Senegal’s emigrants take dangerous risks to find a better life

By Emily Thompson

Increasing numbers of would-be Senegalese migrants are heading to Central America in the hopes of making it to the United States. But the journey is often fraught with danger, expensive and uncertain.

The Atlantic route is said to be the deadliest and busiest migrant passage in the world. More than 3,500 people died last year alone trying to reach Europe according to a report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Other NGOs estimate the death toll is much higher.

According to at least one report, the Spanish non-profit organization Caminando Fronteras (Walking Borders) says more than 6,600 migrants died on the Atlantic route last year as a record 55,618 migrants arrived in Spain by boat with most of them landing in the Canary Islands.

Despite the risks, the route is gaining popularity as the land journey to the Mediterranean Sea through North Africa has become increasingly militarized, with Libya, Tunisia, Morocco and Mauritania in bilateral agreements with the European Union (EU) to stop migration.

An Al-Jazeera report last year noted that Senegal has worked with the Spanish coastal guard to monitor transit routes since 2005 and was in talks at the time to partner with Frontex, the EU border agency accused of illegal pushback of migrants in distress.

In June, the EU announced it would strengthen border controls with African countries.

A plan put forward by Senegal aims to better prevent would-be migrants from leaving the country by using tighter border controls, targeting smuggling networks and providing protection to migrants already on the move.

Many experts blame rising sea temperatures and years of overfishing for causing depleted stocks of fish which are crucial to the economy. A third of the country lives in poverty, and even with an education, it’s difficult for many to find sustainable jobs.

People are trying to emigrate from Senegal for various reasons. Economic opportunities are a major factor, as many seek better job prospects and higher wages abroad due to high unemployment and limited local opportunities. Access to quality education and advanced training also motivates young people to move to countries with better educational systems.

While Senegal is considered relatively stable, issues like corruption, political instability, and inadequate governance are pushing people to seek more stable environments elsewhere.

Healthcare is another significant reason, with some emigrating to access better medical services for themselves and their families.

Social networks established in countries like France, Italy, Spain, and the United States provide support and facilitate migration. Although Senegal is generally safe, regional instability and threats from extremist groups in neighboring areas can influence the decision to migrate.

Cultural factors also play a role, as migration to Europe or elsewhere is seen as a means to achieve better social status, and money transfers sent back home support families and communities.

But emigrating from Senegal involves significant dangers, which include hazardous journeys across the Sahara Desert, perilous sea crossings, exploitation by human traffickers, and harsh conditions in detention centers. Migrants often face dehydration, starvation, and violence. Additionally, many migrants endure abuse and exploitation at the hands of smugglers and traffickers who promise safe passage.

Recent statistics indicate that these dangers often lead to tragic outcomes. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that in 2023, over 1,000 migrants died or went missing attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea, a common route for Senegalese migrants. UNHCR and other organizations have also documented fatalities in the Sahara Desert, although exact numbers are difficult to ascertain due to the remoteness of the area.

In one particularly harrowing incident in August 2023, a boat carrying migrants from Senegal capsized off the coast of Cape Verde, resulting in over 60 deaths. Such incidents underscore the extreme risks involved in these attempts to leave the country.

These statistics highlight the urgent need for authorities to prevent such dangerous journeys. At the same time, Senegal must work to improve the standard of living so that its citizens will not feel the need to flee abroad for a better life. Although the international community continues to work towards addressing these issues, the dangers remain a stark reality for many migrants.

Image: Pixabay

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