While almost every week European and African media have to announce the death of immigrants from the coast of Western Africa in their attempt to reach the shores of the Canary Islands, an initiative from the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Dakar could bring hope to see a decline in these dramatic stories.
Present in Dakar, the Senegalese capital, since 1976, this foundation which goal is to promote democracy and economic development, recently released a graphic novel, or bande dessinee in French, about the risks of illegal emigration.
Entitled “Clandestine emigration, the deadly adventure”, this 12page story, which scenario has been drafted by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and approved by both the Senegalese Association for Decentralized Cooperation (ASECOD) and the Senegalese Ministry of Education, has been designed to educate school children. The illustrations are the works of famous Senegalese cartoonist Malan “Kabs” Sene.
The idea, according to Dr Ute Gierczynski-Bocande, in charge of the civic education programs at the Foundation, is that the children will resist educate their families but also be prepared to resist the temptation to leave for a not so glorious European El Dorado.
The novel tells the story of group of high school students worried not to see their friend Oussou in class, a month after the end of the summer vacations. They decide to take a bus to his village on the seashore in the suburbs of Dakar. Oussou’s father tells them that his son has tried, during the summer, to reach the Canary Islands, on a small boat. A discussion then starts between the friends and Oussou about the reasons for his departure and the risks he faced.
Oussou tells his friends that he had to pay 400.000 CFA francs (about 800 USD) to embark on the boat of a former fisherman turned human smuggler, only to get caught by the maritime custom patrol. Oussou got repatriated to Senegal and now has to refund the mortgage on his parent’s house that he used to finance his failed trip.
The graphic novel touches many themes linked to the issue of clandestine emigration. Indeed, Oussou’s friends are worried that he could have drawn when he tells them that he saw corpses floating in the ocean.
The Konrad Adenauer Foundation also wants to stress the importance of education and the different programs that the Senegalese government is implementing sometimes with the support of the European Union to create economic opportunities for Senegalese youth in the hope to discourage them from attempting the migration. Against the dream of making “easy money” in European countries, the novel warns its readers about the fate of illegal immigrants. For the friends, despite what the Senegalese living in Europe say when they come back for vacation, clandestine migrants in Europe are more likely to be homeless, or have to resort to illegal drug sale in Europe. They also warn their friend that they also risk losing their cultural identity.
At the end of the story, Oussou realizes that he should not have tried to emigrate illegally and that Senegal also offers possibilities for someone with an education.
For Ute Gierczynski-Bocande, the unemployment rate is the main factor pushing the youth to try to emigrate to Europe as they do not feel they have enough opportunities despite their education and their social position.
She adds also that the migration to the Canary Islands is not a new phenomenon but that “before” only ten or twenty boats were leaving each year for the Spanish islands, so that the media did not pay attention. For her, the current phenomenon of mass migration pattern is not linked to the state of the Senegalese economy, but might be explained partly by the fact that the controls in Morocco have been increased, especially after the incidents around the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla two years ago. At the time, the Spanish forces had resorted to open fire on the migrants from Africa who were raiding the walls surrounding the Spanish cities with made-up ladders. Some had managed to cross while others got killed or wounded. As a response, the Moroccan authorities had rounded up the African migrants around the enclaves, forced them into buses and abandoned them in the desert without food and water, triggering revolted reactions from European and African countries along with human rights organizations.
The violence of the reaction partly explains the decision of African migrants to resort to boats to reach the Canary Islands with the hope to apply for a refugee status and thus enter Europe. Indeed the European common policy about asylum states that an asylum applicant is to remain free during the processing of his/her application by the immigration authorities of the country where he first arrived. Nonetheless, the sheer numbers of immigrant reaching the shores of the Canary Islands have forced the Spanish government to contest this policy. Now, immigrants reaching the shores of the islands or being intercepted by maritime patrols are immediately being repatriated without the possibility for them to apply for a refugee status. While many arrive without identity papers to prevent their deportation, Spanish authorities have signed multiple bilateral agreements so that police representatives of different African nations are now present to help determine the national origins of immigrants, thus allowing their deportation.
Voices are being raised against these practices that violate the rights of migrants to have their asylum application examined.
Ute Gierczynski-Bocande suggests another factor explaining the rush on boats bound to Europe. The overexploitation of sea resources by European, Japanese and Russian armadas of commercial fishing boats has considerably reduced the fish populations in the Senegalese territorial waters. Senegalese fishermen progressively saw their living conditions and income worsen as fishing became a less and less profitable activity.
Some sold their boats while others decided to use theirs to smuggle candidates for the European El Dorado to the Canary Islands.
Furthermore, the decrease in fishing activity directly impacted the fish-processing industry on the Senegalese coast, thus cutting down the income of many families.
The programs set up by the Senegalese government coupled to the financial aid promised by European countries are the ficus of much hope to provide the Senegalese youth with the opportunities that could prevent the tragedies that the trip to the Canary Islands carries.