Cablegate: Clandestine Immigration-in Search of Eldorado
RR RUEHMA RUEHPA
DE RUEHDK #1918/01 2681144
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 251144Z SEP 07
FM AMEMBASSY DAKAR
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 9245
INFO RUEHZK/ECOWAS COLLECTIVE
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 DAKAR 001918
DEPT FOR AF/W, AF/RSA, DRL AND INR/AA
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KISL PREF SG
SUBJECT: CLANDESTINE IMMIGRATION-IN SEARCH OF ELDORADO
1. (SBU) Goaded by their families who sell everything to give them
their shot, young men, women and even children are connected with
unscrupulous middlemen who can charge them over a thousand dollars
to spend up to 12 days on rickety boats in sometimes doomed attempts
to make it to Spain or Europe in search of a better life. In the
last few years, clandestine immigration has become a major concern
for Senegal. While 2007 has seen a significant reduction in
attempts, the issue remains at the forefront of public and
government consciousness. According to the International
Organization for Migration (IOM), 31,863 people arrived in the
Canary Islands in 2006 with an estimated death toll of 4,000 to
7,000. End Summary.
A Personal Story
2. (U) Ousmane Balde is an unemployed 25 year-old information
technology specialist who twice attempted to leave Senegal. Citing
a lack of work, he argued that he wants a better future and that
many of his friends who have successfully made the trip are now
working in Madrid and Barcelona. Ousmane not only had the support
of his family but they and his friends also assisted him with the
CFA 500,000 cost (USD 1060) of his first trip. Ousmane told us that
they left St. Louis, in Northern Senegal, around midnight and that
the 15 meters long by 2 meters wide pirogue had so many people
aboard that he could not sit down. The pirogue was stocked with
food, fuel, and water. As the night wore on, it became apparent
that the boat was not seaworthy so the captain returned to shore the
next morning. No one got a refund.
A Descent into a Nightmare
3. (U) Ousmane's second paid attempt, along with 87 adults and 5
children, started under better circumstances. As the journey went
on, however, the would-be immigrants had to throw their belongings
overboard in order to keep the leaking boat afloat. After spending
nine harrowing days in the Atlantic Ocean (four without food) the
captain of the pirogue admitted that he had made an error in
navigation and that they had passed their destination of the Canary
Islands. During the trip there was fighting, people were sick to
the point of vomiting blood, no one slept, large waves threatened to
flood or overturn the boat, and at one point a whale twice the
length of the boat seemed to be toying with them. Ousmane also
recounts how, half way through the trip, they passed a Russian
fishing trawler whose amused sailors only took some photos and left.
In response to the captain's admission of his mistake, some
fishermen on the boat assisted in piloting a course to Mauritania,
after which they sailed back to St. Louis. Several of the
passengers had to be hospitalized for physical and psychological
injuries. Ousmane says he is now done trying to leave Senegal and
is working to persuade people to stay. However, with so many
desperate would-be migrants still hoping for better opportunities no
matter the risk, these perilous journeys will assuredly continue to
Why do they do it?
4. (U) According to the eminent Professor Penda Mbow of the West
African Research Center, who in 2007 with the collaboration of the
Dutch Embassy conducted an in-depth study entitled "Clandestine
Immigration: The Profile of Candidates," fishermen are the main
instigators of clandestine immigration. She says that depleted
stocks mean that fishermen have to now travel further and further
for less and less catch. The fishermen have realized that they can
make more money using their boats to transport migrants - the price
per person of one trip can range from CFA 400,000 to CFA 1,000,000
(USD 900 - USD 2000).
5. (SBU) Mbow opines that societal factors are at the heart of the
problem. Many marabouts (Muslim spiritual leaders) encourage and
actively support those who want to leave and solicit other people in
their local community to donate money as well. Mothers sell their
belongings with the expectation that, once established, the migrant
will send money back. A telephone call from Spain is the sign of
success and encourages others to do the same. Mbow sympathizes with
the migrants because the reality is that economic opportunities are
sorely lacking for most young Senegalese. Her hope is that the
government will become more involved in assisting youth with
training in technical fields.
6. (SBU) Nicolas Sonko, a journalist for the Walfadjri daily, has
worked extensively on the issue and argues that as well as a lack of
jobs, Senegalese society is changing. Families no longer espouse
the shared education and family unity concepts that were so
important in the agrarian culture that once prevailed. Thus
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parents, who are now looking for a quick fix to their economic
problems, actively encourage their children to leave with the hope
that they will work and send money back home.
7. (U) Importantly, many youths attempt the trip because legal
immigration is not an option. Many young, working-age men with
little to no education try their luck at getting a visa at the U.S.
and other Western embassies. They come with their new passports
posing as traders, religious leaders, and tourists. At USD 100, a
nonimmigrant visa fee is a bargain compared with the more expensive,
clandestine alternative. However, even honest applicants find that
the doors are closed to them. One young man, making no attempt to
hide his intentions, told the consular officer in his B1/B2 visa
interview that he was responsible for his entire family's economic
well-being and that he just wanted to work. He had already been
refused a visa by the Spanish, Portuguese, and British embassies.
"What can I do?" he asked as he was denied yet again.
So what's being done?
8. (SBU) Lieutenant Colonel Alioune Ndiaye is Senegal's
Representative to the European Agency for the Management of
Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States
of the European Union (FRONTEX). FRONTEX is an EU border security
organization through which Italy, Spain, and Portugal are providing
assistance to Senegal along with materiel to enhance surveillance
patrols along the coast. Ndiaye said that in 2006, there were two
to three departures per day with the majority leaving from St.
Louis. However, with increased patrols, the departures have
decreased to about one every two weeks leaving from as far south as
Mbour. This change in location increases the journey from as little
3-4 days to 10-12 days.
9. (SBU) Confirming what Balde told us, Ndiaye said that departures
mostly take place during the night but that in the morning, a
FRONTEX surveillance flight can quickly identify a boatload of
people. A FRONTEX ship then intercepts the pirogue and they are
redirected back to Senegal. In 2007, over 10,000 people were
stopped by FRONTEX. In September 2007, FRONTEX intercepted a
pirogue with 179 people on board comprised of 125 Senegalese, 32
Gambians, 14 Guineans, 6 Malians, and the rest from other West
10. (SBU) Ndiaye said that the brains behind these operations are
difficult to identify, bt that they are primarily Senegalese - he
doubtsthe existence of any major international traffickig groups.
Many times passengers never see the oranizer unless the organizr
is the captain of theboat. Different migrants are assigned to
obtaindifferent materials. Thus, one person will get th motor,
one the food, and a third the boat. Sengalese captains are
especially sought after becase they can navigate the waters.
11. (U) He went on to say that clandestine immigration is affecting
the local fishing industry, which is subsidized by the government.
Normally, a boat can be used for many years, but for a trip it is
used once and then destroyed in Spain. Fishermen are also selling
their boats to those who want to make the voyage. Ndiaye believes
that people will continue to attempt to leave because they see it as
the best way to help their families. A person sending back CFA
200,000-300,000 CFA (up to USD 600) per month to their families will
enable them to live quite well.
12. (U) The International Organization for Migration has been
working to encourage people to immigrate under a legal program set
up between Spain and Senegal. Another area where IOM has been
successful is in increasing public awareness of the dangers of the
trip and the conditions found upon arrival in foreign countries.
Shocking images on the television are most powerful in persuading
people not to attempt the trip. IOM has also implemented some pilot
programs in areas where the likelihood of immigration is highest.
They assist youth with sports and other programs. For example, one
program allows young people to propose a project and receive
assistance in bringing the project to fruition. IOM assists with
oversight and, if needed, with a little cash (up to 20 percent) to
get started. Other programs are in the vocational training areas of
construction, farming, and fishing. IOM admits it has limited
resources that include four separate teams and 12 vehicles. In
Europe, IOM and FRONTEX work together to help repatriate people.
IOM said that many government officials admit that remittances help
the country's economy, but that they are also concerned about the
impact of clandestine immigration on the national image.