Illegal migration - the Senegal experience and plans

By Africa Alliance News
Listen to article

Jean Bassene, National General Secretary, Senegal YMCA

In the last decade there has been a sharp increase in the migratory flux from Senegal to Europe and with the reinforcement of the terrestrial border control system, Senegal became one of the first African countries of origin and transit for illegal migration. Forty-six percent of Senegalese migrants seek to reach the European lands, Spain and Italy having particularly experienced a growth in the number of immigrants (Van Criekinge, 2008). Migration from Senegal towards Europe was characterised during recent years by illegal means, with the two main options being ocean or terrestrial (through the desert) routes. From 2005 to 2007 over 50 000 people migrated illegally, resulting in the turning back of more than 4 065 people by air, and more than one thousand by land (Tandian, 2007). The data on those who perished during this dangerous journey is even more difficult to establish.

The youth aged 15 to 34 constitute the largest number of Senegalese migrants (Van Criekinge, 2008). The study undertaken by Caritas (a Senegal YMCA partner NGO) in September 2008 among 50 returned illegal immigrants reveals that the majority were young people between 20 and 29, of which 96% were male. According to the data of the International Programme on Migration (ILO, 2006) which indicates that 49.6% of all migrants come from Dakar and Saint Louis, the departure points include Dakar, Saint Louis, Kayar (Thies) and Ziguinchor (Casamance).

High-level panel meetings, forums and workshops undertaken by the Senegal YMCA and Caritas of Dakar with several stakeholders, focused on the increasing phenomenon which primarily affects the youth. A number of issues were highlighted:

• Lack of information among potential young migrants and their families on the risks of the illegal migration as well as about the illegal migrant living conditions in Europe. Lack of information and support on youth opportunities to emigrate in a legal way eg. obtaining a European visa, etc.

• Negative views about migration, including the high level of stigmatisation of returned migrants.

• The solutions recommended by the State and NGOs as alternatives to youth migration do not meet the appropriate needs of young people and are not well known by the youth.

• A lack of coordination between civil society, the private sector and the government in developing and implementing effective solutions to reduce illegal migration and promote the socio-economic reintegration of returned migrants.

• Limited data/statistics on illegal migration of youth and minors from Senegal to Europe.

The results of these meetings led to the civil society identifying specific areas of reintegration support to returned migrants and to providing information on the risks of illegal migration among the youth and minors.

Efforts made by international agencies such as the International Migration Organisation (IMO) to help the Senegalese government to reduce illegal migration had an impact on the decrease of the migratory flux from Senegal. But the 2009 orientation priorities stressed care and capacity building in the management of migration issues. Among the programmes implemented by the Senegalese government to deal with illegal migration and promote the reintegration of the returned migrants was through the Retour Vers l'Agriculture/Back to agriculture (REVA) plan. A study carried out by the Senegal YMCA in 2008 revealed though, that civil society was not significantly involved in the designing of this initiative and that many young people did not seize this opportunity. This was due on the one hand to the lack of information, but it can also be surmised that such programmes did not effectively meet the needs and aspirations of most of young people.

The Senegal European Commission country document for 2008-2013 declares that the Government of Senegal must make illegal migration one of its main priorities.

The Senegal YMCA has, since 2008, taken initiatives, in accordance with its mission, by organising workshops in partnership with Caritas Dakar, to do an in-depth situational analysis and search for solutions for tackling the problem.

The results of these workshops have steered the Senegal YMCA in the fight against illegal migration through the following actions:

• The development of Youth Rural Entrepreneurship to reduce rural exodus, which is the starting point of illegal migration. Currently research is being undertaken to evaluate the potential of certain rural communities, to discuss with the young people and the authorities to identify actions to socially and economically empower young people. We also plan to organise youth to take part in the management of their area and to lobby for the development of good youth policies by the local and government authorities. A project proposal will shortly be submitted to financial partners in this regard. Currently, through the 'HIV/AIDS and socio-economic integration of youth and women' programme, youth of Mbadakhoune rural community, Fatick Region, are to be trained and supported in the development of rural entrepreneurship activities.

• Coaching the Kayar Returned Young Migrant Association, providing them with technical and organisational support for the development of fundable projects. We plan with this association of over 200 members, to organise actions of capacity reinforcement and sensitisation about illegal migration. These returned young migrants will be the main actors of the sensitisation actions.

• Submission of a project proposal to:
• prevent the illegal migration of Senegalese youth and minors to European Union (EU) countries;

• implement effective programmes for socio-economic reintegration of returned young Senegalese;

• reinforce the capacities and coordinate civil society organisations to better meet the needs of minors and young potential candidates for illegal migration.

In partnership with Y Care International and the YMCA of Spain, this proposal has been submitted to the European Union.

The Senegal YMCA plans to embark on advocacy with other civil society organisations for the respect of the migrants' rights in Senegal as well as in the Mediterranean and EU countries. The advocacy actions will also address the issue of free movement of goods and people within the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) as stipulated by the organisation's regulation.

There is much work to be done to address both the problems relating to migration and illegal migration in particular, as well as to mitigate the situation that youth find so desperate within the country that they will risk their lives to escape. The Senegal YMCA will continue to address the situation holistically and continue to seek partners to achieve the work started within the framework of the fight against the degrading migratory phenomenon.

Photo: Spanish Red Cross assists those who succeed to reach the Canary Islands with emergency aid and clean and dry clothes. The photo was taken in January 2008.

Credit: Manuel Lérida/Spanish Red Cross (p-ESP0058)

Rider: This article originally appeared in Siyahamba (no. 19 - Migration), newsletter of the Africa Alliance of YMCA