In Senegal, some of the youth dream of emigrating to Europe in the hope of a better future

In Senegal, some of the youth dream of emigrating to Europe in the hope of a better future

In a country in social and political crisis, some young people dream of emigrating to seek a better future. On site, two religious communities strive to dispel illusions.

This Wednesday afternoon, in the suburbs of Dakar, Senegal, Father Théophile Baye Diatta met with around ten young people for a “talk” on the dangers of illegal emigration. The meeting takes place in Sam Sam 3, a very popular and densely populated neighborhood, with dilapidated square-roofed houses and a maze of rutted streets covered in sand. In the meeting room, the priest speaks in a firm tone: “There is a big difference between what you imagine and the reality of the journey to Europe. We must try to break all these preconceptions together. » The priest belongs to the Catholic order of the Piarists, a religious community well established in West Africa and which has an educational mission in disadvantaged environments.

Father Théophile quickly passed out booklets to the young people on mortality in the Mediterranean, “the largest cemetery in the world”. This week, he is hosting his fourth meeting with apprentice cabinetmakers in this neighborhood with difficult living conditions: wastewater from the pipes, in very poor condition, regularly spills into the streets and sometimes makes the roads impassable. Running water only works at certain times of the day and waste litters the ground by the hundreds, because the municipality does not organize collective collection.

In the cabinetmaking workshop, the majority of young people no longer see their future in Senegal and dream of going to Europe. Some even say they are ready to make the trip by canoe, risking their lives. “I want to find work there to succeed and have a future,” says Abdoulaye, 19 years old. My two older brothers have already left. » Others, on the contrary, are alarmed when Father Théophile mentions the high price of the plane ticket or the price charged by illegal smugglers for the trip. “They will have changed their mind at the end of the workshop but they are so easily influenced,” sighs Dame Gaye, the trainer. One of their friends can easily convince them to leave again! »

Senegal is currently facing waves of departures, by sea, towards the Canary Islands (Spain). Struck by the extreme precariousness of work, some young people denounce the lack of prospects in the country. Here, nine out of ten jobs are informal and nearly one in five young people between 20 and 24 are unemployed, according to the National Agency for Statistics and Demography. Not to mention that the political crisis, rekindled since the beginning of February, is not helping to dissipate this dismay.

A harmful situation

The head of state, Macky Sall, created an unprecedented situation in the country by announcing, three weeks before the vote, the postponement of the presidential election. Civil society organizations launched a large-scale protest movement and demonstrations marred by violence left four people dead – they were aged 16 to 23. A large part of those under 30 are mobilizing today for Ousmane Sonko, the main political opponent. The latter accuses the president of undermining democracy and of not doing enough to reduce unemployment and poverty.

“In the suburbs of Dakar, many parents work as auction sellers and young people do not want to do the same odd jobs all their lives,” notes Véronique Mendy Badji, coordinator of the Mofim project. The community of Piarist priests, which runs several educational establishments in Senegal, created this program to integrate young people out of school into the job market. It finances professional training to enable them to integrate legally recognized structures, such as microenterprises.

In Sam Sam 3, another religious community has created several integration centers for young people. The Sisters of the Child Jesus-Nicolas Barré, of Spanish origin, have been living on the outskirts for more than twenty years. “Adolescents often stop schooling very early here because they have to work to live,” explains Sister Regina Casado. But they have no training, so they do small jobs helping carpenters, mechanics and, often, end up hanging out on the streets. Without critical thinking or perspective, they think that everything will be simpler if they go to Europe, because they idealize life there. »

A quest for horizon

At the workshop, young cabinetmakers learn to make wooden frames and furniture, in addition to taking computer or marketing courses. With his face covered in dust, Hassan, 19, testifies: “I left school at 14, then I drove carts to deliver luggage to hotels. I managed to earn a living but the work is hard and some bosses don’t pay their employees. »

Hassan appreciates the solidarity and the atmosphere of the Sam Sam 3 neighborhood and would like to become a cabinetmaker where he grew up. But most of his comrades have their minds elsewhere. “For me, this country doesn’t offer enough opportunities,” laments another 17-year-old, also named Hassan, “that’s why I want to go to Europe to find a good job. One of my friends is in a football training center in France, and he lives very well. »

To organize his trip, Hassan would like to pay for his place in a canoe departing from Senegal, bound for the Canary Islands. This migratory route, which is increasingly used, is less expensive and less time-consuming than the others: around 400,000 CFA francs (609 euros) on average for seven to ten days of travel. “All means are permitted to leave,” continues the young man. We here are not afraid of going to sea. We are not afraid of anything. » Abdoulaye confirms that many of his friends are obsessed with the prospect of leaving.

Too naive and desperate, the young people of Sam Sam 3? In Senegal, the reasons for illegal emigration are complex because part of the youth seeks to try adventure and broaden their horizons. In the era of globalization and international mobility, new generations are experiencing the frustration of not being able to travel like Westerners. Many Senegalese have also created a legend around a loved one who has made a success of their life in Europe and who manages to send money to the whole family. “For me, the problem comes from the lack of training,” concludes Sister Regina Casado. These young people struggle to believe in themselves and Europe represents a headlong rush. They must become aware of their abilities and develop their skills. This is the emergency today! »

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