“I was once a migrant,” says Fr Ambroise Tine, Director of Caritas Senegal, “I left Senegal to go to Europe to study. From that experience I learned how to open up to other cultures, to understand differences and to absorb them as part as a process that enriched me. It was a real experience of give and take.”

While Fr Tine left his home to improve his knowledge and further his opportunities in life, many other people in Senegal are driven abroad by dire poverty.

“Over 57 percent  of Senegalese live on less than 1 euro a day. There’s a strong pull to migrate and to look for, at all costs, a better life,” he says.

Perched on the western edge of Africa and looking across the Atlantic to America, Senegal has a long history of migration. But until around 20 years ago, it was a migration destination country rather than one of departure.

One of the reasons Senegal has been chosen as host to Caritas’ migration conference is because it’s a hub for migrants and shows the various aspects of the migration journey: departure, return, transit and rural to urban migration.

Caritas Senegal has a number a well-established projects to support migrants in their various choices.

“We work on various aspects of migration. For example, we offer women who’ve migrated to the city micro-financing so they can set up small businesses to support themselves and their families.

We also help those who may want to return to their villages. For migrants wanting to leave Senegal to go abroad, we try to make sure they’re fully aware of the risks and potential difficulties they may have,” says Fr Tine.

Beyond its actual hands-on work with migrants, Caritas joins with other civil society organisations to lobby the Government to respect human rights.

Caritas also supports an association which helps the families of young people who have been lost at sea on their migration journey. A very real danger for migrants who set off for Europe is that their boat will sink or they won’t have enough food or water along the journey.

Fr Tine says that even by leaving their villages and going to a city, migrants run a number of risks.

Children may be left with one parent or with relatives, destroying family life. Studies have shown that urban migrants have more health problems than people who stay in the country or who grew up in the city and that their children have a higher risk of mortality.

Whether by going abroad, or by just leaving their village, women in Senegal and much further afield are willing to take a chance on migration rather than live in poverty.