Comic sends message to youth in Africa and Europe

With the publication of a comic strip called “Des Clandestines à la Mer” (Clandestines at Sea) UNHCR is using an uncommon media to inform the public about the reasons for and the dangers of irregular migration. The French language comic was launched in Brussels this week and is targeting young people in French speaking countries in Africa and Europe.

The guests of UNHCR’s comic book launch are obviously captivated by the adventures of an African in Paris Photo: Nicolas Dufays / UNHCR
The guests of UNHCR’s comic book launch are obviously captivated by the adventures of an African in Paris Photo: Nicolas Dufays / UNHCR

Masikini’s family in Senegal is devastated. They haven’t heard from their brother-in-law for many months. Has his body been washed up on a distant shore or has he made it to Europe? On a plane to Franc, a young woman meets a man who promises to help her get settled. She ends up as a sex slave in Paris.

These and many other adventures are packed in an entertaining 50-page comic strip written by the renowned Belgian writer and performer Pie Tshibanda and illustrated by Tchibemba. That both artists are of African origin gives the comic strip street credibility, says Tshibanda.

For his African audience, the author wanted to debunk the myth that life in Europe is paradise for all Africans if only they make it across the dangerous seas. To Europeans, the comic strip explains the reasons why some Africans are compelled to leave and how they deserve respect and protection.

The book explains the situation of African immigrants in Paris, and the influence of African culture in Europe. It touches upon many more issues such as asylum, joblessness and HIV/AIDS, without ever sounding patronizing.

Given the oral tradition of Africa, comics prove to be the most powerful tools to reach the young, says Pie Tshibanda. Even the guests of the book launch were not immune to the magic and were seen poking their noses in the book. The plot contains all the necessary ingredients, suspense, action, crime, flirtation and humor.

DESCLANDESTINS À LA MERWith a team of actors, Pie Tshibanda also produced a 40-minute audio version of the book. UNHCR plans to broadcast it in North and West African counties, where radio is still the most popular of all media. “The comic will help young Africans make an informed decision about their future,” Tshibanda said.

The book is part of a larger project, financed by the European Commission and the Danish Government. 7,000 copies were printed in the first edition. 5,000 will be distributed for free through cultural institution and NGOs involved in migration and asylum issues in francophone Africa. 2,000 books will remain in Europe to be disseminated through schools and Non-Governmental Organizations.

The comic was produced in the framework of a three-year project aimed at fighting irregular migration and strengthening the protection system in a number of African countries. Production costs for the comic amounted to EUR 30,000 which is only a tiny portion of the overall budget of EUR 5 million.

The adventure ends well: The Senegalese girl is freed and the managers of the prostitution ring are arrested. Masikini makes an unexpected fortune with a medicinal plant from Africa and uses it to start a business and create new jobs in Senegal.

You can download the book here.

The audio program in broadcast quality can be downloaded here (48MB, zip archive of 9MP3 files)

By Melita H. Šunjić
UNHCR Brussels


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