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Family pressure fuels illegal migration

[Senegal] Illegal Senegalese immigrants were rapatriated to Dakar from the Oujda-Angad Airport for Dakar on board a 737 Boeing of the Royal Air Maroc "RAM".
Senegalese would-be migrants repatriated to Dakar, 2005 (Pierre Holtz/IRIN)

Sibling and family rivalries, parental and community pressure, continue to encourage undocumented migration, according to a four-country “Irregular Migration in West Africa” study released by the Soros Foundation-funded Open Society Institute of West Africa (OSIWA).

Researchers for the non-profit Dakar-based advocacy organisation spent three months interviewing about 100 undocumented migrants and their families in Mali, Senegal, Ghana and Mauritania to learn why and how people continue to migrate illegally despite multiple death-at-sea reports, heightened border controls, and at-times deadly security crackdowns.

The governments of Spain and Italy, two popular European destinations for migrants without travel authorisation, report close to 25,000 arriving since the beginning of 2008.

OSIWA researchers call on parents, trade unions, employers, religious leaders and deported migrants to do more to discourage illegal migration, and recommend more outreach by community leaders, government-funded job support, and the creation of youth counselling centres.

Polygamy and unrealistic expectations fuel competition

Rivalry between co-spouses or the multiple wives married to one man in polygamous Muslim families leads each wife to encourage her sons to migrate to boost her economic status in the family, according to OSIWA researchers.

Migrants’ mothers told researchers their husbands did not have enough money to support more than one wife, hence, they relied on their children for extra cash.

Most of those interviewed said Europe seemed an ideal place to live, their views formed by the money migrants wired to dusty village Western Union centres back home, lavish weddings of returned migrants, televised images of life in Europe, and stories from families with children overseas.

The study wrote migrants are responsible for purveying false images and provoking jealousy through their spending and bragging, as well as their silence about the dangers or desperation that migrants may experience.

''I have a 50 percent chance of dying in the desert or in the ocean, whereas by remaining at home, I have a more than 50 percent chance of dying, but quite slowly''

Migrants choose fast, at times deadly, track

One youth trying to emigrate said, “I have a 50 percent chance of dying in the desert or in the ocean, whereas by remaining at home, I have a more than 50 percent chance of dying, but quite slowly.”

The study’s coordinator, Dakar-based sociologist Cheikh Ba, told IRIN Sub-Saharan Africans are trying to speed up the centuries-old migration patterns throughout West Africa and beyond.

“People used to go to other places by land in West Africa and work for a few years to save money to move closer to Europe, if they left the continent at all. But in the past five years, we have been seeing for the first time, people driven by impatience and joblessness trying to get to Europe as quickly as possible through ridiculous, suicidal passages.”

Ba said migrations have shifted to sea as migrants board small fishing boatsand rubber dinghies, to make the 1000-kilometre trip to popular migrant destination, the Spanish Canary Islands.

But many migrant hopefuls still criss-cross the desert from Gao or Bamako, Mali to reach North Africa and Europe.

Increasingly, some have gone as far as Egypt’s 250km border with Israel, in order to cross the Mediterranean Sea into Europe. Since January 2008, about 600 mostly African would-be migrants have been stopped at this border in the Sinai desert, according to Egyptian security forces.

In preparation for these trips, Ba says an industry run by smugglers, mostly African, has sprouted with the complicity of government officials who are paid to look the other way as migrants pack into urine-stained temporary lodging, and slip out to sea under the cover of dusk and bribes.

“There is nothing new about migration - that is centuries old. But it is the conditions that are changing. I was horrified and shocked to hear stories of rape of young female migrants by smugglers in ghettos [housing tenements for migrants], migrants’ months in the desert without water or food, chained to one another, detention centre beatings, and expulsions without access to lawyers, and trials carried out in Arabic without translators.”

Who are the migrants?

Sociologist Ba said the migrants interviewed are mostly men, though more women and infants are attempting illegal crossings. Clandestine migrants are not among the region’s poorest; it takes at least USD$1400, the average two-year salary in some Sub-Saharan African countries, to attempt illegal crossings. “Their families have jewellery to sell or family to loan money.”

OSIWA’s study comes on the heels of an International Office for Migration (IOM) study that says smuggling of migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa is relatively rare, and illegal sub-Saharan African migration to Europe is exaggerated and pales in comparison to legal crossings, or those of North Africans.

IOM estimates at most 35,000 Sub-Saharan clandestine migrants leaving for North Africa and Europe every year, lower than the number of legal entries.

Photo: Christine Holzbauer/IRIN
Spanish surveillance guards off the coast of Dakar, hunting for would-be migrants coming from Sub-Saharan Africa

But Djibril Ba who carried out OSIWA’s research in Mauritania told IRIN the numbers are not as important as the disturbing trend.

“We will not engage in a numbers debate because it is too difficult to know for sure. What matters is that during the current peak season, there are about three boats filled with up to 150 people leaving every week from the shores of Nouadhibou [northern Mauritania]. But how many others are leaving, and how many are dying at sea and in the desert? We cannot know for sure.”

Ba said numbers of those attempting to leave from Sub-Saharan Africa have spiked in recent years and remain constant despite security crackdowns and improved border surveillance along West Africa’s shores. “The migrants are finding ways to leave. They told me they prefer to die than live in shame of not being able to work, marry, or provide for their families."


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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