“Migration is a risky business but the strongest and bravest can make it, and death is part of the game.”

‘Barça ou Barsaq’? How Local Development Can Help Reduce Irregular Migration from Senegal

”If you die, it must be the lion that kills you. That is what they say in Senegal." This is what a returnee migrant explains to me in Diourbel, Senegal, as I try to understand why youth keep on leaving their villages risking their lives to reach Europe.

“All those who leave do that for their parents. And if they die they are seen as heroes as they did so facing a huge challenge (the lion). They are perceived as brave as risked it all for their families,” says Modou Gueye, president of a migrant association in Diourbel.

Barça ou Barsaq (Barcelona or death) in Wolof, the local language in Senegal – conveys the same message – Samba Diou, another returnee migrant tells me. – “Migration is a risky business but the strongest and bravest can make it, and death is part of the game.”

The expression Barça ou Barsaq was first coined by migrants who were attempting to reach Spain in dugout canoes in the mid-2000s, but it also was later popularised by migrants taking the desert route.

Does this mean that perceptions among young Senegalese are not changing in light of  the thousands of deaths at sea which continue unabated? How should we, as practitioners respond and develop effective programmes aimed at reducing the number of migrants lost at sea and in the desert and promote safe migration?

It certainly means that just informing migrants about risks of migration does not disincentive them from leaving irregularly. However, things seem to be changing, as in some villages numbers of migrants deciding to go to Europe are decreasing (though data is scant and observations are based on anecdotal evidence).

So what is happening?

Interestingly, while the threat of death en-route does not seem to be a strong enough argument for youth to give up migrating irregularly, the returning migrants –  those who did not succeed in staying in their intended destinations seem to have a strong role in changing  mindsets.

Migrants often sell their goods, including their cattle, to gather the needed resources for the trip. When they return home empty handed, their peers do realize that it is not a fate they want to share and they would rather stay put and try to harder to pursue opportunities in Senegal. Others lately have begun opting for other destinations other than Europe, and more and more migrants from the Diourbel region of Senegal are migrating to Brazil and Argentina.

There is a real chance and responsibility to do something that could offer a different life narrative for many Senegalese youths mainly through promoting concrete and viable economic opportunities for them at home.

“The majority of those who leave would not do that if they had options at home,” says Moudou Guye. Local authorities are increasingly understanding the importance of factoring migration into local development plans and of creating jobs opportunities for potential migrants.

Within the framework of the Joint Migration and Development Initiative (JMDI) IOM supports the project JAPPANDO (‘Solidarite’, in Wolof) in Diourbel whereby local actors are sensitized about the impacts that development has on migration and has contributed to guide return migrants towards services that promote their entrepreneurship and productive investments which in turn contribute to local development and to job creation.

This is certainly one of the best ways of turning migrants into real agents of development, and in so doing to contribute to fight against irregular migration. This is what donors and policy makers should focus their attention on and channel their funding towards, if these tragic migrant deaths at sea are to be stopped.