It's rush hour on Avenida Rivadavia in the buzzing, pulsating quarter of Once in Buenos Aires. On the pavement, street vendors have put up small stands every two meters: Earrings, watches and sunglasses are spread out on big shawls on the floor, they pile up in suitcases, or dangle from umbrellas.
"It's cold," says one of the vendors, rubbing his hands. Koaku Bu Date Rodrigue was born in Ivory Coast. The 25-year-old came to Argentina two years ago.
"My country is in a civil war. I was forced to fight in a rebels' group," says Koaku. "One morning I managed to escape. I made my way to San Pedro port and hid in the container room of a ship." Koaku doesn't remember just how long he had to hide for. When the ship stopped moving he was in Argentina.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of Africans leave their home countries. Many want to go to Europe. But the EU has been sealing off its external frontiers.
"I had heard of Europe, but I didn't know how to get there. You need money and you need to know people," says Koaku.
Like Koaku, many Africans are therefore now considering other destinations, such as Latin America. In Argentina, the number of African migrants and refugees has more than doubled since 2005.
The national refugee commission CO NA RE has registered more than 3,000 over the past five years. Illegal immigrants from Africa today make up the second largest group of asylum seekers in Argentina. Most of them come from Senegal or Ivory Coast. Neighbouring Brazil reports similar developments.
Senegal and Côte d'Ivoire, it's worth noting, are arguably the two West African countries most closely integrated with global migration flows. A Reuters article goes into greater detail.
In Brazil, Africans are now the largest refugee group, representing 65 percent of all asylum seekers, according to the Brazil's national committee for refugees.
There are now more than 3,000 African immigrants living in Argentina, up from just a few dozen eight years ago. The number of asylum seekers each year has risen abruptly, to about 1,000 a year, and a third of them are African.
"We're seeing a steep increase in the number of Africans coming to the country and seeking asylum," said Carolina Podesta, of the Argentine office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
This is still low compared to the tens of thousands of immigrants who make the journey to Europe each year, but Africans are expected to come to Latin America in increasing numbers.
"It's a search for new destinations," Podesta said, adding that many were being pushed by tougher European immigration and security policies put in place after September 11, 2001.
[. . .] Africans might arrive on cargo ships or commercial planes and then seek asylum or overstay tourist visas. In Argentina, they can obtain temporary work visas shortly after arriving and renew them every three months.
"The migratory policies of the country are very favorable," said Manzanares. "It's a reflection of history. What happened with European immigrants 100 years ago is now happening with African immigrants."
The Democratic Republic of Congo is also a major source of migrants, given the ongoing horrors, while Brazil has been connected with Lusophone Africa--Angola and Mozambique particularly--even since the post-independence migrations.
The accounts of African immigration to Argentina and Brazil emphasize the similarities between this 21st century migration and the migrations from Europe to South America which began in the late 19th century, driven by the search for economic opportunity. (Parallels with the African slave trade that inflicted so much suffering, thankfully, haven't been raised.) The critical difference between these two migrations is that the African migrants number in the thousands, while the Europeans numbered in the millions. This may change--with the increasing difficulty of getting into Europe or even the Maghreb, the relative attractiveness of Argentina and Brazil as immigration destinations, the apparent relative ease of legalization in Argentina, and what may be the beginning of chain-migration networks set up by these first African immigrants, the phenomenon may indeed take on the proportions of the earlier European migration. Certainly it merits watching.