Senegal migrants’ pursuit of happiness
Around 200 years ago, people in Senegal were plucked from their homes, chained up and transported across the seas into slavery.
Women are particularly vulnerable when their men migrate and leave them alone with their families, or if they themselves migrate. In both cases women risk being exposed to violence and prostitution.
Nowadays, the young people of Senegal willingly leave their shores to go to another country in the hope of earning more money, bettering their lives and supporting their families back home.
“People encourage their sons and daughters to leave,” says Fr Ambroise Tiné, National Director of Caritas Senegal. “Consider that in 2002 migrants sent US$290 million back home to Senegal – that’s around 0.7% of the GNP.”
While jobs abroad can be very tempting, developing economies need their young labour force at home to ensure their countries prosper.
If these people had opportunities in their own land, would they really want to go abroad to look for jobs?
Caritas in Senegal promotes employment and business opportunities among potential migrants so they don’t have to seek work abroad.
“We help people develop micro-credit projects. This may be a project where they grow and sell fruit and vegetables, or in the case of women, we help them to earn money by taking in washing,” says Fr Tiné.
He says women are particularly vulnerable when their men migrate and leave them alone with their families, or if they themselves migrate. In both cases women risk being exposed to violence and prostitution.
The challenge of migration doesn’t just concern people who want to go abroad. Drought, rising food prices and unemployment encourage people in rural areas in Senegal to go and find work in cities.
In the P.A.R.I. project, Caritas helps people who have migrated from the countryside to Dakar set up small businesses. Activities such as haircutting, street vending and shoe mending provide people with income in their new life. The project is also aimed at returnees who have tried working abroad but have come back home.
Fr Tiné says that there is a big cultural problem for returnees as they may feel as though they have failed. If they have some form of economic activity it helps them reintegrate.
People may leave Senegal with high hopes for their new life abroad, but with issues such economic recession and discrimination dominating richer countries, migrants may find themselves facing isolation and difficulties on every level.
“We try to raise awareness – especially among the women and young people – about the dangers of clandestine migration,” says Fr Tiné. “We also work with Caritas Spain to prevent this type of migration.”
Grinding poverty, wars, disease, lack of opportunities because of under- development mean that people are often willing to risk a lot to find work and a more secure life. But, migration to richer countries is now more difficult than ever for people from developing countries.
Italy, an entry point for migrants coming from Africa to Europe, recently turned back a boat full of migrants without screening them to see if they were legitimate asylum refugees. The Italian Government is also currently pushing legislation through Parliament to punish undocumented migrants with heavy fines, expulsion and possible imprisonment.
“Italy’s policy regarding undocumented migrants doesn’t respect human rights nor human dignity,” says Fr Tiné. “I think we need to fight on an ecclesiastical level to defend the rights of the poor, whose only crime is to seek a job and a better life.”
Economic prosperity, employment, freedom…just some of the themes linked to slavery are still burning issues in the migration debate today.
“Africa needs food security, access to water and farmable lands,” says Fr Tiné.
Then, maybe, other countries would seem less attractive to the millions of people who risk their lives and happiness every year to migrate abroad.
RESOURCESAnnual Report 2011How Caritas works: Women and Migration Comitment on TraffickingCaritas Internationalis Statement for UNHCR Annual Consultation Migration and human trafficking on Caritas blogAdvocacy Paper for COATNET affiliatesStatement for the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD)Message of Pope Benedict for World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2013 Caritas statement on right to health for migrant children
NEWSCOATNET statement HRC 2010Report on prevention of human traffickingCOATNET statement for the European Antitrday