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In Senegal, Would-be Young Migrants Dream of Europe

The rumour spread through the port city of Mbour like a wave unfurling on a beach.

Two boats laden with migrants that in late June had headed out into the Atlantic seeking to reach Spain’s Canary Islands, 1,500 kilometres (950 had gone missing.

But young Senegalese men desperate for a new life in Europe seemed deterred.

“Spain… We all want to go there. If a boat leaves, I’ll jump right in,” said Abdou, in his twenties. “If you’re starving, you always end up finding something to eat somewhere else.”

Sitting in a beachside shelter made of sheet metal, an oasis of calm amid the thrumming port, his friends agreed.

“Whether you live here or die here, it’s all the same,” said one. “There’s no work here, no money. The only solution is Spain.”

Crossing to the Canaries is the most perilous of all the routes that African migrants take in their bid to reach Europe.

It entails days of sailing across treacherous currents in motorised open canoes known as pirogues, which are usually unseaworthy, overladen and lack water.

Attempts surged in late 2019, after Niger clamped down on migration across the Sahara and Europe stepped up patrols on its southern coast, crimping the trans-Mediterranean route.

According to the Spanish authorities, 7,213 people arriving on 150 boats landed in the Canaries in the first half of this year, compared to 8,853 during the same period in 2022.

Attempted crossings typically rise between June and Setpember, when the winds are more favourable, said Moustapha Ndiaye, president of the fishermen’s association in Mbour.

He estimated that 10 pirogues had set sail this month alone, leaving in the dark.

On Thursday, a boat with 41 migrants on board made it to the Spanish archipelago, while another, with 71 onboard, was intercepted by the Senegalese navy


With the surge has come risk.

According to Caminando Fronteras, a Spanish NGO that monitors migrant movement, there is no news of three boats with at least 300 migrants on board that left the Mbour region late last month. The coastguards are still searching for them.

The Senegalese government says that 260 Senegalese “in distress… were rescued in Moroccan territorial waters” between June 28 and July 9. On Wednesday, eight people died off Saint-Louis, Senegal’s northernmost town, when their pirogue overturned.

Ndiaye said he had also heard “the rumour’ of missing vessels, but cautioned that many boats were simply late and ended up returning home.

“You never know what happens out at sea,” he said.

He said pirogues were skippered either by fishermen who were familiar with the sea or by “businessmen” who were bent on maximising profit. They could pocket up to 20 million CFA francs ($34,000) for a successful crossing.


Ndiaye and others pointed the finger at poverty and boredom as the big motivation for young people wanting to head to Europe.

“The state signed agreements with European and Asian trawlers for industrial-scale fishing,” he said. “There’s less fish and the young are leaving.”

“Our young people need work,” said Mouhamadou Barro, chairman of a commission on migration in the MBour area.

“The police and gendarmes can’t do anything to stop undercover migration.”

The dreams of the young are fed by tales of those who made the perilous crossing, found work and saved money and built themselves a home back in Senegal.

Ousmane, a 29-year-old man who is married and has a child, said he had tried to get to the Canaries in 2020 but their boat was stopped by the Spanish coastguard.

He said he would try another attempt as soon as he could, and leave without telling anyone.

“I don’t have any other options,” he said.

Mame Elimane Ndoye, 69, said his eldest son had left on June 29, “the day of Tabaski,” a major Muslim festival.

“He bought a big ram for his dad,” to be sacrificed for the family feast, Ndoye recalled.

“He came to see me and told me he wanted to be with his friends over there. So I told him, ‘I am the one who will be praying for you,’ and this really strengthened his morale.”

“The trip was hard,” Ndoye said by phone. “There was a lot of wind. They turned the engine off for three days. Then they arrived.”

He added: “If by God’s will he finds work, if he sends back money, it will be shared among everyone. We will proud of him. I know him, he’ll manage.”

Source : Africanews