African Flight, Illegal Migration, and The Value of American Citizenship

Tuesday’s guest lecturer’s son died in a tiny wooden pirogue when he attempted to flee from Senegal to Spain with the slogan “Barça or barzaq” (Barcelona or die, Arabic), one of the estimated 5000 in the past 5 years. Illegal migration from Africa to Spain/Europe parallels the situation in the Americas: people pushed to desperation risk their lives to reach a northern “promised land,” which is rarely as utopic as the rumors claim.

Senegalese fishermen were relatively unaffected by economic troubles throughout history, but fish stocks began plummeting in the 1980’s and 1990’s due to agreements the government signed with international trawlers. International trawling is now illegal, but water is difficult to regulate and domestic traditional fishing has also ramped up, leaving the ocean too barren for fishermen to support themselves and their families. By the mid-2000’s, fishermen began attempting the dangerous emigration from Senegal by the hundreds.

Even for those who survive the journey, Spanish/European border control is quick to repatriate them. And if they are able to sneak past border control, most are unable to achieve all that they thought they could due to prejudice and language barriers.

Grassroots efforts, like the one put forth by our lecturer’s organisation, are combatting this migration by providing men and women with alternative skills and dispelling the rumors surrounding this journey, but the emigration is still a problem.

At this time, there isn’t anything I can do to help stem this tide, but because next week’s rural visit in the Sine-Saloum delta is in the heart fisherman country, I’ll be able to observe my village with an extra perspective. In addition, I’ve found new understanding for my encounters here. Every Caucasian woman who visits Senegal quickly tires of the constant stream of relationship requests and marriage proposals. I have received an exhausting amount of them as well once men and women hear me speak English or discover that duma chinois, ameriken laa. Us foreigners are all aware that these proposals have nothing to do with our external nor internal beauty but instead everything to do with the papers that came with our births. Western Visas are incredibly difficult to obtain here, even tourist Visas: when I visited HLM, a wealthy store owner tried to convince me to write him a letter of invitation so that he could just visit America; our guest lecturer was denied a Visa to France despite being invited by an international conference.

Still, I had grown increasingly cross at the forced familiarity of strangers; I no longer had tolerance for the phone number requests from men nor for the matchmaking attempts from women. But now I have renewed my patience: I understand that when you are a Senegalese person faced with limited options, flirting with a foreigner is a negligible discomfort compared to paying $1000* you don’t have to a man in a wooden pirogue who promises you he’ll get you to Barcelona.

*Yes, this is double the cost of a plane ticket to Barcelona. But you need a passport to fly. And a Visa.

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