Page last updated at 15:44 GMT, Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Mali albino given Spanish asylum 'fled discrimination'

By Sarah Rainsford
BBC News, Madrid

Malian musician Salif Keita
Abdoulaye Coulibaly's case was supported by famous Malian Salif Keita

Lawyers for a Malian albino man granted asylum in Spain have told the BBC he faced constant discrimination at home.

Abdoulaye Coulibaly, 22, who arrived illegally by boat in the Spanish Canary Islands in April, says he also survived two kidnap attempts in 2007.

Cases of violence aimed at albinos are unusual in Mali, but there have been numerous cases of murder, kidnap and torture of albinos in East Africa.

Lawyers say Mr Coulibaly's case shows the problems are more widespread.

In Tanzania, witchdoctors sell good-luck potions made from the body parts of albino people for thousands of dollars.

'Bad luck'

Mr Coulibaly is the first albino man from Africa to be granted asylum by Spain.

We've been telling people that albinos are human like anyone else, that their hair doesn't bring happiness or wealth
Mamoutou Keita of the Salif Keita Foundation

His case was taken up by the Spanish refugee aid agency, CEAR.

"He found it difficult to get work in Mali and whenever anything went wrong in his town, people would blame him," Kimi Aoki, a lawyer from CEAR in Las Palmas, told the BBC.

"They said he brought bad luck," she said.

Mr Coulibaly was even blamed when the boat that carried the migrants to Spain from Africa got into difficulty.

Ms Aoki said he escaped two kidnap attempts with the help of people on the street.

"They tried to kidnap me twice to use my body," Mr Coulibaly told Spanish newspaper El Pais.

"I know they cut off the fingers and hands of other albinos to use them in rituals."

Lawyers' surprise

His case was supported by the famous Malian musician Salif Keita, who is albino himself.


Even so, the foundation established by the singer says a series of public information campaigns in Mali have helped reduce the risk of kidnap or killing.

"We've been telling people that albinos are human like anyone else, that their hair doesn't bring happiness or wealth, that their heart is the same as anyone's," the foundation's Mamoutou Keita says.

"More and more people are starting to understand that an albino is like anyone else. All that's different is the lack of melanin in their skin."

Now in Tenerife, Mr Coulibaly is learning Spanish and plans to find work.

He has also discussed trying to help his two brothers - who are also albino - join him legally in Spain.

It can take up to two years for the Spanish authorities to process an asylum application but Mr Coulibaly's case was completed in just nine months.

Surprised local lawyers call it a "real success" and hope it can help other albino people who seek refuge here.

The asylum application of the only other African albino to do so previously was rejected and is currently under appeal.

Spain's Interior Ministry did not accept that the serious daily discrimination he reported in Nigeria amounted to persecution.

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Country profile: Mali
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