Senegal′s migrants: the lure of ′somewhere else′ | Africa | DW | 05.12.2016

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Senegal's migrants: the lure of 'somewhere else'

Tempted by the notion of 'easy migration' spread online and on television, many Senegalese are still attempting the perilous trip to Europe.

In Wolof, the local Senegalese language, "Barça or Barsaax" is simple rhyming slang that illustrates the far from simple journey men are willing to embark on to reach Europe. It means "Barcelona or die" and is an apt description of the sacrifice thousands of men make for their families.

A decade ago, thousands of Senegalese boarded fishing boats ill-adapted for the open seas in the hope of reaching Barcelona, Malaga, Marseille, Paris or Rome. Tragically, thousands never made it. 

Today, the route takes them inland passing through Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Morocco or Libya where again they board often unseaworthy vessels for journeys that end in disaster.

Senegal DW-Dreharbeiten - Hinterbliebene von Flüchtlingen in Thiaroye-sur-mer

Aly Khoury Diop lost his son and ten members of his extended family

According to the International Organization for Migration in the Senegalese capital Dakar, around 6000 Senegalese men have been logged on  arrival at reception centers in Italy and Greece this year. 

Some left their rural villages from the interior of Senegal, but just as many leave from Dakar or its suburbs. The will to migrate isn't a rural condition. In Thiaroye-sur-Mer, a seafront fishing suburb of the capital, more than 500 men have gone missing since 2006. Their families cling to the hope that they will hear from them one day.

Mourning the disappeared 

Aly Khoury Diop, 73, the president of a family support association in Thiaroye-sur-Mer has himself lost several family members to migration.

One of his eldest sons recently travelled to Morocco in the hope of reaching Spain. "I called him to tell him: 'stay in Morocco for work, don't go to sea, stay in Morocco'. He said that he would," said Diop, a tall and wiry man, elegant in his white robe, prayer beads constantly shuffling though his fingers.

Mame Betty Ngom, a mother also from Thiroye-sur-Mer, reluctantly gave her son the permission and money to pay for the crossing. Hands clasped, shoulders slumped, she remembers how her son begged her to let him go. "If I'd known, I would have given him the money to start working here instead of trying to go by sea, but he would tell us every day that people were leaving," she said.

Senegal DW-Dreharbeiten - Hinterbliebene von Flüchtlingen in Thiaroye-sur-mer (Rechte: DW/G. Vollmer)

Mame Betty has registered herself as a member of the support association

'Fantasy of somewhere else' 

The desire to migrate has been intensified by rising unemployment and the deterioration of living conditions, said Dr Aly Tandian, Director of the Study and Research Group on Migration and Society and researcher at the Department of Sociology at Gaston Berger University, Senegal. The media also promote a fantasy of "somewhere else," he said.

Economic, environmental and sociopolitical motives are the most cited reasons for migration, but television and the Internet "strengthen the illusion of a European or North American Eldorado." Tandian added. The idea of easy migration has taken root in the collective consciousness as a solution accessible to all.

"In Senegal, discourse on the subject has the tendency to quickly turn into a conversation based on an idyllic image of migration. For those seeking to leave, the beauty they see on television is quickly compared to the image that Africa is struck by all evils," Tandian said.

Managing migration 

Ten years ago, within the space of a few days from 12 to 14 May, 2006,  the Canary Islands witnessed the arrival of a thousand migrants. The Spanish government reacted by strengthening air and sea patrols, launched joint patrol operations with the Mauritanian government, and planned for the repatriation of arriving and intercepted migrants.

At the time, the then Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade received a group of about 500 young returnees from Spain. He told them the state was not stopping them from leaving, but rather, they should do so in an organized manner. 

"No one has ever said that you should not leave. We need order, organization and discipline. I do not want to stop you from going, on the contrary. Emigrants settled abroad send money that benefit their families and themselves," Wade declared.

Senegal DW-Dreharbeiten - Hinterbliebene von Flüchtlingen in Thiaroye-sur-mer

Many young Senegalese don't see a future in their country

Tandian says that Senegal tends to see efforts to curb migration as more as "a fight against the smuggling of human beings, rather than a policy to keep the mass of young, inactive people who dream permanently of Europe, in Senegal."

He believes countries need to manage migration. "I think a policy of circular migration could help the states of the North and the South. The former need a labor force because of their aging populations. The countries of the South can offer a quality workforce of highly skilled migrants that would benefit from quality training," said Tandian. 

Building a future at home 

Vocational training has helped hundreds of young people without school diplomas or degrees enter the labor market in Senegal. There are several centers for vocational training in Senegal, often operating without government support. In Thiès, an hour from Dakar, the Aspail center has been training young people in electromechanics since 1998.  Set up by a German master craftsman, it helps young people find a future in Senegal.

Senegal DW-Dreharbeiten - Hinterbliebene von Flüchtlingen in Thiaroye-sur-mer (Rechte: DW/G. Vollmer)

Dame Sylla sees his future in Senegal

28-year-old Dam Sylla is from Thies and has attended two courses at the center. The first time was to learn the trade and the second, earlier this year, was to perfect his knowledge. 

He has no plans to leave Senegal. "I want to get married and settle down. With the training course, if you work hard enough you get your certificate and can apply to work in a company," he said.

"But I want to set up my own workshop. I really believe in learning a trade, it's the only way to make it here."


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