Background informationCapital: Dakar
Official language: French
Area: 196,192 km2
Population (2007): 12,400,000 (Population Reference Bureau)
Population density: 63 inhabitants per km2
Population growth (2005): +2.4% (UNFPA)
Labour force participation rate (2005): 70.9% (Senegal, ANSD) to 75.1% (UNFPA)
Foreign population as a percentage of total (2006): 2.8% (UNFPA)
Foreign workers as a percentage of total labour force: Not known
Unemployment rate (2001/02): 5.6% (Senegal, ANSD)1
Religions: 94%Muslim (Sufis), 5% Roman Catholic, 1% indigenous religions (CIA)

In Europe and elsewhere, there is a widespread image of Africa as a continent in crisis, whose population seeks en masse to find a route to Europe. The example of Senegal, however, illustrates that African migration is far more complex a phenomenon. To begin with, migration to and from Senegal has, until recently, primarily been in connection with other African states. Historically, Senegal was not a country of origin, but rather the destination of migrants. There is, however, evidence of a turnaround since the 1990s, with Senegal becoming more and more a country of emigration and new target regions emerging for Senegalese migrants. As a result, Senegal is facing a range of new challenges.2 One thing that goes largely unnoticed by the European public is the country’s need to manage immigration. Moreover, there needs to be a political response to the population’s growing readiness to migrate. At the same time, there is increasing pressure from European states on African authorities to contain migration outflows. But in some African states as well– and here the Ivory Coast and Gabon are of particular importance to Senegal – immigration is increasingly met with rejection, giving rise to conflict both in domestic politics and in bilateral relations. Finally, there are the questions of how to deal with increasing migrant money transfers (remittances) as well as the economic potential of migrants abroad and those who return.

Factors Influencing Migration

Migration from Senegal has increased in the last decade. This development has taken place against a background of economic and demographic revolution, which has to be recognised in order to understand the problems associated with this migration. Since the mid-1970s, Senegal has been in a state of economic crisis, which intensified in the 1990s. Between 1990 and 1999 the gross domestic product per head sank by 28.1%.3 The crisis had a negative impact on private-sector and political integration capacities alike. The chances of employment within the civil service have dwindled markedly, while development in the private sector is too weak to bring any significant relief to the labour market. There is, in addition, high population growth, leading to the near-quadrupling of the population of Senegal since the country achieved independence in 1960; the population is also a great deal younger now compared to then, with roughly half the population currently under the age of 18. As a result, a larger number of young people with poor professional prospects stream onto the labour market each year.

International migration was initially a reaction to this crisis situation and has meanwhile become the standard model of social advancement. Whereas formerly the state functionary symbolised individual success, now it is the international migrant. This is demonstrated, among other things, by Senegalese pop songs, in which the migrant is celebrated as a modern hero.4 Accordingly, young people’s “career planning” is increasingly directed towards the international labour market. Simultaneously, there are more opportunities to migrate as a result of the now firmly established and wide-ranging networks of migrants who have gone before. Interestingly, despite these networks, few would-be migrants know anything about everyday life in Europe. As a result, the cliché of “Paradise Europe” and the image of the migrant as the embodiment of success are diametrically opposed to the actual experiences of the average Senegalese person abroad.

These experiences in the destination country are often marked by a loss of quality of life in comparison with the situation in Senegal, isolation, financial need, exploitation, discrimination, and strong social pressure for financial support from the migrant’s family, who is generally convinced of the migrant’s wealth. Highly-skilled migrants are mostly overqualified for the posts in which they are employed in the destination country, and this also has an adverse effect on their sense of well-being. A large proportion of Senegalese migrants in Germany, for example, would not, in the present circumstances, choose to migrate to Europe again, nor would they advise other would-be migrants to do so.5 Nonetheless, an unrealistic image of Europe persists in Senegal, as it does in many parts of Africa.

The explanation for the fact that migration continues despite repeatedly unfulfilled expectations is found in the social contexts in which migrants move. In general, migrants are subject to their family’s expectations of support. The social obligation to share their wealth increases, of course, when other members of the family have financed the move. The pressure to succeed is enormous. Whereas a lack of economic success is not deemed unusual in Africa, for a migrant in Europe it is perceived as failure and brings with it social contempt. There is hardly any talk of the misfortunes migrants suffer, especially in the case of those who have been deported quickly from the destination country; difficult living conditions in the destination country are concealed. Any complaints on the part of the (apparently) successful are considered self-pity and are not socially acceptable. By contrast, the “successful” migrant who demonstrates generosity according to traditional standards is idealised within the family and neighbourhood. Generally speaking, the family has, at best, an unclear conception as to how the money from which they live has been earned.

Historical Trends in Immigration and Emigration

Migration within Africa
Historically, the African continent has had an extremely mobile population. This mobility has intensified since the end of the 19th century, due to colonial conquest and the colonial restructuring of the economy. In other words, African migration is anything but a recent phenomenon.

Having gained independence in 1960, Senegal was initially primarily a country of destination for African migrants. The largest group of immigrants in Senegal originates from neighbouring Guinea, from where they fled the repression of President Sékou Touré (1958-1984).6 Guinea-Bissau is also another important country of origin: as a consequence of the Guinea-Bissau war of independence (1963-74), 75,000 persons came from that country to Senegal at the beginning of the 1970s.7 As early as colonial times, about 100,000 persons migrated from Mauritania to Senegal. In line with the development of the trade in imported goods, Mauritanians obtained an excellent position in the retail trade, especially in the hinterland, and their number later grew to 250,000.8 Due in particular to the railway line constructed during colonial times between the capitals of Mali and Senegal, vigorous trading took place between both countries, in the context of which migrants from Mali settled in Senegal. A comparatively large number of Gambians also live in Senegal. Almost completely enclosed geographically by Senegal, this small state maintains close commercial and cultural ties with its neighbour.

Senegalese emigration within Africa was, until the 1960s, directed in particular to Mauritania, Mali, Guinea and Guinea-Bissau. From the end of the 1960s, the Ivory Coast and Gabon became important destination countries due to their high demand for workers. At the beginning of the 1970s, as a consequence of the trade in diamonds and precious stones, migration outflows expanded through to Central Africa, in particular to the Congo (Brazzaville), Zaire and Cameroon. A general economic collapse in these countries from the late 1970s and the wars in the Congo and Zaire in the 1990s caused these migratory movements largely to dry up. The Senegalese population in Mauritania was driven out in 1989 (see Refuge and Asylum) and fishing rights for Senegalese in Mauritania were then severely restricted.9 Since the end of the 1990s, increasing xenophobic tendencies in the Ivory Coast and Gabon have reduced the attractiveness of these countries for Senegalese migrants. In the context of the war in the Ivory Coast, which started in 2002, violence was also directed against Senegalese.10 As a result of the attacks and the country’s general decline, the majority of Senegalese migrants have returned from the Ivory Coast. Thus, since the 1990s at the latest, there has been a massive and radical change in migration flows within Africa. At the same time, industrial countries as well as – due to the booming oil industry – Libya11 and Mauritania have become increasingly popular destinations for Senegalese migrants.

Intercontinental migration
From early colonial times Senegal has been a destination country for Lebanese and French emigrants. The French were generally employees of the colonial administration or commercial firms, and most left the country after independence, although a significant number have stayed or emigrated there. The first Lebanese arrived at the end of the 19th century, at a time when successive waves of emigrants were leaving Lebanon. They were able to integrate successfully in the colonial economy, often as middlemen in the peanut trade, and later encouraged other migrants from their regions of origin to follow their lead. Due to the lobbying activities of Senegalese traders, a ban was imposed on Lebanese settlers in 1970, although the number of Lebanese in the country continued to increase slightly nonetheless.12 Lebanese obtained excellent positions in trade, and today they still control a significant share of commercial activities.

The first Senegalese reached Europe by way of joining the French colonial army. After leaving the army, many soldiers found employment in Marseille harbour, which became a centre for the Senegalese community in Europe. In view of the close relationship between Senegal and the former colonial power, France long remained the most important country of destination in Europe for Senegalese migrants by far; they were involved in particular in trade between Europe and Africa. In 1985 France introduced a compulsory visa for Senegal. As a result, Senegalese increasingly began seeking other destinations. Italy became the most important destination for Senegalese migrants in the 1990s, after laws legalising irregular migrants were passed in 1990 and 1994. Here the new immigrants were able to find work in tourism and in industry in northern Italy. Since the end of the 1990s, Spain has also become a popular destination, with its strong construction and agricultural sectors attracting Senegalese workers.

The United States, too, has become increasingly popular as a country of destination in the last decade, especially for the younger members of the middle classes. Migration to the USA developed as a result of business trips made by traders importing electronic devices to Senegal and exporting African goods to the USA. New York in particular has a strong Senegalese community. The younger generation of migrants is primarily engaged in the low-paid service sector.13

Political and Legal Developments

Matters of immigration have been of subordinate importance in Senegalese politics, and political interventions have generally taken place in the context of international agreements. Historically, and for primarily ideological reasons, immigration has been perceived as a positive affair. In the Senegalese national consciousness, the value of hospitality (teranga) assumes an important role. Moreover, the first president of Senegal, Léopold Sédar Senghor, was one of the great theoreticians of pan-Africanism, which proposed the union of all the indigenous inhabitants of Africa.14

The most important immigration-related international agreement for Senegal – the Protocol on Free Movement of Persons, the Right of Residence and Establishment – was signed in 1979 by the members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).15 Of all of the clauses contained in the Protocol, only visa-free entry for citizens of the Community has been implemented to date. The Senegalese, however, are not particularly restrictive with regard to the right of residence. When required by an employer, work permits can be granted to foreigners, although priority for jobs is given to the indigenous people (Law No. 71-10 dated 25 January 1971). African migrants mostly work in the informal sector, for which the legal situation is of secondary importance.

In addition to this, Senegal has signed a series of international legal initiatives for the protection of refugees, including the Refugee Convention of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) from 1969.16 The country has also ratified the UN Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (1990).

The most significant domestic policy efforts in this are have been devoted to the use of emigrant potential for development. To this end the Ministry of Senegalese Abroad (Ministère des Sénégalais de l’Extérieur) was established. Political efforts have concentrated on convincing Senegalese abroad to make productive investments in the country. On the basis of a bilateral agreement, France financed for the first time in 1983 a programme of vocational training for, and lending to, migrants abroad who wanted to return.17 In 1987, France and Senegal established the Bureau of Reception, Orientation and Follow-up of Actions for the Reinsertion of Emigrants (Bureau d’Accueil, d’Orientation et de Suivi des Actions de Réinsertion des Émigrés, BAOS), meanwhile under the auspices of the foreign office. The BAOS attends above all to smaller projects concerning returning emigrants, but is little-used due to administrative deficiencies, insufficient funding, and migrants’ lack of confidence in the organisation.

In 2000 the Investment Promotion and Major Works Agency (Agence pour la Promotion des Investissements et des Grands Travaux, APIX) was founded. APIX coordinates all of the administrative procedures necessary for founding a company, including import formalities, and also carries out feasibility studies. Furthermore, it assumes responsibility for managing projects in which loans are used to assist the return of emigrants from France and Germany. In contrast to the BAOS, APIX focuses not only on migrants, but also on investors in general. It also attends to more financially complex projects. Overall, the success of both state agencies appears to have been limited, due to general deficiencies in the Senegalese administration.18

Given the increase in migrant remittances19 and their growing significance for the national economy, the topic of migration has gradually found its way into political discourse. The Senegalese government has an essentially positive attitude to migration.20 Internationally it supports an increase in legal opportunities for migration to Europe. In negotiations with European states, it has emphasised the necessity of supporting development projects rather than turning to repression to reduce migration. It has, moreover, voiced support for improved protection for migrants in Africa and Europe.21 Certainly, international pressure following the drastic increase in the number of migrants attempting to reach the Canary Islands since 2006 and national outrage over the high numbers of deaths caused by these perilous crossings have led to the strengthening of border security. The coast is guarded relatively closely by the state. In addition, in 2006/2007 the European border security agency, Frontex, patrolled Senegalese and Mauritanian waters to prevent potential migrants from making the crossing.

In response to the large number of migrants attempting to reach the Canary Islands, Senegal has entered into talks with various European countries and the EU. In October 2006, Senegal and France signed an agreement that provided for the faster deportation of irregular migrants and made it easier for professionals, students and artists to enter France through legal channels. Several agreements were also concluded with Spain during 2006. Amongst other things, the deportation of irregular migrants was made easier and an increase in development aid was agreed to. On this basis more than 3,000 Senegalese were deported in 2006. At the end of 2006, both countries signed a forward-looking agreement which provides for the granting of 4,000 short-term work visas to Senegalese migrants over a period of two years (2007/08). As the result of an Afro-European conference in July 2006, the European Commission has been financing a project to the tune of EUR 1,016,945 to help the Senegalese authorities tighten control of irregular migration. There is also a six billion dollar project extending from 2007 to 2011 and financed by industrial countries and the African Development Bank to help fund agricultural and rural development in eight West African countries, among them Senegal. This too is influenced by the desire to curb migration.

The Emigrant Population

According to the World Bank, about 463,000 Senegalese (or 4% of the population) were living abroad in 2005.23 The results of a household survey carried out by the Senegalese Ministry of Economy and Finance show that 76% of urban households and 70% of households nationwide have at least one family member abroad.24 A total of 46% have gone to Europe, where Italy, France and Spain are the most important countries of destination. A further 8% have gone to North America. The most important destinations for Senegalese migrants within Africa are the Gambia, the Ivory Coast, Mali and Mauritania. Due to its close geographical proximity, the Gambia’s population includes about 300,000 Senegalese. Before the crisis in the Ivory Coast there were about 125,000 Senegalese citizens living in that country.25 The majority of these have returned to Senegal since the war started in 2002. The number of Senegalese in Mauritania is estimated at 50,000 to 60,000, while Mali accommodates about 30,000. The Senegalese population in Guinea-Bissau consists of between 10,000 and 20,000 persons.26

There is a tendency for Senegalese migrants to remain in the destination country for long periods, even though a significant proportion of irregular migrants in industrial countries are deported within a short time. In general, however, Senegalese migrants plan their stays abroad as short-term experiences. A study based on a sample of migrants residing in Germany shows that their wish for early repatriation has not been realised for a large number of reasons:27 some have ended up starting a family abroad, many feel obligated to continue meeting the financial needs of their dependent family in Senegal, and there is also widespread fear of losing one’s social status in Senegal upon return.28

According to the household survey referred to above, 46% of migrants were employed or self-employed before they emigrated, including occupation in the informal sector and subsistence farming. Some 29% were unemployed, 14% school children or students and 7% housewives. According to the survey, approximately 84% of migrants are men,29 of which 68% are between 15 and 34 years old.
Senegalese migrants who move to industrialised countries also demonstrate relatively high levels of education. Within a sample of 51 Senegalese in Germany, 22 hold qualifications from an institute of higher education.30 Among the Senegalese in the USA, just 9% have attended school for four years or less, whereas 25% possess at least four years of tertiary education.31 According to the World Bank, the proportion of Senegalese with tertiary education who emigrate is 24.1%. Approximately 51.4% of doctors trained in the country and 26.9% of nursing staff have left Senegal.32

In many senses migration is not an individual but a collective matter. This concerns financing, the financial benefits of migration and often, too, the very decision to migrate. In total just 58% of Senegalese emigrants make the decision to emigrate essentially for themselves, and only 46% finance their move abroad themselves.

On average, Senegalese living in Germany transfer between EUR 125 and 250 a month to their families.33 Remittances sent to Senegal increased dramatically between 1998 and 2004 from USD 91 million to USD 563.2 million. By contrast, remittances from Senegal have stayed at a relatively constant level (see Figure 2). In 2005, remittances from abroad were estimated to represent 7.6% of the country’s gross domestic product.34 The effects of remittances on the standard of living appear to be inconsistent. In the urban setting they have a readily apparent positive impact. In Dakar, for example, 85.2% of households with one or more members living abroad have an annual income per head of at least EUR 343, whereas this is only true of 69.2% of households with no migrants in the family. Rural areas show no clear improvements in income. This common phenomenon is explained by the fact that the rural population shifts its attention away from productive activities once they begin receiving external financial support.35


Citizenship in Senegal is regulated by Law No. 61-70. Since coming into effect on the 7th March 1961, it has been amended on numerous occasions. Senegal recognises four principles for the acquisition of citizenship: descent, a woman’s marriage, residence and presidential decree.

Providing they do not refuse it, female foreigners who marry a Senegalese man are automatically granted Senegalese citizenship. If a foreign man marries a Senegalese woman, he can apply for and become naturalised after five years’ residence in the country. Otherwise candidates for naturalisation must have made Senegal their primary residence for at least ten years. Naturalised Senegalese, however, have to accept serious restrictions to their civil rights for the first ten years after acquiring citizenship. During this time, naturalised persons may not put themselves forward for election to any political office, may not assume a ministerial office, and may not be employed in the civil service. Moreover, such persons are barred from practising a range of professions. These regulations were tightened in 1984 and 1989. In addition, the naturalisation process is restrictive. In 30 years only 592 persons have applied for and been granted citizenship. It is worth noting that these cases appear to have concerned primarily French and Lebanese persons, who tend to be in a stronger financial position.36

For a long time Senegal did not recognise dual citizenship, although in official practice this is no longer the case.37 Difficulties occur particularly when the second state does not tolerate dual citizenship. For migrants of Senegalese origin with German citizenship, for example, this means that there are increased problems in building an economic existence in Senegal.

Irregular Migration

Migration from Senegal can mostly be classified as “irregular migration”, although only a small proportion of migrants enter Europe illegally. By far the biggest proportion are allowed entry on the basis of a business or tourist visa, and only become irregular migrants when they exceed the determined maximum stay. This form of migration is relatively expensive: on top of flight costs of approximately EUR 900 Euro come, for example, security payments of about EUR 1,500 to obtain a business visa. If the migrant is refused the visa, there is the option of asking an intermediary to obtain one. This then raises the costs of the trip to more than EUR 5,000.38

As a result of these expenses, various other migration routes have developed. Migrants who use the overland route often earn the money to fund the trip by working along the way. Two important routes run straight across the Sahara. In the early 2000s, about 80% of the then- 65,000 to 80,000 trans-Saharan migrants used the east route via Agadez (Niger) on the Libyan Mediterranean coast. From here, small fishing boats (pateras) made the crossing to Italy, particularly to the island of Lampedusa. The alternative west route runs from Agadez via northwestern Algeria to northern Morocco. Since about 2000, reinforced border controls have made the sea route from there to Spain less viable. Accordingly, the number of (attempted) border crossings into the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla increased. In September 2005, several thousand migrants attempted to get over the border fences, resulting in 14 deaths. Migration routes then shifted to the Moroccan Atlantic coast, with migrants being ferried over to the Canary Islands from there. As a result of more intensive border controls, boats increasingly set off from places further south. First the Mauritanian coast and then that of Senegal became an important point of departure for migration to Europe. Some journeys now start as far south as Guinea-Bissau.

In 2006 tens of thousands of migrants attempted to reach the Canary Islands; a large number of the crossings were carried out by Senegalese fishermen. In the course of the year approximately 32,000 migrants reached the group of islands, compared to only 4,800 the year before.39 A crossing on this highly perilous route costs on average EUR 620.40 In 2006, the bodies of 1,167 drowned migrants were taken from the sea,41 and several thousand others were deemed missing. Approximately 50% of the migrants using this route were believed to be Senegalese.42

The proportion of Senegalese living in Europe without legal residence status can scarcely be estimated; however, a large number, obtain a legal status in the medium term. By concealing their origin at first, they often avoid fast deportation, as it is impossible to identify a country to receive the deportee. An alternative is to lead an irregular existence in the narrower sense, i.e. without registering with the authorities. One widespread way to obtain legal residence status is to marry a European woman (the proportion of Senegalese women involved in irregular migration is marginal). But migrants throughout Europe have also been able to benefit from regularisation programmes in Italy (1990 and 1994) and Spain (700,000 legalisations in 2004/05). In 2006, Italy set a regularisation quota 517,000 for that year. Once regularised, it is possible to obtain a “Schengen” visa for travel to other EU countries. This facilitates the high mobility of the Senegalese population in Europe, which often serves the seasonal requirements of the European labour market.

Refuge and Asylum

Senegalese refugees
Historically, Senegal was a comparatively stable country with little repression. Accordingly, refugee movements for political reasons have not played a significant role in the country’s history of migration. For the German authorities, Senegal is currently deemed, along with Ghana, to be one of only two “safe countries of origin” in Africa. Nonetheless, in 2005, 311 Senegalese were recognised in Germany as political refugees or had applied for asylum. Protection was granted on the basis of the applicants’ involvement in a regional independence movement and opposition to the Socialist Party (Parti Socialiste, PS), which dominated politics until 2000.44

Since the early 1980s a conflict in the extreme southwest between the government and the rebel secessionist movement Mouvement des Forces Démocratiques du Sénégal (MFDC) has generated an estimated 64,000 internal refugees. In recent years the number of refugees in the narrower sense has been estimated at 10,000 to 15,000, of which 2/3 are in Guinea Bissau and 1/3 in the Gambia. The UNHCR reported for 2005 that there were some 7,300 Senegalese refugees in Guinea-Bissau and 5,500 in the Gambia.

The background of Senegal’s second and more important experience with forced migration lay in domestic political conflicts in Mauritania, which resulted in tension between the Arabic-speaking and the other parts of the population who often have ethnic connections with Senegal. In 1989, violent disagreements spread to Senegal, where Mauritanians were driven out and their businesses looted. The Mauritanian government ordered the expulsion of all “Senegalese” from its territory, which, in the racially-charged conflict, also affected parts of the Mauritanian population. Estimates hold that at least 200,000 people were driven out of the two countries. The situation de-escalated in the ensuing period, and some of those who had been driven out returned. Approximately 50,000 to 60,000 Senegalese are currently living in Mauritania.

Refugees in Senegal
In recent years Senegal has accommodated approximately 23,000 refugees and asylum seekers on the basis of the OAU Refugee Convention. The majority come from Mauritania (20,000) but some also come from Sierra Leone, Liberia, the Ivory Coast and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Since the 1989 crisis, most of the Mauritanian refugees have lived in refugee camps along the country’s border, and since 1996 they have been mostly self-sufficient. They are active in agriculture and livestock, having established the current Senegalese-Mauritanian dealer networks in these fields.45 In June 2007 the Mauritanian government declared that it was ready to accept the return of the refugees.

Current Developments and Future Challenges

Controlling emigration
Until now, Senegalese emigration has consisted primarily of migration within Africa. The development of remittance flows, the diminished attractiveness of the Ivory Coast and Gabon as destination countries, as well as the sharp fall in prices for a trip to Europe via the Canaries, however, have led to a turnaround in this area in recent years.46 Controlling this flow of migration presents both Europe and Senegal with challenges.

On the part of Europe, simply making access to the continent more restrictive is not likely to be an effective response; so far such efforts have only led would-be migrants to seek alternative migration routes. Furthermore, completely securing European borders, stopping old as well as new boltholes, would involve virtually unmanageable expense, and increasing deportations would entail significant legal, administrative and moral issues.

In principle, Senegal has the option of either producing migrants for the international labour market or providing qualified work within the domestic economy, in particular the health sector. For the time being, the government is focusing on using emigration and remittances as means of relieving strains on the domestic labour market. Moreover, it expects positive effects in the medium term through migrants who return with further qualifications gained abroad (notwithstanding the fact that a large proportion of qualified migrants do not find jobs in the country of destination that match their qualifications) and make investments in the country. The potentially negative effects of the emigration of qualified professionals (“brain drain”) have, to date, scarcely entered into the political debate. It is also not clear how Senegal could go about strengthening its institutions and dismantling elitist structures so as to create more professional-level domestic jobs, given the lack of interest on the part of privileged elites in doing so.

With regard to the need of European countries for qualified professionals, agreements to make migration easier are in the interest of both parties. Making entry easier for professionals does not necessarily, however, mean a decrease in the readiness of non-qualified persons to migrate. In fact, due to growing migrant networks, increased migration among the latter group is equally likely. Especially in Southern Europe there is most certainly great demand for low-skilled workers. Nonetheless, if there were any interest in curbing migration, then it would make sense to promote earning opportunities in countries of origin such as Senegal, especially in labour-intensive areas such as fishing and agriculture. Subsidies for European agricultural activities continue to be a powerful obstacle to Senegal's agricultural development and, thus, to the development of earning opportunities for low-skilled workers in that country.

Increasing remittances
Remittances to Senegal will likely continue to increase in the near future, which can have both positive and negative effects.47 The construction sector, which has demonstrated high growth rates for some years, profits in particular from remittances, as they are often used to build private housing. This not only relieves the labour market by providing employment; it also leads to more investments in construction companies, and thus to a greater accumulation of capital in this sector. It would nevertheless be advantageous if more remittances were directed into productive sectors. Nearly all migrants are interested in investing the funds they have earned profitably in their country of origin. However, the majority of migrants have experienced the failure of their own business projects in Senegal.48 Existing social support structures make them wary of starting another: designed to provide mutual support, these support structures regularly swallow up business funds in the event of emergencies (illness, threatened early school leaving etc.). Added to this are significant administrative hurdles and a generally deficient institutional environment. Realising the potential of migrants for economic development will require improvement both in the support given to returnees and in the general underlying economic conditions. Politically supported investment trusts for industries with comparative cost advantages would be one possibility for investing funds earned abroad more profitably. International controls and sureties (similar to those already existing for investments in developing countries) would be a sensible solution due to the relatively low confidence of Senegalese abroad in the state’s administration of finances.

Development of dangerous migration routes
European policies to prevent irregular migration by making access to the continent more restrictive have led to the emergence of highly dangerous alternative migration routes. At least 10% of migrants (or 40%, according to some estimates) who attempt the sea crossing between the West African coast and the Canary Islands die en route. This corresponds to at least 3,200 deaths in 2006 alone. Reinforced controls and increasing migrant awareness concerning the dangers have led to a decrease in the number of crossings in 2007. Nonetheless the often-inhumane business of people smuggling is unlikely to be reduced in the long term without increased legal opportunities for migration. Projects establishing legal employment agencies could well be combined with credible information campaigns in order to reduce people’s readiness to migrate, which is often fuelled by unrealistic expectations of lucrative prospects in the European labour market. In view of the important role played by Senegalese fishermen in the organisation of illegal crossings, over-fishing in West African waters by European fishing fleets, which deprived the fishermen of the basis of their existence, needs to be addressed. The fishing accords with the EU expired in June 2006, and European fleets have not been allowed to operate in Senegalese waters since. The Senegalese government has taken a tough stance in its negotiations on this matter, and a new accord is not in sight. Although this will help the recovery of fish stocks, it also deprives the Senegalese government of a significant source of revenue.

Managing immigration
Finally, managing immigration is a relatively new challenge for the Senegalese state. Given the negative experiences of Senegalese migrants abroad, especially in the Ivory Coast, the country’s attitude toward immigrants (who come mainly from other African states) is remarkably positive. Immigration was long regarded as little more than a manifestation of the country’s symbolic commitment to the ideal of pan-Africanism. Instead of creating an extensive legal framework for regulating the immigration and integration of foreign migrants, the government has generally followed a hands-off approach. Even today, foreign migrants are mostly employed in the informal sector, and the state has political reasons for continuing to reserve access to lucrative jobs in the formal employment sector for its own nationals. Having increased the education budget to 40% of government expenses, and given the expectation that qualified Senegalese abroad will return, the state will face a great enough challenge in providing employment opportunities for its own qualified workforce. Beyond this, the question remains as to whether – and how – Senegal will create the policies needed to profit from the potential of foreign migrants living within its borders.


  1. Depending on the calculation, the unemployment rates in countries with a large subsistence sector, significant informal sector and serious underemployment vary greatly and are not particularly meaningful. The CIA World Factbook 2006, for example, places Senegal’s unemployment rate at 48%. Statistics referring to the small incomes are more meaningful and relevant to migration. In this respect the income per head is USD 4.85 per day, and 63% of the population live on less than USD 2 a day, measured in purchasing power parities (Population Reference Bureau 2006: 2006 World Population Data Sheet. Washington D.C.).
  2. Another form of migration, the traditional migration of nomadic groups, is not entered into any further here as it represents a specific and highly complex subject area which is, however, of secondary importance for Senegal.
  3. See Lahlou (2004). Economic growth has accelerated since then. After a crisis, such developments often lead to a temporary increase in emigration as expectations are abnormally exaggerated and increased means are available for financing a journey.
  4. See Riccio (2005).
  5. See Marfaing (2003).
  6. After the death of Touré, the number of Guineans in Senegal fell from 300,000 persons in the 1970s to about 45,000.
  7. By the end of the 1990s their numbers had declined to 7,100.
  8. As a consequence of the events of 1989 (see the section on Refuge and Asylum), a large proportion of Mauritanians left the country. See Fall (2003).
  9. See Marfaing (2005). In recent years Mauritania has neglected the fishing sector in favour of the recently-commenced oil production, causing further deterioration in the opportunities to catch fish.
  10. The war was preceded by a struggle for power between the elite in the north and south. The north has a Muslim majority, and since late colonial times many migrant workers have settled there, originating primarily from Burkina Faso. As the political crisis intensified a mood developed in the south that was strongly directed against Muslims and immigrants in general.
  11. See Grégoire (2004) and Mattes (2006).
  12. The commercial success of Lebanese is frequently met with hostility. Reasons for this are their direct competition with the indigenous population in wholesale and retailing and the relatively severe isolation of the endogamous Lebanese community from Senegalese society. Unlike the Mauritanians, moreover, Lebanese did not come under the protection of the official pan-African ideology, and by contrast with the French they were not protected by close political relations between Senegal and their country of origin. The mentioned settlement ban appears to originate from a verbal instruction given by the president and is not fixed in any legal form. See Behrendt (2004).
  13. See République du Sénégal (2004) and Tall (2002).
  14. Nonetheless in Senegal, too, there are prejudices against immigrants (Fall 2003).
  15. Members of the Community at the time, in addition to Senegal, were Benin, Burkina Faso, the Ivory Coast, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Togo. Mauritania left ECOWAS in 2002.
  16. The OAU Convention differs from the Geneva Refugee Convention on two particular points. Firstly, legitimate reasons for flight are more broadly defined; also social circumstances (such as “foreign domination” or the collapse of public order) and not just individual persecution are grounds for recognising a person as a refugee. Secondly, state interests in curbing “subversive activities” are taken into greater consideration. See Oloka-Onyango (1991).
  17. This programme was a failure: none of the ten projects proved profitable in the medium term. The reasons for this lay in the entrepreneurs’ inadequate training and lack of guidance.
  18. In this respect the Bertelsmann Transformation Index noted in 2003: “Effective use of available staffing and organizational resources is more the exception than the rule. President Wade’s [2000-2007, F.G.] promise of limiting his cabinet to 21 ministers has already crumbled in the face of pressures from the heterogeneous government coalition. Instead, his cabinet ended up having 29 ministers. [The current cabinet of 38 ministers is one of the biggest in Africa, F.G.] Effective management is already inhibited by difficulties in designating areas of authority at the highest level. On the whole, government services are hardly beneficial to further developmental progress. These services do not apply their own resources in either an efficient or transparent manner, a situation documented in a 2002 Supreme Audit Institution report” (Bertelsmann 2003:12f).
  19. A remittance is the portion of a migrant’s income that, in the form of either funds or goods, flows back into the country of origin, primarily to support families back home.
  20. Even the “brain drain”, the exodus of qualified workers, has, to date, scarcely entered into the political debate.
  21. Occasioned by the xenophobic attacks in the Ivory Coast, the president publicly announced that no African would have to suffer in Europe what a Burkinabé had to suffer in the Ivory Coast. The president’s sharp reaction is also attributable to the fact that Senegalese citizens became systematic victims of the attacks. In 2005 he also demanded that Spain should suspend the deportation of 600-700 Senegalese who had landed in the Canaries after accusations of migrant abuse.
  22. Within the category of “other African countries” Mauritania is by far the most significant. The country is not, however, shown separately in the quoted statistics.
  23. See Ratha and Zhimei Xu (2007).
  24. Unless otherwise stated, the data used in this section is based on a representative survey of 6,600 households ordered by the Senegalese Ministry of Economy and Finance (République du Sénégal 2004). Although this is, by far, the most comprehensive research into the topic, the data is not entirely reliable and serves primarily to illustrate tendencies. Thus, for example, the foreign population, determined as 1.2%, is unrealistically low.
  25. According to the Senegalese foreign office there were about 150,000 Senegalese living in the Ivory Coast (Diatta and Mbow 1999). Another study, however, assumes a figure of 100,000 (Fall 2003).
  26. Data from Diatta and Mbow (1999) and Fall (2003).
  27. One study that is relatively unreliable on account of the data and the manner of acquisition assumes that a large proportion of migrants return home after a stay of 20-25 years abroad (cf. Diatta and Mbow 1999).
  28. See Marfaing (2003).
  29. An earlier study, by contrast, cited a male proportion of 70% in the year 1993 (CERPOD, quoted in Marfaing 2003).
  30. See Marfaing (2003).
  31. See Black (2004).
  32. See Ratha and Zhimei Xu (2007). For a broader discussion of issues related to migration among healthcare professionals see Stewart, Clark and Clark (2007): “Migration and Recruitment of Healthcare Professionals: Causes, Consequences and Policy Responses.” focus Migration Policy Brief No. 7.
  33. See Marfaing (2003).
  34. See the Balance of Payments Statistics of the IMF and Ratha and Zhimei Xu (2007). The stated sums refer to “workers’ remittances”. Further financial influences should be added to these such as pension claims earned abroad. In 2004, secondary financial inflows of this nature amounted to approximately USD 70 million (Ratha and Zhimei Xu 2007). In addition, only transfers executed via the formal finance system have been recorded. The actual extent of money transfers is estimated to be double or triple this amount.
  35. See Riccio (2005) and, for a broader discussion on the issue of remittances, Hertlein and Vadean (2006): “Remittances: A Bridge between Migration and Development?” focus Migration Policy Brief No. 5.
  36. See Fall (2003).
  37. Details of a corresponding change in the law could not be ascertained. According to information provided by telephone by the Senegalese embassy in Berlin on 25.06.2007, dual citizenships are recognised in Senegal. Cf. Marfaing (2003).
  38. See the interview with P. D. Tall in: Organisation internationale pour les migrations (2007): Senegal-Migrations, Bulletin d’Information No. 4, p. 2
  39. See BBC (2007).
  40. See Organisation internationale pour les migrations (2007) : Senegal-Migrations, Bulletin d’Information, No. 2 : p. 5. A few years ago the prices were significantly higher at EUR 875-1,500 (Marfaing 2005).
  41. These figures are provided by the Spanish human rights organisation Associación pro Derechos Humanos de Andalucía (
  42. See Jahnson (2006).
  43. Figures for Spain refer to “foreign labour”; all other data refer to “foreign-born” persons. As Spain has only recently become an important destination for Senegalese migrants, the use of these different statistical categories is unlikely to make a big difference for the purpose of this comparison.
  44. The Senegalese state has historically used government appointments as a means of coopting opposing political forces, although it has been known to resort to repressive measures in some cases. In connection with the war between the Senegalese state and the MFDC, Germany temporarily revoked Senegal’s status as a “safe country of origin.”
  45. For further information regarding the situation of these refugees see Fresia (2006).
  46. This point is disputed. L. Marfaing (pers. comm.) and P. D. Tall (interview in: Organisation internationale pour les migrations (2007): Senegal-Migrations, Bulletin d’Information No. 4, p. 2) support a contrary position.
  47. See Hertlein and Vadean (2006).
  48. See Marfaing (2003).

About the author:
Felix Gerdes studied political science and sociology in Hamburg und Dakar. Since 2005 he has been pursuing doctoral studies at the University of Hamburg, where he works for the Research Centre on War, Armament and Development at the Institute of Political Studies.


References and Further Reading

    • Bava, S. (2002): “Entre Touba et Marseille: Le Mouride migrant et la société locale.” In: Diop, M. C. (Ed.) La Société sénégalaise entre le local et le global. Paris: 579-594.
    • BBC (2007): “Spain Begins Anti-Migration Ads.” 20th September.
    • Behrendt, M. (2004): Beirut-Dakar-Beirut. Auswanderung und Rückkehr. Lebensläufe libanesischer Emigranten im Senegal und in der Elfenbeinküste. MA Thesis (Institute of Historical Studies), University of Hamburg.
    • Bertelsmann Stiftung (2003): Ländergutachten Senegal. Bertelsmann Transformation Index.
    • Black, R. (2004): Migration and Pro-poor Policy in Africa. Sussex Centre for Migration Research, Working Paper C6. Sussex.
    • Diatta, M. A. and Mbow, Nd. (1999): “Releasing the Development Potential of Return Migration: The Case of Senegal.” International Migration 37 (1): 243-266.
    • Fall, P. D. (2003): Migration internationale et droit des travailleurs au Sénégal. UNESCO.
    • Fresia, M. (2006): Des Réfugiés-migrants: Les Parcours d’exil des réfugiés mauritaniens au Sénégal. New Issues in Refugee Research, Research Paper No. 135, UNHCR.
    • Grégoire, E. (2004): “Les Migrations ouest-africaines en Libye.” In: Marfaing, L. und Wippel, St. (Hrsg) Les Relations transsahariennes à l’époque contemporaine: Un Espace en constante mutation. Paris. 173-190.
    • Hertlein, S. and Vadean, F. (2006): “Remittances – A Bridge between Migration and Development?” focus Migration Policy Brief No. 5.
    • Johnson, D. (2006): “Senegal sucht Schlupflöcher.” Die Tageszeitung. 12th October: 10.
    • Lahlou, M. (2004): “Filières migratoires subsahariennes vers l’Europe (via le Maghreb).” In: Marfaing, L. and Wippel, St. (Eds.) Les Relations transsahariennes à l’époque contemporaine: Un Espace en constante mutation. Paris. 113-140.
    • Marfaing, L. (2003): Les Sénégalais en Allemagne. Paris
    • Marfaing, L. (2005): “Du savoir faire sénégalais en matière de pêche sur les côtes mauritaniennes: une approche historique.” Stichproben. Wiener Zeitschrift für kritische Afrikastudien 5 (8): 69-96.
    • Marfaing, L. and Wippel, S. (Eds.) (2004): Les Relations transsahariennes à l’époque contemporaine: Un Espace en constante mutation. Paris
    • Mattes, H. (2006): “Illegale Migration: Positionen und Bekämpfungsmaßnahmen der Maghrebstaaten.” GIGA Focus Nahost No. 9. Hamburg
    • Oloka-Onyango, J. (1991): “Human Rights, the OAU Convention and the Refugee Crisis in Africa: Forty Years After Geneva.” International Journal of Refugee Law 3 (3): 453-460.
    • Organisation internationale pour les migrations (2007-): Senegal-Migrations. Renforcement des capacités de gestion de la migration et de lutte contre la migration irrégulière au Sénégal (Projét financé par la Commission Européenne), Bulletin d’Information (Series).
    • Ratha, D. and Zhimei Xu (2007): “Migration and Remittances in Senegal.” Migration and Remittances Factbook. Development Prospects Group, World Bank.
    • Riccio, B. (2005): “Talkin’ About Migration: Some Ethnographic Notes on the Ambivalent Representation of Migrants in Contemporary Senegal.” Stichproben. Wiener Zeitschrift für kritische Afrikastudien 5 (8): 99-118.
    • République du Sénégal (2004): Rapport de synthèse de la deuxième enquête sénégalaise auprès des ménages (ESAM-II). Ministère de l’Économie et des Finances, Direction de la Prévision et de la Statistique. Dakar.
    • Stewart, J., Clark, D. and Clark, P. F. (2007): “Migration and Recruitment of Healthcare Professionals: Causes, Consequences and Policy Responses.” focus Migration Policy Brief No. 7.
    • Tall, S. M. (2002): “L’Émigration internationale sénégalaise d’hier à demain.” In: Diop, M. C. (Ed.) La Société sénégalaise entre le local et le global. Paris: 549-578.

Internet Sources

Migration Research Group
Netzwerk Migration in Europa e.V.
bpb - Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung