Thursday, October 01, 2009

On how Senegalese migrants measure risk and why they still migrate

It's a well-known fact that Senegalese and sub-Saharan migrants who try to make it to Spain by boat can easily encounter potentially lethal problems en route.

The sight of desperate developing world immigrants turning up on the beaches where Europeans routinely visit to sunbathe is becoming increasingly common in the Canary Islands. Spain says some 11,000 people, mainly sub-Saharan Africans, have arrived in the Canary Islands so far this year.

Hundreds of people are thought to have died on the perilous crossing since new routes from distant Mauritania and Senegal opened up at the end of last year.

Last week alone four dead immigrants were found in two of the vessels that reached the islands, which lie in the Atlantic some 100 miles off north-west Africa.

Other vessels, usually carrying between 50 and 100 people, are believed to have sunk without trace on the voyage north along the coast of Africa and west to the Canary Islands.

One boat that got lost was eventually washed up, four months later, on the shores of Barbados, on the other side of the Atlantic. Eleven petrified corpses of would-be immigrants, thought to be from Senegal, were found on board.

One strategy aimed at diminishing the flow of migrants, adopted by the Spanish and Senegalese governments, has been to emphasize these very serious risks in the hope of deterring migrants. As Jørgen Carling and María Hernández Carretero argue in their paper "Kamikaze migrants? Understanding and tackling high-risk migration from Africa" on the basis of a Senegalese village known for producing migrants, however, factors as various as the identification of Europe as a land of jobs, to the need unemployed young men to be masculine risktakers, to beliefs that risk can be managed. Carling and Carretero's conclusion makes what's obvious, really, quite clear.

Risk acceptability is mediated by life opportunities. This explains how an option as dangerous as pirogue migration may seem attractive to young men with few realistic alternatives. The assumption that all migrants undertake highrisk migration because they are oblivious to the risks is misleading and may result in ineffective migration management policies. Instead, our analysis suggests that high-risk migration is perceived as a unique opportunity. Accepting the risks involved should not be seen as fatalistic behaviour. On the contrary, the risk-taking of pirogue migration is seen as purposeful and morally justifiable behaviour.

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