By: Fabakary B. Ceesay
“Clandestine or Irregular migration locally known within SeneGambia (Gambia-Senegal) region as “Backway” from West Africa to the Spanish enclave of Canary Islands increases between 2019 and 2020 to a massive flow of migrants boats from 2,700 to over 23,000. Numbers increases though, it is considered the deadliest migration route to Europe. This has caused a great deal of social and political concern within European Union member States.
The European authorities believe their fight is not against irregular migration or against poor migrants, most of whom are economically desperate to make a better living in Europe. But instead against mafias, criminals, networks of smugglers and human traffickers. In their view, Europe is fighting against criminal cartels and gangs who are responsible for the death of over two thousand people in the Atlantic sea en route to Europe in 2020.
Consequently, European authorities see migrants from a security and criminal viewpoint rather than a humanitarian and economic problem.
This fieldwork conducted by Investigative and Research Journalists Alex Rietman and Fabakary B. Ceesay, funded by Journalism Fund, shows the reality of migration from Senegambia to the Canary Islands has nothing to do with Europe’s criminal network contemplation.
In this part of Africa, linking migration to mafias is a fairy tale and yet it formed the basis of EU migration policy with far-reaching penalties. The multi-million Euro question is “will European citizens accept billions of taxpayers’ money to be spent on fighting refugees and poor desperate migrants, instead of criminal trafficking and smuggling networks”?
The compilation of this research starts at seashores of the Gambia from the well-known fishing coast of Tanji, Bakau and Barra all famous for departure points of migrants to the best and reliably departing points in the Senegalese fishing towns of Mbour and St. Louis (Guith Ndar), where interviews were conducted with hopeful migrants, returned would-be migrants, season fishermen, union and community leaders, sea captains, journalists, academic professors and government security officials, all attributed irregular migration as an economic problem and has no direct link with mafia cartels, criminal syndicates or human traffickers as perceived by EU.
The conviction with EU that by pumping millions of Euros to the governments of these countries to curb criminal cartels accused of ferrying migrants to Europe is seen as a waste of money if not channelled through the right means to vulnerable youth that takes the risk.
Most of these youth, local fishermen, boat captains, carpenters, masons (construction workers), tailors, mechanics, footballers and graduates are from different social and cultural backgrounds, but due to economic situations and lack of resources and access to tools for their professions stood on one ground that is to risk their lives for Europe than to be destitute in their societies.
This frustration, coupled with lack of incentive from government and the political atmospheres force youth to take this precarious journey though, many would prefer not to die in vain if skill centres, technical schools and economic means are directly available to them.
Fishermen and sea captains whose daily livelihood depends on fishing all attributed this massive flow of migrants from Senegambia to the Canary Islands to some European and foreign fishing companies who are giving licenses to operate in their waters.
These foreign fishing companies are accused of overfishing (“empty our seas”) making life difficult for them and their families. The only economic means available to them has been high jacked since 2006 when foreign fishing companies started to scramble for fish in their waters.
In their view, foreign fishing boats equipped with modern and better tools cause serious damage to their economy and they have no choice but to look for survival in Europe.
In trying to identify the main organisers of trips, who are accused at some level as criminals, mafias or for huge financial gains, yet still, aspiring migrants don’t see it from that standpoint. Instead, they are seen as easy facilitators to travel to Europe, though they all recognise the deadly nature of it.
The identities of organisers of trips and sub-agents who facilitate means to secure boats and stuff for the trip are members of the societies who due to economic problems venture into such business to enable frustrated youths to look for greener pastures in Europe.
No doubt, they all confirmed the dangerous nature of the journey and vowed not to do it if other means are available or if millions that are pumped into to tackle migration directly benefit victims of these circumstances.
Extract of interviews from persons whose views are sought in this research will feature in subsequent publications.