Carmen Chamorro 

Senegalese fishermen's unrest continues

Picture: Mónica Uriel y Belén Rodrigo 

"No one wants to live a life where death is better than life," according to a returned fisherman in Somone

Senegal, a Wolof word meaning 'canoe', five hours from Western Europe and seven hours from the East Coast of the United States, is much more than an African country. It is the gateway to development for the entire region: imperfect democracy that works. The second largest country, after Côte d'Ivoire, in the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU), it enjoys exchange rate and price stability, thanks in part to its membership of the CFA franc zone. The latest UN figures show that only 1.69 per cent of Senegal's population are immigrants. It is the 141st country in the world in terms of percentage of immigration.

According to field information gathered by on a recent trip to Senegal, contrary to what many people think, Africa moves within Africa, including climate migration. In fact, four out of five migrants stay on the continent and only one arrives in Europe, and largely irregularly. Given its status as a destination country for migration, international organisations are urging Senegal to adopt migration policy strategies that facilitate residence, access to citizenship and access to the labour market. Migration flows into Senegal are higher than outflows (64% versus 20%), according to July 2022 data from DTM (Displacemente Tracking Matrix). The majority of migrants arriving in the country come from Guinea, Mali, Gambia and Guinea Bissau, and represent 66% of the migrant population in the country.

One of the economic issues that most affects and worries the Senegalese population is the fisheries agreements signed by the government of the current president, Macky Sall. The EU's first fisheries agreement with Senegal was signed in 1976 and was in force until 2006 through a series of protocols that gave European vessels access to a wide range of fishery resources. In 2014 it was transformed into an agreement focusing on tuna with a demersal component (Patagonian toothfish), for a period of five years.

In November 2019, the protocol implementing the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreement between the EU and the Republic of Senegal was signed, allowing 45 Spanish, French and Portuguese vessels to fish in Senegalese waters, a total of 10,000 tonnes of tuna and 1,750 tonnes of Patagonian toothfish. According to information provided by the European Commission, the EU's annual financial contribution was set at ¤1.7 million, of which ¤800,000 is the payment for giving access to Senegalese waters. The remaining 900,000 euros are to provide sectoral support in the country's fisheries policy, in order to improve fisheries control, develop fisheries research and data collection, and provide health certification for fishery products. has been able to confirm, in the ports of Yarakh and Thiaroye, on different days spent with Senegalese from these maritime areas (from where the cayucos leave for the Canary Islands, the nearest El Dorado), that this journey would be made again and again, "there is nothing more difficult than this trip". The reason? "Nobody wants to live a life where death is better than life". These are testimonies of people who do not want to reveal their identity, their own stories told, facing the ocean and from the most absolute desperation. "I was young and I wanted to be an engineer or a minister and help my country and my family", says a fisherman who left here in 2006 and returned, like so many others. Since then, pure survival. In fact, since independence in 1960, the country has not yet found its own identity. 

The report of the Senegalese Directorate of Maritime Fisheries, which absorbs data from 2018, indicates that EU catches in Senegalese waters represent 1.46% of the total. The Senegalese government put the tonnes produced by artisanal and industrial (national and foreign) maritime fishing at 524,851 tonnes, with artisanal fishing accounting for 76 % and industrial fishing for 24 %, of which 6 % (7,648 tonnes) was caught by the EU fleet.

In 2020, the Government of the Republic of Senegal considered granting 52 licences to Chinese vessels and there was a large mobilisation of the country's fishing sector. Although the authorities announced that the licences were rejected, NGO fishermen's associations criticised the lack of transparency and suspect that these vessels fish in Senegalese waters through joint ventures.

Picture: Mónica Uriel y Belén Rodrigo 

These fishermen are protesting against their government for reaching agreements that allow vessels from other countries to fish, leaving them with no fish to catch. The government "has sold out the whole country," they say. The fishing agreements must be stopped because the fish will not come back here. Fishermen make up 17% of the Senegalese workforce (in 1965, Senegal ranked first in sub-Saharan Africa in terms of fishing). Until the 2000s it was one of the most fish-rich coastlines in the world. Now there is a high risk of rejection of artisanal fishermen because they transport migrants. "We are human beings, not animals, we want a dignified life, to help our family. "It is very hard, but we have no alternative. Going to the ocean is very risky, but we have to do it because at home there is nothing to eat. There is no fish, no work. These are families sleeping ten people in a four-square-metre room. Young people - 31% are between 18 and 26 years old - who are unable to lift themselves out of poverty in a country where families are expected to support them financially in the face of an inadequate social security system. So "it is better for my children to go to the ocean and die". For the journey to the Canary Islands they pay 600, 800 dollars. 

This is more than the cost of applying for a visa, which is an impossible mission for most of them. The embassies of the same countries that take their resources refuse them visas. To embark on the crossing, they sell what little they have, boats if they are fishermen. 200, 400 people board a boat with the same fear and the same yearnings. They are mostly from Senegal, Gambia and Mali. Ninety-nine per cent of them are men who cannot find an alternative to irregular migration on the local labour market. "More die than arrive," they say. "The ocean is a graveyard for young people." More than 3,000 people would have lost their lives in 2021 on the route to the Canaries. It is the deadliest migration route in West and Central Africa.

Picture: Mónica Uriel y Belén Rodrigo visited the coastal area between Dakar and Somone to observe the unease of many fishermen. According to a study carried out by the Senegalese Migration Observatory, the vast majority of the people arrested in Senegal between September and November 2020, while attempting to migrate from the coast in an irregular manner, were fishermen. The various fishermen's associations strongly criticise the government for the lack of opportunities for the people who live in these areas and who cannot make a living from fishing. 

Many companies choose Senegal as the location for their business in Africa. There are several reasons for this, one of them being that it is a politically stable country, which is highly valued today. In addition to this political and economic stability, it is also an excellent location for entry into the West African region.

Reports from the Economic and Commercial Office of the Spanish Embassy in Dakar, in collaboration with the Official Spanish Chamber of Commerce in Dakar, and consulted by, highlight the existence of disadvantages when investing in Senegal due to the lack of skilled labour in sectors such as tourism and technology. Likewise, administrative and customs procedures are slower and more irregular than in EU countries, and are often duplicated or barely detailed, which generates a certain obscurity in the processes. There are also tariff barriers, as well as technical barriers in some industries.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, for its part, has verified to that Senegal is a safe country, although criminal organisations are at ease, which is why NGOs are working hard on this issue. The biggest challenge they face is the profile of a vulnerable young person, living in a spiral of fear, uncertainty and economic hardship, who is likely to be recruited by organised gangs. The borders with Mali are permeable and the risk of jihadist penetration is palpable. 

Climate change is beginning to alter migratory movements. Drought and rising temperatures are affecting agricultural production and this means that people from the South are moving north in search of fertile land to provide food for subsistence. Its geographical position is also strategic on the western Mediterranean route, both as a point of departure and transit, but also as a point of return for migrants from Mauritania, Morocco and Europe.

Masqueperiodismo. com, who accompanied the German Friedrich Naumann Foundation as part of the Mediterranean Dialogue Project, focused on analysing the effects of climate change on migration, are a group of three Spanish correspondents working for international media in Portugal, USA, Canada, Spain and Italy (Belén Rodrigo, Carmen Chamorro and Mónica Uriel), and after visits to Senegal, Cape Verde, Sahara and Morocco, they have carried out fieldwork focused on analysing the effects of climate change on migration, which will cause large-scale displacements; the lack of population training at all levels; the urgent need to accompany African civil society in its processes of change, without impositions of any kind; the absence of fundamental women's rights in this region; the existence of a very young population eager to work in their own country; and the existence of future exploitation of ambitious natural resources, which, if not in the right hands, could contribute to instability in the region and thus pose a great threat to Europe.

Picture: Mónica Uriel y Belén Rodrigo 

By addressing the economic, geostrategic and socio-cultural headings, the long-term future of these countries can be predicted. Each of the aspects has been analysed exhaustively and from different points of view, in order to gather the opinion of all the agents, field visits to different political institutions, non-governmental organisations, public and private entities and contrasted local sources. aims to promote integral strategic development projects (in their evaluation and monitoring phases for subsequent impact assessment), and cultural identity, with the idea of finding alliances that support and make the dream of so many come true and that the media, as a diplomatic tool, report on everything that happens, promoting interaction between local communities, governments and international organisations.  "What is not told, does not exist".

The authors are responsible for the choice and presentation of the facts contained in this document and for the opinions expressed therein, which are not necessarily those of Tourism and Society Think Tank and do not commit the Organization, and should not be attributed to TSTT or its members.

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