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

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.45

Historical Trends in Immigration and Emigration

Migration within Africa
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.1011 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 (teranga14

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 () 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 (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.2425 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 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.3334 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



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


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

Refuge and Asylum

Senegalese refugees
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 Refugees in Senegal
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.46Increasing 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.48Development 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 routeManaging immigration


  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. See Riccio (2005).
  4. See Marfaing (2003).
  5. By the end of the 1990s their numbers had declined to 7,100.
  6. 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).
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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).
  10. Nonetheless in Senegal, too, there are prejudices against immigrants (Fall 2003).
  11. 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.
  12. See Ratha and Zhimei Xu (2007).
  13. 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).
  14. Data from Diatta and Mbow (1999) and Fall (2003).
  15. 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).
  16. See Marfaing (2003).
  17. An earlier study, by contrast, cited a male proportion of 70% in the year 1993 (CERPOD, quoted in Marfaing 2003).
  18. See Marfaing (2003).
  19. See Black (2004).
  20. Migration and Recruitment of Healthcare Professionals: Causes, Consequences and Policy Responses.
  21. See Marfaing (2003).
  22. Remittances: A Bridge between Migration and Development?
  23. See Fall (2003).
  24. 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).
  25. See BBC (2007).
  27. See Jahnson (2006).
  28. For further information regarding the situation of these refugees see Fresia (2006).
  29. See Hertlein and Vadean (2006).
  30. 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

Internet Sources

Migration Research Group
Netzwerk Migration in Europa e.V.