Senegalese Make Dangerous Journey for Jobs
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Turning now to another country in Africa. Since the beginning of the year, well over 10,000 mainly young African men have made the perilous 600-mile crossing from the continent to the Spanish Canary Islands. Europe calls them illegal immigrants and wants them sent back home. The Africans see themselves as candidates for a better life overseas.
In our final report on how immigration is affecting some European countries, NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton examines the case of Senegal in West Africa.
OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON reporting:
Thiaroye is a small, low-income fishing village off the Atlantic Ocean.
(Soundbite of ocean waves)
QUIST-ARCTON: It's a half-hour drive south of Senegal's coastal capital, Dakar. Gaily painted, narrow wooden dugout canoes bob on the water. Others are moored on the shore, with children and goats clamoring all over them.
It's aboard such vessels that young Senegalese migrants head out to sea. Thiaroye and other seaside areas are the latest departure points. And whoever you talk to, it seems many have been affected by the surge in migration.
Uley Nan(ph) explains why so many young men are leaving Senegal. She says its because three nearby factories closed down long ago and there are no jobs. And although they still have the ocean for fishing, there are hardly any fish in the sea anymore, so it's hard to make a living.
Ms. ULEY NAN: (Through translator) That's why these young men are trying to leave Senegal and taking such risks. It's not because they want to die and drown at sea. They simply want to help their families. That's the only reason.
QUIST-ARCTON: Destination: Spain's Canary Islands. The trip is hazardous, and some pay with their lives. Flimsy vessels veer off course and countless wannabe Senegalese migrants have drowned. Recently, one boat drifted to the Caribbean, ending its long, tragic journey in Barbados with the discovery of 11 corpses. But Mohammed Umbang(ph) and his young friends remain determined to go.
Mr. MOHAMMED UMBANG: (Through translator) You can't have more intense pressure than reaching the age of 28, when you're meant to be helping your parents and providing for the family. But it's your parents supporting you, because you don't have a job.
QUIST-ARCTON: Teacher and broadcaster Celine Bah(ph) says these days it's more than job-hunting that's pushing young men to leave Senegal. He argues that mounting pressure from peers and family and greed have become overriding factors in Senegalese immigration. Prospective migrants pay huge amounts of money trying to leave home.
Mr. CELINE BAH (Teacher, Broadcaster, Senegal): I remember the American rapper, 50 Cent, saying having money or die trying. I think that it is the new philosophy of the boys. For them, even if you die, no problem. You must have money, because if you haven't money, you really don't exist in this society.
QUIST-ARCTON: Senegalese families help the young men by raising thousands of dollars to pay for their passage. Community activists like Yyebiyam Jouf(ph) are trying to dissuade mothers from financing their children's journeys. Jouf's only son, a young fisherman, died trying to get to Europe. His boat hit a storm and disappeared.
Ms. YYEBIYAM JOUF (Community Activist): Hard-working man who help me. I told him, go, because I know when he go there, he work hard.
QUIST-ARCTON: Do you regret that you told him to...
Ms. JOUF: Very regret.
QUIST-ARCTON: Senegal says it's working with Spain and other European countries to stop the flow of illegal migrants.
Mr. OUSMANE NGOM (Interior Minister, Senegal): (Foreign language spoken)
QUIST-ARCTON: Interior minister Ousmane Ngom warned they will prosecute and jail human traffickers and middlemen who lure the young men onto rickety boats.
The Senegalese government has proposed programs to encourage young people to stay home, including agricultural initiatives. But many youngsters scoff at these options, dismissing them outright - saying they won't pay enough. Many are not convinced by the government's promises to tackle high unemployment in Senegal.
Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)
QUIST-ARCTON: The police and navy are monitoring the beaches and the ocean. But they have limited patrol boats. Senegalese military spokesman Colonel Antoine Wardini says it'll be tough to catch everyone illegally attempting to leave Senegalese waters.
Colonel ANTOINE WARDINI (Military Spokesman, Senegal): We have a big maritime border. I'm pretty sure it's going to be very hard to stop 100 percent all these guys trying to leave the land and trying to go illegally towards Europe.
(Soundbite of ocean waves)
(Soundbite of boat motor)
QUIST-ARCTON: Despite the risks, 36-year-old Thums Injai(ph) says he's heading out to sea again. He's already once failed to reach Spain, and was turned back from Morocco. But Injai remains convinced only Europe or America can offer him the sort of job he needs to be able to support his two young wives, Monsee(ph) and Isatou(ph).
Mr. THUMS INJAI: (Through translator) I failed the first time round, but one day I'll make it to Spain, God willing. And I am preparing myself for that day.
QUIST-ARCTON: Many other Senegalese just like Thums Injai say they're prepared to scrimp, save and borrow to go. With the help of their friends and families, they're collecting the money they need to make the dangerous crossing to Spain's Canary Islands and beyond, they hope, in search of a better life.
Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Thiaroye, Senegal.
MONTAGNE: And you are listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.