Senegal’s Crackdown on Europe-Bound Refugee Boats: A Model or a Challenge?


Senegal’s navy has significantly increased its efforts to intercept refugee boats attempting to reach Europe, highlighting the West African nation’s commitment to curb irregular migration flows. While some experts see Senegal’s actions as a potential model for other African countries facing similar migration challenges, others argue that it could lead to the outsourcing of Europe’s refugee control problem.

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In recent weeks, Senegal’s navy has intercepted a growing number of refugee boats attempting the perilous journey across the Atlantic to Europe. Last year, only one known boat headed for Europe was intercepted by Senegalese authorities. However, within a week in September, more than 600 potential refugees were turned back by Senegal’s navy, illustrating the country’s efforts to stem irregular migration.

Senegal, a significant departure point for Senegalese, Gambians, and Malians, has transferred over 1,500 people to local authorities since May, accounting for more than 95 percent of all recorded interceptions in 2022. Some experts suggest that this proactive approach could serve as a model for other African countries, especially considering that African citizens now make up half of the top 10 origin countries for irregular refugee arrivals in Europe.

Linda Adhiambo Oucho, director of the African Migration and Development Policy Centre (AMADPOC), emphasizes the need for African governments to take action and adopt stronger regional approaches to tackle irregular migration, with Senegal possibly setting best practices.

However, critics argue that merely stopping migration does not address the root causes forcing people to move. Some view initiatives like Senegal’s as mechanisms for Europe to outsource its challenge of limiting refugee arrivals.

The surge in migrant arrivals in the European Union (EU), particularly in Italy, further underscores the need for a comprehensive approach to migration. Italy has declared a state of emergency after experiencing a surge in arrivals, with many sub-Saharan African migrants fleeing Tunisia due to a spike in racist attacks.

Flavio Di Giacomo of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) highlights the dangerous conditions faced by sub-Saharan migrants, including the use of fragile iron boats. He emphasizes the importance of offering safe pathways for migrants.

While heavy border protection has been a key part of the EU’s response, experts argue that the focus should shift toward creating opportunities and establishing legal pathways for migrants. Initiatives like Italy’s expanded work visa scheme aim to provide legal opportunities for migrant workers.

Senegal’s actions have gained attention as the EU seeks to partner with the country and strengthen border controls with African nations. However, concerns persist that such efforts could externalize EU borders, leading to increased border control and potential dangers for migrants.

Ultimately, experts advocate for a holistic approach to migration, one that empowers African countries to act independently of the EU, while also creating legal pathways within the continent. By fostering mobility and addressing the underlying causes of migration, African nations can better manage migration challenges while harnessing the talents and potential migrants bring.

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