. Concerning the role of consulates, a delegate replied that consular missions abroad organized many events and awareness-raising campaigns every year.

Regarding employment, a delegate said that all citizens working in Burkina Faso had the right to join trade unions, which currently comprised several thousand members, including foreigners. All companies and public bodies had an obligation to deal with job applications without any discrimination whatsoever.

Response by Delegation

The delegation said that all citizens living in Burkina Faso had equal access to public services and were treated equally before the law in terms of employment opportunities, access to banking and postal services and access to healthcare. The implementation of public policy in Burkina Faso was based on inclusion and participation.

Concerning Burkina Faso’s national migration strategy, the delegation said that it was based on international instruments. The main objective of the strategy was to guarantee the protection of migrant rights as a way of promoting social cohesion, boosting regional and national cooperation, and reducing poverty by 2020. Local communities, civil society and migrant organizations were involved in the implementation of the strategy and the associated action plan. As for the long-term vision of the strategy, new data which might become available in the meantime would be taken into account and goals would be reviewed every three years.

In response to the question about remittances, the annual amount of money transferred through official channels had reached 48 billion Central African CFA francs, but that amount had been significantly lower during the period 1999-2000 because of the events taking place in Cote d’Ivoire around that time. It should be borne in mind that large sums were also transferred through informal channels. There were many financial institutions which facilitated the transfer of funds to Burkina Faso. Consular bodies launched campaigns to raise awareness among migrant workers about the importance of remitting back to Burkina Faso and investing in their country of origin. Remittances made up between 1.8 and 4.5 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product.

Migration had been identified as a driving force for development and remittances made it possible to create small industrial units where young persons were employed. Some of the main investments made by migrants included the purchase of flats and the construction of houses in Burkina Faso.

The lack of statistics in the report was due to the weakness of the birth and death registration system in Burkina Faso, but efforts were made to collect data through household and other surveys in order to get some idea of the situation of the population. Meanwhile, the birth and death registration system was currently being modernized, and, to that end, major resources were being mobilized by the Government. That would help to improve the reliability of statistics.

Concerning the collection of data on temporary and long-term migrants, the delegation said that it was difficult to gather such information. During the dry season, people tended to migrate to Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana but many of them would return during the rainy season to cultivate the land back home.

Multilateral agreements had been signed by Burkina Faso to facilitate the transfer of pensions. Those agreements also covered the transfer of maternity leave benefit and illness benefit. Prior to that, retired persons had to return to the country where they had worked to receive their pension, but that was no longer the case. Similar bilateral agreements had also been signed with neighbouring countries.

Concerning domestic workers, no distinction was made on the basis of nationality. Workers with grievances could bring a case before the courts to resolve disputes with their employer. In terms of social security contributions, all companies had an obligation to register their employees. Immigrants had to register too, which allowed them to benefit from a pension scheme and to receive healthcare.

In response to the questions about Burkina Faso’s diplomatic and consular network, the delegation said that there were 28 embassies throughout the world, several consulates, and more than 100 honorary consular services. The diplomatic personnel working there had a varied background, so their compatriots benefited from the staff’s diverse areas of expertise.

Concerning the repatriation of ill or deceased migrant workers, the employer usually covered the cost of repatriation. Once notification of death had been received by the consular service abroad, the migrant worker’s family back home would be notified immediately and they would make all necessary decisions concerning the repatriation and burial of the corpse.

About managing migratory flows between France and Burkina Faso, the delegation said that an agreement had entered into force in June 2011. Initial assessment of the effectiveness of the agreement had shown many positive results, including the improvement of the visa issuing mechanism and the regularization of those in an irregular situation. As the agreement had entered into force only very recently, more detailed information about its results was not yet available.

The linguistic diversity of the country ensured that there was no discrimination against groups of foreign workers. There were no incidents of ethnic tensions or clashes in Burkina Faso, where ethnic harmony and collaboration reigned. The official language of the country was French, in which all official documents were drafted. Several national languages were spoken in various areas of the country. Important official documents were translated into those languages too. Literacy awareness-raising initiatives included the organization of conferences, theatre events and other cultural activities in the national languages.

The right to education was enshrined in the Constitution and was implemented through a 2007 law, which forbade all discrimination. Thus, schooling was obligatory for children of all backgrounds up to the age of 16 years old. Children were enrolled in school even if they did not have a birth certificate, so the irregular situation of a migrant father did not have an impact on the schooling of migrant children. Primary school education was offered to all children free of charge.

Concerning the right to vote of Burkinabè citizens living abroad, measures were taken to allow them to participate in future elections. The right was enshrined in the constitution and practical arrangements to implement that right were currently under way.

The delegation said that home ownership was important in Burkina Faso. Many migrant workers invested in real estate back home in Burkina Faso, especially migrants working in Italy. Consular missions often included businessmen who went abroad to identify new investment opportunities.

Concerning the issue of domestic workers, both foreigners and Burkinabè, the delegation said that that remained a specific focus of Government policy. A specific decree had been adopted on domestic workers to provide protection against violence and guarantee minimum pay. Implementation of the decree could be strengthened further, and the Government was currently working on that.

The effective implementation of the Convention remained a top priority for the Government, which had taken specific measures to raise awareness and make the Convention more widely known. Lack of awareness of the Convention could become a source of problems and would lead to the violation of migrant workers’ rights, which Burkina Faso wanted to avoid. To make the Convention more widely known, the Minister for Human Rights had drafted in 2009 a compendium of all the instruments which protected migrant workers’ rights. In addition, the Ministry for Human Rights worked closely with civil society partners who were active in the protection of migrant workers’ rights, and together they organized conferences and various other awareness-raising events.

Civil society organizations which worked to raise awareness about the rights of migrant workers received government funding and technical support. Annual celebrations of the International Day of Migrants provided a welcome opportunity to promote the rights of migrant workers and foreigners living in Burkina Faso in general. Moreover, community days were organized every year to draw attention to the cultural values of various groups and to promote acceptance of migrant worker communities by the local population.

Comments by Experts

An Expert thanked the delegation for the details provided and requested further information on the National Standing Committee for Migration and the Migration Control Division, and on the procedure followed when irregular migrants were apprehended at the border. How did Burkina Faso inform migrants of their legal rights and help them facilitate access to justice? Concern was expressed about the apparent prohibition of paying non-resident workers by cheque. Was that indeed the case?

Burkina Faso’s fruitful engagement with the Committee was praised by another Expert, who then said that the definition of “regular” and “irregular” migrant workers was unclear, and asked what criteria were employed to distinguish between the two categories of workers? Regarding access to judicial remedies, which was an important element in terms of addressing the grievances of migrant workers, how many appeals had been received from migrant workers complaining of a violation of their rights and seeking redress and what was the outcome of those cases? Were there other means by which migrant workers could approach court authorities?

The regularization of the birth certification system was a commendable initiative, said an Expert. Could the delegation provide details on the procedure followed for the birth certification of migrant children in particular, who were in need of international protection?

An Expert asked about measures taken to combat trafficking in children specifically. What was being done to help isolated minors who had ended up in Burkina Faso for one reason or another and had been separated from their families?

Response by Delegation

The delegation said that statistics were collected by each region separately and that disaggregated data gathered that way was used in national policymaking. Some statistical data had been provided in the report.

Burkina Faso was a secular, democratic country governed by the rule of law, with separation of the executive, the legislative and the judiciary. The independence of the judiciary was fully respected. There were four High Courts, five Supreme Courts, three Labour Courts, and 24 Administrative Courts in the country. Assistance was offered to all persons requiring access to the legal system, including interpreting services for those who did not speak French.

Concerning the definition of irregular workers, the term “irregular” in relation to employment did not exist as such. In Burkina Faso, any irregularity was the responsibility of the employer, not of the employee. For example, the working week consisted of 40 hours and whenever that working condition was violated, that constituted an irregularity for which the employer was responsible.

Burkina Faso’s legislation strictly prohibited discrimination. Measures to combat discrimination included the provision of free access to justice for all. Legal fees were covered for those who lacked the necessary financial means to pay for a lawyer.

A programme of birth registration was open to all children born in Burkina Faso regardless of nationality or country of origin. The Ministry for Human Rights collaborated with other Government bodies to ensure that birth certificates were issued for all children born in the country.

The Ministry for Human Rights comprised a specific department which was constantly engaged in campaigns aimed at raising awareness about the Convention and its provisions. Awareness-raising campaigns targeted not only migrant workers living in Burkina Faso, but the entire citizen body.

Concluding Remarks

AHMADOU TALL, Country Rapporteur for Burkina Faso, in concluding remarks, thanked the high-level delegation whose members had provided useful information on the implementation of the Convention. Burkina Faso was one of the West African countries which attached the greatest importance to human rights despite the country’s difficult economic situation, and should be commended on its work to protect human rights. In recent years, considerable efforts had been made by Burkina Faso to ensure the effective implementation of the Convention. The lack of statistical data was something that should be rectified in the next report, which should be submitted on time. The country had put in place the necessary framework to ensure the enjoyment of rights by all Burkinabè and foreigners. What was needed now was an intensification of efforts to implement that framework in practice.

PROSPER VOKOUMA, Permanent Representative of Burkina Faso at Geneva, thanked all Committee members and the Country Rapporteur in particular for their comments and questions, and expressed his gratitude for the cordial discussion which had taken place. Its initial report was not perfect, but Burkina Faso had every intention to improve next time.

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For use of the information media; not an official record