Thursday, November 18, 2010

On the difficulties of emigration in Senegal

One theme we at Demography Matters have explored in the past is the substantial new phenomenon of Senegalese migration to Spain. Two news articles on some of the problems the people living in communities dependent on remittances face jumped out at me.

  • The Spiegel International's Dialika Krahe has an article, "The Second Niodior: Spanish Wages Keep African Island Afloat", examining how the island of Niodior off the coast south of Dakar is critically dependent on remittances in order to meet the demands of the villagers at home for a better life. The migrants are willing to take enormous risks to reach their destinations.

  • Those who believe that there are too many foreigners in Germany, France, the Netherlands and Spain perceive someone like Mamadou Ndour -- a man who has left Niodior Island for Europe's coast -- as a threat to peace and prosperity on the Old Continent.

    Ndour works in a gigantic greenhouse in Roquetas de Mar on the Spanish coast, where he is currently crouched over, cutting zucchini from low-growing vines. "You cut one off, throw it in the box and look for the next one. You spend the whole day bent over." The French words in his head have gradually given way to Spanish ones. He laughs when he confuses the two languages. "€30 ($42) for eight hours," says Ndour. "This isn't what I had expected in Europe."

    Ndour, 31, a tall young man, is wearing a light-brown T-shirt that's frayed around the collar. He has been living in Spain as a clandestino, or illegal immigrant, for the last three years. "It's hard work," he says, as he tosses the green vegetables into crates under the watchful eye of a Spanish farmer. He says that he was able to send his parents €150 ($214) recently.

    Ndour was a fisherman back in Niodior. The little money he earned was enough to pay for food, but not enough to buy medication for his parents. And it wasn't enough to make a wife happy one day, he adds.

    [. . .]

    Niodior is a test case of sorts, an island whose sons working in Roquetas de Mar in southern Spain are its most important source of income. Month after month, more of Niodior's young men disappear, traveling in their wooden boats to the Canary Islands, where they are then taken to the Spanish mainland. Almost every mother in the village now has a son living in Spain.

    [. . .]

    Since the economic crisis began, says [a migrant], unemployment in Spain has risen so sharply that they are no longer just competing with each other, but more and more frequently with Spaniards who come to Roquetas de Mar to earn money under the table. The unemployment rate among migrant workers in Spain rose to 27 percent in 2009, compared with 16 percent in 2008.

    [. . .]

    The next young man who plans to embark on the trip from the Senegalese Niodior to its counterpart in Spain is Sita Thiare, Moussa's younger brother. "I know that the trip is dangerous," says his father. When a family doesn't hear anything from a son for a year, he is declared dead and the imam is invited to participate in a ceremony. The father says that he knows of many families that have lost sons. "But we are all counting on Sita," he says, adding that he will have the money saved up for his passage in a few months, Inshallah.

  • The French-language Rue 89's Aurélie Fontaine, meanwhile, examines in "Au Sénégal, la solitude des femmes d'émigrés" ("In Senegal, the loneliness of the wives of emigrants") how some of the people left behind, while benefiting from remittances, are trying to cope.

    Seated on a beige leather sofa, his long legs dangle over the armrest. C'est dans son salon qu'Awa (les prénoms ont été changés) déroule sa vie de femme mariée à un « modou-modou », comme on appelle les émigrés au Sénégal. It was in her living room that Awa (all names have been changed) lives out her life married to a "modou-modou," as migrants are called in Senegal.

    The couple has a 3 year old boy. His father has never seen him. Without papers, he could not return to Senegal and run the risk of not being able to return. Meanwhile, phone call and daily video uploads maintain the link the link. : Awa asks:

    "In ten years of marriage, we have lived only four months together. Without this separation, how many children could we have had? How many things could we have done?"

    [. . .]

    Her story is that of most women of Louga, 200 km north of Dakar, the capital. It's in this city of 200,000 inhabitants that emigrants are most numerous.

    Pushed by their family, by their friends, many young girls believe that marrying a modou-modou will take care of their wants. And if the global economic crisis has complicated this pattern, ideals remain stubborn. Awa relates:

    "Between themselves, the girls say: 'If this is not an emigrant, did not marry him. Some even leave their boyfriends for a modou-modou they barely know."

    The model is so deeply rooted in society and in the Fouta region (northern Senegal), "the men complain about not finding women because they are not immigrants," said Fatou Sarr Sow, a sociologist and migration gender specialist migration.

    [. . .]

    15 000 to 20 000 men in the region of Louga are in Europe (Spain, Italy and France) and 5 000-6 000 in the U.S., according to Amadou Fall, Deputy Mayor of Louga. The young people are fleeing unemployment rate of 60%.

    As in the West during the wars, a large majority of the city's population consists of women who have not seen their husband for two, four, six or even ten years.

    The effects in subsequent generations on this disruption of family life will be worth studying.
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