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Let's change the Migration History and Tell a Different Story to our Children

For centuries, migration has been a central feature of West African society. This can in part be traced to the region's physical geography. The Senegal River in the North and the Gambia River in the south divide Senegal, with a wide semi-arid basin in between. A culture of migration developed among our people of North and East Senegal, as a strategy to break out of economic isolation in this landlocked region excluded from development under colonialism.

Out-migration gained further momentum during World War I, when Senegalese soldiers in the French army fled to fight in Europe. After the war, the stays became more permanent. Some soldiers remained and were also followed by migrants answering a call for labour in Metropolitan France, where reconstruction was underway. Senegalese migrants were thus exempt from obtaining residence permits and tourist visas in France until 1974.

Many Senegalese saw migration as a viable choice due to a combination of political, economic, and demographic considerations. First, Senegal's population more than doubled. At the same time, the end of French subsidies on groundnut imports hit Senegalese farmers, their families, and the national economy hard. The late 1960s also saw the start of a multi-decadal drought, further hurting the groundnut industry and forcing many families to seek jobs in metropolitan areas. Following the global economic recession caused by the oil crisis in the 1970s, Senegal had to take on loans due to declining exports. This exacerbated unemployment, disenfranchised a class of civil servants in urban areas, and privatized industry devalued the currency, deregulated markets, and resulted in wild fluctuations in GDP growth.

In the Twentieth Century, thousands of Senegalese migrants have attempted to sail the Atlantic in tube boats to reach the Canary Islands. The Mediterranean Sea has become both an artery and a graveyard for many departing the shores of North Africa in search of a better life. These coastal fishing vessels, which left Senegalese coastlines en masse and are typically overloaded with passengers, are often no match for Atlantic swells. In 2016, over 5,000 died at sea with untold numbers having been reported missing and many of those who survived suffered from diarrhoea, exposure, and dehydration.

We do not have to live making the same choices our ancestors made in the past, we definitely can change history by doing good now. The good done by us now will become history at a certain point. We can change the narrative where we do not need to be victims of syndicated trafficking cartels that truck in human desperation. We do not have to put ourselves at risk of being desperate travellers who fall prey to exploitative ‘slave traders’ on their clandestine journeys to Europe. We can go back to our roots and help build a better Senegal for our future generation so that they are not portrayed as ‘modern-day slaves’ in need of humanitarian protection. For useful information on how to migrate legally visit

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