Migration Forum in Dakar: Fundamental questions, a wonderful courtyard and magic moments!

By Martina Liebsch, Caritas Internationalis advocacy coordinator for migration, trafficking and gender

Part 1

I recently came back from Dakar in Senegal, from the Forum “Migration, Politiques et droits de l’homme” and pictures from the meeting are still in my head.

It was the first meeting that gathered a considerable number of European and African Caritas members around the topic of Migration. At least for me it was an eye-opener in terms of the multiple root causes for migration. Europeans sometimes see the link between poverty and migration as having one cause. This link is not wrong but does not take into account the complexity of the root causes, a mix between traditions to migrate, lack of opportunities, myths, gaps between rural and urban areas etc.

What approach should be taken vis a vis migration? Two positions can be identified: The one promoted by the European Caritas members so far: Migration has to be safe, legal and a choice. Some of our – mainly African – colleagues are of the opinion that everything has to be done to ensure, that young people stay in their countries and contribute to its development. Migration should not be an option.

Another hot topic: The issue of return. Everybody agreed that return should be voluntary and by no means be linked to any conditions. But they recognized two other categories of return: The one which is voluntary, but also forced, as there are no further options to stay and the third one being the one when people are sent back against their will.

There was consensus that to organize a voluntary return resources were needed, which Caritas from mainly the South complained they did not have. Would it compromise the cause of Caritas if funds also devoted to forced return would be used? There was no real consensus on that.

The reports from colleagues from Algeria, Marocco and Mauritania, who have to work often under very restrictive conditions were dramatic. They have to deal with cases of outcasts, nobody really wants to take care of. They are often not allowed to move back to their countries of origin, as their family members would not accept them, but they have no options in the country of transit and destination and are waiting there for a better future.

Part 2

Arriving at night at Dakar airport is a cultural shock for a European who has not been there before. A multitude of people try to offer all sorts of services. This feeling is much stronger after a 12 hour journey. So we, my colleague Pierre and I, were happy to be told, that we would be “parked” at a “auberge” called “Mme. Cissey’s” until other participants arrived.

We were brought to a very nice, clean, courtyard, with a Mango-tree in the middle and a table around it. The perfect place to wait…. and to observe life and people – and also to talk. We were in a place were almost all participants who arrived by plane or left for their countries again had to go through, to store their luggage, to rest a few hours or to stay a night.

I know “caravanserais” only from books, but I think, Mme Cissey had all the ingredients for such a place. Waiting for our departure or for meeting people or for going to other meetings, many of us spent some time in this place and whenever we sat together we talked, talked, talked: about the Senegalese in Mallorca (and meeting some of their family members), the Spanish return policies or the cultural dimension of migration in some African countries.

It was an oasis of knowledge and of magical moments. One of the participants, a young man told us about his life and his attempts to cross the fence around Ceuta and Melilla. “Although we had trained for this moment, I could not do it, he said, I was too afraid!” he said. It was the difficult situation of his numerous family, caused by the sickness of his father, the heritage discussions after his death, the lack of opportunities and the pressure toraise a young family that made the young men leave his country. Today he tries to help other migrants who were sent back to cope with their lives.

Part 3

My final word goes to the Senegalese women: First of all Anita….she was an street seller around the hotel in Saly. With a charming smile and some stories, she made me spend a relatively large amount of Euro for a tunika. But her smile was irresistible!

There were as well wonderful dynamic female colleagues attending and organising the meeting, to which I pay tribute! I’m excited about the idea of discussing the issue of feminization in the near future. An issue which was not really touched upon in the meeting.

We also met women in a market place in Dakar. They were women from the villages coming to the markets in Dakar to earn their living, because in their villages, the basis for their livelihood does not exist anymore. They come from polygamist families and they are responsible for feeding their children. If the climate does not allow for it, they have to migrate to the city. Caritas Dakar runs a program with micro credit, which encourages women to go back to their villages as the opportunities in the cities are not many and they can be subject to violence and exploitation.

The women we met, were earning their living by processing couscous or washing and ironing clothes. They were proud and even if their means were very limited they showed their hospitality – the senegalese teranga.

Thanks to Caritas Senegal for this wealth of experience!

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Filed under Advocacy, Development, Migration, Women

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