Dakar — One in four Senegalese migrants returns home within five years, according to the French National Institute of Demographic Research (INED). Many are armed with new skills that could help drive development, but most receive little support to reintegrate into their families or to target their skills, representing a wasted resource, say migrant support organizations in Senegal.
According to the most recent statistics, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates half a million Senegalese work abroad, most of them in West Africa, followed by Europe. Most Senegalese migrants go to Gambia, while 45 percent collectively travel to France, Italy and Spain.
Within 30 years, half of these migrants will be home again estimates INED.
“Lots of migrants don’t realize the knowledge they have accumulated. Even if they were unskilled workers, they learned things like how to work in a large, formal company. They also acquired skills in sectors like construction, where trained workers are useful,” said Federico Barroeta, International Labour Organization (ILO) West Africa migration project coordinator.
Returnees’ skills can significantly boost the local economy, noted Mame Mbargane Thiam, Senegal representative of CEPAIM, a Spanish foundation that helps migrants plan and implement their return home. He said a returnee who moved to Kaolack in central-eastern Senegal opened a salt factory which employs up to 100 people. “But they don’t get the help they should from the Senegalese government or from other partners.”
Migrants agree, saying they feel abandoned by both their host and home governments. Returnee Tafsir Dia (in his 40s) works for a Spanish company in Senegal, having spent 16 years working in Spain. “It is not right that I should have lost my rights in Spain while I was helping to develop the Spanish economy,” he told IRIN, referring to having lost the right to access the money he has paid into pension, health insurance and other schemes over the past two decades.
Upon returning to Senegal, almost all ex-migrants search for work in the informal sector where they set up small businesses. But a year later, many face severe financial difficulties, and business ventures often fail due to lack of training support, said ILO’s Barroeta.
Jobs that may have provided security and benefits in Europe, pay poorly in Senegal: construction workers, for instance, earn just $US4-6 a day.
Returnees from France are generally in a better position than those from Spain, as they are generally older, more educated, have spent more time there, and have had more time to plan their return, according to Barroeta.
The recession in Spain forced one in four workers into unemployment, pushing many migrant workers to try to return home, most of them penniless. Almost half of ILO’s requests from migrants on how to return home come from jobless Senegalese in Spain.
It is difficult to estimate what proportion of returnees is forced versus voluntary, as there are no universal definitions of these terms.
But it is harder to work with migrants who have been forced to return, usually when their asylum claim has been rejected, as they are likely to be unprepared, says IOM. Many face depression and societal rejection upon arrival home, they add.
Several organizations or foundations run projects to give loans and grants that help migrants re-establish themselves, but they reach only a fraction of returnees, and the amounts given – while generous in terms of covering daily living expenses – are not enough to set up viable businesses, say critics.
The Ministry of Senegalese Abroad has set up an investment fund for migrants, called FAISE, for instance, which gives US$9,540 in loans to 30 or so returnees each year. CEPAIM gives $1,907 grants to selected migrants once they have established a business plan, undergone financial training and signed a paper promising not to return to Spain within three years.
But to make a go of it, tens of thousands of dollars are needed, money which migrants find it tough to raise in a banking climate with 8 percent interest rates and where loans require a 100 percent guarantee.
Most migrants who do make it, do so despite the inadequate support system, not because of it. Mor Lo (39) returned briefly to Senegal from Spain in 2008 when his father died, putting a down-payment on a shop with money from his father’s will before returning to Spain for three years. When he returned to settle in Senegal in 2011 he received a further $1,900 from CEPAIM, which he used to buy up coffee and millet mills, and now he makes $190 profit each month. But he could not have done it without personal money, he says.
Information and planning
But just as important as money for migrants, is information and time to prepare and plan, says ILO’s Guité Diop, head of policy at the Senegal migration programme. ILO focuses on spreading awareness of job opportunities back home through migrant networks abroad.
They also run financial training workshops for migrants and their families, as 75 percent of money currently sent home is used for everyday consumption, he said. The more knowledge imparted to migrant families, the more likely they are to understand the realities of migration and not reject returning family members, he said.
Migrants also told IRIN that having the ability to set themselves up back home while still working abroad, would increase their chance of success.
On that note PAISD, a project to support development initiatives in France and Senegal, has been lobbying the French authorities to issue “circulation visas” to migrants so they can travel back and forth freely while planning for the future. “Generally … the idea is to help migrants play a role in the development of their country – be it here, or while abroad,” said PAISD adviser Damien Bachau.
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.]