Migration Policy in Senegal: Sea Horse reining in migration

Ten years ago EU agency FRONTEX opened its first office in a non-member country at the same time as it began closing the sea route to Spain. The surrounding waters are currently being monitored by Operation Sea Horse. Now there are calls for investment from the diaspora to revive the Senegalese nation.

The President of Senegal Macky Sall is a regulary welcomed visitor in the EU Foto: dpa

In 2006 holidaymakers on the Canary Islands were shocked to see bodies washing up on the shores. It was the same year that the EU’s border agency, Frontex, opened its first West African office in the Senegalese capital of Dakar. The borders to the Spanish enclaves in Morocco had been closed the year before and now migrants were attempting new routes across the Atlantic. In 2006 Frontex confirmed that 901 journeys had been made by boat carrying a total of 35,490 irregular migrants. The agency claimed to have prevented 5,000 West Africans from attempting the dangerous passage to Spain. One year after the Frontex office was opened in Senegal, Senegalese Minister of the Interior Ousmane Ngom reported that patrols along the Senegalese coast had intercepted a mere 101 canoes with a total of 450 people on board: the western route across the Atlantic had thus been successfully blocked.

This hazardous crossing has been in use since the Middle Ages. The island of Gorée, located just off the coast near the Senegalese capital of Dakar, stands as one of the world’s most famous memorials to the slave trade. Between the 17th and 19th centuries, the region between the Senegal and Gambia Rivers is estimated to have lost 300,000 people to the transatlantic trade in slaves. At that time, the trans-Saharan trade route, which began in the northern bend of the Senegal River, was already on the decline. Today many Senegalese are migrating to urban areas. Land-grabbing to grow sugar and biofuels, soil erosion caused by the advancing desert and the drying up of the Senegal River’s flood plain are driving the young to the cities. Most of them are unable to join their fellow countrymen and women who have managed to reach France, and end up stranded in the capital, Dakar. Young people's frustration with their lack of opportunities resulted in the ‚Y’en a marre’ (‘We’ve had enough’) movement in 2011 and a Senegalese Spring which brought about the end of the reign of the country’s 90-year-old ruler Abdoulaye Wade. These young Senegalese helped elect a new head of state, Macky Sall, in 2012. He initiated many reforms, imagined a progressive social contract that would form the basis for Senegal’s transition towards a more just society and demanded greater transparency concerning the enormous wealth that Wade and his family had amassed. Economic growth, however, still remains elusive.

In Germany, Senegal is considered a safe country of origin. This means that applications from Senegalese asylum seekers are considered as manifestly unfounded and individuals can be deported to Senegal. In 2015, 13,558 people left Senegal and applied for asylum in another country. The most common host countries were Italy, Brazil and Germany. In total, 94 percent of these asylum applications were rejected. Of the asylum applicants, the most successful were those in Mauritania and Morocco. Still, according to the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development), the net migration rate for 2015 was negative. There are more people entering from the surrounding region than leaving. Furthermore, 14,000 refugees from Mauritania have sought refuge in the north and north-east of Senegal and their basic needs are being met by the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR).

The European destinations of choice for Senegalese migrants tend to be France, Spain and Italy. In 2015 the majority of expulsions were undertaken by France (approx. 2,340), followed by Spain (approx. 1,190) with an expulsion rate of 24.5/26.4 percent and Italy (approx. 1,050), whose rate was much lower at 5.7 percent.

To tackle the migration crisis, the Senegalese Ministry of Foreign Affairs developed a national action plan for the 2015-2018 period. The diaspora were to be included in these measures. Information on the Senegalese diaspora varies widely. The United Nations estimated that in 2013 there were between three and four million Senegalese living abroad. Of these, only 650,000 had been documented by embassies. It is claimed that 170,000 Senegalese emigrated from the mid to late 1990s alone. One area where there is little disagreement is in the migrants’ choice of destinations: roughly 55 percent left for west or central Africa, and just under half are in Europe or the USA.

In terms of its content, the national action plan is consistent with the Cotonou Agreement signed in 2000, which coupled development co-operation with migration and, in Article 13, with the return of irregular migrants. This agreement, signed by Senegal along with the 15 other ECOWAS (the West African economic union) states, formed the basis of the Rabat Process, which became the framework for a number of concrete bilateral agreements on expulsion.

In the same year (2000) Senegal also signed the Convention against Transnational Organised Crime, better known as the Palermo Protocol. In the years that followed, three additional protocols were drawn up to stipulate signatories’ obligations with regard to human trafficking as well as the smuggling of people and arms. Senegal signed all three documents and incorporated their provisions into its national legislation.

The Cotonou Agreement, the Palermo Protocol and the subsequent Rabat Process would go on to form the framework for bilateral agreements signed by Senegal. The first of these was with Spain. In 2006, as the first signs of the imminent global financial crisis were starting to appear, the number of dangerous crossings from Senegal to Spain (specifically the Canary Islands) began to increase. Roughly half of these migrants were Senegalese. The rest were West Africans looking for an alternative to the blocked Morocco route.

Ageing president Abdoulaye Wade, unwilling to take the required political action, put his faith in Frontex and its operations. Senegal and Spain agreed to a Memorandum of Understanding, which entails common border controls, the presence of Interpol liaison officers from different European countries and the implementation of the regional Operation Sea Horse. Cape Verde, Mauritania, Morocco, Portugal and Spain are the countries involved in the Sea Horse initiative, which aims to achieve more effective border management through operational co-operation. This includes training and seminars on international best practices.

In the summer of 2006, Frontex launched its HERA Operation. The €3.5 -million project was made possible by bilateral agreements between Frontex and Spain, Senegal and Mauritania. According to Frontex, of the 18,987 illegal immigrants, 6,076 were returned to their countries of origin by the Spanish authorities between June and October 2006. Frontex’s helicopters and ships used their power to force the boats to turn around.

In the exact same year (2006) Senegal signed yet another agreement with Spain, stating its commitment to work to prevent the emigration of unaccompanied Senegalese minors, and to ensure their protection, repatriation and reintegration (Convention entre le Sénégal et l’Espagne sur la coopération dans le domaine de la prévention de l’émigration des mineurs sénégalais non accompagnés, leur protection, leur rapatriement et réinsertion, 5/12/2006). This agreement stipulated that minors be returned and placed back in the care of their families or a body responsible for looking after them. A readmission agreement with Mali is also in place for victims of child trafficking. A similar agreement is currently being negotiated with Guinea-Bissau. In fact, the trafficking of minors and children does appear to be an issue currently affecting Senegalese society. Traditionally, male children are educated in Koranic school from the age of seven to nine. Part of this schooling in humility and modesty includes begging as a way to earn money to pay for their keep. Many children are exploited without their parents ever knowing or intervening. This practice is used to force thousands of children into labour that is nothing short of slavery. Time and time again there are cases of groups being sold to Europe or destinations in the Gulf States. These groups also include children from three neighbouring countries: Mauritania, Mali and Guinea-Bissau.

In order to regulate migration, Senegal signed an agreement with Spain in the early 2000s. This time the issue was seasonal workers, but the agreement was abandoned in 2008.

The most comprehensive regulations to control migration, however, were outlined in agreements between Senegal and France: the Convention on the Circulation and Stay of Persons (Convention entre le Sénégal et la France relative à la circulation et au séjour des personnes, 1995), an agreement on the exchange of young professionals (Accord entre le Sénégal et la France relatif aux échanges de jeunes professionnels, June 2001) as well as an agreement on the concerted management of young migrants (Accord entre le Sénégal et la France relatif à la gestion concertée de flux migratoire, September 2006, revised in 2008). Whilst the 2001 agreement included a quota of 100 admissions, the 2006 convention already mentioned reintegration and the involvement of the Senegalese diaspora. There is now a list of 105 professions for which Senegalese applicants may be granted a stay permit without being subject to a labour market test. In return, the diaspora is requested to do its part to boost Senegal's development and Senegal is obliged to co-operate in joint border management measures as well as to establish a process of readmission for irregular migrants. Funds for development projects have been set up to facilitate these aims.

According to an internal paper (EEAS non-paper, doc. 6472/16), Europeans are unhappy with the current implementation. Italy is allegedly also trying to negotiate a Memorandum of Understanding, as of yet without success. According to the paper, Belgium has also sent a bilateral protocol to Senegal but has still not received an answer.

This internal non-paper was drafted by the European Union as part of its EU Action Plan on Return dated September 2015. It lists strategies on how to force Senegal to sign a readmission agreement. Regarding possible courses of action, the paper argues that Senegalese president Macky Sall is personally involved in pushing the European Partner Agreement (EPA) forward and that Senegal was a trustworthy partner in the region. It goes on to state that Macky Sall was a driving force behind the Rabat Process and that he had played an active and constructive role in the migration summit held in Valletta. It also claims that he was fully behind the Cotonou Agreement and that a technical workshop concerning the return and readmission agreement that took place in October 2015 had been very encouraging. Even the EU's laissez-passer had been discussed. The laissez-passer is a replacement travel document that embassies usually issue when an individual has lost their passport. However, the EU’s laissez-passer is not issued by the authorities of an individual’s native country but the authorities in their country of residence. The question of what would serve as a legal basis for a European authority to assume the official duties of a non-member state is something that would require urgent clarification from the negotiating partners.

How would Senegal benefit from such a deal? As of 1 January 2014, the country was granted an easing of restrictions on imports into the EU. As Europe is Senegal’s biggest trading partner, this measure will undoubtedly have a significant impact on the economy. Acceptance into the General System of Preference (GSP) means import duties and quotas are no longer imposed on non-member states importing into the EU.

The current European Development Fund (2014-2020) already totals €347 million. Senegal is also in line to receive funding from the European Investment Bank. In 2015 Senegal received €10 million for humanitarian aid.

Through the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, the total level of funding approved for investment in projects in Senegal stands at €63 million. €3 million of this was earmarked for a cross-border Malian-Senegalese project to combat child trafficking. It is being implemented by the international NGO Save the Children. French development agency ADF, Luxembourg development agency LuxDev and the French NGO Frères des Hommes will carry out a €40 -million project to boost competition and encourage employment. Spanish development co-operation AECID and the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs will receive €30 million to promote competition and develop employment opportunities in rural regions with a high potential for migration. French agency ADF will also receive another €16 million.

In terms of security, Senegal will benefit from a €41.6-million project to set up Sahel rapid action groups (GAR-SI SAHEL, Groupes d’Action Rapides – Surveillance et Intervention au Sahel).

The regional office of the United Nations Organisation on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), a body that is developing the pioneering Sahel Programme to combat terrorism and transnational organised crime, as well as an assistance programme for ECOWAS, the West African economic union, is also located in the Senegalese capital. The organisation is also explicitly focused on reducing child trafficking and people smuggling.

Senegal is also leading the way when it comes to biometric IDs. The first electronic ID card was introduced back in 2006. Valid for ten years, the cards issued a decade ago are set to expire either this year or next. When they do, they will be replaced by a biometric ECOWAS ID card. According to the Senegalese Ministry of the Interior’s website, the initiative will cost the Senegalese state CFA 13.8 billion (approximately €21 million). A contract with British company De La Rue expired in 2014. Now Indonesian company Iris is responsible for printing the identity cards. The pan-African magazine 'Jeune Afrique’ is, however, reporting that the contract worth CFA 50 billion (€76 million) has in fact been awarded to Malaysian company Iris Corporation Berhad, which is listed on the stock exchange in Kuala Lumpur.

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