Scenes From Climate Migration In Senegal, Morocco and Spain : Consider This from NPR For over a year, we've been working on a series of stories on climate migration that spans thousands of miles and multiple continents.

Our team of journalists saw firsthand how climate change is making places like Senegal less habitable. They saw how that's pushing some people to places like Morocco, where they cross international borders in search of a better life. And how that migration is driving a rise in far-right politics in wealthier countries, like Spain.

We're pulling back the curtain with a conversation about some of the moments that will stick with them, to give you a sense of life in the places they visited and take you across the world through your ears.

Hear and read the rest of our series on climate migration and the far-right.

In participating regions, you'll also hear a local news segment to help you make sense of what's going on in your community.

Email us at

Pulling Back The Curtain On Our Climate Migration Reporting

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


I'm about to wrap up the most ambitious reporting project I've ever taken on. I traveled to Senegal.

SHAPIRO: When you were in the house and the water was coming in, can you show us how high it was?

MAMADOU THIAM: (Speaking Wolof).

SHAPIRO: It was - the water was up to your hips?

Then we went to the land border between Morocco and a tiny patch of Spain on the African continent.

IRENE FLORES: (Through interpreter) Melilla is somehow a gate into Europe.

SHAPIRO: And we visited a regional office of Spain's far-right anti-immigrant party, Vox.

RAFAEL SEGOVIA: (Through interpreter) If we hope to defend our cultural identity, we need to reject the idea of the climate refugee.

SHAPIRO: I wanted to see firsthand how climate change is making places like Senegal less habitable, how that's pushing some people to places like Morocco, where they cross international borders in search of a better life, and how that migration is driving a rise in far-right politics in wealthier countries like Spain. We did a bunch of pieces and interviews on NPR's broadcast shows, and you heard a couple on this podcast, too. But the thing is all of that was kind of the tip of the iceberg. For starters, it wasn't just me on the trip.

SHAPIRO: Ricci Shryock, welcome to the brain room (ph).

AYEN BIOR, BYLINE: You're right on time.



SHAPIRO: We're just digging in. Unfortunately, the bottle of Cava is empty, but there's another one.

I went with a team of All Things Considered producers, a freelance photographer, local journalists in each country we visited. Together, we spent more than a year planning the trip. And when you spend so much time in a place, you see much more than you can fit into a radio story or a podcast episode. There are little details that may not quite have a home in the climate migration story we're telling, but they tell you a lot about a place and the people who live there.

(Non-English language spoken).

THIAM: (Non-English language spoken).

HADI SAR: (Non-English language spoken).

SHAPIRO: (Non-English language spoken).

NOAH CALDWELL, BYLINE: Can we ask her if it's OK if I record the sound of her chopping?


CALDWELL: This is ambi outside of Mamadou's house.

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: He's inviting you to have lunch here.

CALDWELL: More horses.

SHAPIRO: So for a very special episode of CONSIDER THIS today, we're going to pull back the curtain on the reporting trip. You'll hear the NPR team that put these stories together talk about the moments that stuck with us, including many that didn't end up making it onto the radio. And we hope they help you see a little of what we saw, give you a sense of life in the places that we visited, take you across the world through your ears.


SHAPIRO: From NPR, I'm Ari Shapiro. It's Sunday, November 27.

It's CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. I'm Ari Shapiro. And while you're familiar with my voice as one of the hosts of this podcast, any big reporting project requires many hands. And you're about to hear the voices of some of those people who made this major reporting project possible. Y'all want to introduce yourselves?

CALDWELL: Hi, Ari. This is Noah Caldwell. I'm one of the producers on All Things Considered and was with you for the Senegal portion of the trip.

MIGUEL MACIAS, BYLINE: And I'm Miguel Macias, as one of the producers as well, and I was with you in Morocco and in Spain.

BIOR: And I am Ayen Bior. I was the digital producer on the trip who had the pleasure of being on all three legs of the journey.

SHAPIRO: So let's talk about the moments that we're never going to forget.

Let's start in Senegal, going geographically, connecting the dots from climate change to migration to the rise of the political far right. In Senegal, we looked at rising seas that are displacing people from their homes. But there was a lot more to it than that.

CALDWELL: Yeah, I was really struck by how much of life happens outside in Senegal. You know, commerce, business, food, cooking, family life - this cacophony of sound that that kind of hits you wherever you go, which was very satisfying as an audio producer.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Non-English language spoken).

CALDWELL: Guet Ndar in particular was amazing for this.

SHAPIRO: Yeah, Guet Ndar is like a part of Saint-Louis, which is where we did a lot of our reporting, Saint-Louis being the former colonial capital of Senegal...


SHAPIRO: ...On the coast, right up near the border with Mauritania.

CALDWELL: Yeah. And it's this narrow peninsula. It's an old fishing community. It's really crowded. There's a lot going on. And there's all this beautiful sound stemming from the fishing industry...


CALDWELL: ...Like smashing open mollusks that might get caught in the fishing nets when they pull them in...


CALDWELL: ...Or the sound of bringing that fish to shore. You have these women wading into the water and grabbing massive fish from the boats, from the men that are bringing them in. The sound of fish guts underneath your feet.

SHAPIRO: What does that sound like?

CALDWELL: Well, we can play some.


SHAPIRO: I know what it smells like 'cause I brought home those shoes.

CALDWELL: Yes. I will say that there are little flecks of fish guts in my favorite pair of jeans. I have washed them several times. I cannot get them out. So that's a fun souvenir. (Laughter).

SHAPIRO: Well, that was your fault for bringing your favorite jeans on a reporting trip.

CALDWELL: And then there's all the other street life that's just a little more incidental. There's horses pulling carts.


CALDWELL: There's tons of street vendors.


CALDWELL: Peanuts are a big crop in Senegal. There are people roasting peanuts on the street all over. They have these big pans over a flame with sand in them, and the peanuts in their shell are cooking in the sand. I recorded one woman scraping that sand to stir the peanuts and then pouring those peanuts into these paper cones she made by ripping pages out of an old science textbook.


SHAPIRO: They were delicious, if a little bit gritty.

CALDWELL: Absolutely.

SHAPIRO: So much of life in the city of Saint-Louis revolves around fish and fishing. One moment that to me captures not only that culture but also the breadth of the trip was when we finished interviewing this woman in her second-floor house and heard a sound from the balcony.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #1: (Chanting in non-English language).

SHAPIRO: We went out. And on the beach, there were people hauling in the fishing nets. And so you picture a row of men - and kids joined in, too. And as they pulled the nets hand over hand to organize them, you heard this really methodical chanting sound. And, Noah, you recorded beautiful, high-quality audio of that scene.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #1: (Chanting in non-English language).

SHAPIRO: And meanwhile, on my phone, I recorded a kind of, you know, tinny iPhone video of that same scene. And two weeks later, we were on a strawberry farm in southern Spain because, of course, this trip is about people who go from Senegal to Spain. And we were talking to this guy who was planting little seedlings in the raised beds, and he told us he was from that community. And so I pulled out my phone.


UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #1: (Chanting in non-English language).

SHAPIRO: And I'll never forget. He says in Spanish...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Speaking Spanish).

SHAPIRO: "That's my family." And I was like, wait - literally, that's your family? And he said, no, no, no. Like, we're all family. We're all community on that beach in that town.

MACIAS: Yeah. And you could see in his eyes, you know, all of a sudden he was, like, pulled out of that context of, you know, working a really, like, you know, physically hard job because he has to be bent over for hours and hours, you know? And all of a sudden, you know, he connected back to his homeland. It was beautiful.

SHAPIRO: Ayen, what stood out to you from Senegal?

BIOR: So I don't think I will ever forget the first time that I got into a pirogue to drift off into the Atlantic Ocean.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Explain what a pirogue is.

BIOR: So a pirogue - if you don't know what it looks like, basically picture a long, thin canoe made of wood.


BIOR: And I remember being surrounded by this deep blue, beautiful, warm water that felt majestic, even.


BIOR: And our guide was Hadim (ph). He's a spear fisherman with this incredible command of the sea. And he had so much confidence, which I actually needed because I was a little afraid of the ocean at that point.

SHAPIRO: You didn't let it show. I had no idea you were afraid.

BIOR: You know what? I had my life vest on, and I wanted to put a brave face for everybody. I didn't want anyone to freak out.

SHAPIRO: Well...

CALDWELL: We had to go straight into crashing waves with the pirogue head-on, essentially gunning it to make sure we can make it over that first breaker. So...

SHAPIRO: They weren't big waves. Come on.

BIOR: Noah, I think you and I got splashed...

CALDWELL: Yeah, we did.

BIOR: ...By a few waves. We were sitting at the front.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Careful, careful.


BIOR: But, you know, while I was on that pirogue, I couldn't help but think of the migrants. You know, they're the types of boats that so many migrating people from Senegal get on to go to Europe. Some might be a little bigger, but the design and the material are usually similar. And I remember being on that boat and thinking, I'm a pretty confident swimmer. But the ocean is really powerful. It's a journey that takes days, maybe even weeks, on a boat with no cover, no protection from the rain or sun. The boat wobbles back and forth against the water. You can't just get up and walk if you need a stretch. What happens if you need to use the restroom?

And days before, we heard from someone named Mustafa (ph), and he got on one of these boats that eventually made it to Spain. And he told us everybody who leaves and goes to Europe on a boat - there's a moment when they wish they hadn't. And that sentence suddenly made sense while I was on this pirogue. I fully realized for the first time how incredibly brave it is to get on one of these boats and drift into the ocean. And it's usually just the beginning of a long journey towards safety and stability.


SHAPIRO: All right. So from Senegal, we said goodbye to Noah.


SHAPIRO: And we went on to Morocco and, specifically, a very interesting place that is the land border between Morocco and Spain. Miguel, do you want to describe what this place is?

MACIAS: Yeah. So Melilla is an enclave of Spain in the African continent. It's one of two cities - Ceuta and Melilla, they're called. And it is surrounded by, on one side, the Mediterranean Sea - on the other side, Morocco. And as the local journalists who came with us and helped us told us, it was determined by how far a cannon could shoot from the old city of Melilla around. So that's how they determined how big the area was going to be.

SHAPIRO: The length of a cannonball fire. Like...


SHAPIRO: That was the border of Melilla. That's how it was established.

MACIAS: Yes. And for many...

SHAPIRO: I don't know if that's apocryphal or real, but it's a good story.

MACIAS: It is indeed. And for many years, as we heard from many people, there was no border. People would cross back and forth from Melilla to Morocco. It was very easy. You didn't need a passport, especially for local people. But now there is a fence. There's actually several fences, and it's very hard to get through the fence if you don't have the right papers.

SHAPIRO: And people have died trying to cross the fence. There was this incident we heard about in June where 1,500 or so migrants stormed the fence, and many of them died. Many more were injured, but some made it over.

MACIAS: Yeah. This is a phenomenon that has been going on for years where groups of migrants charged the fence in the hopes that there's so many that authorities will be overwhelmed and they will get by. Over the years, people have died, indeed. But June 24 of this year has become, as you mentioned in our series, a rallying cry for organizations because at least 23 people died. And it was just a horrible scene.

BIOR: Yeah. And I think this incident that Miguel is mentioning, I think, was in part the reason why we had such a hard time reporting on the Nador - the Morocco side of the border. I mean, we spoke to migrants on both sides of the fence who told us that the police were relentless and the police were just constantly looking for them and threatening them. And some of that extended to us.

MACIAS: Yeah. So when we were in Nador, we actually split into two teams because we were concerned that the police was looking or chasing us. And one of the teams - we actually drove along the border on the Moroccan side. And at some point, when we were driving by the place where the migrants on June 24 tried to cross, I saw clothing - just the remains of clothing on the dirt. And I'm not positive of this, but it was most likely - that's what I thought - the clothing of the people who were laying down on the ground for hours when, on June 24, so many people died. And they were just abandoned by the authorities there.

SHAPIRO: There was another place we went to the water's edge and there was, again, a fortified fence. And we saw a lifejacket stuck on the sharp barbed wire. And that's often used by people to protect themselves as they're jumping the fence. So we left Morocco.

A passport stamp, a quick search through my bags, and a long walk in the no man's land into Spain.

Once migrants get into Melilla, they're transferred to mainland Spain, which was the last stop on our journey.

MACIAS: So Madrid was the last leg of our trip. And the moment that I want to remember now is - it's interesting because it was the very last interview. And we interviewed Helena Maleno. She works for an NGO called Caminando Fronteras that basically helps migrants in their process to get to Europe, and it helps in very different ways. But more specifically, they have two telephone numbers...

HELENA MALENO: (Speaking Spanish).

MACIAS: One of them is for families and migrants to be in touch with them and track down their family members because they sometimes lose touch with them for years. The other telephone number - and this is even more dramatic - is a telephone number that is exclusively for people who are crossing. So they're in the middle of the sea, they're in one of these boats, and they text Helena Maleno and their people to let them know where they are, so that Helena Maleno and their people can call authorities, and they can go and rescue them. So this is really, literally, saving lives via WhatsApp.

SHAPIRO: And kind of crazy that it falls on her shoulders - like, this organization that just decided to step up and do this.

MACIAS: Yeah, I can tell you that she looked quite exhausted. She looked like she hadn't slept for days, which is probably true. She told us, basically, that they work 24/7, every single day of the year. And I could tell there was a huge weight on her shoulders.

BIOR: And she does this work with immense risk to herself.

MACIAS: Absolutely. She told us actually...

MALENO: (Speaking Spanish).

MACIAS: On Twitter, for example, she gets all kinds of threats from the far right. We're talking about death threats. We're talking about people wishing she was raped. She is sent pictures of a bullet, saying that that bullet should be for her. They try to get into her house. Talking to Helena, I saw the impact of this far-right politics and hate speech.

SHAPIRO: I remember the first time you showed me her organization's website. What really struck me was they have what may be the most authoritative list of people who've been lost at sea. But it's not just a list of names - they have a photograph for each...

MACIAS: Yes, yes.

SHAPIRO: ...Person and a description of each person. And in the news, we so often report on and hear about boats of migrants who have drowned and died at sea that it is easy to think of those individuals as just part of a faceless mass of humanity. And her website and her work insists on their individuality.

MACIAS: Yeah. I don't think that I've ever interviewed someone and felt so much admiration for the work they do.

SHAPIRO: OK, there's one more thing that we want to leave you with. Noah, you want to take it away?

CALDWELL: Yeah, back to Senegal - almost everything we did there had to do with the editorial mission - talking about climate change, talking about migration, talking about political extremism. There was one night where we went out to just kind of see what was happening. And what was happening was - it was the night before a big religious festival, one of the most important days in Islam in Senegal. And there are different Muslim groups that go out and chant. And we get to a city square, and the first group are these, like, probably teenagers. These kids - they're probably 12 or 13. They have this big loudspeaker and this, like, distorted mic.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: (Chanting in non-English language).

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #2: (Chanting in non-English language).

CALDWELL: And we met up with another person we had talked with earlier that week to kind of understand what was happening. And then, off - a couple blocks away, we hear a different chant. And it's coming out of this little speaker off the side of a building.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #3: (Chanting in non-English language).

CALDWELL: And we walked up into this building, up these stairs, and the sound became more present and more full. And we, I think, kind of sheepishly poked our heads around the corner and saw what was one of the most astonishing things I've ever seen in my life...

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #3: (Chanting in non-English language).

CALDWELL: ...A circle of men sitting on the floor in all blue robes - dark blue robes - with religious texts open in front of them. We were told later that this was a poem. And they're chanting in this harmony that was also a bit of a round, with different layers on top of one another. We got permission to stay and to record - not to take pictures, but to kind of just observe this. And it just kind of washed over us and was one of the most unforgettable things that I have ever heard in my life.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #3: (Chanting in non-English language).

SHAPIRO: Noah Caldwell, Miguel Macias, Ayen Bior, it has been such a pleasure doing this project with you. Thanks a lot.

CALDWELL: Likewise, Ari.

MACIAS: Thank you.

BIOR: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #3: (Chanting in non-English language).

SHAPIRO: You can find a link to all the stories from our trip in the show notes.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #3: (Chanting in non-English language).


Copyright © 2022 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.