On Thursday, October 5th, documents revealed through social media updates showed that Senegal’s navy has been rerouting vessels densely packed with refugees striving to reach Europe. Last year, only one boat was intercepted by Senegalese authorities on its way to Europe. However, a stark contrast was observed this September when more than 600 would-be refugees were turned back within a mere week, just as their canoes began their perilous journey across the turbulent Atlantic.
The West African nation, a pivotal departure point not only for its citizens but also for Gambians and Malians, is amplifying efforts to stem irregular migration flows. According to the navy, since May, approximately 1,500 refugees have been transferred to local authorities, accounting for over 95 percent of all recorded interceptions in 2022.
Experts like Linda Adhiambo Oucho, director of the African Migration and Development Policy Centre (AMADPOC), suggest that this augmented action could potentially serve as a blueprint for other African countries. With citizens from Africa now constituting half of the top 10 origin countries for irregular refugee arrivals in Europe, Oucho emphasizes, “African governments need to take a strong interest and act.”
However, the underlying causes propelling people to move are not addressed merely by halting migration. Initiatives like those in Senegal could potentially morph into mechanisms for Europe to externalize its challenge of limiting refugee arrivals. This comes at a time when Italy is grappling with a surge in arrivals on its coasts, declaring a state of emergency in September after more than 5,000 people arrived on the miniature island of Lampedusa in a single day.
Flavio Di Giacomo, a spokesperson for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), highlights the particularly perilous journeys faced by sub-Saharan African migrants, who, after fleeing Tunisia due to a spike in racist attacks, constitute the majority of the landings. “Sub-Saharan migrants are forced to navigate on iron boats which are very fragile,” Di Giacomo noted, revealing that these iron boats, a new phenomenon, are utilized by refugees who cannot sufficiently pay smugglers and can break in two after 12 hours at sea.
Despite the navy’s efforts, many continue to take the risk. A boat laden with 280 refugees recently arrived in the Canary Islands from Senegal. Experts advocate for a holistic approach to migration, where African countries act independently of the EU, which often prioritizes its own interests.
“The truth is there might never be a sustainable way to address migration, but African countries need to work better to increase legal pathways within Africa,” Oucho concluded, suggesting that inter-Africa migration, sharing expertise and talent, could be a viable alternative.
In the midst of these turbulent waters, the debate on managing migration continues to ebb and flow, with nations navigating through the complex interplay of humanitarian needs, security, and international cooperation.