In Senegal, the painful resettlement of repatriated migrants

“I feel defeated, I have to start everything from scratch,” Baldé says in one breath

In Senegal, the painful resettlement of repatriated migrants

“I feel defeated, I have to start everything from scratch,” Baldé says in one breath. On the phone, the 25-year-old tells his story in a hesitant voice from Kolda, his hometown 700 km south of Dakar where he was forced to return. A student of modern literature at Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar, he decided to leave Senegal last year to try his luck in Spain, due to not being able to pay for his studies. But upon his arrival in the Canary Islands, he was arrested by the Spanish authorities and then repatriated by plane to his country on September 22, 2022.

“My family abandoned me… My two uncles and a cousin who contributed 3 million CFA francs [around 4,500 euros] for me to travel to Spain via Morocco no longer speak to me and ask me to repay,” he testifies. Baldé has not been able to return to the family home and lives alone in a small room in Kolda, where he tries to get by by doing odd jobs from day to day. “A lot of people made fun of me because I didn’t make it while others made it. »

The European Union (EU) is alarmed by the number of arrivals of migrants on its soil in recent weeks, but many candidates for a new life in Europe never achieve their goal. Some perish at sea, others survive the failure of their boat and many are arrested by the police.

According to the Ministry of the Senegalese Armed Forces, the national navy intercepted 1,500 migrants between May and September 6 on the migratory route passing through the Canary Islands or Morocco, “thus illustrating a clear increase in emigration attempts irregular during this period. This increase in the number of crossings, which is also observed on the route passing through Tunisia and leading to Lampedusa in Italy, has not stopped since. » Authorities announced that on September 19, two canoes carrying 167 passengers were boarded by the Senegalese navy 120 km off the coast of Dakar.

“Restart their lives”

After a failure, it is not always easy for these migrants to resettle in their country of origin. Lébou, a 33-year-old fisherman, was well received by his family on his return, even though he returned home without papers and without money after twenty-four hours of crossing. “We were intercepted at sea in early September by the French Navy off the coast of Saint-Louis. Once disembarked at the port of Dakar, we managed to return home, without any help or support from the State,” he regrets.

A version that the authorities refute. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Senegalese Abroad, candidates for emigration are always welcomed upon their arrival by a team from the Reception, Orientation and Monitoring Offices (BAOS), present in each of the fourteen regions of Senegal as well as at Blaise-Diagne international airport. “We distribute snacks, water, t-shirts, shoes as well as transport bonuses, which can amount to up to 50,000 CFA francs (76 euros). This allows them to restart their lives,” assures Maguette Seck Mbow, BAOS coordinator, supporting photos that she scrolls through on her phone.

The BAOS teams ensure that they are responsible for offering psychosocial support to repatriated migrants and redirecting them to State structures that can meet their training or project financing needs. The objective of this program, supported by the EU and Spanish cooperation, is to support them in their reintegration and to convince them to abandon a new migration project by presenting them with opportunities on site. In 2023, the BAOS welcomed 2,098 migrants who returned to the country involuntarily, including 64 women and 16 children.

“Unfortunately, we do not have the means or the human resources to carry out real monitoring given the number of repatriated migrants,” regrets Amadou François Gaye, head of the general directorate of support for Senegalese abroad, who recognizes that his teams have difficulty being listened to. “Most of the candidates for emigration who have been repatriated are left to their own devices, so they are inevitably tempted to leave again,” regrets Boubacar Seye, president of the migrant defense organization Horizon Sans Frontières, who believes that “ nothing is done to hold them back.”

Try again

Dogo, a 40-year-old single man, sold his taxi to pay for the trip to Spain. A project which cost him 2.5 million CFA francs. But, once he arrived in the Canary Islands, he was also arrested and deported by plane. Arriving at the airport, he assures that he has never encountered the BAOS teams. A few weeks after his return, he found a small room in Keur Massar, an outlying town in the Dakar suburbs, cheaper than his previous accommodation in Parcelles Assainies, a much more central neighborhood.

Unable to buy a taxi, he started a small chicken farm with difficulty. “I’m thinking about projects but I can’t find the money to invest and the banks will never give me a loan because I don’t have sufficient guarantees,” regrets Dogo. He can no longer count on his family who have turned their back on him.

The repatriated migrants then have only one idea in mind: to try the crossing again. “I am not ashamed of having returned home after a second failure, because I have friends who tried more than five times before succeeding,” explains Lébou, who is ready to leave again. “It’s not by intercepting us that we’re going to get discouraged. »